The 25 Best Songs of 2011 (So Far)

From hip-hop favorites like Drake to indie acts like jj, we count down our favorite records of the year (so far).

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Image via Complex Original
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It’s July already and the year is half-way gone. That’s why we think it’s time to reflect on the insane amount of incredible music we’ve gotten so far in 2011. You’ve already seen the long-players that have kept us from pulling our hair out in the office on these hot summer days with our list of The 25 Best Albums Of 2011 (So Far). So now we’re going to take some time out to zero in strictly on the bangers.

We’re breaking down only the standout tracks that have been at the top of our playlists (and yours) all year long. From hip-hop to indie rock and everything in-between, we’ve sifted through all of the yawners to bring you, The 25 Best Songs Of 2011 (So Far).

Written by Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin), Ernest Baker (@newbornrodeo), Julian Pereira (@Broadway_Jay), Eric Michels (@aesthEric), & Brendan Klinkenberg (@KingMidasIV).

Hustle Hard

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#25. Ace Hood f/ Rick Ross & Lil Wayne "Hustle Hard (Remix)"

Producer: Lex Luger

Label: We The Best/Def Jam

Complex says: With Wayne nailing one of the best guest verses of the year, Rozay at what’s probably the hottest he’s ever been, and a signature Lex Luger beat, Ace Hood had all the ingredients of a major hit. The Miami-bred emcee held his own with his heavyweight homeboys and managed to bang out a hook that even the cool-guys are singing along to. So say whatever you want about Ace Hood, but there's no denying that he fed the streets with this one.

Till The World Ends (Femme Fatale Remix)

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#24. Britney Spears f/ Nicki Minaj & Ke$ha "Till The World Ends (Femme Fatale Remix)"

Producer: Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Billboard

Label: Jive Records

Complex says: It was clear when Britney teamed up with Ke$ha and dropped “Till The World Ends” that she was back to claim slutwave supremacy. However, when Nicki Minaj joined the party for the remix, she took the song to an entirely different level and ethered Lil Kim yet again. The dance club monster of a record gave the original the boost it needed to remain at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. More than a decade deep into her stellar career, it’s yet another radio smash for Britney.

Random Call

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#23. Random Axe "Random Call"

Producer: Black Milk

Label: Duck Down Records

Complex says: When the news came out that Black Milk, Guilty Simpson, and Sean Price were coming together to form Random Axe, the underground hip-hop world was thrilled. With this song as one of the leading tracks from their self-titled album, each member of the collective gets as grimy as possible. Guilty declares, “I eat hot emcees like cold salads,” while P warns, “Smack the shit out of you and whoever’s the church pastor/My hand in the collection plate, don’t you ever disrespect the ape.” Meanwhile, Black Milk (the album’s sole producer) holds his own, “These ones trouble, each one’ll crumble/Whole crews that front on old crews to fumble/Guilty run a play, P run a huddle.” It’s no surprise that the debut of the “3-1-3 to the N-Y-C” connection was a success.


Forget That Youre Young

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#22. The Ravonettes "Forget That You're Young"

Producer: The Raveonettes

Label: Vice Music, Inc.

Complex says: This undeniably beautiful indie track is one that we couldn’t stay away from. It’s impossible to shake. The kind of song that plays itself over in your head for days. Shimmering guitars and haunting vocals from Sharin Foo, combined with the dream-like chorus of “fall awake now” made this a sleeper pick for one of 2011’s best.


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#21. Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire "Huzzah"

Producer: Necro

Label: N/A

Complex says: Before the release of his mixtape Lost In Translation, Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire was practically unheard of. When people began to discover his blatant and brash lyricism, the rap community was instilled with nostalgia of the days when Method Man & Ghostface were household names and rappers simply didn’t give a fuck. The dedication to drinking and partying had people bobbing their heads all over the place with its haunting sample and the unapologetic rhymes that sound like they were written in 1995 (we swear we mean that as a compliment). He states at the end of the song that he did not make it to promote the consumption of alcohol, but you can ignore that and drink up. Cheers!

My God

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#20. Pusha T "My God"

Producer: Hit-Boy

Label: G.O.O.D. Music/Re-Up Gang/Decon

Complex says: From the gate Pusha makes his intentions loud and clear as he proclaims, “I can’t be bothered with paying homage to forefathers.” Over triumphant production provided by Hit-Boy, Push put both feet in the snow and aggressively delivered proof that he was an intriguing solo artist ready to distinguish himself from the Clipse and validate Kanye’s co-sign. Able to evoke the reverence he was looking for, this song was—as Pusha himself declared—the end of his unrecognized greatness.


