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For music fans and devotees, 2016 was a pretty tough year to trudge through. Our community took what felt like blow after continuous blow, as only two weeks into January, we lost the ageless wonder and pioneer that was David Bowie, and in the months following, our social media feeds became a deluge of eulogies for artistic trailblazers like Prince, Phife Dawg, Earth Wind & Fire’s Maurice White, Leonard Cohen, Greg Lake, and scores of others. But even in the face of harsh adversities stemming from both inside and outside of the musical landscape, musicians from all genres pushed forward, creating individual interpretations of beauty and art to combat the ugliness erupting around the world.

So carrying on with that optimistic spirit, NEST HQ is proud to present our annual superlative recognitions for this year in music, honoring six categories — Originals, Remixes, Music Videos, Albums, Producers, and Who To Watch — as voted upon collectively by the NEST HQ staff. As with previous years, our selections span a wide range of sounds and genres and feature those musicians who we believe are inspiring the community to progress while simultaneously creating new lanes and worlds for their music to reside.

Our first category kicks off today below. Read on for the 20 Best Originals of 2016, and check back in every day the rest of this week for each of the remaining categories.

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NEST HQ’s Best of 2016: Originals
*20 tracks listed in alphabetical order by artist

Baauer – GoGo! [LuckyMe]

Baauer flexed on 2016 with “Gogo!”, just one of a handful of standout cuts from his stellar debut full length, Aa, on LuckyMe. The rapid-fire production picks up the pace at 150BPM, and there’s a crispy rattling to the percussion on “GoGo!” that makes it sound like it’s being blasted out of a car’s system hard enough to shake the windows. “GoGo!” has earned its place as one of the definitive tracks of the year for being such a relentlessly likeable party track without crossing over into the dangerous territory of becoming a party track cliché (see “Harlem Shake” for reference). — MH

Boys Noize – Starchild ft. POLIÇA [BNR]

“Starchild” represents a total departure from the traditional, industrial-sounding edge that we’ve come to naturally associate with Boys Noize. The stunning Mayday cut was a bold experiment resulting in one of the most memorable tracks of the year, and certainly more subtle than any Boys Noize production that’s come before it. POLIÇA’s echoing vocals stretch out across the landscape of otherworldly music, bolstered by a little breakbeat groove that comes in after a minute and carries on throughout the track. With “Starchild”, Boys Noize reasserts his willingness to take risks and explore new territories, and as fans, that’s all we can hope for.  — MH

Chance The Rapper – No Problem ft. 2 Chainz & Lil Wayne [self-released]

There’s been a monumental shift in the music industry in 2016, and Chance the Rapper is the undisputed leader of the charge. If there was an official anthem to this rebellion against major labels and traditional record deals, the Coloring Book cut “No Problem” would have to be it, as the Grammy-nominated rap-meets-gospel record featuring 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne unflinchingly claims independence against the giants of industry and underlines the power Chance has created for himself. – JB

DROELOE – zZz [bitbird]

On the edge of futuristic and lullaby-esque lies the breakthrough single “zZz” from Dutch duo DROELOE. Dive headfirst into an exquisite playground of claps and snare snaps as they collide with immersive basswaves that wash over you like sweet, sweet sanctuary. Experts of their craft, the pair create an engaging narrative that leaves you patiently waiting for the rest of their story. — CS

GTA – Little Bit Of This ft. Vince Staples [Warner]

Long Beach’s Vince Staples has been invading the electronic music space in the past 12 months, teaming up with the likes of heavyweight producers Flume, James Blake, and GTA to provide his unique voice and cadence. In GTA’s debut album single, “Little Bit of This”, the “Norf Norf” rapper creates the inescapable hook that gives the track its name, spitting swift verses over GTA’s percussive, left-of-center beat. — JB

Jax Jones – House Work ft. Mike Dunn, MNEK [Polydor]

