Yes, I’m a little bit behind on this one. I’m sorry that one person with school and extracurricular obligations can’t get an album of the year list out quite as fast as a staff of 50 people who do it for a living. Mine’s probably more thorough than Pitchfork’s anyway. I won’t do too much introduction since you already know what’s coming, but since this album is a reflection of my own music tastes, expect more pop and hip-hop than anything else. If you’re not into all that, maybe don’t bother.
50) DO WHAT THOU WILT. – Ab-Soul
Kicking off the list, we’ve got the latest album from your current favorite rapper’s current favorite rapper, Ab-Soul. It has a bizarre, jumbled, pseudo-feminist message, but brings plenty of Soulo’s trademark lyrical gymnastics and kooky one-liners. It’s far from perfect, and might not even be good, but I still appreciated it.
Best tracks: “RAW (backwards)” feat. Zacari, “Huey Knew THEN” feat. Da$H, “INvocation ” feat. Kokane, “The Law” feat. Mac Miller and Rapsody
Worst track: “Womanogamy”
49) ANYTHING BUT WORDS – Banks & Steelz
On the surface, RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan and Paul Banks from Interpol don’t exactly seem like an ideal match. And yeah, they kinda aren’t. But there’s still a lot of things I admire about this album. I really like the amount of sonic variety they were able to include while still keeping true to the marriage of their styles. This album covers everything from ’70s mafia movie soundtrack to Florence + the Machine over the course of its twelve tracks. And both artists are as talented as ever, even if their styles don’t always mesh.
Best: “Giant,” “Sword in the Stone” feat. Kool Keith, “Love + War” feat. Ghostface Killah, “Gonna Make It”
Worst: “Point of View” feat. Method Man and Masta Killa (this shouldn’t have been that hard, guys)
48) THE DIVINE FEMININE – Mac Miller
Easily Miller’s most mature, compelling, and all-around best album to date. He’s gotten better at rapping and singing, but he’s still not necessarily good. A valiant effort nonetheless. This is really only on the list because of “Dang!”
Best: “Dang!” feat. Anderson .Paak, “Stay,” “We” feat. CeeLo Green, “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty” feat. Kendrick Lamar
Worst: “Cinderella” feat. Ty Dolla $ign
47) THE EMPTY BANK – Jay IDK
You may not have heard of Jay IDK, but I suspect you will have soon. Especially if you’re reading this, since I’m talking about him right now. Empty Bank is definitely not a perfect album (it’s always hard to tell which parts are ironic and which are genuine), but it’s brimming with untapped potential. With loaded, philosophical bars and jazz/trap instrumentals, Jay invokes the biggest names in hip-hop today while still maintaining his own unique style. He’s somewhere between Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Ferg, and that’s a good thing.
Best: “Boy’s Innocence” feat. Fat Trel; “My Wallet” feat. Michael Christmas, Saba, and Jimi Tents; “Somebody;” “How Long/Last Song 2 (Outro)”
Worst: “La Groupie”
46) GLORY – Britney Spears
Some of you may not have even known Britney Spears put out an album in 2016. None of the singles really landed, it didn’t have a tour, and she only did one awards show to promote it. Which is a shame, because I’m pretty sure this is her best album. Granted, I haven’t listened to her discography thoroughly, but I think it’s got an endearing pop goofiness and a lot of really well-made songs. But why’s G-Eazy always gotta come and ruin it?
Best: “Private Show,” “Man on the Moon,” “Clumsy,” “What You Need”
Worst: “Just Luv Me”
45) STARBOY – The Weeknd
Starboy succeeds where it builds. After landing so hard with his mainstream debut Beauty Behind the Madness, the Weeknd could have gone a lot of ways with his follow-up, and he kinda tries for all of them. He makes moody Halloween R&B, gets his Michael Jackson groove on, and moves in a few brand new directions. The album definitely falls flat when it’s a more streamlined version of the same music he’s been making since 2011, but there’s a lot of brilliance in the more advanced cuts on it. The album represents the conflict between raunchy, mysterious indie R&B darling the Weeknd and biggest male pop star alive the Weeknd. The result is chaotic, but enjoyable.
Best: “False Alarm,” “Rockin’,” “Secrets,” “Sidewalks” feat. Kendrick Lamar, “I Feel It Coming” feat. Daft Punk
Worst: “Six Feet Under” feat. Future
44) 22, A MILLION – Bon Iver
Indie folk band Bon Iver goes full Björk on 22, A Million. It’s full of numerology, dizzying lyrics, and moments of intense closeness, introducing you to a strange, hollow electronic landscape and slowly drawing you back to reality with Justin Vernon’s jagged falsetto.
