Despite how terrible many of the events of 2016 have been, not everyone had a bad year. Honestly, there are quite a few music artists who had an amazing year. 2016 has been an incredible year for music and a year that has seen the emergence of so many new trends that are sure to carry on into the new year.
2016 was a terrible movie with an amazing soundtrack.
— Dwayne David Paul (@DwayneDavidPaul) December 16, 2016
Firstly, this year saw many artists experimenting with genre-mixing in their albums. It is beginning to be difficult to determine what constitutes R&B, rock, soul, indie, or even rap anymore. Artists who we associate with one genre have began branching out or incorporating multiple genres into their music. Many genre mixes were already well established, such as gospel and rap or alternative and R&B, but went into overdrive this year by now becoming the norm. At the same time, there was also a callback to many past genres that were thought to have been dying out, or at least becoming secondary genres, such as funk, soul, and jazz.
2016 also saw the refusal of the silencing of black voices. It almost makes me cry seeing the number of black artists who not only released amazing albums this year, but albums that concerned themselves with black culture and the black experience. They were liberating, they were empowering, and they will hopefully prove to influence the future.
Here are my top 10 albums of 2016, in no particular order.
1. Blonde – Frank Ocean
This year will forever be iconic just by the fact that it is the year that saw Frank Ocean’s reemergence from obscurity. Fans everywhere had waited patiently for the singer’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed channel ORANGE and although this album was significantly different than what was expected, it did not disappoint. Every single song stands alone as a cry of emotion from a man who had four years to contemplate what direction he was ready to continue his life on. It was an update to the fans on what Ocean had been up to and how his mindset has changed, and a reminder that good art takes time.
Read the full review of Blonde here.
2. A Seat at the Table – Solange
With the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, and Alicia Keys all releasing albums this year rooted in black experience, black women took 2016 by storm. However, the album that is the absolute epitome of this occurrence is Solange’s A Seat at the Table. Solange has been extremely vocal on social issues for years, as opposed to Beyonce who seems to have recently gained credibility as an advocate for the black voice in America. She is the queen of natural hair and protective styles; she loves gracing Twitter with her political rants, and has been an active participant in Black Lives Matter protests. This album is the culmination of all of that — potent poetical lyrics sung to soft melodies by a delicate, yet awoken voice.
3. Life of Pablo – Kanye West
If any living artist has had a rough year, it is Kanye West. His year has been a struggle from start to finish, and it seems like him nor his wife’s famous family can spend more than a week out of headlines. Luckily, the phrase “separate the art from the artist” exists because of people like Kanye. He is long past his “College” days, and we may never get another My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but Life of Pablo is nonetheless a welcomed retreat from the polarizing Yeezus and a masterpiece. Although its release was messy, and stylistically it seems slightly inconsistent, that does not take away from the evidence of Kanye’s gift for producing music and compiling a series of compelling tracks.
4. Jeffery – Young Thug
The immense mainstream popularity trap music achieved in 2016 is almost impressive, although few full trap albums were worth investing in. However, Jeffery deserves to be listened to from start to finish. Eccentric as Young Thug is, it is no surprise that this mixtape would be a reflection of the persona he has developed. It’s refreshing, it’s exciting, and it’s appealing, but surprisingly simplistic in a way that makes the mixtape easily approachable by even those who don’t favour trap music.
Read the full review of Jeffery here.
5. I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it – The 1975
The aesthetic appeal of the cover art of this album in contrast with its lengthy poetic title is a reflection of the effortless yet essential nostalgia that is found in each and every track. Although it did not receive as much critical acclaim as many of the other albums on this list, it was wildly popular amongst indie fans and launched The 1975 even more into the mainstream. This album is a perfect representation of what we can continue to expect from pop music made for the current generation of youth — a combination of multiple historically popular genres while continuing to be aware of the future.
6. Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper
“Am I the only nigga still care about mixtapes?” After what you dropped this year, Chance, we all care about mixtapes again. It feels like the rap game has been waiting forever for someone like Chance the Rapper to come along. There are few albums, let alone rap albums, as uplifting and inspirational as Coloring Book and it could not have been released in a better year. Rooted in spirituality, this mixtape is honest and oozes sincerity. Chance wants nothing more than to captivate the listener and bring them to similar high spirits. Please, no matter what your faith or religion, let this album bring you to church.
7. Blackstar – David Bowie
We should have realized that this year was going to be bad the minute news broke of David Bowie’s passing in early January. However, I argue that the most perfect occurrence of 2016 was David Bowie releasing what he knew to be his final studio album mere days before his death. This resulted in his career being absolutely perfect and his music being carefully calculated until the very end. Although Bowie was pretty much on his deathbed, he did not lose a single ounce of his essence in this album, with every word and every instance in the music videos proving to be classic Bowie. The album is haunting and it is difficult for the most dedicated of fans to listen to the whole thing without fighting back tears or feeling like the ‘Starman’s’ spirit is forever omnipresent.
8. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
What’s amazing about Radiohead is how unique their sound is, but how it does not seem to ever go out of style. Thom Yorke’s gorgeous vocals seep emotional vulnerability which captures the listener and urges them to consider the truth in his words. All this resulting in the presence of this album on the list not being surprising in the least. I don’t know if there will ever be a day when Radiohead ceases to impress.
9. Freetown Sound – Blood Orange
This is an empowering album after my own heart.
Dev Hynes, recording on this album as Blood Orange, is cool, yet rightfully unapologetic on this album. Not as well known as most other artists on this list, Freetown Sound suffered by being released in a year where all of the most popular artists were dropping new music left and right. Despite this, the quality of the content on this album arguably surpasses that of many well-known artists. By making use of genres of importance to black culture, Blood Orange situates his music in the contemporary by implementing an alternative spin on each track, resulting in each song being unique, powerful, and perfect. If I had to choose one album on this list to recommend to anyone or to call my favorite of the year, this one would be it.
10. “Awaken, My Love!” – Childish Gambino
If anyone other than Beyonce had an incredible year, it’s Donald Glover. Known musically as Childish Gambino, he released two artistically admirable projects this year, his FX comedy-drama, Atlanta, and his third studio album, “Awaken, My Love!” The latter is an album that is magnificently self-aware. Definitely a departure from the equally fantastic Because the Internet, “Awaken, My Love!” carries a mature sound that shows Glover’s growth as an overall artist and his increased understanding of the world he lives in. These lyrics are being sung by a grown man who obviously knows what he’s about and has developed a talent for expressing his woes.
Honorable Mention: Lemonade – Beyonce
So many critics gave this Album of the Year, and I’m far from disagreeing with them. Lemonade was powerful. It was flawless. It was everything. I loved it. That said, it did not surpass the greatness of her 2013 eponymous album. It was not amongst my absolute favourite albums of the year, but it was pretty damn close.