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20 Favorite Albums Of The Year: 2016

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I don’t know if I’m late in saying this, but happy 2017, everyone. Now it’s time for my final Year-End list, the 20 Favorite Albums of the Year list from yours truly. Contrary to most people (myself included), there’s been some really great music released this year. It’s just that a lot of it isn’t represented by the Hot 100, all you have to do is dig beyond to find it. It’s no 2015, but then again, it’s kinda hard to top 2015. So let’s look at the 20 albums that I enjoyed the most out of the entire year. Before we begin, here are 15 albums that I never want to hear again. Ever.

WORST ALBUMS OF 2016

  • Wildfire-Rachel Platten
  • Nine Track Mind-Charlie Puth
  • This Is Acting-Sia
  • EVOL-Future
  • Mind of Mine-Zayn
  • Views-Drake
  • Ripcord-Keith Urban
  • Thank You-Meghan Trainor
  • Jeffery-Young Thug
  • 7/27-Fifth Harmony
  • Wanderlust-Little Big Town
  • Sremmlife 2-Rae Sremmurd
  • Illuminate-Shawn Mendes
  • Sit Still, Look Pretty-Daya
  • DNCE-DNCE

Now onto the good stuff.

A white background with a large black star and smaller parts of a five-pointed star that spell out "BOWIE"

Blackstar

David Bowie

Release Date: January 8

Best Tracks: Lazarus, Blackstar, Tis A Pity She Was A Whore, I Can’t Give Everything Away

We’ve lost a lot of legends in 2016, one of the most shocking being David Bowie, who succumbed to liver cancer two days after releasing what would be his final project in Blackstar. Coined as his swan song, this is one of the most haunting albums ever made since a lot of the songs deal with themes of morality and death. Bowie knew that his days on this planet are limited and in this album, he comes to terms with his inevitable fate. The instrumentation of Blackstar leans more toward experimental jazz , hiring jazz musicians to create a melancholic atmosphere that goes along with the themes. It’s kinda hard to listen to this record since Bowie is no longer with us, but there’s some really good stuff here.

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Malibu

Anderson Paak

Release Date: January 15

Best Tracks: Come Down, Am I Wrong, Room In Here, Put Me Through

As much as we rag on the 2016 XXL Freshman class for being trash, there are a few artists who are legitimately dope like Anderson Paak. He came into recognition with several appearances on Dr. Dre’s Compton album in 2015. Several months later, he would release his second album Malibu, which is a modern masterpiece. I love the instrumentation that mixes funk, soul, R&B, and hip-hop with a West Coast flavor. The sound screams California; the closest comparison one can make of the album is that with Kendrick Lamar. And they compliment Anderson Paak himself, whether he’s singing or spitting rhymes. We also get some stellar contributions from the guest features from ScHoolboy Q to Talib Kewli to The Game, etc. This isn’t the best written album, it’s an album that coasts more off on production and vocals. This is pretty much vibe music, not that audio Nyquil Post Malone makes. So yeah. Malibu is a good album. Dare I might say that it’s the best album of 2016. Check it out if you haven’t.

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I Like It When You Sleep For You Are Beautiful Yet So Aware Of It

The 1975

Release Date: February 26

Best Tracks: The Sound, UGH!, Somebody Else, Love Me

There’s been a couple of albums from last year that I found myself listening to multiple times and one of them comes from British alt-rock band The 1975. It’s their second album, I Like It When You Sleep For This Album Title Is Too Long and I friggin’ love it. It shows off the band’s love of the 80s with its instrumentation, which contains elements of 80s synthpop, new wave, and R&B. Some of the writing has a scent of self-aware ego that’s mostly saved by the details the writing leaves us. Some of the greatest modern pop songs are on this album like The Sound, which I’m still flabbergasted as to why it didn’t chart in the States. Still, good album.

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Southern Family

Dave Cobb & various artists

Release Date: March 18

Best Tracks: Simple Song, You Are My Sunshine, Grandma’s Garden, I Cried

From what I’ve heard, 2016 was really good for country music. Just like most genres, you’ll find the really good stuff outside the charts. This leads us into Southern Family, a compilation album from producer Dave Cobb with some of the most recognizable names in country music. My goodness, this record is fantastic. It has some of the best production of any country record. Every performance on this record is top-notch: highlights being John Paul White on Simple Song, Zac Brown on Grandma’s Garden, Brandy Clark on I Cried, etc. I don’t listen to much country music, but if I had to listen to a country record once in a while, this is one that I would definitely replay.

