The Best Songs of 2016
The songs we had on repeat this year, from Cameroonian bangers to hits from Solange, Wizkid, and Drake.
"Formation" is the brightest gem in an album full of them. The song is an unapologetic black anthem, a black female anthem, which saw the one of the biggest stars in the world sing about liking her "baby hair with baby hair and afros" and her "negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils."
Surprise released right before the Super Bowl, "Formation" came out a day after what would've been Trayvon Martin's 21st birthday and a day before what would've been Sandra Bland's 29th. It sent a powerful message which stood hand-in-hand with Black Lives Matter and asked "what happened at New Orleans?" while paying tribute to the city's bounce music. It also managed to single-handedly spike sales of Red Lobster. —KT
Skepta's long-awaited album Konnichiwa featured some of the hands-down best UK grime bangers to come out in recent memory, like “Shutdown,” “That’s Not Me,” and “It Ain’t Safe.” All of those tracks, however, had made the rounds since 2014, when they first dropped as singles.
So our pick from the grime star is his title track "Konnichiwa," a new one for 2016 and the first song on his new LP. The song sees Skepta repping for his Nigerian background once again and shouting out a certain Naija super star: “We took it back to Africa, ask Wizkid I can’t explain.” —KT
Patoranking "No Kissing Baby" feat. Sarkodie
Nigerian dancehall meets Ghanaian hip-hop in this huge track from Patoranking and Sarkodie. "No Kissing Baby" is a seamless hit built on GospelonDeBeatz' syncopated beat work and carried on the backs of Patoranking's rejected-love hook and Sarkodie's rapid-fire Twi and patois rhymes. —KT
Babes Wodumo "Wololo" feat. Mampintsha
Since its release, Babes Wodumo's (real name is Bongekile Simelane) high-octane track "Wololo" has taken over the airwaves across South Africa, essentially becoming the country's biggest song this year.
The single, which features Big Nuz’s Mampintsha, showcases the percussive, raw energy of Durban house and its more minimalist sub-genre gqom. It's no wonder that Wodumo claims to be the first woman to put gqom on the South African music industry's map, proclaiming herself a "gqom star." —KT
Burna Boy "Pree Me"
Burna Boy is in top paranoid sad-boy form in his new music video for “Pree Me.” The track follows the Nigerian dancehall star as he melancholically reminisces about his enemies multiplying and scheming on him over minimal piano chords and a slow-building beat.
The single’s music video was shot in South Africa by Nick Roux and shows Burna Boy rapping in front of a wall spray-painted with his suspicious rhymes, in between scenes of ballet dancers, school boys and betrayal. "Pree Me," and the rest of the tracks on Burna Boy's impressive '90s themed Redemption EP, were all produced by LeriQ. —KT
Sampha "Timmy's Prayer"
In 2017 Sampha is poised to become one of the biggest stars in the world. “Timmy’s Prayer” was the song that made damn clear that Sampha Sesay is destined for greatness.
Released in May, it marked the UK singer/producer’s return—or arrival—to the spotlight. “It’s been a while,” he shared in a message that accompanied the song. “I’ve had a lot to process these past couple of years, as we all do, and it’s hard to articulate sometimes. I wanted to say thank you to all the people who’ve shown me so much love and support. I’m looking forward to start sharing my music with you again.”
More recently, Sampha revealed that he co-wrote "Timmy's Prayer" with Kanye West. —Alyssa Klein
Yemi Alade "Tumbum"
Yemi Alade followed up her MTV Africa Music Award win for "Best Female" with the Selebobo-produced "Tumbum" off her sophomore album Mama Africa: The Diary of an African Woman.
"Tumbum" is the Nigerian equivalent to the "He loves me, he loves me not" game, and for the very hungry Umoh, he can't choose between whose jollof rice or whose fufu he loves the most—and the cook that comes with each. —Antoinette Isama
Bombino "Akhar Zaman (This Moment)"
Niger-based desert rocker Bombino took his Tuareg blues sound one step further this year with a new style he calls ‘Tuareggae’–"a sunny blend of Tuareg blues & rock with reggae one-drop and bounce,” Bombino explained.
“Akhar Zaman (This Moment),” produced by the Dirty Projectors‘ Dave Longstreth, showcases that Tuareggae style in a high-adrenaline single that jumps straight out of the gate with its trotting beat and swinging guitars and never lets up. —KT
DJ Henry X "Like This" feat. Wizkid
The track, which was produced by Henry X, pairs breezy synthesizers with a sturdy back beat and Wizkid’s carefree vocals about enjoying his holiday lifestyle. ??? —KT