I just want to start off by saying that 2016 was a year filled completely with all different kinds of music, so many that I would find so many albums I would like. Despite this, many of the albums that I listened to for 2016 would not be able to make it onto any of my top ten lists. Also, there were some albums that I listened to that were in different genres (like Pop and R&B) and I simply did not listen to enough from those genres. I thought it to be criminal to at least not mention them, because there were a LOT of good ones.
So, I’ll first start off with a few albums from the R&B genre:
Anderson Paak: Malibu (94 / A)
Genre: Alternative R&B / Contemporary R&B / Hip Hop / Neo Soul
This was possibly the highest-rated album that I listened to for 2016. I was originally going to put this at number one on my Top Ten Hip Hop Releases of 2016, but I decided against it. While this album has many elements of Hip Hop, I do not view this as a Hip Hop album. It is very soulful and the album is great all the way through. I can still listen to this album a full year after its release, and it still holds up, and I do believe that I can listen to it five or ten years down the road and it still be enjoyable. Anderson’s had a marvel 2016, and this was simply the start of it.
Tracks like “The Bird,” “The Season / Carry Me,” “Parking Lot,” “Silicon Valley,” and “Celebrate” are tracks that I consider my favorites on the album, but every single track on this album deserves a listen. A feature of this album, and all of Anderson’s music for that case, that might draw a listener in is his raspy voice. It is very sonically pleasing to hear his voice over the album’s instrumentation and production.
Childish Gambino: “Awaken, My Love!” (89 / B+)
Genre: Alternative R&B / Funk / Psychedelic Rock / Soul
Ah yes, the actor/comedian/producer/rapper/writer of 30 Rock, Atlanta, and Community fame went to a different spectrum of music that many of us were used to seeing him in. While I was very interested to hear what he was going to offer when I first heard that Glover was going to make an album almost completely devoid of any kind of rapping, I was a bit cautious at first. But, then I heard “Me and Your Mama” and all my worries were completely gone. When the beat changed after about two minutes, I knew that Donald had something very special to give us. Then, the second single “Redbone” came out, and that pretty much cemented what I was going to feel about this album. Glover’s vocals on this album are superhuman, reaching a very high pitch almost reminiscent of Michael Jackson or Prince. The rest of the album offers a very soulful and funky aesthetic with a bit of a psychedelic rock influence. It sounds as though this album could have been released in the late 60’s to early 70’s.
Favorite tracks on the album include: “Me and Your Mama,” “Have Some Love,” “Boogieman,” “Zombies,” Redbone,” and “California. The entire theme of the album is that it is about/dedicated to Glover’s son. I guess AIDS finally lost out to children (a Donald Glover reference from his stand-up days).
NxWorries: Yes Lawd! (81 / B-)
Genre: Alternative R&B / Contemporary R&B / Hip Hop / Neo Soul
Yes, there are two, technically, Anderson Paak albums on this list. Like I said, he has had a marvel 2016, and this proves what we already knew about Anderson’s musical ability. Teaming up with legendary, and slightly unconventional, producer Knxwledge, the duo brings forth a very soulful and headnodic album that has some very “edgy” themes. While it is not the most lyrical album, it is still a very fun album to listen to. Sometimes, some of the songs made me smirk a little bit because of the content, like the track “Get Bigger / Do U Luv.” While this album has nearly twenty songs, the length doesn’t even exceed fifty minutes, so it’s a bit of a quick listen. Most of the tracks on here, fourteen of them to be exact, do not even go over the three-minute mark.
Favorite tracks on the album include: “Livvin,” “Lyk Dis,” “Get Bigger / Do U Love,” “Khadijah,” “HAN,” “Sacred Money,” “Suede,” and “Sidepiece.” While I did not enjoy this album as much as Anderson’s Malibu or Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love!” I still felt the need to mention it.
Now, I’m going to tackle the Pop albums that I felt were worth mentioning from 2016.
Kate Voegele: Canyonlands (89 / B+)
Genre: Adult Alternative / Country (debatable) / Pop Rock
I have been a fan of Kate Voegele since I first watched her on One Tree Hill. Ever since I listened to her first three studio releases – 2007’s Don’t Look Away (which is one of my favorite albums of all time), 2009’s A Fine Mess, and 2011’s Gravity Happens – I was eagerly expecting her fourth album to be released in 2013. But, it didn’t happen. So, in place of that, she released the Wild Card EP in 2014, in order to appease her fans. So, I was patiently waiting to hear her newest album, whenever it would come out. I was a bit blindsided by its release, as I had no idea when it was going to drop. I am really glad that she finally released this album, five years after Gravity Happens, because it is almost a perfect album. With bits of Country sprinkled throughout the tracks, the Pop Rock appeal that made her a fan favorite on One Tree Hill, and the overall Adult Alternative style that made me love her music so much more.
