Top 10 songs of 2016

(WTOP collage via AP Images)
WASHINGTON — It seemed as if this year had an endless stream of new music: 2016 saw the release of everything from Beyonce’s triumphant, visual “Lemonade” to much-needed returns such as Maxwell’s “blackSUMMERS’night.” It was a year doused with nostalgia — A Tribe Called Quest dropped their long-awaited, final album — but also a year for continuously rising stars such as Chance the Rapper and Anderson .Paak. So if you’ve put off listening to new tunes because you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the musical greatness 2016 had to offer, don’t worry: We’ve got you covered. (WTOP illustration via AP)
10. Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like” While “24K Magic” is essentially “Uptown Funk — Extended,” I’m not really mad at it. Pop superstar Bruno Mars has always known how to write hooks — remember how his 2010 debut album “Doo Wops & Hooligans” brought us earworms such as “Grenade,” “Just the Way You Are” and “The Lazy Song”? His latest album isn’t really filled with such unforgettable hooks, but the songs are still infectious thanks to the throwbacks to ‘80s and ‘90s R&B and funk hits. Mars doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he reminds us why we have those favorite decades of music. “That’s What I Like” drips with Mars’ charm and helps us take the guilt out of our pleasures. As he croons over synth-infused beats about gold jewelry and strawberry Champagne, he adds some much-needed luxury into daily life. (WTOP illustration via AP)
8. Willow Smith, “CAVE WALL” Willow Smith entered the music scene as a confident 9-year-old with the 2010 hit “Whip My Hair,” but her staying power lies in her growth, with her evolution from dance pop music to gentle, soulful, sometimes-experimental tunes. Now 16, Smith’s latest release is the three-track EP “Mellifluous,” as sweet-sounding as the name suggests. It follows her 2015 album “ARDIPITHECUS” and goes a different direction with stripped-down guitars and Smith’s soft but resonating voice lilting over carefully picked lyrics. Smith sings with the angst and experience of a longer life. But her lyrics are genuine, never pretending to know more than she does: As her voice tears into “CAVE WALL,” singing “Magic, vibrations like magic /
Some of us can’t handle it / But that don’t mean we can’t,” she still has the confidence she started with, but extends it to a wider community. (WTOP illustration via AP)
7. NAO, “Fool to Love” British musician NAO slowly crept onto the scene initially with sparse R&B songs that have evolved into more complex, diverse structures. Her debut album “For All We Know,” released in July, shows how she’s grown from those early days on SoundCloud — the album is a marker for even better music to come. “Fool to Love” bounces on fresh rhythms and familiar themes of regretful love. NAO never overextends herself; for a relatively new musician, she has a strong sense of self and a strong musical direction, which means that her record is already more cohesive and dynamic than those of her many counterparts. While she might find inspiration from the legacy of ’90s R&B, production help from A.K. Paul and Maryland duo Abhi//Dijon keep her sound varied and in the present. And while her sweet voice seems like it should be delivering lighter songs, she’s not afraid to go introspective and dig deeper. (WTOP illustration via AP)
5. Childish Gambino, “Me and Your Mama” I was never entirely convinced by Childish Gambino as a rapper; I felt that I could get whatever he had from someone else with better delivery. But his latest album “Awaken, My Love!” has, as Questlove put it best, “sucker punched me.” It was the last album I’d expected from Childish Gambino, also known as actor/director Donald Glover. This new album is steeped in music history — on the surface it seems like a simple homage to funk/soul masters such as George Clinton, Sly Stone and Prince. But rather than being chained down by the past, Childish Gambino manages to free himself — his inflections in the opening track and lead single “Me and Your Mama” seem like they should belong in the ‘70s, but they feel right at home in 2016. The song opens with a heavenly choir suspending listeners in soulful space, but crashing guitars and Childish Gambino’s pleading bring us back to Earth. Bruno Mars dips into the past on “24K Magic” but never really reinvents it for this time; “Me and Your Mama” manages to carve a new space where cosmic melodies and past influences meld together to create movement forward. There’s something about music rooted in soul that never feels old — whatever decade it is and however it is re-imagined, the very essence of the genre manages to capture something essential to being human. (WTOP illustration via AP)
3. Daniel Caesar, “Get You” featuring Kali Uchis You know how there are YouTube rabbit holes? It happens on SoundCloud too — you can listen to one mix and all of a sudden, you end up on the page of some Toronto-based singer-songwriter named Daniel Caesar and you decide to listen to one of his songs. That was in 2014, and the first song I heard was “Pseudo” — it was like a religious experience. Caesar’s voice grips the soul and doesn’t let go; it’s a smooth tenor that rings clearly and isn’t afraid to flit to the most delicate of high notes. Paired with moody, sumptuous instrumentals, and Caesar’s music is pure emotion without any ulterior motives. “Get You” slips on like a favorite silk robe, with Caesar’s luxurious voice washing over in a wave of seductive comfort. Virginia singer Kali Uchis lends her slinky vocals, which lift the song to new heights when mixed with Caesar’s soaring notes. The production is no-fuss: a steady, sultry beat grounds Caesar’s heavenly singing. He’s a master in using vocals as another instrument, layering intricate harmonies without losing anything. If you get the chance, listen to Caesar’s gorgeous 2014 EP “Praise Break” — jot that down on your to-do list. (WTOP illustration via AP)
(WTOP collage via AP Images)

WASHINGTON — Forget the 2017 Grammy nominations: Here’s all you need to know about this year’s best songs.

Teta Alim

Teta Alim is a Digital Editor at WTOP. Teta's interest in journalism started in music and moved to digital media.

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