The 50 Best Songs of 2014

Looking back on the best songs this year from Young Thug, Taylor Swift, Big Sean, and many more.

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Complex Original

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Albums are an investment, monetarily if you're still a good music buyer and time-wise if you're still a good music listener. Songs are the cheaper, quick-hit, instantly gratifying option; if you've got three minutes, you've got time for one. A song is an artist's elevator pitch, and in keeping with that, there are a lot of them vying for your attention and trying to win you over in a matter of seconds. Maybe they do it with a big, chandelier-swinging chorus, or maybe it's all in the subdued nature of the verses. Maybe they're dancing a jig while encouraging you to love yourself, or flattering you with a "You was right." Maybe they're offering helpful business advice for entrepreneurs, or maybe they're going for broke and straight up insulting you.

From promises of no-strings-attached spooning to a delicious breakfast, secrets kept to grilled cheese, the 50 songs on this list are the ones that sold us. We debated over them, even sung our defenses in some cases, and decided that the selections here are the ones that make us want to invest streaming minutes, music library space, and maybe even a dollar. These are the 50 Best Songs of 2014.

Listen on Spotify and Bop.

51. Iggy Azalea f/ Charli XCX “Fancy”

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Album: The New Classic

Producer: The Invisible Men, The Arcade

Label: Island Records

It’s easy to hate on “Fancy.” It’s the song that turned Iggy Azalea into 2014’s biggest breakout pop star—much to the ire of hip-hop purists. Before “Fancy” came strutting along with its I Can’t Believe It’s Not DJ Mustard! beat and Clueless-inspired music video, Iggy Azalea was just another rapper with a minor fanbase and struggling to become a commercial force. Enter Charli XCX, the British singer-songwriter who previously helped write Icona Pop’s smash hit “I Love It.” Iggy’s robotic, studied rapping brings nothing to the table besides the supreme irony of an Australian who raps like they're straight out of Atlanta opening her verse saying, “First things first, I’m the realest.” Despite that, she doesn’t take anything off either. Put that aside and what are you left with? One of the catchiest hooks in recent memory, the kind that follows you from radio station to radio station until it finally burrows itself deep in your conscious and pops up whenever someone mentions “Tokyo.” —Insanul Ahmed

50. Father f/ iLOVEMAKONNEN and Key! “Look at Wrist”

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Album: Young Hot Ebony

Producer: Father

Label: Awful Records

The three artists on this track lowkey owned the hip-hop underground depending on who you ask. Father has his own quirky sound, Makonnen is hip-hop's opera singing rapper, and Key! is able to live in all these worlds with his humorous thug raps. This is a jam. Father's production on here is infectious, the hook is brilliant, and the bars are funny as hell. Cook to this cold shit until you get pneumonia in your wrists. —Angel Diaz

49. Ty Dolla $ign f/ The Weeknd, Wiz Khalifa, and DJ Mustard “Or Nah (Remix)”

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Album: N/A

Producer: DJ Mustard

Label: Taylor Gang Records, Atlantic Records

The Weeknd took an already strong track and made it invincible. There’s not even room for “or nah” when asking if he improved upon the original. Wiz Khalifa and Ty Dolla $ign infectiously circle around the question while shifting slang for the masses, and the Weeknd expands upon their efforts with his falsetto croon and hypersexuality. The end result, an official remix that pieces together the best of both versions, gives us one of the rare high-profile remixes that delivers instead of disappointing. —Ian Servantes

48. Cam'ron and A-Trak f/ Juelz Santana and Dame Dash “Dipshits”

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Album: Federal Reserve EP

Producer: A-Trak, Oliver, Just Blaze

Label: Fool's Gold Records, Dipset Records

Juelz Santana is right; we do miss this. Teaming up with A-Trak has returned Cam’ron back in his best form in years, and “Dipshits” has had us salivating for most of 2014 in anticipation of The Federal Reserve EP.

A-Trak, Just Blaze, and Oliver blessed Cam’ron with a triumphant, synth-heavy beat that sounds like it's from a '​90s video game, and Killa Cam paid it forward with classic fashion boasts and wordplay, including “Call me 2 Chainz Drummond, say my strokes are different.” Even Dame Dash brought back his vintage shit talking. —Ian Servantes

47. Kehlani “FWU”

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Album: Cloud 19

Producer: Swagg R'Celious

Label: N/A

Track one from singer Kehlani's Cloud 19, “FWU,” is fantastical flattery of the domesticated, heteronormative, #problematic variety: “Up in the morning, made you some breakfast/Bank account statements, yeah, I already checked it/House looking spotless: I already swept it.” It's traditionalist, proletarian R&B, and it slaps. With a silken breakdown and classy confidence, “FWU” was an unexpected blip on all our radars this year. Here's hoping that she doesn't fade too soon. — Justin Charity

46. Migos “Fight Night”

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Album: No Label 2

Producer: Stack Boy Twaun

Label: Quality Control Music, 300 Entertainment

Even when they’re counted out, trendsetting Atlanta trio Migos have always found a way to stay relevant. The bubbly and infectious “Fight Night” is possibly their biggest statement yet, with a chorus that reflects their flashy and tongue-in-cheek rap style and lyrics that will have you standing on couches. A song where every lyric is an anthem in itself, “Fight Night” evolves from “Versace’s” repetitive refrain and lets the members get loose with their deliveries. Stack Boy Twaun’s bouncy, West Coast-like production manages to keep up with Migos as they rattle off punch line after punch line tied in with the boxing theme. The argument about whether they are better than the Beatles doesn’t matter; Migos are focused on giving the fans one hell of a show. —Justin Davis