Best: “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄,” “715 – CR∑∑KS,” “33 “GOD”,” “8 (circle)”
Worst: “21 M◊◊N WATER”
43) BLANK FACE LP – ScHoolboy Q
Blank Face could easily be the best gangsta rap album of the decade. The genre, which essentially retreated into the shadows around the time of 50 Cent and Kanye West’s highly-publicized feud, proves just as lively as ever on this record, which brings together some of the biggest names in hip-hop of both yesterday and today to create an intense, emotional, hard-hitting experience. ScHoolboy’s been big for a couple years, but this could be the album that cements his place as a modern hip-hop great.
Best: “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane” feat. Jadakiss, “Kno Ya Wrong” feat. Lance Skiiiwalker, “Ride Out” feat. Vince Staples, “Big Body” feat. Tha Dogg Pound
Worst: “Overtime” feat. Miguel and Justine Skye
42) AND THE ANONYMOUS NOBODY… – De La Soul
Pioneering ’90s hip-hop group De La Soul’s long-awaited, triumphant comeback album was sort of overshadowed by pioneering ’90s hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest and their long-awaited, triumphant comeback album. We’ll get to those guys later, but don’t act like De La Soul didn’t deliver here. 17 solid tracks, some of the most unique instrumentation we’ve heard on a hip-hop album lately (all samples were taken from live, hours-long jam sessions), some incredible guest appearances, 6 excellent singles! They may not be as dynamic as ATCQ, but what more could you ask for?
Best: “Pain” feat. Snoop Dogg (Snoop’s best verse in a long time), “Snoopies” feat. David (Fucking) Byrne, “Greyhounds” feat. Usher (HOLY SHIT, USHER), “Here in After” feat. Damon Albarn (Mr. Gorillaz himself)
41) THE WHITE ALBUM – Weezer
Weezer’s had a turbulent millennium so far. They started out on top of the world, one of the biggest names in pop punk with three great albums under their belt, but they just kept slipping. Within ten years, they became a laughingstock. In 2014, they released a concept album about being good again, and it was still mediocre at best. Now, all of a sudden, they’re back with one of the best rock albums of the year. To get an accurate picture of what this album is, imagine if Mailbu by Anderson .Paak (more on him later) was made by Weezer. It’s unique, but it’s also just a Weezer album. It’s a cohesive, focused version of the same kind of music they’ve been making all along. The greatness was inside them the whole time.
Best: “Thank God for Girls,” “Do You Wanna Get High?,” “King of the World,” “L.A. Girlz”
Worst: “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori”
40) IN MY MIND – BJ the Chicago Kid
For me, this is one of the most slept-on albums of 2016. It was met with rave reviews only to be utterly forgotten by the time the year-end lists started rolling around. It’s a great soul album, original with a classic vibe, not afraid to take risks while also indulging in pure pop, with great song concepts and a handful of incredible (underrated) features from some of the best rappers alive.
Best: “Church” feat. Chance the Rapper and Buddy, “Love Inside” feat. Isabella, “The Resume” feat. Big K.R.I.T., “The New Cupid” feat. Kendrick Lamar
Worst: “Falling on My Face”
39) THE HEALING COMPONENT – Mick Jenkins
There’s a lot going on on this record. So, the “healing component” is love, but its initials are THC, which also refers to pot or its active ingredient. There’s also all this stuff going on with water, which Jenkins uses a lot in his music to represent truth. He’s very much a writer’s rapper, in the vein of Kendrick Lamar, but he also incorporates the funky, bubbly sound of Chicago’s hip-hop scene. I could say more, but this is a super complicated album and I don’t honestly remember it very well. Take that however you’d like.
Best: “The Healing Component,” “Drowning” feat. BadBadNotGood, “Communicate” feat. Ravyn Lenae, “Angles” feat. Noname and Xavier Omar
Worst: “Prosperity” feat. theMIND
38) TABERNACLE: TRUST THE SHOOTER – Royce da 5’9″
Royce actually released a full album in 2016, but quite frankly, the mixtape is a lot better. It’s the best raw hip-hop mixtape of 2016, full of 5’9″‘s most fiery bars to date, some killer features, and a handful of really poignant moments for texture. I haven’t heard some of Royce’s albums, but this is my favorite of his so far.
Best: “Black History” feat. PRhyme, “Savages,” “Which Is Cool,” “Rap on Steroids” feat. Black Thought
Worst: “The Banjo” feat. Westside Gunn, Conway, and Styles P
37) DEATH OF A BACHELOR – Panic! at the Disco
Between their last album Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! and this one, Panic! went from three members to one, which makes it interesting that this is their most grandiose album to date. This is Brendon Urie’s Vegas residency album, full of party jams and bittersweet melodies all slathered in American cheese. Panic! still has lyrics like “If crazy equals genius, then I’m a fucking arsonist,” but Urie understands the need to compensate for that and delivers in spades. It’s just a really fun album.
