We’ll Remember 2016 for These 16 Hits and (16 Misses) in Music

Our faves and the sorely underrated sounds of the year.

By Jasmine Grant and Kyle Hodge

2016 will go down in history as the year Beyonce got us in ’Formation,’ Future’s rap twin had bigger hits than he did, and a hook sang by Rihanna caused a rift between two songwriting exes. This year was crazy in pretty much every aspect, but there were quite a few wild cards when it came to songs that popped and ones that dropped.

For every hit, there was a miss. In this case, we’re defining misses as songs that were insanely good but didn’t catch on as deserved. We’ve rounded up 16 of our favorites 2016 hits (this turned out to be harder than we thought) and 16 sorely underrated jams that could have been hits under different circumstances.

We’ve thought about this long and hard, so don’t @ us with your “well, actually’s”. Get into it!

HITS

  • Beyoncé – “Formation”

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    This one is a no brainer. Not only did Beyoncé bust out of the gate and surprise us with with a seriously sickening song and video for her breakout 2016 single “Formation,” seeing Beyoncé showcase and celebrate Black womanhood and Southern culture in such a major way was a breath of fresh air. “Formation” was a dominating chart topper and ended up being the most Googled song of 2016. And, well…duh.

  • Rihanna ft. Drake – “Work”

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    When it comes to charting, a Drake and Rihanna collaboration can’t miss. “Work” was perhaps one of the hottest songs of 2016. So hot, it needed to be captured in not one but two music videos. The song peaked at number one on the Billboard charts in its 4th week. Fans and music critics alike loved Riri’s decision to revisit to her dancehall roots. Currently, the video above has over 800 million YouTube views and a billi doesn’t seem too far out of reach.

  • Drake – “One Dance”

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    If we’re talking about hits for the year, of course Drake will be in that conversation. For whatever reason, Drizzy gets dancehall. On top of that, he has a magical way of bringing international talent to the American periphery. Wizkid and Kyla, hailing from Nigeria and London respectively, joined this track to give it that missing magic. In terms of how the song performed, Drake hit nothing but net with this one. The song shot to number one in 10 countries, sold 2 million copies and became the first song to hit 1 billion plays on Spotify.

  • Desiigner – “Panda”

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    Unless you were living under a rock in 2016 (which, if so, lucky you), then you’re quite familiar with “Panda.” Desiigner, who’s voice and rap style is often mistaken with Atlanta rapper Future, blew up after being sampled and appearing on Kanye’s latest project The Life Of Pablo. “Panda” peaked at number one on Billboard charts, making the 19-year old rapper the youngest artist to hit the Hot 100 charts since Lorde. Desiigner’s high-energy performances of the song also made him as a conversation piece/perhaps frightened us a little.

  • Fifth Harmony – “Work From Home”

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    Fifth Harmony made us believe in the magic of girl groups again with their single “Work From Home.” Some assistance from Ty Dolla Sign wasn’t a bad touch either. The song has a catchy, rhythmic hook that you can’t help but bop to, making it their highest charting single to date. But the real magic is in the video, which racked in an unprecedented 1 billion views on YouTube and reigns as the most watched music video of 2016. And no wonder, because who can say no to twerking construction workers?

  • Young M.A. – “OOOUUU”

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    No unsigned artist had a better year than Brooklyn’s own Young M.A. The underground rapper somehow instinctively knew upon hearing the instrumentals for the first time that this record would be the one to catapult her to the top. “I was really smizz and drizz when I recorded the record so it feels authentic,” she confessed to Genius. “Something one day just told me that I needed to put this out—nobody told me, just one day I thought this would take me to the next level.” Since then, fellow rappers like 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj and Jadakiss have all remixed the track. Now, that’s ’ooouuuvie.’

  • Fat Joe, Remy Ma, JAY Z – “All The Way Up (Remix)” ft. French Montana, Infared

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    Remy Ma wasted no time getting back in the studio after being released from prison. Remy, Fat Joe and French Montana hit the bulls eye with their club banger “All The Way Up.” The record had major backing from all NYC DJ’s which then quickly spread into other markets. The hit was so undeniable, Jay Z had to make a rare appearance and bless the track with a feature. There’s nothing like seeing New York rappers come together for the culture.

  • Bruno Mars – “24K Magic”

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    This synth-pop song was a little bit Parliament, a little bit Prince and the epitome of LIT! Bruno Mars singlehandedly revived an appreciation for funk music with this old school meets new school jam. Bruno is always reliable for giving us that gaudy, 80’s party glitz perfectly melded with the pop essentials of modern day. This feel good track is impossible not to groove to, and within a couple of months has already sold half a million copies.

  • Chance the Rapper ft. 2 Chainz & Lil Wayne – “No Problem”

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    Chance The Rapper sort of organically became rap’s golden boy in 2016. Many of his rap peer’s took a liking to this Chicago kid as the newcomer in the game and clearly wanted to see him win. We see that made obvious in the song “No Problem” where he’s joined by Lil’ Wayne and 2Chainz. The video features cameos from the likes of DJ Khaled, Young Thug, and fellow Chicago rapper King Louie.

  • Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj – “Side to Side”

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    The reggae-pop craze was everything this year, as evidenced by Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj’s hit “Side to Side.” The songs landed at number #4 on the charts and became the best performing single from Ariana’s latest album Dangerous Woman. Who knew a song about having so much sex you can’t walk straight could be so damn catchy?

  • Sia ft. Sean Paul – “Cheap Thrills”

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    Sia has been the woman with the pen for mostly every major pop artist including Beyonce, Rihanna, Britney Spears and Katy Perry (to name a few). So it’s nice to see this well-deserved and talented hitmaker lock in a #1 of her own. The reggae-infused mid-tempo groove and carefree lyrics are a recipe for a hit. It’s almost as if Sia intended this to be the go-to ’getting ready on a Friday night’ jam for the ladies, which we can always use more of.

  • Solange – “Cranes in the Sky”

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    Solange’s return to music couldn’t have been executed better. Her fourth album was kicked off by the dreamy yet somber tune “Cranes In The Sky.” The percussive single, produced by Rafael Saadiq and written by Solange eight years ago, was met with rave reviews and performed well on the charts. With Solange’s return, she and her big sis Beyonce became the first sisters ever to snag a #1 album. Ya’ll better know them Knowles women don’t play!

  • Rae Sremmurd – “Black Beatles”

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    The success of “Black Beatles” this year perfectly reinforces the power of the Internet. The song was already in the top 20 before becoming the background song of the social media-fueled #mannequinchallenge, which helped the song skyrocket to number one and made it the 3rd most Googled song of the year. This is a first #1 hit for both Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane, and their first top 10 song in the UK and Canada.

  • The Chainsmokers ft. Daya – “Don’t Let Me Down”

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    American production duo The Chainsmokers found a way to perfectly merge acoustic pop with trap in the wildly popular song “Don’t Let Me Down” which features vocals from 18-year old singer Daya. The song took off like a rocket and landed at number three on the hot 100 charts – the best performing single for both artists.

  • Kanye West ft. The Dream, Chance The Rapper, Kirk Franklin & Kelly Price – “Ultralight Beam”

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    “Ultralight Beam” works as a spiritual cleanse and serves as the intro to Kanye West’s “gospel” album The Life of Pablo. The opening track is filled with memorable musical moments: from the little girl testifying in the beginning, to Chance the Rappers breakout verse, to Kirk Franklin testifying at the end. This track is musical food for the soul, and without question stands out from the rest of the hip-hop music in 2016.

  • Calvin Harris/Rihanna – This Is What You Came For

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    One of the best collaborations of the year came from Calvin Harris and Rihanna. The Bajan pop queen has shown time and time again that her contagious voice can turn any hook to gold. Mix that with the catchy writing from Harris and ex-girlfriend Taylor Swift, and you have a hit.

  • Mac Miller ft. Anderson Paak – “Dang!”

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    It seems like 2016 was all about the funk-inspired feel good tracks (see “24K Magic up top). So why this song never exactly popped in a mainstream way, we’ll never know. But boy, does this joint go off. The song was a breakout single from Mac Miller’s incredible (and also underrated) album The Divine Feminine. Perhaps radio didn’t really do its part to get this single off the ground, or maybe we were just too distracted by Mac Miller’s love affair with Ariana Grande. Either way, it’s a shame this song didn’t take off the way it should have.

  • Iggy Azalea – “Team”

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    Iggy Azalea has been swallowed up in a sea of drama pretty much since she hit the scene. After a brief hiatus from music amid personal drama, “Team” seemed to mark Iggy’s comeback season. We initially cringed at the idea of Iggy singing, but lo and behold she pulled it off while finding her lane between rap and electropop. Unfortunately, “Team” didn’t get the same club and radio play as her undisputed hit “Fancy” and became just a fart in the wind. We’d love to see Iggy win again, though!

  • David Bowie – “Lazarus”

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    David Bowie’s final album Blackstar was released two days before his death. While fans of the legendary pop star were grieving, they were holding on to classics like “Rocketman.” Fans interpreted Bowie’s final album to be darker than his earlier works – almost as if it were a reflection of his final moments. This track definitely got lost in the shufffle.

  • Noname – “Diddy Bop”

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    Noname is one of the most impressive acts to emerge this year with her project Telefone, more notably her single “Diddy Bop.” Her breakout track has a luxurious and warm beat with playful and confident lyrics featuring forestalling, singing, and slam poetry. Its chill vibe will organically make you reminiscence about the good times. Sadly, Noname’s success flew under the radar for much of 2016.

