The Round-Up: The Best Songs of the Second Quarter

Like we did back in March, let’s round up the best music of the second quarter of 2016. We’ll kick things off with the best tracks of the year so far. My album list should be out later this week. And so as not to repeat myself, I didn’t include anything from any of those albums on this list.

Kanye West
“Champions” (f/ Gucci Mane, Quavo, Travis Scott, Yo Gotti, Big Sean, Desiigner)
Cruel Winter (release date TBA on G.O.O.D. Music)
The Life of Pablo could be the best album of the year, but it probably doesn’t not even contain Kanye’s best song of 2016. “Champions” beautifully highlights what makes West such a musical genius and explains why his music is more vital than ever, a near impossibility for a hip-hop artist 15 years into his career.

Sure, his lyrical skills aren’t as sharp as they used to be, but that’s not the point. Rather, West has opted to work like a great head coach or creative director, surrounding himself with the young talent and placing them in the best position to succeed. Yeezy only gives us four new bars, but everybody else shines, resulting in a thrilling posse anthem in the spirit of classics like “Mercy” and “Clique.”

Gucci Mane
“1st Day Out The Feds”
Digital Single
At some point, it was almost as if Gucci Mane became more of a meme than a man. All the trouble and noise had reduced one of the most influential, important rap artists of all-time into an interminable stream of cheap “Bitch I Might Be” LOLz. For that reason, it’s been brilliant to see him spend his first month as a free man with a seemingly sound mind and sharp focus, dropping a string of potent singles. None is more affecting than this suffocating, paranoid tale of life in one of America’s most notorious prisons.

“Rep Your County” (Dave Luxe remix)
Digital Single
I’ve already written a ton about Thast this year, and I’m assuming that she’s only getting warmed up. On this tasty remix, MTL beatsmith, Dave Luxe laces an airy arrangement that leaves plenty of space for the rising Tampa native’s booming, voracious flow to gobble up the yards. She’s promised that new work with Zora Jones and Ryan Hemsworth is just around the corner, and I could not be more excited to hear it. Without a doubt, one of the best rappers in the country right now.

Princess EP (out 07.15 on Awful/True Panther Sounds)
Though still early in her career, the Atlanta producer/songwriter’s has developed into one of the most exciting artists in music. “Crybaby” is yet another unarguable cut. Over an elastic bass line, new-wave keys, and island-y percussion, Abra delivers a monster vocal performance that is both restrained and captivating.

“Good Gyal”
Various Artists: Inkjet Riddim (Dancehall Arena)
Why settle for a knockoff when you could have the genuine article? Dancehall has been the influence du jour for pop stars of all statures in 2016. And if you need some tracks to go with “Controlla,” “Work,” and “For Free” in your “Summer 16” dancehall playlist, Dancehall Arena’s Inkjet Riddim collection is a great place to start. My favorite of the collection comes from Kingston vocalist and former child star, QQ. “Good Gyal” has all the warmth and magnetism of the genre’s best work and is much stickier than most of the faux-dancehall that’s blowing up the pop charts.

Lil Yachty
Lil Boat (Quality Control)
The Atlanta teenager’s proper debut mixtape was one of the year’s most divisive projects and a constant source of consternation among hip-hop classists, horrified by Yachty’s robo-crooning and off-kilter beat choices. And while my ancient ass is far from the target demo, I love the record’s playful nature, which is best personified by this aspirational, Mario 64-sampling anthem. His voice dripping in auto-tune, Yachty gleefully howls lines like “Imma take care of my brothers, make sure they eat” — illustrating the rare joy of changing the lives of your friends and family while doing something you love. The bliss is infectious, and god knows we need more of that in 2016.

PnB Rock
Digital Single
The Philadelphia MC’s 2015 mixtape, RNB3, has probably been the album I’ve listened to most this year. Armed with hooks on hooks on hooks, PnB Rock days of being rap’s best kept secret appear to be limited, as he’s starting to appear more in the mainstream press (see: Lauren Nostro’s great feature in The Fader). He continued his hot streak on “Selfish,” another great example of how his bouncy, melodic flow toes the line between R&B and hip-hop.

Reeko Squeeze
“Normal Dude”
Digital Single
One of the most consistent and exciting MCs around, London’s Reeko Squeeze has been on a fucking tear this year, quietly ripping off a string of winning drill-influenced, grime singles with sneaky hooks. The best of them, “Normal Dude,” is a perfect example of his muscular sound that strikes a delicate balance between malice and melody.

Ian Isiah
Digital Single
One of the freshest love songs of the year, Ian Isiah and Sinjin Hawke’s devotional sounds like nothing else I heard this year. Though Isiah’s vocal is heavily filtered, his passion comes through intensely, as he stretches and reaches for notes well outside his register. Hawke’s warped piano accompaniment compliments Isiah beautifully, giving the song a vibe that feels both classic and modern.

