In the past 6 months, the world of music has absolutely delivered. The writers and friends of Bro Jackson got together to pick some of their favorite jams of 2016 thus far. We also put together a Spotify playlist (scroll to the bottom) with all the songs we wrote about in addition to several honorable mentions that we selected as well (Sorry, Beyhive, none of her stuff is on Spotify). Be sure to subscribe to the Bro Jackson Spotify Channel for tons of great music.
Chance the Rapper – “All We Got”
Jared Mintz: Since “Acid Rap” dropped back in the Spring of 2013, I don’t think there’s been a mixtape or album that’s gotten even a fraction of the attention that tape has gotten from my car radio. As a hip-hop fan who’s somewhere between being “trapped in the 90’s,” “give me soulful hip-hop,” and “I fuck with some Drake but not a ton of other new shit,” Chance The Rapper‘s instrumentals, combined with the heartfelt lyrics of a young adult who realizes the struggle’s coming to an end, and if it doesn’t, fuck it, really resonated with me.
While I can’t say I’m as in love with “Coloring Book” as I was with “Acid Rap,” “All We Got” gives me the same feeling that “Good Ass Intro” did, even echoing the “and we back!” sentiment that the intro to “Acid Rap” brought. Chance once again uses his intro song (even though he clarifies that this track isn’t just an intro, it’s an entree) to update us on where he is in his life, and the upbeat 23-year old still manages to come across so humble, despite the success he’s found over the last three years.
I truly appreciate Chance getting deeper on tracks like “Same Drugs,” but “All We Got” represents peak soulful Chano for me, as a dude who stays in his own lane despite criticism, drinks tea to chill out, but at the same time, threatens to put Satan’s head in a toilet bowl. Put Chance in a blender with a choir, some horns, and even Kanye West on the hook, and you get a happy Jared.
Honorable mentions: Kanye West – “No more Parties in LA”
M83 – “Laser Gun”
Sean Swaby: Never stop dreaming, M83.
While Anthony Gonzalez’s highly anticipated “Junk” was hit with general derision due to its inability to match the widespread appeal of the beautiful “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming,” he’s created something as dreamy as it is nostalgic.
And that’s why it’s great.
Sure, “Laser Gun” won’t appear on every fucking (insert commercial/movie trailer/credits here), much like the hits of “Hurry Up,” but it captures what makes the M83 so appealing to begin with. For a man who so deeply loathes the button-pushing, ahem, “junk” in modern music, “Laser Gun” represents a throwback to an 80s-like vibe with a modern twist.
It begins with a whimsical piano riff, shifts gears from peaceful melodic overtones aided by Gonzalez’s compatriot and collaborator, Mai Lan, to upbeat bits that give you a certain urge to give your calves and neck an on-the-spot workout.
It’s not perfect. It’s probably not the best song of 2016, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s an ode to the past. It’s unpredictable. The elementary-school chorus beckons child-like optimism. It’s hopelessly addictive. And, of greatest importance, it’s fun. Pure, unadulterated fun. And isn’t that why we consume music in the first place?
Honorable Mentions: Braids – “Companion”/ Lucien – “Young Magic”/ Anderson Paak – “The Bird”
Beyoncé – “Sorry”
Ben Alisuag: Contrary to its title, Beyoncé’s “Sorry” is unapologetic AF. She has no time for metaphors here – she is headed to the club, she ain’t thinking about you. This is my favorite Beyoncé, the “to the left, to the left” Beyoncé, the “I don’t care if Michelle falls down, I’m gon’ keep dancing my ass off” Beyoncé.
The song’s true power though lies in its ability to serve as a dual anthem for both feminists and Black Americans. For women, “Sorry” is a rallying cry against infidelity. It’s the song that will simultaneously get you hyped for the club, but also give you the confidence to walk away from a broken marriage (shout out to Bey for discussing GROWN problems).
What I think is particularly poignant is that this song has opened up a national discourse by challenging traditional Western perceptions of beauty (read: White). It is no coincidence that Beyoncé rocks both micro braids and cornrows in this video, or that she explicitly calls out her cheating lover and his penchant for girls with “good hair.”
And on top of all that, “Sorry” is just an infectious song. I’ve seen grown men belt the chorus in their best falsetto, while simultaneously waving their middle fingers up, as if in perfect choreography with Beyoncé.
You think there is a song that even comes close to beating “Sorry” for song of the year? Boy, BYE.
Honorable Mentions: Flume – “Never Be Like You”
Radiohead – “Burn the Witch”
Thomas Cox: As their first single in five years, Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch” is a satisfyingly unsettling mix of beauty and darkness. Fierce strings beat out the melody from the start, and the intensity builds throughout the song. Anxiety and paranoia set in even before Thom Yorke’s voice tells you, “this is a low flying panic attack.” Vague electronica dances in the background, along with the occasional disjointed sounds of just-off-key notes and more squealing strings. And yet, it’s all very pretty, as most Radiohead tracks are.
The accompanying music video – a claymation mashup inspired by British children’s programming and “The Wicker Man” – is equally charming and unsettling. As is often the case, while the story in the song itself is relatively straightforward, the meaning in it is open for debate. Interpretations range from it being a commentary on: the dangers of groupthink, to the U.S. political climate, to the European migrant crisis, to issues of mass surveillance. Since the song has apparently been waiting in the wings since the early 2000s, it likely applies to many things at once. To me, the song is a cerebral horror movie written as music, and I love it. Haunt me, thrill me, burn me, and keep me coming back for more.
And of course, I can drive to it.
Kanye West – Ultra Light Beam
Jose Flores: By now, we all know the deal. Kanye says something stupid, or does something stupid, we laugh and roll our eyes, some of us get outraged, others write a thinkpiece, and then we all go back to waiting for his next album. Before “The Life of Pablo dropped,” I laughed and rolled my eyes at it being “a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing on it.” This from the man who coined “Yeezus.”
But then I pressed play on Pablo, and I heard the prayer of a child, and I heard organs. I heard drums and I heard choir. I heard gospel, and Mr. West said “we on an ultralight beam,” and I don’t even know what that is but I believed him. Chance the Rapper made me say “Uhh!” and Kelly Price made me wonder why it’s been so long since I last went to church.
Only an egomaniac could make a song so perfect. But I’ll say this for the egomaniac, he sure has a knack for knowing when to surrender the spotlight. He’s the fifth or sixth most important person on this track, the opening track of a long awaited album, choosing to get behind Chance and Kelly Price and Kirk Franklin and The-Dream and that choir. Dear God, that choir. The fifth or sixth most important and yet clearly the most important. Kanye West: I swear he’s not that bad.
Mayer Hawthorne – “Love like that”
Evan Barnes: Mayer Hawthorne‘s always been dope, but ever since his 2013 solo album “Where Does This Door Go,” he’s gotten even cooler finding his voice as a funky soul man instead of just sounding like an excellent revival artist. Between that album and his side project Tuxedo last year, I’ve found myself dancing more to his music besides being in love with his voice, production and natural cool.
His latest album “Man About Town” keeps the fun going and “Love Like That” is one of my faves this year. It’s got everything I love in R&B – a bouncy groove, funky synths, wishing for love – and it’ll make you smile. It’ll even make you dance and hey, we all need to get loose right? Or is it just me? Besides, for you who keep asking when Frank Ocean is dropping his long awaited follow-up to “Channel Orange,” listen to Mayer Hawthorne instead; then you’ll realize you have more than enough soul going and your feet moving.
Honorable Mentions: The 1975 – “She’s American” / Maxwell – “Lake By The Ocean
Drake – “Controlla”
Varoon Bose: If you didn’t listen to the live stream of Drake’s “Views” during the Apple live stream on Zane Lowe’s show, it was nearly impossible to have an unbiased opinion of the album. In fact, even if you did listen along with the thousands of other OVO fans, rating the album wouldn’t be hard. Within seconds, the timeline had reached a consensus. ” Trash”
So if you’re like me, and believe everything Twitter says, you decided the same. Until 5 weeks later you took the time to actually listen to the album, with the full expectation that it would sound like nails on a chalkboard. Only then did you realize it wasn’t a waste bin emoji. It was fine. In fact, it was good.
We’ve put Drake in the same zeitgeist as Kanye and Beyonce in that we expect every album release to be an event, a cultural revolution. We imagine he’ll push the boundaries with new sounds, the way Kanye did on “The Life of Pablo” or make some major political statement in grandiose fashion like Bey. But no, Drake just did Drake. We picked a narrative for him, hoping that he’d bless us an masterpiece of an album. But no. He delivered an album not just reminiscent of his past, but of his past albums. It’s a controlled, rigid work of art. And the genius of it? No matter how hard we resist, we’re still humming along, scratch that, singing along to every lyric and swaying with our dance partners at whatever summer wedding or club we’re at. That’s what Drake does. No matter how hard we fight, his music permeates our lives, and we joyfully succumb.
