This article originally appeared on Noisey UK, obviously.
Not to get too self-aggrandising about it, but Britain has the best music scene in the world. We know this, because we live here. And the world knows this, because we have presented them with some of the most forward thinking artists. Sure, America has its EDM superstars, its world dominating rap artists, and Bruce Springsteen, but we have everyone from Burial to Radiohead and Dizzee Rascal to fka Twigs. On paper, Britain is the best.
The thing is, we don’t always get that much time to celebrate our homegrown artists. We may live music to such a degree that when we go to the toilet, a little medley can slide its way out, but we’re often too tied up in reporting on Justin Bieber’s cherubic buttocks or Drake’s work out routine to find the time to praise our favourite records to the heights they deserve.
So, then, the moment is ripe for us to rectify all our mistakes. You already know that 2016 has been a great year for British music, because you’ve memorised all the lyrics to Konnichiwa, dozed peacefully to The Colour in Anything and swam into the depths of A Moon Shaped Pool. But what about the music you haven’t heard? Well, it turns out you’re in luck, because we’re about to hand deliver the kind of tracks you can impress everyone with when you’re handed control of a laptop in the early hours of the morning. Just load up this page, then thank us later.
Here are our top 5 tracks from the year so far, and all the other shit that you haven’t heard but should probably listen to.
The Top 5
5. 808INK - “Driving Cut” (Feat Daniel OG)
“Suede Jaw” may be 808INK’s most accessible track, but it’s on “Driving Cut” that the group’s vision for stretching the art of British rap is most apparent. This isn’t grime, nor is it the sort of crust-ridden hip-hop that sounds like it’s been festering in a half-smoked joint somewhere near Speaker’s Corner. This is some colourful, wild and nasty shit. Ryan Bassil
4. Jorja Smith - “Blue Lights”
Between sampling Dizzee Rascal’s “Sirens” and painting an aching picture of the effects of racial profiling, “Blue Lights” became one of the most pertinent hits of the year. Drawing together personal observation and social commentary, it’s a ballad for the ways in which youth groups specifically are criminalised in the UK – kept after class, feeling guilty or anxious for no reason when police cars pass by. “There’s no need to run if you’ve done nothing wrong,” Smith sings over a silky soundscape that lands somewhere somewhere between Hot Sugar and Lauryn Hill. It’s a pretty mammoth achievement for an 18-year-old who fits her songwriting in between shifts at Starbucks. Emma Garland
3. Anohni – “4 Degrees”
Such is the universal power of every piece of music Anohni makes, you can sometimes forget that despite growing up in California, she was born in the humble cathedral city of Chichester in Sussex – which means: yes, we're allowed to claim her for this list. Plus, Hudmo is on production, so this one bleeds Britain. “4 Degrees” is so many things at once: fragile but muscular, sentimental but apocalyptic, chilling but glorious. It’s exactly the kind of track that makes the little hairs on your arm stand up on end every time you press play. It’s not easy to make pop music about politics that doesn’t suck, but Anohni has mastered it with pure honesty and fearlessness. Daisy Jones
2 - NSG - “We Dey” (Feat Kilo Keemzo)
For a few weeks earlier this year, the media could have you believing that Skepta’s Konnichiwa was one of the dominant sounds on London’s proverbial sound systems. That may well be true at the surface, but look a little closer and all roads lead toward NSG and their underground smash “We Dey”. As one of the leading powerhouses in London’s burgeoning afrobeats scene, the track is an anthem that’s as melancholic as it is celebratory. If you’re a real G, then you’ll know: this track is life in just over four minutes. So, come, one and all, and smoke weed until your eyes are red. Ryan Bassil
1. LATER x CASISDEAD - "Before This"
This is the one. This is the absolute one. From the moment that slowed, throwed and neon beat of “Before This” by Casisdead and LATER begins, you’re instantly driving fast through a hot night, down endless hills, the glimmer of some strange metropolis flickering below – even if you’re just sat at a desk in Woking with your headphones on and your eyes closed. This is the Drive soundtrack, meets Big Willie Style, meets London, meets every laid-back summer jam you ever put on via a terrible portable speaker next to a pool in Mallorca so all your mates could kick back.