Best: “Death of a Bachelor,” “Crazy=Genius,” “L.A. Devotee,” “Impossible Year”
Worst: “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time” (a tryhard rip-off of Fall Out Boy’s “Uma Thurman”)
36) ANTI – Rihanna
After years caught in the pop machine, ANTI represents Rihanna’s true creative expression. And if she was one of the best mainstream pop artists before, holy shit. There’s so much going on on this album. I’ve called it a modernist work for how it breaks down categories both in music and in society. It’s about freedom, it’s about the music industry, and above all else, it’s about Rihanna. The real Rihanna.
Best: “Kiss It Better,” “Desperado,” “Woo” feat. Travis Scott, “Needed Me,” “Love on the Brain”
Worst: “Yeah, I Said It”
35) YOU WANT IT DARKER – Leonard Cohen
You Want It Darker is similar to 22, A Million in that it starts out devastatingly sparse, building its instrumentation as the album goes along. On the other hand, Leonard Cohen is probably better than Bon Iver. His voice is captivating, the instrumentals are super unique, and the album’s extremely well-written, each song feeling like it could be a centuries-old shanty and still intimately present.
Best: “You Want It Darker,” “Treaty,” “On the Level,” “Steer Your Way”
Worst: “Traveling Light”
34) THE HUMAN CONDITION – Jon Bellion
Jon Bellion thinks he can rap. He kinda can’t, but he gives it his all and delivers pitch-perfect pop even when he’s trying to be hip-hop. The distinctive production on this album is impeccable, especially “All Time Low,” which was impressively produced by Bellion alone. It’s also really well-written, with a couple songs that’ll be stuck in your head for days. Pretentious as it is from time to time, it’s an irresistible collections of tunes.
Best: “He Is the Same,” “The Good in Me,” “iRobot,” “Hand of God”
Worst: “New York Soul Pt. ii”
33) PUBERTY 2 – Mitski
This album’s been talked to death, and it’s not really my forte in terms of genre, so I’ll keep it short. It’s really well-written and subtle and bombastic and fun and depressing. It definitely tuned me in to Mitski as an artist.
Best: “Happy,” “Dan the Dancer,” “Fireworks,” “I Bet on Losing Dogs”
Worst: “A Loving Feeling”
32) DANGEROUS WOMAN – Ariana Grande
In a general sense, Dangerous Woman isn’t really an artistic diversion for Ariana Grande. It’s more of a sign of her progression as an artist. It incorporates new influences, perfects the ’50s doo-wop that launched her career, and honestly, it’s just full of great music. Ariana is one of the biggest names in pop, and one of the best.
Best: “Dangerous Woman,” “Into You,” “Greedy,” “Leave Me Lonely” feat. Macy Gray
Worst: “Be Alright”
31) A SEAT AT THE TABLE – Solange
There’s a mesmerizing simplicity to A Seat at the Table. People have a tendency to treat it as a perfect album, but I feel like that’s belittling to what the album is. It’s flawed. The production is soft and tinny. The interludes are distracting and seemingly unnecessary. But it still manages to give a thorough, honest, insightful depiction of heretofore unrecognized aspects of the black American experience. It’s the internal vs. the external, the gripes that never get spoken about. In an era full of bold and powerful statements on race relations by black artists, Solange manages to offer up something truly different.
Best: “Cranes in the Sky,” “Mad” feat. Lil Wayne, “Don’t You Wait,” “Junie”
Worst: “Borderline (An Ode to Self-Care)” feat. Q-Tip
30) BUCKET LIST PROJECT – Saba
Saba’s been buzzing for a couple years as part of the blossoming Chicago rap scene and one of Chance the Rapper’s cohorts. His mixtape Bucket List Project proves he merits deeper consideration than that. Granted, the album follows some familiar beats from Chance’s breakthrough mixtape ACIDRAP (bubbly, psychedelic production; songs produced by Cam O’bi; lyrical jumping jacks on the intro; featuring Twista on the 3rd song and having the next feature be from Noname; etc.), but despite that, Saba’s definitely got a unique voice. He delivers a softer, more soulful take on the unmistakable Chicago sound. It’s simultaneously poppier than ACIDRAP and more niche.
Best: “In Loving Memory,” “GPS” feat. Twista, “Symmetry,” “American Hypnosis” feat. Akenya, “California” feat. Ravyn Lenae and Phoelix
29) US OR ELSE: LETTER TO THE SYSTEM – T.I.
T.I. rightfully pointed out in an interview with NBC News that he’s “late to the party” when it comes to making what he calls “revolutionary art.” Yes, he’s inexperienced, but his veteran status in southern gangsta rap and trap lends him a unique voice for these issues. Us or Else is such a powerful rallying cry because of that trap sound. Trap’s always been a defiant genre, but when politics come front and center, it creates an extremely moving piece of work. We also get excellent guest appearances by everyone from Quavo to Killer Mike. As well as dope production all around. If you’re looking for conscious, subversive hip-hop with a modern trap sound, Us or Else is the album for you.