With his co-production work on Duke Dumont’s “I Got U”, one of 2014’s biggest crossover hits, Jax Jones had his first international success, but it wasn’t until 2016’s “House Work” that he became established as a household name in his own right. Through the force of its infectious hook and walloping drums, “House Work” was the rare pop crossover house record overwhelmingly embraced by the nightlife community, emerging as one of the year’s most-played club records and receiving countless remixes from the likes of Danny Howard, SNBRN, and Preditah. It makes us wonder: will this track help push its co-producer MNEK, a longtime behind-the-scenes magic-maker like Jax Jones, towards prominence next year? If history’s any indication, we’d say so. — NR

josh pan & X&G – Platinum [OWSLA]

“josh pan is one of my favorite producers coming up right now…ever,” Skrillex revealed to Entertainment Weekly this summer when the American magazine asked him to shout out his favorite track of the moment. He offered up josh pan & X&G’s “Platinum”, and for good reason. The experimental trap single released early this year on OWSLA exhibits the boundless capabilities from josh pan and his frequent collaborators, X&G, and the second drop alone in this record warrants its superlative status. — JB

JOYRYDE – Hot Drum [OWSLA]

Here we have the perfect cherry on a capstone year for bass house producer JOYRYDE, who saw his profile rise in 2016 through a slate of massive singles, his live debut, and features from Rick Ross and Freddie Gibbs. “Hot Drum” builds upon the bursting synth leads, tight risers, and high-octane bass of JOYRYDE’s past records, adding just enough cowbell to take it over the edge. The track’s blown up since NEST HQ first featured it a few months back, opening Skrillex’s now-classic Boiler Room Shanghai set before receiving a re-release on OWSLA in November. What’s most insane is that while “Hot Drum” is perhaps the kind of record which some producers would make once in a lifetime, for JOYRYDE, it’s just another song in the bucket. — NR

Justice – Safe and Sound [Ed Banger]

Justice’s remarkable history has transformed the way that electronic music is understood, performed, and engineered. Their inexorable commitment to energy and groove has rippled out across the years and inspired countless artists from this upcoming generation. This commitment was maintained beautifully in their 2016 LP Woman, and transitively through the lead single “Safe and Sound”. Choir chants replace top lines, perfectly detuned synths replace radio melodies; all elements under command of the deceptively simple yet genius drum programming that Justice has come to master. “Safe and Sound” is a masterpiece. – DN

Justin Martin – Hello Clouds feat. Femme [dirtybird]

Dirtybird all-star Justin Martin released his sophomore LP, Hello Clouds, on his home label this spring, offering up a fresh perspective which evidently placed songwriting as first priority over strictly club-ready records. The album’s premier title track, “Hello Clouds”, exemplifies this focus, as Femme’s adorable vocals and lyrics reflect Justin’s softer approach while we’re still provided a bit of classic acid bassline for good measure. — MH

Kaytranada – LITE SPOTS [XL]

Kaytranada goes full funk in his own complextro, merengue sort of way on “LITE SPOTS” from his debut album, 99.9%. Referred to by Pitchfork as a “Soundcloud Superstar”, perhaps Kaytra’s rise on the platform can be attributed to the undeniable degree of soul his music conveys that gives him the word-of-mouth edge over other producers. “LITE SPOTS” sounds like music that would be on at a pool party for robots, it’s delightful and progressive – drawing us in then tapering off around the two-minute mark before coming back with the beat for a big finish. — MH

Kiiara – Gold [Atlantic]

I remember finding this song on SoundCloud when it was just a few plays and Kiiara only had a handful of followers. I was sitting on the NEST patio doing my usual hunting when “Gold” came up. I nearly fell off my chair, blown away by this new, wholly original creativity. “Gold” (and Kiiara in general) would both go on to skyrocket in the charts, resonating throughout the music community and beyond. In fact, it’s tough to go somewhere without overhearing it, be it the laundromat or local bodega. Kiiara has since headlined a series of tour dates in 2016 and released her debut EP, low kii savage, which also featured crowd favorites “Tennessee” and “Feels”. — NB

Mija & Vindata – Better [OWSLA]

There are few tracks I’ve heard played out more this year than Mija & Vindata’s “Better”. Delightfully playful, the release became an effervescent anthem of the summertime. From the uplifting chord progressions to the nostalgic, happy hardcore leads in the break, “Better” reminds us that the most meaningful releases aren’t always traditional club bangers but more often, the ones that effortlessly bring a smile to your face before you even realize what’s happened. KGB 4ever. — CS

