2016 was a...memorable year to say the least. When it comes to the music, though, we mean that in a good way. Start off 2017 right by checking out our favorite albums from last year!
Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book
"...as a rapper, Chance is everything we love about hip-hop in 2016. The convoluted and conscious-minded bars of Kendrick Lamar, the melodic gymnastics of Young Thug, the Oculus Rift ambitions of Kanye West. Mixing American music at its most vintage, today's most cutting-edge rhyming and the emotional vocoder music that symbolizes our future, this lush, powerful album attempts to move hip-hop past Planet Rock and into the Heavens."
- Rolling Stone
Frank Ocean - Blond
"On its surface, 'Blonde' seems tremendously insular. Whereas 'Channel Orange' showed off an expansive eclecticism, this album contracts at nearly every turn. Its spareness suggests a person in a small apartment with only a keyboard and a guitar and thoughts for company. But it isn’t just anyone emoting from the abyss, it’s Frank Ocean. In his hands, such intimacy attracts the ear, bubbles the brain, raises the flesh. These songs are not for marching, but they still serve a purpose. They’re about everyday lives, about the feat of just existing, which is a statement in its own right."
Kanye West - The Life of Pablo
"...I really can’t detect a single instance of restraint or self-censorship on the album. Here he is, recklessly calling out Taylor Swift and Amber Rose, singing dumb shit about bleached assholes, asking “do anybody feel bad for Bill Cosby,” still editing the tracklist four days after release day, essentially boiling down his recent Twitter presence to 59 minutes of music. TLOP is great, and not in spite of these things, but because of them. His actions, persona and public reputation are key features of this album, which is a more complete portrait of a human being than almost any other full-length record in history."
- Hot New Hip Hop
J. Cole - 4 Your Eyes Only
"...'4 Your Eyez Only' is his first that feels as if it were made without the slightest concession to what’s happening elsewhere in the genre. It is spartan but sumptuous, emotionally acute but plain-spoken. There’s an extraordinary sense of calm pervading this album, one of the year’s most finely drawn...For Mr. Cole, doing the least, it turns out, equates to achieving the most. This is an album about unvarnished anxiety and uncomplicated love. It traces an arc from sociopolitical resentment to personal growth."
- The New York Times
Kevin Morby - Singing Saw
"Singer-songwriter Kevin Morby’s third solo album reveals that, at 28, he’s an old head on young shoulders. When not sounding uncannily like Bob Dylan (Water), the former member of Brooklyn psych-folk outfit Woods is worrying about his mental powers (“Will I lose my mind?” he sings on Ferris Wheel) and evoking the Band’s warped Americana."
- The Guardian
Bon Iver - 22, A Million
"From the opening pitched-up vocals that break through the static to assure “it might be over soon” on “22 (OVER S∞∞N)”, Vernon uses his own insecurities and fears as a rallying cry. He sought treatment for anxiety and depression ahead of creating the album, but through music, he makes fears of mortality and impermanence empowering by owning them. Vernon says about [Kanye] West that by believing in himself, others might feel the same thing, and he puts that into practice across the record."
- Consequence of Sound
anderson .paak - Malibu
"It doesn’t take long to reach the heart of Anderson .Paak’s new album, Malibu. Just a minute into opening track "The Birds," the West Coast-based rapper and singer/songwriter offers: "My mama caught the gambling bug... My papa was behind them bars/ We never had to want for nuthin’/ Said all we ever need is love." His voice is warm, strained, and conversational, like a Baptist minister or your favorite uncle schooling you, and the wide-open groove has an unhurried feel. It's immediately clear: This is a sincere, soulful project, brimming with honesty and humble perseverance."
Kendrick Lamar - Untitled, Unmastered
"Kendrick Lamar didn’t have to do this. Not even a year has passed since he released his grand statement, To Pimp a Butterfly, an intimidating epic that was a consensus pick as Album of the Year — critical unanimity unseen since, well, his last album, 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. But where city at least tread traditional hip-hop tropes and the old narrative of young kid, bad influences, and the internal struggle between them all, everything since has seen Kendrick pulled in about a hundred different directions as opposed to one or two."
Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
"If Radiohead have made the dehumanizing effects of technology their great theme, A Moon Shaped Pool is the first record in which, musically, they kick their way out of the machine, or at least make their cyborg soul more vestigial. Where Kid A and Amnesiac were defined by electronic music vernacular, this record is defined by its orchestral arrangements. The lion's share of credit for these, presumably, goes to Jonny Greenwood, whose dystopian-romantic soundtracks (There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice) get taken seriously in classical music circles; they're the work of no dilettante."
- Rolling Stone
A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here, Thank You 4 Your Service
"For the first time in their career, the entire group appears to be at their peak, exuding a well-earned effortlessness. Even if Ali Shaheed Muhammad is listed nowhere on the credits, the act’s three MC’s—the abstract Q-Tip, the ruffneck Phife, and the often M.I.A. Jarobi—are on point all the time, picking up each other's couplets and passing microphones like hot potatoes."