Best: “Black Man” feat. Quavo, Meek Mill, and RaRa; “Writer” feat. Translee and B.o.B; “We Will Not;” “40 Acres” feat. Killer Mike and B. Rossi; “I Swear”
Worst: “Ah No No” feat. Translee
28) DNCE – DNCE
For a long while, I contemplated putting Bonito Generation by Kero Kero Bonito on this list. The album’s full of adorable, clever, unique synth J-pop. Ultimately though, I felt that its charms were heavily weighed down by the band’s unrelenting gimmickry. Then I realized something: there’s not a single song on Bonito Generation that I appreciate as much as DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean.” The funk pop group shares KKB’s plucky pop goofball sensibilities, but I think they’re probably better at making pop music. With songs like “Naked,” “Blown,” and “Be Mean,” the album constantly seeks to find out how far DNCE can go into pure raunch without losing its captivating charm, and it never really does. Frontman and ex-JoBro Joe Jonas wrote every single song on the album, which is an impressive feat in the modern-day pop industry.
Best: “Body Moves,” “Blown” feat. Kent Jones (keep an eye on Kent Jones, y’all), “Good Day,” “Almost,” “Be Mean”
27) STATIK KXNG – Statik Selektah and KXNG Crooked
Hip-hop production legend Statik Selektah and underrated lyrical mastermind KXNG Crooked joined forces on the surprisingly underrated album Statik KXNG. I mean, I know Crooked put out his own album this year, and it was super cool because it was a sci-fi concept album, but come on. It’s not as good as Statik KXNG, right? It’s just song after song of incredible ’90s sample-heavy beats from Statik and fantastic lyrics and flows from Crooked. Slaughterhouse cohort Royce da 5’9″ had the best raw hip-hop mixtape of 2016, but Crooked had the best classic hip-hop album.
Best: “Magic & Bird,” “Dead or in Jail,” “Stop Playing,” “Good Gone Bad”
Worst: “Bitch Got Me Fucked Up”
26) 24K MAGIC – Bruno Mars
I honestly wasn’t expecting to love 24K Magic. The single at the same name was just a slight rehash of “Uptown Funk!” (not that I’m complaining) and the cover art and title seemed to imply more of the same. Turns out, this is Bruno Mars’ best album. It’s short and sweet with 9 tracks and not a bad one in the bunch. It’s more focused than any of his other albums, taking most if not all of its influence from R&B of the ’80s and ’90s. Bruno’s swag is unprecedented, but he never loses his grip on the listener’s charm receptors. He’s corny without being slimy.
Best: “Perm,” “That’s What I Like,” “Versace on the Floor,” “Finesse”
Worst: “24K Magic”
25) JOANNE – Lady Gaga
Heerrre we go. I think Joanne’s downfall was that people went into it, looking at the cover art and some of the singles, expecting a drastic artistic shift for Gaga. What they got was a standard Lady Gaga album with splashes of country throughout. But quite frankly, I think that’s enough. She hasn’t put out a piece of work this solid in a long time. Joanne manages to be heartfelt, brilliant, and thoroughly enjoyable without losing its unique country edge or power pop touch.
Best: “Diamond Heart,” “John Wayne,” “Dancin’ in Circles,” “Angel Down”
Worst: “Come to Mama”
24) BIG BABY D.R.A.M. – D.R.A.M.
This shit’s just delightful. I love singers with a unique voice, I love rappers who flawlessly integrate singing into their rapping, and I love people who spread positivity and have a good time. That’s pretty much all D.R.A.M. is. If you only know him from “Broccoli,” check out this album. He’s got a lot more to offer.
Best: “Misunderstood” feat. Young Thug, “WiFi” feat. Erykah Badu, “Cash Machine,” “Outta Sight/Dark Lavender Interlude”
23) AMERICAN BOYFRIEND: A SUBURBAN LOVE STORY – Kevin Abstract
I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve never heard of this kid or his album. He’s famous enough to have his own Wikipedia page, but not famous enough to get more than 300,000 views on a YouTube video. But I’ve talked about him before and American Boyfriend is really an incredible album. It’s a subtle, angst-ridden, nuanced tale of looking for love in a hateful world. It’s a little scattered, a little basic, and Kevin’s not a particularly great singer or rapper. But he poured his heart and soul into this record and it really delivers.
Best: “Empty,” “Blink,” “Tattoo,” “Runner,” “Miserable America”
22) HOPELESSNESS – ANOHNI
Hopelessness, as downright devastating as it is, isn’t really hopeless. Sure, it paints a brutal, gritty, crushing picture of the world we live in, but there’s these moments. These little sparks of almost-jarring prospect. I think that’s what really sets the record apart. It’s brilliantly finds a way to be a subversive, unique protest album without being too depressing to listen to, thanks in no small part to incredible production from electronic powerhouses Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never. Definitely one of the most unique, unforgettable albums of the year.
