This is not the Top 10 Albums of 2016 list; this is the BGS Top 10 Albums of 2016 list. We are not a music reviewing website, and we’ll never pretend to be. We’re simply a group of guys who like music and happen to have opinions about said music.
When considering which albums to include on this list, we tried to take into account which ones we’d still be talking about in five years while also prioritizing what we simply enjoyed listening to. Because of that, don’t be surprised if something that “should” have been included wasn’t. This is a reflection of our personal tastes, and we hope you’ll enjoy reading as much as we enjoyed listening and writing.
10. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered
The fact that an album of essentially B-sides made the top 10 says a lot about Kendrick’s place in music. Even when scattered over meandering jazz melodies and sparse tracks he can take us to places that few artists can. From the seemingly effortless flow switching of “untitled 02” to the mesmerizing drive of “untitled 07,” Kendrick packs plenty of gems into a quick compilation. In a music scene filled with endless mixtapes, EPs, and new music playlists Kendrick makes moments that stick with you. -KJ
9. ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
Schoolboy Q’s career to some extent has been lived in Kendrick’s shadow. His first album, Oxymoron, showed us that he was rapper in his own right, not just a collaborator. Blank Face goes beyond this. We really get to see Q’s creative chops on this album. He transcends his status and becomes more like a peer of Kendrick (to the extent that god can have peers). The album is creative, and Schoolboy Q does a great job of providing a diversity of music: from the metro-boomin produced trap anthem “Dope Dealer,” to the baby-making R&B infused “Overtime.” You can feel Kendrick’s influence on the album, but it is unique. It’s time to stop thinking of Schoolboy Q as just a member of black hippie and start thinking of him as one of the best rappers in the game. -KN
8. Young Thug – JEFFERY
This Young Thug album practically invites you to sing (read: scream at the top of your lungs) along. Several times this year I found myself yelling out “They politicking bout these cases!” from “Webbie” or “I just wanna have sex! I just wanna have a baby wit you girl!” from “Harambe.” This album is emotionally charged, and you can feel thugger pouring himself out over it. Again Young Thug shows us his best tool is his voice, which he modulates from soft melodies to at times almost incomprehensible yelling. Overall the album is short and highly entertaining. It was one of my most listened to albums of 2016, and it is like nothing else you will hear this year. -KN
7. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
A Tribe Called Quest, a group formed in 1985, came out with their 6th and final album We Got It from Here…Thanks 4 The Support in more than 30 years later in 2016. There is a lot of emotional and sentimental fluff that adds to this album: MC Phife Dawg passing away this year, the group coming back from a break up back in 2013, and founding member Ali Shaheed Muhammed not being mentioned in the credits. Excluding all of that, Tribe has put out a masterpiece of hip hop that serves as a stamp on a career of one of the pioneering groups of the genre. The album does so much so well, calling out to their roots in the late 80’s and early 90’s with soft, funky beats, but also critiquing life now in 2016 with songs like The Donald and The Space Program, highlighting the plight of the American black man and the daily struggles he faces from systematic racism. All of this blends in an intellectual and artistic way only producer Q-Tip can do, and has done over the past 30 years. We Got It from Here won’t win best album of the year, but for a 31-year-old rap trio to push something so raw and beautiful during the year of Phife Dawg’s death and the worst political election in American history, is a feat that deserves a standing ovation. We Got It from Here…Thanks 4 The Support is 3 guys who rapped together in the 90’s coming together to do something they love for one last time, and it’s us who should be thanking them. -BM
6. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
There were several albums this year that confirmed, for me, the impact that Justin Vernon has had on music industry as a whole. These disciples include Francis and the Lights, Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino, and Kanye, whose work at this point seems completely intertwined with that of Bon Iver. 22, A Million is Vernon at his most experimental, and feels like a culmination of all the work he has done to this point. There are pieces of Blood Bank LP, his collection that immediately followed his debut that felt unexplored by his self-titled follow up, but no stone goes unturned here, and it feels like the first time we have received an expansive vision of Bon Iver’s musical genius. Its atmospheric on one song and feels completely lonely and secluded on the next. It is simply beautiful, and in a year where so many albums had something to say, it was refreshing to listen to something that seemed to having something to discover. -BG
5. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
The first time I listened to A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, I thought it was going to be one of those albums you have to apologize for defending. I figured I’d say something about how it doesn’t have that Bud-lite style “listenability,” but because it’s something meaningful and sort of different from such a talented artist it just has to be great and if you didn’t agree then you didn’t get it. After about a dozen more listens, I realized I wasn’t going to need any apologies.
