This year may have been filled with fewer unprecedented events than the previous one, but there was still a lot to adjust to. Little by little, cities across the world began reopening after nearly a year of lockdown and when they did, songs by our favorite artists were there to soundtrack it. Musicians delivered the perfect tunes to accompany a range of emotions felt this year from fun, flirty tracks and dancefloor-ready hits to heart-tugging ballads.
With chart-topping songs heard in reopened stores and restaurants, it was hard to miss some of the hottest tracks from this year by artists like Lil Nas X and BTS. But there are sure to be a handful of great releases that went under the radar. That’s why Uproxx is here to sort through the noise to round up the most memorable music from across genres. Check out Uproxx’s unranked list of all the best songs of 2021. And check out our favorite albums of the year here.
Ariana Grande — “34 + 35 (Remix)” Feat. Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion
One of the most explicit songs Ariana Grande has ever released still does us all the favor of teaching solid math skills! That’s Ari, always multitasking. But if she wanted to ramp up the X-factor for this already outstanding Positions single, who better to ratchet the sexual tension up to eleven than Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion? Thanks to the two best female rappers currently doing it, “34 + 35” got the attention it deserved. These three were sweetly, simply, turning sex into wordplay until the morning light. – Caitlin White
Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten — “Like I Used To”
Sharon Van Etten has one thing in common with every other Angel Olsen fan: She has stood in the crowd of Olsen’s shows and cried her eyes out to the singer’s cathartic lyrics. The two famed indie songwriters hadn’t known each other too well before teaming up for the Americana duet “Like I Used To,” but they had always supported each other from afar. That air of mutual admiration is more than palpable in the collaboration, a song that boasts shimmering chords, a big-band chorus, and swirling harmonies that feature both singers’ velvety voices. The anthemic track calls back to the heart-wrenching ballads that arose out of the American heartland, but instead focuses on their own personal self-growth rather than a romantic relationship. – Carolyn Droke
Baby Keem — “Range Brothers” Feat. Kendrick Lamar
I want to offer some deep reflection, some thorough analysis to fully explain why this song belongs on the Best Of 2021. But to be honest, I can’t. There isn’t one. This one is solely here on the strength of its final 1:22 and those damned ad-libs. You can already hear them, can’t you? Listen, when a song so righteously burrows itself into your consciousness and hijacks all your good sense to have you screaming “Top o’ the morning” at your friends like a maniac… it’s a sign. Try not to think about it. Just enjoy the ride. – Aaron Williams
Bartees Strange — “Weights”
Bartees Strange, the most enjoyable indie newcomer of 2020, spent much of 2021 opening for seemingly every significant indie tour of the year. He also did a victory lap for his breakout album Live Forever, which he was reissued with a special bonus track that is every bit as good as the album it was somewhat inexplicably excluded from. “Weights” is Strange indulging his “fist-pumping Britpop anthem” side, in which shamelessly crunchy guitars give way to unexpected piano interludes and a swaggering vocal that represents his most “rock star”-like move yet. – Steven Hyden
Beabadoobee — “Last Day On Earth”
Beabadoobee made one of 2020’s best albums with Fake It Flowers, and she was quick to follow it up this year with Our Extended Play, a collaboration with The 1975. “Last Night On Earth” finds the middle ground between the two artists, living in the world of Beabadoobee’s shimmering ’90s-inspired alt-rock while also taking queues from some of the more reserved tracks The 1975’s recent output. There’s even a line on here that Bea basically delivers in the voice of Matty Healy. It’s awesome. – Zac Gelfand
BIA — “Whole Lotta Money”
BIA is certainly a new name to many, but the Massachusetts native spent years working towards the breakout moment she earned in 2021. Thanks to the powerful influence of TikTok, BIA’s “Whole Lotta Money” became one of the most popular songs of the summer. Its catchy hook and club-friendly production combined for a recipe towards a successful record. It later received a remix from Nicki Minaj, a guest verse that comes far and few nowadays, making BIA’s 2021 year all that much better. – Wongo Okon
BTS — “Butter”
The whole purpose of pop music is to help us forget the mundane doldrums of our banal everyday lives. The best songs should uplift and remind us that there’s always something sunnier and joyful on the horizon. Nothing accomplished those tasks with more precision this year than “Butter,” a goofy, sunny track from BTS that hit every mark on the perfect pop song list and kept right on climbing. Staying at the top of the charts for most of the year, “Butter” was a reminder of better days, and a promise that those lighthearted, celebratory moments are never fully out of reach. – C.W.
