What a year it has been for musicians around the globe who dished out chart-topping albums, commercial blockbusters and critical favorites, the kind that even haters can help falling in love with.
Here’s Billboard’s Top 50 Albums of 2016
50. Rae Sremmurd, ‘Sremmlife 2’
49. The Goon Sax, ‘Up to Anything’
46. Noname, ‘Telefone’
45. Sturgill Simpson, ‘A Sailor’s Guide to Earth’
43. iLe, iLevitable
42. Flume, ‘Skin’
41. White Lung, ‘Paradise’
36. Tove Lo, ‘Lady Wood’
35. Metallica, ‘Hardwired… to Self Destruct’
31. Car Seat Headrest, ‘Teens of Denial’
30. Kevin Gates, ‘Islah’
29. Bon Iver, ’22 A Million’
27. YG, ‘Still Brazy’
Sprawling, ambitious and never truly finished, The Life of Pablo was easily the most divisive album of the year. In an hour-long microcosm of Kanye’s own life and times, there are moments of pure brilliance (“Ultralight Beam”), gorgeous meditation (“Waves,” “Wolves”), anxious soul-searching (“30 Hours”), earnest introspection (“Real Friends”), uncanny pop prescience (the “Panda”-interpolating “Pt. 2”), irreverent humor (“I Love Kanye”) and cringe-worthy lyricism (the opening of “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”). And then there’s “Famous,” which somehow manages to combine all of those elements into one three-minute reflection on the bizarre realities of life in the public eye, over possibly the best collection of samples released this year — and which still manages to shoot itself in the foot with a vulgar, better-left-unsaid Taylor Swift reference.
Pablo is not Kanye’s best album, but it might be his most Kanye album, saddled as it is with both manic genius and boundary-defying risk. He annoys with his casual misogyny and outsized ego, and he’s certainly lost fans over the course of a year in which he was never far from the headlines, whether that came from presiding over perhaps the most confusing album rollout of all time, stoking the fires of his increasingly bizarre beef with Swift, or aligning himself with Donald Trump. But like West, Pablo remains alluring, bold and uncompromising, serving as both a telescope into the faraway reaches of its conflicted creator’s mind and a reminder that there is no light in the world without the balance of an uncomfortable darkness. — D.R.
1. Beyoncé, ‘Lemonade’
Beyonce stopped the world for (at least) a second time when she dropped her sixth studio album, and the year’s most soul-baring effort, with her visual album Lemonade. The stunning musical and cinematic work debuted as an hour-long film in April on HBO, capturing the essence of being a strong Black woman in America. Unfolding in chapters with titles such as Denial, Apathy, Accountability and Forgiveness, and accompanied by poetry from poignant scribe Warsan Shire, Lemonade flipped the scorned woman-narrative into a tale of triumph — even while dropping in the midst of infidelity rumors between Bey and husband Jay Z.
The first inkling of Lemonade came a day before Yonce’s Super Bowl performance with “Formation,” a black fist-pump in the air that pissed off FOX News and the Miami police but inspired many. The full Lemonadeexpanded on its riotous introductory blast with the resilient Just Blaze-produced anthem “Freedom,” the viral deuces-up jam “Sorry,” and the no-shame call-out “Hold Up” — while chilling opener “Pray You Catch Me” and make-up ballad “Sandcastles” served as emotional highs and lows. But Beyonce doesn’t commit to one genre or vision on the album, which marked her sixth million-seller: She also flaunts her Houston roots in the twangy, country-infused “Daddy Lessons,” and even earned a Best Rock Performance Grammy nod for the Jack White-blessed, Led Zeppelin-s2. Kanye West, ‘The Life of Pablo’ampling “Don’t Hurt Yourself.”