2015 is raging into the yesteryear. It was only months ago when we all received emails, alerts, or saw our timeline’s light up with K. Dot’s “Blacker The Berry,” Lupe’s “Murals,” and Drake’s “Back To Back.” When we slung our headphones over our vestibules and were transported to a place that only music could take us. The world of possibilities.

Music is cheap now, they say. It comes and it goes as quickly as it ever has and people’s shortened attention spans don’t help, but songs cannot lose their value in such a way. Their value is in their dispensability. It is in that way that they are eternal. And as each year passes it does not mean the work of the previous year will simply disappear. No. It will be there for you when you need to run a mile. And it will be there for you when you experience something whose words are better said by a beauty that goes beyond the sum of its parts. That’s the power of music. And here are our picks for the top ten singles of 2015.

Editorial Note: This list is not in a particular order


“Mural” by Lupe Fiasco

Released: January 20, 2015
Label: Atlantic Records
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producer(s): The Buchanans
Guest(s): N/A

As his final obligation for Atlantic Records, Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth plays like an odd fusion of an athlete competing for a new contract and a second-term president freed from the restrictions of pursuing re-election. “Mural” kicks off the album with a dizzying array of inventive flows, abstract metaphors and discernible imagery in the year’s, arguably, best display of lyricism. The quotables stack high over the song’s seemingly endless eight-plus minutes. “Apologize for my weird mix/what tastes like hot dogs and tear drips/and looks like pantomime and clear bricks/and smells like shotguns and deer piss.” “I prefer girls to reign all over the world/And not rain like, rain man or rain like rain dance/Or rain like a slight chance of rain when it’s raining/Or rein like deer slaves to Santa Claus sleigh man/But reign like queens that reign over made man.” Get lost on Genius and message boards to see how far the rabbit hole goes. Lupe pushed the craft forward with songs like “Mural,” and with a promise of three full albums in 2016, the next act of his career should be one to remember.


“The Blacker The Berry” by Kendrick Lamar

Released: February 10, 2015
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
Highest Charting Position: #66
Producer(s): Boi-1da, Terrace Martin, Stephen Kozmeniuk
Guest(s): N/A

Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city rewards a tumultuous storyline with a happy ending, but his follow-up To Pimp A Butterfly is the complete opposite: a collection of peaks, valleys, and lessons that concludes with just as much confusion as it began with. “The Blacker The Berry” embodies that journey. For two and a half verses, Kendrick angrily scowls at white supremacy while defiantly beating his chest with black pride. But with the final eight bars, Kendrick turns the mirror with a plea for personal responsibility: to stop gang banging. After a Billboard interview weeks earlier, he was accused of perpetuating respectability politics—the idea that being a certain “kind” of black can protect one from racism—during a pivotal moment of the modern civil rights struggle. But “The Blacker The Berry” and TPAB illustrate inner-city violence as an extension of the ruthless racism that preceded it. By emphasizing that connection instead of ignoring it, Kendrick gives another face to oppression, with a message to its victims: don’t let your enemies dehumanize you so much that you forget who you are.


“Señorita” by Vince Staples

Released: May 4, 2015
Label: Def Jam Recordings
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producer(s): Christian Rich
Guest(s): Future, Snoh Aalegra

XXL Freshman Vince Staples may be far removed from his gangbanging past, but the Long Beach native has vivid memories of it all as showcased in his “Senorita” track from his Summertime ’06 debut. With a little help from radio darling Future on the hook, Staples weaves a number of scenarios within the song from what happens when one calls him a “crab” to how he’s never too much of a rapper to speak on what happens to snitches. After being signed to Def Jam for a couple years, Staples has finally made his move even while paying homage to his background.


“Alright” by Kendrick Lamar

Released: June 30, 2015
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath Recordings
Highest Charting Position: #81
Producer(s): Pharrell Williams, Sounwave
Guest(s): Pharrell Williams

Even if the hook of Kendrick Lamar’s biggest song of the year sings “we gon be alright,” its verses don’t carry such optimism. With rhymes about numbing the pains from police brutality with disposable vices like painkilling drugs and blowing cash, the prospects of fighting systemic racism don’t sound too great. But the song became a #BlackLivesMatter rallying cry and millennials’ candidate for a new black national anthem for a reason. Kendrick’s candid, angry rhymes show the integrity of the struggle without romanticizing it, while Pharrell’s defiant chorus and triumphant horns make hope feel palpable even while violent videos and depressing news headlines make progress seem like a pipe dream. Whether you’re protesting with marches or by surviving, “Alright” empowers with one repeated listen at a time.


