Well! We’re nearly a month and a half into 2017, and about 30 days (and as many scandals) into the Trump regime. 2016 already feels like a distant memory – but lest we forget the good times, let’s take a moment to consider some of the music that made up the soundtrack for that utter dumpster fire of a year.
It’s been a year since the dramatically overhyped Life of Pablo dropped exclusively on Tidal. TLOP was – in my opinion – not good. Sure “30 Hours” is a hype song to get dressed to, “Ultralight Beam” is tight, but is also really just a Chance the Rapper track. “No More Parties in LA” is similarly fun thanks little to Kanye, but mostly just because Kendrick has a Midas touch when it comes to features. Critical realism aside, TLOP was undeniably an important album for 2016. In a year filled with surprise drops (to the extent that the final major album to drop of the year – RTJ3 – took to Portlandia to comment on the nature of ‘drops’), TLOP is a brilliant example of what excessive hype can do to an album. By the time it actually was released, it would have been nearly impossible for it to live up to the expectations.
But of course – Frank Ocean managed to adroitly and purposefully overcome even more hype for the drop of his magazine, visual album, and regular album.
It was late summer, and two friends and I were sitting on the couch in my apartment, having just watched Frank spend the better part of an hour building a staircase – only to have it disappear moments before he climbed to the top. After the brilliance of the musical and visual pairing of Beyonce’s Lemonade back in April, this piece somehow felt underwhelming. Sure it was beautifully shot, and Frank generally does not release weak material, but considering the excessive levels of hype for the album we then assumed was called Boys Don’t Cry, this felt very potentially like TLOP pt. 2.
I hypothesized to my friends, “Could it be… a hype up album? Like, these are all the things he didn’t include in the main album? Maybe building the staircase is like – a metaphor for Frank’s perfectionism, and how he’ll never be satisfied and there’s always more work to do?” It felt like a stretch. And yet, the next day the music video for “Nikes” dropped in the morning, and Blond was released by the nighttime, along with the massive Boys Don’t Cry magazine. This is how the fuck you drop an album. Radio silence and cryptic messages for two years straight, followed by a self-commentating deluge of brilliant artistry. Of course, after the years of hype, Frank couldn’t simply release his masterpiece to the public, he had to first get us to understand his process, “My hand fatiguing off the opus / Kept it underground, I focus” Frank raps on “U-N-I-T-Y,” a standout track from visual album Endless. And is it any wonder that after all of this work, hype, and discipline, Frank chose to withhold his albums from the award show that thought it could get away with giving Lemonade “Best Urban Contemporary Album” while throwing “Best Album” to Adele’s 25? Please.
Okay so my apologies to the lovely folks at the Babson Free Press who asked me to write a “Best Albums of 2016 Piece” which I turned into an extended rant about the failure of TLOP and the brilliance of anything Frank Ocean touches; but to anybody who talked to me about music in 2016, this really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. With what space I have left I’m going to (in no particular order) run through my other favorite albums that dropped in 2016.
Of course Lemonade was incredible. Queen Bey’s boutta raise the heck out of those twins and America could not be more excited. She will be our ray of sunshine throughout the next 4 years of bullshit. One album which I think was actually somewhat overlooked was Telefone, the debut full length album by Chicago native and frequent Chance collaborator, Noname. The chill beats mixed with Noname’s beautiful relaxed flow, and thought provoking lyricism made this easily in my top 3 for the year.
JEFFREY from Young Thug was brilliant. There’s not a ton I can say about this one that hasn’t already been said, but Thugger’s fun style and ability to generally rise above drama to continue producing an unprecedented amount of quality material makes him (in my opinion) one of the most important artists alive right now. Also he publically says gender isn’t real and rocked that dress on his album cover which of course wins him points in my book. Also for those who don’t know yet: gender isn’t real. It’s not. Tell your friends.
Alright well dang I’m just about out of space for this article so I’m just going to throw out: Puberty 2 by Mitski, Badbadnotgood IV by Badbadnotgood, Watch the Stove by Hamburger Helper (no seriously), Anti by Rihanna, RTJ3 by Run the Jewels, Malibu by Anderson .Paak, Blackstar by Bowie (RIP), A Seat at the Table by Solange, Nat Love by Kweku Collins, The San Junipero episode soundtrack from Black Mirror.
Starboy was a disappointment, The Chainsmokers are trash – here’s to four years of fascism hopefully marred by more dope music.
By: Kai Haskins ’18