WRBB’s Top Ten Albums of 2016

With 2016 (finally) coming to a close, it’s time to take a look at this year in music. It’s no question that 2016…sucked, but some great music was released this year and it’s time to honor those albums. The Media Team carefully chose 30 nominees (out of 80+ different albums) and narrowed those down to (what we believe) are the ten best albums released in 2016. Keep reading to find out if your faves made the list!

10. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

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Genre Hip Hop · Label Independent · Released May 12, 2016
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“Ever since the release of  ‘Sunday Candy’, with Chance the Rapper as the vocalist, Chance has had a steadily increasing fan base. After the success of this song about going to church with his grandmother, Chance was invited to be the first ever independent artist to appear on SNL as a musical guest. However, Chance’s true rise to stardom came when he appeared on SNL for the second time, featured on Kanye West’s ‘Ultralight Beam’. His verse was so well received that, the night after the show, there was more buzz around Chance’s verse on ‘Ultralight Beam’ than Kanye’s album, The Life of Pablo, which dropped the same night. Over the four months, separating the hit verse and the release of Coloring Book, hype for Chancellor Bennett’s third mixtape/album was building to nearly-unattainable heights. Nevertheless, Chance did not disappoint. Chance the Rapper made the most joyous Hip-Hop record of this decade, employing themes of Christ, family, and fun to connect with listeners on an emotional level. The artist doubles as both vocalist and composer, arranging the unique talents of his 20 featured artists to create a wonderful blend of sounds and styles. The vibe of “Coloring Book” is so universal that it is guaranteed to put a smile on the face of every member of the family.” – Jacob Dennis

9. Death Grips – Bottomless Pit

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Genre Experimental Hip-Hop · Label Harvest Records · Released May 6, 2016
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“2015 was a year that dug Death Grips deeper into the niche they created for themselves. ‘The Powers That B’ was a double release that may have been their most fluid and unconventional yet. On one side, ‘Jenny Death’ presented a heavily punk rock inspired album, while ‘Ni**as On The Moon’ was one of the glitchiest albums the band had released to date. Together, ‘The Powers That B’ was a masterful mess, and the band was in need for a more cohesive atrocity in their follow up. Sure enough, 2016 brought Bottomless Pit, which gives us Death Grips at their most accessible since The Money Store. Focusing on lyrical craft and developing a fresh fusion of genres, the band gives us an abrasive tour de force. MC Ride is perhaps at his strongest, and fellow members Zach Hill and Andy Morin do not fall far behind in their proven talent. Death Grips will always be a punch in the face, but they have yet to fail to impress us.” – Christian Triunfo

8. Porches – Pool

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Genre Synthpop · Label Domino Recording Company · Released February 5, 2016
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After 2013’s low-key dark folk of Slow Dance in the Cosmos, Porches’ mastermind Aaron Maine took refuge in his Brooklyn apartment to begin reinventing the way he made music. With 2016’s Pool, the endearing and lo-fi efforts of his previous works are cast into the shadows, inviting in hazy, yet danceable synths to color the listener the most interesting and introspective shade of grey. Although lyrical content is not the main focus, Maine’s knack for vocal melody enhances the melancholy storylines, providing a contrasting personal touch to the cold and metallic environment set before us. As always, the release features a familiar touch from his girlfriend and Frankie Cosmos frontwoman, Greta Kline, on backing vocals and bass. Equal parts equipped to handle the dancefloor of an indie party and a night home alone, Pool captures Porches in their most mature and striking form to date, where Maine has found himself ascending the ladder from xanny bars to Pitchfork acclaim.” – Andrew Goldberg

