This past year was full of surprises in the music industry. Most artists ran a stealth operation by releasing out of the blue records or sharing the drop date at the last possible second. At times, it was overwhelming to keep track of all of the new music hitting our hard drives, but we found the time to plug into it all. After weeks of debating about it, the NYLON staff decided to be civil and exercise our right to vote for the 10 best albums of the year. Peep our picks in the gallery, below.
This game changer dropped toward the top of the year on January 28. RiRi completely switched up her sound, dabbling in everything from R&B and rock to trap and pop. The album might not have been nominated for a Grammy, but we know a winner when we hear it—as do millions of other people; Anti was Spotify's most streamed album by a woman artist, with over 2.5 billion streams since it dropped.
Leave it to Queen Bey to hit us with a body of work so powerful we couldn't look away. Nothing was the same after this visual album came into our lives on April 23. After writing this love letter to black women, Beyoncé's status as an icon became completely secure. It comes as no surprise to us that a black woman has shaken up the music industry to its core, demonstrating once and for all that it's Bey's world, and we're lucky to be living in it.
The Life of Pablo Kanye West
Yeezy showed us that he loves us when he finally dropped this bomb on Valentine's Day. The rapper originally teased us with the album during September 2015's NYFW when he played it during the Yeezy Season 2 show, but it didn't officially come out for another five months. Even though he claimed that it's still not finished, we vibe hard with this record when any of the tracks come on. No matter the mood, you always turn up to TLOP. Kanye has a lot going on in that complicated head of his, but we never question his brilliance when it comes to music. This man knows how to make a banger.
Coloring Book Chance the Rapper
All the hype surrounding this Chicago-bred rapper hasn't been for nothing. This independent record is another masterpiece stocked with hits that dabble in all sorts of sounds but can't be mistaken as belonging to anyone but Chance. From the loud instrumentation and gospel influences to the slick lyrics and uplifting choruses, his spirit can't be contained. You can't listen to this record and walk away without a smile on your face; the good energy is contagious. The album finally earned him a Grammy nomination, and we couldn't be more proud.
Blonde Frank Ocean
Hands down, this was the most anticipated album of the year. To make up for the long overdue wait, Ocean decided to gift us with two full-lengths. Blond(e) takes listeners on an emotional journey set to the minimal sounds of contemporary R&B and pop. It creeps into your heart quietly, offering a slow emotional build-up which is eventually released in a full burst of all the feelings. Ocean gives you permission to connect with yourself, and it's much appreciated. Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this... Bless up.
A Seat at the Table- Solange
In all honesty, this might be one of the best albums of the decade. It's a record made specifically with black women in mind and provides an escape to a safe space where they don't have to be alone in their thoughts. Solange shares her personal experiences, some of them painful, for the sake of preserving her own history. She poured her heart and soul into this project, and it touches the lives of those who have listened. This record was four years in the making, and Solo shared it with the world on September 30. After all that has transpired in America in 2016 alone, this was so worth the wait. FUBU, baby!
22, A Million Bon Iver
Even though this album took a turn by diving deep into the electronic music world, Justin Vernon's position in the hierarchy of indie folk remains intact. There's a purpose behind every distortion and an intentional sense of discomfort underlining each track. We said it best in this review: "Instead of retreating to the woods, he retreats into the electronic world, and, in turn, finds something sublime and jarring."
Freetown Sound Blood Orange
Dev Hynes crafted a body of work that goes deep into his psyche. It leaves you with a lot to process about otherness, but specifically the experience of being a black man in foreign spaces like the U.S. and U.K. After the album dropped on June 28, Hynes posted the following statement: “My album is for everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way, the underappreciated, it’s a clapback.” As we explained in our review, this record is a true modern classic.
A Moon Shaped Pool Radiohead
Rock isn't dead, and Radiohead is still alive. Their ninth full-length album cements their legacy as a band that can and will adapt to change. The music has the power to elevate and entrance the listener, but there's often an undercurrent of dread that unnerves and unhinges. Nevertheless, it's an unsettling dimension of reality that's always worthy of exploration.
Joanne Lady Gaga
This pop star has the world in the palm of her hand, so what can't she do at this point? Gaga is capable of whatever she sets her mind to, and this album is another successful execution of her creative vision. With this record, Gaga reintroduced herself, and we're beyond thrilled to meet her newest self.