“Forever’s Gone,” DRAMA

“Every girl dreams of a prince and here you stand, the perfect man… and I push you away.” Out of all the great tracks from collectives, crews, and individual artists across the South Side this year, this newspaper’s music editor fell in love with a track that’s described as “deep house” by the arbiters of taste on the web, but really sounds more like Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” when it comes down to it. The unlikely pairing of a Derrick Carter fanboy and one of Chicago’s finest moody R&B purveyors, DRAMA made 2016 worth dancing through, and “Forever’s Gone” is their finest moment—throbbing synth pads bubble underneath Via Rosa’s sweet, darting voice, and everything from an understated piano riff to the chopped sounds of Rosa’s own vocals glide in and out of the mix with ease. If you paid attention to the lyrics, you’d notice a pretty tragic story of false love, culminating in a chorus of “you believe what you want to believe,” but Rosa’s too busy dancing to the beat to dwell on it for too long. Who needs a lover, she seems to say, when you have music? (Austin Brown)

“LSD,” Jamila Woods ft. Chance the Rapper

“Yesterday,” Noname

“Westside Bound 3,” Saba ft. Joseph Chilliams

“Qwazars,” Mr. Fingers

“Girls @,” Joey Purp ft. Chance the Rapper

The pounding thumps of Joey Purp’s “Girls @” come bouncing in from the first second of the track: it’s pure rhythmic bliss that hits all the right places, scratching that nine-month-long summertime itch and stubbornly wicking away any traces of wintry blues. Purp comes in smooth, laxly rhyming and riding shotgun to producer Knox Fortune’s bone-deep beats, yet another example of the Chicago’s near-unending run of excellent production talent in 2016. It reeks of catchy-as-hell vibes, a warm summer come up, and a sound meant to be blasting out car windows. Simply put, it’s a helluva song—even before you realize Chance the Rapper has a cameo, the duo’s West and South Side rapping combo charmingly invite everybody to come bob along. If this banger from every angle is a little taste of the future of the South Side’s rap, we’re already peeping towards next summer, and what the warmth will bring then. (Lauren Tussey)

“Spiritual Alliances,” Hieroglyphic Being

“Summer Friends,” Chance the Rapper ft. Jeremih and Francis & The Lights

“Father Time,” Jean Deaux

“Ultralight Beam,” Kanye West ft. Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin, and Kelly Price

Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” is an introduction to the gospel that pervades through The Life of Pablo, but one could just as easily see it as the gateway to Chicago’s exceptional year. The song speaks to the faith and conviction embedded in both the South Side and its most prominent artistic voices: Chance the Rapper sings, “You cannot mess with the light/Look at lil Chano from 79th,” while Mr. West himself limits his own verse to mumbled incantations of “this is a God dream.” While one could reasonably imagine Chance and Kanye  moving further afield from their South Side origins, they instead take this opportunity to reflect on their different roles as aspirational Chicago figures. Gospel, R&B, and hip-hop artists and producers like Kirk Franklin, Kelly Price and the inimitable Swizz Beatz all collapse together within the light, the ultralight beam, that leads a city’s—especially this city’s—people towards each other. “This”—the beam, the faith—“is everything,” Kanye sings, and Chicago has proven him right. (Ashvini Kartik-Narayan)

“Sleep Talking,” Ravyn Lenae

“You Ain’t Gang,” Lil Bibby

“My Stance,” Adamn Killa

“Burnin Ya Boa,” DJ Taye ft. DJ Manny

“Let’s Work,” DJ Earl ft. MoonDoctoR and Oneohtrix Point Never

If the first six tracks on Open Your Eyes are any evidence, DJ Earl is not shy about placing himself among the vanguard of footwork producers—Jlin, RP Boo, (the late) DJ Rashad—who have been (or are becoming) the faces of modern, forward-looking footwork. Aggressive and brimming with energy, yet pristinely produced, these tracks are post-Double Cup footwork through and through.

“Let’s Work,” on the other hand, is a moment of respite that looks back on where footwork has been and how far its come. While the track, which features Oneohtrix Point Never and MoonDoctoR, begins with a high energy, bass-heavy footwork frenzy, the eponymous vocal sample pays homage to classic Chicago house; the (not so) subtly sexualized repetition of “let’s work,” as well as the dated sounds of the MIDI horns sound as if they are sourced directly from this earliest ancestor of footwork. Meanwhile, the gradually emerging four on the floor kick drums move away from the cacophony of typical footwork bass. At this fast-paced tempo, memories of ghetto house and juke—offshoots of Chicago house and direct precursors of footwork—are inescapable. With a handful of well-placed musical artifacts, DJ Earl manages to conjure up decades worth of footwork history, all in about five minutes.

About halfway through the record, layers gradually begin dropping out, leaving only the drums and vocal samples when, in a stunning moment, the house-invoking kick drums cut out, pushed aside by the track’s earlier booming 808 bass. This is footwork after all, and DJ Earl is making the rules. (Andrew Lindsay)

“jump.i,” Kweku Collins

“LilDurk2x,” Lil Durk

Listen to the Weekly’s full 2016 playlist on Spotify (two songs not available):

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