Staff Picks: Elijah Watson's 16 Best Albums Of 2016
Staff Picks: Elijah Watson's 16 Best Albums Of 2016

Staff Picks: Elijah Watson's 16 Best Albums Of 2016

Staff Picks: Elijah Watson's 16 Best Albums Of 2016

Following Kevin Clark's best 16 albums of 2016, I now present my picks for this year! Although 2016 was a trying year, what got many of us through was the music. The angelic soars of Solange; the soulful croons of Anderson .Paak; the cheery sing-song raps of Chance The Rapper – the list goes on and on. So, instead of keeping you in anticipation, here's my list for best albums of 2016.

1. Solange – A Seat At The Table

There's a meditative mood that defines A Seat At The Table. In its anger, despair and frustration, Solange articulates what are often interpreted as extreme emotions with an air of calm and lightness, backed by some of the most cohesive and compelling production of her career. Throughout the album's 21 tracks finds Solange exploring her experiences as a black woman in America. Her tone is assertive and powerful, but subdued: a voice of someone whose travels have made them weary but wiser nonetheless. Along her adventures she gets advice from Master P; gets Lil Wayne to provide one of the most captivating raps he's offered in recent years; dances with Sampha; and simply immerses herself in black brotherhood and sisterhood. To take a seat at the table comes with confrontation — an acceptance and awareness of the joys and pains that come with being black. You will cry; you will dance; you will sing — A Seat At The Table is therapy, and Solange our therapist.

2. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

Childish Gambino, Donald Glover's musical persona, has been hard to take seriously at times, but at the very least with each release he's offered there's been an indication — a desire — to grow. Awaken, My Love! roars with a certain confidence and freedom that Gambino has been exploring ever since Because The Internet, but instead of diving deep into the wormhole of the world wide web, his latest album finds home looking for comfort in the sounds that raised him. Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly & The Family Stone — the funk drives Awaken and Gambino finds liberation in the funk. But in that sonic exploration also comes surreal but poignant commentary on everything from racial fear ("Boogieman") to being a father. Sure, you can accuse Gambino of pastiche (yours truly did), but if there's ever a moment of skepticism in which you wonder just how committed he is to this album, just skip to 2:40 of "Redbone." A scream like that doesn't come without dedication. Hopefully Glover is speaking to himself with the album title of Awaken, My Love! Here, we're witnessing the return of an artist who seems to finally be making the music he's always wanted to, looking towards the future while simultaneously celebrating the past.

3. Kaytranada – 99.9%

There's an atmosphere of fun that makes 99.9% so alluring. Kaytranada treats his debut album like an old school DJ set: there's the festive kickoff ("Track Uno"), which then goes back and forth between momentum builders ("Together," "One Too Many" and "Glowed Up") and breath catchers ("Got It Good" and "Despite The Weather"). The end result is a project that highlights Kaytranada's abilities to craft catchy and beautiful songs, and complimenting them with voices that know how to shine on them. Also, shouts out to Gal Costa.

4. Nxworries – Yes Lawd!

Yes Lawd! presents itself like a blaxploitation film: fun, playful and doesn't take itself too seriously. As Knxwledge provides warm and soulful textures throughout the album's 19 tracks, Anderson .Paak takes the persona of a charming bohemian that just can't seem to settle. He may take residence at a woman's place for food and slumber, only to dawn his fedora and hit the streets again. The result is a Madvillainy project of sorts, in which Knxwledge and .Paak link up to create a body of work that's such a smooth and worthwhile listen.

5. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered

Our first taste of what was to come from Untitled Unmastered was December 2014, when Kendrick Lamar performed what would become “Untitled 03” on The Colbert Report. We assumed that the track would be on To Pimp A Butterfly. We were wrong. Thanks to the insistence (and persistence) of Lebron James, Top Dawg dropped Untitled Unmastered, a compilation album consisting of Butterfly b-sides that further showed just how far Lamar wanted to go. Unmastered is cohesive but not as fully fleshed out as Butterfly. Where the latter experiments in theory, the former experiments in practice. Through Unmastered you get a better sense of how fun but challenging Butterfly probably was. The sounds, themes — to create a body of work quite like Butterfly is no easy feat and Unmastered is a testament to that. Overall, Unmastered is a jam session with just the right amount of lit and insight.

6. KamaiyahA Good Night In The Ghetto

The essentials for a good party: drinks, friends, music and snacks. Kamaiyah knows this which is why the album art for A Good Night In The Ghetto has her arriving at a friend’s place with a handle of liquor and a bag of chips. A Good Night In The Ghetto basks in its regionalism: Bay Area’s YG and Netta Brielle make appearances; the Hyphy Hoochies provide some comical interludes; and most of the production offers a new and refreshing take on G-funk, gangsta rap and hyphy music. What you’re left with is a project that is so fucking fun — west coast blunts and solo red cups fun. Matter of fact, why am I still typing? I’m going to go get a 40 and dance to “Fuck It Up.” I suggest you do the same.

7. BadBadNotGood – IV

As their fourth full length project, BBNG's IV is similar to one of its guest star's 2016 album — Kaytranada's 99.9%. Like the Montreal-based producer, the Toronto jazz ensemble has a knack for crafting good songs and finding the right collaborator to bring them to life. Sam Herring on "Time

Moves Slow"; and Mick Jenkins on "Hyssop of Love." BBNG's interpretation of jazz through a lens of rap and electronic sounds, makes for an album that shows the group's continuous growth.

8. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service

Both a fitting tribute to the late Phife Dawg, as well as a testament to the group's everlasting creativity, A Tribe Called Quest's We Got It From Here isn't plagued by '90s rap restrictions. With Q-Tip in the driver's seat the album is brave in its sonic exploration, providing an experimental pulse that propels ATCQ forward. Jarobi is rapping his ass off; Phife is rapping his ass off; Consequence is rapping his ass off; Busta Rhymes is rapping his ass off. There's a camaraderie throughout We Got It From Here that shows that years later, ATCQ still has an energy that is still youthful but more refined. Plus, where else can you find an album in which Q-Tip and Andre 3000 are going bar for bar with one another? Exactly.

9. Father – I'm A Piece Of Shit

I'm A Piece Of Shit is something of a sequel to Who's Gonna Get F**ked First, Father's first project. The former is the sobering and melancholy realization to the latter: where once all of the alcohol and drugs have worn off, you're placed back into reality, and that's often times more frightening than being on a hedonistic bender. Here, we find Father reckoning with that lifestyle and ultimately wanting something more – specifically in regards to romance. "When I'm not around, do you even long for me," the Atlanta rapper ponders on "Party On Me." Throughout the album are these moments of vulnerability and realness, that resonate even more because of Father's ability to craft his cadences into catchy hooks. A colorfully drawn Father is smiling on the album's cover, which very well encapsulates what I'm A Piece Of Shit is all about – he's trying to find some sense of happiness in all of the chaos, just like the rest of us.

10. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

To take on the role of unabashed optimist is no easy feat. Cynics may call you crazy; pessimists may laugh in your face. But there is something truly beautiful about being unflinchingly joyful in the face of so much wrong in this world – especially when that joy is coming from a black man.

Coloring Book is pure fun and Chance knows this. The lively ruckus that is "No Problems"; the celebratory Chicago anthem that is "Angels"; the bouncy club banger that is "All Night." Built on a foundation of faith Coloring Book makes a joyful noise that, in times such as these, offers a light of hope – because that's all we can do.

11. Young Thug – Jeffery

What has always been fascinating about Young Thug is the way in which he manipulates his voice. Howls, mumbles, wheezes, yelps – there's a freedom to Thugger's experimentation that is refreshingly innovative, and Jeffery is a testament to that. "Harambe" alone makes Jeffery one of the best albums of the year, but fortunately each and every track is just as good, with each one showcasing a different creative side of Young Thug. But it's also his most cohesive and coherent album, where the guests do their respective parts, and the production is booming but doesn't outshine Thug. Not that it could anyways – if anyone knows of the Atlanta rapper's star power, it's him. And sure, for now it's rap. But someday in the foreseeable future it very well may be pop.

12 .Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo

The Life Of Pablo is messy. Some songs are rich and fully fleshed out ("Ultralight Beam"); others bleed into one another unexpectedly, disrupting the flow of the rest of the album ("Father I Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 & 2"; "I Love Kanye"). But therein lies the beauty of it all: this constantly changing (literally, when you take into account the number of times Kanye West revised the album) work of moments, because that's what defines Pablo – moments. Unlike predecessors Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted FantasyPablo isn't coherent or controlled, but troubled. But in that is the type of unpredictability that Kanye has become known for, constructing an album only to deconstruct it in real time.

13. Bruno Mars – 24K Magic

24K Magic is basically the album we all secretly wanted following the worldwide success of "Uptown Funk." Bruno Mars had shown that he was capable of emulating the flamboyancy and fun of funk without diluting it, paying homage to Parliament-Funkadelic while bringing a certain sound not present in mainstream music to the masses. Bruno's latest album is such a good time. From beginning to end he channels his best Roger & Zapp (and other '80s groove-oriented adult contemporary artists), and offers an enjoyably entertaining album that clocks in a little over half an hour. 24K Magic is nothing but a party and everyone's invited, but with one catch – but you've got to dance.

14. Esperanza Spalding – Emily D+Evolution 

Esperanza Spalding's virtuosity is undeniable. But on D+Evolution it’s put front and center: a fearless 12 song album that shows Spalding going in so many musical directions at once, built on a foundation of funk. Contextually, D+Evolution was something of a rebirth for Spalding. After 2012’s Radio Music Society she took two years off from creating music. "See this pretty girl / Watch this pretty girl flow," she sings confidently on D+Evolution opener "Good Lava." Time paid off; she came back stronger than ever and it’s evident as soon as the album begins. In Prince's passing D+Evolution feels even more important than it already was, because you can hear his influence throughout — not just musically but in the fearlessness and freedom of it all. Spalding has and will continue to fight for uncontrolled creative expression, and D+Evolution is a testament to that.

15. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

There's something of a mixtape aesthetic to Freetown Sound. Original songs blend into samples or natural sounds captured during Blood Orange's walks throughout New York City. The sonic template – diverse, rich and vibrant – accompanies the artist as he attempts to celebrate not only his own identity, but those of people society often looks down upon. Freetown Sound confronts doubt and insecurity head on with a certain sense of joviality, asking questions and in search of answers, and inevitably realizing the power in doing so.

16. Show Me The Body – Body War

As soon as the title track kicks in you're pummeled with a barrage of atonal and dissonant sounds. Show Me The Body is a refreshing voice in an age in which rock music has been interpreted as stagnant – a genre of the past. Blending punk with the bravado and brashness of contemporary rap, the New York trio seems to find calm in the chaos, as frontman Julian Cashwan Pratt speaks of the frustrations this city presents, only to find peace in the sirens that cut through the silence of the night. Overall, Body War is an intense listen, that's finished in such an instant that you'll find yourself revisiting it again and again.