45. Puff Daddy f/ Rick Ross and French Montana “Big Homie”

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Album: Money Making Mitch

Producer: Ben Billions, Lu Diaz, Lunch Money

Label: Bad Boy Records

We're two weeks away from 2015. In a perfect world, we would have been blessed with Puff Daddy's MMM album by now. In an even more flawless universe, it'd be a Puffy (which has resumed its rightful place as reigning Sean Combs moniker) solo in name only, and more of a thinly veiled collaboration LP from the lowkey Triumvirate of Luxe Trap, Sir Combs and his latest ghostwriting co-conspirators (genuinely no shade), Rick Ross (self-proclaimed Hood Billionaire and thus worthy of luxurious association) and French Kardashian Montana. After a slew of magnificent, sophisticated ignorance guest verses, Sean officially recruited his muse Rozay (on both pen and guest duties) for the formal introduction of Trap Puff. With some flavorful French “haans” peppered throughout, Puffy Combs ages gracefully before our eyes. Old? Sure, but that just makes you his son, so pay homage, fuccboi. Imagine an album full of MMG-penned bombastic tough talk, word to the equally enjoyable “I Want the Love.” MMM could've been the best Michael Bay movie since Bad Boys 2. Alas, you all fronted and there's no release date in sight. Diddy deserved better. —Frazier Tharpe

44. Kiesza “Hideaway”

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Album: Sound of a Woman

Producer: Rami Samir Afuni

Label: Lokal Legend, Island Records

Kiesza can’t control her love, and it’s exhilarating to hear her get lost in it. On the tail ends of an up-tempo bassline, she finds the perfect EDM nook to nestle in her oohs and ahhs. Her high-pitch melodies trickle over the beat like she's some alluring house music nymph. Laced with the perfect breakdowns for busting out dance routines full of '90s body rolls, the track makes ignoring all the signs of a love disaster and grabbing bae to dash to a quick “hideaway” sound like a good decision. —Lakin Starling

43. Kendrick Lamar “i”

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Album: N/A

Producer: Rahki

Label: Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath Records, Interscope Records

I didn't expect that Kendrick Lamar could ever come with a record any more divisive than “Control,” but here we are. In a year of unarmed, murdered black suspects, Kendrick's self-esteem anthem “i” dropped on historical cue, though its greasy guitar wails and punk drums make for arguably dated production. Ronald Isley arrives in a purple Caddy to the music video, which is indispensable to experiencing the song itself. If Kendrick's fully automatic strays ain't lifting your immortal teen spirit, fam'ron, I can't help you and Gawd won't save you. —Justin Charity

42. Pusha T “Lunch Money”

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Album: N/A

Producer: Kanye West

Label: GOOD Music, Def Jam Recordings

“Grew up on Nintendo, playing Contra,” Pusha raps over a chaos Kanye West beat that sounds like Yeezus getting banished by Superman to a 64-bit universe of nightmares. What is this, a bank heist? An extra-dimensional space laser shootout? The beat induces neon pinwheel psychosis, and I hope Pusha's whole next album sounds just like this. “What I'm cooking in the kitchen, niggas? Bobby Brown, New Edition, niggas!” —Justin Charity

41. St. Vincent “Digital Witness”

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Album: St. Vincent

Producer: John Congleton

Label: Loma Vista Recordings, Republic Records

Taking a page from time spent with David Byrne, St. Vincent trots out the brass and a dance-y bassline for "Digital Witness," the second single from her self-titled album. Snap your heels together and jig as Annie Clark observes the habits of technophiles in the 21st century: "What's the point of even sleeping?/If I can't show it and you can't see me/What's the point of doing anything?" And a thousand Millennials nod in assent along to the springy beat. Maybe not the most novel observation, but Clark sells it well, what with that voice and the gritty guitar power strums running under the chorus. —Ross Scarano  

40. Young Thug, Freddie Gibbs, and A$AP Ferg “Old English”

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Album: Peacemaker

Producer: Nick Hook & Salva

Label: Mass Appeal Records

Crafted by Nick Hook and Salva, "Old English" sounds and feels like it was built with Young Thug, Freddie Gibbs, and A$AP Ferg in mind, boasting confident drums and small intricacies that feel familiar to each's musical stomping ground. This trunk-rattler is equal parts of each artist, a noticeable quality when considering Thugger's still peculiar ability to outshine his costars on the majority of songs on which he's featured. —Brandon Jenkins

39. Ariana Grande f/ Iggy Azalea “Problem”

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Album: My Everything

Producer: Max Martin, Shellback, Ilya, Peter Carlsson

Label: Republic Records

A good chorus can take a song from OK to earworm, or be the saving grace after a handful of shitty verses. Rock, rap, country—most genres value a chorus, though none place a higher premium on it than pop music. This is why the success of Ariana Grande's "Problem" makes absolutely no sense.

