Saturday, December 17, 2016

Top 25 Beats Of 2016

Every year, surprisingly, beats are become tougher and tougher to judge. Likely a result of mass consumption, each song's beat simultaneously impresses me in different ways, while disappointing me in others. Essentially, they all fall towards the middle, making it difficult to select top tier winners. Nonetheless we have them here. And while, for three-quarters of the year, I was left wondering just what beat would take the top spot, when number one arrived it did so convincingly. There is no question here. But not to knock the 24 that ensue, we have quite the range of largely Hip-Hop beats to consume here. Ones that represented the shift in sonic dynamics 2016 presented us with.

Kanye West | Fade
The Life Of Pablo

As the closer, or the closer to the bonus tracks whatever, 'Fade' still works for the mere fact that it's a send-off to the wild party that was The Life Of Pablo. Layered vocals pulsate and battle at making the catchiest rhythms they can foster. Apparently critics don't like this song, and I can only assume it's for the beat, and I'm not sure why. What it sets out to do it captures and evades, making something even grander. Things build and build towards the end, adding yet another sample, culminating in this breathless sendoff that takes out all the lows for this vocal mashup.


Ant | Like A Fire
Fishing Blues

It's safe to say the first moments of Fishing Blues surprised the hell out of me. I was expecting, almost dreading, a painfully dull album. And while, in some respects, the LP was that, 'Like A Fire's' beat was anything but. Ant's jaunty and bouncing vocal samples mixed with some abrasive drums and simple synths was all it took to launch Atmosphere back into my consciousness, if only for a moment.


Roget Chahayad | Broccoli
Big Baby D.R.A.M.

You wanna know why 'Broccoli' succeeds in spite of itself? Because, like your trove of high-charting singles, it is immediately identifiable. The downright stupid beat, which prominently features a single-note piano, acts as a conductor to listeners' ears, forcing them, our of sheer curiosity, to see what the hell is going on and why it's on the radio. Then Lil Yachty comes in and it gets even more confusing, joined in quick succession by a monstrous bass. Just like that, your (as of right now) quintessential Bubblegum Trap song is created.


Paul White | Admitting The Endorphin Addiction
Hella Personal Film Festival

This one hit me immediately. The second Paul White's laid back 70's palate kicked in the amalgamation between OME and him was harmonized. It's simple, direct and entirely representative of what's soon to come. A small, nimble guitar riff glides through pitter pattered drums and distant finger snaps. Then in the chorus a crackily sample appears and everything falls into place. Nothing more, nothing less, only the essentials make 'Admitting The Endorphin Addiction' an incredibly pleasant beat.


Knox Fortune | Girls @

The entirety of 'Girls @' is infectious as all hell, but part of that has to do with its foundation. A nimble beat that uses the environment over typical beat structures, it's constantly in flux, adding small elements around each bend, but still giving enough room for Purp and Chance to shine. Bears a strong resemblance to Azealia Banks' '212' as well, which is another fantastic beat, and an originator of this small, but curated dance sound.


Massive Attack | Voodoo In My Blood
Ritual Spirit

'Voodoo In My Blood' is a beast. Probably the easiest song to replay time and time again so far this year. Much of that is due to the beat, with starts off good enough, but after the first chorus by Young Fathers things take a demented, demonic turn. Janky hi-hats bounce off lurking synths and wirey vocals to make this cataclysmic sound that only gets more intense as it progresses. A guitar joins in to, as does a concrete bass, to give this a classic Drum N' Bass feel. It's just gargantuan.

Erick Arc Elliott | A Spike Lee Joint
3001: A Laced Odyssey

Even though I feel he's appropriately represented amongst Hip-Hop communities, mainly due to his affiliations with Flatbush, I can't help but think of Eric Arc Elliott as a producer whose being underrated left and right. When do you hear him mentioned in topics of best producers of the past five years? Almost never, when he always should. 'A Spike Lee Joint' scaled back the facade he spends albums building up, the sound FBZ is used to, by risking it all with a low end that shakes, background hums that null the void, and a saxophone, yes a saxophone, that never distracts from the tune as a whole. Now that's an impressive feat given how peculiar it is amongst Flatbush's discography, and only goes to further prove Elliott's worth as the most important piece in the group.


