-My absolute favorite albums of the past year.
2016 was widely considered to be a terrible year. We lost an absurd amount of iconic people, from David Bowie to Prince to Leonard Cohen to Rudy Van Gelder to Alan Rickman to Maurice White to Carrie Fisher. In the US, racial and political tensions are higher than they’ve been in years, and it seems almost no one can agree on anything at the moment. Well, except for one thing: music was great this year. It was our saving grace. While everyone screamed about the world going to shit (it isn’t really) there were great albums coming out at a frenetic pace from seemingly every major artist. We got long awaited follow ups from artists who have come to define this young decade. We got flawless comebacks from artists who we thought would never release a thing again. We got wild genre transformations, haunting meditations on death, and victory laps from previously down and out artists. We had a guy live stream his album from Madison Square Garden while also showcasing his new fashion line and a video game he’s working on. This year (and every other one in the decade) flies in the face of anyone who says music and creativity aren’t as good as they used to be. It’s quite the opposite. So, needless to say, an absurd, almost overwhelming amount of great albums came out this year, and only 25 don’t do the year justice. So here are some honorable mentions:
Car Seat Headrest- Teens of Denial
Fire! Orchestra- Ritual
clipping.- Splendor & Misery
Elucid- Save Yourself
Scallops Hotel- Too Much of Life is Mood
Rae Sremmurd- Sremmlife 2
Denzel Curry- Imperial
Isaiah Rashad- The Sun’s Tirade
Ka- Honor Killed the Samurai
dvsn- Sept. 5th
Adult Jazz- Earrings Off!
Chance the Rapper- Coloring Book
Now onto the top 25:
#25. Injury Reserve- Floss
Injury Reserve came right back from last year’s fantastic mixtape, Live From the Dentist Office, with a debut commercial album that shows that they’re here to stay. This album is a blast from front to back.
#24. Open Mike Eagle & Paul White– Hella Personal Film Festival
…as is this album. It’s certainly less off the wall and energetic, but Open Mike’s lyrics are so consistently witty and observational that I liken this album to a stand up comedy routine. With great beats.
#23. Death Grips- Bottomless Pit
You’d think that after a double album they’d take a break, right? Wrong. Death Grips continue to pump out project after a project, but unlike many artists this prolific, Death Grips are always moving forward and always putting out something that’s worthy of their name. Bottomless Pit is no exception.
#22. Gucci Mane- Everybody Looking
In a year in which we all took a collective L, Gucci instead took one W after another, and this album was probably his biggest. It just serves up one great track after another. Gucci is back, and he’s here to stay.
#21. Kendrick Lamar- untitled. unmastered.
To Pimp a Butterfly was so great that even the leftovers will result in one of the best albums of the year. It’s very much in the same headspace as the aforementioned album; the instrumentals are jazzy and lively, and Kendrick’s flows and lyrics are refined, dynamic, and endlessly replayable. What’s not to love?
#20. Lil Yachty- Lil Boat the Mixtape
Lil Yachty is one of the most polarizing artists to come out in recent memory. The kids love him, the old heads despise him. I fit into the former. You just can’t think of him as a rapper. On this project, Yachty appears much more focused on pop melodicism than on bars. And it works beautifully.
#19. David Bowie- Blackstar
Few albums this year sent waves through the music world like this one. Bowie’s death was big enough an event, but the fact that he released an album regarding his impending doom to coincide with it made this album instantly legendary. There’s definitely albums that I’ve listened to way more this year (this one’s just too heavy to listen to often) but few have affected me as much. Either way, Bowie went out on top.
#18. Curren$y- Andretti 12/30
I enjoyed Spitta’s series of mixtapes that he put out at the end of every month, beginning in September, but just as the year was coming to a close, he released by far my favorite in the series. It’s everything I want in a Curren$y tape: smooth, laid back, the beats are pleasent and breezy, and it’s even got a Freddie Gibbs feature. (Spitta + Gibbs rapping over Macintosh Plus’s “420?” Yes please.) Curren$y is great as always, again proving himself to be one of the most consistent MCs in the game.
#17. Noname- Telefone
Ever since I heard Noname’s guest verses on Chance the Rapper’s projects, I’d been eagerly anticipating a project from her, and I was totally satisfied with what we got. Her flow is laid back and her lyrics are poetic, and the smooth, jazzy beats perfectly match her lyrics. This mixtape is like a warm blanket. She may not even release anything after this, but at only ten songs this tape is strangely substantive.
#16. Payroll Giovanni & Cardo Got Wings- Big Bossin, Vol. 1
Payroll may be from Detroit and Cardo based out of Texas, but this tape sounds straight out of the sun soaked West Coast. It’s the definition of ridin music: a tape you can play front to back in the car on a sunny day. It bumps, it’s chill, it feels good, and the songs themselves are great. The title track, “A Day in the Life,” and “Sucka Free” in particular are anthems. Let’s stay Sucka Free for 2017 too.
#15. Maxo Kream- The Persona Tape
And then here’s the complete opposite of the last entry. The persona Tape is, no lie, one of the hardest things I’ve ever heard. Maxo’s bars, delivery, and non stop flow are so fucking vicious, and combined with the hard hitting trap beats, you get one of 2016’s most exhilarating listens.
#14. Young Thug- JEFFERY
Autotuned trap pop rap had it’s best year yet, and this is one of the crowning jewels. Young Thug is a damn genius, not because he’s super lyrical or anything, but because he uses his voice in ways I’ve never heard before. He bends and cracks notes, does weird inflections everywhere, and occasionally just sounds out of his damn mind, but he still crafts some of 2016’s best pop songs on this tape.