Grande comes to play on the verses, teasing them out with lingering syllables like "I want you-oo-oo!". By the pre-chorus, there's a standard electronic music build happening, laser sounds and all, and Grande approaches her come-to-Jesus moment. "I should be wiser," she bellows, "and realize that I've got!—" And what's there to meet us on the other side of that climax? A free-fall into a whispering Big Sean. There is no big payoff, no typical ahh moment. Sure, there are horns, wonderful horns, but this is basically a crescendo to nowhere. That's what makes this pop song that's spent 25 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 so bizarre—and so irresistible. (Note: It's perfectly natural for the announcement of "It's Iggy Iggz" to trigger your instinctive "No, no, no, no, no, no, no" response, but Iggy is actually sort of, kind of OK on this one.) For all the classic pop and R&B singer playbooks that Mini Mariah expertly follows, there's something about her and her music that's a little off center, and that's exactly where she should stay. —Christine Werthman

38. Future f/ Pharrell, Pusha T, and Casino “Move That Dope”

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Album: Honest

Producer: Mike WiLL Made It

Label: A1 Records, Freebandz Records, Epic Records

Off top, the "Move That Dope" instrumental is the kind of quirky turn up that we appreciate from Mike WiLL. That bassline sounds like it came from a sci-fi flick, with a trunk-rattling rhythm draped underneath it. There's no real way to fuck this beat up, but it's great to see that Future, King Push, and Skateboard P were on their job. Of course Pusha has some of the most memorable lines ("get it, nigga, I NOSE better"), but the fitted has to be tipped to Pharrell, who just had to show heads who were forever remembering him as that "Happy" dude that he had no problem dicing up this beat like a ginsu. Rapid-fire flows and lines like "ain't no standards, Imma set one doe?" Trap house delight. —khal

37. Vic Mensa “Down on My Luck”

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Album: Traffic

Producer: Vic Mensa, Stefan Ponce

Label: Virgin EMI Records

Bolstered by it's Groundhog's Day-style music video, Vic Mensa's "Down On My Luck" might feel like a blatant attempt by a rappity rapper to make a dance song to get on the charts. But when you consider Vic's Chicago roots, the house beat makes a lot more sense. Plus, as fans of Vic's INNANETAPE know, he's all about mixing and merging sounds and styles. So even if "Down on My Luck" doesn't feature much rapping, it still somehow plays into Vic's strengths. —Insanul Ahmed

36. The Weeknd “Often”

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Album: N/A

Producer: Ben Billions

Label: Republic Records

After dropping his supremely disappointing debut album Kiss Land last year—making his 2012 mixtape trifecta feel like a fluke—the Weeknd managed to win back any fans who feared his powers of seduction were waning. Spurred by his well-received remixes of Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” and Ty Dolla $ign’s “Or Nah,” the Weeknd graced us with his first original work since Kiss Land this year with “Often.”

With his typical melancholy, braggadocio, the Weeknd haunts “Often” as his voice floats atop ambient synths and echoing drums, and he vainly recounts the powers of his seduction: “Bitches down to do it either way, often/Baby, I can make that pussy rain, often.” With two remixes and one original finding sound success, the Weeknd continued his steady release of music with “King of the Fall” and a feature on Ariana Grande’s radio hit “Love Me Harder.” We don’t know what Weeknd was smoking when he made his album, but whatever he’s been smoking lately has been much, much louder. —Ben Slavich

35. OG Maco f/ Key! “U Guessed It”

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Album: Give Em Hell

Producer: Brandon Thomas

Label: Quality Control Reocrds

OG Maco found underground fame and viral success in the sporadic single “U Guessed It.” Composed of a minimal production—a simple piano melody with sparse drums—it's Maco’s intense energy that carries the track. Maco cuts it up as if he were a screamo punk band frontman turned trap star, shrieking the hook of a lifetime, “Bitch, you guessed it!” While yes, the song remains just as minimal in lyrics as it does in production, the combination of Key! and Maco’s young Atlanta trap energy can make anyone join the mosh pit when “U Guessed It” rattles the speakers. —Ben Slavich

34. A$AP Rocky f/ Juicy J “Multiply”

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Album: N/A

Producer: Curtis Heron

Label: RCA Records

Rocky came through and stopped the game in its tracks on Oct. 3. The microsite, the video, and the song were all a blueprint of how to drop a song. "Multiply" lived up to the hype. He also showed his influence by almost pushing HBA's wig back. Curtis Heron's production is not to be overlooked. He was able to create a soundtrack for Flacko and the Mob putting the game on notice. The bass hits hard, the raps are fluid, and A$AP Rocky is back like he never left. He been jiggy. —Angel Diaz

33. Vince Staples “Hands Up”

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Album: Hell Can Wait

Producer: No I.D.

Label: Def Jam Recordings, BlacksmithRecords, ARTium Recordings

In terms of rap music and its job to be the voice of the voiceless, this might be the most important rap song of 2015. Unfortunately this is a track that will always be relevant in America's ghettos. It just so happens that this year the rest of the country has been made aware of what the hood goes through every day. Vince Staples showed that he's more than a featured artist. His Hell Can Wait EP was one of the year's best, and "Hand's Up" is the project's strongest song. No line is wasted alongside the dark beat. In short the song is an effective rallying cry for those protesting injustices across the nation. —Angel Diaz

32. Sia “Chandelier”

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Album: 1000 Forms of Fear

Producer: Greg Kurstin, Jesse Shatkin

Label: RCA Records

Sia's written hit songs for everyone from Rihanna ("Diamonds") to Beyonce ("Pretty Hurts"). Occasionally, she keeps some of the good stuff for herself, and "Chandelier" is one of those. The song is about a depressed party girl, stuck in a cycle of wasted nights, fake friends, and rough mornings. It's not quite the message song that "Pretty Hurts" is, but it's got a weight to it that's felt in the quiet of the verses. At the chorus, Sia basically straps on the rocket launchers and sends both her voice and her party girl soaring to the ceiling. It's a confusing moment of sad triumph as the party girl clutches to the chandelier and swings above the crowd with her eyes closed, hoping that no one can make out her lows when she's that high. —Christine Werthman 

