January is the first month of the year. It, quite reliably, presents the opportunity for change — a new year and a new you. Only, this year is a bit different, because, at the tail end of what was a particularly bleak year, we, collectively, lost faith. We lost faith in the system, in each other, and in the ability of new ideas to propagate change. I named the mix We Lost Faith (following the lead of ATL guru Nessly) to elucidate this fact. After all, we can’t combat a problem unless we know what it is. Our generation is one deeply affected by 9/11 and other random acts of terror, the Great Recession, and the most contentious presidential election in the past hundred years. A fundamental lack of faith in institutions is built into our DNA, yet this is clearly a losing point-of-view. We have to regain control of our collective destiny. Thankfully, we live in an era where it is easier than ever to communicate with one another and activate the fellow disenfranchised. So, yes, we lost faith. For a blip on the timeline, we fucked around and elected a megalomaniac into the most powerful office in the world. That… was not the answer, but I am confident we can contain the damage and begin rebuilding our faith.
I’m tryna tell you how it all restarted ’cause of Reagan / You walk out and the cops tryna shoot you like Cary Fagan
NOTE: Original image by Alessandro Ruggieri. Edit and design by Arjun Grover.
You could say that 2016 was a weird year, or a year of change. It was a year where 3-1 leads were no longer safe, Kermit The Frog ran the internet, Snapchat took over the world, dabbing continued to exist, an inebriated Bill Murray took you out to the ballgame, and much, much more. In music, it was the year of the “surprise” release. Long gone are the days where we’re told an album is due ahead of time. You wake up, brew your coffee, check Twitter, and there you find a live video feed of Frank Ocean taking on a DIY project, while simultaneously setting the world on fire to burn in speculation about what is happening.
Welcome to our best songs of 2016. A list of 149 songs spanning the course of a completely reasonable 9.5 hours. We picked songs from 113 different artists, but there were a handful* of artists who seemed to win the year, landing the highest number of songs in our list. Most of these artists had songs chosen as a top song of 2016 by multiple members of our team.
Here are those winners, ranked with their number of song nominations in parenthesis:
- Frank Ocean (14)
- Francis and the Lights (7)
- Chance The Rapper (7)
- Drake (7)
- Kanye West (6)
- Bon Iver (6)
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (5)
- Allan Kingdom (4)
*We listed the top 8 because there were many artists who tied for #9.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: life will throw you curve balls any chance it can. How you take that curve ball is one thing, but the music in your life will always be your constant among infinite variables. It will be there when you’re at your best and at your worst. Find your vibe, and spread the love. That’s the best part about blogging; being able to share and open other people’s eyes to different artists and genres. That is the point of this list. We are sharing what we loved about 2016. Despite all the weirdness that happened, whether for good or bad, 2016 was an incredible year for music, and it will only get better in 2017.
NOTE: Original cover image by Samantha Friend.
We have finally hit the final month of 2016. Despite this being a November playlist, the early parts of December have been FIRE. The Weeknd, Childish Gambino, Drake, CuDi, & J. Cole?! What did we do to deserve this? While we’re working hard to provide you a list from our favorites from the year, enjoy what we’ve prepared for November, and the influx of quality albums! Hopefully, this will keep you busy until then. Stay tuned…
It is always exciting when a new president is elected in the United States. Between election day and inauguration day, speculation runs rampant, as the President-elect decides who will run the government with him or her for the next four years. During this time of great intrigue, people begin to get a feel for what their country will look like under this person’s leadership.
Earlier this month, Donald Trump was elected to the highest office in the land. Most people who voted for him did so in the hope that he will institute laws that will work better for them and their family. However, so far, during this transition period before taking office, Trump has put questionable people in positions of power, while tweeting thoughtless lies and failing to properly address the global conflicts of interest caused by his company (He has also suddenly reversed his position on many issues, making it seem like he previously never learned the details of, say, climate change.). Right now, the way his first days as President-elect have gone, it seems like Donald Trump will not work for the people who voted for him or for “all Americans,” as he claims; it seems like he will work only for Donald Trump.
That’s why I named this mix No Mans Land. It is a really, really dumb way of saying that I don’t think Trump is going to be a good president.
These lights sparkle but they might hurt you
NOTE: Original cover image by Natasha Jen.
