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This article originally appeared on Medium.com
Let’s get this out of the way: the year was a grease-fire from the get-go.
With society in all corners of the world devolving into chaos and unrest, it was hard to find reprieve from the myriad injustices, inequalities and insanity that gripped Planet Earth, 2016 A.D. Generation-defining cultural figures died, the neo-liberal world order collapsed, xenophobia and nationalism spiked to levels not seen since World War II, facts and fake news jostled for credibility, and — Jesus H. Christ — Kleptocracy grabbed the United States by the pussy.
As a calm harbor in the tempest, or, in many cases, as a live report from the eye of the storm, the album experienced a renaissance in 2016 unlike any we’d seen in the post-Napster world.
Music’s biggest stars unveiled tent-pole releases, and whiz-kid newcomers ascended quickly to great critical acclaim and commercial success.
Everywhere you turned, someone in music had something to say — and, more importantly, something worth listening to. Here, we highlight the 25 best releases from a year that could go down as one of the best ever for music, even as it went down as one of the worst ever for modern humanity.
Here’s a few who topped the list:
Untitled Unmastered // Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 all-time magnum opus “To Pimp A Butterfly” set a new standard for rap, redefined what it could say, what it could mean, how it could sound, and how it could feel. It’s an impossible shadow to escape, even as it elevated K-Dot to Voice Of A Generation-level status in a way few albums in any genre ever could. Expectations of what will surely follow in his discography have been raised to an unattainable pitch, so it makes sense that Kendrick would dial things down by casting an unvarnished companion piece for his next offering rather than a true followup. Scoff if you want and call it a collection of undercooked B-sides, but even the 28 year-old cipher’s jazzy, Thundercat-infused near-misses hit the speakers like the gospel. Where Kendrick Lamar goes from here is anyone’s guess, but his journey on the road to enlightenment has made true believers out of everyone along for the ride — even this pit-stop is more interesting and engaging than 99% of his peers.
Black America Again // Common
It’s been awhile since we last saw Common reach the peak of his powers. After a scattershot past 15 years with brief peaks and long valleys, a few detours into acting, Common reemerged in 2016 with a bold, politically-charged vengeance on Black America Again. A sprawling, superb rumination on the state of race relations in a tense, nerved society, Common (mostly) drops his lover-man persona to deliver some of the most direct hits to the streets in years. A rapper’s rapper draped in 70s soul, Common’s ethos stays clear-eyed and full-heart while taking on the pay gap, police brutality, structural inequality and interpersonal relationships above a sturdy foundation of solid sampling and the occasional John Legend guest spot. Not content to rest on his laurels, with Black America Again, Common returned to make powerful music when we least expected him to, but right on time and when his righteous voice was most needed.
Emily’s D+Evolution // Esperanza Spalding
The label “prodigy” carries with it weighty and unyielding expectations. Esperanza Spalding, Berklee College of Music alum and bass virtuoso, has made a career of shape-shifting and side-stepping to make impossibly excellent music that combines magical runs of instrumentation to clever turns of phrase to time-signature-inverting song structures. On Emily’s D+Evolution, Spalding essentially invents Prog-&-B, an album that sounds like the lovechild of Rush’s 2112 and Janelle Monae’s The Archandroid. The album’s peekaboo hooks and lyrical sleight-of-hand provide more than enough thrills to reward repeated listening. The barrier to entry into this plane of music-making is high, and the degree of difficulty is even higher, but Esperanza Spalding sticks the landing and scores a handful of 10.0’s to the discerning listener.
- Awaken, My Love // Childish Gambino
Where were you the first time you heard the beat drop on “Me And Your Mama,” the sky-searing opening Salvo off Childish Gambino’s hard reboot that added several additional hyphens to Donald Glover’s already offshore barge full of them? Prince may have died earlier this year, but Gambino’s rap-free freakout proves the torch has been passed to capable hands. When Glover reemerged this year after a couple of years off in the wilderness, he gifted the world with his long-gestating half-hour weekly FX series Atlanta, an impossible-to-classify masterpiece of character-building, mood, satire, social commentary, wit and off-hand existentialism. It’s a hit, a critic’s darling, and is already taking home award-season hardware. Then, mere weeks later, he bequeathed “Awaken, My Love,” an extremely-easy-to-classify masterpiece of P-Funk, psychedelia, soul, character-building, mood, satire, social commentary, wit and casual genius. Glover himself views the two as companion projects, and, taken as such, give the 33 year-old polymath a legitimate case for winning the award for “The Guy Who Had The Best 2016,” in a year when so many people had the exact opposite.
Super-star sisters, Beyonce and Solange topped the list with one of the sisters grabbing the number 1 spot. Which one do you think it is?
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