Emmett Robinson Smith
Artist: Frank Ocean
Label: Boys Don’t Cry
Released: August 20
Are people allowed to make music this good? After Frank Ocean’s instant-classic major-label debut Channel Orange came out in 2012, he presumably holed himself up somewhere and figured out the formula for the perfect album – yes, Blond is gripping in its entirety.
On the nostalgia-drenched “Ivy”, Ocean reflects on young, doomed love: “If you could see my thoughts, you would see our faces,” he sings, audibly dismayed. But Blond is music of the present, and Ocean has cemented his reputation as the most gifted singer-songwriter to come up in recent memory. On Blond, he’s unstoppable.
Released: April 23
Allegedly inspired by the infidelity of her husband Jay-Z, Beyoncé’s Lemonade used her relationship’s broken trust as a commentary on much broader social issues regarding class, race, and gender. “The most neglected person in America is the black woman,” Malcolm X interpolates on album highlight “Don’t Hurt Yourself.”
The importance of Lemonade has augmented greatly in the wake of the US election, which will doubtless prove withering for any marginalized demographic in the United States. Lemonade is a call-to-arms for black women, a commanding artistic statement from an icon who becomes more relevant with each passing day.
Album: The Life of Pablo
Artist: Kanye West
Label: GOOD Music/Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella
Released: February 14
Kanye West’s public antics, previously perceived simply as a result of his ego, have recently been painted with a much darker brush since we learned of his recent admittance to a psychiatric institution. Indeed, the cracks begin to show on TLOP tracks such as the bleak “FML,” where he sings of a Lexapro dependency as well as a lack of faith in his romantic relationship and “Real Friends,” where he laments his inability to connect with family members and friends from days past. Great art can take a toll on its creator. Kanye West is no exception.
Album: The Colour in Anything
Artist: James Blake
Released: May 6
The Colour In Anything finds James Blake both improving and expanding upon the gloomy atmospheres that made him so intriguing in the first place.
The results are disarming, most notably in the numbed automation of “Put That Away and Talk To Me.” James Blake speaks for many when he expresses frustration with technological infatuation, and the song – built on a chopped-up, monosyllabic vocal sample and sparse kicks and rim shots – imitates the mechanized isolation of a demographic that prefers virtual connections over human ones. 2016 was a year for getting bummed out. Chances are you’ve felt the way this album sounds.
Album: No, My Name is JEFFERY
Artist: Young Thug
Released: August 26
Young Thug doesn’t cross borders; with him, there are none. The gender-fluidity of his apparel, the evasion of a fixed name (most evident in the album’s title) and various other idiosyncrasies in his character mirror his changeability on the mic, as well. “Harambe” is his most authoritative vocal display to date, where he switches from scattershot, percussive rapid-fire to drawn-out guttural eruptions in the blink of an eye. Wheezy, who produced or co-produced the bulk of the album, and the famously fast-working sound engineer Alex Tumay, the only guy who can keep up with Thug’s feverish pace, continue to find ways to make Thug sound even more mercurial than he already is. JEFFERY is the sound of the future.