Cardi B — “Up”
For most artists, having a relatively quiet stretch doesn’t result in a No. 1 hit. Most artists aren’t Cardi B, though: Cardi’s last truly busy year (at least in terms of commercially available output) was 2019, but she still had a viral chart-topper in 2021 with “Up.” Cardi has proven herself to be a master when it comes to pumping out hooks that instantly implant themselves into the broad cultural consciousness, with “Up” firmly serving as another example of that. She insisted earlier this year she doesn’t try to make songs to inspire TikTok dances or for similar clout-chasing reasons, so it appears she just can’t help it. – Derrick Rossignol
Caroline Polachek — “Bunny Is A Rider”
Between her many years with Chairlift, and other solo project monikers like Ramona Lisa and CEP, it took a while for Caroline Polachek to finally settle into her own as an artist. But now that she’s there? She’s going full speed ahead. “Bunny Is A Rider” is more high-speed chase energy, run through the filter of summer flings and getaway cars. It’s an epic, left-field pop hit that should be on every year-end playlist, and hopefully means the follow-up to 2019’s excellent Pang will be coming next year. – C.W.
Cassandra Jenkins — “Michelangelo”
The opening track to Jenkins’ sweeping An Overview On Phenomenal Nature, “Michelangelo” is totally chorus-less. Jenkins takes us through a series of verses, contemplating our resilience as humans to deal with the circumstances of where we’ve been and how we’ve come to be how we are. She likens herself to “a three-legged dog,” an animal that finds harmony within a lack of balance and we begin to see ourselves reflected within her words. A drawn out guitar solo comes in midway through, acting as a giant mirror that makes you seemingly nod your head at, and agree with Jenkins, as if saying “Yeah…me too. I totally feel that way sometimes!” It’s what makes “Michelangelo” such an effective piece of music and a prime example of how Jenkins speaks to the listener through song in marvelous ways. – Adrian Spinelli
Chlöe — “Have Mercy”
This year marked the year of independence for Chloe Bailey. Not to say that Chloe X Halle are done as a duo, as many have oddly called for, but instead, Chloe will commemorate 2021 as her arrival as a solo entity. After months of unnecessary discourse about her social media habits and delightful covers of songs in varying genres, Chloe unloaded her debut single with the Murda Beatz-produced “Have Mercy.” If the bouncy trap-leaning track tells us anything about Chloe, it’s that the singer is set on doing things her own way and showing us what her own natural artistry looks like. – W.O.
CKay — “Love Nwantiti”
The success of afrobeats in 2021 will most likely be personified by the slow rise of Wizkid & Tems’ “Essence.” Another candidate for this is CKay with “Love Nwantiti.” The Nigerian CkKay takes slow-burning success to a new level as the original song arrived in 2019. However, thanks to numerous remixes and a viral moment on TikTok, a broader spotlight was placed on the infectious track. The song’s title translates to “small love” in Nigeria’s Igbo language, but the track received much more than its title suggests, and rightfully so. – W.O.
Coi Leray — “Twinnem”
Given the choice between “No More Parties” and Coi Leray’s other big standout from 2021, I’ll take the latter. There’s just something irresistible about that singsong chorus and the twinkling production. While the track does incorporate the crooning style for which Coi first garnered attention on her breakout, her choppy flow is fun, funky, and heartening to hear in just about any circumstance. – A.W.