I honestly enjoyed all of the tracks on this album, but if I were to choose a select few, I would most likely say that “Free & Wild,” “World Stops Spinning,” “Crooked Road,” and “Sun Will Rise” would be the ones that I enjoyed the most.
Lady Gaga: Joanne (89 / B+)
Genre: Country Pop / Dance-Pop / Pop / Pop Rock / Soft Rock
I know what you might be thinking: Lady Gaga, Austin? Seriously?
Yes, seriously. I know I haven’t been exactly gaga for most of Lady Gaga’s (heh, you see what I did there?) music in the past, but this album somehow, in the strangest way, really works well. When I first heard Lady Gaga perform “A-Yo” on SNL, I was pleasantly surprised and actually excited to listen to a full album by her. This album is so completely different from her previous albums such as 2008’s The Fame and 2011’s Born This Way. Not that they were entirely BAD albums, but they were definitely not in the same caliber as this one. This album has a bit of a 90’s Country Pop feel to it, and it might make some old listeners shy away from it, and it might draw in new listeners. I just want to say congratulations to Lady Gaga for making a really tremendous album.
Favorite tracks on this album include: “Diamond Heart,” “A-Yo,” “Joanne,” “Million Reasons,” “Come to Mama,” and “Hey Girl.”
AURORA: All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend (88 / B+)
Genre: Art Pop / Electropop / Indie Pop / Synthpop
Having never heard of AURORA before late last year, I did not know what to expect to get when listening to this album. Like Lady Gaga’s new album, this album really surprised. I was taken aback at how much I liked this. Despite such an ominous name for the album, there were some tracks that sound very happy and upbeat, though the lyrical content may say otherwise. Other tracks, however, suggest a more ominous sound and an overall theme of a sort of dark supernatural fantasy world that has more than meets the eye. This is a very good concept pop album that definitely deserves a listen, possibly even more than one. I am definitely eager to hear her next album.
Favorite tracks on this album include: “Runaway,” “Conqueror,” “Lucky,” “I Went too Far,” “Warrior,” and “Murder Song.”
And you want to know the funny thing? AURORA is six months younger than me (I’m twenty-one as of this blog post). This twenty-year-old vocalist from Norway is making really great music and I am here. In front of a computer. Writing a blog. Critiquing music. Yeah.
Saint Motel: saintmotelevision (88 / B+)
Genre: Dream Pop / Indie Pop / Indie Rock / Power Pop
This was a very fun and short album. Their first album in four years, following the release of 2012’s Voyeur, proves that a long time between two albums can be a very good thing. This was another artist that I had not heard of until late last year, and this was definitely one of my favorites to listen to. The opening track “Move” and it’s follower “Getaway” really kicks off the album with a big bang. And the fourth track “Born Again” really proves that the band can be epic, especially when the gospel choir pops up in the background.
And, ya like Jazz? The tracks on this album are sprinkled with jazz elements, including the almost improvisational jazzy interlude instrumentation that Jazz is known for. The album also has a bit of a Synthpop vibe to it, as well, and it is very prominent in “Local Long Distance Relationship (LA2NY).”
Favorite tracks on this album include: “Move,” “Getaway,” “Born Again,” “For Elise,” and “Happy Accidents.”
Now, I will tackle some of the Hip Hop albums that I completely missed, completely forgot about (I know, I’m ashamed of me, too), and the ones that I rated but did not put on my official list.
Vic Mensa: There’s Alot Going On (93 / A-)
Genre: Alternative Hip Hop / Chicago Hip Hop / Conscious Hip Hop / Midwest Hip Hop / Political Hip Hop
I’m not really sure why I didn’t put this on my top ten list. It might have something to do with this being an EP rather than a full album. It might also have something to do with the fact that I really loved Kano’s Made in the Manor and Apollo Brown and Skyzoo’s The Easy Truth, both of which got 92’s from me. Either way, I am mentioning it here for very good reason.
