Sampha, a British singer and producer, has made a name for himself over the years with his features. He has provided his unique voice for the likes of Drake, SBTRKT, Jessie Ware, and Solange among others over the years and has released two previous extended plays. As an artist, Sampha fits a style comparable with a couple ‘alt-R&B’ artists such as FKA twigs, Solange, or James Blake.
DAMN., the fourth studio album from Kendrick Lamar, works very well as a response to his last full-length, To Pimp a Butterfly. Butterfly was an album that impressed critics and music fans alike with its rich throwback to Black music, featuring elements of funk, jazz, boom bap hip-hop, and R&B within the production. Lyrically, the writing resonated with many as songs reflected on fracturing racial tensions across the country and Kendrick’s individual response to the state of affairs.
As the year comes to an end, a reflection of the times can be seen buried deep within the lines and verses of this year’s music, exposing the emotions coursing through the veins those deeply affected. To express the thoughts and challenges of Black America specifically, is a task taken on daily by many artists alike. But to do so in the most masterful form takes poise, precision, and the flawless execution of storytelling. While her sister Beyoncé shows her take on the story in one way, Solange took a detour to more abstract land to create the best project of 2016 and called “The Blackest Album of the Year” by many, an album titled A Seat at The Table.
Before I reveal the #1 spot, I want to thank you all for reading my reviews for 2016. This has been one of the best years in music that I feel we have heard in awhile. This list is a listener's’ choice compilation of just some of the releases that did not make it up onto my top 16, but are still noteworthy. The list is in no particular order. Please enjoy!
For every year in music, typically one area or city comes out on top and for the year of 2016, I can confidently say that Chicago takes the crown in a flawless victory. Surrounding many of the rookies is the shadow and influence of the vets. Despite the never ending turmoil that surrounds his life and career, it felt like we welcomed Kanye West home as a vet this year with the release of his latest album, The Life of Pablo. In many ways, the album felt like West was getting back to basics, even with the several last minute changes to the name and continuous lyrical and production changes following the album's release. However, the rapper still took several signature style detours, in true Kanye fashion, to create the sonic boom that would keep the project in the ears of his fans nonstop.
In a general consensus, 2016 has been shining reminder of failure and a complete disengagement from hopefulness for most. In spite of this, there have been a handful of people able to restore the faith through their artistry. Back in late September, I drove almost 3 hours from Mississippi to Memphis and caught an early flight back home to Chicago to see a young man who grew up in the same neighborhood as myself break the attendance record at the White Sox Stadium on the South Side, something for which I am very proud of. That young man brought together young people of every identity from everywhere to a music festival called Magnificent Coloring Day, a day that I will never forget. That young man is Chance the Rapper, and in 2016 he dropped the most talked about project of the year, Coloring Book
Looking back on various websites and social media, you can connect a virtual timeline from 2012 to 2016 in articles, tweets, tabloids, Youtube hoaxes, and snaps in the long and grueling anticipation of a particular album release from a particular artist. Until August of this year, Frank Ocean’s career and reputation sat under the full weight of his 2012 debut album, Channel Orange, (a refreshing take on R&B panache) for over 4 years before the anticipation literally burst out of control. Ocean quietly and suddenly released a visual album titled Endless exclusively under ITunes and the next day released what has become the shining specimen of a new take on avant-garde minimalism, an album titled Blond.
Taking a step into untouched territory is not something that you shy away from when you have career experience in literally almost every art known to man. Early this fall, Donald Glover premiered the debut of his comedy drama Atlanta on FX, a show that would later earn him several major award nominations, including Critics’ Choice. But of course in true Donald style, it wouldn’t be a complete 2016 without releasing some music as well. His first single “Me and Your Mama”, released early November, set the perfect tone for the eclectic transition that he planned to make for his newest project. However, with the release of Awaken, My Love! earlier this month, I would come to find that the album is not a shift of sound but instead a complete and masterful revival of the 60’s/70’s/early 80’s funk/rock/soul/R&B era.
Earlier this year in April, TDE rapper ScHoolboy Q delivered a dark and gritty new track titled “Groovy Tony”, a track envisioning Q as drug lord Tony Montana of Scarface but also paying homage to fellow rapper Ghostface Killah, whom Q states that he was inspired by for his work this time around. Only a few short months later, we were introduced to one of the defining anthems of the year, “THat Part”, which includes a beaming feature verse from none other than Chicago rapper, Kanye West. The song itself is a hand to the popular Californian phrase which means to cosign boastful statements. But as if the beat is not mighty enough to make the single pop, we get a verse from Kanye which includes bars such as “Nigga with an attitude, I feel like O’Shea”, paying a witty nod to legendary N.W.A. member Ice Cube
2016 has been a phenomenal year for music in Chicago, with releases from the legends, all the way down to the novices. With so much success coming from one city, it is easy for the talent of some to become overshadowed in the excitement of the frontrunners. I first saw West Side rapper Saba perform at the Young Chicago Authors at the end of 2011. With his quick wit and skillful flow, he appeared on Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap in 2012 and since has worked with other Chicago artists such as Mick Jenkins, Noname, and the Social Experiment. Putting out consistent quality project after project, it came as no surprise to me that I instantly fell in love with his latest, titled the Bucket List Project, and I will go on record to say that this in my most recommended project of the year.