Day one fans of Casisdead’s slasher rap style might be wondering where all the shagging, murder, naked bodies, dead bodies, necrophilia and nasty drugs have gone, but even they can’t deny that when the Tottenham MC turns his hand to this level of hypnotic synth-rap heater, he’s probably better at it than anyone else. Joe Zadeh
All the other good shit
Cadenza – “No Drama”
Yo, this is this track you want blasted out the speakers at some dirty sweaty basement club at 4am.This is the track you want pumping through your headphones on the train ride to work. This is the track you want shaking through your bedroom walls when all your flatmates are out. Daisy Jones
Jelani Blackman - “TDTL”
As we wrote in our feature earlier this year, Jelani Blackman is one of the few British artists intensely working to push his limits further, embodying what it means to explore music to its fullest. “TDTL” is one of those tracks where he dives in headfirst, and it culminates in the most intense, burst of super-speed rap this side of a dial-up connection. Ryan Bassil
Fear of Men - "Trauma"
Fear of Men (which is a real phobia, by the way) are masters of precision. The sense that a lot has landed on the cutting room floor on the way to making the most precise, dark pop they could is tangible – which is impressive considering most people can’t even work out what they want for breakfast, let alone how to articulate what emotion they’re feeling. This is a dark track throbbing with intent, about reclaiming incidents of violation to find strength in vulnerability and empowerment in moving on. Emma Garland
The Rhythm Method - “Party Politics”
This one goes out to every member of the straight through crew. Ryan Bassil
Blood Orange and Nelly Furtado - "Hadron Collider"
It’s a surprise that we can hear this track online AT ALL considering the fact that Blood Orange and Nelly Furtado made it essentially impossible to get hold of by releasing it on limited edition cassette player at a gig earlier this year. Luckily, the Internet got its greasy little hands on it because nothing is sacred, meaning that our ears were blessed with the tinkling piano, dulcet falsetto and smooth-as-fuck synth lines of “Hadron Collider”, a hidden gem from the dream team we never knew we needed. Daisy Jones
Nines - “Intro”
You know those friends who continuously make statements about how every Drake track features bar after bar of quotables? Shove Nines into their ear holes. With one hand placed on a cinematic steady-cam, and the other placed on the stacked bundles of cash that are there to be made from operating out of burner phones, this video heralds a new slick peak for road rap. Ryan Bassil
Uli K - "Fix Up"
Uli K sounds a bit like Yung Lean if he’d moved to London, started getting well into reggaeton and club rap, and got hella melodic in the process. All the producer’s tracks are worth listening to, but “Fix Up” is a stand-out because it manages to sound sugary-sweet and sad simultaneously, like a chocolate fudge cake eaten on death row. Yes, I have a lot of time for Uli K. Daisy Jones
Lil Silva – "De Ja"
Lil Silva has a voice that sounds like a thousand baby doves hatching from golden eggs and then flying with their little wings across a pink sunset. Listen to this track, and you will detect no lies. Daisy Jones
Danny L Harle - "Ashes of Love"
You’ve got all the ashes of your love in an urn, you’ve taken it to the club, this song is playing, you’re wildly tossing the cindered crumbs of romance in the air, and everyone is dancing in the downfall like it’s a Magaluf foam party. Burn the love, burn all the fucking love!
Nao - "Girlfriend"
We already put Nao on the 2014 version of this list, and then the 2015 version after that, so because we are English and do not like to break traditions under any circumstances we put her on the list again. The track’s sick too. Daisy Jones
Let’s Eat Grandma - "Deep Six Textbook"
As Noisey’s Daisy Jones wrote when we named this duo on our 25 Women Under 25 list: “These basically identical BFFs Rosa and Jenny (who are both 16 and 17) manage to take all the glacial, witching-hour ambience of the English countryside and inject it into their sound, creating a strangely powerful, pure shot of weird pop brilliance. Their voices are so sweet it could almost be sickly, but coupled with the gothic rumble of drums and odd, incongruous poeticisms, there’s a certain darkness that elevates them.” So, yeah, all that. Joe Zadeh
Martha - "Ice Cream and Sunscreen"
This song from North East band Martha is the kind of full blooded indie pop that encapsulates when you’re angry as hell but you’ve also never felt more alive, and you’re using your fury as some sort of motherfuckin’ X-men super power. Put this on, go outside, take your top off, and scream “All hail my angst!”