- CHANCE THE RAPPER- COLORING BOOK
Chance the Rapper is one of the most likable and generous rappers around and with “Coloring Book” he has delivered his third free mixtape as a solo artist (in addition to another great one as part of Donnie Trumpet last year). “Coloring Book” feels rooting in gospel nearly as much as hip hop – a both spiritually uplifting and fun album released during what for so many has been an extremely dark time in American history. Featuring guest artists a plenty, including Kanye, Future, 2 Chainz, Lil Wayne, Young Thug, Anderson Paak, Ty Dolla $ign and gospel star Kirk Franklin, it seems nearly everyone wants to work with Chance, who is slowly becoming one of the best and most respected rappers in the game. “Coloring Book” is a blast from start ti finish with tracks like “Blessing”, “No Problem”, “All Night”, “Angels” and “Summer Friends” shining brightest.
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Buy BlessingsBlessing Amazon
- RIHANNA- ANTI
Rihanna, one of Pop & R&B’s biggest stars as well as maybe its best singles maker over the past decade has never been taken seriously as an album artist. That changes with the release of “Anti”, her eighth album, last winter in early 2016. After a long build-up to the album, the eventual release actually felt both botched and underwhelming. Her three excellent singles from 2015 were nowhere to be found and its one week of Tidal exclusivity meant that many people were unable to even hear it right away. Though composed as a front to back album, there was no obvious concept and apart from the wildly successful “Work” featuring Drake and the excellent “Kiss It Better” there were no obvious singles. Instead “Anti” features Rihanna letting loose as an artists, more than ever before. And giving even fewer fucks. Looking inward rather than toward the dance floor. Though I heard parts of “Anti” shortly after it came out, it was actually the last album I bought in 2016 and I played it constantly during the year’s last weeks. Like Beyonce’s recent albums, “Anti” should give Rihanna added gravitas. An already badass singer and artists, she has now made the lap into the stratosphere.
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Buy Kiss It Better [Explicit] Amazon
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- SOLANGE- A SEAT AT THE TABLE
2016 is the year that Solange Knowles really has jumped out of the shadow of her big sister Beyonce. Though best sisters make feminist, soulful genre pushing R&B, while Beyonce is one of the world’s biggest stars, Solange is making music with absolutely no concessions to airplay or radio. That is not to say there aren’t hooks here – particularly on the brilliant “Cranes In The Sky”, one of the best tracks of the year. But “Seat At The Table” is primarily rooting in grief and pain, a pro-black album dissertation on the frustration and anger of being black in America- particularly a black woman. She realizes that her place of privilege allows her a forum to speak out on the injustices done to her community and she runs with it. “Seat At The Table” rarely rises above mid-tempo. Like last year’s “To Pimp A Butterfly”, “Seat At The Table” is best listened and absorbed as a whole and already feels like a historically significant modern day soul classic- an album capturing the zeitgeist of this crazy and unsettling time period.
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- CAR SEAT HEADREST- TEENS OF DENIAL
“Teens Of Denial” arrives one year after Car Seat Headrest’s breakthrough “Teens Of Style” in 2015. But “Style” was a compilation of 11 homemade albums of Will Toledo, the founder, frontman and creative force behind Car Seat. “Denial” is the group’s real proper album debut. As good as “Style” was “Denial” is a gigantic leap forward and moves Car Seat Headrest to the front of the pack as one of the leading modern lights of indie rock. This is anthemic rock music made in the style of Pavement and Guided By Voices- with hooks galore but without the sheen necessary for rock radio. The album is a seventy minute long concept album about a guy named Joe struggling with common issues found between late adolescence and early adulthood. It’s one of the few “double albums” where nearly every moment seems necessary and the highlights are many beginning with the stellar and rockin’ opening track “Fill In The Blank”. The singalong “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”, “Vincent” and “Destroyed By Hippie Powers”. “Teens Of Denial” is both fresh and familiar sound and its existence proves that indie rock is far from over despite many current think pieces implying the opposite.
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Buy Fill in the Blank Amazon
- FRANK OCEAN- BLONDE
Frank Ocean’s follow-up album to 2012’s wildly successful “Channel Orange” was four years in the making when Orange decided to do a complete about face and release two albums within several weeks of each other- the first “Endless” was an all visual album that completed his contract with his record label and the second “Blonde” was self released as an Apple exclusive. Ocean, already a fairly outré artist for the world of R&B, delivers even less hooks on “Blonde” than he did on “Channel Orange”. Some of the songs have over a five-minute running time and nearly all are spare, featuring just Ocean’s voice accompanied by a guitar or a keyboard. Ocean is such a talent though that the songs begin to reveal themselves on multiple listens and despite an annoying skit featuring Ocean’s mom near beginning of the album and several shorter tracks in the album’s middle that threaten to weigh down the album’s flow, “Blonde” works exceptionally well as a whole. “Blonde” features stellar lyricism- great storytelling done in a clever, unique way that also relates to the heaviest political and societal issues of today. Its instrumentation and its music though rooting in R&B is not bound to one genre. Ocean is one of a few young artists pushing the boundaries of music forward into the future. In addition to “Nights” and “Self Control”, check out “Ivy”, “Pink + White” and “White Ferrari”. All are among the great tracks of 2016 and will likely just get better with time.