This EP or album, whatever you wish to call it, is very conscious and very politically-driven. A big theme is police violence/racism as well as overall racism. He also tackles other political and social issues, such as the water crisis in Michigan and even his tendency of self infliction. It is a very personal album, much like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s, but I feel that Vic digs much deeper and is much grittier when it comes to that. All seven tracks on this album are very great, and it is very hard to pick favorite tracks. But, I will say that “16 Shots” is definitely a highlight of the whole EP.
In my opinion, Vic Mensa is probably the most promising of the young rappers who have yet to release an official studio album. He has released a mixtape, which was pretty good, and of course, this EP. He is set to release his official debut studio album sometime next year, and I simply cannot wait for it.
Damone Tyrell: Who the Hell is Damone Tyrell? (88 / B+)
Genre: Alternative Hip Hop / Conscious Hip Hop (debatable) / Independent Hip Hop
Like Deante’ Hitchcock’s Good, Damone Tyrell was recommend to me by a YouTube channel. This one was recommend by Dead End Hip Hop. This was not included on the top ten list because it is an EP. This does not take away from what the EP is, however, as it really good. Damone is a really good lyricist, definitely one of the best lyricists in the independent Hip Hop scene that I have heard. The production on this very high quality, and it is highly exemplified on “All Hands…” Damone’s vocals on the track “BCB II (Homeward Bound II)” is very reminiscent of Jay Z. I can also hear similarities of of Joey Bada$$ as well. But I am not saying that he is just like these artists. I am simply saying that his sound, both vocally and instrumentally, are very similar to both artists. Every track on here is very solid, and it is very difficult to pick one, or even a few, favorites.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: This Unruly Mess I’ve Made (85 / B)
Genre: Alternative Hip Hop / Independent Hip Hop / Northwest Hip Hop
Coming off the success of The Heist, the rapper/producer duo waited four years to release their follow-up. While I do not think it is as good as The Heist, I think it is a very solid follow-up album. Macklemore’s style is very unconventional and might make some listeners shy away from his music. Each track on here, however, has many different sounds. The opening track “Light Tunnels” displays Macklemore’s experience at the Grammy’s. It is probably one of the best opening tracks on any album I’ve ever heard.The fun-loving “Downtown” and “Dance Off” are definitely party songs. The hook performed on “Downtown” by Eric Sean Nally of Foxy Shazam is simply epic. Macklemore also tackles political and social issues such on tracks like “White Privilege II,” where he raps about Black Lives Matter and his place in Hip Hop as a white rapper. The track “Growing Up,” a collaboration with Ed Sheeran, shows Macklemore rapping about his daughter. Overall, this album is very personal and somewhat political, and still has some very funny songs that Macklemore is known to do from time to time.
Favorite tracks include: “Light Tunnels,” “Downtown,” “Brad Pitt’s Cousin,” “Growing Up,” “St. Ides,” “Need to Know,” “Dance Off,” and “Let’s Eat.”
Token: Eraser Shavings (84 / B)
Genre: Alternative Hip Hop / Independent Hip Hop / Underground Hip Hop
I cannot believe that I forgot about this album. And this was an album that I was anticipating for months. Having learned about Token through multiple Facebook videos of his whole life story and his rapping ability, I have since become a big fan. He is one of the few “kid” rappers that I can actually listen to. Throughout this album, it is apparent that he has an aggressive flow, though it is ever-changing constantly, and he has a very distinct message within each track. This an album that does not deserve forgetting.
This album is so solid that every track on here is good. It is really difficult, at least for me, to pick a favorite, but “Waist Down” could be in the running. And another thing about Token. I think he turned eighteen on the day of the album’s release, or sometime around that time. See? That’s another artist just a little bit younger than me making quality music. And what am I doing? Making less than quality blog posts about these quality artists. Yippee…
Isaiah Rashad: The Sun’s Tirade (83 / B-)
Genre: Alternative Hip Hop / Jazz Rap / Neo Soul / Southern Hip Hop
I am honestly a bit ashamed of myself for not listening to this album all the way through when I first tried. I figured that I would really enjoy his new album after listening to Cilvia Demo, considering that he is from Tennessee, like I am. For some odd reason, I just couldn’t get into it when it first came out back in early September of 2016. But after I heard some YouTubers and music critics say that this was one of the best albums they had heard this year, I had to give it another listen. And I’m glad I did. The first four or five tracks of this album, after the intro track, is one of the most sonically pleasing I had ever heard on any album I have heard.