Best: “Drone Bomb Me,” “4 Degrees,” “Obama,” “Hopelessness”
Worst: “I Don’t Love You Anymore”
21) THE DEFINITION OF… – Fantasia
Y’all remember Fantasia, right? R&B phenomenon with the best track record of any American Idol winner outside of Carrie Underwood? Well, she put out a new album. It’s great. Sure, it’s conceptually simple, but it’s one of the few straightforward R&B albums this year where not only is every track good, but almost all of them are excellent. “Ugly” is a powerful trip through Fantasia’s journey from teen to reality show winner to underrated soul-pop legend. “So Blue” is a deliciously-’80s island jam that will never let you go. “Sleeping With the One I Love” is one of the better songs R. Kelly’s ever written.
Best: “Crazy,” “Sleeping With the One I Love,” “Roller Coasters” feat. Aloe Blacc, “I Made It” feat. Tye Tribbett
Worst: “When I Met You”
20) COLLEGROVE – 2 Chainz
I never expected I’d be putting a 2 Chainz album this high on my Album of the Year list. In fact, even when I first heard this album, I was certain it wouldn’t make the list. When I was in the process of making the list, I didn’t think it would make it, and when it wound up on the list, I still didn’t think it would be in the top 20. But I’m sorry, this album is incredible. See, while contract disputes prevented them from calling a horse a horse, this is actually a 2 Chainz/Lil Wayne collaboration album. It’s easily the funniest (music) album of 2016, with Wayne dishing out the types of one-liners we thought were years behind him and 2 Chainz finally making the case for himself as a great rapper. It’s full of hilarious, surprisingly heartfelt, and endlessly enjoyable moments. I’ve probably listened to it the most out of any album this year, and I get more out of it every time.
Best: “Dedication,” “Bounce” feat. Lil Wayne, “Rolls Royce Weather Everyday” feat. Lil Wayne, “What Happened” feat. Lil Wayne
Worst: “100 Joints”
19) EXCOMMUNICATION – Tyler Glenn
Gay, ex-Mormon lead singer of Neon Trees Tyler Glenn brings you this passionate, politically-charged electropop album and do I even need to say anything else?
Best: “G.D.M.M.L. Grls,” “Shameless,” “Midnight,” “Devil”
Worst: “One More”
18) ATROCITY EXHIBITION – Danny Brown
Y’know, I didn’t even really like Danny Brown before I heard this album. I didn’t hate him, I just never bothered to check him out because I thought he was annoying and lyrically simplistic. But goddamn, this album is incredible. Taking influences from punk, Cypress Hill, and Kid Cudi-style drugged-up prog rap, it’s chaotic without ever feeling overwhelming. I think that’s exactly what’s so magical about this album: it’s the same constant cycle of addiction and hedonism that you’ll find in the music of say, Future, but it doesn’t ever feel exhausting. Also, Paul White’s grimy, thrashing production definitely helps. “Really Doe” is one of the best posse cuts this decade.
Best: “Tell Me What I Don’t Know;” “Really Doe” feat. Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and Earl Sweatshirt; “Ain’t It Funny;” “When It Rain;” “Today”
17) THE LIFE OF PABLO – Kanye West
The Life of Pablo is… messy. Narcissistic. Often unpleasant. But I think that’s kind of the point. It’s an album that sort of forgives itself on your behalf. There’s a cynical cycle inherent in it, but you still forgive it. The album’s message is that forgiveness = freedom, and if you forgive yourself, others will follow. That’s exactly what happens in the album, and that’s exactly what happens in Kanye’s life. Over and over again. Each sin is forgiven because he forgives himself, which allows him to create these chaotic masterpieces that, in turn, lead to his own atonement. It’s a damn stretch to call The Life of Pablo a gospel album, but it is a religious experience. Only instead of God, we have Kanye. And maybe that’s good enough for us.
Best: “Ultralight Beam” feat. The-Dream, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin, and Chance the Rapper; “Father Stretch My Hands” feat. Kid Cudi and Desiigner; “Highlights” feat. Young Thug, El DeBarge, and The-Dream; “Frank’s Track” feat. Frank Ocean; “No More Parties in LA” feat. Kendrick Lamar
Worst: “Facts (Charlie Heat Version)”
16) RUN THE JEWELS 3 – Run the Jewels
What may go down as the most jarring omission from every single critic’s year-end list, RTJ3 was surprise-dropped Beyonce-style on Christmas Day. Killer Mike and El-P have both sustained long, accomplished careers without a single L, and RTJ3 keeps the crazy train rolling, full of irresistibly fun, hard-hitting bars, excellent production, and a number of delightful features. It’s just a perfectly-executed album.