Gold Panda | Your Good Times
Good Luck And Do Your Best

There were a lot of good beats to be found on Good Luck & Do Your Best, and, admittedly, a lot of forgettable ones. The finale though couldn't have been better executed. It really feels like the perfect send-off, mainly due to those conclusive keyboard hits and the horn medley that comes in early on. As per Gold Panda standards, or at least when he's at his best, the elements of 'Your Good Times' build up and upon one another, crafting a finale experience that leaves an incredibly good taste in your mouth.


THEMPeople | As Seen In Bethsaida
The Healing Component

Now sure, there's no denying the beat to 'As Seen In Bethsaida' is a tad bit cluttered and over modulated, but damn if Mick didn't bring out all the cards with this one. A farty, massive bass overwhelms all that huddles underneath it. That is, until Mick's verse, already full of stream, transitions with some fluttering synths flying around his head. Then, as the piece closes down, a barrage of arpeggiating synths take over as Mick fades out with his bridge. So much happening, the chaos somehow works.


clipping. - A Better Place
Splendor & Misery

In terms of clipping's Industrial side, no song in their catalog has used that subgenre quite as drastically as 'A Better Place.' There's crazier examples, like the alarm clock on 'Get Up' or the chainsaw on 'Body & Blood,' but those all make sense within your idea of clipping. 'A Better Place,' bar none, is clipping's most positive song, both in production and content. As the grand finale, when the slave realizes his life will be fine no matter where he goes into the darkness, Diggs' motivational lyrics really are just one aspect of this thrust into nothingness. The synths, darting everywhere yet somehow all in unison, really showcase the greatness of Hutson and Snipes as producers. There's hidden melodies amongst the noise, chamber bells that sound like a christmas carol, and some nice bass to offset it all. A wonderful gem to find at the end of a ridiculous story.


Hudson Mohawke | Execution

Getting Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never is an impressive feat. Getting their drastically different styles of Electronic music to collide in bliss is another thing entirely. Much of Hopelessness succeeded in this regard, but no track was more immediately enjoyable from a production standpoint than 'Execution,' which features this quick, jittery synth that you can't help but dance to. Some percussion lingering underneath and a couple of soaring spots in the hook is all it takes. 'Execution' is addictive. And easily the most fun song about execution you'll hear in your life.


Free School | So Many People
Summer Songs 2

While the bulk of Summer Songs 2 found itself nestled comfortability in Yachty's idiomatic style, 'So Many People' simultaneously built an atmosphere around him while proving to all that his skills work beyond that simple lullaby Trap sound. Just wait till those drums fall in, caressing the listener like your most sensual, modern, and sleek Alternative R&B track. With production from Free School, the beat glides across with scarcity and high value, something that's a rarity in Yachty's music, but one more than welcomed as his final send-off.


Clams Casino | Blast
32 Levels

We'll have to wait and see what 'Blast' turns into, but by all accounts it should go down in the Clams Casino canon for being one of his most acclaimed beats. Featuring a similar solar soundscape as his legendary 'I'm God,' 'Blast' cultivates with pitch-shifted vocals and massive, organic drums. An wholly masterpiece to close 32 Levels, it's a bit of a disappointment there were no tracks similar to it, but the lack of which made 'Blast' even more special.


7L | Dust
A Fistful Of Peril

On 'Dust,' A Fistful Of Peril's best track, 7L shows why Boom Bap can remain relevant decades removed from its climatic point. With superb sample usage, that sees, what must be, a wrestler trash talking an opponent morphing into the backbone of the beat, 7L brings the heat and never lets his foot off the pedal. Each bass slap, each drum kick, each dirty synth, all help to create this visceral atmosphere that really feels like you're about to enter the ring and live in a world of pain.


Paul White | Dance In The Water
Atrocity Exhibition

This, along with 'Ain't It Funny,' are the two standout performances from Paul White on Atrocity Exhibition. Sure, the downright Industrial 'Pneumonia' and the uneasy 'When It Rain' stand to compete as well, but there's something about this sample, taken from an 80's Dance-Punk outfit, that just seems so unnatural, even by Hip-Hop's continually escalating standards. It's like a ferocious tribal chant had tribes originated out of New York rather than Africa. The clanking drums, rhythmic kazoo, and fidgety vocal chopping behind Brown just go ahead and accelerate the craziness, making 'Dance In The Water' a bizarre collage that's only slightly depressed by Danny's trivial lyrics.


Frank Ocean | Rushes | Endless

I know he's highly regarded in our day and age, but did you really this Frank Ocean was capable of a beat this good? It's heavenly. And really, at its surface, so simple. But sometimes that's all it takes, some darting percussion, an evocative swath of synths, and some really delicate intangibles. I adore this beat, even better that it acts as a cinematic closer to Endless' best track.