Written as a series of life-lessons to his newly born son, A Sailor’s Guide starts slow: “Hello, my son. Welcome to the world,” Simpson sings over a piano and string quartet. Around the three minute mark, Simpson’s voice picks up urgency as the band joins in, and from that point on I’m hooked and unable to listen to another second without listening to the entire album. No one expected the guy who wrote Metamodern Sounds in Country Music—who scorns Nashville but praises Beyoncé and Frank Ocean—to release anything predictable, but even measured against his own standards A Sailor’s Guide surprises its listeners. From his four minutes of “don’t ask me how I know” advice on “Keep It Between The Lines”, to his expertly crafted cover of “In Bloom” by Nirvana, and on to his heartfelt ode to his wife on “Oh Sarah,” Sturgill has constructed a full album rather than simply a collection of tracks. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is a completely fresh and unique sound while still undoubtedly being a Sturgill Simpson album. Take the time to listen through the whole thing, then repeat. And repeat. And repeat. -SRB
4. Beyoncé – Lemonade
2016 was a year that redefined how we think about albums. Exclusive streaming, in-time updates, and the blurring of the line between mixtape and album were all in the limelight, so it only seems right that the woman who changed the game with the digital drop should change the game again in 2016 with the most prolific album release that I have ever seen. Beyoncé’s Lemonade is by far her best full length effort in her body of work, and it is also the first one where she steps down from the pedestal of pop goddess and blesses her subjects with a glimpse into the not-so-fierce parts of her life. While this visual album did ruthlessly drop bombs on the remnants of Jay-Z (which was hilariously frightening), it finds its voice in how it emphasizes the importance of black womanhood. Yes, by the end, Beyoncé (albeit hurriedly) forgives her two-timing husband, but she also reaffirms the power of black women to choose their fate and not rely on men to pave their way. It is a wild celebration of the power of people who have too often been denied it, and was absolutely needed in the year of 2016. -BG
3. Frank Ocean – Blonde
The Odd Future gang has always been about pushing the boundaries of social and musical norms, whether it’s been Earl Sweatshirt’s and Tyler, The Creator’s use of stomach-turning lyrics or Hodgy Beats’ change from young musician and beat master to faith-inspired lyricist. Frank Ocean’s new album is no different. Blonde is more than just a journey through Frank’s past relationships; it’s a cultural break-out of exploring sexuality in a previously unexplored space. The three acts of the album, each separated by the oddest skits in the current hip hop meta, move through the different stages of relationships, from initial contact to living life together to final break-up, with the final upswing of the hopeful “Futura Free.” Blonde talks through Frank’s lost (but still influential) sexual excursions, which, until recently, were thought of in the traditional heterosexual sense. Subtle hints in lyrics start to reveal to the audience that this is not the case. In a genre (and group) that has ostracized the homosexual community, Frank’s album is important to music and the LGBTQ community alike. Although there is a melancholy atmosphere on the album, there’s nothing more cathartic than giving this album a full listen-through. The artist’s seemingly endless gap between Channel Orange and his newest album has finally been broken, and we thank him for it. -DD
2. Kanye – The Life Of Pablo
The Life of Pablo is an incredible yet far from flawless album, filled with dizzying highs and shocking lows. Cudi’s beautiful morning ends with a thud into the shallowest of thoughts (RIP Kanye’s t-shirt). A Swizz beat and Rihanna hook are parlayed into a controversy with T Swift (and her 9 billion fans). The haunting brilliance of “Wolves” gets a nice long verse from the corniest rapper. But ultimately the highs far outweigh the lows. This is the album that brought us Chance’s praise sesh, Designer’s white X6, and the Kanye – Kendrick collab we’ve been waiting ages for. Waves of genius continually crash over TLoP, and the waves don’t die.
I believe it was Alexis de Tocqueville who said that we get the Kanye that we deserve. The same could be said of countries. America in 2016 was distinctive for it’s surreal extremes. The underdogs won and were soundly defeated. Hope was at long last found and shattered. Big steps were taken forward and backward. Not much made sense. And nothing fit America and it’s obtuse extremes quite like The Life of Pablo. It isn’t the album that we want it to be, that we want to represent us. But situated somewhere between the old Kanye and new Kanye, it is us. It’s wonderful messiness resonates with who we are as individuals, with who we are as a people. And I love us like Kanye loves Kanye. -KJ
1. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
From the unexpected “Ultralight Beam” appearance on TLOP, Chance seemed to set the tone that he continued on through the first single, “Blessings,” off the long-awaited “Chance 3” mixtape, which was a pure, unadulterated, and unflinching exultation of faith. While other albums, such as Frank Ocean’s Blonde or Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, left listeners with a level of introspection (which Coloring Book certainly does not shy away from), one listen through the album will leave one with a sense of childlike joy and wonder. The Chicago Southside native who started passing out music (and still passes out music) on SoundCloud with his other savemoney crew members quickly grew to the first artist nominated at the Grammy’s with a stream-only album. Whether you’ve followed Chance from his first two mixtapes through Coloring Book, or this is your first time listening to the energetic 23 year-old, do yourself a favor and pull up your favorite streaming service to bless your ears with our favorite album of 2016. -DD
2016 was an incredible year for music, and this made it exceedingly difficult to whittle down a top 10. Accordingly, each of us had a number of albums that didn’t make the collective cut but still deserved recognition. What follows is each writer’s take on what should have been included but wasn’t.
