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Aggregating the best albums of 2016: While We’re Waiting

Beyonce Lemonade

It’s the home stretch of another year, and you all know what that means: The death march in Berea and more year-end lists than any year prior. Every genre of every niche gets their own lists covering the best music, movies, television shows, moments…you name it. We even do it here!

As I don’t have much time for movies, and television becomes more demanding of time with each additional award-winning drama, my perpetual release is through music. And while I’m nowhere near as immersed in music as our own Andrew, the advent of services like Spotify and Apple Music have allowed me to take an interest and blow it up in ways where I’ve been able to totally avoid all talk radio (save for the occasional listens to Dan Le Batard and Howard Stern) and focus entirely on things I care to listen to as opposed to things others thought I would want.

This all brings me to one of my guiltiest pleasures in Best Album lists. Mainstream outlets publish them. Independent folks publish them. We’ve talked a lot about click bait over the last week and the one piece of content I’ll always click on will be year-end lists surrounding music. Given that 2016 was a fantastic year for the album as a construct1 these year-end lists feel as if they carry that much more weight.

Below, you’ll find a handful of outlets and their top five albums of 2016 that have been stripped out of larger lists, most of which have ranged upwards of 50. We’ll then aggregate these lists in a super-scientific way2 to come up with a top five, and then we’ll talk a bit about my favorite albums of the year.

Pitchfork (link)

5. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

4. Blackstar by David Bowie

3. Lemonade by Beyoncé

2. Blond by Frank Ocean

1. A Seat at the Table by Solange

Fewer sites are my go-to for literary work on music than what is provided over at Pitchfork. While their reviews may not always be consensus, the way they tear through music and provide eloquently written prose on the matter is unmatched. For a site that is very rock-centric to have a top five with four non-rock albums will tell you all you need to know about rock as a genre this year. When some of the best rock albums come from Bowie, Paul Simon, and Leonard Cohen, it says a lot about those who are trying to break on to the scene today. Much like the Browns in 2016, rock seems to have punted the entire year.

Billboard (link)

5. Blond by Frank Ocean

4. Blackstar by David Bowie

3. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

2. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

1. Lemonade by Beyoncé

Solange, whose album is No. 1 on a ton of lists this year, came in at No. 7 for Billboard. Personally, I was waiting for Billboard to put Drake’s Views in their top five due to all the commercial success (it was the top album more than any other this year when it comes to sales and streams) but was very much pleased when they cast it further down their list for the likes of Chance, Kanye and Frank Ocean.

Complex

5. Birds in the Trap Sing McNight by Travis Scott

4. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

3. We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest

2. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

1. Lemonade by Beyoncé

I was very surprised to see the Travis Scott album be placed this high on Complex’s list as most other outlets have the Texas-based hip-hop star a little further down. I enjoyed Birds, especially the track with Kid Cudi, but it felt like there could have been a few other selections here. Either way, this is also our first look at A Tribe Called Quest’s new album, one which we discussed here. More on it later.

Stereogum (link)

5. Blackstar by David Bowie

4. We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest

3. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

2. Blond by Frank Ocean

1. Lemonade by Beyoncé

If there’s a 1A to Pitchfork’s No. 1, it’s Stereogum who also provides a unique, literary way to look at and listen to music. No real surprises here, and you should be starting to pick up on a theme at this point. It is our first list without Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo among the top five, getting edged out by ATCQ and Chance the Rapper. It’s here where we are also seeing what appears to be a clear top two amongst critics as Queen B and Frank Ocean have now been placed highly on multiple lists.

Spin (link)

5. I Like it When You Sleep… by The 1975

4. We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest

3. Blackstar by David Bowie

2. Blond by Frank Ocean

1. A Seat at the Table by Solange

Chance came in at No. 7 with Beyoncé surprisingly at No. 6. We have our first appearance of one of the better new rock albums of the year in The 1975’s drop, but the other four names are all repeats from previous lists with Solange regaining the top spot a la Pitchfork.

The Ringer (link)

5. My Woman by Angel Olsen

4. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

3. Blond by Frank Ocean

1. Lemonade by Beyoncé/A Seat at The Table by Solange

Rihanna, Chance, and ATCQ follow behind in a list that I felt was a bit of a cop-out due to the dual No. 1 albums, but who am I to judge. We have our first appearance of Angel Olsen’s My Woman alongside the mainstays like Kanye and Frank. I recommend reading the entire column as it discusses much of what I was hinting at above regarding the album, doing so in a much more eloquent fashion.

If we assign five points to all No. 1 albums, and one point to all No. 5 albums (with everything else falling inversely between), we are able to come up with an aggregation-style top five for 2016 that starts to take bits and pieces from other lists and form a consensus of sorts.

Aggregated Top Five

5. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper (10)

4. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West (11)

3. A Seat at The Table by Solange (14)

2. Blond by Frank Ocean (16)

1. Lemonade by Beyoncé (26)

David Bowie’s Blackstar was featured on more lists, but rarely any higher than the fourth or fifth spot. The guy was a legend and for his final piece to be held in such high regard across multiple outlets speaks volumes. No album was featured on every list, but Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Frank Ocean’s Blond were featured higher more often than not. Solange had enough first-place votes to garner the third spot with Kanye and Chance the Rapper falling right behind, barely edging out Bowie and A Tribe Called Quest.

