To say the least, 2016 was a difficult year. A hateful orange raisin wearing dryer lint as a wig is President Agent Orange, and he’s filled his cabinet with assorted white supremacist-covered raisins. Even arguably the most woke and liberal presidencies the US has ever seen contained a lot of warfare, deportations and not addressing the many forms of violence our society faces. In the music world alone, we lost a lot of great people: Prince, David Bowie, Juan Gabriel, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen, Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor), Maurice White of Earth Wind and Fire, to name a few. As we lapse into darker and colder days of winter, we need anything to help us rise from the ashes after an increasingly terrifying and surreal year.
But in 2016, we were able to muster our warm and positive energies to create, to fight for freedom, to do more than survive — to actually be joyful. Hopefully we can muster up more of that energy and light to keep us trucking on through 2K17. On our speakers there was a lot of music that helped us escape from bad things and to have fun, helped us face those bad things, to articulate and work through them, head on.
Reflecting on the music we listened to in a year is like reflecting on the year itself. Here are our top albums of 2016, music that saved our lives.
Solange – A Seat at the Table
When they say music can heal, I now think about this album. It wasn’t exactly made “for me” as a non-black Latina, but its words and sounds hold a lot of meaning for me still, as someone who works to overcome mental anguish and love herself more and more in a country that wasn’t really made for my happiness and success. This album is an ode to self-love, self-care and creating and pushing against the structures and ignorant people that try to hold us down. (Ilene)
A Tribe Called Red – We Are the Halluci Nation
The title of this album references a poem by the late John Trudell, who walked from this life about a year ago, which is recited at its start. We Are the Halluci Nation references the idea that Native peoples do not really exist anymore, that they have been eradicated through the violence of colonization, an idea that ATCR discredits through their mere existence and through unique dub style that not only names atrocities and histories, but also shows that music made by indigenous folks can be different from “traditional” musics while also honoring them. The music speaks to the resilience and people of Native peoples and of imagining and working towards a better future. (Ilene)
Jamila Woods – HEAVN
HEAVN feels like a love letter to Chicago as much as it to black womxn, communities and culture. Finding a place in a reblossoming R&B moment, Jamila Woods’ debut album has it all, from a requisite appearance from golden boy Chance the Rapper, to lyrical references to everything from new wave songs to mid-era Incubus (“Meet me in outer space…”) and an earthy afro-futurism. Woods’ work is rightfully getting a lot of attention and will be featured in the upcoming Chicago-produced and womxn-created show Brown Girls, which is premiering in mid-February. Through her honest and lovely work and collaborations, Woods is building a new musical universe all her own. (Ilene)
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
KING – We are KING
Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
Sia – This is Acting
Maxwell – blackSUMMERS’night
2016, speaking in terms of new music, was one of the most surprising and exciting years in recent memory. As a huge music nerd, I admit to taking in almost 200 albums this year and was able to whittle my list down to a top 50 for your reading pleasure. Let’s talk about music!
1. De La Soul and The Anonymous Nobody
The first crowd-funded album to be nominated for a Grammy, this is more than just a hip hop record from hip hop legends. It’s more than the event that a De La Soul release has come to be. And The Anonymous Nobody… redefines once again what hip hop can and should be: progress. This album has absolutely everything, and the favors De La have called in for this go ’round all blend more perfectly than I ever could have imagined over the last 12 years since their last album: a heater with 2Chainz, a melodic chorus with Usher, slow builds to crescendos with Little Dragon, an art-rock ’80s jam with David Byrne, De La taking rock and roll back completely on CBGBS and Lord Intended, the trademark jazzy De La Soul sound throughout with skits and off-the-beaten-path commentary, giving us a true 21st century masterpiece. Your music means everything to you…
2. Frank Ocean Blonde
Easily the most anticipated album release of my year, Blonde lived up to the hype and then some (the fact that it came out at all was an accomplishment in and of itself, am I right?). In a year of genre redefinition, Frank Ocean joined in on the fun with a psychedelic/post-R&B/impressionist set of circumstances that unfold to tell a beautiful story of the enigma that is Frank Ocean. My two favorite albums of 2016 came out in the same week, so I guess you could say August was p.cool.
3. Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool
I had this one at the top of my list for awhile and was convinced that nothing could possibly top it this year. In one of the best musical catalogs in the business, this is some of their finest work. When A Moon Shaped Pool hits its stride (ironically around Ful Stop) and the journey hits its climax, Jonny Greenwood and the gang take us somewhere surreal and post-apocalyptic…and it just feels…right.
4. Kaytranada 99.9%
Dayum. I damn near danced my dickens off in 2016 to this eclectic collection of soulful ditties. Glowed Up wins track of the year in my book, and I don’t think I played anything louder or more frequently all year. Plus, 99.9% brought back the musical stylings of one Craig David as well, so endless bonus points for our favorite Montreal produce. Kaytranada: damn, dude.
5. Anderson .Paak Malibu
2016’s version of The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, .Paak showed up everywhere this year, but he showed the fuck out on his sold project, Malibu. Combining old-school elements of James Brown with new-school sounds of Cee-Lo and Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak and his limitless musicality represents what a true superstar should be: creative, mysterious, infinitely talented, and capable of fronting a band called The Free Nationals.
6. Solange A Seat at the Table
A Seat at the Table is what I like to call a power record. It not only gives Solange a seat at the proverbial table but creates a space all its own in the realm of not only music, but social consciousness, conversations about race, self-awareness, and expression.
7. A Tribe Called Quest We Got it from Here…Thank you 4 Your Service
2016 May have taken Phife from this earth, but ATCQ gives us as complete a hip hop record as possible with standout anthems We the People and The Space Program setting the tone and raising the bar once more. Nostalgia be damned, this output holds up now and forever. 2016 may have had more than its fair share of death, but when Tribe is putting out records in 2016, it’s easy to see the light. And with that performance last night, we should all be so lucky to be graced with their presence (presents?). Busta Rhymes screaming what we’ve all been thinking, literally breaking down walls while immigrants line their stage, A Tribe Called Quest has proven once again why they remain a force to be reckoned with.
8. Warpaint Heads Up
Heads up indeed, mofos. Warpaint delivers a suprise knockout blow with eleven post-punk poppy sensations capable of having us sing and dance along to melodic, tone-setting throwbacks to ’90s R&B and ’60s folk simultaneously…something most might deem impossible but that Warpaint does with ease.
9. David Bowie Blackstar
Speaking of which, David Bowie started off a year that saw more legends pass away than I can remember. The mystique that came along with Blackstar‘s release coinciding with Bowie’s earthly death in January is nothing compared to the actual musical genius that accompanied Bowie’s swan song. I cry every time I watch that damn video for Lazarus, but we consider ourselves lucky to have existed in the same universe for as long as we did with Bowie. ✊⚡️
10. Run the Jewels RTJ3
RTJ3 starts with, “I hope. I hope with the highest of hopes.” It ends with, “Kill your masters.” In between is a real rap excursion capable of inciting riots and revolution in the right hands. This would almost definitely place higher had I had more time with it, but Killer Mike and El-P gave us another “Christmas Fucking Miracle” as the best rap duo since Outkast with more power music and an electric revival through El-P’s production that is second to none. RTJ’s rhymes encompass social justice and transcend barriers to inspire and heal…3-4 minutes at a time. Zack de la Rocha shows up to add fuel to the fire on A Report to the Shareholders, and initial reports indicate the jewel runners are here to stay.