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Hella Personal Film Festival

Open Mike Eagle & Paul White

Release Date: March 25

Best Tracks: Admitting The Endorphin Addiction, I Went Outside Today, Check To Check, Dive Bar Support Group

When I went back and listened to a lot of albums, Hella Personal Film Festival is one of those rap albums that I enjoyed the most. This is my first time hearing Open Mike Eagle and I want to hear more from this guy. Paul White brings a lot of variety into the production and samples and he gives the album a lot of flavor. And that’s before we get into Open Mike Eagle, who brings a lot of humor, wit, and personality into his rhymes, exploring various emotions humans fluidly. Don’t sleep on this record, y’all gotta hear it.

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Human Performance

Parquet Courts

Release Date: April 8

Best Tracks: Human Performance, Dust, One Man No City, Already Dead

Going into the indie rock part of 2016, we have one of my favorites in Human Performance, the fifth studio album from Parquet Courts. I really dig the varied instrumentation of the tracks, giving a taste of art rock and punk with memorable melodies and riffs. The contrast between Andrew Savage’s rougher vocals and Austin Brown’s more constraint vocals compliment every song that they’re a part of. And these songs are benefited by some clever smart writing. If you want some indie rock in your playlist, Human Performance is one record that you have to consider.

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A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

Sturgill Simpson

Release Date: April 15

Best Tracks: Welcome To Earth (Pollywog), Breakers Roar, Sea Stories, In Bloom, 

I don’t know which is the best country album of 2016, Southern Family or Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, which is a damn fantastic record. Musically, it doesn’t even sound like a traditional country record, but in this case, that’s a compliment instead of a critique because it sounds awesome. It’s like a blend of country with soul, blues, and rock, especially when you hear the strings, horns, and guitars. Sturgill Simpson himself is one of the best modern singers in country, with the best control that enables him to pull off different emotions with each song. One of the best songs on the album is actually a cover of Nirvana’s In Bloom, which is surprising because if you’re gonna do a cover of a Nirvana song, you better do your damnest to make something spectacular and Sturgill did great with In Bloom. Overall, great record. This will definitely have constant rotation on my playlist.

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Lemonade

Beyonce

Release Date: April 23

Best Tracks: Freedom, 6 Inch, Don’t Hurt Yourself, Daddy Lessons

There’s no shortage of surprises in 2016, both good and bad. In the good section, we have Lemonade by Beyonce, probably the best thing she’s ever done musically, which is saying a lot since I didn’t like her self-titled album. What To Pimp A Butterfly was to black men, Lemonade was for black women. Beyonce unapologetically embraces her blackness in this entire record and doesn’t care what people think. One of the biggest improvements that makes this album better than Beyonce’s previous work is better writing. The main arc of this entire record is a woman finding out her husband cheated on her and the roller coaster of raw emotions she goes through. She’s sad, she’s pissed off, but by the end, she forgives her husband when he apologizes. All of the emotions expressed are convincing, mostly thanks to the possibility that it’s a reflection of Beyonce’s own life. Tabloid bullshit aside, this is a well-produced album. Some of the modern-day hip-hop/R&B beats aren’t anything new to Beyonce, but then we get songs that are influenced by other genres like the rock-flavored Don’t Hurt Yourself and Daddy Lessons, which is a much better country song than most of the country songs that are hits in 2016. Like I said, this was a huge surprise in terms of its quality. One of the best albums of 2016. Formation can still go suck a dick, though.

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A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead

Release Date: May 8

Best Tracks: Burn The Witch, Decks Dark, The Numbers, Glass Eyes

It’s no secret that Radiohead are critical darlings and listening to some of their records, while I’m not entirely in love with them like a lot of people, I can see why. Since the 90s, this band has pushed the limits of alt-rock and experimental music, making some masterpieces on the way like The Bends, OK Computer, and Kid A. I originally wasn’t going to check out their latest project, A Moon Shaped Pool, but I checked it out anyways and it’s amazing. In terms of instrumentation, most of the songs lean more towards organic sounds with acoustic guitars and strings. I’m generally not blown away by Thom Yorke as a vocalist, but he does a good enough job on this album. And then we get to the writing where many of the songs dive into love and forgiveness. The honest and abstract nature of the writing means several listens before understanding each song. It’s not Radiohead’s best album, but it’s still a good one.

