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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

13. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

With his third studio album as Blood Orange, Dev Hynes rails on politics and identity with poise and polish. Dense and sprawled out all at once, it’s easy to lump Freetown Sound in with some of the decade’s most acclaimed protest records. But there’s an air of tranquility that underscores Hynes’ latest outing, where he’s frontman and shadowed curator, a vehicle for punctured prayers, spoken-word warrants and lovelorn laments. And while the notes don’t explicitly quote his father’s hometown haunts, they yearn for that connection. Freetown Sound bridges generational and geographic distances with plush pop ballads and terminally funky ’80s riffs, maintaining its sharpness and intended destination all the way through. And it’s a helluva ride.

14. Anderson .Paak – Malibu

The year really was a tale of two .Paaks, but Malibu was the one that set the ship on course. Where NxWorries was a dynamic duo at work, .Paak’s first of two stud performances was success by committee. Particularly those producer’s already cemented as hip-hop’s elite (Madlib, Hi-Tek, 9thWonder.) But versatility’s been the Oxnard-native’s key to stardom, and Malibu provides warm, fertile ground for him stunt with his malleable rasp. .Paak’s pen game proves to be outrageously intricatescrawling meditations on strife, spirituality, excess and despair. But that’s only one side of this coin. The other, a rare caliber of musicianship, as raw as it is refined. Throw in a seductive dance-floor-ready Kaytranada collaboration and Malibu is easily amongst the year’s most alluring releases.

15. NAO – For All We Know

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NAO’s come a long way since stepping out with A.K. Paul on the potent introduction “So Good.” The arrival of For All We Know nearly two years later, finds the cross-ponder’s lilt adorning 18 tracks of blistering, phased-for-days r&b and disco grooves. First half of the record is dedicated to the two-stepper in you, dotted with demos and high-voltage funk frolics. Paul resurfaces on the steamy mid-tempo heater “Trophy,” but his influence is felt across the board with razor-sharp six-string strikes punctuating NAO’s squalls and shouts throughout. As far as the year’s standout debut’s are concerned, the conversation will always be incomplete without For All We Know‘s mention. And in the era of trapped-out romance records, NAO’s more than a refreshing chaser, redefining just what r&b’s capable of along with just about every artist on this list. Safe to say, the future’s in good hands.

16. Travis Scott – Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight

Whereas many of the year’s finest outings decided to scrap any notion of the album as we know it, Kanye’s protege went with his gut and basically made the trap-era Thriller. Birds In The Trap is so seeped in back-to-back bangers that you’re likely to toss any preconceptions of who or what he is. La Flame’s auto-tuned-to-death hooks may seem a bit sterile, but I’ll be damned if they don’t make for the perfect accompaniment to all of the bad decisions you’ll ever make, straight-edged or stoned out of your gourd. Yes, some tracks feel like Scott is just conjuring up sequels to all of his favorite songs with the artists they are known for (Kid Cudi, Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar and more) but even with the string of part twos, Birds In The Trap is the year’s most mindlessly enjoyable record.

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