“Back To Back” by Drake

Released: July 29, 2015
Label: OVO Sound
Highest Charting Position: #21
Producer(s): Noah “40” Shebib
Guest(s): N/A

It wasn’t enough for the second swing of Drake’s two-piece rebuttal to Meek Mill’s ghostwriter claims to finish the battle: he had to make it a hit and a pop culture moment for good measure. In a way that only Drake can, he used his in-the-pocket flow to deliver zingers that were just as stinging as they were memeable. “Is that a world tour, or your girl’s tour?” “Trigger fingers turn to Twitter fingers.” “Shout to all the boss bitches wifing niggas!” The song ran the summer, peaking at no. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earning a well-deserved grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance. Not bad for a diss track dropped on Soundcloud. Drake also smartly nailed the bells and whistles: the cover art captured Toronto Blue Jays slugger Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in in the 1993 World Series to defeat Meek’s hometown Philadelphia Phillies ballclub, he brought his lyrics to life by sending bottles to Charlamagne The God, and he took his victory lap with fan-made memes on the big screen during his performance at OVO Fest. Only time will tell if he satisfies fan pleas to face off against Kendrick or Pusha T, but Drake added a game to the Win column with “Back To Back.”


“Blessings” by Big Sean

Released: January 31, 2015
Label: G.O.O.D Music, Def Jam
Highest Charting Position: #28
Producer(s): Vinylz, Allen Ritter
Guest(s): Drake, Kanye West (extended version)

Big Sean has shown flashes of potential since signing to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music in 2007, but with Dark Sky Paradise he brought it all together in an effort that converted naysayers. “Blessings,” the album’s first official single (after Sean dropped “IDFWU” and “Paradise” released as part of a four-song leak a few months earlier), is an announcement of that arrival. Over a haunting backdrop by Vinylz, Sean confidently drops punchline after punchline about his work ethic, his deserved success and grinding to provide for his loved ones. Add Drake’s Midas touch with a strong verse and an anthemic hook, and even Riley Curry couldn’t resist the song’s undeniable spot as one of the year’s best.


“Hotline Bling” by Drake

Released: January 31, 2015
Label: OVO Sound
Highest Charting Position: #2
Producer(s): nineteen85
Guest(s): N/A

Don’t talk to Drake about what’s ethical and what isn’t, he’s solely interested in making hits. When the Toronto MC dropped his chipper, upbeat rendition of what happens when good girls “go bad” — so to speak — it was in a completely different vein than his scathing track “Back to Back” directed at his adversary Meek Mill which dropped the same day. Still, even with that said, both songs were planted in the question of ethics. Meek’s accusations of Drizzy hiring a ghostwriter is what spawned “Back to Back” then once “Hotline Bling” went crazy on the airwaves, music fans pondered as to why it appeared that Drake had ripped the entire musical concept from Hampton, Va. upstart D.R.A.M. and his smash hit “Cha-Cha.” The release of the ”Hotline” visual made the song omnipresent. Drake and his spastic dance moves in a turtleneck and Timbs instantly became fodder for petulant video editors on Instagram, which is probably better digital marketing that the Toronto MC could’ve ever hoped for.  


“Commas” by Future

Released: March 2, 2015
Label: A1, Freebandz, Epic
Highest Charting Position: #44
Producer(s): DJ Spinz, Southside
Guest(s): N/A

Future Hendrix has to be the quintessential Atlanta artist. One of Dungeon Family’s youngest sons, the rapper is predisposed to knowing what will sound good across airwaves. It was only a few years ago when Future’s career broke in the strip clubs of his hometown, but there’s indeed a formula — his melodic hooks often overpower his unintelligible (to most) bars. And you can be sure that the topic of discussion will be one of the following: drugs, sex or money. “Commas” from the rapper’s Dirty Sprite 2 was one of 2015’s biggest tracks tapping into the latter subcategory. The track, produced by young gunners DJ Spinz and Southside, rings with urgency even as the bassline holds steady. Just like that Future took it all back to the beginning, encouraging hip-hop fans to run to their local strip club and  “f— up some commas,” whether they had them or not.


“Antidote” by Travis Scott

Released: July 29, 2015
Label: Grand Hustle, Epic
Highest Charting Position: #16
Producer(s): Wondagurl, Eestbound
Guest(s): N/A

GOOD Music producer Travis Scott only wants to have a good time. Sometimes, it’s too good of a time as recently proven at one of his shows. If you’ve ever been to any of his performances then you know that seeing him live, personifies the level of energy that he has on each track. “Antidote” is no exception. The track, released midsummer, has spread across airwaves portraying Scott in his purest form — he’s all about the boom of a record. All the while spitting abstract lines about weekend vibes and the ladies who pass through.


“Flex (Ooh Ooh Ooh)” by Rich Homie Quan

Released: February 10, 2015
Label: T.I.G Entertainment
Highest Charting Position: #26
Producer(s): Nitti Beatz, DJ Spinz
Guest(s): N/A

Back in February of this year, Rich Homie Quan dropped “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)” the lead single from his If You Ever Think I’ll Stop Goin’ In Ask RR. The song, produced by DJ Spinz and Nitti Beatz, has since become Quan’s calling card — of sorts. It’s certified platinum and serves as the rapper’s highest-charted song ever. “Flex” is lighthearted and poppy even as the Atlanta rapper has been having sort of a tumultuous year in the public eye. In the days prior to Quan’s performance of “Flex” on the BET Hip Hop Awards, a video clip (posted by him, presumably) floated across the web. Quan was puffing on an L with his baby boy within arms’ reach. And who could forget about him publicly stepping away from Young Thug Birdman and that whole Rich Gang thing? Still had one hell of a year, though, off the strength of one song.