“Honest” (f/ Yxng Bane)
Digital Single
Somehow, five months after its debut on BBC Radio 1Xtra, there still isn’t a proper, CDQ version of this blazing single on the Interwebz. Even as a low-quality radio rip, “Honest” is still one of the best songs I’ve heard this year. JST JCK’s slick, Craig David-esque tenor effortlessly glides over satin sheets of keyboard and tasteful percussion. Fuck “Wolves” CDQ; the people demand “Honest” CDQ.

“Fire & Desire”
Views (Young Money)
If you or someone you love is, was, or has ever been involved with a fuccboi, “Fire & Desire” is for you. As a former/recovering fuccboi, the indecisiveness and fear of commitment Drake explores here hits (perhaps, a little too) close to home. 40’s low-key, Brandy flipping beat is one of Views’ best and sets a perfect, reflective forum for Drake to pine for the love of a “real ass woman” who presumably had walked away from his waffling, undeserving ass. I can relate, Drizzy.

Pity Sex
White Hot Moon (Run for Cover)
It’s almost impossible for me to listen to Pity Sex’s gorgeous tribute to vocalist Britty Drake’s late mother without getting choked up. Drake tells the heartbreaking story of her mother’s love for plums and her father’s pain at watching her wither away in front of his eyes. It’s one of the most moving things I’ve heard this year.

Dawn Richard x Kingdom
 Infrared (Fade To Mind)
Honesty has always been a core principle of the Dawn Richard experience, but she digs even deeper than usual here, admitting to an ex that she’s still not over them. The New Orleans native has always known that in vulnerability lies strength, and on “Honest,” she reminds us that the only way to grab the present you want is to have the guts to let go of the past.

“Sunday Night 1987”
Junk (Mute)
Anthony Gonzalez’s ode to late friends is a beautiful way to end a hugely underrated album. Over a gorgeous bed of neon synths, the Frenchman’s innocent vocal wonders aloud where the souls of his lost friends have gone. As somebody who intimately experienced loss this year, “Sunday Night 1987” really got under my skin and holds a special place in my heart.

Mr. Mitch
“Friend of Mine”
Digital Single
The London producer’s peaceful instrumental grime just continues to get better, and “Friend of Mine” is another slab of eery, atmospheric magic. Ever a master of vocal samples, Mitch crafts one of his most memorable hooks yet, twisting a passionate croon into an uncompromising club banger.

Jenny Hval
“Female Vampire”
Blood Bitch (09.30 on Sacred Bones)
Just one year removed from Apocalypse, girl, her exquisite, third LP (my 2nd favorite of 2015), the Norwegian multi-instrumentalist/composer is returning with another full-length. First single, “Female Vampire,” is a taut, haunting single that will burrow deeper and deeper with every listen. Hval has never been a singles artist, and I’ve tried to hold back from listening to it too much, so it will yield maximum impact when I hear it in context.

Chance The Rapper
“No Problem” (f/ 2 Chainz & Lil Wayne)
Coloring Book (Self-Released)
It’s dangerous to admit this publicly, but I’ve struggled to get into the Chicago MC’s universally beloved third full-length. I was planning on writing about it, until Paul Thompson’s review in Passion of the Weiss, basically took the words right out of mouth. While joy is meant to be the prevailing emotion expressed by Coloring Book, 90% of the joy that I’ve gotten from the album has been from this explosive, radio-friendly outlier. Ironically, Chance may have the best verse on The Life of Pablo, but to me, Tity Boi steals the show here and drops the strongest, most enjoyable bars on the whole project.

Cass McCombs
“Opposite House”
Mangy Love (out 08.26 on Anti)
The nomadic Americana vocalist has been cranking out this kind of languid, dusty folk rock for years, but he’s showing no signs of slowing down. “Opposite House” matches his trademark nimble guitarwork with a sweeping, restorative vocal melody, resulting in one of my favorite songs he’s put out in years.

Jordan Raf
“Hollywood” (f/ Chester Watson)
Digital Single
One of my favorite new artists, the LA crooner has spent the year cranking out exquisite, wanton Sunset Blvd sleaze. On “Hollywood,” he links up with rising Florida MC, Chester Watson, to extol the virtues and vices of his hometown.

“What Do You Mean It’s 1985”
Digital Single
This delicious, 80’s style flip of the Beebs smash is exactly what is great about music on the Internet. Created by an anonymous Youtuber named TRONICBOX, “What Do You Mean it’s 1985?” pairs Bieber’s velvety vocals with Richard Marx synths, reverb-soaked electronic drums, and a cheestastic sax solo. Just glorious.

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