The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far)

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far)

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At the close of last year, we wrote that “2015 destroyed 2014 musically.” At the midpoint of 2016, it can happily be reported that 2016 has already destroyed 2015 musically. Albums we craved in 2015, like the new Rihanna and Kanye West, finally arrived, and projects we couldn’t have even dreamed of, like Beyoncé’s LEMONADE, have permanently marked the topography of popular music. When debating our ranking, the top 10 fell into place easily, a testament to just how many unimpeachably great projects dropped this year.

What’s more, the back half of the year promises more excellence. Sampha finally escaped from Drake’s mansion! Kanye might release another album, this one inspired by a video game console! SremmLife 2 will have us dressing like this! Jay Z’s brought back his Marcy flows! PARTYNEXTDOOR is (hopefully) recording a concept album about making IG videos with Kylie Jenner!

And yet, by all observable metrics, America in 2016 does not deserve it this good. Maybe this is the last hurrah before everything turns into a dystopian nightmare. Either way, we’re here to document the highlights.


40. ZAYN, Mind of Mine

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: RCA
Released: March 25

Breaking up is a natural part of the boy band process, but that doesn’t meant that Complex cover star Zayn Malik’s split from One Direction didn’t sting. Out of the sadness of millions of fans around the world came Zayn’s solo career, which started off on the right foot with his R&B-minded debut, Mind of Mine. The project boasted the No. 1 hit single, “Pillowtalk,” and charted a solid direction for Zayn as a solo artist. With a bulk of the production on the album handled by Malay, who has worked closely with Frank Ocean, Zayn produced an understated album that could’ve been more personal, but, you know, growing up and getting vulnerable isn’t easy. Here’s to a long, mature solo career. —Zach Frydenlund


39. Jerreau, Never How You Plan

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: The Greater Than Club
Released: April 8

When it comes to summer jams, you can’t do much better than Jerreau’s Never How You Plan. With little buzz or fanfare around the release, the former Fly Union rapper made a mark on 2016’s hip-hop scene. The groovy production mixed with laid back but personal raps about navigating the world with a positive outlook gave the record a distinctive character. There are plenty of standouts on the album, but “Really Got It” and “Champagne (Ohh Baby)” are songs that separate Jerreau from the crowded carousel that is the rap game. “The realest back, how real is that?” Jerreau asks. You already know the answer. —Zach Frydenlund


38. ZelooperZ, Bothic

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Bruiser Brigade
Released: March 4

ZelooperZ is Danny Brown’s protégé and it ain’t hard to tell. Both attack tracks with similar energy and, at certain points, even sound like each other—especially when they both get to rapping in that raspy, high-pitch voice. However, ZelooperZ is his own man, and has made a lane for himself with a ghetto gothic sound. Dramatic and dark, Bothic is reminiscent of a weird theater experiment; think Phantom of the Opera set in Detroit. As a matter of fact, ZelooperZ might’ve been an opera singer in a past life. “Bothic Bout It” and “Ocean” are the best examples of how his off-kilter voice weaves through the dark production. But it’s not all melodrama. “Elevators” is the toughest song on the project—play it and you might catch a case. —Angel Diaz


37. Flume, Skin

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Future Classic
Released: May 27

Four years ago, Flume (real name: Harley Edward Streten) was the perfect example of an artist turning SoundCloud buzz into IRL acclaim. On his sophomore album, Skin, Flume has crafted a project that’s as challenging as it is beautiful. Accessible stand-out numbers like the Kai-featured “Never Be Like You” and Tove Lo’s “Stay It” could be hummed by a parent (or shorty who rocks with Ariana Grande but wants something different), and your homies will be enamored with Raekwon’s bloody pen on “You Know” (which also features a slick Allan Kingdom feature). Flume hasn’t lost his flair for intoxicating instrumentals, either; “Wall Fuck” is future bass sound design and the gut-wrenching “Free” is something you can scream into the wind. Flume’s Skin is proof positive that there are truly layers to this shit. —khal


36. Tunji Ige, Missed Calls

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Brain Bandits, Bad Habit
Released: April 1

Imagine if Drake produced, or if J. Cole didn’t aim so high when it came to social commentary—either gives you some idea of what Philadelphia’s Tunji Ige is about. (Of course, modify your expectations for the rapping and singing, because Ige is only 20 and in the very early days of his career.) Ige’s just a young dude who misses school because of shows and is more likely to rap about packing a party with friends than the troubles of fame (though he can get late-night introspective, too; see “22”). Ige co-produced nearly all of this seven-song EP and he moves easily from sung hooks to reasonably confident 32s. The opening songs, “Change That” and “War,” are heavy on atmosphere, like Drake’s So Far Gone, but the ambition is reined in. He’s not trying to “do it all tonight”—he just wants to holler, implore a certain someone to “start fucking with a better dude.” Modest aspirations, only slightly outsized boasting. “Bring Your Friends” is the catchiest proof of Ige’s promise. Surely he’s getting better still. —Ross Scarano


