2016 was a huge year for music, with some of hip-hop and R&B’s biggest names dropping albums that changed the game, including Beyoncé and Kanye West. For that reason, our year-end picks are a little obvious. But just because they’re obvious doesn’t mean they’re not great! So if you’ve been living under a rock this year, here are just a few of the can’t-miss albums of 2016.
CARLY RAE JEPSEN—E•MO•TION SIDE B
How does one follow up on the biggest pop banger of 2015? Well, we don’t know yet, because Jepsen is still recording her full-length follow up to E•MO•TION, the surprise breakthrough that proved she was more than just “Call Me Maybe.” But that didn’t stop her from dropping this eight-song EP of B-sides that, at its peak, puts the best of its parent album to shame. Yeah, “Store” is kind of goofy, and “Body Language” isn’t as fully formed as some of Jepsen’s other hits, but if you don’t appreciate the explosive synth-laden decadence of “Higher,” “Roses,” or “Fever,” then you can fuck off.—Myles Sauer
ANDY SHAUF—THE PARTY
Shauf is the best Canadian lyricist writing right now, and The Party, a concept album set in the span of one night, at one party, perfectly demonstrates what makes him great. The songs are desolate and mournful—who knew the clarinet could elicit so much emotion? — and the characters themselves are simultaneously maddening and sympathetic. Even if all we got was the final track, “Martha Sways”, The Party would still be my favourite album of 2016. Simply put, it’s a gorgeous piece of art. This is the best party of the year—not that I’ve been to an actual party anyway.—Cormac O’Brien
CHANCE THE RAPPER—COLORING BOOK
This year, Chance transcended the rap game by being the first artist nominated for a Grammy who isn’t on a major label—Yeezy himself called him the “future” at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. The gospel-infused rap tracks marked him as one of this year’s “thought leaders,” with both uplifting melodies and thought-provoking rhymes about the troubling times growing up in Chicago. Through songs like “Blessings,” Chance nods to his spiritual upbringing that moves the rap world from the streets to a place more heavenly. This is just the beginning of Chance’s rise as an undeniable influence who seamlessly integrates social justice issues and spirituality into the pop sphere.—Kaitlyn Kokoska
Queen B slayed this year with an unapologetic, hour-long “visual album” that will make any art aficionado fall in love with its masterful footage and accompanying feminist poetry. She offered fans just a teaser with her single “Formation” ahead of her Super Bowl 50 halftime in April, but make no mistake: she ain’t “Sorry” for any unease she created in supporting BLM and the end to police brutality. The entire album serves as a feminist anthem with not-so-subtle attitude in “6-Inch” and “Hold Up,” and even a genre-hop in “Daddy’s Lessons” that earned her an appearance at the Country Music Awards. Like a true goddess, Bey has garnered herself another crowning success.—Jennifer Landrey
Read our thoughts on Lemonade here.
2016 was a landmark for music and will be remembered as a year in which artists pushed themselves harder than usual, ostensibly propelled by the success of their peers. Albums matter again in 2016, the charge led to a large extent by the musical vision of Frank Ocean’s Blonde. The work is somehow messy and coherent at the same time, Ocean’s memory-fogged visions coming at us via vocoder, voice messages, two-part suites. I still have to pause at times when listening to the album, to admire, say, the string section on “Siegfried,” or pained admissions like, “If you could see my thoughts, you would see our faces” on “Ivy.” Ocean’s songwriting exists in the coveted space between the personal and the universal, more so than any other artist currently working. The world looks a little different after Blonde.—Emmett Robinson Smith
Read our thoughts on Blonde here.
SOLANGE—A SEAT AT THE TABLE
Imagine if your sister was Beyoncé. It might be hard to make anything musically that could stand up to her, but A Seat at the Table managed to serenade its way onto the editors’ top pick lists, and for good reason. Not only is this album sonically pleasing, it touches on important issues and realities for people of colour. In particular, the song “Don’t Touch my Hair,” featuring Sampha, is a direct response to daily microaggressions faced by people of colour, and is inspired by her own experiences in the entertainment industry. Solange’s slow jams unite near- perfect musicality with a provocative narrative journey that is right up there with Queen Bey’s work.—Kaitlyn Kokoska
Honourable mentions: White Lung—Paradise, Adele—25, Kanye West—The Life of Pablo, Sia—This Is Acting, Tegan & Sara—Love You to Death, Radiohead— A Moon Shaped Pool, Leonard Cohen—You Want it Darker, Dawes—We’re All Gonna Die, Bon Iver—22, A Million