The Year 2016 in Review: Music

by Sammy Smith

The year 2016 was an interesting year for music. Although there were duds from some major artists, music lovers got to experiences many works of art as well. We lost some of the all-time greats (R.I.P. Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Phife Dawg, etc.), but we also gained some new icons.

As the hours countdown to the New Year, we would like to recognize some of the top albums and artists of 2016.

Top 16 Albums of 2016:

Honorable Mentions

16. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

awaken_my_love

Donald Glover may be one of the most talented men in the world. He has written scripts, produced a hit TV show, starred in comedy specials and under his stage name, Childish Gambino, released two studio albums before December 2016. While his style has been compared to that of Drake, Childish Gambino laid to rest that comparison with the release of his third album, Awaken, My Love.

The influences for this album are apparent. It’s easy to pick up on hints of George Clinton, Lenny Kravitz, Prince and Sly and the Family Stone in the music. Gambino displays vocal talent that we have never heard from him over psychedelic funk and soul instrumentals that sound like they came straight out of the ‘70s.

Themes of protest and police brutality are present throughout the album, but the more personal moments (“Me and Your Mama” “and “Redbone”) are far more engaging. However, Gambino does bring it all together to create his best album to date

15. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

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Atrocity Exhibition is a mess, but a beautiful mess. It’s an album that goes is so many different directions, incorporating so many different subgenres of rap that, on first listen, listeners may find themselves confused.

While this album may not be the masterpiece that was Danny Brown’s XXX, it comes pretty close. Using his high-pitched voice and unique delivery, Brown uses insanely different and crazy flows with raw lyricism over dark and dreary beats. With appearances from Kendrick Lamar, Ab Soul and Earl Sweatshirt on the single “Really Doe,” this album reels in audiences with a simple, yet catchy track.

One of the most interesting albums this year, Danny Brown continues a streak of brilliance as one of hip hop’s most underrated rappers.

14. Noname – Telefone

telefone

Chicago rapper Noname has flashed brilliance in the past, with frequent appearances on Chance the Rapper songs. It was only a matter of time before she showed her ability in a solo project. Then came Telefone.

With a nonchalant delivery, Noname hooks listeners with an unconventional poetic, almost spoken word-like flow that, while weird, is oddly refreshing in an era where rappers are sounding a lot alike. The project includes light, nostalgic and sunny instrumentals that poetically contrast with the sometimes heavy subject matter. Noname looks back on life in Chicago on this project, exploring everything from her childhood (“Diddy Bop”) to the gang violence in the city (“Casket Pretty”).

With this project, Noname solidified herself as one of hip hop’s best lyricists.

13. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

teens-of-denial

Car Seat Headrest is back again with another album, and while the last studio release, Teens of Style, showed a lot of promise, Teens of Denial is another step in the right direction.

A very raw and emotional album, frontman and multi-instrumentalist Will Toledo, worked with a full band and producer for the first time. While the album was longer than expected (70 minutes over 12 songs), it doesn’t drag on. This album tells the story of the rough life 20-something-year-old — a story of drugs, alcohol and romance.

Toledo’s influences continue to shine through his music (Dido on “The Battle of the Costa Concordia”) but paired with cleaner instrumentals, it’s his ambition that makes this project so good. This album may not be for everyone but it’s worth the listen.

12. Green Day – Revolution Radio

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Finding a Green Day album that has been truly enjoyable from front-to-back has been difficult since the 2009 release of 21st Century Breakdown. With the shortcomings of their past three albums, Revolution Radio was surprisingly refreshing.

This album provides moments that remind you of the band that exploded in the ‘90s, as Green Day takes a more basic approach to punk rock. The album, however, offers more thoughtful and introspective moments like in “Outlaws.” With more mature takes, it seems as if Green Day flashes a more authentic, adult-like mentality that was missing in previous albums.

Those moments of authenticity and nostalgia are what make this album such a worthy listen.