35. Kari faux, Lost En Los Angeles

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Wolf & Rothstein
Released: April 8

L.A. rap is most often covered from a native viewpoint. But what about the perspective of a transplant experiencing both the sprawling county and newfound riches at the same time? Enter Kari Faux. The Arkansas-born spitter blew up off of the curve anthem “No Small Talk” and a Childish Gambino co-sign. Now she’s a rising star, and Lost En Los Angeles is a pitch-perfect description of the overwhelming experience of a new home—specifically L.A., which can so easily enable feelings of loneliness, insecurity, and self-doubt. This is Gretchen from You’re the Worst music, with cinematic sonics that draw inspiration from L.A. sounds to paint a picture of discovery both geographical and personal—the title track and “Law of Attraction” are ideal for driving down Sunset during sunset. By the end of the album, Faux is back curving thirst bucket expectations, finally ready to make a home for herself. —Frazier Tharpe


34. Bas, Too High to Riot

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Dreamville, Interscope
Released: March 4

Bas, one of the up-and-comers signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville label, hails from Queens but the sound of his sophomore album Too High to Riot isn’t traditional New York boom bap, nor is it indebted to Houston or Atlanta. The vaguely jazz fusion live instrumentation provided by English band the Hics on “Matches” most recalls the sound Kendrick Lamar began crystallizing on Section.80. (The beat for “Accordion” from Cali genius Madlib is sampled on the album’s final song—further proof of the West Coast influence at work here.) The thematic hallmarks of Lamar’s breakthrough mixtape—raps about innocence lost, the temptation of drugs as a release, a desire for more for your generation—are all over Too High to Riot. But unlike Kendrick, who uses characters and other formal conceits in his rhymes, Bas is most convincing when his language is plain and grounded. For instance, “My best pick-up line is young nigga with money” works far better than “I fuck a European bitch for every African nation they colonize.” Misses aside, Too High to Riot is a sign that Dreamville is building something sturdy and sustainable. All those fans can’t be wrong. —Ross Scarano


33. Joey Purp, iiiDrops

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: N/A
Released: May 27

Chance the Rapper’s breakout in 2013 signaled the rise of other members of Chicago’s SaveMoney crew. In the three years since, Vic Mensa earned a spot on Jay Z’s Roc Nation roster, Towkio had his moment in 2015 with .Wav Theory, and now Joey Purp has stepped up to the plate with iiiDrops. Lucky for us, he knocked it out of the park. Joey separates himself from the pack with an unfiltered approach to his lyricism; “Cornerstone” and “Morning Sex” are indicative of this raw candor, while “Girls @” showcases his more playful side with some help from Chance. Like his taste in people, his ear for beats is impeccable. Whatever is happening among these young men in Chicago, they need to keep it up. —Edwin Ortiz


32. David Bowie, Blackstar

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: ISO, Columbia
Released: Jan. 8

David Bowie’s last album is a gift. It arrived as a farewell, just two days before his death, and it’s a record that keeps whispering new secrets on each listen (or exposes an entire starfield in the vinyl). Six months later, Blackstar is no less cryptic, and will likely mean something else in another six months, a year, a decade. On our home planet, Bowie still exists as an eternal influence on all facets of the arts—not just music. Blackstar isn’t one of Bowie’s bests, but it exists on the same playing field of ambitiousness, and serves as proof that, even at the end, Bowie loved surprising us. Here, he trades his trademark glam for off-kilter jazz, reveling in asymmetry and imagery—imagery that’s sure to be analyzed even by generations to come. —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim


31. Royce 5’9″, Layers

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Bad Half Entertainment
Released: April 15

Nearly four years ago, a few months after turning 35, Royce da 5’9” made one of the biggest decisions of his life—he got sober. Now 38, having spent some of that time re-acquainting himself with, well, himself, he’s introducing the world to Ryan Montgomery as well. Whatever name he happens to go by—it’s just plain Royce on Layers, his latest—one thing remains constant: The man can rap his ass off.

