1. Most Thought-Provoking: Kendrick Lamar - "The Blacker the Berry” by Marlon James
    "Things can get messy when the black gaze turns inward, to this thing called personal accountability. Personal responsibility. Personal respectability. Bootstrappism. The black man employing the despicable liberal “but,” heralding a switch to victim-shaming. Rap has never been scared of being contrarian, and so here I thought that maybe he was deliberately playing with the idea, deliberately embodying the perspective to eventually show it up for what it was."
  2. Best Advice for Openmindedness: Introduction by Nitsuh Abebe
    "One of the great tricks of pop music is that no matter how much we like to imagine it’s about musicians expressing themselves, it tends to be more useful as a way for listeners to figure out their own identities: Each song lets us try on a new way of being in the world.”
  3. Best Pull-Quote: Syd Tha Kid and The Internet - "Get Away" by Jenna Wortham
    "The Internet — the network — has a way of normalizing fringe ideas, marginalized identities and emerging artists that old media tends to ignore. It has done such a good job, you could argue, that people like Bennett — black, queer and weird — can exist without the burden of having to represent something larger."
  4. Best Line: CFCF - "The Colours of Life” by Max Read
    "It’s cool, but it sounds as if it were recorded using a dreamcatcher as a pop filter. It sounds like the music for a 40-minute director’s cut of an airline commercial. It sounds like a poster of a wolf. It sounds like a hologram sticker of a dolphin. It sounds like a tattoo of an open eye. It sounds like the font Papyrus. It’s also really, really good."
  5. Most Inspiring for Musicians and Non-Musicians Alike: Matt Chamberlain - "John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 (Keith Urban)" by Jeff Himmelman
    "When we met in Los Angeles in February, he posed his value proposition as a question: 'What can you add to a situation that’s totally out of context but works?'" AND "'I was so obsessed with being a drummer,” he says, “that I never really thought about whether I was good or not.’"
  6. Most Accurate, High Stakes: Kendrick Lamar - "The Blacker the Berry” by Marlon James
    "But racism makes no sense. It is perverse and aberrant yet such a constituent part of the American make up, so normalized in all its forms, that it’s no surprise that the black person would scramble for answers as to why it exists. And in scrambling for answers, you look everywhere, even within: Did I do something to bring this on? Was a part of this outcome in even the slightest way my fault?"
  7. Most Accurate, Low Stakes: Kendrick Lamar - "The Blacker the Berry” by Marlon James
    "It’s been almost a year since I first heard Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” an ambitious, spellbinding, masterpiece of a rap album, and it took me nearly a year to like it."
  8. Biggest Discovery: Margo Price - "Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)" by Carlo Rotella
    "The two deliveries of the line play up countervailing qualities of desperation and resolve in her voice. Together they make it sound as if she’s exerting considerable strength of character to keep despair and bad luck from carrying her song off the road and headlong into a telephone pole. This instantly detectable tension in her voice causes listeners to become alert, even alarmed, the moment she starts singing."
  9. Best Concept: Introduction by Nitsuh Abebe
    "A decision had to be made. Either I needed to dutifully consume this object of conversation and develop an opinion about it or I needed to develop a defense of why I hadn’t yet done so. The point being: Here, for a moment, was music that actively dragooned me into paying attention to it, based not primarily on sound, performance or composition, but on the rolling snowball of perspectives, close readings and ideological disputes accreting around it.”
  10. Most Interesting Story: Matt Chamberlain - "John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 (Keith Urban)" by Jeff Himmelman
    "At Blackbird Studio in Nashville, Urban told Chamberlain that he had... been listening to the rapper Kendrick Lamar and wanted a groove that could not only propel the song but inspire an altogether new sound for it. Chamberlain assembled a drum loop — a small-scale mechanical repetition born more of hip-hop than country — and then played live drums over the loop, deepening the timbre and also providing accents and fills when the movement of the verses seemed to require it."
  11. Best Story: Syd Tha Kid and The Internet - "Get Away" by Jenna Wortham
    "People Turner and Bennett’s age are defined by a completely different geography, the social networks and websites they spend their time on. Odd Future was the epitome of this new statelessness: They were neither engineered by a label nor hometown heroes, but something wildly different." AND “At some point, I started listening to music a little differently,” Bennett said. “Rather than being like, Yo, this is dope — who made this? it started being like, I wish I made this.”
  12. Biggest 'I Wish I Were There' Moment: Margo Price - "Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)" by Carlo Rotella
    "When she started to sing, the veteran musicians, who unlike the employees of “The Late Show” or the information-economy workers of Brooklyn have heard everything and played with everyone and know much of what there is to know about country music, exchanged looks and smiles over their instruments, as if to say, Well, now — the real thing."