  • DVSN – “With Me”

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    Drake’s co-sign has helped many artists breakout into the mainstream including The Weeknd and PARTYNEXTDOOR. Well next up on the list is OVO (October’s Very Own) R&B duo DVSN. The mix of Nineteen85’s electronic-R&B swing and Daley’s booming vocals is grown-folks music that will keep growing on you, especially on their hit record “With Me.” If you haven’t heard it’s probably because bigger label names like Drake and PARTYNEXTDOOR (apart of OVO also) both dropped albums this year, but DVSN proved that they shouldn’t be slept on. Here’s proof.

  • Post Malone Feat. Justin Bieber – “Deja Vu”

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    Post Malone and Justin Bieber’s “Déjà vu” is low-key one of the best songs of the year. It’s warm beat and catchy hook solidifies the “White Iverson” singer/rapper as more than a one hit wonder and proves that BFF’s Malone and Biebs have a great musical chemistry. After the three minutes and fifty-four seconds of great R&B crooning, you’re left wanting more and hitting the repeat button without question. The single does get a healthy dosage of radio-play, but it seems like this song is on no ones radar. No ones talking about it, and it’s left off many “best of the year” lists. What gives?

  • Jidenna – “Little Bit More”

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    Jidenna is best known for his ultra-catchy pop tune “Classic Man.” When you’ve had a hit that big, perhaps its hard to catch the same exact wave. Nonetheless, we thought “Little Bit More” lived up to its name in terms of energy. We didn’t really hear it being celebrated nearly as much as his preceeding single, and that’s a real shame.

  • BJ The Chicago Kid – “Heart Crush”

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    In our “turn up” culture, the appreciation for good old-fashioned, achy R&B breakup songs has dwindled. So we have to tip our hat to Issa Rae and her hit show Insecure for bringing this amazing song to our attention. In it, BJ confronts a relationship that has long fizzled out – admitting to his woman that although the love was once there, things need to end. Lyrically, the song is everything and more.

  • D.R.A.M – “WiFi”

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    It’s always nice to see the OG’s of the game link up with the newbies. In this case, D.R.A.M getting the opportunity to work with Erykah Badu was a huge win. We knew D.R.A.M was a dope artist from his hit song “Broccoli,” but this incense-and-tea worthy joint was a hugely understated offering from the Virginia artist.

  • Frank Ocean – “Pink + White”

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    For as much as music heads begged and pleaded for new Frank Ocean material early this year, it’s odd that this song didn’t get more buzz. We’re seriously wondering what radio DJ’s have against alternative R&B, because this joint from Frank Ocean didn’t get many spins. It stands to reason that if more people knew Beyoncé secretly provided background vocals for this song, it would’ve gotten more interest.

  • A Tribe Called Quest – “We The People”

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    We’ll be the first to say it: A Tribe Called Quest’s final album wasn’t as celebrated as it should have been. The gritty political message in this song was much needed. This also produced one of the best verses from the late Phife Dawg to date.

  • Blood Orange – “Desirée”

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    Singer/songwriter/producer Dev Hynes, more known as Blood Orange, fuses R&B and electronic music with an unmistakable vibe. His song “Desirée” was featured in multiple television and movie soundtracks this year including HBO’s “Insecure.” Though Blood Orange’s music is more widely known in the indie/underground circuit, Dev has written for major acts like Carly Rae Jepsen, Solange, Florence and the Machine and many more.

  • Childish Gambino – “Redbone”

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    When an artist can tap into different genres as if they’ve been making that kind of music they’re whole life, you gotta respect it. Childish Gambino delivered an old school groove we didn’t know he had in him. It’s a sharp deviation from the futuristic hiptster rap we were used to getting from the actor/rapper.

  • Isaiah Rashad – “Smile”

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    Isaiah Rashad hit the jackpot with his song “Smile,” and we’re sad more ears didn’t come across this. The young rapper hailing from Tennessee, is signed to T.D.E. alongside Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and singer SZA, so it could be that his music is truly getting lost in the shuffle among his label mates. We recommend giving his stuff a thorough listen.

  • H.E.R – “Losing”

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    Artists who keep their identity a secret aren’t new (see Daft Punk, DVSN, Sia, etc). But there’s something special about H.E.R. The 19-year-old R&B artist hasn’t revealed who she is and only uses mysterious silhouettes on her social media and cover art in order to keep our attention on sounds. Despite celebrity co-signs from Alicia Keys, Wyclef Jean, Bryson Tiller, H.E.R’s music is still somewhat of a hidden treasure.

  • Kamaiyah – “I’m On”

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    Kamaiyah is a 24-year old rapper from Oakland, California whose music bleeds West Coast pride. Her song “I’m On” samples Bernard Wright’s 80’s funk it “Who Do You Love” and reflects on surviving the struggle and finally seeing better days. Much like most of her music, this track has that breezy, laid back feel that could be the perfect soundtrack to a summer barbecue or celebrating when that direct deposit hits.

Watch the stars of VH1’s The Breaks, Mack Wilds, Afton Williamson, and Sinqua Walls, discuss their favorite music of the year.