Layers, his first solo record since 2011’s Success is Certain, is dense, personal—the lead single, “Tabernacle,” also the first cut on the album, is pure biography, spinning his tale in the art form he knows best: “My name is Ryan Daniel Montgomery/Recovering alcoholic, I grew up on 9 Mile/I’m not a gangsta, drug dealer or thug nigga/Just an MC who made a name with his rhyme style.” Getting sober wasn’t all Royce did over the past five years, he also made damn sure the name of his last album was prophetic, pairing with Eminem in Bad Meets Evil, releasing a second album with Slaughtahouse and forming PRhyme with DJ Premier. Not that he doesn’t succeed all by his damn self—just peep the Crying Jordan reference in “Hard”: “My finest hour is here, this is what I see in my prayers/This is me, though I’m facing all of my fears/Making all of my enemies look in the mirror/And see the meme of the Jordan face with all of the tears.” If your question is whether Layers is a deep personal statement or a killer rap record, the answer is yes. —Russ Bengtson


30. king, We are king

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: KING Creative
Released: Feb. 5

Among those who know, Sunday morning is the time for a specific sort of R&B: ethereal, gentle, so light that those who don’t know might dismiss it as adult contemporary or something equally wrongheaded. Anita Baker, Sade, Luther Vandross, Patrice Rushen, and Atlantic Starr are but a few names in this particular canon. In 2016, Anita Bias and twin sisters Paris and Amber Strother released an album with Sunday morning playlist aspirations. We Are KING comprises 12 songs of quiet storm R&B, drawing heavily on the harmonies and tones of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Bias handles production for the trio, and the soundscapes are lush and unabashedly pretty, the song structures complex and shifting. It’s tempting to single out King as bucking the trend of contemporary R&B but close listeners know to play this album against the ballads on, say, Ty Dolla $ign’s Free TC to great effect. Like Free TC’s best moments, We Are KING uses live instrumentation and sophisticated arrangements to keep traditional R&B alive and fresh. —Ross Scarano


29. Jazz Cartier, Hotel Paranoia

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Jazz Cartier Music
Released: Feb. 1

Several promising acts have emerged from Toronto post-Drake, and you can count on one hand the number of them making moves without Drizzy’s invisible hand pushing them along. Jazz Cartier is one of those select few. His 2015 release Marauding in Paradise introduced Americans audiences to his uniquely cinematic trap sound, and his most recent project, Hotel Paranoia, expands on this approach. Jazz delivers bangers like “Opera” and “Red Alert,” and also goes the soulful route on the River Tiber-assisted “Tell Me.”

“Everybody in the states compare me to Drake/’Cause there’s not many in the city who can carry the weight/Y’all got it wrong, dropping two or three songs, tryna get a little buzz and get carried away/I’m in it for the long run, you only in it for the wrong one,” he spits on album-opener “Talk of the Town.” Where is the lie? —Edwin Ortiz


28. Future, Purple Reign

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Freebandz
Released: Jan. 17

In 2015, Future conquered. His solo projects DS2, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights placed him in the upper echelon of rap’s elite. Now that Future is a full blown star, each move he makes is analyzed like never before. That’s why when Future released Purple Reign earlier this year, some wondered if he was doing too much. Was he spreading himself thin by over-saturating the market? Despite the concerns and criticisms, Purple Reign is a very good tape that provided his latest hit, “Wicked.” Beyond the charts, members of #FutureHive know that “Never Forget,” “Inside the Mattress,” “Perkys Calling” are pure heat rock. There’s really no single misstep here, as far as the songs are concerned—even though he probably didn’t need to put out the project. But he did, and there’s no compelling reason to not appreciate the fire he’s given us. —Zach Frydenlund


27. Domo, Domo Genesis

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Odd Future
Released: March 25

Ladies and gentlemen, Domo Genesis might just be the most underrated rapper out. He’s a rapper’s rapper, the type to do an entire tape with Alchemist (2012’s impressive No Idols). With Genesis, his official debut, Domo puts his elite rapping ability on full display. After destroying on the intro “Awkward Groove,” he gets personal on “One Below,” which features Domo’s mother speaking glowingly of her son. He then launches into rhymes describing a time in his life when he felt lost. Though the album is personal, it still finds time to give us two bangers in “Go (Gas),” featuring Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, and Tyler, the Creator, and “Dapper” featuring Anderson .Paak. The former is a stoner posse cut, with Tyler serving as the straight man, while the latter is a stone-cold Cali groove. Domo has arrived with this effort and from the sounds of it, he’s going to be around for a while. —Angel Diaz


26. Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Esperanza Spalding Productions, LLC, Concord
Released: March 4

This is a weird nut of an album, overtly theatrical and difficult to crack, even as Esperanza Spalding’s virtuosic gifts consistently awe the listener. Spalding, you may recall, beat out Drake and Justin Bieber, among others, for the 2011 Grammy for Best New Artist. Her music has very little in common with her nominees that year; in fact, it seems diametrically opposed to pop success. One can imagine playing the cramped, quadruple-time opening of “Ebony and Ivory” for a collection of Bieber and Drake fans and getting mostly puzzled looks for the trouble. Spalding closes this album with a cover of the song Veruca Salt sings before catching a serious L in the 1971 film adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—that’s the distant corner of left field Spalding occupies, and if you’re willing to sit with her, there are substantial joys to be found here, chiefly the elasticity and strength of her voice. It’s the driving engine behind the album’s best song, “Rest in Pleasure.” In fact, you may want to enter through that door and then skip around to find the nooks and crannies that tickle you before unpacking it from front to back. Choose your own adventure. Spalding would probably dig that. —Ross Scarano