October 2016 is in the books! 21 new tunes for you to vibe out too. This month, Francis & The Lights released one of the best albums of 2016, and as a result, is a frequent artist you will see on the playlist. We try to start fires for you with all this music that deserves to be heard. Check it out, share with your friends, spread the love, and start your own fire. Have you started thinking about your favorite tracks from 2016? We have…
I recently finished Ashlee Vance’s authorized biography of Elon Musk, CEO/founder of Tesla and SpaceX. The book paints a detailed portrait of an extremely smart and determined man, who cares less about making money and more about impacting the world in a positive way. His driving motivator, the one that causes him to work most hours of the day, is to make humankind a multi-planetary species and to give us the tools to shift our energy consumption to clean energy. The idea of working toward a larger goal, such as Elon’s, is fascinating to me: not working to live, not working to make as much money as possible, but, rather, working to improve the universe. And it is not about winning some make-believe competition of who can be the noblest lad in all the land; there’s a fundamentality to it.
We have “x” number of years to live and reproduce →
Our planet has a laundry list of unresolved problems, and our species is confined to it →
So, let’s improve Earth for future generations, while reducing our dependence on Earth (for future generations).
Ironically, I also learned that, with hard work and proper execution, big money often follows such ambitious purpose. There is not a shortage of big thinkers, there is not a shortage of money, but there is a shortage of people willing to assume large risk for an abstract but basic idea.
NOTE: The SoundCloud mix is missing track 12 (“O&D” by Louis Val). Original image by Spencer Tunick.
This is a guest post written by Ambrielle Moore
“If you don’t understand my record, then you don’t understand me. So this is not for you.”
It’s been a pivotal, powerful year for black women. This album follows Anti (Rihanna), Lemonade (Beyoncé), and Telefone (Noname). It follows Jesse Williams’ BET Awards shout out. It follows Diamond Reynolds. It follows Solange’s own essay, penned after an experience all too many black women recognized. Most of all, this work follows our country’s ever-intensifying social climate as more black people are killed by law enforcement, and an openly racist, misogynistic millionaire inches closer to the White House. As a black woman, the context of this release feels significant. We needed this album in 2016, a year where, as a collective, it’s become crucial to express (in as many ways as possible) a simple, freeing, unapologetic statement: “I love my blackness. And yours.”
This album–like other black works of art this year–issues a personal narrative that expands a greater story on blackness, bringing to light the depths of our pain and experience rarely seen in the mainstream. Art in 2016 has allowed black people (especially black women) to explore, dissect and express a quiet internal storm that’s been building for some time now. As a conceptual work, then, A Seat at the Table succeeds in depicting a once overlooked but increasingly relevant character: the black woman. It is a complete and detailed exploration of that story, and though I imagine it will be educational to many, it is also a love letter in our own language–it does not pander, nor does it spell out obvious and accepted truths. Solange says quite frankly that this is an album for us, by us (see tracks 12 and 13). There are blanks that as a black woman, you fill in easily. Listening to this album is being in conversation with the artist herself, lamenting a shared struggle. Listening to this work as a young black woman is to be seen.
Other songs on the album, though, are clear messages to non-blacks (from a female black perspective). “Don’t Touch My Hair” is the clearest example when she says, “They don’t understand what it means to be me,” and follows up by equating her hair to a “crown” or “pride,” taking back the dignity and humanity often lost in awkward social encounters with non-blacks who confuse black women with friendly poodles or public property. For the black woman, hair is political and consuming in many ways. It’s not accidental that the cover art for this is a headshot of the artist with hair undone, clips strewn in. It’s vulnerable and purposeful and honest.
Let’s talk about the damn interludes though–because they’re flawless. The excerpts of conversation flow and carry the listener through, bridging gaps between songs thoughtfully. Through these smooth speaking transitions, Solange clearly states that this is a complete aural essay. This album deserves a thorough listen, complete and uninterrupted. A Seat at the Table should come on vinyl or cassette or as one giant song–shuffling a work like this should be sacrilege. Unlike a recent album by another important black visionary, I have zero desire to skip through these excerpts, because they matter and, most of all, they’re just pleasant to the ears. You don’t have to overthink them as they’re curated and direct, feeling more like source material introducing or expanding the adjacent tracks. With these clips, Solange proves her attention to detail and her penchant for easy, organic storytelling.
