Favorite Albums of 2016: Part 2

Favorite Albums of 2016: Part 2

Widely hailed as one of the most creative years in recent memory, 2016 was a blowout period across all genres and styles. Below, enjoy the second of our two-part feature sharing 40 of our favorite albums released over the course of 2016. Read Part 1 here.

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YG: Still Brazy
400 / CTE World / Def Jam
Released: June 17, 2016

With his acclaimed full-length debut, My Krazy Life, young gun rapper YG signaled his status as one of the hottest and most distinct new talents on the West Coast. On his triumphant follow-up, Still Brazy, the Compton-bred MC ascends to the frontline of hip-hop’s elite forces. Between its refreshingly nostalgic G-funk production and YG’s razor sharp storytelling, the record is sonically rooted in ’90s California but lyrically fixed in the present. Mixing real-life narratives with stinging social commentary on politics and life in the hood.

Equal halves celebratory and condemning, the album’s biggest single, ”Why You Always Hatin?,” featuring Drake and Kamaiyah, is fun-loving defense of gangsta opulence, while his not-so-subtle political takedown, “FDT” (“Fuck Donald Trump”), has become a political anthem on behalf of hip-hop culture that only holds more ground following the outcome of the election. In short, YG’s stellar sophomore effort is an uncompromising and timely gansta rap record that’s as powerful and compelling, as it is a good time to listen to.

Watch TIDAL X: YG here. Listen to our YG Essentials playlist here.

Blood Orange: Freetown Sound
Released: June 28, 2016

As Blood Orange, singer-songwriter Dev Hynes delves deep down into his inner soul to produce a shimmering hybrid of R&B and electronica that consistently captivates listeners and his latest album, Freetown Sound, is no exception. Named after Freetown, Sierra Leone, the birthplace of his father, the album is a confrontational and conversational body of work rich with intention and purpose.

Thoughtfully filled with the voices of poets, singers, songwriters and intellectuals, the combined result is an amalgamated discourse that raises questions about family, migration, ethnicity, Christianity and the limiting expectations that often come with masculinity. All around, Freetown Sound is an emotional, enchanting and empowering work of art that deserves great recognition.

You can watch TIDAL X: Blood Orange here. Listen to our playlist The World of Dev Hynes here.

ScHoolboy Q: Blank Face LP
Top Dawg Entertainment / Interscope
Released: July 8, 2016

ScHoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP is a catchy, sinister and psychedelic work unlike anything we’ve heard before. Serving as the successor of ScHoolboy’s insanely successful 2014 album, Oxymoron, the South Central L.A. rapper’s music has evolved into much more personal and comprehensive work. Lead single, “THat Part,” features a hypnotizing melody that is wholly energized by the spirited appearance of Kanye West, epitomizing the strut of an album that also featuring heavyweight guest appearances by Miguel, Jadakiss and Tha Dogg Pound, in addition to production credits from high-profile producers Metro Boomin and Swizz Beatz.

While at times the album seems joyous and upbeat, including twinges of R&B seamlessly worked in, the record also manages to delve deep into the gritty hardcore gangster sound that is increasingly proving to be Q’s area of expertise. Confirming what close watchers already recognized, Blank Face proves for the masses, and once and for all, that ScHoolboy Q is no second fiddle to his Top Dawg and Black Hippie cohort Kendrick Lamar, he simply runs in his own lane.

Listen to ScHoolboy Q’s Groovy Sh*t playlist, along with our ScHoolboy Q Essentials playlist.

Floating Points: Kuiper
Luaka Bop
Released: July 22, 2016

On Kuiper, Sam Shepherd reintroduces his brain child Floating Points as a band, finds himself walking down previously unimagined sonic corridors. The step away from this dance floor darling may come as a surprise to some – Shepherd himself had never even been a bandleader. Rather, he came from London’s sweaty underground dance floors, where he, alongside Four Tet and James Holden, would appear regularly at places like Fabric and Plastic People. At the same time, this is a highly driven man who not only holds a Ph.D in neuroscience but who also boasts grand ambitions as a composer, and thus his desire to change things up seems only appropriate.

Kuiper quickly proves to be an extraordinarily focused and clever album, one that ebbs and flows organically through Neu!-inspired krautrock moments, riveting post-rock passages, gorgeous jazz flashes and hypnagogic soundscapes reminiscent of Steve Reich and Terry Riley. The result is a passionate, elegant, determined and an effort nothing short of wonderful.