25. Post Malone, August 26

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: N/A
Released: May 12

If it feels strange that we’re still discussing whether or not Post Malone‘s really arrived, even though he’s currently on tour with the biggest male pop star in the world—well, that’s 2016 for ya. The self-described White Iverson scored the Bieber look and a scene-stealing verse on “Fade,” one of the hottest songs on The Life of Pablo, and he’s only now gotten around to deepening his catalog beyond a few songs. After an improbable rise, Post eased up on the throttle to drop his first full-length project and guess what? The kid deserves to be here after all. August 26 is a fine showcase for Post’s unusual tastes—one second he’s crooning LiveJournal bars alongside Jaden Smith, the next he’s crooning a…Fleetwood Mac cover. Meanwhile the best song on the tape is a surprising tribute to Bankroll Fresh and the second best is a head-thumping banger with Lil Yachty that means 1/6th of Post’s catalog is comprised of concept songs about basketball players. It takes a lot of left turns, and yet there’s no whiplash. Post is in his own lane. —Frazier Tharpe


24. the 1975, I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Dirty Hit, Interscope
Released: Feb. 26

The 1975 weren’t even on my radar until they pulled music duty on the Larry David episode of Saturday Night Live (which is to stay, one of about three episodes of SNL worth watching this year). When the album dropped shortly after, I gave it a spin and pleasant surprise would be an understatement. This is one of the funkiest album of the year, the English dance rock album you didn’t know you needed. It may be a little too self-indulgent, word to the Biblically long album title, but when it works you have jams like “She’s American,” vibes like “Somebody Else,” and awesome ballads like “If I Believe You.” —Frazier Tharpe


23. ariana Grande, Dangerous Woman

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Republic
Released: May 20

Ariana Grande’s growth as an artist and individual has been evident with each album, and on Dangerous Woman, her third, she displays once again how much she’s experienced and learned as a 22-year-old pop phenom. You get the sense with “Bad Decisions” and the title track that she’s working against her previous status as a princess; on the former song she croons about having that “hood love,” whatever that might mean for her demo. Still, her calling card is her charm, which works its way into the intoxicating vibe of the Lil Wayne-assisted “Let Me Love You” as well as “Be Alright,” a sweet midtempo tune that feels like a Yours Truly track on steroids. Grande’s vocals are as impeccable as ever—just press play on “Moonlight” to have the hairs on your arms stand up. Ariana Grande is setting herself up to be one of biggest pop stars in the world, and Dangerous Woman is a step closer to that goal. —Edwin Ortiz


22. Skepta, konnichiwa

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Boy Better Know
Released: May 6

Skepta has everything going for him—being BFFs with Drake; having a crossover hit in “Shutdown” last year—and yet there are a lot of people who won’t give him a chance. Americans are still skeptical about grime, which is why his latest album, Konnichiwa, had to be hard as hell.

Although Konnichiwa isn’t Skepta’s first album, it might as well be. If he couldn’t impress American listeners, he’d just be another [insert grime artist’s name here]. While fans complained that they had heard nearly half of this album before—he included previously released tracks “Shutdown,” “It Ain’t Safe,” and “That’s Not Me”—Skepta needed to beat his would-be audience over the head with banger after banger. Songs like “Man,” “Crime Riddim,” and the title track proved that he had good, new music up his sleeve.

Cool guys in the States are picking up on the cultural cues in Skepta’s music—track suits, Air Max 95s, calling friends “man dem”—and they’re finally vibing to a British artist who doesn’t sing or play the guitar. It doesn’t hurt that he got help from grime legends and newcomers in Wiley and Novelist, or that Pharrell produced “Numbers.” But the fact is, Skepta did his job and now it’s time for us Yanks to put our biases aside and give him his proper due. —Matt Welty


21. Majid Jordan, Majid Jordan

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: OVO Sound, Warner Bros.
Released: Feb. 5

Majid Jordan’s kaleidoscopic soundscapes and songs of love and heartbreak find a fully realized home the duo’s self-titled debut album, which kicked off the OVO Sound roster run this year. The project works as an extension of the 2014 EP, with Majid Al Maskati’s impassioned vocals setting the mood for late nights of pining and missed calls. The few missteps (“Shake Shake Shake,” “Warm”) are outweighed by Majid and Jordan Ullman’s undeniable chemistry, and the sequencing on this album is top-notch—the transition from “Small Talk” to “Pacifico” will have you all in your feels. Majid Jordan continue to stay under the radar from a commercial standpoint, but that shouldn’t be an issue if they churn out more music of this caliber. —Edwin Ortiz


20. Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Atlantic
Released: April 15

