2016 Albums (228321)

This year has not been the most enlightened year for the Black American community. Nonetheless, there have been glimmers of light in our entertainment industry, which ushered in comebacks such as A Tribe Called Quest and long-anticipated albums such as Frank Ocean’s “Blonde” and Maxwell’s “blackSUMMERS’night.” Music has always been a staple and a root of our resilience. Here are the best Black albums of 2016:

Frank Ocean—“Blonde” (Boys Don’t Cry)

Frank Ocean’s “Blonde” was released this year as an exclusive download from Apple Music. After deciding to make an exit from Def Jam to fend for himself, he’s had a long journey to premiering his art to the public since his 2012 debut, “Channel Orange.” His fans could breathe a sigh of relief as his official sophomore studio album “Blonde” not only manifested but also proved itself to be an advancement in sound, production, sexiness and style. Frank Ocean’s “Blonde” is a brave, real, youthfully tragic account of Hollywood, and Ocean’s feelings.

Solange Knowles—“A Seat at the Table” (Saint Records and Columbia Records)

“A Seat at the Table” was one of the most triumphant albums of 2016. Knowles’ third studio album resembled a career breakthrough by becoming a dose of self-esteem for America’s Black female community. Tracks like “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “Cranes in the Sky” resonated so much with the world that her album soared to the top of the charts and helped create an image of self-beauty for many Black and queer Americans who created memes of themselves looking just like Knowles. What an important album. What an important impact.

Common—“Black America Again” (ARTium Recordings and Def Jam Recordings)

Common takes the responsibility to continue his authentic brand of “conscious rap” that has over the years become watered down as a genre and essentially lost as a number of artists of the newer generation of rappers have chosen to take a route of materialism and lack of spiritual depth in their work. Common’s “Black America Again” is built on a foundation of substance, awareness and penetrating truth, as he teamed up with “Selma” director of photography, Bradford Young, to make the extended music video of the title track a beautifully dense and stealthily empowering take on Black life in Baltimore City. With collaborators such as Stevie Wonder, Bilal and John Legend, the album paints a complete landscape of Black beauty in a time when our culture needs a voice and a positive reflection coming back at us.

Maxwell—“blackSUMMERS’night” (Columbia Records)

Maxwell’s “blackSUMMERS’night” shows an ability to open an otherworldly portal through his music. He’s always had the ability to create esoteric and vibey music that washes over you, taking you to a place that is peaceful and, at times, overwhelming. “blackSUMMERS’night” is the second installment of a trilogy of music Maxwell set out to release, and he doesn’t hold back on highlighting his signature addition of a horn section, dreamy synth soundscapes, perfect R&B/soul drum riffs and, of course, his incredibly sensual and unmistakable voice.

A Tribe Called Quest—“We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” (Epic Records)

The legend of A Tribe Called Quest briefly continued and ended on a painful note of the irreplaceable Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor. Although Phife passed, ATCQ’s “We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” embodies verses from the rapper, along with Q-Tip and the rest of the crew being in top form. Like Common, ATCQ chose to be real, stepping away from sexist and materialistic commentary. “Don’t bitter ‘cus we not just niggas.” The album features André 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Jack White, Elton John, Kanye West, Anderson Paak, Talib Kweli and Busta Rhymes. They went all-out.

Kendrick Lamar— “untitled unmastered” (Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records)

Well, it’s just appreciated that Los Angeles-based rapper Kendrick Lamar is being artistic and releasing a raw and experimental album after the release of his profoundly produced album, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Lamar is pure talent and made a great decision to grace his fans with “untitled unmastered,” which seems to carry on a conversational style, referencing his previous album and other personal sacrifices he’s made to be an artist.

“I made ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ for you, you told me to save mankind for you, don’t say I didn’t try for you.” “untitled unmastered” is purely intellectual and highly refreshing.

Beyoncé—“Lemonade” (Parkwood Entertainment and Columbia Records)

What’s to say that hasn’t already been said? “Lemonade” is transcendent, brilliant, intense and one of the best musical and visual installations of the beginning of the 21st century. The album is available on Apple iTunes, and you’ve got to invest in this album if you haven’t already because you’re going to walk away feeling like a different human being. Therefore, I will not share any spoilers. I will just express that Beyoncé went above and beyond what the human consciousness really understands, as critics have tried to rationalize and intellectualize this complex woman’s story. She’s just giving us time to catch up.

Esperanza Spalding—“Emily’s D+Evolution” (Concord Records)

Spalding’s new album is pretty far out. “Emily’s D+Evolution” is the music of Spalding’s alter ego, Emily, who apparently makes R&B/soul metal music. Emily’s voice sounds healthy and confident, as she sings over complicated musical compositions, creating vocal melodies that hold their own and are well complemented, not the other way around. That’s why this album is special. Spalding’s talent is bigger than life and she and her alter ego seem to be trying to find ways to express themselves that will allow growth and weirdness within Spalding’s short life that has been completely overrun with overachievement.

Childish Gambino—“Awaken, My Love” (Glassnote Records)

Donald Glover, also known as Childish Gambino, is a great artist. Don’t sleep on him. “Awaken, My Love” is Glover’s third studio album and it’s simmering, evocative and impressively executed. Now, Childish Gambino is showing himself to be consistent and unique, choosing to err to the side of avant- garde hip- hop as opposed to commercialized works.