11. NxWorries – Yes Lawd!

nxworries-yes-lawd

NxWorries, the collective of rapper/singer/songwriter Anderson .Paak and ultra-talented producer Knxwledge, released their second full-length project and debut studio album in October, much to the excitement of fans.

While most fans would attribute the success of this album to .Paak, it’s really Knxwledge’s production that shines throughout the entire project. Sticking with a smooth jazz, funk and neo-soul influence, Knxwledge allows .Paak’s soulful crooning to convey emotions that are easy to pick up on. Though the subject matter is vastly different from his solo album, Malibu, the emotion-fused voice of .Paak remains constant and inviting to listeners.

Truly a sexy and soulful album, NxWorries delivers a project that has unlimited replay value.

10. ANOHNI – Hopelessness

hopelessness

The year 2016 saw a lot of politically-charged songs and a few attempts at albums of the same likeness. However, no protest album in recent years has been able to encapsulate the serious subject matter like ANOHNI’s Hopelessness.

Owning her distinct and unique voice, ANOHNI is able to use shadowy electronic pop beats to her advantage without compromising her precise lyrics to successfully cover issues like U.S. drone bombing, government surveillance, and climate change. An album with such heavy messaging normally risks the steady enjoyment of the listener. That is certainly not the case with this album, as the euphoric instrumentals balance out the heavy lyrics.

This album was definitely one of the most thought-provoking listens of the year and definitely one of the most impressive debuts from an artist as of late.

9. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

we-got-it-from-here

In what is slated to be their last album, A Tribe Called Quest made sure that they would leave the rap game in the same position they entered – as one of the greatest.

The group, who lost member Phife Dawg to diabetes earlier this year, delivered one of the most hard hitting hip hop albums in recent years. Featuring politically-charged messages and nods to new school artists like Kendrick Lamar and Joey Bada$$, Q-Tip and even Phife Dawg still provide a blast from the past that acknowledges the fact that some of rap’s best music still comes from its elder artists. This album combines the boom-bap beats of old, the melodies of new and terrific instrumentation, a combination that is pleasing to the ear.

A Tribe Called Quest used featured artists masterfully, and the appearances of artists like Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000 and Anderson .Paak provide the perfect tribute to the legendary group that influenced them all.

8. Angel Olsen – My Woman

my-woman

This album is definitely one that you have to be in the mood for. In her third studio album, singer-songwriter Angel Olsen delivered her best work to date.

My Woman is an album that despite the sometimes dark and depressing lyrics, listeners can have fun with because of the vocal gymnastics practiced by the unique Olsen and lighter acoustic cuts that this album provides. However, songs that feature heavier electric guitar riffs are when Olsen is at her best.

This incredible album is terrific listen that is more than worthy of being on this list

7. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

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Whenever Radiohead releases an album, it’s no surprise when it’s met with critical acclaim, and this album was no different.

Coming five years after their last album, the legendary band wows with their harmonic melodies. The soft voice of Thom Yorke blends nearly perfectly over the symphonies, in what may very well be Radiohead’s darkest album to date. A Moon Shaped Pool, while dark, is surprisingly comforting, leaving listeners with a conflict – but one that is greatly appreciated.

An emotional album, Radiohead put together one of their best albums to date with this release.

6. Anderson .Paak – Malibu

malibu

What a year it has been for Anderson .Paak, who is the only artist to make two appearances on our list. After years of bubbling in the underground of West Coast Hip Hop, Anderson .Paak broke into the mainstream on Dr. Dre’s Compton album. Since then, he hasn’t disappointed.

In a follow-up to his debut studio album, Venice, .Paak released the gem that was Malibu in January. A unique vocalist, .Paak uses his voice to serenade listeners over jazzy beats and is even capable of delivering hard hitting bars on songs like “The Waters.”

With guest verses from Schoolboy Q, Rapsody and The Game, this album is packed full of meaningful themes that makes it a truly enjoyable listen.

5. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

coloring-book

When the choirs of gospel music mix with the unique flows and uplifting lyrics of one of rap’s fastest rising stars, you get the project that is Coloring Book.

The project, named accordingly, is very colorful, with different genres of rap acting as the colors that permeate throughout the project. Chance showed his versatility, working with a bevy of artists that range from Lil Yachty to Justin Bieber to Kirk Franklin. Chance even gets a surprise guest verse from rapper Jay Electronica.

A truly spiritual experience, Coloring Book shows the growth and maturity of Chance the Rapper as he looks back on his life and prepares for his “blessings” It’s an album that can make an atheist want to praise the lord.

4. Beyonce – Lemonade

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Despite the overwhelming hype surrounding the album, Beyoncé still managed to deliver one of the most versatile and best albums of this year.

With pro-black anthems like “Freedom,” a country-infused track in “Daddy Lessons,” a feminist hit in “Sorry” and a megahit sensation in “Formation,” Beyoncé showed listeners her skill set as one of the best artists of her generation.

3. David Bowie – Blackstar

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It’s really easy to shower David Bowie with praise after he tragically passed away earlier this year, but that’s not the reason why this album deserves a spot on this list.

Even in the end, the legendary musician delivered a groundbreaking album, fusing elements of rock, jazz and electronic music. Moving so far away for pop, Bowie continued to be the trendsetter that made him a legend, and his work deserves all recognition that it receives.

2. Solange – A Seat at the Table

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Often overshadowed by her older sister, Solange has put together a solid music career for herself. However, it wasn’t until this album where she deserved the spotlight.

Solange, known in music circles for her songwriting, definitely flexed those muscles on this album. With soulful beats and beautiful lyrics, Solange doesn’t hold back with pro-black themes on songs like “Don’t Touch My Hair.” Speaking on the experience of growing up black in America, even the interludes featuring her parents, Matthew and Tina, help convey the message she is trying to get across. She even gets help with a guest verse from Lil Wayne on “Mad,” who delivers one of his most meaningful verses in recent years.

All in all, Solange delivered one of the most surprising albums of the year.

1. Frank Ocean – Blonde

blond

Rarely is an album deemed perfect. Critically speaking, most, if not all, artistic endeavors have their shortcomings. On the first listen, I certainly thought Blonde had many shortcomings, but after much consideration, this album is one of the few works of art that can carry the burden of being absolutely flawless.

With stripped down instrumentation, meaningful lyrics, and heavy themes, Frank Ocean delivers a cohesive masterpiece that rivals some of the best albums ever.

A masterful songwriter, Ocean leaves nuggets of genius with the inclusion of hidden influences and features from artists like The Beatles, Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar. The themes of internal conflict shine bright throughout the album with Ocean exploring different parts of himself. While everyone can relate to the theme of conflict, what is really special about this album isn’t just Frank’s ability to tell stories. Rather what’s special is the ability to find something new sonically, lyrically and thematically with each listen.

This album definitely deserves the highest marks and is more than deserving of Dynasty’s Album of the Year award.

Artist of the Year:

Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper crash landed in the mainstream music scene like we’ve never seen before. We have never seen an independent artist do what Chance has done in the last year.

Release one of the best albums of 2016? Check. Perform three times on NBC’s Saturday Night Live? Check. Be the first artist to have a streaming-only album nominated for a Grammy? Check.

Not to mention, musically, what Chance has been able to do this year is nothing short of amazing. In addition to Coloring Book, he co-wrote some of the hottest songs on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo while delivering one of the best guest verses of the year on the opening track, “Ultralight Beam.” Chance also released a surprisingly tolerable Christmas album with R&B singer, Jeremih.

All in all, Chance the Rapper had a productive year, an all-time great year, and that’s why he deserves Dynasty’s Artist of the Year award.

Runner Ups: Anderson .Paak, The Chainsmokers

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