2016 has been one hell of a year for music. Largely dominated by the rap game we saw major releases from the best of the best and we saw grime reach the top. We witnessed the breakout of future legends and the final chapter of some of the legends of music. After much scrutiny I have compiled a list of my top 15 albums of the year.
Some honorable mentions that missed out on the top spots were Kendrick Lamar with ‘Untitled Unmastered’ a B side album that could easily make a top 25 list, Vince Staples ‘Prima Donna’ EP, which had it been 5 songs longer could have made the top 10. Other rappers just missing out on the top 15 include a breakout album from Anderson .Paak and some solid work from Travis Scott. Of course it’d be rude to not mention Drake since he recently went quadruple platium, but other than that accolade this album wasn’t up to par with previous releases and doesn’t make top 15. Away from the rap scene we saw Jamie T drop a banger of an album and the final album from David Bowie which received critical acclaim.
15. Lil Yachty ‘Lil Boat’
Although technically not an album, ‘Lil Boat’ by Yachty has banger after banger and has some of the years best production. Boat and 21 Savage are the leaders of this years Freshman XXL list and Yatchy is one of the leaders for mumble rap, the man has a bright future and his tracks ‘1Night’ and ‘Minnesota’ are two of my favourites of the year.
14. Danny Brown ‘Atrocity Exhibition’
Danny Brown came through this year with his best album to date. His voice is the craziest voice of any rapper in the game today and the production on this album is straight FIRE. It’s an absolutely crazy album from a crazy rapper. ‘Really Doe’ featuring King Kendrick, Earl Sweatshirt and Ab-Soul is a rap anthem and this was a solid album which didn’t get the credit it deserved.
13. DJ Khaled ‘Major Key’
One of the most inspirational people to ever live, DJ Khaled came through with ‘Major Key’ this was the most star studded album of the year which featured some of the best rappers and R&B artists the music industry has to offer. ‘For Free’ with the man of the year Drake was the biggest track of the album. The first half of this album put it on this list, features from Drake, Kendrick, Big Sean, Nas, J Cole, Future and Jay Z make the first 5 tracks untouchable, if it wasn’t for a sloppier ending to the album this could’ve made top 10 with ease, maybe even top 5.
12. KAYTRANADA ‘99.9%’
The debut album of KAYTRANADA was eagerly anticipated by myself and many others and it was even better than I first expected, this wasn’t set to make the top ten at first but the more I listened the more I fall in love with this album. It has an abundance of amazing features, from Syd Tha Kyd to Anderson .Paak to Craig David to Vic Mensa. This strong selection of features worked extremely well and as a result this album won the Polaris Music Prize for 2016, later in the year KAYTRANADA released the mixtape ‘0.001%’ so it was a great year for him, he clearly has a bright future. ‘Glowed up’ was a personal favourite of mine, it showed off both KAYTRANADA’s skills as well as the future of hip hop, Anderson .Paak.
11. Flatbush Zombies ‘3001: A Laced Odyssey’
The first studio album of Flatbush Zombies did not fail to deliver, after success with mixtapes that saw breakthrough songs such as ‘Palm Trees’ and ‘MRAZ’, Flatbush Zombies spent a lot of time making this album and it was well worth the wait. Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick The Architect can all more than hold their own in the rap game, Meech in particular has raw, gritty voice like no other, and with Erick making some outstanding beats this album produced big time. The production heavy tracks were partnered with amazing lyrics and great flow, ‘This Is It’ was one of the tracks of the year for me and this group can only improve off the back of a solid debut album. Also that risky lyric about Chris Benoit by Juice was one of the lyrics of the year.
10. Blood Orange ‘Freetown Sound’
‘Freetown Sound’ by Blood Orange brought in a funky R&B sound which is of a very different style to the modern day R&B of Frank Ocean and Bryson Tiller, it was a very refreshing and very welcome change, some tracks were very reminiscent of the late great Michael Jackson. I loved the funky vibes in all the tracks, particularly ‘Augustine’ and ‘Love Ya’. I didn’t know too much of Blood Orange until I was introduced to this album by a friend, but it’s up there with the best of the year. I hope to see this style of music more heavily used in 2017, it has such a great vibe to it which is very much lacking from modern mainstream music.
9. J Cole ‘For Your Eyez Only’
As always with a J Cole album I turned into a little fanboy again and with good reason, this album delivered big. Each and every track tell a very strong, deep story and each track has a very strong message. Lyrically, J Cole might be the number one rapper for 2016. This will likely be the second album of Cole’s to go platinum with no features which will send social media into a meme frenzy again. Considering this project has took quite a while to drop, it was surprising that it was such a short one, add an extra 4 tracks to this album and it could likely be bumped up to a top 5 album of 2016.
8. Frank Ocean ‘Blonde’
Frank Ocean decided after 4 long years of memes and agony to finally drop his long awaited second studio album ‘Blonde’. Initially I was pretty disappointed with this release, but over time and few more listens the album slowly grew on me until I realised it’s greatness. A lot of people didn’t understand the production of this album, for instance the pitching on ‘Nikes’, for me it all works brilliantly. ‘Ivy’ was one of my personal favourites of the year. This album is truly great and well worth the lengthy wait, this was one of the R&B albums of the year and I did fanboy a little when Endless came out before it. It’s a shame it’s not Grammy shortlisted as it very much deserves such an accolade.
