Liam Katz ’18
1. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
After a painfully long rollout, suffering varying different album names and tracklists, Kanye West’s 7th solo studio album, The Life of Pablo, was finally released on February 14th. This album caused controversy, as Kanye usually does, because of its obscene album art, ever changing tracklist, and somewhat vile lyrics. Clearly this album isn’t for everyone, but I believe it is another masterpiece embedded in Kanye’s near perfect discography.
2. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Bandcamp legend Will Toledo released his sophomore LP under Matador Records this spring. Songs on the album such as “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” helped bring him out of obscurity, turning him into an indie rock idol. The album delivers catchy hook after catchy hook with meaningful and funny lyrics throughout. Toledo has been releasing music under this name for over 6 years, and despite releasing 12 projects before this, Teens of Denial might possibly be his best.
3. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Chicago rapper, Chancelor Bennett, famous for his mixtapes Acid Rap and 10 Day, released his breakout album, Coloring Book, with popular singles “Angels” and “No Problem” leading up to its release. In my opinion, this album is inferior to Acid Rap, but with songs such as “Summer Friends” and “Finish Line / Drown,” Coloring Book proves to be another amazing mixtape from Bennett.
4. ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face
ScHoolboy Q came through with the album that all of his fans had been wanting him to release. Blank Face features over an hour of well written and well produced songs wrapped into a strong cohesive album that sounds like a modern reinterpretation of 90’s west coast hip-hop. The album was preceded by singles “Groovy Tony” and “THat Part,” the latter of which features Kanye West.
5. Frank Ocean – Blonde
After over 4 years since his acclaimed Channel Orange, Frank Ocean finally released its long awaited follow up, Blonde. This album’s production strays far from his past work and lacks the catchy pop hits of its predecessor. Some Ocean fans may be disappointed by this release, I personally loved the new direction he took.
Sebastian de Lasa ’18
1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
For the last 20 years, Radiohead’s members have been pioneers of Indie Rock, putting out a massive catalogue of classic albums. A Moon Shaped Pool is no different. However, Radiohead decided to forgo their often experimental and challenging stance in A Moon Shaped Pool, creating intimate and peaceful music, rather than grand statements and perception shattering mixtures. Serene and enchanting, the album’s subtle beauty makes A Moon Shaped Pool my favorite album of 2016.
2. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
There are not many rappers that are as versatile as Danny Brown is, and Atrocity Exhibition really solidifies that. Through a twisted, bleak landscape of sound, Danny Brown’s poignant and dark lyrics are instantly gripping; the combination creates one of the most unique albums of the year.
3. Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered
Yes, this album is Kendrick Lamar’s b-sides to To Pimp a Butterfly. Yes, the beats aren’t polished, and the songs are quite rough around the edges. Nevertheless, given that Kendrick Lamar is the greatest rapper of his generation, every song on the album is unbelievably good and gets even more enjoyable upon future revisiting.
4. Frank Ocean – Blonde
Frank Ocean’s massive and obsessive fan base has been awaiting the release of Blonde for four years, building the hype around this album until it reached an unbearable level. Every sign from the reclusive Ocean was put under the microscope, and when Blonde and its sister project, Endless, were released, the music world descended into minor chaos. Thankfully, Blonde lived up to the hype, containing some of Ocean’s best work to date.
5. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Car Seat Headrest’s second major label release was met with lots of fanfare from the music community, hailing guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Will Toledo as the savior of lo-fi Indie Rock. The songs on Teens of Denial are very high quality, despite the intentionally low quality recording. The end product sounds like a perfect distillation of guitar pop, consistently introspective and inviting.
Julia Shapiro ’19
1. Rihanna – Anti
Rihanna’s latest and greatest album produced a few top hits, such as “Work” and “Needed Me.” However, the reason it lands a spot as the top album of the year is because of the rest of the songs. The whole album explores many different emotions, ranging from sadder, slower songs, to upbeat, confident songs. Each song has its place, and the album is very well put together, containing R&B, pop, and soul-like songs. It was ranked first in the US Billboard 200 for a few weeks, making it her second #1 album. There wasn’t one song out of the 16 on the album that I didn’t enjoy, putting Anti at the top of my rankings.
2. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Chance The Rapper, hailing from Chicago’s South Side, recently released his third mixtape. This album was similar to Rihanna’s in that it also differed in the types of songs. “All Night,” was an excellent dance hit, while other songs such as “Juke Jam” were softer. This album received three Grammy nominations, including one for Best Rap Album. Guest vocals from artists Kanye West, Future, Lil Wayne, and so many more make Coloring Book even more alluring, and help it earn its place as one of the top releases of 2016.
3. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
The Life of Pablo, longtime rap symbol Kanye West’s most recent album, certainly turned heads. It featured many other popular artists, including Rihanna, Ty Dolla $ign, Chris Brown, and Chance The Rapper. This album is inspired by many different genres such as soul, gospel, and even pop. It also boasts an unfinished feel (put there on purpose, of course). The moods in this album vary dramatically, from celebratory (“Famous”) to melancholy (“Wolves”). The variety in this album is definitely one of the reasons as to why it has so much appeal.
4. A$AP Mob – Cozy Tapes: Vol. 1 Friends
Though this hip-hop collective has been around since 2006, they only recently gained fame. Cozy tunes came out in October, led by singles such as “Crazy Brazy” and “Yamborghini High”. Many other artists collaborated to help bring this album together, including Lil Yachty, Tyler The Creator, and Lil Uzi Vert. Cozy Tapes is catchy, easy to listen to, and packed with many familiar (and unfamiliar) artists. Look out for some of the songs on this album on the top charts as A$AP Mob rises to rap stardom.
5. J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez
Only J. Cole, 2016 Best Male Hip Hop Artist Nominee, released his fourth #1 album in early December. Like his other albums, this album was influenced heavily by Jay-Z, as well as a few other iconic rappers such as Eminem and Tupac. The track “Deja Vu” hit #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it his highest-ranked song to date. In addition, this album is quite a personal one, discussing his past living in North Carolina. “Change” is a recording that touches on this sensitive topic. Critics have called this album “J. Cole’s best,” and I would have to agree.
Peter Simpson ’18
1. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
An album that definitely departed from the expected Kanye trajectory. While incredibly polarizing, I’m confident everyone will look back in ten years and recognize it as ahead of its time. Or laugh.
2. ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
ScHoolboy Q dropped this album right as the summer started, and it was certainly perfect timing. This melodic, sharp-edged, update from the California rapper contained some of the best tracks of the year.
3. Young Thug – JEFFREY
Young Thug is perhaps the most controversial rapper around. While his oddball flows and strange crooning over trap instrumentals presents something of a hurdle for new listeners, his innovative style and approach to musical composition is worth the listen.
4. Anderson Paak – Malibu
While he may have started the year off low on my list, Anderson Paak certainly surprised everyone this year. His LP Malibu, a smooth and punchy genre-bender, amazed anyone with low expectations. Between that and his collaborations with producer Knxwledge, Paak grabbed a well-deserved spot on XXL’s 2016 Freshman List.
5. Skepta – Konnichiwa
British rap has more or less always been a source of laughter for me. I mean who could take them seriously? Skepta is definitely one worth taking seriously. His aggressive and loud flow shines across this entire project.