Yoni Wolf | Lunchline | Testarossa

Being that Testarossa is a concept album you're bound to have sounds that fit in with it being a story, and many times the LP wants you to believe it's a stageplay. 'Lunchline's' beat, composed of tightly wound percussion in the middle, haunting orchestration surrounding it, and flurries of children playing in the seams, makes for an experience that's wholly enthralling.

Nottz | Atlantis | Titans In The Flesh

Titans In The Flesh succeeded, in some respects, when Blu and Nottz battled against each other. Much of Blu's lyrics centered around prophetic visions of his perceived apocalypse. You'd assume, as the 'Atlantis Remix' would show you, that dark, ominous production would match. But as Blu unravels his doomsday tales, the title, and Nottz's production, gives way to a sight of hope. Dotting sampled vocal chops, bright drums, and DJ scratches help to counteract Blu from going down a destructive path on 'Atlantis.' 

Nosaj Thing | N R 3 | No Reality

I don't know what it is about 'N R 3's' odd vocal sample sparking in and out of the thunderous drums but the feeling it gives me is unmatched. The sample of unknown origin never seeks to answer its existence, never lasting more than a syllable, but its impact is immediate. With just that and some nimble percussion the dark piece turns into a Dancehall influenced piece, one where some nihilistic voodoo ritual is taking place.

The Social Experiment | How Great | Coloring Book

Part of the glory behind 'How Great's' beat is the transition between the (admittedly long) Gospel intro and the beat at large. It is damn near flawless, as the singers themselves become a loop with slight percussion thrown into the mix. Chance, in his playful ways, throws a baby saying "okay" just for the hell of it. And that's it. Chance works best with what little he has, 'How Great's' beat is another great example of that.

Death Grips | Three Bedrooms | Bottomless Pit

There is sooooo much going on in 'Three Bedrooms In A Good Neighborhood,' even by Bottomless Pit's standards. Not a single moment goes by without the next one taking its place as a one-upper. They somehow are able to make reversed drums, a la old Beastie Boys, exciting and invigorating, along with hidden vocals being mashed into flubber behind the hodgepodge of synths, guitars, and drums.

Baauer | Sow | Aa

Whoever decided that 'Sow' was a Trap beat masked through Kuduro, a genre I've never known before, props to you. Cause this is, once again, another beat that does everything so well yet is really hard to describe. Saying World music would be an injustice on the music's behalf, and ignorance on mine. So I'll leave it at Kuduro, say it sounds layered, complex and inviting, and equal parts as wonderful.

clipping. | Wriggle | Wriggle

So that original 'Wriggle Like A Fucking Eel' is one hell of a song huh? Obviously, I didn't know it prior to clipping introducing me to it, but man is that thing wild. Even more impressive though, is the fact that somehow clipping manages to capture the insanity, re-tweak it, and turn it into a Hip-Hop beat only Diggs could rap over. 'Wriggle' reminds me of Footwork, in that it escalates to a 10 almost immediately and never lets off the gas. Just a constant battering ram of vocals, drums, synths, everything, all at once, and it still sounds good.

Nez & Rio | Tookie Knows II | Blank Face

Definitely the hardest part of the entirety of Blank Face, and as a send-off that's a great thing. Gangsta Rap has always been the most unnerving when it uses unorthodox instruments to make their message clear. Turning a simple piano loop into a general call-to-arms was decidedly evil, as the rickety device on 'Tookie Knows II' isn't something you usually associate with the streets. Add in some simple drums and an aura of atmosphere and you have a beat that I feel could be one of the most well-regarded in recent memory. Wanna know why? Because the closest thing you can compare it to is Mobb Deep's 'Shook Ones Pt.II,' and that is some lofty company.

Paul White | Ain't It Funny | Atrocity Exhibition

I'll say it time and time again; Atrocity Exhibition was the Paul White show. Danny Brown's lyrics, while good, weren't anything he hasn't conquered before. And while his flow saw improvements, sometimes on a grand scale, it pales in comparison to just how daunting White's production was. Case in point; 'Ain't It Funny.' An eclectic carnival for the demented types, the simple militaristic drums layered over with droning horns creates a cacophony of sound that's just unnerving. Danny definitely brings his A-game here too, but only, as I see it, thanks to the beat itself, which is a marvel.

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