Armed with catchy wordplay and a strong ear for beats, Philadelphia’s Lil Uzi Vert is a rising member of the 2016 internet rap class. Uzi, Lil Yachty, and Playboi Carti are carrying the torch of what was once dismissed as “SoundCloud rap,” pushing the boundaries of not just style, but content, too. On Lil Uzi Vs. The World, he raps over masterful production from Metro Boomin, Don Cannon, WondaGurl, and others. The clear hits here are “Money Longer” and “Ps & Qs,” both of which highlights what makes Uzi so special—a wonderful blend of rapping and singing elevated by catchy melodies. —Zach Frydenlund


19. 2 Chainz, Collegrove

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Def Jam
Released: March 4

Not all collaboration indicates friendship, but it’s precisely the warm camaraderie between 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne that makes their album ColleGrove such a success. (Yes, technically the album is credited to 2 Chainz, but that’s likely because of Wayne’s label drama. I’m going with what the title suggests and thinking of it as a collaborative project.) The opening song “Dedication” sets the tone and confirms something I’ve long figured was true: Lil Wayne must be a great friend. The way Drake raps about his relationship with his mentor—specifically when it comes to missing Wayne during his time in prison—planted the seed in my head, and “Dedication” confirmed it. From there, the two entertain each other verse for verse, exchanging punchlines like they were the only ones still up at a birthday sleepover. It’s true that on some of the songs 2 Chainz has surpassed his friend in terms of cleverness and novelty but the overall spirit of the album is infectious. Songs like the Infamous and Terry “T@” Bourgeois produced “Bounce” and Lil C’s “Rolls Royce Weather Every Day” will have you searching for your best friend in the club to engage in that time-honored tradition of screaming rap lyrics into each other’s faces as a way of saying “you and this moment mean so much to me.” —Ross Scarano


18. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: XL
Released: May 8

Radiohead should be washed. And yet A Moon Shaped Pool, the band’s ninth album, which arrives three decades into their existence, proves that these Oxford lads—now middle-aged and out of fucks—can still drop a record with little notice and have people scrambling to listen to it immediately upon its release. It’s a damn good record too, a bounce-back from 2011’s underwhelming The King of Limbs and more in tune with the surprisingly classic In Rainbows (2007). Whatever level of meaning you choose to grant this album (why is the tracklist alphabetized? Is this about Snowden? Did blackbirds predict it?), one thing’s for sure: Radiohead can still put out one of the best rock records in 2016. —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim


17. A$AP Ferg, Always Strive and Prosper

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: A$AP Worldwide, Polo Grounds, RCA
Released: April 22

A$AP Ferg drops much truth on Always Strive and Prosper, the kind of honesty that wasn’t quite available on his debut album. And not just truth about his own upbringing in Harlem, but how place affected the people close to him. He told Complex as much: “This is my documentary to my life.” Which is why there’s a song dedicated to his grandma—who also appears on “Beautiful People” alongside legendary rapper Chuck D. Or why he puts his uncle’s business in the streets on “Psycho.” But trust, Ferg also comes through with bangers like “New Level” and “Swipe Life.” Both tracks are liable to tear up the club and motivate the haves and have nots. Always Strive and Prosper is the definition of when keeping it real goes right. Salute the Trap Lord. —Edwin Ortiz


16. Lil Yachty, Lil Boat

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: N/A
Released: March 9

The very first time I saw Lil Yachty it was February and he was sitting on a monolith in Madison Square Garden looking bored out of his mind. Maybe bored is the wrong word—after all, the Atlanta native was part of the fashion extravaganza that was Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo listening party-slash-Yeezy Season 3 unveil. But for an 18-year old, just standing (and later sitting) in one place can seem interminable, no matter the occasion. Also, Yachty had his own thing going on. His exuberant debut mixtape, Lil Boat dropped less than a month later, kicked off with a Finding Nemo sample and featuring verses from the likes of Quavo and Young Thug on the piano-loop driven remix to “Minnesota.” Yachty’s distinctive sing-song delivery (Auto-Tuned and not) transforms even the most gangsta lyrics—”Flip phone banging off the walls, Gucci on my drawers/Why the fuck you in these streets if you scared of them four walls?”—into something else entirely. “I don’t know who I am sometimes,” he rhymes as alter ego Lil Boat on the intro, “I might rap a verse, I might sing a song.” Either way, man, just keep swimming. —Russ Bengtson


