May 13, 2016. Singles: “Angels,” “No Problem,” “Summer Friends” Leave it up to Chance to change the game. Fans anticipated Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape and his unique brand of goofy and experimental hip hop, but what we received blew expectations out of the water. Chance’s mixtape is critically acclaimed and has hit many accomplishments, including being the first streaming-only album to ever receive a Grammy nomination (and most likely, a win).
2. Solange’s “A Seat at the Table”
September 30, 2016. Saint Records & Columbia Records. Singles: “Cranes in the Sky” Solange is many things all at once: a trendsetter, innovator, activist, eloquent, unique and daring. Nothing illustrates these points better than her third studio album. A Seat at the Table is bold in showcasing the many facets of being a black woman in today’s society. She moves through a range of emotions - anger, despair, empowerment - in time with a range of musical styles - funk, neo soul, R&B. It’s both classic and modern in a way that only Solange could ever get away with.
3. Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”
April 23, 2016. Parkwood Entertainment & Columbia Records. Singles: “Formation,” “Sorry,” “Hold Up,” “Freedom,” “Daddy Lessons,” “All Night” When life hands you lemons, you kick the world in the teeth while it’s asleep. At least that’s what you do when you’re Beyoncé. Everyone is aware that Mrs. Knowles-Carter can do exactly what she wants, when she wants. For example: release not one, but two, full visual concept albums without anyone’s knowledge. Beyoncé’s sixth studio album, and second visual album, has been lauded for being a raw and honest look at the intricacies of rebuilding trust after betrayal - in more ways than one. It’s heartfelt, introspective, infectious and just plain good.
4. “The Hamilton Mixtape”
December 2, 2016. Atlantic Records. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical Hamilton has swept the nation, but Miranda long intended for a mixtape of selected songs from the musical to be released. We waited, he delivered. Various artists - from The Roots and Nas to Sia and Regina Spektor - collaborated to bring another perspective to an already larger than life phenomenon.
5. Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman”
May 20, 2016. Republic Records. Singles: “Dangerous Woman,” “Into You,” “Side to Side” With an incredible voice and a penchant for creating pop perfection, Ariana Grande’s third studio album was exactly what radio needed. A big chorus and an even bigger voice can cure anything during those summer months, and Grande delivers just that. She stuns with her variance in styles, from the Old Hollywood feel of “Dangerous Woman” to Future’s trap influences on “Everyday.” This album shows how she’s experimenting and maturing in terms of sound, but still feels so much like the same Ari.
6. BANKS’ “The Altar”
September 30, 2016. Harvest Records. Singles: “Fuck with Myself,” “Gemini Feed,” “Mind Games,” “To the Hilt” Jillian Banks is back with a vengeance in her sophomore album, a confident and unapologetic take on her battles with love and personal growth. Banks’ knows her craft well, seamlessly flowing across her genre with sultry vocals and large choruses that dare you not to sing along.
7. The 1975′s “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it”
February 26, 2016. Dirty Hit, Interscope Records, Polydor Records, Vagrant Records. Singles: “Love Me,” “UGH!,” “Somebody Else,” “The Sound,” “A Chance of Heart,” “She’s American” The 1975 sure does know how to make some fucking weird pop brilliance. After a bit of social media induced panic, fans of The 1975 just wanted the second album they could get high and cry to. What they got was only partially that. I Like It When You Sleep… is youthful and reflective in the same way their debut album was, but with a lot more funk and tumblr aesthetics. It’s young love with lots of gang vocals and self-deprecating humor. It’s 2016 - odd and beautiful.
8. Rihanna’s “ANTI”
January 28, 2016. Westbury Road & Roc Nation. Singles: “Work,” “Kiss It Better,” “Needed Me,” “Love on the Brain” Rihanna has a trend of releasing albums one right after another, so when the wait for her eighth studio album spanned almost four years, no one really knew what to expect. ANTI provides the radio-ready hits that we know and love, but also ventures into belting ballads and melodic string-led waltzes. It’s edgy and adventurous in true Rihanna fashion and keeps you on the edge of your toes (and the middle of the dance floor).
9. NAO’s “For All We Know”
July 29, 2016. Little Tokyo Recordings. Singles: “Bad Blood,” “Fool to Love,” “Girlfriend” Let’s start here: “Nay-O.” There’s your pronunciation, now let’s get into the nitty gritty. The wave of synth/electropop and alternative R&B musicians has been big, but just when you think you’ve heard it all, there’s always a newcomer who takes your breath away. Enter NAO. She’s featured on other artists’ albums, such as Disclosure and Mura Masa, but it was time for her to astonish with her own creations. The album is a soothing feel good vibe that invokes a dreamy state of mind. For All We Know takes you to several different places, but you’re always happy to be along for the ride.
10. Little Mix’s “Glory Days”
November 18, 2016. Syco Records & Columbia Records. Singles: “Shout Out to My Ex,” “Touch” I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: GIRL BANDS DESERVE MORE CREDIT. And with their fourth studio album, Little Mix are demanding it. Every trend that music has seen over the past year or two, Little Mix has somehow incorporated into this ambitious work that should have debuted at Coachella or something. As always, their vocals game is on point. The girls manage to swing from Motown to club bangers to girl power anthems without breaking a sweat. I don’t know how else to say it except: where is their Grammy?