Girls Girls

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#19. Theophilus London "Girls, Girls, $"

Producer: Theophilus London

Label: Warner Bros. Records

Complex says: “Girls Girls $” showcases the anachronistic MC Theophilus London at his most frenetic. This high-energy cut off of his debut album Timez Are Weird These Days is a perfect example of his cultural and historical mix of of genres. Glitchy vocals, classic guitar riffs, and a ton of disco in one track makes for a crazy song. Add the instant classic line, “She got drunk, showed her pussy on WorldStar,” and there's no question why this track stands out.

Wildfire Remix

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#18. SBTRKT f/ Drake & Little Dragon "Wildfire (Remix)"

Producer: SBTRKT

Label: Young Turks Records

Complex says: The only real single from SBTRKT's (it’s pronounced “subtract”) self-titled debut album was dope enough as a collaboration with the beautifully voiced Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon. But honestly, it was sorta under our radar. It wasn’t until Drake decided to hop on the remix that we all started to take notice. Drizzy surprised us and came through with a double time flow and a barrage of braggadocio ("So and so just walked in, so what?"). And, in typical Drizzy fashion, he finished up the verse with a shout out to his ex-girlfriends, "This is perfect for the women that I've loved before/I love 'em all, I just love me more." This song is proof that Drake has his ear to the ground and is actively seeking out new sounds, which makes us all the more excited to hear what he’s got in store for Take Care.



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#17. YC "Racks"

Producer: Sonny Digital

Label: Universal Republic

Complex says: Hip-hop’s introduction to YC, also known as Yung Chris, was anything, but a subtle one. When “Racks” hit clubs in the Atlanta area it quickly spread like wildifire to every radio station in America. The success of the track—which coined new slang for a stack of $1,000—prompted countless freestyles and a monster remix featuring 16 different artists. The ultra-catchy hook and beat was what stuck in everyone’s heads and ultimately made “Racks” one of the best party anthems of the the year.

Get Some

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#16. Lykke Li "Get Some"

Producer: Björn Yttling

Label: LL Recordings

Complex says: Wounded Rhymes found Lykke Li’s sound taking a darker turn. The centerpiece of the album was “Get Some,” a fierce anthem over tribal-sounding drums, buzzing synths, and wild guitars. A lesser artist might blush at delivering lines like, “I’m your prostitute, you gone get some,” but the Swedish singer's voice booms with confidence and that “lonely lover's charm.” And while she’s denied the song is about sex, we’re hard pressed to think about anything else while listening to it.


Hes A Mental Giant

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#15. Tech N9ne "He's A Mental Giant"

Producer: Seven

Label: Strange Music

Complex says: What’s the most common criticism of hip-hop you hear today? That rappers are too soft and sing too much? That you’re favorite rapper fell off? That dudes make albums where they rap over the same beat 20 times? That rap has gone pop? That these young guns haven’t paid their dues? That underground acts can’t sell shit? We’re not pointing fingers, but we will say this: If any of those things annoy you, then you need to give Tech N9ne a chance already.

Tech N9ne is a 20-year veteran, a rapper’s rapper, with an eclectic sound, and a completely independent commercial force whose new album All 6’s and 7’s was able to debut in the Top 5. “He’s A Mental Giant” is just yet another excellent example of why Tech is still one of the most underrated rappers—and one of best lyricists—around.


I Do It

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#14. Big Sean "I Do It"

Producer: No I.D., The Legendary Traxster

Label: G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam

Complex says: On the second single off of Big Sean’s recently released debut Finally Famous: The Album, the Detroit rapper brings back the essence of braggadocio rap with lines like, “I’m looking like I’mma sweepstakes/But I treat ya girl like a cheapskate/Cause I need a crib, a big estate/I need a boat and that need a lake/I need some salmon, that need a plate/That need a chef so I feed my safe.” Add the intriguing flow with the simple yet high-octane chorus, and the piano-laced production from Chicago producers No I.D. and The Legendary Traxter, and Sean has a gem on his hands.



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#13. Jay-Z & Kanye West "H.A.M."

Producer: Lex Luger, Kanye West

Label: Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation/Def Jam

Complex says: When “H.A.M.” dropped in early 2011, expectations were sky high. Half a year later, we’re still bumping “H.A.M.” We can hardly wait to hear ‘Ye and Jay’s highly anticipated Watch The Throne album on August 2, but thankfully the two legends picked a great track to hold us over. With Kanye in a boastful mood and Jay contributing a standout verse—including the controversial “Baby money” line as well as reflections about his uncle’s death—Lex Luger combines his street oriented sound with Kanye's operatic samples for an incredible movie-score-like backdrop.