15. Baauer, Aa

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: LuckyMe
Released: May 18

With his debut album Aa, Baauer needed to show the world that he’s more than just the “Harlem Shake” guy. Cultivating a batch of sounds that he picked up from the world over, he poured 27 years of musical influence into one lit collection. Previously released cuts like “GoGo!” are reminiscent of the raucous, bombastic sound that Baauer fans have come to know and love, but it’s the left-field turns that truly shine. “Pinku” relishes in a hazy, Daft Punk-y funk zone, and the ominously excellent Pusha T and Future collaboration “Kung Fu” is perfect for shady nights in forbidden lands. The brilliant pairings didn’t stop there; not too many producers are able to throw UK grime MC Novelist and the mysterious NY enigma Leikeli47 on a track, but “Day Ones” does, and is a certified banger. Linking M.I.A. and G-Dragon on “Temple” generates great results, too. With no track overstaying its welcome, Aa proves the naysayers wrong. —khal


14. kamaiyah, a good night in the ghetto

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: N/A
Released: March 14

If there’s one up-and-comer to watch this year and beyond, it’s 20-year-old Oakland MC Kamaiyah. From the wobbling, bouncing marimbas of “I’m On” to the morose, soulful pianos on “For My Dawg,” A Good Night in the Ghetto boasts a handful of hits and never suffers from stale beats or throwaway material. Without floundering in nostalgia, the tape borrows heavily from the smooth sheen that informed ’80s and ’90s pop and hip-hop (one of the tape’s highlights is titled “Mo Money Mo Problems”) as well as the high-tension synthesizers of West Coast G-funk. The result is a debut mixtape that’s far better and more polished than any other debut tape you’ve heard this year. —Gus Turner


13. Gallant, Ology

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Mind of a Genius, Warner Bros.
Released: April 6

When I first heard Gallant’s “Bourbon,” I cried into a glass of Bulleit that wasn’t even there when I pressed play. I thought they didn’t make rhythm and blues like this anymore, but I was wrong. Ology, from the 24-year-old upstart Gallant, sounds like summer rain on a Sunday morning—which is to say, it sounds nothing like the druggy, drunken nights chronicled in many of today’s popular love songs. Gallant can shift his voice from low to high like Prince and Mariah, making him one of R&B’s most talented stars. Working with his producer STiNT, Gallant’s written an album of lyrically expressive, sometimes surreal R&B that comfortably mines both bedroom-minded material and songs of self-discovery. Songs like “Bourbon,” “Talking to Myself,” and “Bone + Tissue” will give you chills and expand your sense of the genre. Let Ology be the soundtrack to your child’s conception. And be sure to let them know when the album’s playing while you’re making breakfast before school. —Angel Diaz


12. Kaytranada, 99.9%

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: XL
Released: May 6

Haiti-born, Montreal-based producer Kaytranada is known for a style that impressively mixes forward-thinking hip-hop beats and sweaty, disco-tinged dance jams, and his debut album satisfies those two impulses. At a time in his life where he probably could’ve finagled a number of high-caliber artist features, you can tell that he drew more from his heart, calling on legends like Craig David (“Got It Good”) for hypnotic R&B burners or up-and-comers like Vic Mensa (“Drive Me Crazy”) for understated turn-up vibes. He linked again with The Internet’s Syd for the immaculate “You’re The One,” a perfect blend of his club-rocking style and her soothing voice. If you’re looking for the ideal chill album for you and a select group of squad members, 99.9% comes correct. —khal


11. Anderson .Paak, Malibu

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Steel Wool, OBE, Art Club, EMPIRE
Released: Jan. 15

Malibu is the perfect title for Anderson .Paak’s sophomore album, because it sounds like a sunny Southern California day. But it ain’t all sweet. Nestled comfortably alongside the smooth vibes, there are also personal looks into one of music’s most intriguing artists. On the album’s intro, “The Bird,” .Paak speaks on his family life growing up—one that involved a gambling mother and an imprisoned father. On “The Season/Carry Me,” .Paak sings his heart out about his first time putting on a pair of Jordans, the first time seeing his first love, and trying to make enough money so his girl wouldn’t get deported. Malibu is a 16-song opus featuring production from .Paak himself, Kaytranada, 9th Wonder, Madlib, and others, and the sum of its parts crosses several genres. This is as much a hip-hop album as it is an R&B and rock one. It refuses to be pinned down. —Angel Diaz


10. Drake, VIEWS

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Young Money, Cash Money, Republic
Released: April 29

Expectations suck. Damn near all of the criticism of Drake’s VIEWS boils down to the extremely high expectations Drake set for himself. He started hyping this album in 2014, and dropped two projects beforehand to hold fans over. And so, by the time he delivered on the album he’d been talking about for so long, expectations were basically unreachable.