The best part about A Seat at the Table, though, is Solange’s pervasive calm. As the tracks progress, what is, admittedly, her signature and evolving aesthetic starts to feel like a purposeful critique of the angry black woman stereotype. The Mad Black Woman archetype is enforced by memes and movies which make light of her. There exists a whole world of reasons black women have to be angry, as James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” That goes double for black women. If Lemonade embraces the spirit of that anger and that life by reclaiming it–smashing car windows and getting in formation–then A Seat at the Table subverts it. “Mad,” which may be my favorite track, is the best example of this, where a grooving slow tempo carries Solange’s high angelic voice as it delivers truthful frustration. She repeats, “I got a lot to be mad about,” carefully and calmly stating a fact modern black women rarely allow themselves to admit in mixed company. In predominantly white spaces, where many of us function on a daily basis, black women feel a pressure to avoid being labeled an angry black woman, and thus overcompensate with saccharine obedience. If you’ve ever been the black girl in an office, or classroom, or concert, then you know exactly what she means when she finishes the track:
I ran into this girl, I said, “I’m tired of explaining.”
Man, this shit is draining
But I’m not really allowed to be mad.
This track applies to a feeling of “other” and a feeling of exclusion and a pressure to be the opposite of what people expect of you. She drops this truth bomb about the number one black girl frustration, but delivers it with this slow, beautiful cadence and a damn near chilling Weezy verse.
While “Mad” portrays the stifled anger of a black woman, “Cranes in the Sky” breaks down another archetype in the Strong Black Woman. It is a role we are expected to fill as well, an unfair responsibility to provide strength for others–black men, children, bosses and friends. Think of the black best friend in any TV show. Think of every black woman who has to speak about the death of her child or husband in another shooting. Think of the often portrayed black matriarch working as a maid or cook. Black women are expected to be strong in the face of their own struggles and everyone else’s too. Cranes in the Sky could be in response to any myriad of heartbreaks, a romantic loss, a general feeling of exclusion, another televised death. It exposes the vulnerable playbook of coping mechanisms that Solange employs in the face of her own everyday trials. Her strengths fail, and no matter the medium, her melancholy persists. If a Knowles can admit the cracks in her armor, perhaps other strong black women can find solace in a strength that wavers. Instead of being “a strong black woman that don’t need no man,” A Seat at the Table gives us permission to be human in the various ways that somehow seem to exist for everyone else.
I think that’s what this album does so well. Solange dismantles the many myths black women share by humanizing our struggle, celebrating our magic, and building up our beauty.
-Written by Ambrielle Moore
There have been a lot of weird, laughable moments in 2016 — a lot of overreactions over tweets and the like. A root cause of these reactions is people taking themselves way too seriously. The world is full of big problems, and little things seem to irritate people and consume their daily thoughts. In music, too, you feel people driving themselves crazy with their own seriousness. The reason so many people get into music is, of course, for self-expression, but also to entertain. It is easy to forget that, and important to remind yourself. It’s not that serious. You might want it to be, but it’s really not. Just have fun with it while it lasts.
NOTE: The SoundCloud mix is missing track 4 (“Moon II” by Louis Val) and track 16 (“Movie Screens” by Rory Fresco). Original image by Damon Casarez for NYT.
Today is my 24th birthday. The significance in this year is that it’s my year of the Black Mamba. This has absolutely nothing to do with music, but not much needs to be said other than the fact that both Frank Ocean (finally!), and Young Thug dropped new albums this month. Check out Best of August, as well as, Best of July below!
You may be currently sipping a cocktail in the backyard and tanning your skin away, but we all know the inevitable is coming — the end of summer. I know, it burns our ears too, but let’s not forget all the good times basking in the sun quite yet. We’ve compiled the perfect playlist for your last minute BBQs and days at the park. There are songs literally about summer (Kate Nash), songs that just make you want to get down at the labor day party (Roy Woods, Mac Miller), and some tracks that are simply light and catchy (Big Baby D.R.A.M., Kali Uchis) for those “windows down” car rides. Before you kiss the sun and warmth goodbye, take this playlist for a spin and just live in the summer moment.
I have been reading Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography Steve Jobs, and in it he describes Jobs’ “reality distortion field,” in which Jobs appropriated reality to fit his own singular focus. It is a tool Jobs used to speak things into fruition and to empower his employees to make the impossible possible. His colleagues often despised his rigorous, borderline irrational demands, but in the end, these high expectations often benefited the final product, and for that, the surviving workers thanked him.
I think anyone with unconventional goals needs to occasionally bend reality to fit his or her vision. You can’t lose grip on reality, but a blind faith supported by hard work seems like a tried and true recipe for success.
This mix is the soundtrack heard upon entering your own reality distortion field. It touches on spirituality and features dancehall sounds with some obvious sounds of digital distortion — just to remind you that you are momentarily dissociated from reality.
Are you working or just wasting your time? Did I mention that you’re still on my mind?
NOTE: This mix was meant to include “Somewhere in Australia” by Louis Val as track 6, but the track was removed from Soundcloud.