Over the last several years, I have had the great pleasure of watching Vic Mensa develop his skill and sound into something. During high school/early college years, he was in an indie rock/hip hop band called Kids These Days, a band that gained a lot of local acclaim in our hometown of Chicago. During my undergrad years in 2013, he released his first popular mixtape (his actual first was released in 2010) titled Innanetape, and in 2016 he released the most lyrically impactful project of the year, titled There’s Alot Going On.
Match intoxicating, destructive flow with ominous jazz rhythms in a collection of unpolished, unreleased tracks and you get one of my favorites of 2016, untitled unmastered. by Kendrick Lamar. Being one of the best MC’s in the rap game allows one room to experiment with their sound because the effect is not weakened nor the intensity. But, the composition of this album is not even that of a hip hop album, it is a very much at the core a jazz album with rapping over it.
The privacy that comes with super stardom is difficult to maintain in the current storm of social media, where even a papercut gets published as a headlining story. But, what if you could go beyond the expectation and publicize the information yourself before anyone can get to it? When you are Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, this concept is not too far fetched, and occurs in the form of the release of a 12 track physical album and film, broken into 11 parts which encompass the classic motifs of 7 stages of grief, titled Lemonade.
In 2016, there have been a large number of artists that have taken drastic departures from their traditional sound in an attempt to push past boundaries. However, North Carolina Rapper J. Cole did this two years ago with the release of his 3rd album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. The album gained much positive acclaim from both critics and fans, saying it was an honest, inspiring body of work and very distinct compared to other hip hop in the mainstream. It is now exactly two years since that release and the rapper has removed the barriers completely with his 4th album, 4 Your Eyez Only
Before proceeding with the review on this next project, I think it is worth noting that I wrote half of the review before scraping the entire draft because it was an enormous task to not just write about this project, but to do it masterfully so as not to cheapen the effect. Besides the lukewarm reviews from critics, unsatisfactory fan reception and disjointed direction of stylistic congruency, Views still managed to make it on my list because of two things that Drake has done flawlessly over his ten year career: make realistic, vulnerable, and relatable music and develop a hit record.
It does not even seem to be well over a decade now since Robyn Rihanna Fenty first came on the scene, signing to Def Jam Records back in 2005 under then label president, Jay Z. From 2005 to 2012, with the release of 7 multi-platinum selling albums, over 50 singles, 200 million records sold and 138 total music accolades, including 12 American Music Awards, Rihanna has become an international music icon to forever be cemented amongst the legends at only the age of 28. With a four year hiatus since the release of Unapologetic, many began to wonder if the pop phenom had began to plateau. However, with the release of her eighth studio album Anti back in January, we found that the answer was unanimously, no.
Perhaps one of my most unanticipated favorites from 2016 came from L.A. rapper, The Game. Though I have always admired The Game for his skill, I was not expecting the excitement that was brought forth with the release of his latest album, 1992. The album is both raw and intriguing, but listening in, you are also provided a deep history of pain, redemption and all things representing red, a color that is both symbolic of blood metaphorically for death and literally as the prominent gang affiliation which The Game speaks about candidly as playing a large role in his upbringing and present day life
It does not seem like it’s been an entire four years have passed since we last heard anything from pop sensation Bruno Mars (Unorthodox Jukebox in 2012). Perhaps this may be because he was holding us over with a remarkable feature on the multi-platinum awarding winning record “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson in 2014. Nevertheless, the jazzy soul singer has returned with the cozy feel good album titled “24K Magic”
Hey guys, my name is Sarah Muhammad, Purdue alumni and contributing music writer for The Black Hurricane. I would like to present to you a year’s end collection on MY top 16 releases for 2016, with a complete review and ranking for each. For each of the last 16 days, I will post one review all the way down to NYE with the #1 pick. Have commentary? Agree or disagree with my opinion? You can follow me on social media at IG: theabs7ract and Snapchat: thatprettymvtha. Thanks for letting me carry you into the new year on a high note!
For a long time now, it has seemed like the thread that holds the essence of hip hop culture together has been wearing thin. Speaking to the life and times of the listeners is the quintessential part of a criteria that has become replaced almost completely with nonsensical lyrics shielded within undeniably catchy beats. A Tribe Called Quest has been the complete embodiment of true hip hop culture for me for as long as I can remember and serve as the baseline for where I believe most other influences arise.