Allen Stone – Freedom (Alt Version)
Brett Herskowitz: Allen Stone‘s “Radius” came out in 2015, along with the first single off the album, “Freedom.” However, the deluxe edition of the album and the alt version of “Freedom” came out in 2016 so I’m rolling with it. It may be a wee bit of a stretch, but I’m sticking with it anyway because this song, and this album as a whole, is that good.
“Freedom (Alt Version)” is the musical embodiment of a smoky, dimly-lit jazz club. Honestly, I don’t smoke cigarettes, but I feel like when I listen to this song I should be smoking one of those long, skinny ones you’d see jazz club attendees smoking back in the day.
Mellower and in a lower key than the original, the alt version captures the jazzy, R&B roots of the song. This allows Stone to take a step back and really sink his teeth into the vocals, seamlessly switching from his chest voice to his falsetto – probably a little TOO easily, if you ask me (I’m insinuating that he may not be human). Admittedly, I’m a bit of a sucker for a good horn section and Stone’s backup band certainly does not disappoint. Nor does the build-up during the bridge leading into the last chorus, where Stone does his thang.
While this may be a slightly unconventional choice for my song of the year thus far, given that pop music almost requires a bumping bass in every song, it’s refreshing to know artists like Allen Stone are still around producing great music such as this.
Honorable mentions: Jon Bellion – “Guillotine” / Kygo – “Fragile” / Panic! at the Disco – Death of a Bachelor”
Young Thug – “Digits”
Drew Corrigan: Young Thug is at his best when he’s seamlessly slithering through a track with a flow that isn’t really comparable to anyone in today’s game. That’s what “Digits” is. It’s Thugger in beast mode. The combination of A1 production, engineering, and a motivated Thug is deadly. The beat drop at :28 seconds is one that rivals that of “Father Stretch My Hands.” Not to mention, the London + Thugger duo is always (always, always) a banger.
The first time I heard “Digits,” I knew this was “that” song. Hundreds of plays later, this song still sends chills up my spine, because it encapsulates what Young Thug is capable of at his peak. “Digits” let me know that Thug wasn’t fucking around anymore. He’s here to take the game.
Simply, it’s my song of the year because I still can’t get enough of it. It came out in March. It’s almost July and it still hasn’t worn on me.
And, in a way, “Digits” is inspirational at its core.
You can lose your life but it gon’ keep goin’
Why not risk life when it’s gon’ keep goin’?
When you die somebody else was born
But at least we got to say
We ran up them digits we ran up that money
Basically, Thugger is telling us to live our life because the world is going to keep going with or without you. So, live your life and enjoy it as much as you can while you have the time. And when it’s 2 AM on a Friday night, it couldn’t be more true.
Honorable Mentions: Chance the Rapper – “Mixtape” / Fat Joe – “All the Way Up” (Remix) / A$AP Ferg – “New Level” / Lil’ Uzi Vert – “You Was Right”
John War – “The Difference”
Seena Ratcliffe: “The Difference” is a perfect summer jam. Not lacking in energy or substance, it’s good for partying, driving, or sweating on a porch waiting for the blazing inferno of a sun to go away. It’s absolutely packed to the gills with layers, ranging from airy synths to funk guitars, à la 90s R&B. This would usually make a song feel claustrophobic, but John War has perfected his brand of maximalist pop and blends so many disparate styles harmoniously into each other.
He mixes his vocal into the music as another instrument rather than the centerpiece for everything else to support, which complements the themes of forgettable one-night stands and acting instead of over-thinking. It’s the soundtrack to a whiskey-soaked, blurry night that leaves you regretting almost everything you said or did the night before. The type of night that makes you feel like you were in a cool movie with red lighting, slow motion shots of you dancing and making others laugh, and fearlessly talking to and hooking up with someone. Basically, the kind of night where you become everything you’re not and end up hating yourself for thinking that you’re a character from “Girls” that doesn’t care about their immediate future or other people’s feelings.
The song is fun. It’s interesting. It bumps. It’s everything you want in a summer jam.