Frank Ocean: Blonde
Released: August 20, 2016

Ever since winning a Grammy for his magnificent and incomparable 2012 debut, Channel Orange, the world has wondered what might come next from the mysterious Frank Ocean. It was back in 2014 that the singer-songwriter first indicated he was nearly finished with his second studio album, leaving fans eagerly awaiting any new music from the genre-redefining artist. Little did they know they would have to wait, and wait, and wait some more. Though the album was originally slated for a July 2015 release, that date and others soon came and went without so much as an explanation from Frank Ocean.

Then, seemingly out of thin air, the ever-elusive Ocean released his sophomore album, Blonde. The album is headlined by “Nikes,” an immersive and somber trip into a sort of dream world that proves characteristic of the album. Blonde reminds us why we love Frank Ocean in the first place. His sound is idiosyncratic, forlorn, salacious and enchanting. With writing credits from artists ranging from John Lennon to Pharrell Williams, Blonde is an eclectic piece of work that is, without a doubt one, of the best albums of 2016.

Angel Olsen: MY WOMAN
Released: September 2, 2016

Two years after the release of her acclaimed third studio album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, cosmic alt-country sweetheart Angel Olsen fired back with the wistful, yearning and characteristically introspective on the gem that is MY WOMAN. Celebrated both for the emotional intimacy of her work and her charged yet often downhearted delivery, MY WOMAN is an atmospheric affair to be reckoned with, one that loosely chronicles the stages of a relationship as it falls apart.

While some longtime fans might see tracks like the rocking “Shut Up Kiss Me” as a stylistic departure, Olsen’s work here is consistent in spirit, particularly in the context of one another.

Listen to our Angel Olsen Essentials playlist here.

Usher: Hard II Love
RCA Records
Released: September 16, 2016

Let’s start with the facts: Usher’s Hard II Love is one of the most impressive and comprehensive R&B albums of the year. Marking some of Usher’s best work in a decade, and period, this new chapter for the illustrious artist has him crooning alongside hip-hoppers like Young Thug and Future while simultaneously singing hooks like he never has before. Hardly divorced from his past, however, songs like “Bump” and “Let me” pay homage to the old Usher we all know and love, and those vocals still kill.

But it’s the production on Hard II Love that really brings the album to the next level, featuring work from prominent producers like The-Dream, Rock City, Metro Boomin, PARTYNEXTDOOR and many more who come together to realize a mesmerizing and layered sound filled with tantalizing samples. Put it this way: Hard II Love has a little something for everybody.

Watch Usher’s TIDAL X: HardIILove album listening event here. Listen to his Break The Chains: A Playlist For Change here.

Touché Amoré: Stage Four
Epitaph Records
Released: September 16, 2016

Those of us who have suffered the loss of a loved one understand that the process of overcoming grief is among the heaviest burdens one encounters in life. The sense of meaninglessness is overwhelming and can feel incessant at times. As first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, there are five stages of grief and loss. Followed by “denial & isolation,” “anger” and “bargaining,” stage four is described as “depression.” On Stage Four, the fourth album from the Los Angeles-based post-hardcore quintet known as Touché Amoré, depression, understandably, can be felt throughout.

It was while on stage in 2014 that singer Jeremy Bolm learned that his mother had tragically lost her battle with cancer. In medical terms, stage four denotes when the cancer has spread to other organs in the body. But the number four can mean many things, and aside from conveying masterfully the feeling of crippling loss, devastation and anger, Touché Amoré manages to suggest that there is some release in the pain and suffering, that, in fact, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for all of us.

Listen to Touché Amoré’s Parts of the Whole guest list here and our The Best of Touché Amoré playlist here.

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
Glassnote Records
Released: September 23, 2016

Though somewhat clumsily labeled, Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam marks the truly revelatory collaborative effort between two of New York City’s most venerated indie talents. The partnership between ex-Walkmen frontman Hamilton Leithauser and ex-Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist/producer Rostam Batmanglij offers a deeply nostalgic yet entirely fresh take on our America’s musical DNA, resulting in the release of the excellent I Had A Dream That You Were Mine. Over the course of 40 minutes and 9 tracks, the album tenderly touches on folk (“In a “Black Out”), doo-wop (“Rough Going (I Don’t Get Up)”), and the stuff of jazz standards (“When The Truth Is…”), not once slipping into the hoaky or theatrical but instead effortlessly dancing between the nostalgic and the now.

