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Staff Picks: Zo’s 16 Best Albums of 2016

Staff Picks: Zo’s 16 Best Albums of 2016

Staff Picks: Zo's 16 Best Albums of 2016

1. Frank Ocean – Blond(e)

By summer 2016, many were convinced Frank was done with us. Both he and we had respective gripes. All reasoned, though disheartening nonetheless. Then “two versions” turned into two albums and a gorgeous blown-up zine in just two days. It was an inundation. Endless, the visual album preceding Blond(e) might have been enough, honestly. 40 some odd minutes of Frank proving over and over that he (and r&b itself) is not to be defined or held to any schedule unless the definition and timetable are his (its) own. I’ll argue that one of the year’s best verses by any MC takes shelter in that shifty bed of loose and moody cuts. Blond(e), however, is a creature apart. On the second of his two 2016 releases, Frank hops out the woodshop and into the driver’s seat for a tour of his worldly exploits, a psychedelic slideshow capturing years of growth and heartbreak one memory at a time, sometimes all at once. His voice more polished and painfully gorgeous than ever. His recollections deeply intimate and pristinely vivid. Blond(e) was not the album we were expecting. And if Frank has it his way (he will) we’ll never see him coming again.

2. NxWorries – Yes Lawd!

Even before Anderson .Paak began his 2016 heroics, he had a major hit on his hands with “Suede,” a true-to-its-name slow-burner fit for kush-kissed rides in the cadillac. The track was produced by Knxwledge, a recent Stones Throw signee with a taste for luscious soul loops and fucked up drums, and marked the commencement of a new era in Stones Throw duos. NxWorries, as they came to be called, would eventually bloom with a six-track EP, followed by the full-length Yes, Lawd!, unveiling a pimp-talking and butter-smooth .Paak persona almost diametrically opposite to the heart-warming, lovelorn one heard on Malibu. This .Paak only needs an L and a cold cuban funk flip to fuck up your #relationshipgoals. But no matter which of the two is the “real” .Paak, Yes Lawd! proves to be a triumph for both MC and producer. Both clearly just beginning their respective and joined journeys into the hearts of heads.

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3. Solange – A Seat At The Table 

Not sure if anything hit me as hard as A Seat At The Table did in this most dreadful year. But truth is I needed it, and badly. It’s a rare record that speaks directly to our devastations and the emotional costs of it all, provides not only an outlet for them, but a means of processing. With heartfelt footnotes from Mama Knowles and Master P, Solange’s latest gracefully suggests power and beauty in the simple act of getting mad. And there’s a lot to be mad about. It’s the What’s Going On of 2016 and well beyond, a template for how to ask simple questions that demand thorough responses. Merely coping is no longer enough.

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