Dijon — “Many Times”
This standout track from Dijon’s debut album perfectly showcases what makes Absolutely such an entrancing listen. Reveling in what Aaron Williams calls for Uproxx “a cycle of pain and confusion caused by a loved one who doesn’t understand the impact their chaotic actions are having,” the track bounces across genre boundaries seamlessly, from R&B to driving power-pop to introspective folk. Despite their seemingly conflicting sounds, all of these sonic influences actually function quite well together, working in tandem to reinforce what we all already knew: all eyes should be on Dijon. – Z.G.
Doja Cat, SZA — “Kiss Me More”
Jittery and sweet, like the butterflies that accompany new romance, “Kiss Me More” expanded Doja Cat’s influence from internet hip-hop and took it straight into classic pop territory. With all the filthy, x-rated, absolutely raunchy lyrics Doja and plenty of other rappers love to engage in, this song’s chaste, extremely catchy emphasis on the art of kissing was a welcome respite. Plus, getting SZA back on the radio? Now that’s something we all want more of whenever possible. – C.W.
Drake — “Knife Talk” Feat. 21 Savage and Project Pat
There’s no telling what will be the fan-favorite record on an album Drake releases. That was made clear with “In My Feelings” and Scorpion in 2018. This time around, Drake’s sixth record, Certified Lover Boy, is spotlighted by the Houston-influenced “Knife Talk” with 21 Savage and Project Pat. It’s a menacing track from the trio that promises the worst for those who try them. A commanding intro from Project Pat, 21 Savage’s fear-inducing verse, and another installation of mob boss Drake combine for an ear-pleasing display of no-good evildoers. – W.O.
Dua Lipa — “If It Ain’t Me”
Opting to release her sophomore album, Future Nostalgia, a few weeks early as it became clear a pandemic was going to stop most fans from hearing these disco-bangers out on the dance floor last year, Dua continued to build on the wildly-successful album’s radiant sound with intermittent updates. “If It Ain’t Me” was part of one of these subsequent additions, as part of the The Moonlight Edition, and the glittering anxiety of being with someone you love but still worrying about it all falling apart was a very apt 2021 soundtrack. Sad disco forever. – C.W.
Foxing — “If I Believed In Love”
Foxing are no stranger to taking big swings, and this cut from Draw Down The Moon is one of the biggest jumps into new territory that we’ve heard from the band to date. Gone are the trappings of their emo beginnings, aiming instead for an indie-pop horizon. Showcasing Conor Murphy’s falsetto throughout, “the track is carried by synth hits and a drum machine beat, which start the song out calmly before it explodes into a more exuberant second half,” writes Derrick Rossignol for Uproxx. – Z.G.
Hovvdy — “Blindsided”
Hovvdy write truly beautiful music, and the additional resources provided to them for their new album True Love allowed the band to explore different soundscapes and truly create sonic worlds for themselves. “Blindsided” is the perfect representation of the band’s raw power as both songwriters and world-builders, serving as the centerpiece of what I called in a recent feature “the perfect album to throw on a fall drive with the windows down, hearing the leaves crunch under your car tires.” It doesn’t take long after hitting play on the track to get a full scope of its cinematic qualities. – Z.G.
IDK, Offset — “Shoot My Shot”
There’s something beautiful about a catchy record that also doesn’t see an artist compromise their natural style. That’s what you get with IDK’s “Shoot My Shot.” He and Offset arrive with overflowing confidence towards all the things in their life that they may want. Whether it’s women, money, or new opportunities, IDK and Offset use the song’s thumping bass and quick-fire hi-hats on the USee4Yourself highlight to make it clear that success comes their way when they shoot their shot. – W.O.
Isaiah Rashad — “Lay Wit Ya” Feat. Duke Deuce
At an outdoor daytime event on Fairfax premiering the leeead single from his long-awaited comeback album, I watched Isaiah Rashad whip the crowd into a frenzy, turning the 3 p.m. parking lot into a nightclub in full swing. Such is the power of “Lay Wit Ya,” which wisely pairs the supremely laid-back Zay with the incorrigible, chatterbox flow of his fellow Tennessean Duke Deuce. Splitting the difference between crunk and the languid TDE house sound, Isaiah Rashad found a way to push the boundaries while remaining firmly in his comfort zone. – A.W.
