I tend to repeat myself every year but it’s been a strong year for music. From Kendrick Lamar to Frank Ocean to both the Knowles sisters releasing albums out the blue. And of course how could I forget, the great David Bowie releasing one of his best and most experimental albums to date. Needless to say mostly every major artist out there gave us some fine work to listen to this year. Here’s a look at my 15 favorite albums of 2016.
15. A Moon Shaped Pool
Kicking off the list with Radiohead’s ninth studio album. This album is truly something to behold for every Radiohead and/or Artrock listener out there. From the beautiful string arrangements to the lighthearted vocals from Thom Yorke expressing love, regret, and forgiveness throughout this project. The album starts off strong with one of my favorite singles this year “Burn the Witch”. The progressive string arrangements that I spoke about are all put into this track from start to finish. Definitely recommend you give this album a listen for when you’re working on a project or need something subtle to listen to while you’re out for a drive.
Favorite Tracks: Burn the Witch, Decks Dark, Ful Stop, Identikit
Least Favorite Track: Present Tense
14. My Woman
I’ve heavily slept on Angel Olsen for the longest. Releasing her first studio record “Half Way Home” back in 2012, I wasn’t in love with it but it was something good for the ears. Later in 2014 releasing a second album that still to this day I have not listened to. To then releasing something I was not expecting at all. Her first single “Shut Up Kiss Me” was a rock banger for sure. Catchy hook along with Olsen’s solid and heavy vocal chords make this track listenable. Following up with the 10 track LP that’s truly heartbreaking in every way. She sings her way through every track about her past love life and coming into terms with growing up. The track list here is organized so well, showing the first half of the album as the upbeat rock tempo Olsen is well at, to the more emotional second half of the album that truly shines and makes this album so powerful and hard hitting with tracks such as “Heart Shaped Face” and “Sister” where she talks about what she would do if she was to have a sister and what she would teach her. The sister being the reason of Olsen’s new change in perspective and being able to see things in a brighter way as she pours her heart on the final seconds of the track repeating, “All my life I thought I’d change”.
Favorite Tracks: Intern, Heart Shaped Face, Sister, Woman
Least Favorite Track: Not Gonna Kill You
13. “Awaken, My Love!”
This album was released early December and still managed to creep into my top 15. This album without a doubt sparked lots of controversy for young Gambino fans. Not being accustomed to the funk sound caused people to shift away from this album which is really disappointing because it honestly is Gambino’s only project that I actually fucked with. Not only did it blow my mind but it surpassed my expectations by a mile. It goes to show how talented Donald Glover really is, this man can sing, rap, and act. The two singles leading up to this album “Me and Your Mama” and “Redbone” are the highlights in this album, along with “Baby Boy”, a beautiful ballad for his son. This album is definitely something that requires a couple more listens for some. It eventually grows on you and once it does wow it’s pretty addicting.
Favorite Tracks: Me and Your Mama, Boogieman, Redbone, Terrified, Baby Boy, Stand Tall
Least Favorite Track: California (If I had to pick one)
12. The Suns Tirade
Isaiah Rashad’s back with his sophomore project since his 2014 debut album “Cilvia Demo” that was taken well by a lot of folks. The Sun’s Tirade is a step up in Isaiah’s career. Not only is this album energetic and strong lyrically but it gets pretty dark throughout the LP. Very raw and honest, he opens up about substance abuse in his current life and debating how far he’ll last because of it. In “Dressed Like Rappers” he speaks about depression with lines such as, “I can’t admit, I’ve been depressed/I hit a wall, ouch”. Maybe I enjoyed this album because of the eerie mood this album gives off, or more so because I appreciate and respect his bravery and willingness to open up about so many subject matters that most rappers nowadays wouldn’t even dare to speak about. Another personal favorite such as “Stuck in the Mud”, conveying two parts to the track that can be interpreted in different ways. In part one you can tell how hopeless he sounds, as if he’s accepted his drug addiction and assumes there’s no way out but somehow tries to get past it. To then fall into his substance abuse in the second part as he constantly repeats in the hook, “pop a Xanny, make your problems go away”. The more you listen to this, the more you understand what he’s really talking about and how serious this album should be taken.