31. YG f/ Kendrick Lamar “Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin)”

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Album: My Krazy Life

Producer: hordz 3D, Ty Dolla $ign

Label: Pu$haz Ink, CTE World, Def Jam Recordings

YG’s “Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin)” is a rare moment of vulnerability stuck at the tail end of his critically acclaimed debut album, My Krazy Life. Depicting a side of himself as a down-and-out loser, YG twists his sporadic flow into an even more drunken cadence that highlights his tale of loss and paranoia. The Ty Dolla $ign-produced song is one of his darkest beats yet, but featured artist Kendrick Lamar treats it like a playground as he effortlessly dances with homicidal tendencies to get out of his depression. The most surprising aspect of “Really Be” is that YG holds his own next to Kendrick, as the two West Coast princes make going crazy sound cool. —Justin Davis

30. Lana Del Rey “Shades of Cool”

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Album: Ultraviolence

Producer: Dan Auerbach

Label: Polydor Records, Interscope Records

Lana Del Rey went west on Ultraviolence, taking the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach with her, and what’d we get? At best, “Shades of Cool,” a shimmering ode to a bad boy and a memorable meteorological forecast. Her voice swims to the top of its register for the chorus, making every syllable in “cool” waver like a reflection in a stone-struck pool. And then, to acknowledge the helpless case of such an unfixable lover, she’s drowned out by that very American signature sound: guitar solo! The weather is strange here, and everything is so pretty and sad. —Ross Scarano

29. Tinashe f/ ScHoolboy Q “2 On”

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Album: Aquarius

Producer: DJ Mustard, Redwine, DJ Marley Waters

Label: RCA Records

“2 On” is the perfect example of what a DJ Mustard beat can do for you in 2014. Mustard took over urban radio this year with a barrage of anthems that, among other things, helped a handful of R&B acts sorely in need of a definitive sound score Billboard hits. Peaking at No. 24 on Billboard, “2 On” put the previously unknown Tinashe on the map. Tinashe may not be the most gifted vocalist, but she’s able to carry this song with a subtle grace as she flips between smooth verses and a sidewinding hook. —Insanul Ahmed

28. Travi$ Scott f/ Young Thug “Skyfall”

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The Album: Days Before Rodeo

Producer: Metro Boomin, Travi$ Scott

Label: Grand Hustle Records

When taken into account the fact that Travi$ Scott is signed as a producer to Kanye's Very GOOD Beats publishing company and as a rapper to T.I.'s Grand Hustle imprint, his second free album, Days Before Rodeo, makes a lot of sense. Sonically, it's akin to Kanye's sixth album, Yeezus: The production is stark, sparse, and does interesting things with texture. But take a look at the liner notes and you'll notice the Houston native called on the best Atlanta has to offer: Metro Boomin and Southside help with production, while Rich Homie Quan, Peewee Longway, and Young Thug lend verses. One of the project's standout tracks is the Metro Boomin-produced, Young Thug-featuring "Skyfall." "Your shit ain't getting me high no more," Scott wails on the chorus, a call to both the rapper's favorite past times and the idea that a new generation to which they both belong is poised to take over. —Damien Scott 

27. French Montana “Don't Panic”

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Album: Mac & Cheese 4

Producer: DJ Mustard

Label: Bad Boy Records, Maybach Music Group, Interscope Records

French assures us there’s no other reason to get hype unless it’s to turn up to this DJ Mustard beat—and if you get beside yourself he’s liable to “Have your bitch on a surfboard.” The verses are short, but combined with the catchy hook, this track is more than enough for French to get his bragging rights for one of the best songs this year. When this track drops, no matter where you are and whatever you’ve got in your pockets, with the right confidence and diddy bop, you can convince your biggest hater and most strugglesome peon that, “If you a star/I’m a whole planet.” —Lakin Starling

26. Nicki Minaj “Lookin Ass”

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Album: Young Money: Rise of an Empire

Producer: Detail

Label: Young Money Entertainment, Cash Money Records, Republic Records

Nicki caught flack for using an iconic Malcolm X photo for the (unofficial) cover art, but no one can front on the song itself. While “basic bitch” became ubiquitous in 2014, Nicki made another remarkable move for feminism and turned the spotlight on basic bros with one eviscerating bar after another.

Dude’s staring at her ass and making pathetic pickup attempts weren’t the only ones put on blast, though. This was an early declaration of Nicki’s 2014 takeover. She could afford to throw “Lookin Ass” on Young Money: Rise of an Empire instead of saving it for The Pinkprint. —Ian Servantes

25. Run the Jewels “Oh My Darling Don't Cry”

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Album: Run The Jewels 2

Producer: El-P, Little Shalimar, Wilder Zoby

Label: Mass Appeal Records

"OH MY!" was a great way to kick off this track. The second Run the Jewels album's second single (and second track) was a perfect example of what RTJ was truly all about: that 2050 post-apocalyptic Run-DMC vibe. El-P and Killer Mike complement each other as much as they challenge each other, but when they link up, it's pure magic. Rumbling bass over futuristic boom-bap, laced with eerie atmosphere and insane vocal loops, with Mike and P speaking their truths. Fuck talk of "bringing that real hip-hop" back; this is two supreme beings kicking life's ass then laughing when life asks for a rag to wipe up the blood. "OH MY!" indeed. —khal

24. FKA twigs “Two Weeks”

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Album: LP1

Producer: Haynie, FKA twigs

Label: Young Turks

Remember this moment. When FKA twigs’ profile becomes as atmospherically high as her voice, we’ll look back and see “Two Weeks” as the catalyst. Her declarations as a sex goddess in the characteristically inseparable song and video cement her as one of the most intriguing R&B acts around.

