We here at TheHipHopDemocrat are obviously a mostly Hip-Hop based website, but obviously cover a lot of R&B and Soul, as well as some other genres like Jazz, Funk and Reggae at times to name a few others. In coming up with our first annual best albums of the year list, I struggled with having it be an all Hip-Hop list or just several of the albums we covered at some point throughout the year. There was even thought to just doing a best of Hip-Hop and R&B/Soul list completely separate from one another. But ultimately we decided counting down from 10 to one, to do one covering all the different albums and artists we covered throughout the year and came up with this for our best of 2016 albums. A few honorable mentions were even thrown in as well. So without further ado here is TheHipHopDemocrat’s first Best Albums of the Year list.
10. The Game – 1992: On his latest album, the Westcoast emcee, gives us the very autobiographical account of his childhood growing up in Compton, California. The very detailed storytelling about his own personal experiences growing up as a 12-year-old in Compton, whether it be growing up in the gang lifestyle he did or surrounding events such as the L.A. Riots, O.J. Simpson’s murder trial and what was going on in the Olympics with the original Dream Team, make you really feel like you’re with The Game in Compton, as he goes through all the different motions a 12-year-old former banger, used to have to do. Such as trying to avoid trouble from cops or other gangs. With that old-school Golden Age Hip-Hop feel, but with a modern twist that’s part of what makes this album so great, it makes you question why this album didn’t land on more 2016 end-of-the-year lists.
9. BJ the Chicago Kid – In My Mind: R&B/Soul singer/songwriter BJ the Chicago Kid has been grinding for years and after numerous high-profile guest features over the years, 2016 was the year that finally paid off for the Chicago crooner. As he was finally able to deliver his major-label debut, In My Mind, on the historic Motown Records. Bringing not only one of 2016’s most sincere and soulful works, but arguably the most soulful barring album of all of 2016, BJ gave fans who waited, an album, that though not a classic, is still good enough where it will be remembered as something very close to it. In the crux of things another great standout album released in the label’s storied history that will be remembered for generations and lifetimes beyond when we are no longer here.
8. KXNG CROOKED – Good Vs. Evil: Westcoast Long Beach emcee, KXNG CROOKED’s latest album, Good Vs. Evil is a concept album where he creates his own super-hero persona that wages an unapologetic war of words on the battle against racial and economic injustices, unprovoked police brutality (and the glaring lack of accountability), a deteriorating educational system, government agencies that willingly pump poison into its communities, systematic racism and a basic disregard for civil rights. With its well-executed and dark-tone, as well as really great narratives and the raw emotion in every syllable that the LBC native utters throughout the album; it brings to the forefront such an authentic and real, unapologetic audible call to arms that not only demands to be heard, but also processed in such a blatant time of divisiveness.
7. Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks In Whispers: With a long over six-year gap between her sophomore album and this third solo album of hers, Corrine Bailey Rae definitely took all of the time she could to really put her all into, The Heart Speaks In Whispers. At 16 tracks you would think it would possibly be to long, but that isn’t the case, as Bailey Rae bares all her soul and emotions to create such a beautiful and inspirational work of art, which is by far her best work to date. Whether it be the atmospheric stadium-like spiritual, inspirational music on the The Skies Will Break to the also spiritually atmospheric Been to the Moon or the heartache on Hey, I Won’t Break Your Heart; or even the irresistibly sensual love on Green Aphrodisiac to the pure soothing sounds of the heartfelt and touching Stop Where You Are and beautifully touching heartfelt romantically emotional High, Corrine touches on such a wide array of topics. Also in the process showing off how truly of a beautiful voice and the honest beauty, feeling, emotion and meaning there is in her music. This album is so good that it should have been nominated for a Grammy, but unfortunately wasn’t. The only thing that really prevents this being from the best album of the year too is that she dropped it in a year which had so much great music come out throughout the very first month to the very final days of 2016.
6. KING – We are KING: R&B/Dream Pop group KING dropped by far one of the best albums of 2016 with their debut album, We Are KING. An album that blends such a vast array of genres, eras and influences that serves as an introduction to the trio’s lusch soundscape that’s like no other and really showcases the groups relatable electic sound, which simply can’t be defined. KING’s retro-futuristic, dreamy-like smooth vibe with intricate production and harmonic lush harmonies is like no other today and really showcased from the very beginning of the album with it’s standout lead single, The Greatest. The album is also one that’s very similar to the sound of one of their biggest mentors, the late great Prince, with the experimental synth heavy 80’s era sounds of Minneapolis during the height of him and his group The Time. KING crafting an album that continues his sound of what future-soul should now sound like.