The hook for “4r da Squaw” is perfect and the overall message of the track is fantastic. The hook, again, for “Free Lunch” makes you want to bob your head, and it draws a somewhat similar impression of GOAT rapper and label mate Kendrick Lamar. “Rope // rosegold” deals with his drug addiction and depression. And, of course, the track with Kendrick Lamar “Wat’s Wrong” could definitely be one of the best Hip Hop tracks of 2016. While Kendrick dropped his usually awesomeness with his verse, the rhyme scheme in Isaiah’s first verse is utterly crazy. The hook performed by Zacari proves to be very sonically pleasing.
Favorite tracks on the album include: “4r da Squaw,” “Free Lunch,” “Rope // rosegold,” “Wat’s Wrong,” “Park,” “Silkk da Shocka,” “Tity and Dolla,” “AA,” “Dressed Like Rappers.” It is a very good vibe album and could be listened to when one just wants to relax. And I cannot believe that I didn’t like it at first. What is wrong with me?
Kendrick Lamar: untitled unmastered. (81 / B-)
Genre: Conscious Hip Hop / Experimental Hip Hop / Jazz Rap
A surprise drop very early in 2016, this was technically a compilation album/EP, which is technically why I chose not to put it on my list. Coming off the greatness that was To Pimp a Butterfly, this whole release was basically the “B-sides” that came from recording for the 2015 classic (yeah, I know that it’s too early to say that, but I’m calling it right now). Like TPAB, untitled unmastered is very jazzy and experimental. Like TPAB and some of the other releases on this list, it is very politically-driven and even deals with some psychological themes. Not as good as TPAB, but still very solid. “Untitled 02” and “Untitled 08” are my favorites from this release.
Various: The Hamilton Mixtape (84 / B)
Genre: Alternative Hip Hop / Contemporary R&B / Indie Pop / Indie Rock / Pop / Pop Rock / Soundtrack / Spoken Word
When I first listened to this and rated it, I originally put it under my Hip Hop category. But, if you read the Top Ten Hip Hop Releases of 2016 blog post, you will notice that it didn’t make my top ten nor was it an honorable mention. When I started the list, I struggled with this. The reason I didn’t put it on the list is because it is not fully a Hip Hop album. It could have just as easily gone under a Rock list or a Pop list, so I decided to save it for this list.
As if the original Broadway cast recording of Hamilton wasn’t awesome enough, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton‘s playwright and songwriter, decided to remake the songs with some of the most prominent musical figures of today. Bringing in musical artists of every genre, from Hip Hop to Pop to R&B and even Jimmy Fallon, Miranda put together a really solid and cohesive mixtape/remake/remix album (I’m not sure what to call this) that is full of great songs.
Favorite tracks include: “My Shot” (performed by The Roots, Busta Rhymes, Joell Ortiz, and Nate Ruess), “Wrote My Way Out” (performed by Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Aloe Blacc), “Wait for It” (performed by Usher), “An Open Letter (Interlude)” (performed by Watsky and Shockwave), “Satisfied” (performed by Sia, Miguel, and Queen Latifah), “It’s Quiet Uptown” (performed by Kelly Clarkson), “You’ll Be Back” (performed by Jimmy Fallon and The Roots), “Helpless” (performed by Ashanti and Ja Rule), “Burn” (performed by Alandra Day), and “Dear Theodosia (Reprise)” (performed by Chance the Rapper and Francis and the Lights). Wow, that was a mouthful.
Sadly, there was nothing from Rock and Country that I wanted to mention on this post. Hopefully, that can be changed at the end of this year, because I am going to be more prepared, and I am going to listen to so much more music. And, I hope that this list, and the three previous lists, have inspired somebody to give at least one of them a listen. My opinion is just my opinion, and it really doesn’t mean anything, but I do want to recommend whatever I can to someone who hasn’t heard of what I heard. It’s honestly a really good feeling when someone ends up actually liking something you recommend to them.
As for the future, I will start thinking about how I deal with EP’s, because there were at least two or three on here that were very deserving to be on some sort of list. I might start a new list series for EP’s. Hopefully, I can listen to enough EP’s to warrant Top Ten list for that, because sometimes EP’s are much better than most. But, I’ll burn that bridge when I get there.
Stay tuned for my Favorite Monthly Releases for January. It was a really good month for music, especially for Rock music.
Okay, I shall see you next time.
Thanks for existing,