Jack Harlow — “Luv Is Dro” Feat. Static Major & Bryson Tiller
The three artists on this song have one thing in common: each call Lousiville, Kentucky home. For Jack Harlow, the city is a proud place to represent thanks to those who came before him like the late Static Major and Bryson Tiller. So on his official debut album That’s What They All Say, Harlow made sure to commemorate a moment for his hometown. “Luv Is Dro” is carried by a sample of Static Major’s “Love Is Dro” and held together by verses from Harlow for what lands as an ode to the city’s developed sound and a well-executed comparison of bedroom magic to the effects of weed. – W.O.
Japanese Breakfast — “Be Sweet”
Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee is one of the best indie albums of the year, and “Be Sweet” was the first taste we got into Michelle Zauner’s joyful world. Built upon a buoyant bass groove, funky guitars, and driving synths, “Be Sweet” is a notable high point on an album that is full of high points. Zauner’s infectious vocal melody drives it all home, crafting a track that will be quick to get you dancing. – Z.G.
Jazmine Sullivan — “Pick Up Your Feelings”
At the apex of the pandemic, Jazmine Sullivan thought it was the perfect time to remind the world of her existence with a steamy stack of songs titled Heaux Tales. Its second supporting single “Pick Up Your Feelings” encapsulates everything we missed about Jaz. Pure vocals, women empowerment, encouragement, and anecdotes. “I deserve so much more than you gave to me / So now I’m savin’ me / And I made my peace / So you can run them streets,” she relents. “But don’t forget to come and pick up your feelings.” – Chereise Johnson
J. Cole — “Let Go My Hand”
The closest thing to introspection on Cole’s wind sprint drill of an album, “Let Go My Hand” finds the North Carolina native contemplating the future, the past, his legacy, and the rumors that have circulated online for the past few years about that supposed scuffle with Diddy. And then Diddy pops up on the outro. I mean, if that doesn’t deserve one of those Italian chef’s kiss gestures, absolutely nothing on Earth does. – A.W.
Jorja Smith — “Addicted”
Good pop music tugs at the strings of desire in unique ways and on “Addicted” Jorja Smith does it impeccably. “The hardest thing, you are not addicted to me / I’m the only thing you should need, You should be addicted to me,” she sings in a well-penned plea. Joel Compass’ atmospheric drum and bass production builds a classic British pop sonic trope; the convergence of dance floor beats with the silken-voiced singer. Smith is radiant and audacious at the same time. She doesn’t just want attention, she wants addiction, and she reaches incredible emotional heights in the process. – A.S.
The Kid Laroi, Justin Bieber — “Stay”
It’s always a treat when a well-established star pairs with an up-and-coming newbie, and the combined power of The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber was exactly what both needed to skyrocket to the top of the charts. “Stay” is a mournful but almost-banger pop-punk tune that fit the strange, uncertain mood that dominated most of 2021. As long as everyone else is hitting up the emo revival, why shouldn’t Bieber get a piece of the pie? – C.W.
Lana Del Rey — “White Dress”
Lana Del Rey had an exceptionally busy year between releasing two full-length albums. But even with the whirlwind of events, her Chemtrails Over The Country Club track “White Dress” was her defining moment of 2021. The breathy ballad not only showcases her far-reaching vocals and knack for reinventing tired piano ballads, but it also tells a true story. Through her lyrics and chilling melodies, Lana details the discomfort of what it’s like to be perceived in the male-dominated spaces of the music industry, particularly at such a young age. Although the lyrics and instrumentation are quite sparse, the way Lana delivers each line allows the listener to understand the exact feeling of discomfort and quiet rage she felt upon reexamining a memory from her early career. – C.D.