7. Post Malone ‘Stoney’
Who hurt you Malone? Who hurt you? The long awaited debut album of Post Malone was everything I expected and more. Knowing in advance that tracks such as ‘White Iverson’ ‘Go Flex’ and Too Young’ were on the album instantly made a decent album before hearing the rest of it, but the rest of the album more than matches the singles that brought Malone to fame. The strong mix of soul, R&B and rap made for a unique sound, it had top quality production throughout and although Malone isn’t the best rapper technically, his unique sounding voice made this a very enjoyable album that I could vibe with instantly. The inclusion of Bieber and Quavo gave this album a star studded feel without overpowering the man himself, which can only propel Post Malone even further.
6. Skepta ‘Konnichiwa’
Grime is without a doubt at the highest it’s ever been, and at the forefront we have Skepta. What a year this man has had, not only is this album his most successful project, he was also the winner of this years Mercury Prize. In terms of content this album includes some of the tracks we all know and love such as ‘That’s Not Me’ and ‘Shutdown’ but the album in general is just full of absolute bangers. This album really doesn’t have a weak spot for me, it’s consistently brilliant from start to finish but in particular I could go HAM to ‘Man’ and ‘It Ain’t Safe’. The inclusion of Pharrell shows how far Skepta and grime in general have come. Let’s not forget that BBK got Drake on board, and if Drizzy thinks it’s a big deal then it’s a big deal.
5. Childish Gambino ‘Awaken, My Love!’
Donald Glover AKA Childish Gambino is one of my favourite people alive, not just through music, this man is a creative genius and ‘Awaken, My Love!’ is his most recent triumph. I’ll admit, when I realised this wasn’t a rap album I was a little bummed out after the success of ‘Because The Internet’ but I was still excited for the project. As soon as I’d heard the two singles released from the album ‘Me And Your Mama’ and ‘Redbone’ there was not an ounce of worry in me anymore, I knew I’d love it. The funky, soul vibes throughout were simply outstanding and Gambino’s singing voice has improved dramatically from his early days. I was glad the theme stuck throughout, if there was any element of rap the album would have felt jumbled. ‘Redbone’ in particular stands out from this album and for me is one of the top 5, maybe even top 3 songs of the year.
4. The Weeknd ‘Starboy’
‘Starboy’ by The Weeknd for me is Abel’s best work since his ‘Trilogy’ mixtapes. There is clear progression in his music album after album, this time round I felt an improvement in production with some stellar work from Daft Punk. The inclusion of Kendrick Lamar made for one of the songs of the album with ‘Sidewalks’. There is zero weak spots in this album, it has a continuous brilliance throughout. The album did extraordinary numbers in terms of sales and streams and at one point every song of the album was in the Billboard Hot 100. The premier track ‘Starboy’ was one of the tracks of the year on a worldwide scale.
3. Chance The Rapper ‘Coloring Book’
“Lets make it so free and the bars so hard that there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet” That lyric may not be from this project but it’s a lyric that matches the project, although technically not an album, ‘Coloring Book’ has opened a door for free music as it caused a change in the Grammy nomination rules allowing free music to be eligible. This album from start to finish is simply wonderful. It featured one of the songs of the year with the rap anthem ‘No Problem’. This album shows a mixture of rap styles with some slower rap compared to the adlib crazy rap from Chance, as much as I love those tracks, some my favourite songs on this album were ‘Juke Jam’, ‘Same Drugs’ and ‘Blessings’. Similar to how on ‘Acid Rap’ my favourite tracks were ‘Lost’ and ‘Acid Rain’ It had an abundance of features which was really cool but it didn’t distract from Chance’s brilliance, which is often the problem with having too many features. Chance is now the owner of three of the greatest mixtapes of all time, and as the great Kanye West said, we are indeed looking at the future, Chance The Rapper.
2. Kanye West ‘The Life Of Pablo’
In at number 2 we have Yeezy with his long awaited album ‘The Life Of Pablo’, the album was an early release of 2016 but has been played continuously through the year for me. The album includes a handful of tracks that could be debated for one of the songs of the year, including my personal favourites ‘Ultralight Beam’ and ‘Real Friends’ along with several other absolute bangers including ‘Fade’ ‘No More Parties In L.A’ and ‘Famous’. The major reason this album doesn’t come in at number one is that some of the best tracks are completely reliant on features. Would I love this album as much if some of the major songs weren’t dependent on Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar? Definitely not. If Kanye could out perform Chance and Kendrick on his own album this would probably be number 1, but as it stands he becomes a background piece a little too often on this album. Lets not take away from Kanye, this is easily his best work since ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and in the years to come be regarded as one of his best albums and one of the best albums in hip hop.
1. The 1975 ‘I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of it’
Here we have the album of the year ‘ILIWYSFYASBYSUOI’ (I know the abbrivation doesn’t really roll of the tongue) After hours of consideration I came to the conclusion that The 1975 had to take number 1 and just pip Kanye to the top spot. The second studio album of The 1975 has further sky rocketed them to the top of the industry and from start to finish is an absolute treat to listen to. The album featured the bands highest charting singles of their careers with ‘Somebody Else’ and ‘The Sound’. I can’t even deny it, I’ve become a fanboy of this group, every time a song is played I sing along, I’ve seen them three times this year, I may not be the generic Tublr fan, but I can’t help but love everything they do at this point, they’re untouchable. The album sticks with a cool sound and a cool vibe but can get serious at points, an album clearly inspired by the 80’s has you wanting to dance at points and get deep at others. The initial intro to the album has a high tempo with songs such as the funky ‘Love Me’ and one of my personal favourites ‘She’s American’ but the final stretch of the album shows Matt Healy’s deeper thoughts, which is also a pleasure to listen along to just as much as the upbeat tracks. This album has brilliant instrumentals and a mixture of songs which bring out a mixture of feelings. This is not only the best album of the year, but it’s one of the best albums this decade.