Top 5 Singles
5. Shame – Young Fathers
An awesome, catchy track with a lot of nerve, passion and emotion that gets you singing along.
4. Blacker the Berry – Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick grips and shocks his listeners in this hard hitting, aggressive powerhouse of a track that addresses the violent police brutality that black people are falling victim to, only to turn the head by changing the listener’s perspective entirely at the end of the song that entirely.
3. Bad Blood – Nao
Nao’s superb voice elegantly dances over this really well produced track of soulful R&B, putting her ahead of the many talented R&B acts to come out of London. She’s definitely one to watch next year.
2. Norf Norf – Vince Staples
A dark and industrial sounding beat done by the genius producer Clams Casino guides Vince’s prideful song about his home, the north side of Long Beach. Rap that’s full of personality and identity which makes it interesting as well as catchy.
Them Changes – Thundercat
Thundercat is a bass god. He plays the instrument like a master. It’s no wonder he’s found himself on two of the best albums of the year, doing exactly what he does best. All across To Pimp a Butterfly and The Epic, Thundercat also had his own mini album full of great tracks, including this one. Flying Lotus provides a banger of a beat for Thundercat to rip his bass all over, making a super funky track all tied up neatly with this guy’s wonderful vocals.
Top 5 Albums
5. Sounds & Colour – Alabama Shakes
Alabama Shakes improve in almost every sense on their sophomore album, Sounds & Colour. Brittany Howard’s powerful, soulful voice conveys so much emotional pain as well as catchy hooks throughout the album, set against a stunning southern rock production. This is a memorable release.
4. Live From the Dentist Office – Injury Reserve
A brand new underground hip-hop group from Arizona released one of the best rap albums this year from out of nowhere. A refreshing and well-balanced release, the album combines clever, funny lyrics with some riveting flows. The production is smooth and old school at times, harking back to A Tribe Called Quest’s style of production. In other places it has outright bangers, like the track “Everybody Knows”. Injury Reserve present an album with tonnes of personality and uniqueness that makes their album stand out against other rap albums in a year of great hip-hop releases.
3. The Epic – Kamasi Washington
A much needed stimulating and rejuvenating jazz album that is so intricately textured it’s easy to lose yourself in another dimension through the albums excellent arrangements. For a genre that gets barely any coverage today, the album acts as a statement that brings jazz back to the fore, where it belongs.
2. White Men Are Black Men Too – Young Fathers
In this record Young Fathers talk about race and other issues in a nuanced manner, and while this element is great and contributes to why this album is second on our list, it isn’t the best thing about it. The best thing is the music.
The album is a new direction for Young Fathers from last year’s dark and Mercury prize-winning album Dead. It’s a super creative, fun and gorgeous sounding lo-fi pop-rock record, full of great catchy hooks. If on a first listen you felt immediately turned away and overwhelmed, I urge you to give the album another try. Numerous listens are rewarding, and the songs end up becoming so catchy you can’t help but sing along.
It’s easy to not like Young Fathers’ music. They’re weird. They’re different and moody. But once you get seriously invested in their beautifully textured sounds the results are worthwhile, and emotionally impactful.
1. To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
So much can be said about this album. It’s a dense and complex expression of K-Dot’s experience of fame, money, celebrity and success following his critically lauded and commercially successful major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city. It’s a politically charged and explicitly racial tale of survivor’s guilt.
The album is incredibly personal, painfully honest and uncomfortably confrontational. Where GKMC is a filmic backstory of an album, TPAB takes on the form of a poem about the Kendrick that has progressed from his debut. And my God is the album something. Kendrick makes a bold move and risked missing out on commercial success by not compromising to accessible and popular sounds.
Instead he opted for the old-school sounds of hip-hop with G-funk and jazz, while at the same time bringing those sounds to a contemporary, abstract level, enlisting the genius jazzy producers of Sounwave, Terrace Martin, Flying Lotus, Thundercat and more. And this change of sound inevitably turned a lot of people away from the album. But many more stayed for the ride, as it broke streaming records in its first week.
Where GKMC’s sound keeps up with the current climate of hip-hop, TPAB’s sound is rooted in the past of black culture and expression. And while opting for this sound is a huge statement alone, this is not just done for effect. The sounds coincide with Kendrick’s successful conveyance of issues of money, the satisfaction of sex, the depression and loneliness of fame, the giving of charity and love, the importance of unity and equality all through his black lens in such rich detail and emotional depth. He does this differently to many other popular rappers: his lyrics are conscious and thought provoking.
This is an album for everyone to listen to and for everyone to understand. In a day and age where people have to show that black lives matter because all lives matter still due to police brutality and extending reasons such as systematic, institutional oppression, no album could be more politically relevant, more racially important.
Overall, the album tells the story of someone dealing with the survivor’s guilt of getting away from the poverty of Black America, a story for all of us to hear. Kendrick is aware of his influence, aware of the importance of his voice. He knows kids in high schools will be listening to his music. So he makes sure his album brings a positive message, telling young and old the harsh truths of fame. He makes sure his album is a source of unification; of self-respect; of self-love and equality. At a time when all these things could not be needed more, he becomes the voice of a generation.
Honourable Mentions: Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens, Currents – Tame Impala, Vulnicura – Björk, I Dont Like Shit, I Dont Go Outside – Earl Sweatshirt, Summertime ‘06 – Vince Staples, Elaenia – Floating Points