The Most Important Albums of 2016
2016 was a long year.
In a literal sense — it will only be a mere moment longer per timekeepers at the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service — for some it seemed like it would never end. And while many are anxious to say goodbye, it’s important to take a moment and acknowledge the musical masterpieces released throughout the year.
After all, what would life be without music? Especially music that has soul… music with a higher meaning. Great music is powerful. It brings us to tears, brightens our days and reminds us to continue to strive towards a better tomorrow.
It would be impossible to deny that 2016 was absolutely filled with powerful music.
Detailed below are four of the most important albums of the year. While there were many contenders, and creating this short of a list was a difficult feat, the four below are included due to of their impact, their longevity and momentousness of the album’s message. Further consideration for the list was the artist’s overall degree to experiment while creating a cohesive story.
*Cue post-election atmosphere.*
“We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service”
A Tribe Called Quest
It’s undeniable that much of the United States was shocked when Donald Trump secured the presidency. Prolific underground rap group ‘A Tribe Called Quest’, on the other hand, was not.
In what many view a direct response to the turbulent confusion the election threw the United States into, ATCQ takes its listeners on a path of remembrance through African-American history. In what the group has referred to as ‘their final studio album’, “We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service”, ATCQ sets the album’s politically-driven tone right off the bat, with their first track ‘The Space Program’.
Verses from Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Jarobi illustrate the U.S. government systems of oppression that African-Americans began combatting in the ‘50s and ‘60s. ATCQ takes care to remind its listeners that black men being shot by police officers is not a new phenomena. Additionally, gentrification and segregation of schools and neighborhoods has long been occurring. It becomes apparent in the album that ATCQ believes these things happen and have long happened with little help from the outside communities since the beginning.
The album sets off with dialogue sampled from the 1974 blaxploitation film Willie Dynamite. Dynamite is a key New York City pimp in the film, discussing the best way for his group to operate amidst the police, strategizing against them. Ultimately, Dynamite’s solution is organization. ATCQ’s decision to include the clip was a marvelous one, echoing the importance to act on organization throughout the album. The group beckons for its listeners to come together, to fight against systems of oppression and violence.
“Gotta get it together forever/Gotta get it together for brothers/ Gotta get it together for sisters…”
Delving immediately into police brutality, mass incarceration, gentrification and discrimination, ATCQ repeatedly uses the phrase “let’s make something happen/let’s make something happen”.
In a nation so deeply divided, the unity that ATCQ calls for extends not only far beyond the Black community, but for the entirety of the nation, stressing the importance that lies within this album.
Between her angelic harmonies and thoughtful lyrics on what it means to be not only a part of the Black community, but a Black woman in America, Solange arrives at an absolute masterpiece in her newest album “A Seat at the Table”.
The powerful album is filled with interludes, including one from both her mother and father. Tina Knowles provides an emotionally driven sentiment on the difficulty that lies within remaining hopeful and proud of the pro-Black community.
Solange sings largely about the importance that lies within self-worth and remaining in love with what you’re creating despite trials and tribulations. She suggests the actions you partake in ultimately brightening the world that you live in. Although she does not remain foolish for a moment that this is easy. “Don’t You Wait”, a track midway through the album,hits hard on this notion where Solange addresses her white critics desire to hear more mainstream upbeat dance tunes from her. Standing tall she exercises her right to freely express herself in her music. She takes care to point out the irony of desire for people to demand something of her music comparing it to African-American history.
“Now, I don’t want to bite the hand that’ll show me the other side, no/But I didn’t want to build the land that has fed you your whole life/no don’t you find it funny?”
Complex Music writer Michael Arceneaux wrote that “If the visual component of Beyoncé’s LEMONADE is a celebration of Black womanhood, ASATT is an album addressing the Black community at large. ASATT speaks to the angst and frustration shared by all of us — and doesn’t shy away from the root of the struggle.”
The album was an absolutely necessary piece for the year’s political climate and if you have yet to listen I suggest you do. As Solange says on her track “F.U.B.U.,” “Don’t feel bad you can’t sing along/Just be glad you got the whole wild world”, addressing her white listeners.
“Awaken, my Love!”
Donald Glover wears many hats.
As an actor, writer, and comedian, one may wonder how he has the time to be a musician. But he is, and an incredibly detail-oriented one at that. As his alter ego “Childish Gambino”, Glover delivers a hard-hitting piece somewhere between the intersection of gospel music and psychedelic rock. Although the album’s release was met with what seemed to be immediate ridicule and disappointment, it’s an incredibly important step in the right direction for artist experimentation.
Music critics and key influencers argue the album lacks teeth. Many believe Glover has yet to establish himself as an artist to deliver such a piece. On the contrary, I would say that if you’re disappointed by Glover’s new album you need have an open mind. If you had expected superfluous delivery of bars, you were pleasantly fooled.
Considering the two singles prior to the album “Me and Your Mama”/”Redbone”, it wouldn’t have made sense for this to be the Glover we had once known. And while this is not to say he won’t return to his previous sound as nobody can really have any idea, his step away from expectation is something all artists can learn from.
Challenging the idea of artist’s genre adherence is something we have yet to see much from mainstream artists, hopefully it’s something we will in the years to come.
Perhaps this is a form of awakening he’s referring to…
In what marked an other-worldly approach to modern jazz, Blackstar is a culmination of Bowie’s lifelong ability amongst hauntingly beautiful melodies. Bowie passed just two days following the release of Blackstar, and eerily set the mood for the remainder of the year.
Having always recognized what he borrowed from others, he created something entirely new. We all took David Bowie’s mortality for granted — he was larger than life and so we thought he was beyond it. He didn’t let anyone know he was sick because I imagine he wanted it that way. It was clear that his legacy was important to him, and how heartbreaking yet poetic it is to make your last piece of art coincide with your ultimate demise.
Maybe he didn’t know it would be so soon after the album’s release, although it becomes apparent through Blackstar that he knew it was coming. In an interview I read from 1976 between Bowie and Playboy, he very clearly illustrates even back then, that everything is a performance. Even life.
“I’ve now decided that my death should be very precious. I really want to use it. I’d like my death to be as interesting as my life has been and will be”.
His latest and last album is so hauntingly beautiful, especially with the circumstances, one cannot help but weep as it plays.
May his star dust never fade.