The chorus raises eyebrows not just for its impressive lyricism—including triple entendre embedded in “higher than a motherfucker”—but also for how damn raw it is. At times it’s almost funny, but we’re too entranced to actually laugh. —Ian Servantes

23. Rick Ross f/ Kanye West and Big Sean “Sanctified”

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Album: Mastermind

Producer: Kanye West, Mike Dean, DJ Mustard

Label: Maybach Music Group, Slip-n-Slide Records, Def Jam Recordings

It's Sunday, you're hungover, but you're also a child of God. "Sanctified" is the last song at church, time to watch some football, hallelujah! That's what Betty Wright's voice sounds like. On the production side, Mustard laid the foundation, and Kanye and Mike Dean laced it. On the rap side, Big Sean and Kanye showed off on this, especially on the hook. Who doesn't want a hundred million dollars and a bad bitch? Mastermind and Hood Billionaire may be underwhelming, but this song almost makes you forget about that. —Angel Diaz

22. Big Sean “IDFWU”

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Album: N/A

Producer: DJ Mustard, Kanye West

Label: Roc Nation

Men are petty. It’s in their blood, too. Male tears are shed every year when they find out that women that they really didn’t give a fuck about, probably never gave a fuck about them either. And then there’s Big Sean’s “IDFWU,” the pettiest, a.k.a. best, breakup anthem out—period. Ye’s soulful production mixed with some trap drums from DJ Mustard lay a cinematic foundation for Sean to rap his assssss off about that girl he doesn’t give a fuck about anymore. On a track with no fucks given, E-40 steps in for a verse that is probably more important than anything else he’s dropped in the last year. But in all reality, Sean demonstrates that he’s no longer the awkward protege and can, in all honestly, rap among the best. The pain, his pettiness, and a few braggadocios lines about his new girl (Hi, Ariana) somehow, someway form a full-on, five-and-a-half-minutes of pure ether. Let’s not forget though, that not giving a fuck enough to make a song is, in fact, giving a fuck. —Lauren Nostro

21. Tink f/ Jeremih “Don't Tell Nobody”

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Album: N/A

Producer: Da Internz

Label: Mosley Music Group, Interscope Records

When asked about his latest signee, Timbaland said of Tink: "She was music, and she saved my life.... You can't believe somebody at 19 got it. We don't see that no more. The last person we saw [like her] was Drake.” It was an apt comparison. Both Drake and Tink craft indelible melodies and are able to rap and sing with equal ease and ability. Both also have penchants for honest, relatable reflection of past relationships. All of those talents were put on full display with “Don’t Tell Nobody.” A fun, upbeat battle of the sexes, the duet with Jeremih has Tink spitting quick jabs—"You ain't gotta lie/'Cause it's going on 5/And if you ain't in my bed/Then you laying with a ho/So fuck that love shit"—and singing backup on the chorus. Perhaps more importantly, the song acts as a perfect rebuke to a number of songs released over the past 12 months that detail all the ways women are seen as either not loyal, disposable, or replaceable: "But I ain’t gonna trip on a weak-ass nigga/I’ma just find me a nigga much bigger/ I’ma just do the same shit that you do when I’m not up in the room, yeah, baby, let's think/I'ma text Bryan, Facetime Ryan/Call up Keenan, tell 'em I need him/Niggas ain't loyal," she raps. Timbo's right: She got it. —Damien Scott 

20. Chris Brown f/ Usher and Rick Ross “New Flame”

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Album: X

Producer: Count Justice

Label: RCA Records

“China” is fine, and old. “New Flame,” however, is the rightful standout from Chris Brown's latest album, X, a strong R&B project with several other hit records in best-of contention. Breezy is historically capable of carrying these sappy, pulsing club ballads on his own strength, but in this case he invited Usher to amplify the hook and Rick Ross to mellow the vibe. The sum is a barstool mack standard in the spirit of T-Pain's “Buy U a Drank,” with Breezy singing, “Who said you can't find love in a club? 'Cause I wanna tell them they wrong.” —Justin Charity

19. Nicki Minaj f/ Lil Herb “Chi-Raq”

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Album: N/A

Producer: Allen Ritter, Boi-1da, Vinylz

Label: Young Money Entertainment, Cash Money Records, Republic Records

There’s a certain lack of originality to Nicki Minaj’s “Chi-raq.” On a surface level, Minaj has probably visited Chicago a few times and is completely emulating the Chicago drill scene’s sounds, but unlike many of her contemporaries, there’s an honest dedication to making her verses sound as gritty as the production from Allen Ritter, Boi-1da, and Vinylz. Throwing Lil Herb on the track proves that someone in Nicki’s camp is in tune with the Internet, and as an artist who lacks the constant producer or engineer who can help her define her sound, Minaj’s venomous flows are so in sync with the rattling production that it’s hard not to want more of this from her, and less Ester Dean. Her effortless shit-talking verses—and that “four wings and some french fries/Hot sauce and ketchup nigga” line—make you remember that the woman behind “Starships” wasn’t raised in the world of pop. —Lauren Nostro