Nina Las Vegas – Contagious ft. Snappy Jit [NLV Records]

What a breakthrough year it has been for Sydney producer, DJ, and label head Nina Las Vegas. Her recently launched imprint has dominated the club scene across the globe, with her collaboration with Snappy Jit, “Contagious” serving as the jump-off for her inaugural EZY or Never EP release. With a thunderous bassline and bubbly, jersey club framework, the track stood at the forefront of dynamic, instantly recognizable, club music. — CS

Noisia – Sinkhole [VISION]

This was the third track on Noisia Radio’s 33rd episode of season 2, and the 16th track of the trio’s latest album, Outer Edges. When I first heard “Sinkhole”, I genuinely felt like I was falling into the deaths of the Earth with no signs of hitting ground. A sonic free fall into the farthest reaches of drum ‘n’ bass. For the group, Outer Edges represents their exploration of “the outer edges of what Noisia…is,” and “Sinkhole” brings you right there with them. Noisia recently swept the Drum&BassArena awards, taking home Best Producer, Best Album with Outer Edges, and Best Video for the seventh cut of the album, “Mantra“. — NB

Ookay – Thief [Astralwerks]

One of the most heavily remixed electronic singles of 2016, Ookay’s “Thief” was as pervasive as anything in electronic music this year. Ookay took a unique approach with its production, lining up potent saxophone work alongside his own moving vocals. Many artists try to incorporate brass or woodwinds into their music — Brasstracks, Russ Liquid, GRiZ, Big Gigantic — and while they do succeed, the sound has yet to really break free from the confines of itself. Ookay took to his own love of the sound for “Thief” with heavy emphasis on the bass, twinkling foley, and sax blaring with emotion; a truly poignant love song. — NB

Porter Robinson & Madeon – Shelter [popcultur]

It’s been a long time coming, but these two monstrous musical forces have finally collided. Both Porter and Madeon have created entire universes filled with recondite magic and wonder, and their collaboration is a tribute to their genius and originality. Youth, love, and resilience, all in one undulant tour de force. — DN

RÜFÜS – Innerbloom [Sweat It Out!]

Also known as RÜFÜS DU SOL, the Australian trio made their mark with “Innerbloom” following up their lead single “You Were Right” off the band’s sophomore album, Bloom, released in January. The song has a cheery sonic atmosphere contrasted with fierce percussive progression and a melancholy, Chris Martin-esque vocal. Singer Tyrone says this is the most personal song he’s ever written. Maybe that’s why it packs the most hard-hitting emotion of any song on the album and thus the reason it’s on this list. — MH

Skrillex & Rick Ross – Purple Lamborghini [Atlantic]

From A$AP Rocky and Vic Mensa to Chance the Rapper and The Game, Sonny has worked with his fair share of rappers over the years, continually providing the necessary handshake between hip hop and electronic music. There was something very special about this year’s Grammy-nominated linkup with the Biggest Boss, however, as “Purple Lamborghini” found itself at the epicenter of a major motion picture in Suicide Squad. Paired with the blockbuster music video from Colin Tilley featuring Jared Leto as the Joker, “Purple Lamborghini” became a cultural moment of 2016, taking on the dance, rap, pop, and film worlds in one fell swoop. – JB

Zomboy – Like A Bitch [Never Say Die]

Oof. Zomboy notches up the hardest tune on our Originals list here with his Neon Grave EP cut, “Like A Bitch”. From DJ Snake and Skrillex to Getter and Snails, DJs across the bass music spectrum absolutely rinsed this one all year, as the all-too-catchy sample from Lil Jon in “Bia Bia” acted as the perfect pre-drop for Zomboy’s dynamic production and sound design. – JB

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Words by Molly Hankins, jonahberry, Nathan Beer, Cassie Sheets, Neal Rahman, and Dani Noguera
Artwork by DISCHETTO

Come back tomorrow for NEST HQ’s 20 Best Remixes of 2016.

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