By: Peter Kolb – Opinions Editor
It’s the last issue of the calendar year, which means I have two options: 1. Pay homage to one of the best years in music with a top 20 albums list, detailing the top 10, or 2. Remind everyone how pathetically disappointing Drake’s “Views” was. I chose option 2, unfortunately, I struggled to find a way to keep it within the word limit for this page.
After negotiations with my editor in chief failed to simply devote this whole last issue to explain how dissatisfying Drake’s “Views” was, I resigned to the first option. My decision, like “Views”, is disappointing I know, but I guess you’re forced to make sacrifices in the world of journalism sometimes.
That being said, 2016 was somehow even better than 2015. What it took from us in loveable old people and gorillas, it gave back in incredible music.
Unfortunately, I can’t listen to all of it. There are many albums that probably should be on my list, but aren’t thanks to either A. their availability to listen to (“Lemonade” thanks to Tidal) or B. my availability to listen to them (I’ll get around to “A Moon Shaped Pool” as soon as I can).
Not only that, but I admit my general musical expertise is hindered by my extreme bias towards hip-hop. For this reason, these 20 albums are my personal favorite albums; not what I believe to be the 20 best albums of 2016. That being said, if you disagree with any of these rankings you’re wrong and how dare you question the Opinions Section Editor at Flyer News.
- Frank Ocean – Blonde
- Kanye West – Life of Pablo
What in the world was this year in Kanye West? At this point, it’s impossible to separate the artist from the art, which is what makes T.L.O.P get better and better as Kanye’s life gets crazier and crazier. T.L.O.P is perhaps Kanye’s most personal album, without him even trying. Its frantic and messy rollout was the perfect introduction to a project that exposes the ever-turning wheels inside Kanye’s head. He is so close to absolutely losing everything: his legacy, his fan base, his small but quickly growing fashion empire, his music quality, or even his sanity, but he doesn’t. He still puts everything on the line in order to continue his mission. It’s what makes Kanye West the indescribable train wreck we identify with a little too much to not fall in love with. Get well soon, Ye.
- Young Thug – Jeffery
Thank God for Young Thug. I’m not sure if there is any other artist out there who is so effortlessly unique, important, and talented than this man. If you still are not won over by Jeffery… if you still listen to his music and say “I can’t even understand what he’s saying, why would anyone like this?”… All I can say is wait. The acceptance of Young Thug as your lord and savior is a process, it takes time. Hang in there, listen to the absolutely mind-bending flows on “Webbie” a little more, and appreciate how Thugger twists and turns his voice to ride beats better than anyone else alive right now. Also, Thug belongs on this list twice thanks to his second standout album of the year, “Slime Season 3” but I’ll save room for others.
- Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
“I’m sweating like I’m in a rave!” Whew, me too, Danny. “Atrocity Exhibition” is one of the most intense, wild rides of a rap album I have ever heard. The album is soaked in drug addiction, gut-wrenching stories, borderline psychotic episodes, while still managing to pull off just enough endearment to get us through it all. Similar to Young Thug, no one raps like Danny. His lyrics may be a little weaker in comparison to his previous classic “XXX,” but the ever-surprising beats this album brings make it Danny’s strongest project to date.
- A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank U For Your Service
What a relief this album is. To see that one of the greatest music groups in all of history can still turn out an album of the year contender, 25 years after they started dropping classics, is nothing short of astounding. “We got it from Here” perfectly blends the quintessential Tribe sound with a new 2016 update. I’ve still yet to find a better way to put it than iTunes in their description of the album: “It’s not a wake or a comeback— it’s an extended visit with a long-missed friend, and a mic-dropping reminder of Tribe’s importance and influence.” Dang, I don’t know who wrote that but they deserve to be paid more.
- NxWorries – Yes Lawd!