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Coloring Book

Chance The Rapper

Release Date: May 13

Best Tracks: Blessings, Same Drugs, Angels, All Night

Normally, I don’t cover mixtapes with these lists, but I had to make an exception with Chance The Rapper, who is most definitely a future elite artist in hip-hop with his brand of happy, go-lucky positive music. He won over audiences and critics with Acid Rap and Surf. His profile is only getting bigger thanks to his most recent project Coloring Book. The production is very gospel-heavy with its use of organs and choirs. This feels a lot like a gospel rap album, more so than what Kanye tried to do on Life Of Pablo. Chance is the main element that makes this record work as a whole thanks to his expressive, loose delivery and him trying to say positive and keep his faith in God in spite of being in the Chicago inner cities. There are parts of the album that doesn’t work for me (Mixtape, Juke Jam, Smoke Break, weak guest features), but the high points of the album are worth it. Can’t wait to see what else Chance has to offer us.

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Dangerous Woman

Ariana Grande

Release Date: May 20

Best Tracks: Into You, Dangerous Woman, Leave Me Lonely, Be Alright

It’s interesting to see Ariana Grande grow as an artist. Like I previously said, she’s been one of the few modern pop stars who has improved over the years and she was already off to a good start. This time around, she releases her third studio album Dangerous Woman, which continues her winning streak. Yeah, the idea of Ariana Grande being a “dangerous woman” is a huge stretch even for Monkey D. Luffy, but most of the songs on this album work off of her strengths as a vocalist, giving her room to be sensual and expressive. And when it doesn’t work as well as it should, the production makes up for it. While a lot of the beats are the same pop/R&B stuff fro her previous material, we also get some house and reggae on certain songs. I’m not too fond of the guest features aside from Macy Gray on Leave Me Lonely, who was fantastic, and there are songs that I would gladly skip without hesitation like Let Me Love You and Everyday. Even then, this is still a good album.

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The Human Condition

Jon Bellion

Release Date: June 10

Best Tracks: Hand Of God, Morning In America, 80s Films, All Time Low

When it comes to predictions, I get it right 1% of the time. I suck at them. One prediction I made to myself was that Jon Bellion was gonna blow up and so far, I was right and I’m glad because The Human Condition is a damn good album. It successfully does what a lot of modern pop songs tried to do and failed, blending pop with R&B, rap, and indie seamlessly. And it’s all thanks to the production, which is messy but they manage to create some fnatastic moments that are worth hearing. It’s like Bellion was throwing a bunch of musical ideas to the wall to see what stuck. Hell, it doesn’t hurt that Bellion’s bars are above average. They’re not great, but like Ed Sheeran’s attempts, they’re tolerable. With the album being about “the human condition,” the writing shows the flaws of people in terms of relationships, depression, and honesty, which there’s a lot of on this album. Not the most cohesive record, but it’s definitely the start of something promising.

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Blank Face LP

ScHoolboy Q

Release Date: July 8

Best Tracks: Ride Out, Blank Face, WHateva U Want, JoHn Muir 

So I went back and listened to Oxymoron and WOW, a lot of it Has not Held up well. It wasn’t bad, but it could’ve been a lot better. THankfully, ScHoolboy Q’s follow up, Blank Face LP, is an improvement. ScHoolboy Q Has never been tHe greatest rapper lyrically, especially compared to His TDE labelmates, but wHat makes Him stand out is his flow and how well-constructed his bars are. Plus, He can balance Hardcore gangsta rap antHems witH more introspective tracks tHat dive into His psycHe. In Blank Face LP, the Hard-Hitting songs Hit Hard and tHe introspective songs leave a deep impact when you’re so deep into tHe gangsta sHit, it leaves you emotionless. Complimenting these songs are some damn good production, wHicH sets tHe mood for any occasion. Overall, Blank Face LP is a great album.

