Despite 2016 being a year of mourning for some of music’s brightest stars, this year has saw the biggest names in pop get experimental and the experimentalists receive mainstream attention more than ever before. Here are, according to us at Wildabout, the top 16 albums of 2016.
- DIIV – Is the Is are
The four year span between DIIV’s debut Oshin and sophomore record, the band has had a rocky ride including a heroine bust up, a break up between former indie power-couple Zachary Cole Smith (lead singer) and Sky Ferreira, and what seemed to be an endless international touring schedule. All of which seem to account for a more mature outlook with the band’s second release Is the Is are. Whilst each track still relies heavily on the dreamy guitar recognisable with the New York band, there is a strong improvement in the development of song structure and vocal performance, a progression which has given DIIV a significantly greater credibility.
- Babyfather – “BBF” Hosted By DJ Escrow
Babyfather, the experimental project of Dean Blunt, DJ Escrow and Gassman D with contributions from Mica Levi and Arca, is the voice for the cities of Britain and all things London. Beginning with a continuously looped “I’m proud to be British” extract from a Craig David speech at the MOBOs, the trio pave a tracklist which delves into hip-pop, grime and dubstep, and like the Segway centred in the album artwork, Babyfather provide an immense sense of British pride in a year it seemed impossible to have any.
- Young Thug – Jeffery
From the outset, Young Thug’s Jeffery mixtape looks like somewhat between a parody compilation album and a tribute to a handful of pop culture icons, including Kanye West and Harambe. However with Jeffrey, Thug’s third project of 2016, the rapper’s gimmicky flow and unconventional production has a more pleasing pay off than ever before. Outside the music, Jeffery undoubtedly tops the list for the best album cover of the year, dressed in a dress by Italian designer Alessandro Trincone (which appeared on VFiles SS17 runway), paving the way further into a genderless hip-pop.
- Swet Shop Boys – Cashmere
In the year music was consecutively political, Swet Shop Boys (made up of Heems, Riz MC *actor Riz Ahmed* and Redhino) successfully found a balance of political lyricism and light-hearted production. With both Riz and Heem sharing Indian and Pakistani heritage, Cashmere provides an insight into the tales and tribulations faced by those of Asian descent in both Queens NY and London. Although the record is politically charged throughout, the weight is lifted of the heavy topics with energetic beats and the inclusion of samples hailing from the Eastern world, showcasing a South Asian identity vitally missing within contemporary rap music.
- Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
For the ninth instalment of Radiohead’s full length discography, Thom Yorke and co. substituted the extensive ambiguity which has flooded their latest releases for their most personal record in recent memory. AMSP favours the quieter side of things, with tracks ‘Decks Dark’, ‘Present Tense’ and ‘True Love Waits’ leading the tracklist through their ode to simplicity. The records brightest moment comes in the form of the record’s leading single ‘Burn the Witch’, a track which has been floating about since the days of Hail to the Thief, dominated by heavy strings and an overall feeling of fear and disturbance.
- Travis Scott – Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight
For the second year in a row, 24 year old Travis Scott takes a rightful place on our end of year list with sophomore release Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight. Again adopting a feature list which will leave you starry eyed, Scott switches the aggression which dominated his debut for lighter, and most defiantly catchier production work – creating infectious hooks and cohesive beats which triumph in intriguing you to listen to the project in its entirety time and time again.
- Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
In a year of monster releases one of the most critically acclaimed projects of 2016 comes from independent artist Chance The Rapper. Coloring Book, an exhibition of artistic freedom, Lil Chano explores his brand of soulful rap music with a host of stellar collaborations from Kanye West and 2 Chainz, to Justin Bieber, not to mention managing to hoist Jay Electronica out of hiding. However, Chance’s punchy lyricism and charm remained unmatched throughout. Coloring Book rightly made history becoming the first streaming only album to be handed a Grammy Nomination. (Best Rap Album). Chance and his soulful tunes are here to stay! (Written by Zac Ntim)
9. Kaytranada – 99.9%
Kaytranada’s 99.9% was the album which soundtracked the summer. Packed with retro beats and an exhilarating production, the Canadian producer maintains the grace which propelled him from Soundcloud to XL Recordings stardom. Packed with collaborations from the likes of Little Dragon, Craig David and AlunaGeorge – Kaytranada has created a record at exquisite standard.
- Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
A Snapchat/Twitter fued between Kim Kardashain, Kanye and Taylor Swift, a bed packed full with naked wax works of pop culture’s most memorable figures (controversially including Bush, Trump and Cosby) and morphing Teyana Taylor into some sort of feline hybrid – Kanye West’s seventh album The Life of Pablo provided some of the oddest and most discussed moments of the 2016. Looking past the controversies, the continues edits made to the album up until June and the rocky end to the year for Kanye after the backlash for his meeting with President-elect Donald Trump, TLOP provides some of Kanye’s funniest, heart breaking and honest work to date.
7. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
With sounds taken from day-to-day whereabouts in New York City parks to a cry for black empowerment and self-love, Freetown Sound is the most personal, and most powerful representation of Dev Hynes to date. Intertwining grooves fit for the 80s, gospel and glitzy R&B, Hynes dedicates the 17-track body of work to the beauty of being black, and being queer, and in anyway fitting outside mainstream societies’ idyllic image. As a whole, Freetown Sound highlights the immense influence black music and black musicians has had on our ever evolving world of music, a celebration of heritage and culture in a time it is needed the most.
- Rihanna – Anti
Despite Rihanna’s eighth studio album Anti having an extremely messy release through streaming service Tidal, we praise the extremely delayed project for its resistance to be bound to any particular genre. From the ballads such as ‘Love on the Brain’ and ‘Kiss it Better’ showcasing the starlet’s vocal ability, to ‘Consideration’, ‘Work’ and ‘Needed Me’ favouring heavy beats and relaxed production to leave 2016 three of its most memorable tracks. However its two of the album’s deeper cuts which make Anti a stand out record. ‘Woo’, a distorted-Travis Scott produced banger and ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’, a Tame Impala cover which no one would of possibly imagined existing. Although the tracks don’t stand alone as Anti’s greatest moments, it is the first time Rihanna has truly experimented into alternative genres & production methods, a change which has maintained the relevancy of the LP since its January release.
- Beyoncé – Lemonade
With every album Beyoncé releases, we are invited into an even more intimate and personal experience with arguably the biggest star in the world. However with Lemonade, Beyoncé’s celebration of her culture and her unhinged approach to discussing her marriage with Jay-Z introduces us to an empowered Beyoncé with political flare, paving the way for stars of her calibre to start questioning the injustices around them in contemporary society. With some of the year’s greatest tracks such as ‘Formation’ and ‘Sorry’ gracing the list, Lemonade is undoubtedly been the record which has left the biggest mark on 2016.
- Noname – Telefone
Noname, the introverted Chicago rapper which has, in the past, lent her steady flow and delicate voice to collaborations with Chance the Rapper and Mike Jenkins finally released debut mixtape Telefone just in time to soundtrack hazy summer days, spending endless hours lounging around and avoiding any sense of responsibility. However laying underneath the tongue n’ cheek, sparkly beats, Noname (formally Noname Gypsy) discusses the immense police brutality of her hometown, the struggles of growing up and her dreams for the small world she lives in – a promising debut from an artist destined for a future as sparkling as the beats she expresses herself over.
- Frank Ocean – Blonde
“Wishing you Godspeed, Glory / There will be mountains you won’t move / Still I’ll always be there for you” Frank Ocean proclaims leading up to the closure of 2016’s most anticipated and intensely romantic record, Blonde. Ocean managed to over-ride the overt hype built up for the record’s unspecified release with the favouring of the quieter side of things which inevitably evoked a captivating outcome. However it is the album’s oddest moments which shine the brightest, from the chipmunk-esque filter on ‘Nikes’ to the dramatic shift of melody in ‘Nights’, Frank Ocean has successfully balanced simplicity with unexpectancy which will keep us fixated until his next full length release.
2. Solange – A Seat at the Table
Like Janet Jackson, Solange Knowles throughout her career has continuously been ridiculed with comparison to an older, more commercially successful sibling. However, with Solange’s third full length endeavour A Seat at the Table, the world was finally introduced properly to Solange through an album she describes as a “project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing.” Through a developed narrative guided by a series of interludes celebrating blackness and black culture within the United States, A Seat at the Table is the first Solange project to feel whole, a true representation of who Solange is over an aesthetic dominated by those who have co-produced her previous projects. Album stand outs ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ and ‘Cranes in the Sky’ are also accompanied by arguably two of the most beautiful visuals to grace us this year, with the latter telling the tales of her continues attempts to tackle loneliness and isolation. Welcome Solange, it is great to finally be introduced to you in the truest, most personal form.
- Skepta – Konnichiwa
When Jarvis Cocker announced at this year’s Mercury Album Prize ceremony that Skepta’s fourth album, Konnichiwa, had won the prestigious award against the likes of David Bowie, the 1975 and Radiohead, it was a sign of victory. It symbolized the long delayed acceptance of the grime genre within the mainstream music industry, a movement which would still be bound to pirate radio stations if the likes of Skepta, and his record label founded by himself and younger brother JME ‘Boy Better Know’ didn’t put it on the map. Konnichiwa is the voice for the youth growing up in London’s ends, with Skepta discussing the issues of police brutality in his hometown of Tottenham in tracks ‘It Aint Safe’ and ‘Crime Ridden’. It is also a true introduction to Skepta’s romantic tendencies highlighted on the record’s closer ‘Text me Back’ where he reveals his own personal struggles in balancing his career and maintaining a relationship back at home.
Despite a feature list packed full of grime’s boldest characters including Chip, Novelist, Wiley and brother JME as well as contributions from ASAP Nast and Pharrell, Konnichiwa is a one man show, with Skepta alone working at his best on the album’s leading singles ‘Shutdown’ and ‘Man’. It’s Skepta’s devotion to his growth in the city of London and resistance to parody the American trends within rap and hip-pop which makes this the album of the year, an album which has finally showcased a collection of grime music for the rest of the world to experience. There is no wonder why Konnichiwa has made it into our Top 16 Albums of 2016.
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