1. Young Thug – Jeffery
No one even came close to reaching Young Thug’s artistic level this year. Jeffery not only sculpts Thug’s voice in new melodic directions, it also pushes the boundaries of trap farther than anyone thought it ever could. Thug will scream, sing, contort his voice in ways that sound barely human, and then surround himself with a dizzying array of rock guitars, glittering pianos, and punky snare beats. The fact that he finds a way to make this concoction catchy is a testament to his talents, and most importantly it sounds vitally new. While albums like Awaken, My Love and A Seat at The Table earn praise for sounding like the past, Jeffery succeeds by pointing the way towards the future.
2. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
2016 was the year Kanye finally succeeded at pissing off everyone, and by god was it glorious. Somehow, he found a way to alienate the phonies on both the Right and the Left and that’s the number one reason we should all respect Mr. West, the second reason you should respect him is that he released the fourth magnum opus of his entire career with The Life of Pablo. An absolute mess of explosive trap ragers, sensitive pop-R&B, pounding industrial metal, and intentionally inflammatory lines, Life of Pablo is the perfect reflection of 2016’s utter confusion. He’ll open up a song with the greatest celebrity diss in history, and then five minutes later he’ll drop his most introspective tunes since 808s, it’s the nightmarish Hall of Mirrors album we’ve been waiting for. The fact that this album upset J Cole so much that he made a wack diss song about it about it just makes it that much more fun to listen to.
3. The Weeknd – Starboy
The problem with Alternative R&B is that most of its practitioners just sound like canned soul music, except for The Weeknd, who continues to reject the past and create stunning contemporary pop music. Both darker and more accessible than his previous release, Starboy finds The Weeknd presiding over a set list of jittery electronic soundscapes that recall the murked out malaise of 2016. Not since the Scene era has an artist made fame induced decadence sound so mesmerizing, as well as blood-curdlingly frightful.
4. Lil Uzi Vert – Lil Uzi Vs. The World
Boasting 2016’s best production work, Lil Uzi Vert’s breakthrough EP is the most ebullient set of tracks to come out in years. Infusing Future’s revolutionary sound with a skate-punk energy as well as a puckish sense of humor, Vs. The World is a sheer joy from start to finish. It’s tight and purposeful, delivering all the shallow fun one could ever want, the fact that it has some of the best trap beats in history is just the icing sugar on the cake.
5. Various artists – Moana soundtrack
Over Disney’s long history, its animated musicals have produced some of the greatest American pop standards in history and this soundtrack is no exception. Written by the reigning musical God-King Lin Manuel Miranda, Moana places traditional Oceanic music into a showtune context to create some of the most hummable and interesting pop songs of 2016. “How Far I’ll Go” is the “Let it Go “of this set, but other standouts include the goofy psych-pop ditty “Shiny” (sung by a Conchord no less) and “I am Moana” which has the awesomely Messianic power of the best Disney tunes. In a year, as cynical as 2016 it’s heartening that Disney continues to produce some of the positive music around, giving audiences a bust of childlike enthusiasm in a year otherwise overrun with fear-mongering and other adult nonsense.