As the first full length project from Rostam since departing Vampire Weekend earlier this year, and latest release from Leithauser since 2014’s Black Hours, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine stands tall as one of the finest indie rock releases of the year. What’s more, given its stylistic footing, compelling lyrics and outstanding vocals, it’s a record bound to stay fresh for years to come.

You can read our Be Here Now review of Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam’s last performance in New York here.

Solange: A Seat At The Table
Saint Records / Columbia
Released: September 30, 2016

Solange’s A Seat At The Table is an album unlike any other. Filled with raw emotion that can be felt in every song and interlude, writing for the album began way back in 2008, with recording sessions taking place from 2013 to 2016. The process was not only lengthy but emotionally draining for the singer-songwriter, who acknowledges that she suffered mentally while recording it.

But despite its tedious and emotionally taxing, A Seat at The Table is exactly what we needed in the tumultuous year that has been 2016. The album explores the concept of “Black Existence” and encourages conversation on the topics of identity, empowerment, independence, healing, and grief, providing its listeners with insight into the emotional and personal thoughts of a black woman in America today.

Sonically, the album’s take on psychedelic soul is both intricate and wholly refreshing. The lead single, “Cranes In The Sky,” is a melancholic, pensive ballad on Solange’s internal struggles as a human being. Peaking at #1 on the Billboard 200 and including appearances from Lil Wayne, The-Dream, Kelly Rowland and more, A Seat At The Table marks a pivotal shift in Solange’s creative career.

You can listen to Solange’s personally curated Sonic Inspirations playlist here.

Bon Iver: 22, A Million
Released: September 30, 2016

Justin Vernon truly is a mysterious and  talented man. Marking his first full-length release since putting out his main project’s self-titled sophomore masterpiece, which he subsequently won the Grammy for Best New Artist for back in 2011, Bon Iver’s third studio album was faced with the kind of high expectations all but guarantee disappointment. And yet when faced with such a challenge, 22, A Million met the hype head on, astounding and enchanting fans and newcomers alike with Vernon’s most

The earnest and emotive album has garnered sonic comparisons to the work of repeat collaborator Kanye West and has been hailed by fans and critics alike as a intricate testament to Vernon’s idiosyncratic genius. Packed with obscured lyricism and a fascinating personally invented symbology and numerology, it’s a dense and delightfully disorienting record that revels in a surrealist half-man, half-machine production where the synthesis of organic and mechanical sounds produce something both alien and entirely human. 22, A Million offers the same sort of emotional journey for which Justin Vernon is celebrated, but done in an entirely new way, one that successfully transports the emotional timbre of introspective folk to the digital age.

Listen to our playlist Lost in the World: The Best of Justin Vernon here.

Leonard Cohen: You Wan’t It Darker
Released: October 21, 2016

One of the most quoted passages from You Want It Darker, the fourteenth and final album from legendary singer-songwriter, poet and author Leonard Cohen, is the chorus in the album’s opening and title track. “Hineni, hineni I’m ready, my Lord,” sings Cohen in his gravel-deep baritone. And time stands still. It’s a beautiful moment that turned out to be prophetic; Cohen passed away only a few weeks following the album’s release. And while it’s also a moment that suggests inner peace and reconciliation, such emotional characterizations couldn’t be further from the truth.

What makes You Want It Darker such a captivating and moving experience is that it does not paint a pretty picture. “If you are the dealer let me out of the game,” sings Cohen. In other words, the game is rigged. It’s always been rigged. And Cohen knows this better than anyone. He’s been writing songs about it his entire life. He acknowledge the rules, yes, but he doesn’t accept them. “I do not care who takes this bloody hill. I’m angry and I’m tired all the time. I wish there was a treaty we could sign.” We all know, of course, that there isn’t.

Crafted in collaboration with Cohen’s son, Adam Cohen, You Want It Darker is a rich and meticulous piece a work that deals with loss, lamentation and love. With the passing of Leonard Cohen the world lost one of it’s greatest and most unique songwriters. If there is one thing that this last effort from the century’s great bard tells us, it is that.

Listen to Legends: Leonard Cohen here.

