We got a lot of great songs in 2021. Some were from absolute heaters of albums from some of the most respected and accomplished artists of all time, and others were singles from artists who hadn’t even put out a full album yet, but nonetheless there was a lot of heat. Songs you can cry to while in the fetal position in your bathtub or songs you can get hype to while taking shots at the bar, this year had it all. Here’s what I thought the best of the best was.
[If you would like to listen to my more-unedited thoughts, listen to the radio show I did on Spotify where I cover your picks, my picks, and more!]
“Time” – SG Lewis
“Deja Vu” – Olivia Rodrigo
“fafo” – Zack Fox
“What I Look Like” – Maxo Kream (feat. Freddie Gibbs)
“Leave the Door Open” – Silk Sonic
“Fire in the Sky” – Anderson .Paak
“Sweet/I Thought You Wanted to Dance” – Tyler, the Creator
“24” – Kanye West
“Liquor Store” – Remi Wolf
“Red” – IDK (feat. Westside Gunn, MF DOOM & Jay Electronica)
“Chain On” – BROCKHAMPTON (feat. JPEGMAFIA)
“New Again” – Kanye West
“Gang Signs” – Freddie Gibbs (feat. Schoolboy Q)
“Claymore” – Isaiah Rashad (feat. Smino)
My Top 15 Songs of the Year
15. “Be Sweet” – Japanese Breakfast
This feel good alt-pop track from Japanese Breakfast is what introduced me to her album Jubilee that really blew me away. I tossed this on all the time this year just to get an instant shot of good vibes. Highly recommend checking out this song and her album.
14. “Lost Again” – Benny Sings
This song is so damn fun. I listened to this on repeat for about 40 minutes one day over the summer and just walked around near the beach pretending I was in a fun sitcom about 20-somethings navigating life. It was a great time and this never failed to put a smile on my face. This was on the most underrated album of the year and is another great song to get you in a good groove if you need it.
13. “Pure Souls” – Kanye West (feat. Roddy Rich)
Roddy Rich has the voice to make any hook as catchy as possible and he absolutely nailed it with this track. The line “They said I was mad at the Grammys, but I’m looking at my Grammy right now” always gassed me up, and of course the iconic “I could give a dollar to every person on earth” from Kanye is one of the biggest flexes in rap history. This beat really shows how great Donda mashed up gospel influences with current trap sounds. Some really great bars from Kanye and I get lost every time in the last part of the song where he’s just repeating “Devil Get Behind Me I’m Loose I’m Free”. Really just made me feel like I was getting musically baptized.
12. “Rocky Trail” – Kings of Convenience
I guess these guys were popular like over a decade ago and just came back this year with a new album? I heard this song as a suggested YouTube video and fell in love. Something about it just absolutely captivated me. The soft vocals, the stream of singing and acoustic guitars and the beautiful strings backing it all just made it one of the most interesting songs of the year for me that I threw on all the time. Anyone who likes like indie-folk vibes should definitely give this a listen.
11. “Industry Baby” – Lil Nas X (feat. Jack Harlow)
Hard to not put this in the top 10 but regardless, what an absolute banger. The production on this song from Kanye and company reminded you of the kind of late 2000s really big braggy brass-heavy beats and Lil Nas X fully embraced it showing off how big of a star he’s become in just a matter of just a few years. Bring on Jack Harlow for maybe his best verse of all time and it made for a radio hit that I never wanted to turn off. This song really proved these two artists are going to be ushering a new class of super stars.
All right! Now it’s time for the best of the best.
10. “Love is a Game” – Adele
I teared up to this the first time I listened and I still get goosebumps listening even after like 100+ times running it back. Adele is such a master of her craft that she can take the concept of inevitable heartbreak and do it as best as possible, making a song that feels bigger than just a song. Her angelic voice, the orchestra in the background, the build up to an incredible finale and the gut-wrenching passion and truth in her voice is unbelievable. I think this will go down as one of the greatest outro tracks of all time and this is easily in my top 3 Adele tracks already.
9. “Photo ID” – Remi Wolf & Dominic Fike
This was my most-played song of 2021, and for good reason. It’s so fun. Remi Wolf was by far my favorite new artist of 2021 and a lot of me getting into her is due to hearing this song at the beginning of the year. This punchy guitar beat, snapping, high-pitched vocals, catchy as all hell chorus, and great verse from Fike make it a bop that you can not get enough of. This was a great song to toss on driving around in the summer, in your headphones on a run, having some pregame drinks before going out, and everyone enjoyed it. I played this a ton this year because it had all the makings of a hit, yet never truly became one, and I was trying to spread the good word all year. So if you haven’t heard this before I recommend doing so now and dare you to tell me you don’t like it.
8. “Family Ties” – Baby Keem (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
First time I heard this, wasn’t too impressed. Second time I was like “OK I can kinda get with this” and by the third time I was like “LETS GO THIS SONG IS THE HARDEST SONG OF THE YEAR”.
The beat switches on this go absolutely wild and it’s crazy how good Keem and Kendrick sound over each one. I think Keem’s bars leading up to the first beat switch are probably the best of the entire year. His flow just works so flawlessly over the beat. Starting with the “I was seeing doubles in the projects” to the “I’m OD in Paris, I’m OD in France” to the transition into a new beat and flow and even MORE fire rhymes is really just unmatched. I couldn’t get enough. And then we get a rare Kendrick appearance where of course he just flames everyone saying he’s “smoking on top 5s” and tells everyone to “burn that hard drive”…just so stupidly hard. This song got me in the zone so heavy and had me BEGGING for new Kenny in 2022.
