By Ayana Archie
First, a message about 2016.
This year has seen a lot of bad moments; however, I would not say this was a bad year. A year is what you make it. Yes, we lost legends, such as Muhammad Ali and Prince; Donald Trump was elected as our next president; and Native Americans were brutalized over their fight for clean water.
But I’m sure some good things happened for you. So find your silver lining amongst the gray.
On that note, for many, especially me, the silver is music. This year saw some of the best album releases I have seen in a long time. It got to the point where it was almost too much to handle. By the time I finished listening to one drop, another was being rolled out.
This year also saw the return of some of music’s biggest names, including Rihanna, Adele, Frank Ocean, Bruno Mars and Alicia Keys. These are 22 albums I enjoyed the most, in no particular order (except for number one just because I couldn’t help myself).
- Malibu – Anderson .Paak
Talent is bursting out of Anderson .Paak. Malibu is unwilling to stay in one place, layering instruments and moving from the lighthearted to the deep-rooted, incorporating funk, soul and hip-hop. Simply put, .Paak has a gift for grooving.
If the only songs you know by D.R.A.M. are “Broccoli,” Cha Cha” or “Cash Machine,” please, please, please change that. He is more than his party songs. Big Baby D.R.A.M. has an incredible amount of complexity in his crooning and is armed with versatility.
Sia emerges from her usual spot behind the scenes on her debut album, and for good reason. She is a remarkable writer, and the album has a certain carefree-ness that gives you the courage to take on the world.
- ANTI – Rihanna
With ANTI, Rihanna is breaking her own mold. Here, she ventures from the pop background that catapulted her to fame and opts for a darker, edgier sound, which allows her to dive into experimentation and denounce anything that aims to place her into a category. “I got to do things my own way darling,” she sings on the SZA-assisted “Consideration.”
Bas provides a lot of lyrical variation with this release and is more mellow than ever. There is a certain innocence found within the tracks with Bas recalling his childhood, his road to notoriety and being signed to J. Cole, his struggle for balance in his life, as well as his race to to the top.
- 99.9% – Kaytranada
Kaytranada definitely has a recognizable sound. Hailing from Montreal, Kaytranada’s debut album showcases the DJ’s unique mix of EDM, funk and hip-hop. Kaytranada calls on artists like Vic Mensa, Anderson. Paak and GoldLink to provide the overlapping lyrics.
YG highlights his Californian roots with classic West Coast sounds, characterized by booming bass and synth claps. He tells tales of the Los Angeles ghettos and his battles with rival gangs and the boys in blue, all while aggressively commanding respect and loyalty.
- IV – BadBadNotGood
BadBadNotGood is a modern-era jazz collective consisting of a bass guitarist, keyboardist, drummer and saxophonist. They go from hurried drums on some songs to a mellowed-out bass guitar on others, and the album serves as a good soundtrack for most of the day.
Chicago has produced another talent powerhouse with Mick Jenkins. His upbringing in Chicago definitely influences the sound and topic choices of his debut album. He is somewhere in the middle of Kanye’s infuriation and Chance’s optimism. “Don’t let the struggle make your heart harder. Sip the truth, spith the truth, that’s the smart water,” Jenkins raps on “Daniel’s Bloom.”
Solange is a true creative. A Seat at the Table brings a refreshing hybrid of simplicity and complexity, while exploring the struggles and joys of being black with songs like “Don’t Touch my Hair,” “F.U.B.U.” and “Mad.”
Chance took the year by storm with Coloring Book, which is technically a mixtape. The album reeked of much-needed positivity with Chano delivering intricate rhymes and soulful vocals, backed by heavy gospel music. “I don’t make songs for free, I make songs for freedom,” he raps on “Blessings.” The guest list was quite illustrious, too, featuring other Chicago natives like Jeremih, Noname, Kanye West and Saba, as well as other heavyweights, such as Future, Lil Wayne and Young Thug.
- Revival – Selena Gomez
Selena Gomez’s album came as a surprise, as she successfully places herself among other pop princesses like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande. The album is smooth, but effervescent. Uplifting, but sultry.
If you don’t break something while listening to this album, you’re probably doing it wrong. The brown brothers bring the same exuberance and unworried attitudes they brought on SremmLife. Mike WiLL-Made It is the executive producer on the album, orchestrating some of the best beats of the year.
Blank Face is a psychedelic, poetic exploration into Q’s life. He touches on his childhood, initiation into the Crips,raising his daughter, and the teachers, friends and family that tried to thwart his success, with an underlying theme of “by any means necessary.” The delivery is important here, too, as Q rhymes with assertion and sounds tastefully cartoonish. I would easily call it a masterpiece.
- Views – Drake
This album was a very Drake album. He provided us with the emotional, slightly condescending lyrics we know and love him for, with the exception of a few Caribbean-infused songs, including “Controlla,” “One Dance,” (the most streamed song on Spotify) and the Rihanna-assisted “Too Good,” all of which epitomized the meaning of catchiness.
Joe Budden’s talent may often go under the radar (cue episodes of “Love and Hip-Hop”). However, with Rage and the Machine, “Uncle Joe” puts a large focus on lyricism, and after being in the game for over a decade, embraces the fact that he no longer needs validation.
I don’t know what it is about 21 Savage, but he has the ability to keep you coming back for more. While he can be categorized as trap, he travels in his own lane. His sound is dizzy and blurry and noticeably more relaxed than artists like Migos and Young Thug. Metro Boomin lays the tracks, again proving why he’s one of the most sought-out producers in the industry.
Anderson .Paak strikes again, this time joining forces with producer Knxwledge to form the duo NxWorries. .Paak shines with his ability for storytelling and setting the scene. “And everytime I try to mind my own business, she gon’ come around and make me so tempted,” he sings on “What More Can I Say.”
Mac Miller dedicated an entire album to the beauties of a woman. Jazz and classical music have major influences in the larger part of the songs and beautifully serve as a backdrop for Miller’s narratives of relationships, love and sex.
I like to think of Travis Scott as a connoisseur of “controlled chaos.” Birds in the Trap picks up where Rodeo left off. La Flame’s auto-tuned voice exquisitely accents the heavy bass found throughout the record. The album is simultaneously bouncing and gracious, with songs like “guidance,” “lose” and “way back.”
As always, Kanye West thrives in experimentation with no two tracks sounding alike. Kanye resuscitates some of his old flair on tracks like “Real Friends”and “No More Parties in LA,” while taking the backseat on several songs and letting the leaders of the new school take over, with features from Chance the Rapper, the Weeknd and Frank Ocean.
With Cozy Tapes, the gang reunites for their second collective project. Each member of the A$AP Mob delivers with raw, animated lyrics. “I’m the quicker picker upper, still don’t give no f*cks bruh,” A$AP Rocky raps. The album has a traditional East Coast feel, and the guys incorporate audio clips of them living their daily lives in New York City, making the listener feel as though they’re part of the family.
Ayana Archie is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.