18. Jessie Ware “Kind of… Sometimes… Maybe”

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Album: Tough Love

Producer: BenZel

Label: PMR Records, Island Records, Interscope Records

When do your knees melt? Is it when he asks, “Do you need some company?” Or is it when he says, “Lemme come over”? Miguel isn’t even listed as a proper feature on Jessie Ware’s slow-burning “Kind of… Sometimes… Maybe,” but he manages to steal the song by literally whispering into your ear. Ware’s voice, as golden and full as ever, betrays her interest in the former flame standing in the background that she might be missing. (You know she misses him.) None of us have earned a song this sexy in this garbage year. But since it’s here, you ought to love it. —Ross Scarano

17. Taylor Swift “Blank Space”

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Album: 1989

Producer: Max Martin, Shellback

Label: Big Machine Records, Republic Records

A few months ago, Drake started posting Internet memes of himself to Instagram. He was “in on the joke.” Maybe some of his lyrics in recent songs demonstrate that awareness, too, but when someone is rapping about driving in the snow as some sort of heroic feat, it's hard to say on what level he really gets it. But Taylor Swift gets it—on all levels. This has been the year that Swift stopped giving one fuck about what any tabloids, contemporaries, or men said about her, and put her newfound freedom into an album called 1989. “Blank Space” is the Swift anthem; this “man-eater” really made a kicker out of “Cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” The song skillfully uses the image the media has forced on Swift, who, like every single man in the music industry, writes songs about her past relationships. She said it best: "Frankly, I think that's a very sexist angle to take. No one says that about Ed Sheeran. No one says that about Bruno Mars. They're all writing songs about their exes, their current girlfriends, their love life and no one raises a red flag there." —Lauren Nostro

16. iLOVEMAKONNEN f/ Drake “Tuesday”

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15. Charli XCX “Boom Clap”

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Album: Sucker

Producer: Patrik Berger, Stefan Gräslund

Label: Atlantic Records, Neon Gold Records, Asylum Records

Charli XCX has a flair for writing hit records, but it wasn’t until “Boom Clap” that the perky 22-year-old from the UK displayed her full potential as a marquee artist. As far as subject matter, the record is standardized for pop consumption; Charli sings from the perspective of a starry-eyed girl wrapped in a blissful state with her beau. But it’s her poetic lyricism and vocal execution that make “Boom Clap” such an enchanting experience. “You are the light and I will follow/You let me lose my shadow” is an electrifying statement, one-upped by Charli’s intoxicating anthem of a hook. It’s no surprise then that “Boom Clap” cracked the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, went platinum, and worked respectively as the lead single for the film, The Fault in Our Stars (as well as her third studio album, Sucker). And to think, Charli XCX initially offered “Boom Clap” to Hilary Duff; we’re glad she kept this banger for herself. —Edwin Ortiz

14. Rae Sremmurd “No Type”

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Album: N/A

Producer: Mike WiLL Made It

Label: EarDrummers Entertainment, Interscope Records

Those crazy kids with the squeaky voices and impossible, vaguely Danish name, they did it again. “No Type” opens with plenty of space on the track between those synth chords, the sonic equivalent of someone of great importance and girth spreading his arms on the dancefloor to create a circle to bask in. Then the drums drop and Swae Lee tells you about his democratic taste—you just feel that you’re in the presence of greatness. “You ain’t got no life,” he says, as if anyone hearing this song could feel anything but alive. The rich promise of a colorblind society populated by only the baddest humans. Lead us into tomorrow, Rae Sremmurd. You two have accomplished what none of us thought possible. —Ross Scarano

13. Sam Smith “Stay With Me”

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Album: In the Lonely Hour

Producer: Jimmy Napes, Steve Fitzmaurice

Label: Capitol Records

Sam Smith shepherded the broken-hearted to church on “Stay With Me.” The gospel vibe coupled with his powerful vocals work gracefully, and in two short verses Smith paints beautiful broad strokes about a relationship in its last throes. “Stay With Me” clearly resonated with our hearts, as it reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, earned Grammy nods for Song of Year and Record of the Year, as well as received renditions from the likes of FKA twigs, Ed Sheeran, and Vin Diesel. More than that, it marked the arrival of a blue-eyed soul singer who has no intention of leaving our peripheral vision. This song will live on as a go-to record for anyone in breakup mode, which is a testament to Smith’s ability to deliver such a personal story that connects with any individual going through his same internal struggle. In the process of creating such a tragic tale of love lost, Sam Smith found himself. How about that for poetic justice? —Edwin Ortiz

12. Lil Wayne f/ Drake “Believe Me”

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Album: Tha Carter V

Producer: Boi-1da & Vinylz

Label: Young Money Entertainment, Cash Money Records, Republic Records

As of December, Cash Money is suddenly having a rough moment. Lil Wayne is kicking and tweeting his way off Cash Money, while Nicki Minaj is outchea dropping singles featuring Skylar Grey. While both Nicki and Wayne have released their respective shares of dispiriting singles, “Believe Me” is the rare standout for latter-day Wayne, and one of his best singles in years. With Drake playing hypeman and lieutenant on the verse, Wayne delivers one of the more memorable, quotable spazzes of the Carter V's pre-release run: “Ain't 'bout what you walk away from/It's 'bout what you walk away with.” Hear that, Stunna? —Justin Charity