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Nothing’s Real

Shura

Release Date: July 8

Best Tracks: What’s It Gonna Be, Touch, Indecision, What Happened To Us

In 2015, I enjoyed Every Open Eye by CHVRCHES. In 2016, I enjoyed Nothing’s Real, the debut album of English singer Shura. Like albums from both CHVRCHES and The 1975, Nothing’s Real has 80s written all over it, with a mix of synthpop and R&B. This gives the production a lot of great melodies and grooves that stick to you after hearing it, plus some great hooks. Even better is Shura’s writing, which shows more vulnerability than any pop record that’s currently out or ANY record. This is someone dealing with their own insecurities and even when it’s hidden under a mask of happiness, it’s still there. I’m gonna go ahead and say it: this is the best pop album of 2016 bar-none.

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Blonde

Frank Ocean

Release Date: August 20

Best Tracks: Pink + White, Solo (Reprise), Solo, Nights

Previously, the last time Frank Ocean released an album was in 2012 with Channel Orange. It took forever for him to release a follow up to the point where it became Detox status. Well, the wait is finally over and he’s finally released something. Not one album, but two, Endless and Blonde. I’m only covering Blonde because I liked that more than Endless. Frank Ocean isn’t a traditional R&B artist and it shows in the production, which goes into territories of indie and electronica. It’s atmospheric and dreamlike and it’s another example of so-called vibe music done right. Frank does some really good singing, even if there were some unnecessary moments involving Auto-Tune and pitch-shifting. There’s a lot of moments on this album that are just plain spectacular like Andre 3000 on Solo (Reprise). That man has yet to release ANY solo work and he’s still killing these features. While Blonde isn’t as great as Channel Orange, it’s still an album that’s worth checking out for anyone. This and Endless.

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And The Anonymous Nobody…

De La Soul

Release Date: August 26

Best Tracks: Greyhounds, Pain, Genesis, In Memory Of (Us)

Every year, we see some solid projects from legends in the game and this year is no exception. Take, for example, De La Soul. This was a hip-hop group who were ahead of their time in the late 80s and early 90s with non-conventional samples and going against the rise of gangsta rap and hardcore rap. They paved the way for many rappers who have no trouble breaking the rules. In 2016, thanks to funding from Kickstarter, De La Soul released their first album in more than a decade and the best hip-hop album of 2016 with And The Anonymous Nobody. This album is a great example of an older act making a great project that’s a modernized evolution of what they are artistically, starting with the eclectic production that not only contains hip-hop beats, but actual live instrumentation and genre fusions with rock, funk, and soul. The bars are pretty damn solid from every member of De La and the guest features, with a few exceptions, all do their part in their respected songs. It’s always cool to see an older act release new music and it actually sounds fresh and exciting over some of the younger acts out now. If you haven’t heard And The Anonymous Nobody, change that and listen to it immediately.

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Atrocity Exhibition

Danny Brown

Release Date: September 27

Best Tracks: Really Doe, Ain’t It Funny, When It Rain, Hell For It

I must admit, it was difficult for me to fully get into Danny Brown mainly because of his voice. But once I got used to it and dug deeper, there’s some amazing stuff within Danny Brown’s discography. He just has this off-kiltered schizophrenic personality that shines in nearly every song he does. A great example of that is in this album, Atrocity Exhibition. The production isn’t what you would hear from a typical rap album and honestly, that’s great because it still slaps and it fits Danny Brown. This album is a look into the mind of a drug addict heading towards a downhill spiral and why this person got as far as they did in their habit. One of the best rap songs of the year is in this album in the form of Really Doe featuring Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and Earl Sweatshirt. I’m glad I gave Danny Brown a chance because there’s some really dope music behind the voice.

