1.) Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper
In five short years, Chance has released three mixtapes, a collaborative album, and has been featured in the work of various musicians. Even within this impressive discography, Coloring Book stands above the rest. Perhaps it’s because it’s his most cogent tribute to his musical roots in gospel, jazz, and hip-hop. Perhaps it’s because it’s imbued with a deep appreciation of that which matters–friendship, family, faith–and a biting irreverence towards that which doesn’t (record labels). Perhaps it’s because it’s just so damn fun. At 23-years-old, Chance the Rapper has grown up, and he’s not going anywhere.
2.) Lemonade, Beyoncé
In Lemonade, a thematically and visually provocative work of art, Beyoncé depicts a woman’s journey after she discovers that her husband has been unfaithful. Both an album and a film, Lemonade includes powerful explorations into black culture and history through songs such as “Formation,” a satirical take on black stereotypes. Using references to contemporary racism and sexism juxtaposed with an emotional expedition, Lemonade makes potent statements about today’s culture into a powerful experience for listeners.
3.) Malibu, Anderson .Paak
Malibu gives a glimpse into the personal struggles of Anderson .Paak’s childhood while maintaining his signature rhythmic beats. The opening track, “The Bird,” details many of .Paak’s diffculties early in life, while the final track, “The Dreamer,” concentrates on .Paak’s improbable rise to prominence. Malibu’s underlying theme is that no matter the circumstances, success can always be achieved. Funky bass riffs, groovy piano chords, jazzy trumpet sequences, and an occasional gospel choir provide the perfect platform for .Paak’s gentle, soothing voice. Malibu is just the next stage of .Paak’s musical career, and should serve as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things in the future.
4.) We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
A Tribe Called Quest’s last album (1998) was generally received as a dud. However, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service is anything but. Recently deceased frontman Phife Dawg sounds hungry as ever, and Q-Tip’s beats on this record are masterpieces: layered, laid-back, and old-school without sounding dated. The project pushes the Tribe’s sound forward in a smooth and organic way. With all the negativity of 2016, this album is a breath of fresh air; there’s still good in the world, you just have to look for it.
5.) untitled, unmastered., Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar solidified his place as king of the rap industry with the release of To Pimp a Butterfly. In untitled unmastered. Lamar delivers eight lightly edited tracks that feature raw instrumentals and heavy jazz and funk influences, and provides a further glimpse into his politically and religiously charged consciousness. Lamar contemplates relinquishing his artistic integrity in “untitled 04” and grapples with facing God on Judgement Day in “untitled 01.” untitled unmastered. combines Lamar’s impeccable storytelling with experimental sounds to craft music that reminds listeners that he is the voice for the voiceless.
6.) 22, A Million, Bon Iver
Bon Iver solidified themselves as one of the most inventive voices in the indie folk genre with rich acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies. With their newest album 22, A Million, the band has been reborn sans-genre. Bon Iver has incorporated synths and other techniques pivotal to modern electronic music. Abandoning a true folk tone, Bon Iver has mastered sound itself, creating experimental tracks which emphasize spiritual and numeric symbolism. The album is in many ways a drastic departure from where they started, but Bon Iver’s themes of loneliness, introspection, and unrequited love are still present, continuing the band’s compelling mission.
7.) Blonde, Frank Ocean
By repeatedly teasing release dates, Frank Ocean stirred up anticipation for his second studio album, Blonde. When his four-year artistic silence was broken, it was a cathartic release, with a video album, booklet, and 17 song, hour-long album. Instead of a massive, over-edited piece that could result from such pent-up artistry, Blonde is sparse and thoughtful. With minimalist instrumentals, Ocean shifts focus onto his unrivaled voice, which is deftly pushed through its emotional and sonic range to create a stunning reflection on love and youth. Blonde lives up to the hype, rewarding listen after listen with Ocean’s enthralling and profound vocals.
8.) The Life of Pablo, Kanye West
The defining product of the “new” Kanye, TLOP is artfully experimental, uninhibitedly weird, and unadulteratedly Yeezy, as West casts off any adherence to hip-hop norms. Beats lurch jarringly between disjointed fragments in a style exemplified by “Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1” and “Pt. 2,” a seamless diptych comprised of a Metro Boomin sample, the now-famous “Panda” by Desiigner, and a snippet evoking Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek.” Lyrically, West seems absent, often leaving the vocals to his more-than-capable supporting cast. Taken together, the pieces merge into a 67-minute auditory experience that leaves the listener wondering what Kanye’s beautiful dark twisted mind could possibly conceive next.
9.) The Getaway, Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Getaway revives the freshness of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s sound without sacrificing their quintessential character. Hits such as “Dark Necessities” feature ample band motifs, including the Peppers’ slap-bass rhythms and Anthony Kiedis’s signature staccato raps. In contrast, closing tracks “The Hunter” and “Dreams of a Samurai” border on psychedelic with long guitar riffs. The Peppers fully embrace and showcase the talents of the newest member, Josh Klinghoffer, as his guitar is boldly implemented into the instrumental score. The Getaway maintains what fans have always loved about the band, but takes the risks necessary to curb staleness and keep them relevant to modern music.
10.) Atrocity Exhibition, Danny Brown
Atrocity Exhibition, aptly named, is akin to walking through a gallery full of exotic art. The album is a dark fusion of rock, R&B, and jazz coalescing in impressively complex production. Paired with Brown’s fast-paced, high-pitched rapping, the album is nothing short of manic. As unique as it is, Atrocity Exhibition is not without precedent, and the Detroit rapper uses its 15 songs to recognize both his previous work and the work of his influences. 2016 saw a number of artists trying their hardest to push their creative envelopes. On Atrocity Exhibition, Danny Brown stuck to his ways and created one of the most novel albums of the year.