2016 truly was the year of Anderson Paak. Paak began by dropping Malibu, an incredibly likeable album that put Paak’s name in the spotlight. He then proceeded to steal multiple songs such as Dr. Dre’s “Medicine Man,” Domo Genesis’ “Dapper,” Tribe’s “Movin Backwards” and let’s not forget Mac Miller’s “Dang!” with absolutely stunning features. Then, to cap the year off, Paak drops his collab with producer-extraordinaire: Knxwledge. Holy moly is this thing smooth. While Paak undoubtedly took home one of the biggest W’s for the year, it’s important to recognize how incredible the beats and production are on this project. Knxwledge’s old school smoothness provides the perfect backdrop for Paak’s unique voice to play around on.
- Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable with where this album falls in my rankings. I really do think Chance sold out his sound quite a bit here, dipping into some J Cole levels of corniness. However, I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the most enjoyable, charismatic rap albums I’ve heard in awhile. Chance has fully committed to this “good guy” rap persona, trading in bars about acid or weed for positive vibes focused on family and faith. It’s too early to tell how this is going to work out for Chance, but I’m sure of two things: 1. “Acid Rap” is still much better than “Coloring Book” and 2. Chance is quickly becoming one of the best representatives hip-hop could ask for.
- Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
Who knows where this project will be a month or two from now. I’ve done my best to cram as many listens as possible in this past week, but it’s undeniable this album requires quite some time to marinate. Regardless, in a world where Drake is about to drop another bland collection of good Drake songs, it’s refreshing to hear something such as “Awaken, My Love!” The evolution of Childish Gambino is one of the most entertaining stories of hip-hop. This man dropped “Camp,” one of the most palatable, low-risk low-reward rap albums of the 2000’s. It’s bland, boring, and easy on the listener, to a fault. Five years later, Gambino just took perhaps the biggest risk of his career. Instead of building on his ever-growing mainstream appeal thanks to “Atlanta” and the Star Wars casting, Childish decided to push the boundaries even further. It’s one of those albums that leaves you genuinely perplexed as to what genre it fits in. Regardless, some songs such as “Me and Your Mama” or “Stand Tall” are just so, so good. Gambino put his soul on this album. I have a feeling it will only get better and better with more listens.
- A$AP Mob – Cozy Tapes
Ok, I’ll admit this was a surprise. Thanks to recent history, it’s tough to get excited for a group rap project. Groups like Odd Future or G.O.O.D Music have brought together their undeniably talented members for an undeniably disappointing album that give off the impression that no one really wanted to waste their best material on anything but a solo project. However, whether it’s the fact that A$AP Mob has a bit of a chip on their shoulder, or maybe since this album was a tribute to late crew founder A$AP Yams, the mob came through. Unsurprisingly lead by A$AP’s strongest member, A$AP Rocky, Cozy Tapes is an enjoyable visit to deep Harlem rap in 2016. Songs like “Money Man,” “Telephone Calls,” and “Nasty’s World” cement A$AP as one of the strongest rap groups working today. Also, a special shoutout to the mob for some of the funniest skits I’ve heard in awhile.
- Kamaiyah – A Good Night in the Ghetto/ Y.G – Still Brazy
In my perfect world, these two albums are combined for a “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” type thing, so that’s how I’m going to write about them. Both albums carry the old school West coast sound with every beat or snap that comes out of the speaker. While artists like Vince Staples, ScHoolboy Q, or even the Odd Future crew has no doubt drawn from their predecessors, perhaps no one emulates the 90’s G-funk era that once made California the center of hip-hop better than Y.G and Kamaiyah. Listening to the two album’s standout tracks (“Why You Always Hatin”, “F**K Donald Trump”, and “Still Brazy” for Y.G, and “I’m On”, “How Does It Feel”, and “One Love” for Kamaiyah”) it’s exciting to see two similar artists tell similar stories from similar places with different styles.
- Anderson Paak – Malibu
- Ka – Honor Killed the Samurai
- Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade
- Gucci Mane – Everybody Looking
- ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face
- Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
- The Weeknd – Starboy
- BJ The Chicago Kid – In My Own Mind
- Flatbush Zombies – 3001: A Laced Odyssey
- Joey Purp – iiiDrops