Choosing a top 10 for this year was obviously difficult. For one, I couldn’t choose To Pimp a Butterfly again which felt sad. But, this was also just a year where everyone knew they needed to release their best stuff. Some succeeded, many failed, but it built a year that seems saturated with work that will need to be deciphered and demystified for years to come. Obviously, not all of the albums we like can make the final list. I am still trying to convince these dudes of the supremacy of Blackstar, David Bowie’s swan song that doubled as the musical personification of his death HOLY SHIT WE CAN NOT TALK ENOUGH ABOUT THIS ALBUM!!!!!! But that little shout out will have to do. Childish Gambino released on the most experimental albums of the year by plugging into a funky root that I am glad he found. Run the Jewels just came out with a monster album that was not even considered when we made this list. Danny Brown, Joey Purp, Vince Staples, Vic Mensa, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Solange, Carseat Headrest, Anderson .Paak and too many others to count released earth shattering stuff, and made for a purely enjoyable year of music even if the rest of the 2016 missed the memo.
I loved A$AP Ferg’s second studio album, Always Strive and Prosper. It is a deeply personal look at the rappers life. We get stories about where he grew up, his family, and his love life. His mom, grandma, uncle psycho, girlfriend, and even his neighborhood Hungry Ham, are all characters in his complex narrative. The album is charged optimism even while dealing with very real struggles. Ferg is quickly becoming one of the best story tellers in modern rap.
My top 9 albums were pretty much set coming into this, however the number 10 spot could have been filled with any number of albums. ANTI by Rihanna was really interesting and different. Blackstar by David Bowie was beautifully haunting. However, I had to give it to Views by Drake. Not because of the album itself- which I found boring and too long- but because of the cultural force Drake has become. “One Dance” hit a billion freaking streams this year. He’s so big we don’t even notice him anymore, but he is still ever present in our lives. This hit me while reviewing my Spotify Top 100 with friends. Here’s a fun game: Ask a group of people how much Drake they listen to, then have them look at their 100 most listened to songs on Spotify. My friends were shocked at how many Drake songs made their lists. And they all had a variety of tastes in music! Drake is the constant in our lives and the thing that unites us all. No one dominated the charts like Drake in 2016, which is why he deserves a spot on this list.
Travis Scott’s sophomore album Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight lagged only Pablo for best album on my list- and in my heart. Birds in an incredible ride, packed with late-night joyrides, budding love, and an A+ cast of rappers and singers who “came to La Flame’s world to get down on some ill beats.” On the complete opposite end of the musical spectrum, but no less enjoyable, was Of Dirt and Grace, a beautiful live worship album by Hillsong United. John Legend stuck to his strengths on Darkness and Light, adding another solid album to his discography. While JEFFERY was Young Thug’s most consistent album, I’m Up packed just as much of the unfiltered emotional punch that we’ve come to love from the Atlanta rapper. Fresh off the smashing success of the TV show Atlanta, Childish Gambino tried something new and killed it, yet again, with his psychedelic funk opus Awaken, My Love!
There were only 3 albums I put in the top 10 that didn’t make the cut, but I’m also going to talk about my #14 for reasons I’m about to lay out. Firstly, Everybody Lookin’ by Gucci Mane came out just days after the Atlanta trapper was released from a 3-year stint in prison. Known for his commitment to the Atlanta trap lifestyle, Gucci Mane may just take the cake for breakout artist of the year, and it started with this album. Next is Awaken, My Love by Childish Gambino, my longtime favorite rapper of all time. This album is a complete style shift for Gambino as he abandons his creative and abrasive rap flow in order to serenade my ears with some incredible soul and R&B tracks. Awaken, My Love was the most pleasant surprise of the year, debuting at #1 on the Billboard R&B charts, and I’m thrilled to see where Gambino takes his music career next. Finally, my last two albums Collegrove and Hibachi for Lunch missed the top 10 by inches I’m sure. I have been a forever 2 Chainz fan, but an even longer Lil Wayne fan, so a comp album with both of them in the form of Collegrove? Sign me up. 2 Chainz’ homage to Wayne in songs like “Dedication” and “Bounce” show the true influence the Louisiana native has had on the Atlanta icon. This album is fun and respectful for both rappers, providing a unique way for two incredibly talented artists to come together and show the world that the sum of 2 parts is more than the whole. Also Hibachi for Lunch was cool because 2 Chainz actually took his fans out to lunch to eat hibachi. Truuu.