Favorite Tracks: Wat’s Wrong, Park, Bday, Stuck in the Mud, A lot, Find a Topic (homies begged)
Least Favorite Track: AA
Hands down my favorite artist this year. Every song this year that features Anderson .Paak has always grabbed my attention somehow. Something about this man just oozes soul, which is rare today. In this LP you can hear influences right off the bat from artists like CeeLo Green and Stevie Wonder. And the great thing about this is that very few artists are bringing that “neo-soul” type sound which makes .Paak so unique at the moment. Lyrically and sonically this is without a doubt a quality project done by .Paak that makes you want to waltz to with tracks like “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” and “Lite Weight”, and many more. And can we please talk about how dope this album cover by Dewey Saunders is.
Favorite Tracks: Heart Don’t Stand a Chance, The Season/Carry Me, Am I Wrong, Lite Weight, Your Prime, Come Down
Least Favorite Track: The Dreamer
Noname Gypsy has been around for quite some time but this album for sure got everyone’s attention this year. She’s been a feature in a few songs this year but the ones that stood out the most were definitely the ones with Chance the Rapper. Heavily influenced by Chance she later then created her own style and flow thats immaculate in every single way possible, as if she was at a poetry slam reading to us. Lyrically this album is a poem, filled with analogies and rhymes that require multiple listens to fully understand her. But also being able to talk about social issues in the most calm and gentle manner. Tracks like “Bye Bye Baby” that discuss abortion but in an understanding way to maintain the chill, atmospheric mood of the album. This project is cohesive and sticks to what it started with. Almost like good background music to listen to, you can’t help but crack a smile while listening to this.
Favorite Tracks: Yesterday, Diddy Bop, All I Need, Freedom Interlude, Casket Pretty
Least Favorite Track: Bye Bye Baby
9. Untitled Unmastered
You can say whatever you want to say but Kendrick Lamar is hands down the best in the game at the moment. Consistency and growth are key words that Kdot acquires right now. I wouldn’t call this an official album like his most recent projects but more so of his B-side tapes. The fact that he can release demo tracks and compile them into an album and still manage to defeat most LP’s out there this year is insane. Each track is titled the exact same way “untitled” with a date following it to emphasize the date of the recording. The first track easily blew me away, Kendrick’s writing still remains consistent and strong as ever. Expressing doomsday in his point of view in the most haunting way possible. With lines like, “Preachers touching on boys run for cover, the paranoid. Rapists and murderers hurdle alleys. Valleys and high places turn into dust. Famous screaming in agony. Atheists for suicide, planes falling out the sky. Trains jumping off the track, mothers yelling “he’s alive”. Such an intense track that literally sends goosebumps from how dark it gets, as if were getting a dose of what flows through the mind of Kendrick Lamar. This was a great project throughout. With interesting features from SZA, Jay Rock, and CeeLo Green, it gave us not too much but not too little. Just enough to enjoy, I mean he doesn’t owe us anymore than what he gave with his 2015 classic “To Pimp a Butterfly”.
Favorite Tracks: 1,2,3,5,6
Leat favorite Track: none
8. Yes Lawd!
This album will be the reason for a high percentage of pregnancy. This thing needs a warning label for sure. Right when you thought Anderson was done for the year after his successful LP “Malibu” dropped, he felt like it wasn’t suffice. Collabing with producer “Knxwledge” to bring an even more soulful and cohesive project than Malibu. But you all know that’s just my opinion right. Even though there’s not much to say about this album aside from its dope production with crisp samples and vocals from .Paak. This album is a real banger for every R&B listener and for .Paak fans, this album will not disappoint.
Favorite Tracks: Livvin, Wngs, What More Can I Say, Lyk Dis, Get Bigger/Do U Luv, Scared Money, Suede, Starlite, Fkku
Least Favorite Track: Jodi
7. A Seat at the Table
I had a feeling this would end up happening but yes this album beats Beyonce’s “Lemonade” right out the park. Not saying Lemonade was bad but this project truly shows growth and matureness from Solange. She’s been hiding in the shadows for many years dropping albums here and there and working with Dev Hynes (from Blood Orange) on a couple tracks. But this album for sure is her magnum opus. It’s as if she mixed her sound from her earlier work with some of her recent work with Dev to create something so smooth and powerful, touching on mainstream subject matters within the black community. It has everything an urban contemporary album would have. It feels simple but yet so complex with beautiful and heavy synths on tracks like “Don’t You Wait” and “Junie” with Andre 3000 on the chorus. This LP just works on every level; every track feels like its own single just because of how catchy and creative it is.