Despite all of the fair criticism—the length, the sequencing, the content—VIEWS is still a success. It’s currently on a five week run atop the Billboard 200 chart and gave Drake his first solo No. 1 single with “One Dance.” It’s breaking streaming records and does, in fact, contain memorable songs that Drake can be proud of, even if you have to sift them out of the 20-song experience. Of course, because he occupies the position of biggest rapper in the game, fans are always going to want more, or different. But in true Drake fashion, even when we clown him, he still manages to not take a loss. Best revenge is your paper. —Zach Frydenlund


9. Kevin Gates, Islah

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Bread Winners’ Association, Atlantic
Released: Jan. 29

Kevin Gates is by no means a new artist, but all the same Islah felt like an introduction to an entirely new audience for the Louisiana rapper. With hits like “2 Phones,” which peaked in the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and “Really Really,” Gates found crossover appeal on a whole new level in 2016, as fans are finally figuring out he’s more than just an insane interview sound bite. Of course, in addition to the hits on the project, Gates stayed close to his roots to satisfy day-one fans with the blend of street rap and catchy hooks that’s made his career so durable so far. Kevin Gates has already released another project since Islah came out in January, but this is the album that should be remembered as a major turning point in his career. —Zach Frydenlund


8. Young Thug, Slime Season 3

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: 300 Ent., Atlantic
Released: March 25

How many people can hop on the aux cord after Kanye West has just finished premiering a brand new album—and very nearly steal the moment out from under Mr. West with just one song? When Thugger played “With Them” it practically hollowed the Garden from the inside out, much like Godzilla did in ’98. So really, it should come as no surprise that Slime Season 3, the project that leads with that song, is his best work to date. Top to bottom, no debates—as Thug continues to hold off on a studio album, his focus improves and his powers only grow stronger. And so we should all be very afraid. This man is speaking Parseltongue over head-banging beats and the result is nothing short of wizardry. Please, run back the urgent climax of “Drippin’.” Don’t be surprised if the young one ends up with a similarly high placement on the end-of-year articulation of this list—with a totally different project. —Frazier Tharpe


7. James Blake, The Colour in Anything

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Polydor
Released: May 6

There’s a small exhibition of James Turrell’s recent hologram lightworks on view at New York’s Pace Gallery right now. Per the artist’s website, the pieces are recordings of light waves “on a thin layer of transparent gelatin emulsion. In the emulsion is an image that has full parallax. In other words, it appears to have depth from every vantage point. Unlike traditional holograms that depict objects, the Turrell holograms aim to make a hologram of light itself.” The description is apt for James Blake’s The Colour In Anything, an album which gives the listener a view of a dimension previously beyond their perception, showcasing songs that come from the recesses of our low and smoldering moments, those we often struggle to name or describe. The album title itself is indicative of the LP’s revelatory capabilities; its mission to discover the color and light in these hidden places, to turn a mirror on ourselves and drift deep into memory. The tracks that tap into this reserve are too many to name. “Modern Soul,” “Always,” “Choose Me,” and “My Willing Heart” are just a few of the many highlights; but draw a song title out of a hat, really. Any of them can take you to the place you’ve been needing to go. —Gus Turner


6. dvsn, Sept. 5th

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: OVO Sound, Warner Bros.
Released: March 27

If OVO Sound is making a play at being an R&B Roc-A-Fella—and Drizzy definitely doesn’t seem keen on signing any spitters who aren’t childhood friends—then dvsn may be the Beanie Sigel. PARTYNEXTDOOR will always be the label’s—not to mention Drake’s—secret weapon but dvsn—comprised of singer Daniel Daley, producer nineteen85, and whoever else—is bringing a different arsenal to the armory. Complex Music general Ross Scarano described listening to the 7-minute opus “The Line” as levitating in his apartment. The full length debut’s best moments may be with songs that dropped last year, but as a complete listening experience, the music soars high. Sept. 5 is at once cinematic (“With You,” also 7 minutes) and intimate (“Too Deep,” which could stand to be 7 minutes). PND’s got music for the now, Majid has the ’80s throwbacks, and dvsn has that ’90s love the game’s been missing. OVO squad stacked. —Frazier Tharpe


5. Kendrick Lamar, untitled unmastered.

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Top Dawg, Aftermath, Interscope
Released: March 4

To Pimp a Butterfly was so good, it turned what’s essentially a compilation of B-sides from that project into one of the best records of the year. To build buzz around TPAB, Kendrick and company took a different approach and performed a series of untitled songs on late night TV. Fans clamored for the .mp3 files to such a degree that LeBron had to step in and convince TDE to release studio versions. What we eventually got was eight tracks of jazzy funk, unexpected beat switches (one by the five-year-old son of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys), and knotty flows that strengthened Lamar’s claim to rap’s throne for the time being. While most rappers in his position stick to familiar formulas, Lamar keeps going left to give us the unexpected. All hail King Kendrick. —Angel Diaz


4. Rihanna, ANTI

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Westbury Road, Roc Nation
Released: Jan. 27