Lil Baby, EST Gee — “Real As It Gets”
Lil Baby’s reign of terror continued throughout 2021 as he dropped his first solo single post-My Turn, introducing the world at large to Louisville rhyme sniper EST Gee. The frenetic beat would be a challenge for just about anyone to wrangle, but Lil Baby does so with apparent ease, ceding his spotlight to the young up-and-comer for the anchor leg. Gee refuses to let him down, bringing every bit as much energy while insisting he’s “really livin’ what I rap.” – A.W.
Lil Nas X — “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”
In the event that you somehow managed to not hear anything about Lil Nas X since the historic No. 1 run with “Old Town Road” in 2019… well, a lot has changed since then. The rapper shed his squeaky-clean image (which he cultivated based on a song that references adultery and breasts) to make conservatives faint by becoming a gay icon and giving Satan a lap dance. The change was for the better, as “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” made him a lasting cultural fixture, due to both the quality of the music and Nas’ masterful ability to promote it and himself in delightful ways. – D.R.
Mac Ayres — “Nothing Else”
Mac Ayres submitted yet another pristine body of work at the top of the year with Magic 8Ball. Just like a magic 8-ball, the project hones on the randomness of life, including a moment that finds Ayres looking to right his wrongs with love. That arrives on “Nothing Else,” a truly hypnotizing track backed by floating keys and a stuttering drum. As someone who tends to run away from his problems with love, Ayres goes against his natural instincts and decides to make things right with someone who he’s given his heart to. – W.O.
MICHELLE — “SYNCOPATE”
Although AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS, the sophomore album from New York collective Michelle doesn’t drop until January, the samplings we’ve heard from the record so far are setting a very high bar. “Syncopate” arrived earlier this year with the album’s announcement, delivering a truly exciting number that is both groovy and seductive. According to the band in a statement, the song is, at its core, about exposing the vulnerabilities that come with communicating one’s desire. – Z.G.
Morray — “Quicksand”
If you’re looking for a contender for “most undeniable song of the year,” this one puts in a pretty strong argument. Not only did it more or less launch Morray’s career, but it also introduced a rapper for whom “soulful” seems a descriptor inadequate to the challenge of accurate labeling. He somehow croons and raps at the same time — kind of like Nelly — but with a melancholy that reflects the conditions he’s overcome, as well as a hopefulness that fully explains how he managed to do so. – A.W.
MUNA — “Silk Chiffon” Feat. Phoebe Bridgers
If you haven’t heard the lesbian anthem of the year, GTFO. Okay, sure, this song belongs just as much to bi women as anyone else (hi Phoebe), and it only takes a tiny stretch of the imagination to make it into a love song for just about anyone. But, in a heteronormative, patriarchal world that so often dismisses the idea that plenty of women could be completely happy loving each other, “Silk Chiffon” reclaims space in a deeply political way. The fact that it also happens to be a banger is just icing on the cake… or an extra bit of chiffon on the blouse. – C.W.
Olivia Rodrigo — “Good 4 U”
While Olivia Rodrigo‘s debut single “Drivers License” gave her a viral moment, her Sour track “Good 4 U” resonated with millennials and Gen Z alike to make her a certified star. Rather than singing about the woes of a broken heart, “Good 4 U” is instead empowering, sarcastic, and details the wildly relatable feeling of the jealousy and pain that comes from an ex moving on a little too quickly. As a whole, “Good 4 U” is an example of Rodrigo’s versatility that helped her become a household name. It showcases her genre-spanning songwriting along with the fact she can just as easily execute a rock-leaning banger as well as a piano-driven ballad. – C.D
PinkPatheress — “Just For Me”
PinkPantheress burst onto the scene via TikTok when her glitchy, footwork-style production and pristine house vocals hit a sweet spot for disillusioned Gen-Z listeners, stuck at home or full of the same longing her music contains. “Just For Me” is a bit more hopeful than some other tracks on her early mixtape, To Hell With It, but cut with just enough darkness to make things interesting. See if a single listen doesn’t get the melody stuck in your head for days at a time. – C.W.
