Whether you care about these albums or not, I hope you enjoy the depth that’s here: it took me weeks to make this (from studying each album, to ranking them in the best order, and from setting up all the artworks and links, to explaining why I chose each one). I love all the tiny details that went into making this post, and I hope to continue giving you more like these.
Here’s my ten favorite albums from 2016. What I love most about these albums is how underrated they are. I feel like I’m holding on to secret weapons that are disguised as albums. I spent weeks narrowing this list down, and I was very careful not to add just any album to the list (I wasn’t adding an album just because it was popular, on everyone else’s list, or because it had a few good songs on it). These albums that I’ve chosen have a complete and cohesive feeling to them, and I’m proud to present them to you.
I left two links to each album: the iTunes link to support it, and a Dropbox link to listen to it. I just want you to experience these with me.
The first album on my list, is Frank Ocean’s Blonde (iTunes/Dropbox). There’s so much depth here. It’s impressive how much is packed into these 17 songs. It was four years since his previous album, and that much time is warranted by the quality of Blonde—and through these 17 songs, you can hear the amount of time that’s been spent living with this music. It feels timeless, but it also feels like it carries a life of its own. As many times as I’ve listened to this (over fifty times), you would think I’d be tired of it by now, but yet I’m still excited each time I hear it, as if it’s my first time turning it on. And each time I play a song for this album, I hear something new layered in somewhere. You have to experience it. (Favorite tracks: “Nikes”, “Solo”, “Nights”, and “Futura Free”.)
The second album on my list is Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool (iTunes/Dropbox). This album has an eerie feeling to it. Atmospheric. I love turning this album on when I want to think, or write. Radiohead has always had abstract sounds, but this album has a different kind of feel to it. Maybe it’s the fact that it was recorded on multitrack tape recorders, but it sounds like it’s from decades ago. 11 tracks, 53 minutes of flawless sound. (Favorite tracks: “Daydreaming”, “Decks Dark”, and “Ful Stop”.)
The third album on my list is Kevin Gates’s Islah (iTunes/Dropbox). This one surprised me. When I think of Kevin Gates, he’s an artist that suffers from social media (talks too much, and ruins what people think of him, instead of letting his art speak for itself). Who these artist are in their personal life doesn’t matter to me (previous generations had artist and bands that had messy lives, but hardly anyone knew about it, they only knew the albums). I just want a good album—and from that perspective only, Islah delivers in every way possible. Aggression, polish, great production, great hooks, and an overall relatable quality flowing throughout all 17 songs. (Favorite tracks: “Not The Only One” and “Told Me”.)
The fourth album on my list is Bon Iver’s 22, A Million (iTunes/Dropbox). It’s ideal to go into this short album not knowing anything about it. This is definitely the most unique album on my list, with so many little details packed inside of just 34 minutes. (Favorite tracks: “33 GOD” and “666 ʇ”.)
The fifth album on my list is Royce da 5’9’s Layers (iTunes/Dropbox). I tweeted a few months ago (which Royce retweeted, and as of now, that tweet has 77 likes and 54 retweets), “Randomly pick a song on Layers, from @Royceda59. It’s lyrically better than your favorite song this year.” I still stand by this. My favorite thing to do with this album is put it on random, and let any of the songs from it start playing. It’s a shame how overlooked this album is, because there’s not a song on here that doesn’t deliver. On one of the songs, Royce says, “I’m not leaving here without a classic.” This just might be that classic. (Favorite tracks: “Shine” and “Off”.)
The sixth album on my list is Mick Jenkins’s The Healing Component (iTunes/Dropbox). I’m positive that this will be the most overlooked album on my list, simply because he’s the most unknown of the ten. I stumbled upon this artist and his debut album, and if it wouldn’t have been for that moment of finding him, I probably still wouldn’t know who he is—I’m so glad that I did though. He reminds me of many artists rolled into one. I hear an artist that is polished, but not yet popular. This album tells a story through hidden interludes that flow around the songs. And the songs sound big. They feel like they belong in this world, and they’re deep with powerful messages. (Favorite tracks: “Spread Love”, “Drowning”, and “F’d Up Outro”.)
The seventh album on my list is Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love! (iTunes/Dropbox). They’re calling this album a ‘soul riot’. This album doesn’t sound like it’s from this decade either, let alone from a 33-year old. Gambino continues to show his diversity with this album, with 49 minutes of brilliance. (Favorite tracks: “Redbone” and “Stand Tall”.)
The eighth album on my list is Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Books (iTunes/Dropbox). Chance delivered such a refreshing album, filled with so much life, great hooks and catchy lyrics. He has many artist featured on these 14 tracks, and that isn’t a bad thing: it’s like he challenged himself to get someone every song and then beat them at their own style. This will be the most popular album on my list. (Favorite tracks: “Summer Friends” and “How Great”.)
The ninth album on my list is Drake’s Views (iTunes/Dropbox). Though it wasn’t as good as I was hoping it would be, it was still a very solid album. It would’ve been a lot better if it was cut in half, removing all the filler pop songs. This is definitely his best album musically, but it was too long and had corny rap lines that I could’ve done without. Other than a few flaws though, it deserves to be on this list. (Favorite tracks: “Redemption” and “Fire and Desire”.)
The tenth album on my list is The Lumineers’s Cleopatra (iTunes/Dropbox). There’s a relaxing vibe to this album, as if the order of these albums was an album in itself, and this is the last track you’ll hear out of the ten. This is album feels like closure. The Lumineers, on their sophomore album, deliver heartfelt stories, that are powerful and soothing at the same time. (Favorite tracks: “Gale Song” and “Sick in the Head”.)
I could’ve easily made a list with what everyone else thinks are the best albums this year: Beyoncé, Rihanna, J. Cole, Solonge, Alicia Keys, and Run The Jewels come to mind — they all made really good albums. Some of those are almost perfect, and some of those I actually love, but they’re not my favorites, and they don’t matter to me in the grand scheme of things. When I think back at 2016, the ten albums that I picked here will be what I remember the most.
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