ANTI may have initially felt like an unfinished work to some. Rihanna’s long-awaited eighth album resisted dance-floor bangers and Billboard-ready hooks (save a couple tracks); more often, the album is content to let its songs disappear in a puff of smoke after a minute or two. Add to that a confused release courtesy of the album’s exclusive partner, Tidal, and ANTI became only more ripe for dismissal. Except, no—it stands out in Rihanna’s discography as one of her most artistically and aesthetically compelling projects. The singer’s voice thrives across a panorama of musical settings: Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes;” the glowing, jazzy keys on the purring “James Joint;” her cracked, smoke-stained vocals on the 4 a.m. anthem, “Higher;” and in a year when many have simply covered Prince’s music, RiRi channeled his spirit to create “Kiss It Better.” This is to say nothing of “Work” or “Needed Me,” two of 2016’s catchiest songs—the former for its infectious chorus, the latter for its sticky catchphrases (“Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?/Fuck your white horse and a carriage”). All in all, the album feels effortless and essential, a full-bodied realization of Rihanna’s no-fucks-given attitude. —Gus Turner


3. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: N/A
Released: May 12

It took three years for Chance the Rapper to deliver the proper follow-up to Acid Rap, the project that turned the Chicago MC into one of the brightest stars rap has seen in some time. That’s a lot of pressure for someone who—purposefully—has no machine behind him. But if Chance ever felt it, he never showed it.

Coloring Book, much like Acid Rap, showcases his ability to create and collaborate with big names without stepping out of the spotlight. Kanye West, Justin Bieber, and Lil Wayne all play to the themes and motifs of the project, like they’re happy just to come along on the ride. But the music is more polished here than on Acid Raps, the raps more deeply rooted in well developed themes, whether that be owning up to his independent streak (“I don’t make songs for free, I make ‘em for freedom”) or his use of gospel, like on “Blessings” and “How Great.”

This is Grammy-winning music, even if it doesn’t get nominated. Is Chance the only one who still cares about mixtapes? Nah. But there’s nobody out doing it better than him. —Edwin Ortiz


2. Kanye West, The Life of Pablo

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: G.O.O.D. Music, Def Jam
Released: Feb. 14

Did you know you were into gospel before playing The Life of Pablo? Because that’s what this is, raunchy bars and all. Next time your grandmother asks you when’s the last time you went to church, tell her you go whenever you press play on TLOP. Pablo is one of the best rides of the year, and also one of its most spiritual. Some may have quarrels with Kanye’s overall lyrical effort, but lines like, “Now if I fuck this model/And she just bleached her asshole/And I get bleach on my T-shirt/I’ma feel like an asshole,” make me smile and provide a pointed contrast to the testifying on songs like “Lowlights.” The world is rated X but we all still try to walk a righteous path.

Like your life, Pablo is far from finished. Even if revising an album over time by tweaking beats, altering lines, and adding verses doesn’t become the wave for the rest of the music world it’s important that Kanye continue to push the envelope, skirting convention while still keeping it hip-hop. The Life of Pablo’s energy outweighs most anything that dropped this year. A DJ can play this joint front to back and the party will be live. Pablo was worth the headache-inducing rollout because our sins are cleansed with each listen. —Angel Diaz


1. Beyoncé, LEMONADE

The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) news

Label: Parkwood, Columbia
Released: April 23

Describing the cumulative effect of the short film Beyoncé created for her sixth album, LEMONADE, novelist Jesmyn Ward wrote, “She’s suffered the pain of infidelity and mistrust and heartbreak, and she’s created and sustained so much beauty from it. A whole family. Songs. Visions. In the end, she walks through the past, present, and future at once, and she is a wondrous new being, arrayed in the intricate lace and tribal cloth of the past, but her garments are cut for the future.”

Weeks removed from the release of the film, the debate continues as to whether the music tells the story of distrust, anger, and reconciliation with the same power as the images that accompany the songs. I think that they do, precisely because the songs contain what Ward described. “The past, present, and future at once,” Ward wrote, and what would that sound like if not a sample of an Alan Lomax field recording and a Kendrick Lamar feature on “Freedom”? Or the voices of James Blake and Beyoncé merging on “Forward”? Or Beyoncé reclaiming traditional rock music for black women on “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” as Brittany Spanos so eruditely described for Rolling Stone?

By invoking the work of Toni Morrison, Clover Hope, writing for Jezebel, made clear that the album is a kind of novel. It has the emotional arc of a great story, opening in media res with “Pray You Catch Me.” (I’d like to take a moment to say that “My lonely ear pressed against the walls of your world” is one of the most beautiful and vivid lines I’ve heard all year.) From there, she eats men and their fenced-off genres like air, using James Blake, Jack White, and the Weeknd as supporting players; absorbing blues, country, rock, and more to refashion them as wholly hers. LEMONADE is the product of a singular unifying vision, and even if the film and the surprise of its rollout aren’t passed down to new listeners, it’s all right. Because the album already has everything one could need. It’s Beyoncé’s masterpiece.Ross Scarano

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