7. “Grumpy Old Man” – Remi Wolf
Even though this song came out in October, it was in my top 5 most listened to songs of 2021. I ran this thing into the ground because it is THAT CATCHY. I don’t know what kind of addicting good-vibe-magic she infused into this song but I was a FIEND for it. How smoothly this chorus flows and how fun it is to move around to made it top 10 automatically. And then to make it even MORE fun she adds some goofy country twang to it towards the end and man it just had me smiling ear to ear every time I heard it. I really don’t know what the point of this song is other than to sing “I got long hair, long beard, turtleneck sweater” over and over again but that’s all I needed. This is one of those turn your brain off and just vibe songs and it brought me so much joy this year.
6. “Are You With That” – Vince Staples
This song just gets so many things right. In a world of repetitive trap lyrics, the same features over and over again on hooks, and uninteresting flows Vince Staples makes a simple beat interesting, has one of the catchiest hooks of the year that he does himself, and flows over it perfectly while talking about real-life experiences. I think one of the best indicators of a song being good is just how much you play it and I kept going back to this song over and over again to dissect all the good parts of it. I think it just really sets Vince apart from other rappers right now and was a perfect introduction to his album. Any fan of rap has got to listen to and appreciate this song.
5. “Slide Tackle” – Japanese Breakfast
The horns in this song do something to me on a spiritual level and being able to see it performed live sent me to a new plane of existence. I loved the sound on Japanese Breakfast’s latest album and I think this song is the pinnacle of all of it. I think her sentiment of this song really connected with me this year too. Trying to tackle this void and wrestling with constant anxious thoughts, chasing the feeling of “living” and the importance of being kind and appreciative to those that help you fill that void. It was something I think most of us can relate to after being cooped up inside most of 2020 and wanting to get back to a full normal life. Take that message and this music and end it all with an incredibly powerful last 45 seconds or so of the song, can’t beat it.
4. “Wusyaname” – Tyler, the Creator (feat. Youngboy Never Broke Again)
The minute I heard this on CMIYGL I was like “oh this is the one”. The 90s R&B sound on this song is so damn vibey and Tyler coming in on with the opening line of “Awwww you like malnourished” is so sick. The “Wusyaname girlfriend, Wusyaname?” chorus is so sexy and full of swag you can’t help but have fun singing it. And no one enters a verse better than YBNBA with his “WHAT IS YO NAME WHAT DO YOU BRANG?” leading into an absolute heater of a verse. This is just an all around perfect hip-hop track and one of Tyler’s best as far as far as hit-making goes. I couldn’t get enough of it and was glad friends of mine who aren’t huge Tyler fans could still get down to this.
3. “Kiss Me More” – Doja Cat & SZA
I mean, come on. What was I gonna do, NOT put this in the top 3? That’d be insane. This song rules unbelievably hard. The grooviest song since “Levitating” for sure. If you know me, you know that’s my sweet spot. I love a groovy beat, I love Doja Cat, and I love SZA. So when this tracked dropped my expectations were high and also shattered. This song was released in April and I think I listened to it at least 5 times since then and enjoyed it just as much every time. This song comes on the radio I’m turning it up. This song comes on at the bar I’m getting up to dance. This song comes up on shuffle there’s no chance in hell I’m skipping it. It’s just such a great pop song that’s so true to Doja and SZA’s sound and was my personal Song of the Summer and now, of course, one of my Songs of the Year. Impossible not to like it.
2. “WHEN I BALL” – BROCKHAMPTON
Good lord, I’ve never heard a beat and chorus work so perfectly together. The strings on this song that lead the entire beat really just sound like your watching a home video, I can’t explain it, and the hook of this song being “Always used to tell me, I could be anything I wanna be” in that higher-pitched child-like voice. I really can’t describe it using words very well but it just makes me feel like a kid again, with all the opportunities in the world ahead of me. At the same time, it makes me look at where I am now and all the people in my life who have gotten me to this point and how appreciative I am of them. When a song connects to something so specific like this it’s really just a crazy feeling and one that doesn’t come often especially when listening to a rap song, but they did it. The experimentation, honesty, emotions, and truth in this song are really what made me love Brockhampton in the first place and this song is easily my favorite of theirs now and that’s saying a lot.
1. “Believe What I Say” – Kanye West
To this day, I can’t listen to this song without making the “stank face”. This song could’ve came out in 2008 or 2021 and still been unreal and a genuine Kanye West track. The synths, the Lauryn Hill sample chopped up, the catchy as hell bass-line, the chorus…it’s just so perfectly Kanye and beyond that my favorite style of Kanye music. He tweeted out a snippet of this song over a year ago and I had been BEGGING for it since then. I was listening to YouTube extended edits of the song, I was trying to dig up leaks, I was tweeting at Kanye to drop it, I needed this track like I needed air to breathe. So when he did his album listening party and he played it…I LOST MY MIND. I had this thing on repeat for weeks and weeks. It’s got the groove I love, some great Kanye wordplay, a beautifully chopped sample of a song I already enjoy, and to me, signified that Kanye in 2021 is the same Ye as 2008. He can still do everything that made him a star and do it better than anyone else, and he’s still just doing it for himself.
If you caught Kanye’s set from the concert he and Drake did one thing is clear, the man makes music that is TIMELESS. He played like 20 songs that are all bangers to this day, not a single one sounded corny or didn’t age well, they were all fire. And I think it’s because the kind of integrity he has with songs like this that could’ve been released in the 2008 or 2022 and still be a banger. This song just had a personal journey for me wanting it so badly for so long and it finally getting released and if you have been with me while I’m on the aux in the past like 3 months you’ve probably heard this played 1 too many times, but I’m not sorry. It’s too fire.