Best Music Projects of 2016
Updated: Apr 3, 2020
Once again, the team is coming together for a collaboration post. This go round we discuss our picks for the top music projects for 2016 thus far and also some projects we look forward too. Let’s jump right into it!
2016 has given us a plethora of music choices to enjoy argue over the first half of the year, but when you have heavyweights like Kanye West, Beyoncé and more releasing some of the year’s most prominent material so early, other quality acts can easily be overlooked or maybe even forgotten. The heavyweights swallowed up much of the attention in a short period of time, and deservingly so. There’s debut albums I enjoyed, but only gave one proper listen because the magnitude of some albums like LEMONADE garnered 4.5 earthquakes and left aftershocks long after its destruction. So while it’s easy to say The Life of Pablo is probably my favorite album so far, or continue to drool over the absurdity within the genius of Kendrick’s demos and unfinished material, or even stammer on in amazement of actually enjoying Rihanna and Beyoncé albums—front to back—for the first time ever, all of that seems boring even if none of these were. I prefer to make it somewhat difficult by listing some of my favorites from those who aren’t the usual suspects such as Kanye, Beyoncé, Kendrick, Rihanna, not even Chance or Future. These following projects set lasting impressions on my first six months of 2016, while also helping with late 20s sanity:
The Colour in Anything – James Blake
Too High to Riot – Bas
Twenty88 – Twenty88 (Jhené Aiko & Big Sean)
The second half of the year holds much more to anticipate, even if the megastars are mostly off the board already touring their new projects. While I can easily list plenty more projects I’m looking forward to (no, seriously, I tried a couple weeks ago and kept remembering more and more only to simply give up; plus being relegated to only two), I’ll create a similar rule as I did with my *favorites* to make things a little more interesting and choose only albums that lack a concrete release date but is planned for release sometime this year:
King Push – Pusha T
Love Affair – The-Dream
My favorite three albums right now have to be Esperanza Spalding’s Emily’s D+Evolution, Payroll Giovanni & Cardo’s Big Bossin’, Vol. 1, and James Blake’s The Colour in Anything. One paragraph will not do enough justice about all three of these records as they all hold weight in different ways. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Esperanza but she completely blew me away with her spin on psychedelic jazz and prog rock. “Unconditional Love” stands as one of the best songs this year and Spalding found a niche that was carved out by Janelle Monae and KING. Big Bossin, Vol. 1 could rival Still Brazy as the go-to West Coast album to play, though Payroll is from Detroit. Every track bangs, even the remakes of songs that are much better in their original format (“Sugar Free” and “Real Plugg”). Cardo is one of my favorite producers today and he really can’t do anything wrong now. The James Blake record feels like something that’s going to get better as I grow older. Immensely dense in its production and songwriting, it’s length is what keeps it from being perfect, but there’s so much good on Colour that it’s hard to dislike it.
As far as any albums I’m looking forward to for the second half, The Avalanches and Danny Brown stands out right now.
Flume’s new album skin is probably if not top contender for Best album of 2016. Separating from his previous duo What So Not with fellow australian brother Emoh Instead (who carries on the What So Not legacy), Flume took the time he had on his own to show the world how smooth, beautiful and finessed electronic music can be. From start to finish, it’s proof that even though EDM is a vast and deep music genre, everyone who isn’t hip to electronic music, can dive into it with something that sounds familiar and easy to listen to.
Worth Taking A Listen To The Chainsmokers – Bouquet EP Illenium – Ashes What So Not – Gemini
Artists To Watch
These artists had the best music of 2016. Quality is top notch, near flawless, not viral and not hipster music. Even though Australia ran 2015 and is slowly but surely taking over 2016, there is a rise in the Hip Hop, Rap and R&B universe that looks very promising, exciting yet different in the best way possible. Keep your ears open and ready. That’s your article of best music of 2016. Snapple Fact.
Howard Nedrick Jr
My three favorite projects from the first half of 2016 goes as follows: Coloring Book, Twenty88, and Still Brazy. Coloring Book was an immense collaboration of experiences that brought me to a positive place EVERY listen. I loved the direction Chance took with the project and would love for him to win as many awards as possible for it. Twenty88 was a project I didn’t even know I needed but love the fact it was manufactured. Big Sean and Jhene Aiko are solid tag team partners and I look forward to future projects from the duo. Their EP was a good collection of the many sides of a relationship and was a smooth ride. To round out my top three picks for the year, I had to add YG Still Brazy. The storytelling on this album is AMAZING. I need to go back and listen to more of YG’s work to appreciate his progression as an artist. I feel YG is a hidden gem and he should turn out like Logic (funny thing is they are on tour together).
The one project I look forward to later this year has to be Pharos by Childish Gambino. His app had me on the edge of my seat for three days awaiting what he had up his sleeve. As a dedicated Gambino fan, I am always ready for a new CG project.