7. Anderson .Paak – Malibu

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Genre R&B/Soul · Label Steel Wool Records · Released January 15, 2016
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“2016 has been a breakout year for Brandon Paak Anderson, better known by his performance name, Anderson .Paak. Following his significant features in Dr. Dre’s Compton in 2015, he went on to release two full length albums this year – Malibu as a solo artist and Yes Lawd! under the duo NxWorries. Malibu was extremely well-received by critics, to the extent that it received a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album. The album is full of guest features, including ScHoolboy Q and The Game, but still manages to remain extremely personal. It’s clear from the jazzy opening track, ‘The Bird,’ in which .Paak smoothly reflects on his troublesome upbringing that he’s ready to let his listeners join him on an introspective journey. This journey flows through tracks with distinct influences from different time periods and feels like a travel through time, but manages to never feel out of place. The soulful vocals and lyrics are complemented by simple production that required nothing more than a simple Mac mini and a dented microphone. Now that he’s up for another Grammy for Best New Artist, it’s clear that Malibu has been a success in catapulting .Paak to the recognition he deserves.” – Ingrid Angulo

6. Beyoncé – Lemonade

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Genre Pop · Label Columbia Records · Released April 23, 2016
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“They say it takes a village, and Beyoncé’s Lemonade is no exception. For all the work put into this record by dozens of people, and especially Beyoncé herself, the result is stunning. This album is FLAWLESS. Beyoncé absolutely shines in on this album and her messages about race and gender equality are extremely relevant in today’s society. If you haven’t listened to it yet (because Tidal sucks) you need to find a way. The range of styles on this album is also extremely impressive. From a bluesy, country song “Daddy Lessons” to an infectiously catchy reggae influenced song, “Hold Up.” Songs like “Formation,” “Freedom,” and “6 Inch” send powerful messages that support the major themes of this album, reinforced by the accompanying visual album, or hour long music video. This album could very well be Beyoncé’s magnum opus. It summarizes her personal, political, and most of all artistic message in a cohesive collection of music. Though the styles and messages vary, her voice is what brings it all together.” – Dominic Yamarone

5. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

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Genre Hip Hop · Label GOOD Music · Released February 14, 2016
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“Few people in the history of music have been as polarizing, controversial, and news-grabbing as Kanye West. 2016 has arguably been one of Kanye’s rockiest years to date, with events like his wife Kim Kardashian getting robbed in Paris and West having to cancel the rest of his Saint Pablo tour in the last month due to fatigue and mental instability. However, despite these bumps in the road, West was still able to put out The Life of Pablo this year, truly one of the most unique recordings you will ever hear. On this album, we not only learn about Kanye’s hectic life, but through his production and lyricism, we get to experience it with him; the album’s messy, thrown-together aesthetic gives off a vibe that Kanye has just stopped caring, when in fact it is the exact opposite. Numerous times after originally releasing the album to streaming sites, West has made adjustments and changes to the songs on TLOP, showing us that even though he may seem like a mess, deep down everything he does is a calculated, intentional move, something that highlights his genius and originality. The album is honest and brave, with Kanye coming to terms with his ego numerous times and enlisting in the help of guest features like Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi, and Rihanna to produce a plethora of songs thrown all over the rap spectrum, from gospel tracks (‘Ultralight Beam’) to straight club bangers (‘Father Stretch my Hands Pt. 1 and Pt. 2’).  This album’s rogue nature shouldn’t fit together and sound good; but even the most avid Kanye hater cannot help but admit how this work resembles a perfect mess, which is why The Life of Pablo stands out and makes our list.” – Kyle Rossini

4. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

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Genre Indie Folk/Psychedelic Pop · Label Secretly Canadian · Released June 3, 2016
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“From unsung, local hybrid act, to worldwide phenom, 2016 has been quite the whirlwind year for Whitney. Starting out touring locally around Chicago, LA, and Portland playing only around 35 shows in 2015, the group rose to international status in 2016 spurred by the release of this album. This year to date, they’ve expanded the tour overseas playing over 145 shows. Whitney is truly a testament that genuine, passionate songwriting combined with musical talent is still enough to “make it big” without cheap gimmicks. Listening to this album, you can tell that they are clearly making music that they love making without regards for what people would think. On this record they do a beautiful job of mixing emotional vulnerability with an increasingly rare talent of constructing a relatable narrative while not losing the audience. This project is the epitome of making music just for the joy of it, and above all, its painful honesty is truly why it stands out and makes our list.” – Kenny DuMez