Honorable Mentions: Mitski – “Your Best American Girl” / Kaytranada – “Bus Ride”
Kanye West – “Champions”
Nick Slegel: 2016 has been a big, and busy, year for Kanye West, with a lofty promise of three albums before year’s end. Halfway through the year, we’ve received the acclaimed album “The Life of Pablo,” plus features on tracks from Drake, ScHoolboy Q, and Young Thug. Aside from presumably working on the other two albums for this year, working on his fashion line, and tweeting stupid shit, Kanye and Co. at G.O.O.D. Music have been hard at work on “Cruel Winter,” the follow up to 2012’s compilation album, “Cruel Summer.”
Earlier this month, Kanye released the first single from “Cruel Winter,” titled “Champions”. The fire track features guest artists Quavo (the only good member of Migos), Travi$ Scott, Gucci Mane, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, Yo Gotti, and Desiigner (the “Panda” guy). Produced by Kanye, A-Trak, Lex Luger, and Mike Dean, the minimalist beat features sharp synthesizers and crisp snare hits, mixed with deep bass/grungy, deep synth hits. The beat does a wonderful job of driving the song while staying the hell out of the artists’ way.
Travi$ delivers a catchy hook with the help of Desiigner basically making noises in the background. Kanye and Gucci deliver solid verses, as expected; but the real bright spots are Quavo’s intro, along with insane verses from Big Sean and 2 Chainz. You might want to check for a pulse if you aren’t bobbing your head and/or don’t have your hands above your head by the time Sean spits “I wake up to like a hundred texts. Championship team, but we can’t cut the net. She all off in my jersey lookin’ under-dressed…” This is a perfect song to lead us into summer (so much better than our annual Flo Rida joint) and really gets me amped for the release of “Cruel Winter.”
Honorable Mentions: D.R.A.M. – “Broccoli” / DJ Esco ft Future & Young Thug – “Who” / Chance the Rapper – “No Problem”
James Blake – “Meet you in the Maze”
Alex Magdaleno: Writing this on the day Blood Orange released his latest album, “Freetown Sound”, I’m tempted to throw out a knee-jerk reaction in “Better Than Me” featuring pop goddess Carly Rae Jepsen. But if I’m being true to when the musical earthquake actually happened this year, I’d have to pick the last song off James Blake’s third studio album (and “Lemonade” aftershock), “The Colour in Anything.”
After 16 songs that lull you into a hypnosis that only comes from a sound perfected over the last three years, Blake offers just one simple question in the last five minutes: Do you understand me? Do you get me now?
He asks you delicately. It’s sparse, maybe the most minimalist record in an achingly minimalist body of work. He asks you without pretense — without instrumentation, carried by the different levels of distorted James’ owed largely to the guided stylings of Bon Iver.
He asks you because “Meet You In The Maze” is the heartblood of it all. It’s undeniably “The Colour in Anything” and it’s undeniably James Blake — whether that’s a confidence in his voice (those killer crooning hums especially), the mastery of his sound, or the purity of his lyricism recited by said empowered, crystalline voice.
Admittedly, choosing to add “Meet You In The Maze” was heavily influenced by the gifted gray skies in San Francisco the day the album was released. And maybe on it’s own — taken away from The Colour in Anything, dreary days, and foggy nights — it might not do much for you.
But I promise you this: if you’re ever in need of a some sort of emotional release — whether that’s sometimes or all of the time — in the last six months of a year that looks to be nothing short of unpredictable insanity, go find James in that maze.
Honorable Mentions: Blood Orange – “Better Than Me”
Beyonce – “Formation”
Mel Evans: Beyonce slays yet again. On the eve of Super Bowl whatever it was this year, we all felt a little queasy about the halftime show. Coldplay? Coldplay. We knew Beyonce would show up and save us all (I even predicted as much for Rotovitz) but at the time all we could reliably expect was that stupid Coldplay song she sang the chorus on. That wasn’t a halftime show. That wasn’t even a radio hit.
But indeed, Queen Bey surprised us the day before the game with the “Formation” video (available exclusively on Tidal.) An unabashed ode to female empowerment, to black female empowerment, the song gave a sneak peak at the game changer that would hit us two months later with “Lemonade.” “Formation” is a separate floating piece on the album, tagged on at the end but no less powerful. It is probably the most danceable, and definitely the most quotable in my house. And for good reason – everyday we should be reminded to twirl on them haters. Thank you, Beyonce, for reminding us to slay all day.