  13. Best Subtle/Unintended Dungeon Family Genealogy Nod: "Early" - Run The Jewels by Bijan Stephen
    "The value of the album is held between those two songs: It captures the variegated sides of black life in America and its specific feeling, a dizzying mix of frustrated helplessness and joyous survival. "
  14. Most Fun Read: Fetty Wap - “Trap Queen” by Jamie Lauren Keiles
    "the song offers an American love story for the ages. Fetty is a drug dealer weak-kneed for the girl who can match his hustle. When he cooks crack, she cooks crack with him. When he dreams of Lamborghinis, he dreams in matching pairs. Fetty’s queen doesn’t ride in the passenger seat. The couple make money together, and they spend it together too — at strip clubs, on weed, on gifts for each other. It’s a vision of a love we can believe in, even outside the dreamland bubble of a rom-com plot."
  15. Most Sentimental: "Sunday Candy" by Chance The Rapper by Jazmine Hughes
    "The next time I heard “Sunday Candy,” I actually listened to it — “I got a future so I’m singin’ for my grandma” — and realized: Oh, it’s a song about his grandmother. (Chance recently posted on Instagram that his grandma, Mama Charlie, died. Condolences, Chance.) An all-purpose love song: anchored in familial love, laden with devotion and gratitude and a pinch of guilt, sprinkled with romanticism."
  16. Most Aspirational: "I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same" - Sun Kil Moon by Sam Hockley-Smith
    "He approaches each topic as if flipping through a disorganized photo album, and the more insular and lived-in the details, the more enthralling they seem. At the end of “I Watched the Film ... ,” he says he’s headed to Santa Fe to visit a friend he hasn’t seen in 15 years. Close Googlers can deduce that friend must be Ivo Watts-Russell, who signed Red House Painters to his 4AD label back in 1992; Kozelek, grave and grateful, says he’s going to New Mexico just to say thank you."
  17. Best Way to Describe Music to Someone Who Has Never Heard Music: "One Sunday Morning" - Wilco by George Saunders
    "How does a song work? What does it actually do? It doesn’t instruct, exactly, or teach, necessarily. A song, I’d say, causes the listener to assume a certain stance. Through some intersection of melody/lyrics/arrangement, it causes a shadow-being within us to get a certain expression on its face and fall into a certain posture."
  18. Most Guilty-As-Charged Line: Fetty Wap - “Trap Queen” by Jamie Lauren Keiles
    "We sang about cooking crack with our babies in the aisles of Duane Reade and on the dance floors of bat mitzvahs. Like Fetty himself, we landed seasonal crushes with “Hey, what’s up? Hello!” as our deceptively simple opening line. Rattling trap snares drowned out the sound of ice-cream-truck jingles, and summertime was better for it. But eventually it came time to ask the inevitable: Is “Trap Queen” feminist?"
  19. Best Thing To Keep In Mind With All Hype: "Say No to This" - The ‘Hamilton’ Cast by Wesley Morris
    "When some people rave about “Hamilton” as a “hip-hop musical,” they’re applauding the expansion of their taste — of their artistic tolerance — and obscuring Miranda’s voracious catholicity."
  20. Best Piece of Trivia: "Blue Boy" - Mac DeMarco by John Wray
    "At the close of “Another One,” DeMarco’s recent EP, he gives out his complete address, house number and all, with an invitation to drop by for a cup of coffee. This invitation, like much about DeMarco, might seem tongue-in-cheek but is in fact sincere."
  21. Best Old Story That Never Gets Old: “Hello” - Lionel Richie by Jody Rosen
    "Recently, “Hello” has seduced a new generation that discovered the vintage video on YouTube. The highlight comes in its final scene, when the sculptor-heroine unveils a hideous terra-cotta bust of Richie. (When Richie complained that the bust didn’t look like him, the clip’s director, Bob Giraldi, replied, “Lionel, she’s blind.”)"
  22. Best Change Of Pace In Article Format: “Untitled” - Pharrell & J Balvin by JR
  23. Best Parable: "Really Love" - D’Angelo by Amanda Petrusich
    "It is hard, now, not to read D’Angelo’s departure as a reiteration of a creative ethos, writ larger; slowness, here, is not ignoble or archaic. It feels, instead, like a subversive act: a revolution of patience."
  24. Best Tribute: “Blackstar” - David Bowie by Will Hermes
    "There’s a tradition of “death poems” in some Asian countries, and as a generation of outspoken musicians shuffles off our coil, the farewell album has become a Western equivalent. John Coltrane’s “Expression” might be considered a forerunner. Warren Zevon made “The Wind” after a diagnosis of inoperable cancer. On the last of Johnny Cash’s “American Recordings” series released during his lifetime, he performed Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” as a sort of deathbed confessional.."