Rolling In The Deep

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#12. Adele "Rolling In The Deep"

Producer: Paul Epworth

Label: XL Recordings

Complex says: Adele took over pop music this year with this track leading the charge. Valuing craftsmanship over gimmicks—she put her phenomenal voice to work on what has to be one of the catchiest hooks we’ve ever heard. And then she topped it off with verses that ooze soul. The best part is that it’s great music that reached the masses: this song is everywhere and we aren’t complaining.


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#11. jj "Still"

Producer: jj

Label: Sincerely Yours

Complex says: Okay, fine. Technically, this song dropped last year. But so what? It’s too awesome for us to pass up on. Released on Christmas Eve 2010, this song served as the opening track to the Swedish band’s Kills mixtape. The song interpolates the beat to Dr. Dre’s “Still Dre” as singer Elin Kastlander adds her airy, hypnotic dream pop vocals (and quotes a few Drake bars). The result is an instantly recognizable banger that’s surprisingly engaging. People seem to be catching on to jj too. Earlier this year their song “My Life” (which quotes Wayne’s hook from Game’s “My Life) ended up being used during an ad for Battlefield 3. We were skeptical at first too, but trust us, after one spin you’ll be riding around bumping this like it’s 1999 all over again.

Dreams Money Can Buy

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#10. Drake "Dreams Money Can Buy"

Producer: Noah "40" Shebib

Label: N/A

Complex says: From the title, to the muted BTSTU sample, this track is Drake at his best: Delivering an introspective and sometimes melancholic look at the lavish life. He boasts about considering himself Top 5 but then laments, “My favorite rappers either lost it or they ain’t alive.” He stunts about his Maybach and owning Fendi carpets but aspires for greater things, “I want women to cry and pour out their heart for me.” Sorry Drizzy, some things money can’t buy.

On My Level

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#9. Wiz Khalifa f/ Too $hort "On My Level"

Producer: Jim Jonsin

Label: Rostrum/Atlantic

Complex says: The second single off of Rollling Papers came out of left field. No one would have guessed Wiz Khalifa would start rocking over minimalist production from Jim Jonsin with assistance from the O.G. Too $hort. The result came out exactly how Wiz wanted it to, "Real grimy, slimy, and dirty sounding." And Wiz kept it raw, “It’s the champagne pouring/Big joint rolling/Bombay sipping/No blunt smoking,” and didn’t bother catering toward radio appeal. The end result was the perfect jam to bump while getting on your level.


House of Balloons Glass Table Girls

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#8. The Weeknd "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls"

Producer: Doc McKinney, Illangelo

Label: N/A

Complex says: The Weeknd’s mysterious and startlingly breakout album House of Balloons was an easy pick for the best album of 2011. And “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” is easily the best song on there as it exemplifies Abel Tesfaye’s tortured brand of ethereal, dark, and emotive R&B.

It’s actually two songs in one with “House of Balloons” melting into “Glass Table Girls.” If you find the first half of the song impressive, wait until you hear the breakdown that leads to the hazy, drug filled world of “Glass Table Girls.” Bring the 707 out indeed.


Im On Everything

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#7. Bad Meets Evil "I'm On Everything"

Producer: Mr. Porter

Label: Shady/Interscope

Complex says: Just about every song on Hell: The Sequel is a deft display of lyricism from Eminem and Royce Da 5’9", so it’s hard to pick a favorite. But we’re going with “I’m On Everything” for three reasons. One, Mr. Porter laces the track with a Mike Epps sample—which is both unconventional and surprisingly catchy. Two, Royce effortlessly dives into humorously telling a story of being so throwed he woke up with a tiger in his bathroom. And finally, a now-sober Eminem comes through in rare form as he resurrects his drug rhymes and gives us a glimpse of the old Slim Shady that we all thought was dead and gone.



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#6. Frank Ocean "Novacane"

Producer: Tricky Stewart

Label: Def Jam

Complex says: When Frank Ocean released nostalgia, ULTRA for free through his Tumblr, he (along with The Weeknd) basically turned R&B on its head. Although Weeknd’s superb House of Balloons ultimately trumped nostalgia, ULTRA, Ocean was able to boast something Weeknd simply couldn’t: A clear cut single. That single was “Novacane,” an infectious song that’s been able to get some airplay and chart at #28 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

Although the story of love and loss Frank tells may not be unique, it still features the quirks that make him special. For one, it’s quite possibly the only love song ever to emphasize numbness over sensation. Moreover, it features the classic quip, “She said she wanna be a dentist really bad/She's in school, paying for tuition doing porn in the Val...At least she working!”