Best: “Legend Has It,” “Hey Kids (Bumaye)” feat. Danny Brown, “Panther Like a Panther (Miracle Mix)” feat. Trina, “Thursday in the Danger Room” feat. Kamasi Washington, “A Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters” feat. Zack de la Rocha
Worst: “Don’t Get Captured”
15) REDEMPTION – Dawn Richard
Another shamefully-underrated album, especially for someone as well-known as Dawn Richard, REDEMPTION completes a trilogy of increasingly-experimental electropop records. It’s delightfully unpredictable, oozing confidence while still projecting tons of emotion. Fans of Danity Kane and Diddy Dirty-Money may consider this a jarring change of pace, but Dawn’s still the same smooth R&B crowd-pleaser deep down. She’s just on a higher level.
Best: “Black Crimes,” “LA” feat. Trombone Shorty, “Renegades,” “Vines (Interlude” feat. PJ Morton, “The Louvre”
14) TELEFONE – Noname
After years of buildup, Noname’s debut mixtape gave us everything we were hoping for. Part of the cerebral bleep-bloop Chicago hip-hop scene, Noname first gained recognition for her stellar guest verse on a Chance the Rapper album. No, the other one. No, the other other one. No, that was a Social Experiment album. That’s the one. You can find Noname all over this year’s list, but she still deserved recognition for her own work. Lyrically masterful, beautifully produced, eloquent, soulful, nostalgic, and brand-new all at once. Definitely keep an eye out for Noname in the future, if you haven’t been already.
Best: “Yesterday;” “Diddy Bop” feat. Raury and Cam O’bi; “Freedom (Interlude);” “Shadow Man” feat. Saba, Smino, and Phoelix
Worst: “Bye Bye Baby”
13) FAREWELL, STARLITE! – Francis and the Lights
I don’t know, man. A lot of people trashed this album. I thought it was great. It was like if 22, A Million was a dance record, and there’s something I find very endearing about that meshing of styles. It’s soft-rock, it’s alt-R&B, it’s EDM, it’s hip-hop, it finds itself in this weird nether space, like Squidward in that endless sea of white, fluorescent geometric shapes speaking softly to him. That’s exactly what this album is, and maybe that’s not for you, but I really appreciated it. Also, I have to have at least one album on the list that no one likes but me, so might as well get it out of the way.
Best: “See Her Out (That’s Just Life),” “Can’t Stay Party,” “I Want You to Shake,” “It’s Alright to Cry”
Worst: “Running Man / Gospel OP1”
12) JEFFERY – Young Thug
I’ve loved Young Thug for a hot minute now, but I was never able to get fully behind him for one nagging reason: he’d yet to have a great record. 15 mixtapes in and he still couldn’t seem to pull himself together, get focused, and get weird. Well, my worries were answered when Thugga dropped JEFFERY, a spectacular collection of unapologetically weird pop-rap masterpieces. I hope he continues down this path because his ability to break down the rules of pop and make them bend to his whims, to embrace queerness while flawlessly exuding raw trap vibes, to continuously stun, baffle, and impress audiences, is exactly what we need.
Best: “Wyclef Jean,” “RiRi,” “Harambe,” “Pick Up the Phone” with Travis Scott feat. Quavo
Worst: “Floyd Mayweather” feat. Travis Scott, Gucci Mane, and Gunna
11) BLACK AMERICA AGAIN – Common
Black America Again is a return to form for Common, one of the most revered rappers in hip-hop history, but it’s also an evolution. He moves away from straightforward hip-hop and reincorporates the jazz-infused sound of his earlier work, but it feels like the end of a hero’s journey narrative. He’s older, wiser, more powerful. He brings back the pop culture references, but just as many of the references are biblical. He remains peaceful, optimistic, laid-back, but he creates an ethos for himself, introducing the listener to concepts they’ve never even heard of before. He’s just as reasoned but all the more seasoned, and he brings along some of the great visionaries of music, like Bilal and Stevie Wonder.
Best: “Home” feat. Bilal, “Black America Again” feat. Stevie Wonder, “Pyramids,” “A Bigger Picture Called Free” feat. Syd and Bilal
Worst: “Love Star” feat. Marsha Ambrosius and PJ (no disrespect to Marsha, obv.)
10) FREETOWN SOUND – Blood Orange
With all the clamor over Frank Ocean’s Blond (which I’ll get to in a minute), let’s not forget about the other fantastic, paradigm-shifting experimental R&B record by a queer black visionary, Freetown Sound. Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange, aka Lightspeed Champion) has been absolutely tearing it up in the worlds of rock, jazz, pop, and folk for a full decade now, working with some of the most acclaimed names in music, and Freetown Sound might be his best work yet. It’s tremendously cool while still being vulnerable. Dev paints a true vision of himself, warts and fluid motions and curious impulses and all. The writing and production are simply incredible, with Hynes taking on a tremendous amount of the album’s artistry by himself, while still incorporating his featured guests (which include everyone from Carly Rae Jepsen to Ta-Nehisi Coates) in a way that makes the songs feel like true collaborations.
