The 16 Best Music Videos of 2016

Our favorite music videos of the year celebrate black excellence, bring social injustices to light, and showcase female power.

Michael Kiwanuka “Black Man in a White World”

In which Michael Kiwanuka quite simply, and starkly, shows us what it’s like to be a “Black Man in a White World.”

The first single off his album Love & Hate brims with palpable emotion and soul. In the spirit of early 20th century blues, Kiwanuka poetically describes the ills of living in a white-dominated society. “I’m in love, but I’m still sad. I’ve found peace, but I’m not glad” he sings.

The music video, shot by Japanese director Hiro Murai, shows a young man dancing in the middle of an LA street where he experiences a police hit and run. Seemingly unaffected by what he’s just seen, the boy continues to jam out until he steadily ascends towards the sky. —DD

A Tribe Called Red “R.E.D.”

Honestly, and given his immigration issues this year, who doesn’t wanna watch Yasiin Bey slipping through borders?

Him and Narcy do just that in “R.E.D.,” a music video from A Tribe Called Red‘s album We Are The Halluci Nation.

The Narcy-directed video tell the story of the emergence of the Halluci Nation, according to the band, and follow Bey as he escapes out of Cape Town, where he’s been “unjustly detained.” Sound familiar? —KT

Laura Mvula “Phenomenal Woman”

It’s 2:59PM in Cape Town and Laura Mvula has rounded up a crew of girls & guys to have a dance-off in the streets of Bo-Kaap.

The music video for Mvula’s “Phenomenal Woman,” a female anthem inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem of the same name, is the visual equivalent of pure joy and freedom—with the singer belting out lines like, “Nobody ever told her she was beauty, one day she realised she was already free.”

“I wrote this anthem to raise up our women,” the singer mentions. “We are the givers of life, we are the children bearers, the nurturers, the heroines, we are extraordinary in our ordinariness, we fly, we fight we are ‘Phenomenal Woman.’" —KT

Kojey Radical “Gallons”

UK-Ghanaian spoken word artist and rapper Kojey Radical’s “Gallons” is a celebration of struggle.

“‘Gallons’ is the kind of record I want played very loudly at my funeral,” Kojey Radical has told Dazed Digital, “It’s how I feel every time I see my brothers get stopped and searched or when I hear about another person of colour amount to nothing more than commemorative hashtag. ‘Gallons’ is a uniting of class, it’s a celebration of struggle. The conversation doesn’t die when you kill us. Seeds of positivity will ensure that the beauty in all our differences will come together and grow for future generations.”

The song’s music video, directed by The Rest, perfectly conveys that anger, restlessness, pain and beauty. —KT

MHD “A Kele Nta”

MHD, a 21-year-old French rapper of Guinean and Senegalese descent, blew up his own style of Afro-Trap this year. But don’t get thrown off by its name—this is more of a strong and highly-danceable fusion of Afro-Caribbean rhythms than “trap” beats.

One of the highlights from the young French rapper’s many music videos this year—which regularly clock in millions of views—is “A Kele Nta.” Directed by Ken & Ryu, the clip follows MHD and his crew of friends to Dakar, where half of his family is from, to a wedding celebration.

The song’s title, a Bambara phrase, aptly translates to “My brother, just choose her.” —KT

Stormzy “Shut Up”

UK grime star Stormzy stripped things way down to the basics in his music video for “Shut Up,” his biggest hit to date.

The video's just him and his crew rapping to an instrumental version of the single in the middle of the park. There’s not much care for audio—his vocals are seemingly captured on-the-fly with a camera mic—but the raw energy is palpable.

Sometimes all you need for a good clip is one camera, a good performance and your boys having your back and rapping every single rhyme like it was their own. Shout out to one-line flows and rhyming "backup dancer" with "backup dancer." —KT

Blitz the Ambassador “Running”

For the final installment of his Diasporadical Trilogia, Ghanaian-American emcee Blitz The Ambassador heads to the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture: the beautiful seaside city of Salvador in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia.

The gorgeous self-directed music video for “Running” explores the state of African spirituality in Brazil, with Blitz himself playing the role of a priest.

“Steeped in the world of magical realism, ‘Running’ is a story of community in Salvador, Bahia threatened by gentrification,” Blitz has mentioned about the video. “As the demolition team make their way to an old woman’s house to tear it down, she is protected by her Orisha’s.” —AK

Tinariwen “Ténéré Tàqqàl”

For “Ténéré Tàqqàl,” Tuareg desert blues group Tinariwen delivered a beautiful and hypnotizing animated video directed by Axel Digoix.

“The word Ténéré means empty land or desert in Tamashek. The clip… vividly depicts the contrast between the desert’s lack of hospitality and the love its inhabitants feel towards it,” they mention.

It’s a fitting clip for a song recorded in California’s Joshua Tree and M’Hamid El Ghizlane, an oasis in southern Morocco.—KT

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