There’s nothing better than an unexpected positive surprise. Something that is just smooth and refined and goes down easy. Something that satisfies all of your needs that you weren’t even privy to. Something that is beautiful on the surface and even more compelling on its deeper end. That is the only way to appropriately describe Bas’ “Too High to Riot” album which was released earlier in 2016 and my early nod for rap album of the year.
As a 90’s baby it’s literally impossible for me to give any rapper a real chance if they don’t have some lyrical prowess. So when I found out that Royce Da 5’9 arguably the best lyricist in the lyrical super group known as Slaughterhouse (tied with Joell Ortiz) was dropping a new album in 2016 called Layers it was a no brainer that it was a must listen for me at least. Layers displayed a side of Royce most fans aren’t used to seeing. Through impeccable lyricism he shows deep sorrow and regret as he attempts to redeem himself of deep alcoholism and years of trouble in his marriage.
TWENTY88 is just spectacular from start to finish. The only problem I have with it is that it wasn’t longer. The chemistry was electric and the passion was overwhelming. It’s just one of those albums where you can’t just listen to one track. Once you hear one track you have to hear the rest of the album.
Unfortunately I’m not looking forward to anything for the rest of 2016. Whatever comes out comes out. With no expectations there are no disappointments.
My favorite three projects to drop this year
3: Anti – Rihanna
Rihanna’s “Anti” may be by far her most complete album, showing off an amazing range of topics, a willing to take risks in her style and content, and lastly, a much improved singing voice and swagger, that has made her into a powerhouse within all music circles.
2: Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper
The album every “indie” hop hop fan was waiting for – “Coloring Book” is Chance the Rapper’s debut album. If you look at the amount of features on this album, you can see how many artists within the industry are hoping for Chance’s success and this debut puts the young phenom from Chicago on a path to truly reinvent the game as we know it.
1 Ology – Gallant
Definitely the least known artist on this list, Gallant is an upstart singer from the DMV with an innovative electronica/RnB style, and a range in his voice that of a young Maxwell. “Ology” is one of the most complete works of art I have heard for a long time.
Flash Forward – the project that I’m the most excited to look for going forward has to be “Boys Don’t Cry” by Frank Ocean.
When I listen to music, I tend to listen to music that fits the seasons. 2016 has had an immense amount of enjoyable music released. My three favorite projects of 2016 have been in a part of the soundtracks to my winter, spring and summer. The first nod goes to a Toronto rapper. Not the sweatshop runner, but an up-and-comer in the scene. Following the success of his incredible debut mixtape “Marauding in Paradise”, Jazz Cartier dropped his debut album “Hotel Paranoia” for free. The chemistry he has with his main producer Lantz is superb. His beats, Jazz’ flows, make for an enjoyable experience lost in your own thoughts amongst the snowfall. After the snow melts, and the flowers begin to bloom, YFN Lucci’s “Wish Me Well 2” is a great melodic mixtape to bring in the spring. The Atlanta rapper was introduced to me through Johnny Cinco and his second ever solo mixtape is a joyous, autotuned soundscape. Much like his features, you tend to get lost in his voice, especially when harmonizing. Last but not least, is the sophomore album of the Young Gangsta. Trying out an (old) new sound, YG 400 puts the West on his back and gives us an album even better than “My Krazy Life”. If you want to bloodwalk the entire summer give “Still Brazy” a spin.
I’m not sure what the rest of 2016 holds for us, musically, but I’m anticipating most a new project from Sir Michael Rocks. He tweeted about dropping something new similar to his first two mixtapes if the tweet got enough RTs. It did. He soon had a change of heart and felt the project wasn’t up to par and scrapped it. I’m hoping we get something out of it at least, a “Lost Tape” of some sorts. If not, Shy Glizzy will hold me down with “Young Jefe 2” and Tory Lanez’ debut album is still on the way.
Stephen J Frias
Musically, 2016 has been a great year. Two of my favorite artists released records, & another has probably reached my top five with his release. My top three records of 2016, in no particular order, are Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, Drake’s Views, & Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. The Life of Pablo gave me possible the best three-song-opening of a record ever. There’s arguably no better start to a record than those three songs. Also: I will forever be Ultralight Beaming because of this. Of all the songs (not even records) that came out this year, Views probably has the biggest presence in my music rotation. It’s the easiest record to jump into regardless of what I’m doing. Coloring Book is the happiest record that ever existed. It also made me find religion again, which is crazy because I went to Catholic school & Catholic school is ironically the antithesis of religion.
What record am I looking forward to this year? ScHoolboy Q’s Blank Face is gonna be a wild sophomore record. ScHoolboy never lets me down.
Bonus: What record am I looking forward to in life? Frank, where are you, man? Seriously. Where are you? Stop hurting us. I’m crying Frank. You said boys don’t cry, but guess what Frank? WE ARE. STOP PLAYING GAMES WITH OUR HEARTS…