While a lot of people would say that 2016 was a bad year (for a number of reasons), it was actually pretty decent for music. Heavy hitters like Drake, Kanye West, Beyonce and Rihanna all dropped, Frank Ocean finally dropped not once, but TWICE, West Coast hip hop made a comeback, indie rock continued their strong resurgence and a country album is among the most celebrated at the Grammys. I tried to soak up everything I could as the year went on, and probably consumed close to 100 albums altogether. Wittling down my favorite 50 was tough, so here it is.
50. Thank You, Mr. Tokyo – MadeinTYO
When the annual XXL Freshman list came out earlier this year, I was shocked not to see MadeinTYO, who’s massive hit “Uber Everywhere” took the country by storm last year. His first project since this, in my opinion, rather egregious omission, the 24-year-old rapper came through and kept his momentum going, delivering trap bangers and potential hits such as “Skateboard P” and “Gucci Polo.”
49. JEFFERY – Young Thug
Young Thug’s 3rd and final release of 2016 was definitely his most outrageous. With song titles such as “Kanye West,” “Floyd Mayweather” and even “Harambe,” Thugger gave an experimental, yet still speaker-rattling performance. If you still didn’t think that he was today’s most unique rapper, JEFFERY will surely convince you.
48. Everybody Looking – Gucci Mane
I’ll admit I wasn’t a big fan of Gucci Mane prior to this year, but after his release from prison I wanted to give him a chance. He wasted no time, dropping Everybody Looking about two months since getting out of jail. A triumphant return, the album is a reflection of his drug-fueled past and a braggadocious look towards the future.
47. Abendrot – You Blew It!
The Orlando band’s 3rd album, Abendrot is an honest look into singer-songwriter Tanner Jones’ mindset leading up to release. With songs ranging from his mental health to interpretations of biblical tales, Jones’ soothing voice keeps the record together, making it one of emo’s best this year.
46. Human Performance – Parquet Courts
I had only heard of Parquet Courts through various music publications on Twitter, but after finally giving their latest record Human Performances a chance, I can see why they’re so celebrated. With dynamic compositions and incredible songwriting, Parquet Courts are definitely one of the best indie rock outfits today.
45. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth – Sturgill Simpson
A country album but just barely, Sturgill Simpson took me by complete surprise. Simpson’s rugged, seasoned vocals paired with a wide array of sounds from jazz, psychedelic guitars and violins, this album is as epic as the cover art.
44. Starboy – The Weeknd
If last year’s Beauty Behind The Madness was The Weeknd’s entrance into mainstream pop, Starboy is him pitching his tent. Funky, sexy and indulgent, Abel Tesfaye has become the star we all thought he could be.
43. Standards – Into It. Over It.
Melodic, earnest and harsh yet gentle, Evan Weiss’ solo project Into It. Over It has been one of emo’s best this decade. Standards is just another stake in the win column.
42. The Life Of Pablo – Kanye West
No top album list would be complete without Mr. West; he’s just that talented. A messy, rushed, all-over-the-place album, Kanye somehow pulls it off, whether he’s dissing Taylor Swift or talking about bleached assholes.
41. Blonde – Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean is a genius, yes, and we didn’t need his latest effort to affirm that. Blonde is just the icing on the top of an already legendary, almost-mythological cake. It took 4 years between albums, and it’s safe to say it was worth every second.
(No youtube video, ’cause Frank’s about his money lol)
40. SremmLife 2 – Rae Sremmurd
After the album was delayed several times, I gave up looking forward to this album. Then it dropped and I realized how wrong I was to count these guys out. With club bangers, massive hooks and improved lyricism, Rae Sremmurd convinced me they’re no one-hit wonder.
39. Views – Drake
Memes aside, Drake’s rise from rap’s unquestioned king to mainstream pop’s new unstoppable force is impressive. On Views, the Toronto rapper-singer played to his strengths while also, among other things, ushering dancehall back to the charts. Those “in the know,” if you will, always knew Drake was one-step ahead – after Views, he’s got to be at least 6.
38. Daniel Son, Necklace Don – 2 Chainz
2 Chainz has quietly churned out an impressive year, dropping 3 mixtapes and a collaborative album with longtime friend and partner-in-rap Lil Wayne. Daniel Son; Necklace Don may be the best of them all, as Tity Boi doles out hellacious raps with precision and humor, all at then-38-years-old.
37. I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet you are so unaware of it – The 1975
British band The 1975 have crossed over to the United States with flair, releasing one of pop’s most ambitious records of the year. Like the title, the record is long, but by the end of all nearly-74 minutes of it, you’ll be smiling.
36. Coolaid – Snoop Dogg
My choice for most overlooked album of the year, Snoop Dogg shows he’s still got it in spades, delivering street anthems while also showing his pop side. Don’t ever stop Snoop.
35. California – blink-182
Yes, blink-182 is my favorite band. And yes, that most certainly has something to do with this album’s placement on this list. However, California boasts what many pop punk bands wish they had – charisma, energy and general presence. You kind of wish they grew up, but then you change your mind as soon as you hit play.
