It was New Year's 2016 and we were so naive. While popping corks and roaring festively at the stroke of midnight, we were unsuspectingly welcoming one of the most emotionally exhausting years of the modern era. We'll keep the drinks but we take those cheers back.
2016 was a year of good things followed by destruction so fervent, it seemed to bulldoze over any progress we thought we had made for ourselves. Within eight days of entering the new year, we received David Bowie's 25th and final studio album and two days later, we lost the legend. As months followed, the pattern of bad outweighing good only spiked: An all-woman's Ghostbusters movie was outshone by the sickening sexist backlash it triggered. Kanye West gave us a new album but juxtaposed it with support for Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and bleached assholes. And Alec Baldwin offered a hilarious portrayal of an orange oompa-loompa on SNL, who then actually became the president elect of the United States.
But then there was the music. Long-awaited LPs, come-back albums, surprise drops and a few mixtapes that changed the game were a saving grace in the dark dystopia that was 2016. They healed, taught, supported and created an obscure place to escape to - like the beaches of Malibu thanks to Anderson .Paak, the underground dancefloor of a Montreal after-hours via Kaytranada and the streets of Compton with YG.
Here are the Top 30 albums of the year:
30. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool (Spotify / Apple)
29. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition (Spotify / Apple)
28. NxWorries - Yes Lawd! (Spotify / Apple)
26. Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered. (Spotify / Apple)
26. Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love! (Spotify / Apple)
25. Pinegrove - Cardinal (Spotify / Apple)
24. Mitski - Puberty 2 (Spotify / Apple)
23. Kamaiyah - A Good Night in the Ghetto (Spotify / Apple)
22. Drake - Views (Spotify / Apple)
21. Angel Olsen - My Woman (Spotify / Apple)
20. Skepta - Konnichiwa (Spotify / Apple)
19. David Bowie - Blackstar (Spotify / Apple)
18. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo (Spotify / Apple)
17. Nao - For All We Know (Spotify / Apple)
16. YG - Still Brazy (Spotify / Apple)
15. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here (Spotify / Apple)
14. Rihanna - Anti (Spotify / Apple)
13. Anderson .Paak - Malibu (Spotify / Apple)
12. Bon Iver - 22, A Million (Spotify / Apple)
11. Kaytranada - 99.9% (Spotify / Apple)
10. Blood Orange - Freetown Sound (Spotify / Apple)
9. Jherek Bischoff - Cistern (Spotify / Apple)
8. Ian William Craig - Centres (Spotify)
7. Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch (Spotify / Apple)
6. Frank Ocean - Blonde (Spotify / Apple)
5. Beyoncé - Lemonade (Tidal)
4. Anohni - Hopelessness (Spotify / Apple)
3. Elysia Crampton - Demon City (Spotify / Apple)
2. Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book (Spotify / Apple)
1. Solange - A Seat At The Table (Spotify / Apple)
Earlier this year, Philando Castile is killed in the heart of summer by a police officer in Minnesota. Murdered by blue for being black. Castile is driving with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter as passengers when they're pulled over. And it is Diamond who composedly live-streams the aftermath of the deadly shooting on Facebook as she helplessly watches her innocent partner die in the seat beside her.
Just a few months later, over in North Carolina, Rakeyia Scott records police officers with their guns pointed at her husband, Keith Lamont Scott. "Don't shoot him, he has no weapon," she speaks slowly to police, attempting to de-escalate the situation, with her cellphone capturing the altercation. But as she approaches, the officers fire shots into Keith's back. "These are the police officers that shot my husband," she says, still filming. "And he better live." But instead, she watches her spouse die on the pavement in front of her.
Diamond Reynolds and Rakeyia Scott are strength personified. Pillars. Calm, collective forces in opposition to the injustices that have built evil out of fear and hashtags out of husbands. And through love and the power of their documented words, they retaliated. It's a kind of strength seemingly exclusive to Black women in America who fear for their families while simultaneously raising children in a time where the ones they love most can be taken from them by those sworn in to protect them. Over a pack of skittles. Over a toy gun. Over a busted taillight. Over some cigarettes. Over selling CDs. And they do so in a world that pins them as angry and irrational using old tropes and stereotypes in an attempt to undermine their own daily realities. But their realities are in need of identifying. If only police had listened to these women. If only we all regularly heard more from them. And learned.
Solange Knowles, within the sprawling layered soundscapes of her third studio album, makes us listen while offering a direct discussion regarding these truths through 21 soft-spoken tender tracks. A soundtrack to Diamond and Rakeyia's resiliency. The conceptual contemporary R&B opus, A Seat At The Table is a thorough cultural analysis penned by Solange over the last four years and delivered with the exclusive help of Black women and men creatives interested in sharing stories and building up their communities in a safe sonic space to heal, mourn, celebrate and most importantly listen to and with each other. Around the table, Kelela, Sampha, Master P, Lil Wayne, and Solange's own parents – Tina and Matthew Knowles - offer harmonies and perspectives from their own experiences within the past and current state of America. And in the face of a rising death toll and election season, A Seat At The Table is an urgent thematic monument.
"I'm weary of the ways of the world," Solange softly sings on 'Weary'. She has Diamond, Rakeyia and the voice of Black women on her lips. "But you know that a king is only a man with flesh and bones, he bleeds just like you do." It's the first time we've heard from the youngest Knowles sister musically since 2012's True. And she catches us up with wistful reflections of personal traumas and those like-minded in her community; an exclusive experience that she makes clear, unapologetically, despite the concept that art is always inclusive. She tackles the divide in confidence to not only tend to an often ignored narrative but also to marinate on the importance of Black pride.
"It really saddens me when we're not allowed to express that pride in being black, and that if you do, then it's considered anti-white," Solange's mother, Tina Knowles Lawson says on the poignant interlude 'Tina Taught Me'. "No, you're just pro-black, and that's OK, because the two don't go together."
Throughout the multi-faceted project, her pen is a fist that she raises high. 'Don’t Touch My Hair,' 'Mad,' 'Cranes In The Sky', 'Where Do We Go' and powerful interludes from rap mogul Master P hold a mirror up to generations of systematic oppression while finding comfort amongst the darling synths, delicate percussion and soaring string arrangements that Solange has enlisted in order to properly unite her community within a year that has fought continuously to bury these experiences like they have the video of Keith Lamont Scott.
"Don’t feel bad if you can't sing along. Just be glad you got the whole wide world. This us. This shit is from us. Some shit you can't touch," Solange radiantly and proudly sings on the album's sweeping standout anthem 'F.U.B.U'. It's a soothing moment of ownership. A Seat At The Table – like the headlines of 2016 - is the score of black pain, black rage, black strength and black joy. And for everyone else enjoying the enticing R&B, it's for the rest of us to quiet ourselves, listen, learn and respect.