D.R.A.M.: Big Baby D.R.A.M.
Wave / EMPIRE / Atlantic
Released: October 21, 2016

In a year full of surprises, it was from D.R.A.M., the irreverent singer-rapper-songwriter known for his perennial smile and knack for crafting silly little ear worms, gifted us with what we somehow didn’t expect from him: a proper Album, spelled with a capital A. It’s amazing to note that in just over a year the Virginia-based artist (name short for “Does Real Ass Music”) went from sleeping on his cousin’s couch to achieving superstar status with the help from hits “Cha Cha” and the Grammy-nominated double-platinum hit “Broccoli,” which features self-proclaimed “king of the teens” Lil Yachty.

From the slow, passionate R&B on “WiFi,” guesting neo-soul queen Erykah Badu, and the ’80s glam rock-inspired love ballad “Misunderstood,” featuring Young Thug, to the upbeat tomfoolery heard on “Broccoli” and “Cash Machine,” D.R.A.M shows off his multisided talent while staying true to his soulful roots. Not only is Big Baby D.R.A.M a revelatory full-length album, it’s one of the finest debut albums we heard in 2016.

Read our Rising Q&A with D.R.A.M. here. Listen to his Darkness Into Light playlist here.

NxWorries: Yes Lawd!
Stones Throw
Released: October 21, 2016

Released late in 2015, just before Anderson .Paak blew up to become 2016′s breakout talent, the esteemed Stones Throw Records quietly released Link Up & Suede, the debut EP from neo-soul duo NxWorries, jointly composed of the the Oxnard, CA rapper and  soul man and L.A. hip-hop producer Knxwledge. Following the trajectory of .Paak’s own career over the last year, the EP grew from hidden gem to cult classic.

For their debut album, Yes Lawd!, NxWorries have built around the prophetic greatness of their debut single “Suede” and crafted a hypnotic sound with the timeless class of soul legends like James Brown and Otis Redding. With Anderson .Paak’s sensual lyricism seamlessly intertwining with Knxwledge’s jazzy production, Yes Lawd! is the product of a free flowing collaboration based on raw talent and no limits. Let’s be honest, there isn’t anyone lighting up the scene like Anderson .Paak is right now, and Yes Lawd! provides us with brand new material from the deserving superstar.

Listen to our playlist Anderson .Paak Essentials.

Alicia Keys: HERE
RCA Records
Released: November 4, 2016

Alicia Keys, known by many as the “Queen of R&B,” broke her four year hiatus from music boasting a grittier, more biting sound than her previous work. HERE successfully incorporates many of the personal feelings and intimate moments that Keys experienced throughout process of creating the album. The entirety of HERE was planned out meticulously by Keys, right down to the topics she wanted to address and the artists she wanted to work with, while the recording process itself took a mere 10 days, a time seemingly too short to birth an album so lyrically pleasing and sonically progressive.

Directly confronting the biggest social issues of our day, tracks like “The Gospel,” which premiered with a 23-minute short film about police brutality, serve as both a firm condemnation of the status quo. Lead single “Blended Family” featuring A$AP Rocky, is a powerful work and demonstrates Keys’ ceaseless determination to continue growing as a person and as an artist. HERE is an invigorating mix of soul, gospel, funk and pop that reinforces Alicia Keys’ longstanding claim to the R&B throne.

Watch Alicia Keys’ short film for The Gospel and her TIDAL X: Black Ball charity event. Listen to Legends: Alicia Keys here.

A Tribe Called Quest: We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
Released: November 11, 2016

A full 18 years after the release of their last record, 1998’s The Love Movement, and six months after the tragic loss of keystone member Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor,  A Tribe Called Quest unexpectedly materialized back on the scene with We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service, a thoughtful, timely and tremendously rewarding return to form from the celebrated hip-hop pioneers.

Secretly recorded in the months prior to Phife’s sudden passing  in March, and releases just days after the outcome of the 2016 election, the chart-topping double album fell to earth like a ray of sunshine offering hope in a moment of utter hopelessness. Presciently tapping into the spirit of the present, the sonically lush record lyrically touches on the confounding political climate, and American society’s deep-seated racism, with ingenious clarity and that mature, matter-of-fact wisdom that has always made A Tribe Called Quest’s music stand in a league of its own, like the wise man on the mountain.

More We got it from Here’s acclaim and success derive not from pity or nostalgia but instead – as is true of both the late David Bowie’s Blackstar and the late Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker – from undeniable, uncompromising greatness and a commitment to living life in the present, however much time we have.