11. Dej Loaf “Try Me”

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Album: N/A

Producer: DDS

Label: Columbia Records

Technically “Try Me,” the breakout song from Detroit MC Dej Loaf, has been out since July 1 (check SoundCloud). But this playful threat of murderous revenge didn’t begin its rise until Drake used one of the bars—"love wearing all black, you should see my closet"—as an Instagram caption in September. After that, the song quickly spread, intoxicating listeners with Dej Loaf’s sing-song flow and casual take on snuffing out someone’s entire family. Her delivery, and in particular her pronunciation of certain words (the way she bends “family” to rhyme with the song’s title, the way she pulls up on the first syllable of “nieces”) make “Try Me” exceptionally strange, the kind of thing you keep running back in order to figure out why it works so well. Is it the spa-day sweetness of the DDS beat? Is it Dej Loaf’s use of various Italian food stuffs as metaphors for bodily harm? Is it just fun to sing “try me” the way she does? I’ve been listening to it for months and all I’ve got is that it’s perfect. —Ross Scarano

10. Popcaan “Waiting So Long”

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Album: Where We Came From

Producer: Adde Instrumentals

Label: Mixpak Records

Popcaan's debut album, Where We Came From, is full of shimmering, expertly produced compositions that fit perfectly with his smooth vocals, whether he's coaxing listeners to keep their heads up as he does on "Hold On," or confessing his affection for a woman, as he does on the excellent "Waiting So Long." With winding synths, addictive handclaps, and a chorus you can't help but sing along to, the single signals the birth of a new dancehall star. "Waiting So Long" is both unabashedly dancehall and pop, so it's surprising to see it not crack the Billboard Hot 100, what with the amount of cultural symbiosis going on this year. But no worries, this album leaves little doubt that Popcaan will be crafting hits for years to come. —Damien Scott 

9. Ariana Grande f/ the Weeknd “Love Me Harder”

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Album: My Everything

Producer: Ali Payami, Peter Svensson, Peter Carlsson

Label: Republic Records

The unlikely pairing of Ariana Grande and the Weeknd proved to be a stroke of genius on “Love Me Harder,” a seductive synth-pop duet that manages to push both artists out of their comfort zones, while also remaining appealing to each of their core values. Initially branded as a pop princess, Grande sheds the PG persona of Yours Truly as she focuses on a deeper understanding of love as an emotional and physical state: “If you just let me invade your space/I’ll take the pleasure, take it with the pain.” For his part, the Weeknd dials back his sexually explicit creativity and offers up a more mild, yet equally passionate play on the price of finding your soulmate. Tension mounts on the hook, the beat grinding like two lovers, as Grande and Weeknd trade provocative “oohs” and—yeah, this is getting me hot and bothered just thinking about the end results. Add a dash of Max Martin, who just so happens to be the most prolific songwriter of the 21st century, and “Love Me Harder” is earmarked as a defining musical moment of 2014. Stroke of genius, indeed. —Edwin Ortiz

8. Rae Sremmurd “No Flex Zone”

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Album: N/A

Producer: Mike WiLL Made It

Label: EarDrummers Entertainment, Interscope Records

Who would have thought two kids from Mississippi, seemingly picked to be nothing more than mannequins for Mike WiLL Made It to showcase his latest, most eccentric wares, would turn out to be arguably the most inventive group of 2014? Like most turn-up songs from young black kids, many (we’ll call ‘em haters) heard this with a furrowed brow, not taking a moment to listen to Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy wax so poetically about the intricacies of their lives after the healthy deposit of cash into their bank accounts. To be fair, it’s tough at first to get past the playful, intergalactic ear worm of a beat, a production with elements like a lively xylophone that lingers in your brain long after it fades out. It took two remixes for people to take the song seriously, and that’s a shame. Neither Pusha nor Nicki had lines as memorable as when these young trendsetters talked about drinking lean like water, rocking five chains, possibly buying islands, and sporting shiny Hublots with their whole crew right behind them. Consider it a blessing, even if you were one of the haters killed. —Damien Scott 

7. Jeremih f/ YG “Don't Tell 'Em”

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Album: Late Nights: The Album

Producer: Mick Schultz, DJ Mustard

Label: Def Jam Recordings

If you’re a fan, Jeremih’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em” has become increasingly difficult to listen to in the past few weeks. No, this isn’t a joke about radio (over)play or DJ Mustard beats. It’s just that when Jeremih sings “Only it’s you got me feeling like this,” he’s also expressing the feelings of the devoted listener. And the big shame of 2014 is that Jeremih has not delivered his album, and none of this other R&B makes us feel like Jeremih does. This was supposed to be his year. His long-anticipated EP with Shlohmo finally came out. It should’ve been the appetizer before the main course of the full-length Late Nights album. “Don’t Tell ‘Em,” released in June, peaked at no. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 near the close of October, making it his most successful single since his debut, “Birthday Sex.” You couldn’t drive a car or go to the club without hearing his interpolation of Snap!’s “Rhythm Is a Dancer.” Have you watched someone hit the ground with it when Jeremih sings, “Won’t tell ‘em how you hit the ground with it”? It’s magic. It feels cosmically ordained. But November came with no *Late Nights*. And now it’s December and there’s still no official release date. Don’t tell anyone that I cry when I hear this song now. —Ross Scarano

6. Wiz Khalifa “We Dem Boyz”

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Album: Blacc Hollywood

Producer: Detail

Label: Rostrum Records, Atlantic Records

Hol up? Is this really Wiz Khalifa? Blacc Hollywood's undeniable lead single doesn't even give you time to register your thoughts before silent assassin Detail's beat gets right to business. But yes, President Taylor went Full Future™ for his big comeback and it doesn't matter one bit, because this is the homies' club anthem every year needs. Last year, Drake made bro-love a hot bridge—Wiz made it a hot song. —Frazier Tharpe

