Writing year-end music lists is a tedious process. You have to sift through months and months of songs, videos, and albums with the thought in the back of your head that you might easily miss something. Sometimes you’re also given narrow parameters: Are we naming the best mixtapes/projects, or are we naming albums? How do you maintain a happy, balanced blend of indie and major label artists? Why choose song A over song B?
Instead of just writing a list of the best songs of 2015, I thought covering 2015’s best collaborations might be a worthwhile task. Because sometimes the best and most forward-thinking music is created in the spirit of collaboration — and really, what’s music without teamwork?
Chance the Rapper ft. Saba - “Angels”
Chance the Rapper’s “Angels” is an achievement. Immediately, the song makes you want to bounce and juke, to honor Chance by moving in any way possible. With most rappers, you’d probably call his first verse braggadocio — “I got my city doing front flips / When every father, mayor, rapper jump ship / I guess that's why they call it where I stay / Clean up the streets, so my daughter can have somewhere to play” — but Chance has really done all that and more for Chicago. “Angels” is a testament to that, and to his progressive thinking that’s helped advance independent music. He brings in fellow Chicagoan and indie rapper Saba to assist with the Windy City effort, both certainly angels to Chicago’s music scene.
Jamie xx ft. Young Thug and Popcaan - “I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)”
Ever since Young Thug made his presence known in 2013 with 1017 Thug, he’s been a pretty divisive figure in rap, upsetting the culture with his style and perceived sexual orientation. Yet, however unpredictable Thugger has been, we still couldn’t foresee his collaboration with British producer Jamie xx and Jamaican dancehall sensation Popcaan. And that’s the beauty behind the three musicians’ teamwork — the improbability of it all. To top it off, the song celebrates life, a toast to the good times. There isn’t much else to worry about.
Erykah Badu ft. André 3000 - "Hello"
“Hello” is beautiful and whimsical. While the duet between Erykah Badu and André 3000 possesses a delicacy, the song is also extremely spirited in nature. “Will this bitch click over for me? / I mean will this woman click over for me? / Over for me? Over for me? / Is it over for me? Over for me? Over for me?” André questions, giving too much power to a simple phone call. Inspired by “Hotline Bling,” Badu and André’s older generational attitude is speaking to younger generations, playfully knocking the excessive amount of importance kids place in text messages, phone calls, and general technological communication.
Future ft. Drake - “Jumpman”
Surely, a collaboration between Drake and Future sounded stunning from the outset; and shortly after announcing their partnership, we were presented with What A Time To Be Alive, a project that bore the weight of two chart-topping artists. The result wasn’t as great as we expected, but among all the mixtape’s pitfalls was a slam dunk: “Jumpman.” The song was immediately infectious, the two finding harmony in Future’s honeyed yelps and Drake’s viral hook, ultimately becoming one of the year’s best displays of synergy between two independently huge artists.
Hurt Everybody ft. Mick Jenkins and Twista - “Stay Awake”
This is probably one of the best collaborations we’ve seen between Chicago musicians this year, pairing old with new: Master spitter Twista with newcomers Mick Jenkins and hip-hop trio Hurt Everybody. On “Stay Awake,” neither rapper nor crooner outshine one another; Hurt Everybody vocalist Supa Bwe’s brand of strained melodies, Jenkins’ gruff cadence, Hurt rapper Carl’s monotone style, and Twista’s tongue twisting raps each shine in their own accord.
A$AP Rocky ft. Rod Stewart, Miguel and Mark Ronson - “Everyday”
2015 was a difficult time for A$AP Rocky and A$AP Mob: A$AP Yams tragically passed away in January, which set the tone for the year. Understandably, we thought we wouldn’t see a sophomore album from the Harlemite just yet — but then At. Long. Last. A$AP arrived. Indeed, the album is wrought with emotion and grief, but that’s what makes it amazing. The second single from the album “Everyday” is self-reflective, speaking on Rocky’s wish to escape the limelight, using alcohol to ignore his problems. It’s the rawest we’ve ever seen him.
Falcons ft. GoldLink and Chaz French - “Aquafina”
Like many GoldLink-assisted tracks, Falcons’ “Aquafina” is effortlessly upbeat . The rappers ride in over bird calls and shimmering synths, the slow build-up creating space for Link and Chaz French. Yelps and a smirking laugh are the preamble to Link's slick lyrics, waxing poetic on his accustomed themes — women, sex, money, and dope — with French doing the same. Just like the Falcons x GoldLink track "<a href="https://soundcloud.com/oaklandfalcons/goldlink-falcons-vroom" target="_blank">Vroom</a>," the two prove once again that their styles are a match.
Travis Scott ft. Young Thug, Justin Bieber - "Maria I'm Drunk"
The second unexpected trio of the year also includes Young Thug, another WTF moment, where all three artists’ wildly different styles acquiesce and makes something of a magnum opus. While a typical beat for both rappers, “Maria I’m Drunk” is fairly peculiar for Bieber, challenging the star to shed his pop music skin, and opt for a tone so very close to Thugger and Scott’s that you might not even be able to tell the difference between them all. “Maria I’m Drunk” is modest, the trio’s intoxicated quest capturing one of the best moments on Scott’s debut album Rodeo.
NxWorries - "Suede"
The names Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge might ring a bell: As solo entities, both have wracked up a fair number of accolades, .Paak for his work on Dr. Dre’s Compton album; and Knxwledge as a generally legendary beatmaker, but more recently, for producing the Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly cut “Momma.” Together, .Paak and Knxwledge make NxWorries, a duo they premiered this year under coveted indie label Stones Throw. “Suede” is their first single, an ambitiously funky, soulful, aesthetically 70s track about women, cars, and drugs.
D.R.A.M. and SZA - “Caretaker” (Extended Version)
Since D.R.A.M. and SZA are in a slightly similar sonic lane — both are crooners — you’d think a duet between them wouldn’t work, that the song would fall flat. But just the opposite can be said for “Caretaker,” where the duo’s voices end up taking care of each other. While it’s a simple song, it’s extremely heartfelt and warm, showcasing SZA’s ability to move from a warbling falsetto to a richer, fuller singing voice, and D.R.A.M.’s slightly drunker, strained lilt that we’ve grown to love.
Now, your turn, 2016...