34. P3 – PARTYNEXTDOOR
Maybe my most anticipated project coming into this year, PARTYNEXTDOOR delivered not with aptitude for mood or heart-on-sleeve lyrics, but with his ambition to create something that’s never been done before. And he succeeded.
33. The Dream Is Over – PUP
Much is made ado over how pop punk has “fallen off” or how it’s become this watered-down product for ‘misunderstood’ teenagers. While it’s kind of always been that, The Dream Is Over offers a refreshing change from your typical Warped Tour band. What’s most impressive is the band’s relentless-yet-sharp performance, and you’ll be shouting along to some of the most sadboy-ish things you’ve ever heard.
32. Lil Boat – Lil Yachty
Lil Yachty burst onto the scene with a style that you either loved, or if you’re over 30, hated. While some are eagerly waiting for Yachty’s falloff, many others are hoping he stays for a long time, including your’s truly.Filled with dizzying beats and even more head-spinning rhymes, the now-19-year-old made perhaps the most talked-about first impression in a long time.
31. 32 Levels – Clams Casino
I didn’t know what to expect when I made plans to listen to this album. What I got was a producer who came into his own, building on what made him one of the most important producers of the 2010s while also making surprising, grandiose pop tracks.
30. Life’s Not Out To Get You – Neck Deep
Remember when I said how pop punk has become watered down and predictable? This is a perfect example, but it’s easily the best one. Probably the best mainstream album the genre has produced this year, you’ll be unashamedly air guitaring your way through this album in no time.
29. Best Buds – Mom Jeans
Sometimes, you come across a new band who make you question how the hell you hadn’t heard of them before. Mom Jeans is one of those bands, and Best Buds is the perfect introdution. This is how you make a fun emo album.
28. LP2 – American Football
Before this year, American Football was all but dead, only living through indie-heads and the emo section on Reddit. Their first record since 1999’s genre-defining self-titled effort, LP2 makes us wish they had kept going, describing so elegantly how much it sucks being an adult as much as it sucks being a kid.
27. The Colour In Anything – James Blake
James Blake is the poster boy for sadboy electronic soul, mostly because he’s so much more talented than everyone else he overshadows the rest. The Colour In Anything keeps the train moving, filled with heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics accompanied with his always-interesting compositions.
26. Freetown Sound – Blood Orange
An expansive, atmospheric album for “the under-apprciated (according to Dev Hynes), Freetown Sound is soul for the 21st Century. Electronic synths and larger-than-life vocals exist in perfect harmony. And hell, you might even learn something.
25. Telefone – Noname
Being that hip hop is overwrought with male figures, it’s always refreshing to hear a female voice. Noname stands out among the rest based solely on the fact that she can rap her ass off, cramming words and syllables in her verses that you honestly can’t believe she’s flowing so effortlessly. But she is, and you should be listening at full attention to every word so you don’t miss anything.
24. The King Of Whys – Owen
Owen, the solo project of pioneering emo/indie rock figure of Mike Kinsella (Capn Jazz, Owls and American Football), has always stuck to the script: dishing out project after project of honest, self-reflective acoustic emo. However, Kinsella’s lyrics here are too good and the guitar work is too slick to hang on that fact. You’re just thankful he made another one.
23. Blank Face LP – ScHoolboy Q
ScHoolboy Q has done the rare feat of making a hip hop album less raucous than his last but still somehow better. Blank Face LP goes deeper into Q’s gang-riddled past while also keeping his wild, crazy-uncle persona intact, and is easily TDE’s best release of 2016.
22. Pkew Pkew Pkew – Pkew Pkew Pkew
Simply put, this is what punk rock is all about; unapologetically not giving a fuck, and boy do these guys not give one. With songs ranging from eating pizza to drinking before going out drinking, this is the beer-chugging, fist-bumping album you need in your life.
21. Holy Ghost – Modern Baseball
Modern Baseball is probably the bigegst band to come out of the emo-revival scene, with their tongue-in-cheek pop punky odes to being a confused 20-something resonating with a lot of people. Their 3rd album Holy Ghost has them being more serious than ever before, writing songs ranging from family deaths to mental health. All in all it’s still Modern Baseball, just better.
20. Cardinal – Pinegrove
Pinegrove’s blend of acoustic indie folk with a country twang is a winner. Vocalist Evan Stephens Hall’s earnest lyrics hit home while his bandmates do more than enough to fill in the space, whether they’re bouncy pop riffs or slow-building instrumentals. Everything about this record seems right at home.
19. Cozy Tapes, Vol. 1 – A$AP Mob
The long-delayed collaborative album by the A$AP Mob is fnally out, and it was worth the wait. Filled with everything the Mob does well and then some, it’s the perfect tribute to their late great co-founder A$AP Yams.
18. Summer Songs 2 – Lil Yachty
The second Yachty project on the list, Summer Songs 2 takes what Lil Boat had and ups the ante. In short, it’s funner, weirder and more catchy. The project affirms his self-proclaimed status as “King of the Teens.” Listen to the kids bro.