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Joanne

Lady Gaga

Release Date: October 21

Best Tracks: Million Reasons, Joanne, Diamond Heart, Sinner’s Prayer 

For the longest time, I was hating on Lady Gaga hardcore. Thankfully, I’ve seen the light because The Fame Monster is a pop music masterpiece. 2016 and while Gaga isn’t as big as she once was from 2009 to 2011, she’s still a big deal. When she’s not starring in American Horror Story, she was working on her latest album Joanne, an album that isn’t as loved as her previous works by critics and fans, but me personally? I liked it. So far, this is probably the rawest album Gaga has ever made. She threw away all of the shiny, glitzy stuff for something more human and you can tell. The production in a lot of these songs lean more towards folk rock and country with a few dance songs sprinkled in. There’s much less vocal effects put on Gaga’s voice in this album, which means we get more raw vocal performances. Most of this album is centered on family, especially since it was named after her deceased aunt. Joanne isn’t a perfect album (you can skip songs like Perfect Illusion) made me respect Gaga even more and it feels like the beginning of something new and exciting.

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We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

A Tribe Called Quest

Release Date: November 11

Best Tracks: We The People, Dis Generation, Kids, The Donald

What’s there really to say about A Tribe Called Quest? One of the greatest rap group from the 90s whose laidback jazzy brand of hip-hop help shaped the sound of the culture for years to come. Sadly, while they were working on what would be their last album, Phife Dawg passed away. So in a way, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is a bit of a tribute to him and if this is Tribe’s last album, they went out on a high note. The production, even if it is their old laidback style, still sounds fresh today with beats that can be both laidback and hard-hitting at the same time. It feels like a classic A Tribe Called Quest album. Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Jarobi once again bring the fire that they always had with their rhymes. The guest features are perfect for Tribe, from frequent collaborator Busta Rhymes to Andre 3000 to King Kunta himself Kendrick Lamar. A great addition to the legacy of A Tribe Called Quest.

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Awaken, My Love

Childish Gambino

Release Date: December 2

Best Tracks: Boogieman, Redbone, Terrified, Me And Your Mama

You know who’s had a great 2016? Donald Glover A.K.A Childish Gambino. He’s got the best TV show on right now with Atlanta and he’s been cast in Spider-Man: Homecoming and is going to play Lando Calrissian in an upcoming Star Wars movie about Han Solo. And now, he’s released his third album called Awaken, My Love. This album is much different from both Camp and Because The Internet as it trades in rap for funk. The Parliament-Funkadelic influences ring strong in this album with the various grooves designed to get you moving along with some impressive musicianship and multi-layered vocals. Gambino doesn’t do any rapping in this album and instead, he does more singing. Themes of this album include blackness, fatherhood, and love. It’s cool to see Childish Gambino willing to take risks and go for the unconventional musically. This album will never replace anything from Parliament-Funkadelic, but it’s a good record regardless.

And that was my list of my favorite albums of 2016. Here are some other albums that I think are worth checking out.

  • Pawn Shop-Brothers Osborne
  • ANTI-Rihanna
  • All I Need-Foxes
  • In My Mind-BJ The Chicago Kid
  • Imperial-Denzel Curry
  • 3001: A Laced Odyssey-Flatbush Zombies
  • All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend-Aurora
  • The Impossible Kid-Aesop Rock
  • At Night, Alone-Mike Posner
  • Playing With Fire-Jennifer Nettles
  • Teens Of Denial-Car Seat Headrest
  • Big Day In A Small Town-Brandy Clark
  • Love You To Death-Teagan & Sara
  • Egomaniac-KONGOS
  • The Getaway-Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • The Glowing Man-Swans
  • Case/Lang/Viers-Case/Lang/Viers
  • California-Blink-182
  • Brave Enough-Lindsey Stirling
  • Sorceress-Opeth
  • A Seat At The Table-Solange
  • Revolution Radio-Green Day
  • Big Baby D.R.A.M.-D.R.A.M.
  • Pieces Of Space-Sammus
  • Black America Again-Common
  • Here-Alicia Keys
  • 24K Magic-Bruno Mars
  • Hardwired… To Self Destruct-Metallica
  • Starboy-The Weeknd
  • Do What Thou Wilt.-Ab-Soul
  • The Hamilton Mixtape-various artists
  • 4 Your Eyez Only-J Cole

Next week is Musical Appreciation and at last, I finally review Zootopia.

Peace!!

SONGS OF THE WEEK

The Way You Do The Things You Do-The Temptations

New Person, Same Old Mistakes-Tame Impala

Mt. Olympus (Reprise)-Big K.R.I.T.

Here’s To The Night-Eve 6

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