5. T.I. f/ Young Thug “About the Money”

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Album: Paperwork

Producer: London on da Track

Label: Grand Hustle Records, Columbia Records

A T.I. song in name only, "About the Money" served as a proper coming out party for Young Thug. It was his first song to break the top 50 on the Billboard Hot 100 and it got him a performance on a late night show. The world finally got to meet Atlanta's worst kept secret. With London on da Track laying a soulful, baroque foundation for Thug to perform his elastic vocal tricks, the first single from Tip's Paperwork showed what can happen when Thugger is forced to focus his energy. T.I. is T.I., meaning it's utterly impossible for him not to rap well, and he does here, staying perfectly in pocket while tossing off enough great lines that it's difficult to highlight just one. However, he rightfully follows Thug's lead, littering the chorus and bridge with his version of scatting, while Thug croons about shining like a reverend. In the future, this will be acknowledged as the moment the torch was passed from one generation of trap stars to the next. —Damien Scott 

4. Bobby Shmurda “Hot N***a”

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Album: Shmurda She Wrote

Producer: Jahlil Beats

Label: Epic Records, GS9

From the first time we heard Bobby Shmurda’s "Hot Nigga," we knew it was something special. Before this song became a club staple, before everyone from your mom to Blue Ivy’s mom did the Shmoney dance, before a million and one vines documented the journey of Bobby’s magical hat, there was just the song and its undeniable energy. It’s hard to see it for all the hype, but think about how strange a hit this really is: An unknown rapper recorded a freestyle over a forgotten beat and, thanks to social media, was able to turn it into a song that peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

It’s not just that it was a huge hit either, it’s that it was the kind of hit every street rapper—and especially every New York rapper—wishes they had. It didn’t have to chase trends, require a big name, or even try to be a hit. Maybe Bobby will never have another song this good again, but in 2014 a kid from Brooklyn rapped for three minutes straight and blew up on his own terms. That’s something worth dancing about. —Insanul Ahmed

3. Rich Gang f/ Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan “Lifestyle”

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Album: Rich Gang

Producer: London on da Track

Label: Young Money Entertainment, Cash Money Records, Republic Records

The odds were stacked against “Lifestyle.” The general public’s ability to sing along to its lyrics begins and ends with the words “something wrong with the pussy.” Despite that, this tropical, joint-in-mouth, stacks-on-person, roofless coupe of a song became one of the summer’s most thriving anthems and ultimately, a huge crossover hit. Digest the following statistical reality: the moment in the video wherein Soulja Boy enjoys a popsicle has as of now been experienced by just about 90 million pairs of eyes, according to Vevo.

It wasn’t obvious at first, because it seemed to emerge just like the other several loosies that Thug and Quan were getting their hands in at the time, seemingly every other day. Admit that you slept. But exponentially, “Lifestyle” bounced around on the buzz that Thug had been gathering for quite some time, such that it gained enough energy to eventually be the “London on da Track” heard around the world. For Thug fans, its runaway success is hard to be mad at. “Lifestyle” is a decent representation of Thug at his best, rap-wise, and of his characteristic joyful mode, which he used to get into a lot more pre-1017 Thug. Quan is likely instrumental in bringing out the exuberance out of Thug on the track, and their vocal chemistry is as strong as Thug’s Instagram captions would suggest. Speaking of which, watch Thug peel off in the Ferrari and ask yourself if he cares about what you think of him referring to his friends as “Hubbie.”

What is perhaps most compelling about the record is its ability to sound and feel like the content. This is what the exultation of being able to hand your mom a stack then hop onto a yacht with Birdman should sound like. This is the real “We Made It,” as brought to you by a couple of guys who aren’t already five years plus into having made it. It was within such a context that a line like “something wrong with the pussy” was able to be presented in such a lighthearted manner. It is as though Thugger simply had too much to be proud of in this moment that the reality of the pussy being temporarily under the weather could not begin to bother him. Ideally, that’s how it should make you feel too. —Alex Russell

2. Drake “0 to 100/The Catch Up”

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Album: N/A

Producer: Boi-1da, Frank Dukes, Nineteen85, and Noah “40” Shebib

Label: OVO Sound, Cash Money Records

After shooting to rap stardom in 2009, Drake has masterfully crafted a catalog of hits, yet “0 to 100” is still a unique entry. It’s a six-minute song, divided in two parts, that randomly popped up on the OVO SoundCloud during Hot 97’s Summer Jam and still managed to become a Billboard hit and the best song of the year. Drake doesn’t even have an album to promote at the moment, which must make “0 to 100” all the more frustrating for every artist watching Drake ride out to another hit while they can’t even start the car. (Drake is more than willing to help you jump the battery though, just ask Lil Wayne.)

The song’s first half finds a boastful Drake blacking out over a prodding beat that sounds like a subdued version of Lil Wayne’s “Believe Me.” The second half is even more minimalist than the first, as Drake casually floats through thoughts on fame and status. What ties both parts together is confidence. Laden with quotes that have surely appeared on every social media timeline you frequent, Drake is already calling himself the greatest and is ready to kill one of the GOATs if he has to.

Drake's been running laps around everyone in the rap game—it’s no longer a question of whether or not he can actually go 0 to 100. And it’s obvious that anyone who wants to catch up has a lot of work ahead of them. If “being humble don't work as well as being aware,” as Drake says, then he must realize he’s shaping up to be one of the greats and just wants to soak it all in. As well he should. He’s been on overdrive for so long it’s starting to feel like cruise control.—Insanul Ahmed

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