Favorite Tracks: Rise, Weary, Cranes in the Sky, Where Do We Go, Borderline (An Ode to Self Care), Junie, Scales
Least Favorite Track: Don’t Wish Me Well
6. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
It’s been a 10 year silence from Tribe. I unfortunately didn’t grow up listening to their past acclaimed albums “The Low End Theory” or “Midnight Marauders”, but once I heard the buzz about Tribe dropping an album soon I immediately had to look back at their older albums. I always heard their name around the internet but I never actually sat down and listened to a project of theirs. So I was pretty anxious and had low expectations for this project just because of the fact that it’s a comeback album. Attempts like these usually end up going the wrong route but boy I was impressed. Sticking to its original roots but somehow taking a step further into the production, with dope synthesizers like on the track “Kids…” featuring Andre 3000. Surprising features on here as well from Anderson .Paak and Kendrick Lamar delivering stand out performances. Also speaking on subjects of the black community like on the track “The Space Program” where they talk about a vision of leaving black people behind on Earth as they build a spaceship for the whites to fly to a new planet thats superior to Earth. This album also pays tribute to their friend and member Phife Dawg that died earlier this year due to his heart before the album released. This album ends their career on a great note and passes the torch onto the upcoming generation
Favorite Tracks: The Space Program, Whateva Will Be, Kids…, Melatonin, Mobius, Movin Backwards, Conrad Tokyo
Least Favorite Track: Enough!!
5. Bottomless Pit
Ask anyone I’m a diehard Death Grips fan who lives for spicy Death Grips memes. I’ve followed every project from them, “Exmilitary” to “The Money Store”, “No Love Deep Web”, “Government Plates”, and “The Powers That B”. All amazing projects to me but it took a while to fall for them like I do now. If I could describe it then it would have to be an acquired taste, it takes time to adjust to their sound. At first you think its just a guy hollering over some fast paced industrial beats but it somehow works when you get used to it. The beats are hard, aggressive, to the point where you want to run and punch someone in the face. With this album it pretty much continues from where “The Powers That B” ended. Catchy hooks and MC Ride loud as ever, this project is a mixture of “Exmilitary” and “The Money Store”, two of my favorite Death Grips albums making a baby.
Favorite Tracks: Giving Bad People Good Ideas, Spikes, Eh, Houdini, Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighborhood, 80808, Bottomless Pit
Least Favorite Track: Ring a Bell
I must say I never heard a David Bowie song in my life. Always heard about him growing up but I tended to just ignore it. Seeing Bowie releasing an album this year really caught my attention. Being a pessimist I thought this might be a mediocre album, then later finding out that Bowie was making this album during a long battle with cancer. Keeping this secret hidden for so long really shocked many Bowie fans, not knowing what they were getting themselves into by listening to this album. Hearing this album was different from anything I heard that year. Also what blew me away was when he spoke about the heavy influences he had by Death Grips and Kendrick Lamar. You can practically hear those influences throughout this project; from the jazz instrumentals (Kendrick Lamar) to the heavy industrial beats (Death Grips). The album kicks off with a sinister 10 minute track thats cut into 3 parts. Starting off gloomy and eerie, to the upbeat Bowie we all know and love, then back to where it started. Keep in mind this man knew he had two months to live when he was working on this project. So just imagine listening to this album and thinking what kind of mindset did this man have when writing this. At times it’s almost terrifying but that’s what I love so much about it. This truly is art being showcased in the best way possible. A pure goodbye to a long lived career.
Favorite Tracks: Blackstar, Lazarus, Sue (Or in a Season of Crime), Girl Loves Me
Least Favorite Track: None
3. The Colour in Anything
James Blake returns with his third LP since his 2013 critically acclaimed album “Overgrown”, which was one of my favorite albums that year. Even though i’m a huge fan of James Blake does not mean i’m afraid to get critical about his work. I must admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of his 2011 self titled album that began his singing career, but overall it was a solid project throughout. Now with “Overgrown” I felt like he matured with his production and voice much more. Keeping a three year secrecy he later released this project which I was excited for and had pretty high expectations for. On my first listen I did not like this album for some reason. It felt dry and lacked the amount of energy that was put into “Overgrown”. But with a few more listens it started to make sense with the direction he was heading. This album is definitely his most subtle and somber but yet his most ambiguous. With the opening track “Radio Silence” it sets up the tone for the entire album. There’s moments where you get the “less depressed Blake” on tracks like “Points” and “Timeless”. But overall this album is very moody, just look at the cover art for this album. Which is why I appreciate this album just for the fact that it was able to grown on me within the year. Emotionally draining with tracks like “Love Me in Whatever Way”, and “Always” expressing love and heartbreak. It also includes one of the most lovely and heartbreaking interludes “Waves Know Shores” that leads up to “My Willing Heart”, one of the better tracks on this album written by Blake himself and Frank Ocean. A jazz ballad with a hint of R&B that Oceans so well at embodying. This album delivers and then some more, Blake being able to capture every bit of emotion, fear, longing, anxiety, and frustration into one record is truly something to awe about. I appreciate this.
