1. Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow” It’s amazing that Cardi’s beautiful bundle of trash talk made it all the way to No. 1 without a traditional hook — until you realize that every phrase she blurts has its own ticklish melody, its own whiplash rhythm. She doesn’t need a hook. She’s pure musicality.
2. Kendrick Lamar, “DNA.” Mini-hot take: Like 2Pac before him, Kendrick is more of a singles artist than an album artist — a virtuoso who shines brightest in tight spaces. Here, he decodes the American rap genome in roughly three minutes.
3. Lee Ann Womack, “The Lonely, the Lonesome and the Gone” Why do we keep turning to old country songs for solace when the 21st century keeps inventing new ways to kill us? Womack, sounding better than ever, tiptoes through this riddle with care: “I don’t know why no one sings about drowning in pitchers and half-price wings, and trying to wish back everything they’ve lost.”
4. GoldLink, featuring Brent Faiyaz and Shy Glizzy, “Crew” The currents of rap music still flow fast and hot — which made this song’s slow-motion bloom from local anthem to platinum-selling hit feel every bit as cool as its refrain.
5. Selena Gomez, “Bad Liar” It starts off as a minimalist nod to Prince, and then blasts off with the sexiest metaphysical pickup line on the radio: “Ooh, baby, let’s make reality!”
6. Sam Hunt, “Body Like a Back Road” It’s a car song, or a truck song, and definitely a sex song, but, ultimately, a song about steering the human imagination through three-dimensional space, and probably the greatest country singalong since “Friends in Low Places.”
7. Playboi Carti, “Magnolia” Producer Pi’erre Bourne knows how to make a beat sizzle, bounce and ooze. Carti knows how to make his rhymes sputter, dally and stall. Together, they’re an itch that can’t be scratched.
8. Dreamcast, “Liquid Deep” A waterbed-ripple from a Washington funk newbie so deep, he already sounds like he’s two-stepping on the ocean floor.
9. Lorde, “Green Light” It’s been a rough year for the pashas of Popland (Taylor, Katy, Miley, Sam, Ed), all of whom surely wish they sounded one-tenth as alive as Lorde does during this four-minute head rush.
10. Chelsea Wolfe, “The Culling” This California songwriter is pushing a gorgeous boulder up a treacherously steep hill — playing melodramatic heavy metal with a certain decorum — but listen to how it rolls.
1. Midland, “On the Rocks” It’s uncommon to feel astonished by the familiar — and that might be as close as we get to understanding why this Texas trio’s flawless neo-honky-tonk album felt so perfect for this inside-out year.
2. Migos, “Culture” This Atlanta trio raps in mesmerizing staccato triplets, blasting new life into an old idea that’s been attributed to Mozart, Debussy and Miles: Music is the space between the words.
3. Lana Del Rey, “Lust for Life” It took this tenacious pop auteur four half-cooked albums to finally achieve her grand vision, and now her soft-focus odes to America feel right on time. From sea to shining sea, consensus reality is evaporating. This is what it sounds like.
4. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, “Rebel Ruler,” “Diaspora,” “The Emancipation Procrastination” Adjuah’s new trilogy finds him blowing perfumed fog from his trumpet — the kind that obscures the lines separating jazz, trap and techno. (Anytime flutist Elena Pinderhughes takes a solo, the fog begins to glow.)
5. Institute, “Subordination” Perhaps the least pressing question in our rotten republic: Will Donald Trump’s America generate a new class of punk bands? They’re already here, you ding-dongs, and here’s the best one going — a disgusted quartet from Texas whose rough touch sounds something like finesse.
6. Hieroglyphic Being, “A.R.E. Project” Check out these bright, breathtaking, totally spontaneous dance tracks — improvised in the studio with percussionist Sarathy Korwar and saxophonist Sabaka Hutchings — and see whether your body shakes in mysterious ways.
7. Kelela, “Take Me Apart” This visionary singer continues her multi-directional quest, pushing R&B further into the future by delving deeper into herself.
8. Exit Order, “Seed of Hysteria” I thought it was the melted-in-acid guitars, but after catching Exit Order live, I asked the drummer whether he might be the one responsible for this Boston punk band’s warped sound. “Unlike most hardcore drummers,” he said with mock ego, “I know about the pocket.” Right. This is expeditious music that bends to a secret groove.
9. Kamaiyah, “Before I Wake” Here’s a truly phenomenal Oakland rapper so deeply in tune with her environment, she can channel her city’s weird weather, delivering icy rhymes with genuine warmth.
10. Young Dolph, “Gelato,” “Bulletproof,” “Thinking Out Loud” This Memphis loudmouth raps one line with a halting smirk, THEN STOMPS THROUGH THE NEXT LINE IN A TANTRUM! You’d think this device would grow tiresome across three highly concussive albums. IT DOESN’T!
Read more of our picks for the best of 2017: