If for nothing else, 2016 was an incredible year for music. Especially in the hip-hop genre. So, as this year nears its end, we thought we’d take some time and reflect on all of the amazing albums that dropped in 2016. From Frank Ocean’s long awaited follow-up to Channel Orange, to the epic comeback of A Tribe Called Quest, the music world will never be the same after this year.
Coloring Book: Chance the Rapper
The third mixtape to come out from Chicago’s rap beacon of light, truth, and good vibes turned out to be a huge game changer. Coloring Book ranges from trap, to disco, to gospel soul, which leads us to say that it’s Chance’s most diversified record to date. The sheer number and rank of his guests shows us, the world, and the industry that he doesn’t need a label to make his dreams come true. Coloring Book is brought to life not only by its incredible production and lyrics, but by the sheer energy and joy felt throughout. At first taste, you definitely get the sense that Chance, who also became a father this year, is really grateful to be alive. And he has every reason to be. After the release of Coloring Book, Chance’s life took off for the busier, and led him to host and headline his own music festival in Chicago. We’re excited to see what Chance cooks up next, and extremely happy he got such a young start because we get to enjoy this rap prodigy for awhile longer.
A Seat at the Table: Solange
It’s been four years since the arrival of True, and Solange has truly been hard at work to becoming fully formed being. The nuanced perspectives Solange has incorporated into her work are largely driven by life experience and a need to understand the world around her. A Seat At the Table is beautiful at every juncture. Both of Solange’s parents make an appearances and deliver speeches about their history of being black in America. Racism and cultural appropriation are delicately discussed in a way that is so personal and compelling, it had just about everyone in the industry floored. So much of A Seat at the Table acts as true poetry. Her economy when writing and crafting a song affected both the lyrical style and production of the record. From sweeping ballads, to languid speeches, A Seat at the Table is a real example of art making meaning out of life, and how hardships and oppression can result in spectacular work.
Blond: Frank Ocean
The skeptics may have been in the majority by the time Frank Ocean released his highly anticipated follow-up to Channel Orange, but some of us stayed strong in hopes that the album would, eventually, drop. And trust us, Blond was definitely worth the wait. Blond was preceded by Endless, a visual album that features Ocean building something through a black and white lends against the background of new music. Endless had viewers pretty confused once it aired, but when Blond eventually arrived, everything made much more sense. Blond doesn’t groove the same way Channel Orange did primarily because Ocean allowed himself to operate within a different palette of sounds, words, and emotions. Blond reveals Ocean to be the vulnerable artist we all assumed him to be, and he does it in a truly beautiful way. There aren’t many guests on the new album but Ocean had a great deal of help in terms of production, which really shows in how well groomed each track is. Though we hope Ocean doesn’t wait another four years before releasing another album, we know that if he does, it will likely be worth the wait.
We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service : A Tribe Called Quest
Maybe you didn’t think you needed a new Tribe Called Quest album after their 18 year–and seemingly permanent–hiatus. But after listening to We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, it’s clear that the world is now a better place because of it. We were surprised to see the rest of the tribe release an album after the loss of crucial member Phife Dawg. But turns out production on We got it from Here began in time for Phife to make several appearances on the album, bringing a sense of love, friendship, and closure to both his life and his duty with A Tribe Called Quest. We got it from Here is filled with incredible poetry, Q-Tip’s impeccable taste, and some of the best production we’ve seen this year. The guest stars are lovingly chosen, representing other souls in the industry who contribute to the Tribe’s purpose and message for the people. The album never lets down and ranges from sharp edged truths, to soulful and sexy, to sincere professions of love to a friend. We got it from Here is the perfect, cathartic rap album that we needed in 2016.
The Life of Pablo: Kanye West
Though The Life of Pablo had its confusing and chaotic moments, we would like to commend Kanye West on still managing great works of art while distressed by social and political climates, on top of his own baggage. One of them being the amazing track “Ultralight Beam” where Kanye gives a nod to fellow Chicago rapper and long time admirer Chance the Rapper. From all appearances and listening to The Life of Pablo, it seems that Kanye West is exactly as confident as he should be at this state in his career, if not more. There were several treats nestled in TLOP, including the incredible vocals by Kelly Price, and Andre 3000 and Future’s appearances. TLOP is a careful and interesting blend between Kanye’s last two albums, Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And as always, we leave TLOP feeling as if we heard exactly what Kanye set out to deliver.
Rihanna has always been fierce, she has always known herself in the crazy world of the music industry. But ANTI is the first full album we’ve seen Rihanna drop where each track is equally fierce and tinged with her signature *IDGAF* attitude. From her stoner queen moment on “James Joint” to the savage boss perfected in “Bitch Better Have My Money”, Rihanna succeeded in making an album which is truly her, but also truly lovable. We’re also thankful there are a few slower moments on the album, including the painfully honest “Higher” which is essentially a drunk voicemail to an ex. Rihanna continues to explore her range as an artist, and for her eighth LP, really outdid herself. ANTI will, without a doubt, go down as the album that truly solidified Rihanna as a serious artist who has the capacity to infuse her personality boldly and beautifully into the breadth of her work.
You’ve all heard Noname, the Chicago rapper who made appearances on Chance the Rapper’s second and third mixtapes. Her lyrics and style of delivery awed listeners, making everyone already in the scene question who she was, where she had been, and when she would be making her official debut. Finally, after a long wait and a few delays, Noname released Telefone, and it may just be the best debut we’ve heard this year. What is most remarkable about Telefone is it’s ability to discuss truly dark and personal matters without ever taking a true dark turn. The tone of the record is never heavy and instead relies on bouncy and optimistic sounds to counter Noname’s lyrical content, which ranges from eating ice cream on her porch in the summer, to her friends being “casket pretty” post violence. One thread used to connect and draw everything together is her beloved hometown. You can feel Noname’s love for her hometown and also a desperation for a better Chicago, a brighter Chicago. And even though it may take some time for that to happen, Noname’s Telefone is the perfect dose of brutal honesty and nuanced optimism to make the change happen.
Malibu: Anderson Paak.
Many of you hadn’t heard about Anderson Paak. until this year, unless you caught onto the name which landed in several spots across Dre’s Compton album. It’s true, Anderson Paak. had a huge hand in Compton, and was one of the bigger reasons as to how he found himself an audience for what would be one of the best albums of 2016. Anderson Paak.’s sophomore album Malibu is one parts funk, two parts soul, and completely intriguing in its content. There are definitely a few highlights on the record but in our opinion, it’s strongest to regard the whole. Malibu is at times joyous but constantly goes back to Paak.’s convictions. There aren’t too many guests on Malibu besides Schoolboy Q and, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Talib Kweli, but he gives them the perfect amount of spotlight. Though Malibu is an incredible record, we suggest listening to him perform it live, as Anderson Paak. is a compelling and accurate performer who clearly believes in his sound that has taken hard work to cultivate and even harder work for it to be heard.
Freetown Sound: Blood Orange
Dev Hynes, otherwise known as Blood Orange, seemingly came out of nowhere when he dropped Freetown Sound. The London ex-pat is known for steering clear of stylish circles in the industry, but his 2016 effort put him right back in the middle of it, sparking dialogue that Hynes can definitely speak upon. So, how can one be political without saying it outright? This must have been the question on Hynes’ mind when creating Freetown Sound, which operates as a homage to eras past and the genres which defined their sounds, in addition to recognizing people in the margins and cultures which have been pushed into the shadows. Freetown Sound has us witnessing Hynes at his best in terms of writing and production, which makes the album’s retroactive vibes even more compelling. Freetown Sound is a bright and spectacular product of Dev Hynes’ career, what he’s learned from his past two albums, and how the current state of affairs has instilled a need to represent what right, and what’s real.
Beyonce, one of the best performers of this generation, delivered on her 2016 offering Lemonade, another album she’s further illustrated with a visual component. We all knew Beyonce was a hard worker, but 2016 was an even bigger year. From her powerful protest performance at the Super Bowl, to one of the most entertaining tours of the year, Beyonce continues to be on top of the world. Lemonade was a sharp turn, a real sign of growth for Beyonce. There are obvious dark undercurrents to her pop-trap sound, and when paired with the visuals for the record, we know that Lemonade speaks to suffering and anguish and how those feelings can be transformed into art. Lemonade primarily tells stories about infidelity, the strife of marriage, being a black woman in America, and, above all, self ownership. Beyonce created a call to arms that can exist in the world and provoke strength in anyone who listens to it.
Though we’re pretty ready to say goodbye to 2016, it’s safe to say that it was a truly remarkable year for music. And this list by no means covers it. So let us know what your favorite album of 2016 was in the comments below!