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Buy Nights [Explicit] Amazon
Buy Ivy [Explicit] Amazon
- DAVID BOWIE- BLACK STAR
Released at the dawn of 2016, “Black Star” both paved the way for an incredible year of releases by so many of music’s superstars and portended Bowie’s unfortunate death only a mere days after its release. Though Bowie kept his impending death a secret to all but his closest family members, he designed the album as a farewell to the world and while this certainly gives “Black Star” added gravitas, with or without Bowie dying, “Black Star” is likely his best album since at least 1980’s “Scary Monsters”. But Bowie never stopped creating challenging music up until the end and “Black Star” is an incredible way to cap off one of the most brilliant careers in rock and roll history. The album is only seven tracks long and begins with the amazing ten minute prog-jazz title track. There is not a wasted moment among them and album and career ender “I Can’t Give Everything Away” serves Bowie as a perfect self-epitaph.
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Buy Blackstar Amazon
- RADIOHEAD- A MOON SHAPED POOL
“A Moon Shaped Pool” can be considered a comeback record after 2011’s lukewarm “King Of Limbs”. Radiohead is certainly one of modern music’s consistency great acts and “Pool” doesn’t disappoint. While lacking the bombast and importance of prior albums such as “OK Computer”, “The Bends” or “Kid A”, “Pool” may just contain Radiohead’s most consistently beautiful set of songs. Two of the best are “Burn The Witch” and heartbreaking ballad “True Love Waits” have been part of the group’s repertoire for years, finally granting these longtime fan favorites a proper commercial release. But this is anything but a b-sides collection. Each song on the album flows perfectly into the next with both the group’s hard rock and electronic elements turned down often in favor of spare piano, strings and especially acoustic guitar. As usual Radiohead comments on our modern political and societal landscape and its outlook is hardly optimistic. As good as A Moon Shaped Pool” already is, I bet in time it will only grow in stature and comes in as a breath of fresh air to many who thought Radiohead might be creatively on their way out the door.
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Buy Burn the Witch Amazon
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- ANDERSON PAAK- MALIBU
“Malibu”, released way back in early January of 2016, was one of the first great albums of the year. Paak received his breakthrough on Dr. Dre’s “Compton” album in 2015 and in a year laden with awesome superstar releases his star has shined brightest among the newcomers. “Malibu” combines smooth soul, hard funk, rap and elements from rock and describes his own hardscrabble roots in southern California rising from underground obscurity to burgeoning fame. While over an hour long, which is a real risk from such a relatively unknown artist, “Malibu” is a remarkably consistent album boasting twelve of fifteen tracks that I gave five stars and without one dud in the whole bunch. Highlights are almost too plentiful to narrow down but “Celebrate”, “Am I Wrong”, “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance”, “Come Down” and “The Season/Carry Me” are a handful of the best. In addition to “Malibu” Paak released another very good album “Yes Lawd” as part of duo NxWorries and contributed excellent songs to standout 2016 albums from Kaytranada, A Tribe Called Quest, Schoolboy Q, Snakehips & Mac Miller, among others. Paak can easily be considered one of music’s 2016 MVP’s. If you don’t know him yet check him out.
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Buy Celebrate [Explicit] Amazon
Buy Come Down [Explicit] Amazon
- A TRIBE CALLED QUEST- WE GOT IT FROM HERE…THANK YOU 4 YOUR SERVICE
“We Got It From Here…” is a great comeback record after nearly twenty years since their last album, as well as a posthumous release after the early 2016 death of founding member Phife Dog due to complications from diabetes. That “We Got It From Here…” exists at all is a true gift to longtime fans but I doubt even the most optimistic of us thought Tribe could make an album this good after so much time out of the game. The group got back at Phife’s insistence, knowing his time here on Earth was short. He worked diligently to get the album done and it ranks up there with the group’s best work and shows that Tribe was a missing force in modern hip hop. The production on the record, done by the group’s most prominent member Q-Tip, blends hard bop jazz samples, dub reggae and little recognized samples from old electro & pop songs while bringing to mind the music of Tribe’s early 90’s golden age, also sounds totally fresh and singular in rap’s modern climate. Tribe brings in Busta Rhymes on multiple tracks and gives founding member Jairobi an expanded role, while inviting in rap & music superstars like Jack White, Elton John, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Anderson Paak & Andre 3000 to guest on the tracks. Amazingly each guest contributes his own greatness to the overall brilliant whole rather than making “We Got It From Here…” the mess it could have been. This is the best rap album in a year filled with great ones.
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- BEYONCE- LEMONADE
“Lemonade” is the sixth and best solo album by Beyonce, who by now has cemented her stature as one of the best and most important pop stars in music history. Beyonce dominated the zeitgeist of 2016 releasing a surprise video of “Formation”, the last and one of the best tracks off of “Lemonade”, one week ahead of her dazzling Super Bowl performance of the same track. While “Formation” addresses the black sisterhood and the spate of police brutality done to people of color, “Lemonade” as a whole, another surprise-release audio/visual album in April, tells the story of marital infidelity- demanding contrition from her husband while asserting her own power and excellence. By telling her story in her own way, she circumvents the gossip columns. Though “Lemonade” was one of the best selling albums of 2016 and contains a number of hits, she never caters to pop radio but makes radio come to her. “Lemonade” has some of the best songs of the year, including the above “Formation”, as well as “Freedom”, “Sorry”, “Hold Up”, “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, “All Night” and “Daddy Lessons”, which has enough of a country bent to it that she performed it with the Dixie Chicks at the Country Music Awards. “Lemonade” is an instant classic and the best album released in a year chock full of them.
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Buy Freedom Amazon
Buy Formation [Explicit] Amazon