Best: “Augustine,” “Best to You” feat. Empress Of, “E.V.P.” feat Debbie Harry (DEBBIE GODDAMN HARRY!!!), “Love Ya” feat. Zuri Marley, “Juicy 1-4”
9) WE GOT IT FROM HERE… THANK YOU 4 YOUR SERVICE – A Tribe Called Quest
A lot of ’90s rap groups have come back with albums in the past couple years, and most of them have been pretty okay. When A Tribe Called Quest, the leader of the pack, announced their big reunion album, people got pretty excited. That hype built for a while, and obviously escalated when Phife Dawg’s untimely death brought them back into the public eye. But I don’t think any of us were expecting universal acclaim. I don’t think we were expecting over 100,000 units sold in its first week, making it the #1 album in the country. I probably don’t need to be the one to tell you how good this album is, but it’s so goddamn good. The structure, the bars, the production, THE FEATURES. It might be A Tribe Called Quest’s best album, and that’s saying a lot.
Best: “The Space Program,” “We the People…,” “Dis Generation” feat. Busta Rhymes, “Lost Somebody” feat. Katia Cadet, “The Donald” feat. Busta Rhymes and Katia Cadet
Worst: “Melatonin” feat. Marsha Ambrosius and Abbie Smith (sorry again, Marsha)
8) MALIBU – Anderson .Paak
One of the undisputed best albums of 2016 came out on January 15. Now that’s an accomplishment. Anderson .Paak has been at it for the whole of this decade now, but he really made waves (no pun intended) in the mainstream for his significant contributions to Dr. Dre’s criminally underappreciated 2015 album Compton. Now, he’s shaping up to be the next big thing in music, an immensely talented, multifaceted artist seamlessly relaying between hip-hop and soul and funk to create one incredible piece of art after another. And his grand introduction is Malibu. He taps into the bubble-funk bliss of latter-day Outkast, the earnest goofiness of ’90s R&B/Bruno Mars, the mind-blowing calculation of Kendrick Lamar, and the sheer visionary je ne sais quoi of Stevie Wonder. Very few artists in the music world today are brimming with as much fabulous potential as Anderson .Paak.
Best: “Am I Wrong” feat. ScHoolboy Q, “Come Down,” “Silicon Valley,” “The Dreamer” feat. Talib Kweli and Timan Family Choir
Worst: “Your Prime”
7) UNTITLED UNMASTERED. – Kendrick Lamar
Just four albums into his career, Kendrick Lamar has already left a considerable imprint on the music world. He currently has multiple (admittedly phoned-in) verses on pop hits, making him an undeniable mainstream phenomenon. He also literally appears all over this list, working with everyone from A Tribe Called Quest to Danny Brown to ScHoolboy Q to The Weeknd to Kanye West to DJ Khaled to— well, you get the point. He also has a tremendous amount of influence. Hell, even David Bowie said his new music’s inspired by the guy. And as everyone’s quick to point out, Kendrick’s album of B-sides is better than anything most other artists put out this year. But I think what’s special about untitled unmastered. is that it’s not really a B-side album. Despite being made up of outtakes and rejects and songs made in a day to impress the Colbert Report crowd, it’s very intricately tied together. The cohesion of the record that makes it work, and it’s part of what makes Kendrick so notable (in addition to just being great at everything).
Best: “untitled 01 | 08.19.2014” feat. Bilal, “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014,” “untitled 07 | 2014-2016”
Worst: “untitled 04 | 08.14.2014” feat. SZA and Lance Skiiiwalker
6) “AWAKEN, MY LOVE!” – Childish Gambino
I don’t like this album for the same reasons I like Childish Gambino’s earlier music. My love for him then was based on an admiration for corny one-liners and an underdeveloped pretentiousness odometer. “Awaken, My Love!” is a truly impressive work of art. Donald Glover employs the unmistakable sounds of Parliament Funkadelic to highlight issues for both himself and his community today. We all knew Gambino was incredibly talented, but he really pours his heart and soul into this record, creating songs that are catchy, empowering, and just downright impressive. “Redbone” is a feat of immense talent. No one will convince me that “Boogieman” is not a masterpiece. “Me and Your Mama” made my jaw drop the first time I heard it.
Best: “Have Some Love,” “Boogieman,” “Zombies,” “Redbone,” “Stand Tall”
Worst: “California” (HOLY SHIT this song is garbage)
5) SPLENDOR & MISERY – clipping.
