THIS IS ALREADY SUCH A GOOD YEAR!
I have been on a musical cloud nine for the first half of 2016. Things haven’t been perfect; Views disappointed me, but I hardly had time to care because it was book-ended by Lemonade and Coloring Book. This year, there is no time to dwell on the mediocre shit, because the art just keeps flowing. A few artists have released truly stunning works so far in 2016 – here are a few that stood out to me:
(Disclaimer: I feel strongly about Coloring Book being the very best on this list, followed by Malibu, but the rest are in no particular order.)
Untitled Unmastered – Kendrick Lamar
Untitled Unmastered consists of eight previously unreleased tracks cut from To Pimp A Butterfly. The album was released quickly, with much less fanfare than TBAP. It felt like Kendrick just said, “Eh, sure, why not?” and effortlessly gifted us with some castaway b-sides that ended up being better than most of the purposeful a-sides we had heard from other artists lately. Untitled is a stark reminder that Kendrick still runs circles around most of his peers.
Best tracks: “untitled 07,” “untitled 02”
The Life Of Pablo – Kanye West
I know, I know. I am the idiot who tried to judge a Kanye album the week it dropped. After making the same mistake with his last two albums, I should have learned my lesson. I didn’t. SORRY. I’m still not convinced that Kanye is putting out his best music to date (I miss the old Kanye!), but The Life Of Pablo, like every recent Kanye project, has grown on me. It’s not the most polished album – parts of it seem out of place or thrown together, but on the third listen I could pick out true moments of Ye’s genius. In this way, “Ultralight Beam” feels like a microcosm of TLOP itself – it’s strange when you first hear it, seems disjointed and has abrupt starts and stops, but sooner or later you will be playing it on repeat and remembering that no one takes risks quite like Kanye West. There are some real bangers on this album and it’s clear Kanye is still on top, even if his album art looks like it was made by a lazy child on Microsoft Paint.
Best tracks: “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. I,” “Waves” (The best single verse of the album, though, belongs to Chance on “Ultralight Beam” by a mile).
Lemonade – Beyonce
My God. What a beautiful, interesting, vulnerable, powerful piece of music (and film!). I’m not sure there’s much more I can say about Lemonade that hasn’t already been said, but it is a truly moving visual album in which two seemingly untouchable icons break down before our very eyes. Beyonce’s ability to squeeze a complicated progression from sadness to anger to strength to acceptance into one 12-track album is remarkable. We will not be forgetting about Lemonade any time soon.
Best tracks: “Daddy Lessons,” “Freedom”
Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper
Recently I got a text from my little cousin that read, and I quote, “Thanks for telling me to listen to chance the rapper you change my life”
Fuckin’ right I did.
Anyway, Coloring Book is unfathomably beautiful. It’s the kind of album you can listen to once and reasonably say “this is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard.” Well, I guess technically it’s a mixtape, as Thugger and Lil Yachty remind us in the track by the same name, but it has the feel and quality of a well-produced, cohesive album. Kanye West and Chance have been working together a lot lately, and you can most certainly feel Ye’s influence in Coloring Book (as well as Chance’s influence in TLOP, for that matter). I mentioned before that I do indeed miss the old Kanye, but Chance fills that void for me. Coloring Book invokes the memory of College Dropout in a serious way – you’ll feel hints of “We Don’t Care,” “Family Business,” and of course, “Jesus Walks” throughout. Chance’s music differs, though, in its relentlessly positivity – the lyrics, the brass band back-up, and booming gospel chorus vocals magically blend together to generate pure bliss. Even while tackling relationship changes, push-back from a powerful music industry, and an apparent Xanax problem, Chance moves forward with gorgeous, optimistic melodies. Right now, Chance the Rapper is in a class of his own. We’re only halfway through 2016, but I don’t see any album or mixtape topping this one for a long, long time.
Best tracks: “No Problems,” “Finish Line,” “Same Drugs”
Still Brazy – YG
I fucking love you, YG. You are so scary. Please continue putting out this great 90s-ass, classic Cali gangsta rap.
Best tracks: “Why You Always Hatin?,” “I Got A Question”
Malibu – Anderson .Paak
I recently saw Anderson .Paak at The Roots Picnic in Philadelphia and was completely blown away. I had already listened to Venice and Malibu on repeat for months and fallen in love with his music, but seeing him live sealed the deal – Anderson .Paak is something special. The one person in my group who had never heard his music was yelling “OH MY GOD, I LOVE THIS GUY!” after about 30 seconds of .Paak’s first song. Each song on Malibu is a hit, but also completely unique from the others on the album. .Paak flows effortlessly between groovy dance beats and gritty lyrical tracks about growing up. I’ve never identified so strongly with a song as I do with “The Dreamer,” a beautiful celebration of getting through childhood with the help of cable television and free public school lunch.
Best tracks: “The Dreamer,” “Come Down”
Anti – Rihanna
Anti is a super fun album that, much like Rihanna herself, is heavy on the explosive moments and sex appeal. But it also reminds you why RiRi is such a superstar. Don’t forget her career has already spanned over a full decade – “Pon De Replay” came out 11 years ago and Rihanna’s music has matured significantly since then. She stays on top because she’s growing and continually making better music with each passing year. She’s older, bolder, and has so much more to say in her music these days, which makes Anti a seriously robust album without a single bad track.
Best tracks: “Higher,” “Needed Me”
99.9% – Kaytranada
99.9% is chock full of heavy drums, artist features, and impeccable musicality. I’m a lyric-focused fan and rarely find myself listening to instrumental tracks (I like to sing in my car, sue me), but I can make the exception for Kaytranada. His beats are complicated, detailed, and layered; they can easily stand alone.
Best tracks: “Glowed Up,” “Drive Me Crazy”
Slime Season 3 – Young Thug
SS3 is a quick, concise set of eight tracks. Thug is weird and beautiful and his music is too fucking fun. This album proves Young Thug is getting his shit together and focusing a bit harder on releasing stronger and more cohesive pieces of work that he previously has.
Best tracks: “Digits,” “Drippin”
Fingers crossed for a Frank Ocean album in the second half of 2016?