As it’s been said before, 2016 turned out to be like the worst movie ever with the best soundtrack. It seemed every big name in the game came out with great music this year, from Beyoncé and Rihanna, to Drake and Chance. They made us think about important things like celebrating blackness and positivity, as well as gave us plenty of fun moments such as quoting “Hot sauce in my bag, swag” endlessly and photoshopping tiny Drakes onto various pictures.
Although I love seeing established artists continuing to do dope work, what’s just as cool for me are the artists and songs that no one expected to pop off in the ways they did. They keep the music game exciting and unpredictable. Who knows who will get big in 2017 and spur the next round of memes and twitter hashtags? I have no clue, and that’s the best part.
So continue reading for my picks of the top four unexpected bangers of 2016, and feel free to add yours! Have a great New Years and a great 2017 (or at least one better than 2016).
4. 1 NIGHT – Lil Yachty *
I don’t really know how to classify Lil Yachty and his unique sound. Lullaby trap? Video game hip-hop? He himself calls it “bubblegum trap,” which feels as accurate as it can get.
The fact that it’s so hard to categorize the rapper’s music is his exact appeal for me. While countless other aspiring MCs are out there imitating styles in their quest to be the next Nas or whoever, Yachty instead exudes individuality and irreverence. Just take one look at his red dreads, and you’ll see a man who does not give a fuck about normalcy.
“1 NIGHT,” which currently has 64 million views on YouTube, got a boost from Caleon Fox’s popular comedy video, “When Bae Hits You With That “So What Are We?”, which is the most 2016-thing to type ever. Both the song and the video are excellent showcases for what Yachty a.k.a. Lil Boat has to offer. The track features a unique combination of trap beats and a melody straight out of a children’s song, and the video must be seen to be believed as it’s colorful and busy to the point of insanity.
Although Lil Yachty’s rise might seem surprising to some, given that he is the personification of a Molly-induced fever dream James Franco might have at Burning Man, the rapper’s ascendance actually makes sense. His weirdness is his biggest strength, since people are tired of songs that resemble one another, so when a track like “1 NIGHT” comes along, such oddity is welcomed. No, Yachty might not tackle racial inequality or the ephemeral quality of time in his music, but he’s having fun and doing his own thing, so I’m not complaining.
3. Dat $tick – Rich Chigga
This is the track that no one saw coming and made people collectively drop their jaws and ask, “This kid is how old??” and “He’s from where??”.
Rich Chigga, a.k.a. Brian Imanuel, a rapper and Viner (r.i.p. Vine) from Indonesia, blew up after he dropped “Dat $tick” early this year when he was just 16. The music video has amassed 31 million views and a remix from THE Ghostface Killah, as well as sparked necessary conversations about non-African Americans using the n-word, but most importantly, it made many people see that even a nerdy-looking Asian kid armed with a fanny pack and pink polo shirt (buttoned all the way up) can still spit straight heat.
2. Black Beatles – Rae Sremmurd with Gucci Mane
Although Rae Sremmurd already solidified their place in hip-hop with hits like “No Flex Zone” and “No Type,” the duo’s song “Black Beatles,” while catchy, didn’t have the immediate earworm quality that the two former tracks had. Its popularity, much like “1 NIGHT,” was thanks to virality, in this case the massive Mannequin Challenge video trend, where moving cameras captured people frozen in action while the song played in the background.
Everyone from high school sports teams, Blac Chyna in the delivery room, to Michelle Obama and the Cleveland Cavaliers (albeit in that case with a different song) have participated in the trend. And of course, Rae Sremmurd themselves did it with the audience at a concert and it is pure joy to watch.
This phenomenon is quite unexpected since I’m not totally sure why this particular song was chosen as the soundtrack for the videos, but regardless, it’s always fun to see music and social media come together for such an entertaining and lighthearted purpose.
1. Alaska – Maggie Rogers
The origin story for how this song became famous is probably the most serendipitous of this year. Singer Maggie Rogers was an NYU student participating in a master class at the university’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music with Pharrell, where the legendary rapper and producer listened to the students’ original projects and gave them feedback. In the video, which came out in March and has nearly 2.5 million views, Pharrell tells her that her song “Alaska,” which she wrote and produced, is “singular” in the way the Wu-Tang Clan was, and the rest is history.
Following the success of the master class, as well as the overwhelming support she received from online commenters, Rogers released an official music video for the song this October, which has racked up 2.2 million views as of now.
I feel kind of speechless reflecting on these events. I mean seriously, what are the chances that an artist would be discovered in this way on such a platform, and by Pharrell no less? Insane. But her fast ascent isn’t undeserved, and is in fact a testament to how captivating “Alaska” really is. Rogers describes it as a mix of folk and dance, and it’s exactly that. It has the soulfulness of folk mixed with dance music’s signature vivacity. The song is beautiful and lush and although the music video pales in views compared to the numbers of previously mentioned tunes, it’s definitely worth a listen (or two … or 200). It’ll make you feel like you’re floating on a cloud, which is exactly how I want to leave 2016 behind.
*Okay okay so technically the actual song came out in 2015, but the official video was released in 2016 and became popular this year. Let me live!