Since the beginning days of recorded music, artists have consistently broken the barriers between genres to yield entirely new ones, from big band and jazz to disco, R&B and hip-hop. But over the past decade, the artistic insistence of blurring the lines between them has consistently pushed music into entirely new terrains, particularly in 2015, where the lines between pop, R&B, and hip-hop were blurred beyond recognition.
The Weeknd staked territory in multiple formats, as did Drake, Justin Bieber, and Fetty Wap. Others, like Kendrick Lamar, remained within the realm of hip-hop while infusing it with bits of jazz and funk. The mainstream landscape has never been as wildly diverse as it became in 2015, all thanks to a group of creatives producing work that challenged the expectations of today’s music scene. Artistry is all about evolving creative expression, and a handful of singles helped most to honor that tradition.
Some inspired social media phenomenons (“Hotline Bling”), others launched careers (Alessia Cara, Post Malone), and some made you just want to turn up (“Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)”).
From “Antidote” to “Hotline Bling,” here are Rap-Up’s 10 best songs of 2015.
10. “Antidote,” Travis Scott
Travis Scott’s major-label debut Rodeo was massive in scope and sonically ambitious, and he hit the nail on the head with “Antidote,” a pop song in hip-hop clothing. The ode to hedonism is glaringly over-the-top (“Party on a Sunday, do it all again on Monday, spent a check on a weekend”), and while the melody doesn’t quite diverge from its initial pattern, it’s so intoxicating that it’s easier to just vibe along.
9. “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh),” Rich Homie Quan
Rich Homie Quan hit his stride in 2015, crawling onto the charts with his biggest hit to date, “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh).” An anemic synth-heavy beat, produced by Nitti Beatz and DJ Spinz, plays the background to the ATLien’s Auto-Tune delivery, coining a catchphrase to tack on to the end of every sentence.
8. “My Way (Remix),” Fetty Wap feat. Drake
Arguably the year’s breakout star, Fetty Wap crushed the game with his debut hit “Trap Queen,” which released in 2014. But “My Way,” released on his eponymous full-length this year, built on the formula set before it and took it to the next level. Not only did the Patterson, New Jersey native extend his hot streak, but he also unquestionably proved that he’s got one of the best melodic ears in the game. And Drake knows a hit when he hears one—October’s Very Own blessed us with a remix that took the song over the top.
7. “What Do You Mean?” Justin Bieber
After getting into a tropical house groove on Jack Ü’s “Where Are Ü Now,” Justin Bieber continued his redemption tour with “What Do You Mean?” It pulled from the same formula as the wheezing EDM-pop number and refined it, hosting one of the former tween star’s most convincing, memorable performances of his career, and earning him his first No. 1 on the Hot 100.
6. “Fuck Up Some Commas,” Future
Last year’s Honest left some Future fans a bit cold—the rapper leaned just as pop as he did hip-hop. But he returned to his gritty roots on a string of mixtapes and his chart-topping third album DS2, which housed the club staple “Fuck Up Some Commas.” Flaunting wealth is nothing new in hip-hop, but Future Hendrix made his braggadocio boasts undeniable, accented by a screeching siren that pushes this into red-hot territory.
5. “White Iverson,” Post Malone
One of hip-hop’s biggest viral success stories in 2015, Post Malone crashed onto the scene with his breakout hit “White Iverson,” a floating singsong ballad inspired by his getting braids in the style of famed NBA player Allen Iverson. Not only did the song score him a deal with Republic, but it introduced contemporary slang to the term “saucin’,” a new way to say you’re stunting on haters.
4. “Can’t Feel My Face,” The Weeknd
The Weeknd made a full transition into pop with Beauty Behind the Madness, all thanks to its chart-topping single, “Can’t Feel My Face.” The Michael Jackson-inspired tune, produced by super-producer Max Martin (Britney Spears, Taylor Swift), brightened the moodier, R&B-inflected sound of his earlier mixtapes and debut album Kiss Land. The skin-burrowing tune etched its place in the history books as one of the year’s biggest, and best, singles.
3. “Here,” Alessia Cara
Being a loner at a party is something everyone has endured, and it’s precisely what pushed the 19-year-old straight onto the charts. A mid-tempo burner touting a sample of Isaac Hayes’ “Ike’s Rap II,” “Here” came straight from the mind of a teenage outsider who made being a wallflower sound intoxicating. As strings unfurl behind her, she sings with a passion and ability that’s far beyond her years.
2. “King Kunta,” Kendrick Lamar
The most aggressive track on the Grammy-nominated To Pimp a Butterfly also happens to carry the most political heft. “King Kunta,” produced by Sounwave and Terrace Martin, could be seen as the addendum to his iconic “Control” verse, where he called out a litany of rappers as his competitors. Only here, he indirectly fires shots at entry-level emcees who haven’t earned their stripes, bigging up his own skills over a steady electric guitar melody.
1. “Hotline Bling,” Drake
Few musicians had as successful of a year as Drake. The Canadian artist managed to score two chart-topping albums—If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and his collaborative project with Future, What a Time to Be Alive—and emerged relatively unscathed in a heated, highly-publicized battle with Meek Mill. But one of the crowning achievements for Drizzy came on the back of “Hotline Bling,” a SoundCloud-released single that burned through the Internet and bled into mainstream consciousness in just a few months’ time, spawning covers from Erykah Badu, Sam Smith, and Kehlani. The dancehall-lite track remains instantly unshakeable with its organ-powered groove and singsong chorus, propelling it to become one of Drake’s most enduring singles to date.