11. A Tribe Called Red We Are The Halluci Nation
If this list were based on strength of lyrics and conscious impact alone, this album is tough to beat. Ilene’s review above is spot on, but I’d like to add that We Are the Halluci Nation should be taught in American history classes from now on with required listening added to required reading curriculum the country over…
12. Childish Gambino Awaken, My Love!
Getting away from the genre that got him here, Gambino changes course perfectly on this year’s output with ’70s funky psyche-soul suitable for time travelers and aficionados alike. Channeling his inner Sly Stone while incorporating unexpected elements unseen anywhere else in the mainstream, Awaken, My Love! accomplishes more crossover success for the multi-talented entertainer. Between this achievement and Atlanta‘s impact on FX, 2016 was pretty pretty good for Donald Glover…
13. Sturgill Simpson A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
The only Album of the Year Grammy nomination that made my list. Although Sturgill Simpson is technically considered a country singer, his sound is practically anything but. Psychedelic and folksy. Heavy. Alternative. Gutsy. Strong. An In Bloom cover that will blow you the fuck away. Sturgill Simpson is our generation’s greatest voice in country music, and he should be acknowledged as such, if for no other reason than to give credibility to a genre that has glorified conformity more than any other that I know of. Correct me if I’m wrong…
14. Black Mountain IV
Deliciously synthy ’70s rock that fits perfectly in the 21st century, Black Mountain opens IV with an epic buildup on Mothers of the Sun that I first heard in my headphones walking barefoot along Venice Beach on a sunny January Monday morning. It was one of the most perfect moments of my mundane life, but the music met the earth and created a transcendent experience that I would love to recreate here or in the afterfuture or wherever…
15. Bon Iver 22, A Million
I’m a sucker for Bon Iver. I’m a sucker for cryptic song titles with weird symbols and numbers in place of letters and words. Perfect existential driving music, perfect contemplative alone time music. Perfect record if you’re into that sort of thing…
16. Yeasayer Amen & Goodbye
I really wanted this to be my favorite album of the year, but I’m afraid Yeasayer may have peaked on 2010’s Odd Blood. That’s not to say they aren’t still making important music, because they definitely are. Gerson’s Whistle is absolutely epic. Uma is the greatest lullaby I’ve heard in quite awhile. I am Chemistry breaks bad on our very existence. Silly Me is an amazing pop song. Cold Night ends the album with a sendoff to a dead friend who committed suicide, something I relate hard to on a personal level. Remind me why this dropped all the way to 16 again???
17. Blood Orange Freetown Sound
If you haven’t yet, you MUST get up on Dev Hynes’ latest masterpiece!
18. Poliça United Crushers
19. Justice Woman
20. Deftones Gore
21. Kendrick Lamar untitled unmastered
K.Dot’s throwaways are better than 90% of today’s “best rap.”
22. Chance the Rapper Coloring Book
23. Aesop Rock The Impossible Kid Armed with his trademark vocabularic dexterity that defies logic, Aesop Rock returns with his most personal set of tales to date.
24. Young Magic Still Life
25. Danny Brown Atrocity Exhibition
26. Kid Cudi Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin’
27. Common Black America Again
28. DJ Shadow The Mountain Will Fall
29. NxWorries Yes Lawd!
30. The Range Potential
31. Flatbush Zombies Odyssey
32. James Blake The Colour in Anything
33. Saul Williams MartyrLoserKing
34. M83 Junk
35. Domo Genesis Genesis
36. Anohni Hopelessness
If you can get past the voice, you are in for a got damn treat. Some of the strongest stuff said this year starting with Drone Bomb Me.
37. Miike Snow iii
38. Atmosphere Fishing Blues
39. Red Hot Chili Peppers The Getaway
I am what is known as a RHCP lifer, so when you throw in production by Danger Mouse, it’s a no-brainer top 40 album for me.
40. Corinne Bailey Rae The Heart Speaks in Whispers
Bas Too High to Riot, Savages Adore Life, Santigold 99 Cents, Kanye West The Life of Pablo, Conor Oberst Ruminations, Passenger Young as the Morning Old as the Sea, Andrew Bird Are You Serious, Schoolboy Q Blank Face LP, Rihanna Anti, Frankie Cosmos Next Thing
Thanks for sticking around to check out this list. If you want to chat further about music, I’m @vegeterryn around the interwebz…
☮️✌️️☮️✌️️☮️ in 2017…