Favorite Tracks: Radio Silence, Points, Love Me in Whatever Way, Timeless, Waves Know Shores, My Willing Heart, Two Men Down, Modern Soul, Always
Least Favorite Track: Meet You in the Maze
Where do I start. You already knew this album was coming up soon on my list. Frank Ocean, singer/songwriter/rapper from Long Beach, California returns after abruptly leaving us on a 4 year silence after his worldwide acclaimed album “Channel Orange” that won him a grammy dropped. Hyping “Blonde” up for over a year was tiresome. After numerous due dates that were never met, on August 20th he dropped something so left-field but yet so minimal. This album exceeded my expectations tenfold. With a feature list of credits to Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce, Andre 3000, and even The Beatles. Kicking off the album with “Nikes” is probably his most commercial worthy song off this LP with the pitchy chipmunk sound for the first half of the song to then switch up to a very dreamy-like sound with the guitar playing in the back. The rest of this project wastes no time to amaze with minimal production and stellar vocals from Ocean that really do a great job at overpowering this album. And the switch-up on the second half of “Nights” is something to behold. Not only does it change the tone of the song but for the entire second half of this album. Following up with a killer performance by Andre 3000 as usual on “Solo (Reprise)”, “Blonde” plummets into a more serious tone towards the second half with a wild and probably Oceans most experimental track to date “Pretty Sweet”. It’s almost like a slap to the face letting you know what else Mr. Ocean is capable of doing. The subject matter in this album is quite similar to “Channel Orange”, discussing his past, love life and sexuality like on the track “Seigfried” where he sounds like if he’s still not fully comfortable with his sexuality with the line, “I’d do anything for you (in the dark)”. Franks struggles and frustrations are turned into something beautiful on this album because of him. Sadly we don’t know when he’ll return for his third project but at least we can listen to this while we wait in the meantime.
Favorite Tracks: Ivy, Pink + White, Solo, Skyline To, Self Control, Nights, Close to You, White Ferrari, Seigfried
Least Favorite Track: Futura Free
1. Atrocity Exhibition
I have a thing for experimental hip hop music. But this album really blew my fucking head off on the first listen. It’s one hell of a ride, from start to finish its just non stop glitchy and aggressive production with loud and just as aggressive vocals from Danny Brown. Following up prior to his 2013 LP “Old”, I wasn’t too fond of it considering that the second half of the project was straight up EDM mixed with Hip Hop. Not saying that it was terrible but EDM is just not my cup of tea unfortunately. Starting off with the first track “Downward Spiral” pretty much sets the tone for the entire album. Talking about how stuck he is from all the drugs he’s taken and how he feels and then later talks about how drugged up he is that he had to stuff it in soft and had to fuck them both raw. Now keep in mind this albums subject matter discusses explicit material such as substance abuse and sex in the rawest form possible. The album is downright disturbing but man it’s so damn good. Along with my favorite single this year featuring the posse cut track “Really Doe” with Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt to then switch up to “Lost”, one of my favorite tracks on the album that has top notch flute samples with Danny spitting over it. No rapper has ever done what Danny Brown was able to do this year. Every single track has some sort of left-field experiment sound to it; to the point where it sounds like rock but Danny effortlessly manages to rap over them. Go listen to “Ain’t It Funny” and tell me what rapper is capable of rapping over that. This album is different, its creative on every scale and that’s why I adore this thing and it made me love Danny Brown as a person even more. Yes this album speaks on negative topics such as sex, drugs, depression, suicide, but its a daring move of him to do and I admire that a lot. If you’re reading this Danny I’d like to thank you for putting not only my favorite album this year but one of my favorite albums of all time.
Favorite Tracks: Downward Spiral, Tell Me What I Don’t Know, Rolling Stone, Really Doe, Lost, Ain’t It Funny, Dance in the Water, Today, Hell for It
Least Favorite Track: None