Polo G — “Rapstar”
Polo G earned the first No. 1 album of his career this year with Hall Of Fame. With that also came the first No. 1 song, “Rapstar.” The track focuses on Polo G’s newfound stardom, one that became undeniably apparent when Hall Of Fame arrived. “Rapstar” is Polo G’s realization that he’s bigger than he’s ever been, and because of that, it requires a moment to stop and soak in the moment. It’s also a track that solidified the Chicago rapper’s presence in the mainstream realm of rap. – W.O.
Pooh Shiesty — “Back In Blood” Feat. Lil Durk
Before Pooh Shiesty’s “Back In Blood” was officially released, the song was highly-anticipated. On top of that, the fiery verse led by Lil Durk, which includes the popular line: “Pooh Shiesty that’s my dog, but Pooh you know I’m really shiesty,” immediately took a life of its own. In an episode of How I Blew Up for Uproxx, the Shiesty Season rapper said he knew the song was a hit when footage of him and Durk recording the video went viral. It was hard to go anywhere without hearing “Back In Blood” and even though Pooh is locked up, the song is still being played worldwide. – C.J.
Roddy Ricch — “Late At Night”
Everyone deserves as a special someone to place their trust in. For Roddy Ricch, past traumas and future fears can combine to make that reality a bit harder to attain. The Compton native overcomes both on “Late At Night,” his first single in almost two years. The uncertainty of how this romance may play out is an afterthought in Roddy’s mind as he focuses on the intimacy from his new lover that awaits. In the grand scheme of his promising career, “Late At Night” is an excellent start towards the upcoming chapter, one that will be completed with his upcoming album Live Life Fast. – W.O.
Saweetie — “Best Friend” Feat. Doja Cat
The explosiveness of Saweetie and Doja Cat’s “Best Friend” is what you get when you two of the industry’s most idiosyncratic creative artists together. It’s a literal bop that celebrates friendship and serves as an uptempo feel-good song. “Bitch, you look goodt, with a T at the end I’ma hype her every time, that my mothеrfuckin’ friend,” Saweetie affirms. Let’s also not forget the moment Doja had with the perplexing “she off her fish” line that was absolutely wrong but her fans insisted on saying it anyway despite her correcting it to “she off her fifth shot.” Complete with the cutest music video, unforgettable bars (i.e. “Beep, beep is that my bestie in a Tessie”), and catchy production, the undeniable hit quickly went double-platinum and is now nominated for Best Rap Song at the 64th Grammy Awards. – C.J.
Silk Sonic — “Leave The Door Open”
Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak announced their Silk Sonic duo back in February and left the music world to simply imagine how great this pairing could be. The things they imagined were brought to reality with Silk Sonic’s perfect debut single, “Leave The Door Open.” Undeniably catchy, impressively smooth, and irresistible altogether, Silk Sonic squeezed every bit of juice out of the record for five months before offering a new track to their fans. Nowadays, singles rarely get worked and promoted for as long as “Leave The Door Open” did, with life of Silk Sonic’s debut track acting as a testament to just how good the song is. – W.O.
Snail Mail — “Valentine”
The title track from Lindsey Jordan’s sophomore album under the Snail Mail moniker quickly set a high bar for what was to be expected from the remainder of the record. Where many indie-adjacent artists returning for their second release in 2021 opted for more sparse, delicate arrangements, Jordan instead leaned into fleshing out the Snail Mail sound and incorporating new instruments to take the music in unexpected directions. “Valentine” is what Derrick Rossignol called for Uproxx “a song that starts out guided by mellow, atmospheric guitars before bursting into a kinetic chorus.” – Z.G.
Syd — “Missing Out”
Throughout 2021, Syd, the lead vocalist of The Internet, delivered three singles that injected hope towards a new solo project from her. While we’ve yet to receive that, the records are notable releases from her. A standout from that is “Missing Out,” the emotive record that dwells on what a well-crafted love could feel like. Syd accounts for her missteps in romance with commendable honesty and self-awareness, while reminding herself, and in turn reminding us, that love will surely find its way to you when the time is right. – W.O.