17. Majid Jordan – Majid Jordan
In a year dominated by Drake’s OVO lineup, singer-producing duo Majid Jordan take home the best of the bunch. Singer Majid Al-Maskati’s soulful vocals work wonderfully with producer Jordan Ullman’s bouncy, house-influenced beats, and they’re only getting better. These guy’s are definitely OVO’s secret weapon.
16. E•MO•TION: Side B – Carly Rae Jepsen
The fact that a ‘throwaway’ project made this list says less about my personal tastes than it does about Jepsen’s talent as a performer. Last year’s E•MO•TION was pop perfection, while Side B is just that, but with a more ’80s twist. Cue the disco ball.
15. Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight – Travis Scott
Travis Scott has become rap’s new party animal, but on his own terms. Having honed his dark, ambient turn up sound with his debut album Rodeo, he builds off it with Birds. Filled with some of the most lit songs released this year, it’s the perfect album to put on while you rage the night away.
14. Islah – Kevin Gates
Islah is the mainstream debut album done right. Kevin Gates stays true to his style while crafting some of the most popular rap song’s of 2016. It also doesn’t hurt that his melodies are on point throughout, and there’s surprising emotion behind his crooning. Want to know how many rappers went platinum this year? Drake and Kevin Gates. That’s it.
13. Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest
Will Toledo’s Car Seat Headrest has become one of indie rock’s most talked about breakout groups. Backed by a real band this time, Teens of Denial is a look into the utter droll that is Toledo’s life. However, you just can’t help but sing along to some of the most catchy indie rock 2016 has to offer.
12. Slow Burn – Old Gray
Screamo band Old Gray’s Slow Burn is a devastating, harsh, even sometimes difficult listen to get through, as the record explores very tough issues such as mental health and suicide. However, it’s done with poignant precision, and for some, it’s just what they need to hear.
11. Sudden Feeling – Halfnoise
Halfnoise is the solo project of Nashville musician Zac Farro, who was formerly the drummer for pop-rock band Paramore. I went into this album not really expecting anything much, but boy was I wrong. Filled with sunny vibes, catchy synths and pleasant vocals, it’s definitely up there for most underrated album of the year.
10. Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown
Wild, dizzying, charasmatic… these are just some of the terms you could describe Danny Brown’s music. Atrocity Exhibition is Brown at his most crazy, and the production is as maximal as it can get. What it all boils down to is one of the most insane rap albums in recent memory.
9. Beyond The Fleeting Gales – Crying
When I heard about Crying, and just assumed from their name that they were another emo band on Run For Cover Records. However, when I finally listened I was blown away by how dense, bombastic and energetic the band’s mixture of synth rock, chiptune and power pop was. They pack so much into 34 minutes it’s crazy. One of the best debut albums of the year.
8. Cody – Joyce Manor
Pop punk’s best band, Joyce Manor’s 4th album is their most ‘pop,’ but that really doesn’t mean much. It still has the catchy, headbanging riffs and guitar work the band’s known for, but with longer song lengths, the band had to fill in the space with more interesting lyrics and song structures. They did that and then some.
7. In Our Bones – Against The Current
Poised to be Fueled By Ramen’s next breakout band (see Paramore, Panic! At The Disco and Twenty One Pilots), Against the Current’s debut album is chock-full of irresistably catchy, anthemic pop rock, held together by Chrissy Costanza’s powerhouse vocals. I personally can’t wait to see what’s next for these guys.
6. Slime Season 3 – Young Thug
For awhile it looked like SS3 would never come, but god bless Thugger (and Lyor Cohen). The mixtape is filled with absolute banger after absolute banger, and there’s really nothing more to it than that.
5. Versace Summer – JANK
Before their unfortunate demise, JANK looked poised to become emo’s next darlings. Versace Summer is stoner rock, math pop and pop punk all infused into a sleek, compositionally interesting, somehow catchy project. Whether they come back or not, they’re already legends.
4. Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World – Lil Uzi Vert
The best mixtape of the year comes from rap’s new breakthrough star. Full of maniacly dizzy beats which complement Uzi’s high-pitched voice perfectly, it’s a litfest that only a rockstar could pull off. And boy does he pull it off.
3. Still Brazy – YG
YG makes one of the best West Coast album’s of all time, and does it all seemingly without even trying. His lyrics give listeners an inside look at what life’s like on the streets of Compton, while the beats are classic g-funk that harken back to hip hop’s golden age of the early ’90s. Put it all together and you have the best rap album of the year.
2. Ology – Gallant
Gallant’s debut album is a triumph in R&B. The multitude of styles that surround the album’s expansive, airy atmosphere are impressive enough, but your average singer couldn’t survive in it. It’s a good thing Gallant isn’t your average singer. With a falsetto that will make anyone stop and listen, the album is a burning look into the world of the next great soulman.
1. Goodness – The Hotelier
My favorite album of 2016 is one that gets better after every listen. Christian Holden’s lyrics are deep and multi-layered, but can also be simple and honest. I find myself liking a new thing after every listen, and the compositions are catchy yet solemn. There are song’s you just want to relisten to over and over again so you can soak up every little thing that they have to offer. And for that reason and many others is why Goodness is my favorite album of 2016.