Watch TIDAL X: CRWN, featuring ATCQ’s colorful interview with Elliott Wilson. And check out our playlists Legends: A Tribe Called Quest and The Samples of A Tribe Called Quest.

Emeli Sandé: Long Live The Angels
Virgin Records
Released: November 11, 2016

Long Live The Angels serves as the perfect canvas to showcase the evolution and elegance of Scottish recording artist Emeli Sandé. Peaking at #1 on the Scottish album charts, the award winning singer-songwriter’s impressive sophomore studio album is full of life and soul. From the opening ballad “Selah,” to the closing track “Babe,” the soprano introduces the listener to her true self, emotionally exposing the incredible passion she has for her craft. Heavily influenced by her love for soul music, Long Live The Angels definitively showcases Sandé as superb as the singular and timeless solo artist she is.

The album is headlined by two singles, “Hurts” and “Breathing Underwater,” both of which are empowering explosions of emotion that are also easy to pick up and listen to. Of the album’s sparse featured appearances, enigmatic hip-hop demigod Jay Electronica shows up to spit his truth on “Garden.” Additionally, Sandé pays homage to her Zambian roots with the track “Tenderly,” which includes appearances from her father and cousins credited as The Serenje Choir (named after the Zambian town of Serenje). The project as a whole is an powerful journey that everyone should experience.

Watch TIDAL X: Emeli Sandé here. Listen to her Day Dreaming On Jupiter playlist here and read her 5 Albums That Changed My Life feature here.

The Weeknd: Starboy
XO / Republic
Released: November 25, 2016

From the streets of Scarborough, Ontario, to the red carpets of the Grammys, Abel Tesfaye’s sound has evolved alongside his personality, from the melancholia of an enigmatic recluse to the sheen and splendor of bonafide pop star. Starboy, the Canadian songbird’s follow up to 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness, has further worked to establish his place among the R&B greats of our time.

From slow ballads like “True Colors,” to upbeat pop hits like the Daft Punk featuring titled track, Starboy is indicative of The Weeknd’s ceaseless desire to seduce the masses, while songs like “Party Monster” and “Six Feet Under” appeal to those looking for more of The Weeknd’s signature gloomy yet intoxicating melodies.

Listen to The Best of The Weeknd here.

Childish Gambino: “Awaken, My Love!”
Glassnote Records
Released: December 2, 2016

From acting, to writing, to music, it doesn’t seem like there’s much that the prolific polymath Donald Glover can’t do. Released under his Childish Gambino moniker, “Awaken, My Love!” marks the third studio album from Glover since 2011. But where his previous efforts primarily worked within the constraints of hip-hop, his newest release offers a revitalizing departure, built instead on Glover’s clear love and affection for Parliament-Funkadelic-style funk and soul.

The result of this musical shift, initially shocking to some fans though it may be, proves both infectious and joyous with the affair elevated by its full-bodied, cosmic production coupled with an newly demonstrated talent for singing, and emotional depth surpassing Glover’s previous music. Hailed by many as Childish Gambino’s best record to date, and following the massive success of his hit FX dramedy series Atlanta“Awaken, My Love!” is irrefutable evidence that Donald Glover is a uniquely gifted artist capable of turning whatever he wants into gold.

Listen to our playlists Childish Gambino Essentials and Atlanta: Music From The Series.

J. Cole: 4 Your Eyez Only
Dreamville / Roc Nation / Interscope
Released: December 9, 2016

As is confirmed on his fourth studio album, and fourth number one album, 4 Your Eyez Only, no one can compete with J. Cole when it comes to honest, emotional, storytelling hip-hop. On the whole, 4 Your Eyez Only works as one long socially conscious narrative with each song intrinsically connected to the next. J. Cole effortlessly animates events he’s been through and whether it be drug dealing, the incarceration or death of a friend, or the systematic racism that he can’t seem to escape, Cole finds a way to reanimate and present these once locked away memories in a magnificently appealing manner.

Moreover, he successfully manages to paint a picture of blackness in America that’s so often overlooked or considered unworthy of critical attention, all while also confronting the new obstacles of own newfound stardom. 4 Your Eyez Only is without a doubt J.Cole’s most true to heart project in years. Oh, and did we forget to mention that the album boasts no features? That’s right. Not one.

Watch the short film Eyez and TIDAL X: J. Cole. Listen to The Best of J. Cole here.

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