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30 Best Songs of 2016 So Far

Rihanna, Beyoncé, Drake and more of the year’s greatest tunes

Desiigner, Drake and Rihanna made some of 2016's best songs so far.

Desiigner, Drake and Rihanna made some of 2016's best songs so far

the1point8, Getty (2)

The year is nearly half over, so here's a quick recap back at 2016's best songs, from Rihanna to Radiohead, Paul Simon to "Panda."

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J-Zone, “I’m Sick of Rap”

Curmudgeonly "damn near 40" Queens rapper J-Zone takes no sides in the Vince Staples vs. N.O.R.E. debate about Nineties hip-hop. He thinks nostalgia sucks, but everything else sucks now too: trap, boom-bap, Twitter, collabs, crews, blogs and touring: "Take your 360 deal and keep truckin'/The only motherfucker not doing no shows/Put my shit on BandCamp for the fans and say fuck it."

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Maxwell, “Lake By the Ocean”

After a seven-year hiatus, Maxwell returned with a song that turned smooth romance and sweet nothings into a Bob Ross painting, lyrically manifesting landscapes to reflect the cleansing of a relationship. In the end, he created the year's most mature love song.

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Mitski, “Your Best American Girl”

In a year when racial differences have turned America into a riotzone, Asian-American indie-rock artist Mitski's slow-burning, distortion-thick ode to her unreachable all-American boy gets at our historic tension and burden from the inside – tightrope walking the chasm between romantic ideals and cultural reality to make for breathtaking music.

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Maren Morris, “My Church”

Some keep the Sabbath going to church. Breakout Nashville star Maren Morris keeps it blazing down the freeway listening to classic country radio – with Hank Williams delivering the sermon and Johnny Cash leading the choir. Honoring tradition, this joyous popwise stomper keeps it moving forward.

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Parquet Courts, “Berlin Got Blurry”

The finest American guitar band of the last five years knocks out a woozy, loose-kneed "drunk in Europe" rocker that sounds like the Modern Lovers rocking a spaghetti Western canteen and makes loaded alienation feel warm and cozy.

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Radiohead, “Burn the Witch”

Radiohead's latest masterpiece opens with the shock of the old: pulsating strings that grow louder, heavier and more darkly engrossing, splayed out over slight digital beatscaping, as Thom Yorke follows a "low flying panic attack" into a thicket of paranoia and fear.

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Rihanna, “Work”

What would even you call a minimalist banger? One of America's most reliable singles artists created an arch, moody album instead of a handful of chart-ready pop confections, but we still couldn't resist this barely-there tune with a beat like a dancehall wisp and lyrics like a freestyle.

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Paul Simon, “Wristband”

A standout from Simon's great new Stranger to Stranger: Over an elastic boogaloo groove, Simon sings about an aging rocker accidentally locked out of his own show, embarrassingly battling it out with club security, then pulls back to contrast his small-potatoes gripes with real social and economic struggles. It's like Larry David by way of Bernie Sanders, the personal-as-political as only Simon can do.

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Sturgill Simpson, “In Bloom”

One of country's most innovative rule-benders takes the bruising Nirvana anthem and finds grim empathy for its gun-toting yahoo protagonist, slowing the original down to a gothy honky-tonk ballad and bringing out new shades of darkness Kurt Cobain would've savored.

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Kanye West, “Ultralight Beam”

Best case scenario for the next Kanye West song to change the way rap sounds on 2017: a beaming gospel choir, a melody like a blues cry, a Chance the Rapper guest spot and a beat like Minecraft blocks.

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White Lung, “Kiss Me When I Bleed”

White Lung's Mish Way growls out gruesome images of babies born in molasses and rotting teeth above an unsettling, piercing riff that is as stubborn and tenacious as the pride discussed.

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Whitney, “Golden Days”

Refugees from the great Chicago garage-rock band Smith Westerns hop a train out to the country, for some elegiac early-Seventies AM-folk bliss – it's like the America of "Ventura Highway" reborn as a lo-fi stoner guitar nerds, in a good way.

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Yo Gotti feat. Nicki Minaj, “Down in the DM (Remix)”

On paper, a 34-year-old Southern rap lifer talking about his social media game should be embarrassing, but Yo Gotti has the right amount of bounce, humor and R-rated come-ons. Meanwhile, Nicki Minaj shows up to point out who's really in charge.

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Young Greatness, “Moolah”

Released to YouTube in 2015 but charting in 2016, rapper Young Greatness croons a striver's anthem that's equal parts Atlanta trap and New Orleans melody.

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Zayn, “Pillowtalk”

Like his AWOL boy band forefathers, Zayn Malik decided to use R&B and sex appeal to launch his post-One Direction. This Number One hit is a smooth, seductive lover's croon.

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