From dust to side chicks, to Nikes, to big fella — introducing the year’s best albums
I have a hard time looking back at 2016 — or any year — and deeming it good or bad; there are simply too many things that take place over the span of one year to reach an overall consensus. 2016 felt different, though. It wasn’t an overall kind year: numerous shootings, deaths of legendary musicians, a new president-elect. But despite the chaos of 2016, there remains an outlying bright side: empowerment and vulnerability in the music industry.
This motif remained prominent in the year’s albums. As our accessibility to music transforms, a notable example of the year’s theme can be found in our ability to stream music. By providing listeners with greater accessibility, artists had the liberty to be more personal. Certain artists became our friends, as opposed to the acquaintances they were before. As they voiced their commentary, a greater personal connection between artist and listener emerged. And they sound damn good while doing it. Here are the top three albums of 2016:
- Blonde by Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean is a master lyricist, and his quiet hibernation from the music scene since his debut album made me itch for his social commentary and provocative sound. What he gave us on Blonde was artfully simple, gooey music and lyrics that sound as if they were quoted from Ocean’s diary. He touches on the racial tension that dominated 2016, mentioning that Trayvon Martin “looks just like me” in the track “Nikes.” His voice is hushed and smooth, the instruments simple with no harsh drums to be found. He thus creates a juxtaposition between his dreamy sound and the harsh reality of his content. He communicates directly to the listener, speaking of the drugs he took and the nostalgic, bitter-sweet simplicity of a broken love in the song “Ivy” as if the “feeling deep down is good.” Ocean touches on it all in Blonde, understated and humble. He doesn’t demand attention, but sits you down for an intimate conversation.
- Lemonade by Beyoncé
Who knew Beyoncé would make the list? It’s not just that Beyoncé is Beyoncé, but rather, she stepped out of her comfort zone and presented an album unlike anything she’s done before. Not too long ago she sang of being drunk in love, but Lemonade offered a mature and complex account of her confronting infidelity, and artfully parallels her emotions to the national betrayal and discomfort of this year. She plays with music genres the way her emotions fluctuate — initially calling for “middle fingers up” in the song “Sorry” to ending with an open-ended reconciliation in “All Night.” She elevates herself as much as she brings herself down. Outspoken and brave, she unapologetically sings about political opinions and personal hardship, leaving no room for adversaries and calling for us to do the same.
- Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper
“Don’t forget the happy thoughts, all you need is happy thoughts” summarizes Coloring Book as a whole — a gentle reminder that optimism must remain during times of adversity, and that challenges generate progression. Playful and whimsical, Chance goes beyond his breakout mixtape, Acid Rap, for a mature and personal account of his newfound independence as the most famous record-less artist of our time (an accomplishment itself worth a top place on my list), as well as his faith and hopes for the future. He raps to a beat of positivity and brightness in an explicit and genuine call for a better society, and emerges as the much needed high-pitched voice of honesty and humility. What makes him stand out, however, is his candor and ability to go beyond addressing the ills of the year. He also generates a universal mindset to attain the future he envisions. His masterful rapping paired with smooth beats, Donnie Trumpet and a gospel choir are an ideal remedy for 2016, and serve as the anthem of the good that is yet to come. So “are you ready for your blessings? Are you ready for your miracle?”
Written by: Caroline Rutten — email@example.com