Most underrated album of 2016, y’all. Fresh out of proving himself to be one of the most talented and beautiful people alive in Hamilton, Daveed Diggs returns to music to create a clipping. album that expands on the band’s existing music, tells a brand-new and extremely compelling story, and creates a perfectly cohesive, captivating experience that’s less than 40 minutes long. It’s less sonically diverse than clipping.’s last record, but honestly? That’s kind of for the best. CLPPNG isn’t bad, but there’s a few songs on it that are absolutely unlistenable. None of that on Splendor & Misery. Just brilliance.
Best: “All Black,” “Air ‘Em Out,” “Baby Don’t Sleep,” “A Better Place”
Worst: “Long Way Away”
4) BLACKSTAR – David Bowie
To be perfectly fair, I believe this album would be almost as popular, and I’d appreciate it just as much, if Bowie was still alive. But at the same time, so much of the mystique of this album is the fact that it came out just two days before his death. It’s the angry, impassioned swan song of a man close to death. Powerful, haunting, hard-hitting, but at times downright fun. This isn’t a downer record by any means. In only seven tracks, it practically runs the gamut of the entire emotional spectrum, in a way only David Bowie could. It’s classic and brand-new, jazz and rock and hip-hop all rolled into one, but still 100% Bowie. I don’t think we’ll be forgetting about Blackstar any time soon.
Best: “Blackstar,” “‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,” “Lazarus,” “I Can’t Give Everything Away”
Worst: “Girl Loves Me”
3) LEMONADE – Beyonce
There’s an argument to be made that this is too low on the list. Let me press that a bit. There’s an argument to be made that #3 out of every goddamn album to come out in 2016 is too low for Lemonade. And yes, there was a time when I really thought this would be #1. It’s so goddamn good. There’s so much to say about it. It’s a bold tribute to black womanhood from the most popular artist in the world. It’s an incredibly cathartic, empowering pop record without a single dull moment. But it’s so much more than a pop album. It’s jazz and soul and gospel and blues and rock and funk and reggae and country and trap. There’s a song on this album produced by Beyonce, Diplo, and the lead singer of Vampire Weekend. What the fuck? Beyonce bares her soul on this record, which is especially significant because it’s Beyonce, the godlike figure who never does interviews, doesn’t use social media, and rarely if ever injects anything personal into her music. And the best part is, she hasn’t peaked yet. It’s still uphill from here. The albums above this on the list may be better, but Lemonade is definitely the most important album of 2016.
Best: “Don’t Hurt Yourself” feat. Jack White, “6 Inch” feat. the Weeknd, “Daddy Lessons,” “Freedom” feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Formation”
2) COLORING BOOK – Chance the Rapper
Before the Grammys, this album was up at #8. When I saw Chance’s performance at the awards, I immediately moved it up to #1. I’ve since moved it back down, as you can see, but the point still remains. One of the most striking things about this album is how well everything fits together. How Chance can get up on stage and perform a medley of three or four songs, a riff from another, a mantra from another, and it always fits so incredibly well. And it’s still such a varied album, sonically. It doesn’t stick itself in the gospel pit and lie there, it swims around from trap to pop to electronica, always keeping gospel at its core, every single line breathtakingly meaningful. Chance said before Coloring Book came out, “Let’s make it so free and the bars so hard that there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet.” Within a week, every single line from the album had been tweeted. In a sneaky way, Chance has proven himself an incredible writer. And a great singer, rapper, role model, composer, and all-around swell guy. Rarely does the album that makes you feel the best also qualify to be the best, but Coloring Book is a once-in-a-lifetime record. And somehow, it’s still only #2.
Best: “No Problem” feat. Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz; “Same Drugs;” “All Night” feat. Knox Fortune; “How Great” feat. Jay Electronica and Chance’s cousin Nicole; “Blessings” feat. Ty Dolla $ign, Raury, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Anderson .Paak
Worst: “Smoke Break” feat. Future
1) BLONDE – Frank Ocean
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. In the case of Blonde, this is sort of an unfair assessment, because actually, the previous Frank Ocean album had come out a day before and wasn’t even that good. So I don’t think I’m harboring too much bias when I say Blonde is album of the year. It’s an incredible, sprawling, psychedelic soul album full of raw emotion and spectacular writing. It’s on such a high plane that it makes channel ORANGE seem like a pop album. But it’s still thoroughly catchy. It’s still got something for every listener to enjoy. When talking about albums, it’s always hard for me to explain why one is good, but why it’s superior to another. Blonde is the best album of 2016. Channel ORANGE was the best album of 2012. Very few artists ever get to have two consecutive albums be album of the year they came out. So in that sense, along with several others, Frank Ocean is one of the best artists alive. Don’t believe me? Listen to Blonde. Or maybe Coloring Book is better, I don’t know.
Best: “Ivy,” “Solo”/”Solo (Reprise)” feat. Andre 3000, “Nights,” “White Ferrari,” “Futura Free”
Worst: “Good Guy”