Gucci Gucci

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#5. Kreayshawn "Gucci Gucci"

Producer: DJ Two Stacks

Label: Sony Music Entertainment

Complex says: Not everyone was ready for it, but “Gucci Gucci” was a long time coming. For decades now, hip-hop has had fans who were white girls but didn’t have a place for them. And for the last few years, hipster rap has been bubbling beneath the surface. “Gucci Gucci” was somewhere in the middle and right what we wanted. After it exploded as a viral smash and racked up millions of views on Youtube, Kreayshawn was sitting on a rumored million dollar deal with Sony Records mere weeks later.

One thing that was lost in the immediate reaction to “Gucci Gucci”—in the midst of discussions about swag pumping out of ovaries and pearl handle kitty cats—was how the polished the record was. Young Kreayshawn actually dropped a mixtape last year, the rightfully ignored Kittys X Choppas which found her sounding like a Based Goddess who spewed nonsense rhymes for the sake of rhymes. But with “Gucci Gucci,” she was much more focused and had an real message to deliver. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not one of anti-consumerism. It’s one about finding your own and being youself. In other words, swag, swag, swag.


Look At Me Now

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#4. Chris Brown f/ Busta Rhymes & Lil Wayne "Look At Me Now"

Producer: Diplo, Afrojack, Free School

Label: Jive Records

Complex says: To think, a few years ago it seemed like Chris Brown’s career was all but over. Look at him now. After dropping the memorable “Deuces” (and it’s accompanying remix) last year, he came back with this ubiquitous single in 2011.

Diplo and Afrojack—both heavy hitters in the dance music scene—murder the production with a beat that sounds as good in the club as it does in the whip. And even if Breezy isn’t the best rapper, Busta Rhymes comes through with a show-stealing verse which even the likes of Karmin couldn’t resist covering.

Tupac Back

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#3. Meek Mill f/ Rick Ross "Tupac Back"

Producer: Mike Will, Marquel "Marz" Middlebrooks Of Eardrummers

Label: Maybach Music Group/Warner Bros.

Complex says: Meek Mill’s ode to the late, great Tupac Shakur caught fire when it dropped back in April. The song spawned a trend of songs claiming everything from Big Pun to Reeboks were back, but nothing could top the original. With Meek Mill holding his own alongside the big homie Rozay, the song served as both a coming-out party for Meek and the commencement of the Maybach Music takeover. Producers Marz and Mike Will carefully crafted the familiar sounding backdrop (read: A Lex Luger sounding beat) to further establish the MMG sound while keeping the streets on fire all the way.



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#2. Tyler, The Creator "Yonkers"

Producer: Tyler, The Creator

Label: XL Recordings

Complex says: Anyone who wasn’t paying attention to Odd Future at the start of the year was certainly plugged in after their frontman released this banger. The synth-heavy, but otherwise hollow beat, left just enough room for Tyler’s deep voice to weave a chillingly-captivating anthem filled with pink Xannies, threesomes with a triceratops, and shots at your favorite (rappers turned) pop stars. In other words, it was exactly what today’s rebellious youth wanted to hear.

More than just the music, the video was a vital component to the song. The phenomenal visual—in which Tyler eats a cockroach and later hangs himself—was dubbed by Kanye West as the “Video of the Year.” The rapid ascension into stardom that followed the song’s release intrigued music fans everywhere and proved OF was capable of winning on their own terms and were fully aware of the moment.


Im On One

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#1. DJ Khaled f/ Drake, Lil Wayne, & Rick Ross "I'm On One"

Producer: Noah "40" Shebib, T-Minus, Kromatik

Label: We The Best/Terror Squad/Cash Money/Universal Motown

Complex says: When “I’m On One” dropped, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Prior to it’s release, Drake had been relatively quite in 2011. Just as we began wonder what he was up to, this banger hit the Internet and was followed by a series of excellent new Drake songs. Drizzy kicked things off on here using his signature filtered sound (something he’s perfected with his right-hand man Noah “40” Shebib), and after a stellar verse, topped it off with one of the most infectious choruses of the year.

Despite his superstar status, Drizzy had no problem sharing mic time with two other titans of rap, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross. For Weezy, it’s yet another killer verse from a guy who already has dozens. For Rozay, he keep the sizzle going just in time to release Self Made Vol. 1. And with 40 and T-Minus bringing their A-game on the boards, Khaled orchestrated yet another summer anthem.


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