The first six months of 2016 rank among some of the most wretched in memory. We lost Prince, David Bowie and Phife of A Tribe Called Quest. Commander-in-Cheeto Donald Trump threatens to unravel the fabric of American democracy, one Chinese-made “Make America Great” hat at a time. Climate change has left L.A. so scorched that it actually feels as if we’re living in Hell — if Hell had commendable organic and vegan dining options.
But there’s truth to Anaïs Nin’s claim that in chaos, there is fertility. Despite the perpetual feeling that the world is collapsing one tweet at a time, this year figures to go down as one of the best in our musical history. The first three albums on this best-of list might well be the best albums released anywhere all year. Meanwhile, the back half of 2016 promises a brilliant, genre-smashing EP from Vince Staples and the fragile hopes of a Frank Ocean record that could fuck up the summer in the finest way possible.
The albums below span house, soul, rap, pop, disco, ambient, R&B, jazz and funk. They embody a sonic climate where the notion of genre seems to grow more arbitrary by the hour. They’re described in haiku because haikus are the fifth element of hip-hop.
A few notes about the list: Dam-Funk’s DJ Kicks is honorable mention because it’s a DJ mix, but it’s as excellent as anything released this year. Due to such intense competition, I restricted the top 10 to full-length albums (apologies to DJ Quik and Problem, Nosaj Thing, et al.). And don’t sleep on the honorable mentions. You probably have a streaming subscription and it’s your duty as an American to listen to things besides Drake.
The 10 Best Albums of the Year So Far
10. Classixx, Faraway Reach (Innovative Leisure)
South Africa trip
Lends inspiration and groove
And pour some T-Pain
9. Open Mike Eagle, Hella Personal Film Festival (Mello Music Group)
Vivid doom vignettes
Mock racism, police and Girls
Give Mike his own show
8. DJDS, Stand Up and Speak (Loma Vista/Body High)
Charlie Wilson agrees, too
How can you argue?
7. Nite Jewel, Liquid Cool (Gloriette)
Alone in the crowd
Recorded in a closet
6. RJ, Ommio 3 (OMMIO)
Ex-fireman spits flames
Function music at its best
Deserves to get rich
5. Anenon, Petrol (Friends of Friends)
Freeway sax solos
Fueled by beauty and sadness
Makes smog almost sweet
4. Terrace Martin, Velvet Portraits (Sounds of Crenshaw)
Kendrick’s secret ace
Makes Herbie Hancock very proud
Listen to more jazz
3. Anderson .Paak, Malibu (Steel Wool)
The season is his
Spring, summer, fall or winter
L.A.’s next big star
2. Kendrick Lamar, Unmastered, Untitled (TDE)
Get God on the phone
Cast-offs a minor classic
Give Kenny a raise
1. YG, Still Brazy (Def Jam)
No Mustard no prob
G-Funk gets resurrected
None fucking with him
Honorable mention: Dam-Funk, DJ Kicks (!K7); DJ Quik & Problem, Rosecrans EP (Diamond Lane); D Tiberio, Court (Timetable); Nosaj Thing, No Reality (Innovative Leisure); Hanni El Khatib, Savage Times Vol. 2 (Innovative Leisure); clipping., Wriggle (Sub Pop); Joyce Wrice, Stay With Me (self-released); AshTreJinkins, Zone of the Enders (New Los Angeles); 5 Chuckles, InTheWrld (Leaving); Captain Supernova, Doors of Perception (Cold Busted); Benedek, Coolin’ EP (Leaving); Swarvy, Stunts Vol. 1-4 (Street Corner); Samiyam, Animals Have Feelings (Stones Throw); Domo Genesis, Genesis (Odd Future); King, We Are King (KING Creative); Different Sleep, Last Nerve EP (FoF); Curtiss King, Creatine (Alpha Pup); Linafornia, Yung (Dome of Doom); Zeroh, Emissions (self-released); Riff Raff, Peach Panther (Neon Nation/BMG).
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.