My Top Five

5. We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest

4. Blond by Frank Ocean

3. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

2. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

1. Lemonade by Beyoncé

Had the A Tribe Called Quest album come out earlier in the year, there’s a very solid chance it could be higher on this list. It’s a terrific album from a legendary hip-hop group, one that suffered the loss of a key member just months earlier. The other albums fall in line based on overall experience surrounding the release. Frank Ocean fans waited years for this release, and it was done so alongside a visual album titled Endless (which produced this year-end piece as well).

While I originally disparaged The Life of Pablo in comparison to another album, it’s one of only a few albums that continues to be in my rotation despite so much other quality music coming out this year. The St. Pablo stop in Cleveland, while hindered a bit by a Flash Seats snafu, was an incredible experience. I stand by the fact that I enjoyed Coloring Book more than TLOP, but in hindsight, Chance didn’t need to be compared to anything to stand as one of the best of this year. Coloring Book is a fantastic album from one of the best young emcees in hip-hop, and comes with one heck of a back story that makes the entire experience that much better. There’s a reason he closed out Saturday Night Live for 2016 as he’s the one artist that perpetually left you feeling good about things while others came with some baggage.

From the MTV story linked above:

This year, in particular, [Chicago] has been a driving force behind art, sound, writing, and a movement of young black creatives claiming a space of their own — Saba and Noname and Mick Jenkins and Jamila Woods and Vic Mensa, to name a few. Chance, though, was the one who tapped into exactly what this year needed. The soundtrack to grief isn’t always as dark as the grief itself. Sometimes what we need is something to make the grief seem small, even when you know it’s a lie.

And finally, as much as folks hate being reminded of how good the New England Patriots are, Beyoncé once again delivered, both visually and sonically, dropping Lemonade out of nowhere and completely tilting the landscape in music for the rest of 2016. As The Ringer put best, “her monolithic Lemonade proved her uncanny ability to one-up even herself .” It was pure artistry in a culturally-toxic climate. It was empowering. It was critical. It tore down a wall that let everyone peer into the tumult between her and Jay Z. Released early in the year, it landed her a spot in the Super Bowl halftime show, and is still being talked about today as we look  back at what the year brought us all in the way of music and pop culture.

As she says in “Formation”, “you know you’re that bitch when you cause all this conversation.”

  1. Seriously, so many great front-to-back albums with artists putting so much work in to their crafts to ensure that the album is more than just a few singles. []
  2. Not really. []

  • I’m a rock guy. Hell, I’m a metal guy. That said, Chance the Rapper’s album is one of the best listening experiences of the past five years for me. That is an album that feels celebratory and inspirational and infectious. I just loved it universally. I can’t say the same for anything else that came out this year. I like moments on Rihanna’s album. Life of Pablo was schizo to me.

    I’ll have to nail down some of my favorite rock of the year, but it’s almost an unfair comparison – rock vs. anything else – because of the maturity of the genre. Even the genre-busting acts like Nine Inch Nails are going on 30 years old at this point. It’s a well-explored genre and anything that builds on the legacy of a previous generation will eventually lose the ability to innovate. It will happen in hip hop rap someday too – where it will feel to anyone with knowledge of history like it’s all been done before.

  • RGB

    No metal?
    Your list is invalid.

  • Well that’s one way to look at it.

  • jshmeezy6

    Personally, I did not enjoy Beyonce’s album even a little. As someone that listens to hip-hop more than any other genre, it felt forced, whereas Chance’s mixtape felt like the most genuine thing about 2016. Overall though, I believe EDM blew every other genre out of the water this year. Guys like the Chainsmokers, Kygo, and Flume became household names while releasing some pretty unique music (although tropical house became a pretty obvious theme, especially as it seeps into radio pop). Also, Diplo is a mastermind whether he is producing under that name or with Major Lazer. I was, however, disappointed in country’s output. Artists keep moving closer and closer to early 2000s alt-pop. Thank God for Chris Stapleton.

    My personal top 5 albums of 2016:
    5. Bas – Too High to Riot
    4. Kaytranada – 99.9%
    3. Kanye – TLOP
    2. Chance – Coloring Book
    1. Flume – Skin

  • The concert experience for TLOP bolstered a lot of my feelings on the album. If venture to guess those who watched the album release and saw the tour would feel much differently about the album as a whole. Unfair, perhaps, but the show bordered on surreal at times.

    Weirdly, I feel like a parent rooting for a son anytime Chance does something having listened to him for years. The acclaim surrounding Coloring Book is almost equally as gratifying as the listening experience.

  • Amen on Chris Stapleton. He’s the only country artist worth listening to in today’s landscape and his album is terrific.

    Also agree on your thoughts re EDM. Just weren’t enough to get in the top five.

  • tigersbrowns2

    my top album of 2016 is a 3-way tie between Aerosmith – Get Your Wings … Led Zeppelin – II … and Aerosmith – Rocks.

    TB(stuck in the 70’s)2

  • Hopwin

    I miss bands 🙁

  • nj0

    Mine are The Fall’s Hex Enduction Hour, Captain Beefheart & His Magic Bands’ Trout Mask Replica, and Zappa’s Joe Garage. I’m not sure what I’m stuck in, but it’s sure as heck not now.

  • tigersbrowns2

    nice … you have an eclectic / unique style of favorite music.

  • nj0

    Thanks. I gave up on music for a while until I just started diving into older stuff.

  • jshmeezy6

    Absolutely. Eric Church also comes to mind but he’s been shaky the last 2 albums. Stapleton’s “Parachute” might be my favorite song of the year. But then I remember “Ultra Light Beam.”

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