5. Emeli Sandé – Long Live The Angels: After a four-year hiatus British Pop-Soul powerhouse vocalist Emeli Sandé with her long-awaited and critically-acclaimed sophomore album, Long Live The Angels gives easily the best of her two albums and easily one of the top five albums of the year. Led by the powerful enormously monster of a comeback record at the time it was first released back in Sept. first single, Hurts, shows the heartache that Sandé went through while making this album. As this album was made without any censorship and her not holding back anything, as she went through the reflecting period of opening up all of her devotion, pain and perseverance there was of getting married and later divorcing her teenage sweetheart during that same four-year time period in between albums. This is clearly shown on records like Hurts, Breathing Underwater, Give Me Something, Shakes and I’d Rather Not, which are very records that are delivered with such conviction and powerfulness like it’s a matter of life and death. It’s said that most of the time when artists go through heartbreak or are in love is when they make their best music and this is clearly the case with the powerhouse vocalist’s latest body of work that shows she’s not a very great vocalist, who can make such great ballads, but a great singer/songwriter, who can also put all her emotions into making such great music as well. This is very evident on songs like Happen, Right Now, Lonely, Sweet Architect and Tenderly, where stripped down to little more than a guitar and her voice, Sandé shows she doesn’t always need to use her powerful vocals, but can also rely on a soft tone of an almost like whisper to get her message out about the heartbreak she went through during this time period and how her rebirth through both religion and music got her through this very transformative time in her life. The almost folk-like approach to Sweet Architect showing off how she carved her way into her best body of work to date, as not only a person and musician, but a more mature singer/songwriter, who used all her tools she had at her own disposal to tenderly put her own heart back together and show that even through heart break, you can get yourself back up and be reborn to be a better you through all the ups and downs, you go through in that process. Which is appropriatly very evident on one of the closing records from the album with the very upbeat and uptempo, High & Lows. With little to no appearances with the exception of a Jay Electronica feature and intro, as well as outro from Áine Zion on Garden and multiple powerful appearances from a gospel choir, it’s virtually just Emeli’s angelic voice spread throughout the record. With how seamlessly the whole album plays out like it was sent from angels from heaven and the strong religious elements to it, with its lyrics drawing strong parallels between both spiritual and romantic love, Long Live The Angels is the appropriate title for such a powerful masterpiece of work that will be remembered for years to come.
4. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3:
3. Anderson .Paak – Malibu: Dr. Dre’s latest protege, Anderson .Paak entered 2016 riding the wave of his big break as one of the most key contributors on Dr. Dre’s opus 2015 album, Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre. So he went into the year with understandably so, a lot of high expectations for his sophomore album. Mixing everything from funk to R&B, soul and Hip-Hop so masterfully together in such a way that can’t be boxed into one specific genre, the California native definitely delivered too. Giving us such a soulfully beautiful and honest album, which paints a fictional dreamy paradise of the beautifully sunny and gorgeous go-to California destination. Malibu makes you actually feel like you’re in the breezy gorgeous paradise that’s Malibu, California with each listen of this timeless album. As mentioned with so many of the other albums on this list, it easily could have been the best album of the whole year, but only wasn’t because of how many great albums dropped in 2016.
2. Terrace Martin – Velvet Portraits:
1. Beyoncé – LEMONADE: Almost two and a half years after giving us her first surprise visual album with her critically acclaimed self-titled 2013 album, Queen Bey returned with her new critically acclaimed concept album, LEMONADE. Another surprise album, which literally dropped moments after her Saturday-night HBO mini-movie special revolved around the album. Her most boldest work to date, the concept of it is based on “every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and heeling.” Though the album touches on much more than that, as it touches on everything from black girl pride to female empowerment, fidelity and social consciousness. There was not many other albums in 2016 that hit on such a diverse range of musical genres, which ranged from not only Beyoncé’s usual R&B and Pop, but also to Soul, Hip-Hop, Blues, Rock, Funk, Trap and even Country, but also touched on so many subjects with such great execution as well. Bey’s latest album is also one that shows she’s human just like the rest of us and not as perfect as everybody may always seem to think she is. Quite ironically enough without even trying and not meaning to, it also solidified her status as this generation’s top Pop culture music phenomenon.
Honorable mentions: Royce Da 5’9” – Layers: Though this was arguably one of the best and most cohesive albums in Royce’s solo career, it just missed making my top 10 albums of the year list cause of it being a solid four out of five album. Not only that, but because of how many great albums were released in 2016. If this was a Hip-Hop albums only list and we did a separate one for both the Hip-Hop and R&B/Soul genre, this would be more closer to the top of the list. Still a very solid release though in which the Detroit native truly showed a more personal side of him we had never really seen until now. You can read my full review on the album here.
Snoh Aalegra – Don’t Explain EP: One of the secret weapons of legendary producer No I.D.’s Def Jam helmed ARTium Records is Swedish singer/songwriter Snoh Aalegra. Often compared to the late great Amy Winehouse because of her amazingly rich smoky soulful vocals that are eerily similar to Amy’s, but you can still tell are her own. If you didn’t know the now L.A. based, originally from Swedish singer/songwriter and sometimes models name, you are sure to know it after hearing her latest body of work. The nine-track Don’t Explain EP, which is a mini-album that plays like a mini-movie is very cinematic in tone and with guest features from such innovate artists and producers as John Mayer, James Fauntleroy, BADBADNOTGOOD, Boi-1da, Frank Dukes and No I.D. himself, it’s one you have to really play from beginning to end to really grasp. Even moreso what grabs your attention right away though about the project, is its very creative cover art that perfectly reflects the rich tapestry of strings, beats, soul, Jazz and R&B that awaits you on each track. Harmonically-rich and very superbly produced, the complete nine-track album has that classic old school movies of yesteryear sound and with its very soulful production throughout, really lets Snoh show off her very amazing aforementioned smoky vocals and intoxicating seductive tone of R&B. When you listen to the projects first track, In the River, you know you are in store for a deliciously deep and simply infectious piece of work with how infectiously rich the opening record is. The haunting tone of the very hauntingly great Charleville 9200 with Fauntleroy showing off how brilliantly great the echoing chorus and reverse samples are on the record, which could easily be placed in an old school horror movie. While Home plays like an