#13. Anderson .Paak- Malibu
Anderson .Paak was the breakout artist of the year, and you don’t really need to look further than this album to understand why. This thing’s is chock full of fun, groove heavy, and memorable neo-soul tracks with excellent musicianship and one of the charismatic deliveries in the game. .Paak is here to stay.
#12. Childish Gambino- “Awaken, My Love!”
Re-invention doesn’t even begin to describe what happened here. Gone are the nerdy, punchline heavy raps that defined Glover’s previous works. Hell, gone are the raps entirely. And, in their place, throwback funk and soul tunes that liberally draw from the likes of Sly & the Family Stone, Prince, and most of all, Funkadelic. But this album is more than a “look what I listen to” album. Glover’s got some tunes, some serious production, and a hell of a voice.
#11. The Weeknd- Starboy
I’m willing to call him the new King of Pop if you guys are. Abel has now entirely abandoned his alt-R&B roots, and is now a full fledged pop superstar. And I have no problem with that, because in its place we’re getting some of the finest pop songs in recent memory.
#10. Beyoncé- Lemonade
Bey’s self titled album from 2013 means the world to me, but I’m still willing to call this the signature Beyoncé album. It’s the one that most reflects her fierce personality, and most interestingly to me, her southern roots. “Daddy Lessons” is a straight up country song, complete with a New Orleans horn section, “Formation” is a trap banger with again, a New Orleans marching drum section. Few albums dominated the conversation of 2016 like this one, and it was the rare inescapable album you didn’t want to escape.
#9. Travi$ Scott- Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight
Travis does autotuned pop trap rap better than anyone else if you ask me, and this album just furthers his claim on the throne. The beats are characteristically detailed as hell and incredibly atmospheric and immersive, while the hooks just keep coming song after song. This album is as addictive as the drugs it loves to name drop so much.
#8. Drake- Views
This album strengthened my love for Drake as much as it did the hate others have for him. It ups the ante in reveling in all of the criticisms that Drake so often receives from some camps on the internet. It’s long, he doesn’t rap enough, his bars and weak, he sings like a pussy, etc. I love it for all of those things. Views is incredibly catchy and an immersive listen to me, and makes for Drake’s second finest work. (Nothing Was the Same is untouchable.)
#7. Weezer- Weezer (The White Album)
I have a big soft spot for Weezer, so when they came through this year with an album I would put right up there with their debut and Pinkerton, I was ecstatic. It’s everything I love about the band: the songs are wildly catchy and memorable, it’s summery, the production rocks, the lyrics are relateable for nervous white kids like myself, etc. In 2016, Weezer came out with one of the best albums of the year. That alone makes up for a lot of the shit 2016 threw at us if you ask me.
#6. ScHoolboy Q- Blank Face LP
Here’s an album I was not expecting to love as much as I did. I was kind of on the fence about ScHoolboy’s prior work, but this album blew me away. Track for track, ScHoolboy delivers incredible bars, the beats slap you in the face when they want to and chill and lay back when they want to, the hooks are catchy (even if they’re not sung), and the guest spots are all perfect. (Yes, even Ye.) Barring the extremely misguided “Overtime,” there’s not a thing I would change about this album.
#5. A Tribe Called Quest- We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Even more surprising than Weezer putting out a great album was Tribe even putting out one at all. It had been 18 years, and Phife Dawg had recently passed away. So when I heard they were dropping an album, I just thought it would be some unreleased material and wouldn’t match up to the classics they had back in the days. Instead, they released what might be my favorite album of their’s. Hearing the gang together one more time while bringing along some of their greatest disciples like Kanye, Kendrick, and Anderson .Paak, was a beautiful thing to hear. God bless.
#4. Danny Brown- Atrocity Exhibition
Pure fucking insanity. It takes a lot to blow my mind musically, but literally every time I listen to this album it happens. Songs like “Ain’t It Funny,” “Golddust,” and especially “Pneumonia,” are wild rides for the ages. In fact, this album one long wild ride that you never want to get off. You just want to go deeper, and it obliges.
#3. The Avalanches- Wildflower
Being a senior in high school and about to go off to college and begin to make my own way, I’m getting a little nostalgic for the years where I was just a kid in the summer playing sports in my backyard. This album take me back to that to an almost frighteningly specific degree. The Avalanches worked magic on this one, and made an album so special to me that if they take another 16 year hiatus I won’t be upset.
#2. Kanye West- The Life of Pablo
Watching the livestream of Kanye’s Madison Sqaure Garden unveiling of this album was one of the best moments of the year. The wait and the hype for this album was just insane. All of the tracklist and title changes, the release date changes, the SNL performance, etc. We were watching the album being made in real time, and it built an insane amount of hype. And it lived up to it. After the dark and abrasive Yeezus, Kanye made one of his most life-affirming works. The man has done it yet again.
#1. Frank Ocean- Blonde
It seems like every year I get a bunch of great albums, and then the album. The album that reaches out and grabs me, shakes me, changes me. Blonde was that album. Very few first listens affected me like this one. Sitting in my bedroom on vacation and reading that Frank has finally dropped the follow up to one of my 5 favorite albums ever and finally laying my ears on it is one of my fondest memories. I cried when I heard this album for the first time. It may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. I’m frantically trying to sum up my deep love and connection with this album into a concise paragraph blurb, and its impossible. But just know this, I ended my review with this statement and it stands even stronger today: Blonde is one of the very best albums I’ve ever heard.