The 20 Best R&B Radio Hits of 2016
First rap and pop, now onto R&B (previous years' lists: 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015). Here's the Spotify playlist.
1. Maxwell - "Lake By The Ocean"
#12 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
It may not be the out-of-the-park radio killer that "Pretty Wings" was, but I may love it as much. I'm dying to know what filters or triggers they put on the drums to get the sound they have in this song, I've never quite heard anything like it.
2. Beyonce - "Formation"
#4 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #10 Hot 100
It almost doesn't quite fit to put this song, co-written by Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd, in an R&B list, but if Beyonce was making any statement with Lemonade, it's that her idea of R&B contains multitudes, rap songs and rock songs and country songs sung with soul. Those few measures of horns are probably what I've savored and anticipated more than any piece of any song this year.
3. Ro James - "Permission"
#9 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
Still in the top 20 on R&B radio after 44 weeks, "Permission" is the year's most persistent hit, rising up the charts then falling and rising again on at least 4 different occasions. It's a song that just won't go away, but really, El Dorado has several tracks that are just as good, so I'm ready for radio to move onto one of those.
4. Jeremih - "Oui"
#3 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #19 Hot 100
Late Nights: The Album has had its own notable measure of chart longevity -- though it was finally released about a year ago, it has had major radio hits in three consecutive calendar years now. Given Jeremih's struggles to get proper promotion at Def Jam or even to be given proper billing on a tour with PartyNextDoor (who only just had his first real radio hit recently), it's really time we give Jeremih some respect for his 6 years of consistently delivering these hits.
5. Mary J. Blige - "Thick Of It"
#6 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
People have really been vultures about Mary J.'s divorce being a barometer of how much pain she's going to put into her next album, but this song bangs hard regardless of her marital status.
6. Kehlani - "CRZY"
#22 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #85 Hot 100
It felt similarly unseemly earlier this year when I listened to R&B stations dish on the gossip about the personal issues of Kehlani, a fairly well known artist who'd never actually gotten any significant R&B radio play up to that point. But a few months later, she broke through to the airplay charts with a song that really felt like a defiant, triumphant way of addressing the mental health issues that had made her into gossip column fodder, it really made me an instant fan of an artist I hadn't connected with much up to that point.
7. Guordon Banks "Keep You In Mind"
#15 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
This song really flew under the radar, a writer who I'd never head of before took a song that major artists passed on and made it into a hit himself, putting kind of a modern sound on an '80s R&B vibe in a way that brings Miguel's "Adorn" to mind.
8. Lloyd - "Tru"
#26 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
Lloyd was always one of the more earnest young R&B stars of the 2000s, but I didn't expect him to come back after a 5 year break with what basically sounds like an India Arie song. His last album was great, I'm glad he's back and that he reintroduced himself with such a confidently personal, old-fashioned song instead of desperately hopping onto a current trend.
9. Rihanna "Sex With Me"
#9 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #92 Hot 100
This song has been in heavy rotation on all the D.C. and Baltimore stations I listen to for months, but it only just in the last couple weeks finally hit the top 10 nationally, don't know what that lag was about. But I love this song, glad it got rescued from bonus track purgatory.
10. Usher f/ Young Thug "No Limit"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #32 Hot 100
Sonically, this track is a shameless bite of Jeremih's "Planes," and the lyrical conceit of Usher namechecking Master P records like Ghetto D for sexual puns is kind of cringe-inducing. And yet, this song works so much better than it has a right to.
11. Dreezy f/ Jeremih - "Body"
#14 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #62 Hot 100
Dreezy is a talented rapper and there are some very good straightforward hip-hop tracks on her major label debut No Hard Feelings, but for whatever reason, she's being marketed to radio with R&B duets with Jeremih and T-Pain, and the songs are so good that it's hard to argue with the approach.
12. Mila J "Kickin' Back"
#37 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
Jhene Aiko's less famous big sister continues to make such better music than her that I feel petty about mentioning it.
13. Beyonce "Sorry"
#3 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #11 Hot 100
I love the last minute of "Sorry" so much more than the rest of the song, but the other parts are good too.
14. Yuna f/ Usher - "Crush"
#22 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
A major star in Malaysia, Yuna made a tentative step towards American radio this year with an Usher duet, and the song really grew on me, wouldn't mind her making more R&B radio moves.
15. Prince - "1000 X's & O's"
#41 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
In the months before his shocking death, R&B radio gave some spins to what would be the final new hit of his lifetime, a new recording of a song that had been kicking around for 23 years as a Rosie Gaines outtake and occasional concert performance before ending up on one of his albums released exclusively on Tidal in 2015.
16. Rihanna f/ Drake - "Work"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #1 Hot 100
As far as the PartyNextDoor-penned tracks on Anti go, I much prefer "Sex With Me," but "Work" really grew on me with one of Rihanna's best vocal performances.
17. Solange - "Cranes In The Sky"
#33 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #74 Hot 100
I think "T.O.N.Y." is still my favorite Solange single, but this song is really gorgeous and has been grabbing in a way that the rest of A Seat At The Table hasn't.
18. Anthony Hamilton "Amen"
#15 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
These kinds of churchy organ ballads with a hard beat behind them are right in Anthony Hamilton's comfort zone, but sometimes it's good to hear somebody keep playing to their strengths.
19. Fantasia - "No Time For It"
#28 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
The Definition Of... is an ambitious and varied album, and I almost wish the album's lead single had demonstrated that range instead of sticking to the sound of previous Fantasia singles, but it's still a good one.
20. Johnny Gill f/ New Edition - "This One's For Me And You"
#20 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
I never really went to New Edition for old fashioned soul, but this Charlie Wilson-sounding record really suits them well, certainly better than BBD's recent comeback single "Run."
The 10 Worst R&B Radio Hits of 2016:
1. Chris Brown - "Back To Sleep"
2. DJ Drama f/ Chris Brown, Skeme and Lyquin - "Wishing"
3. Chris Brown - "Grass Ain't Greener"
4. Beyonce - "Hold Up"
5. Tory Lanez - "Luv"
6. Bryson Tiller - "Exchange"
7. Kent Jones - "Don't Mind"
8. Alicia Keys - "In Common"
9. Mike WiLL Made It f/ Rihanna - "Nothing Is Promised"
10. Rihanna - "Love On The Brain"