I’d like to think of my list as Walmart – you get a little bit of everything. But there’s a method to my madness. Plenty of people tend to process life through music, and I am far from the exception. I think that’s why my list tends to be so diverse. The beginning of 2016 was actually rather hopeful, and I had The Life of Pablo and Are You Serious on repeat for a good while. As the year grew more tiresome, angrier albums, such as Blank Face LP and Holy Ghost started to take root. There were mixes here and there with the low-key Blonde and the electric-angst album of Three, and albums like Coloring Book kept me hopeful, but it really was an odd year. All in all, though, this really was a wonderful year for music. In a day and age known as the Age of the Single, it was a rather dense year for good albums, and I’m incredibly thankful for that. So, here’s to you, 2016 in music. Because there has to be something redeemable about you.
Stephen Ray Brown
I had four albums not make it on the collective top 10 this year: Blue & Lonesome by The Rolling Stones, Teens In Denial by Car Seat Headrest, American Band by Drive-By Truckers, and A Seat At The Table by Solange. A Seat at the Table should have been on our top 10, and I’m judging each of our writers accordingly for its omission. This was already on my list before I realized she was Beyoncé’s sister, which then made its release this year even cooler. When was the last time two siblings each put out such high quality music in the same year?
Drive-By Truckers is the band for southerners who are proud of their heritage but wish we’d tear down that God-forsaken flag. If defending immigrants while criticizing police violence and gun culture leaves you clutching your pearls, feel free to go elsewhere. We’ll be here singing loud and proud to “Ramon Casiano.”
I am by no means an authority on punk rock, but I know good music when I hear it, and I can’t put Teens In Denial down. The album was released in May, but I didn’t hear about it until I saw it featured on Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Albums of the year list. Half an hour into it I knew it’d be on my list, as well.
As for Blue & Lonesome, I know someone who’s a little more qualified to write about it…
As regular readers of Friday Night with Guitar George will remember, I am an unapologetically huge fan of (a) Delta Blues and (b) the Rolling Stones. Blue and Lonesome is the album that those of us who love (a) and (b) have waited decades to hear, and it surpasses even the most ambitious expectations of what such an album could be. The album consists of twelve tracks, venerable yet lesser known blues songs by guys like Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, and Little Walter. During the group’s infancy the Stones honed their craft by playing songs such as these, but to call this album a return to the Stones’ roots is to partially miss the point: while the early Beatles wanted to transform the blues into something new and different, the early Stones wanted to become the very blues that they worshipped and emulated—their process of transforming the blues came only after they had first established themselves as highly skilled purveyors of the blues. Thus, the Rolling Stones essentially are their own roots, and Blue and Lonesome simply showcases the underlying musical elements that have been present in their music for over fifty years.
Recorded in a mere three days as a break from working on an album of all new material, Blue and Lonesome eschews slick studio production in favor of a loose, “live” feel and the result is a sound as fresh and urgent as the Stones’ first album in 1964. Keith Richards and Ron Wood trade lead and rhythm guitar licks like old friends sharing a bottle of whiskey while the unflappable Charlie Watts smacks the drums with his trademark crispness. But the real hero of the album is Mick Jagger: his voice hasn’t sounded this rubbery and insouciant since Some Girls, and his harmonica playing practically steals the show. Veteran Stones contributors Darryl Jones (bass) and Chuck Leavell (piano) round out the group, and old friend Eric Clapton, who happened to be recording in the studio next door, adds some delicious slide guitar work on two tracks.
The Stones have released two videos from Blue and Lonesome: one for “Hate to See You Go,” in which images of downtown Chicago are interspersed with shots of the band in the studio: Keith grinning from ear to ear and Mick dancing around like a teenager, and one for “Ride ‘Em on Down,” in which Kristen Stewart and a 1968 Mustang fastback are almost as smoking hot as Keith Richards’ smoldering guitar riffs. Both videos and all twelve album tracks are readily available on the Internet, thus making it very easy for you to give Blue and Lonesome a listen. I promise you will not be disappointed.