3. Frank Ocean – Blond

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Genre Contemporary R&B · Label Boys Don’t Cry · Released August 20, 2016
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“After talks of a new Frank Ocean album for nearly four years, Blond finally dropped this past August without any previous speculation, leaving fans shocked and overjoyed. In the album’s first week of release, it reached the number one spot on Billboard 200. This album is an artistic journey of emotion as Frank Ocean sings about several controversial topics, including Trayvon Martin’s death by way of police brutality in ‘Nikes’ . He touches upon loss of romantic relationships in ‘Self Control,’ and invites others to be open about their sexual or recreational preferences in ‘Be Yourself.’ If you listen to this pop-up-surprise release in order, the tracks gradually get heavier in their emotional gravity and content. The second to last song on the album, ‘Goodspeed,’ is basically a goodbye letter, wishing an important person in his life the best. Ocean’s list of collaborators in this album include big names such as Beyoncé, Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead, and André 3000 from Outkast. Blond is unlike any other album released this year, and deserves the merit of being placed on our list for its profusion of critical reception.” – Emily Grinberg

2. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

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Genre Indie Rock · Label Matador Records · Released May 20, 2016
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“What began as a solo recording project in 2010, Car Seat Headrest, led by frontman Will Toledo, seems to have finally hit his stride on this album. While he seems to have things figured out musically, brilliantly blending indie rock sophistication and songwriting with an undeniably punk sound, more than anything this album chronicles the inner workings of Will’s mind as he struggles to form an identity and a place in the world. It’s this uncertainty and reflection that gives rise to such a poignant album that transcends the typical bemoanings and hyperbole so often found in the genre. This album acts as a roadmap that you can actually follow along with as Will attempts to figure out who he is and who he is to become. It is the perfect melancholic soundtrack to the melancholic time of life that is your mid 20’s. In the album, it’s almost as if he’s trying to help us as listeners figure ourselves out, and coming in at number two on our list, it seems like we can all use any help we can get.” – Kenny DuMez

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

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Genre Hip Hop · Label Epic Records · Released November 11, 2016
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“2016 has been a year defined by political divide, the loss of many public figures, and, for many people, a growing sense of fear and anger about what is still to come. Reuniting for the first time in 18 years, A Tribe Called Quest captured this year perfectly on “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service”. Their album combines excellent production, incredibly smooth delivery, and a timely message in a way that no other album from 2016 could. Rapping about nativism, social conflict and, of course, President-elect Donald Trump, A Tribe Called Quest painted a clear picture of their 2016, one that many of us can relate to. On top of it all, it’s just a fun album to listen to. The immense talent of the three frontmen combined with almost casual features from both modern giants of hip-hop and older legends lead to the birth of what we think is the best album of the year. Of course, no discussion of this record can pass without mention of the early passing of Phife Dawg in March from diabetes; its impact deepens the fear and anger which permeates the record.” – Michael Smith

Honorable Mentions

    Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.

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KAYTRANADA – 99.9%

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Bon Iver – 22, A Million

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Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

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Nominees for WRBB’s Top Ten Albums of 2016

A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service · Anderson .Paak – Malibu ·  Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN ·  BADBADNOTGOOD – IV · Beyoncé – Lemonade · Blood Orange – Freetown Sound · Bon Iver – 22, A Million · Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial ·  Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book · Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”·  Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition ·  Death Grips – Bottomless Pit · Drake – Views · Frank Ocean – Blond · Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing · James Blake – The Colour in Anything · Kanye West – The Life of Pablo ·  KAYTRANADA – 99.9% · Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered. · Mitski – Puberty 2 · Noname – Telefone · NxWorries – Yes Lawd! · Pinegrove – Cardinal · Porches – Pool · Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool · Rihanna – ANTI · Solange – A Seat at the Table · The Avalanches – Wildflower · Whitney – Light Upon the Lake · Young Thug – JEFFEREY