Taylor Swift — “Mr. Perfectly Fine”
One of the best parts about Taylor Swift re-recording her old albums has been getting brand new music from her as part of the process. As Taylor returns to the timeframe when she wrote each record, she’s rescuing unreleased songs from the vault along the way, and “Mr. Perfectly Fine” is one of the finest new breakup gems of the year. The fact that the song’s probable subject, Joe Jonas, and his wife Sophie Turner are now IRL friends with Taylor and her own Joe (Alwyn) makes it all the better. Come for the Fearless-era guitars, stay for the welcome perspective on those I’m-gonna-die breakup feelings. – C.W.
Turnstile — “Blackout”
With their latest album Glow On, Baltimore hardcore heavyweights Turnstile stepped out of their comfort zone a bit and started to experiment. “Blackout” represents the perfect mid point between Turnstile’s past and future, with 808 accents and non-traditional percussion working together to build the track’s tension. It all eventually explodes into a cathartic chorus that finds Brendan Yates screaming “if it makes you feel alive / well, then I’m happy to provide,” all before fully breaking down into a heavier hardcore outro. – Z.G.
Tyler The Creator — “MASSA”
“I paint full pictures of my perspective on these drum breaks / Just for you to tell me it’s not good from your lunch break.”
Look, hit dogs holler. I’m not one to jump in front of a stay bullet that doesn’t have my name on it. But just to be safe: This song is good. Tyler brags a bunch, he explains himself a little, he addresses some controversy, and he reminds you that yes, he is Black. Blackity Black-ass Black. Adjust your attitude accordingly. – A.W.
Vic Mensa — “Shelter”
As a longtime member of the Vic Mensa Protection Squad (est. 2011, shout out Kids These Days), all I wanted was for the Chicago rapper to return to the rap-inflected roots I knew still resided within him after a rocky past few years. Then “Shelter” happened, not only granting my wish but also reuniting Vic with longtime friend and collaborator Chance The Rapper. I’m afraid I’ve used up all my good karma for the next two years on this tender anthem. Totally worth it. – A.W.
Young Thug, Gunna — “Ski”
This year is divided into two chapters for Young Thug’s. The second half is comprised of his sophomore album, Punk, a project that’s much more timid compared to his previous bodies of work. The first chapter, however, comes with Thug and his Young Stoner Life Records’ compilation album Slime Language 2. All the fun and exuberant rhymes we’ve come to love from Thug appear on the project thanks to highlight records like “Ski” with Gunna. The frequent collaborators invite listeners to hit the slopes with them — quite literally thanks to its accompanying TikTok dance — for an infectious reminder to always have fun and enjoy life. – W.O.
The War On Drugs — “I Don’t Live Here Anymore”
On their 2021 album I Don’t Live Here Anymore, The War On Drugs once again deliver a collection of insinuating synth-rock songs that recall the glories of bygone stadium rock infused with a post-modern sensibility. On the title track, Adam Granduciel might have very well distilled his “indie rock Born In The U.S.A.” aesthetic down to its purest form. Backed by the sultry duo Lucius, he sings about going to a Bob Dylan concert and arriving at a life-changing catharsis, a momentous turn signified by the surging keyboards and guitars that bring the song gloriously home. – S.H.
Wizkid – “Essence” Feat. Tems
Afrobeats reached a new level of popularity in 2021. Proof of that lives in Wizkid and Tems’2 hit song “Essence.” Released at the end of 2020, the Made In Lagos highlight became the first afrobeats record to enter the Billboard singles chart, and thanks to a later remix from Justin Bieber, it propelled its way to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Tems’ captivating presence on the song, Wizkid’s smooth-guy demeanor, and the track’s hypnotizing production made it incredibly easy to fall in love with. And that’s exactly what happened as fans from all over the world belted its lyrics at the top of their lungs long after the song’s original release. – W.O.
Some of the artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.