My Year In Music 2016 – The Ramen Noodle

year in music 2016

Check out my year in music 2016.

When we get hungry we eat the same ******* food
The ramen noodle
Your simple voodoo is so maniacal, we’re liable to pull a juju

We The People – A Tribe Called Quest

I didn’t expect to write anything music related at the end of this year until I started reading some of the year end lists. I started to think back to when I was writing about music a few times every month on Epinions.

Wait a second. I’ll be back in a few minutes. I need to head to the store.

Okay, I’m back. I had to buy a 40 to pour out for Epinions. RIP Epinions.

Word to speedemon531, madtheory, cletta1201, and Honey B. Fly.

(For those former Epinions folks who were scratching their heads trying to remember Honey B. Fly, don’t worry, there wasn’t one. That was just to keep you sharp.)

Thinking back to the year 2000, when I was constantly writing about music, makes me wonder how in the blue hell I had time to listen to so much stuff. I was buying CDs and singles every week, bumping them in the jeep. (I didn’t really have a jeep. It just sounded cooler than bumping them in my Pathfinder.)

But back then, I didn’t have podcasts, which I now bump in my jeep. (Just kidding. I still don’t have a jeep.) But what I do have is this fantastic gimmick called Apple Music. Apple Music puts so much music at the the touch of my fingers on my iPhone that it can be a bit overwhelming. But I’ve created a practice to where every Thursday night, I go to the “New Music” section and download every new album that I’m even slightly interested in to hear for later. I also hit up the kids to see if there’s something I’ve missed that I should be listening to. The kids know. It’s how I keep my ear to street.

These days, I listen to most of my music either in the gym (I eat t-bone steaks and lift barbell plates) or when I work from home. I’m not getting a ton of quality listens like I used to when I’d overdose on an album within two of three days before declaring whether I loved, liked, or hated it. And I do mean overdose. Sometimes, I couldn’t ever listen to it again because of how closely I listened to it to review it.

I had to make sure my thoughts were fully formed back then. They had to be exact. I had to know what I thought about every track. Today, I don’t listen to albums like that. I have thoughts, but they change depending on the moment or mood. Like Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo, consider this write-up a work in progress. Maybe I’ll come back in a few weeks and switch things around.

But I’m not going to write this year in music specifically as a list. I’m going to write it in buckets so I can compare things better. And this isn’t really a “best of” because I don’t listen to nearly enough music to make a complete “best of” that can stand up to mainstream lists.

The buckets are the following:

Sister Sister
Artists My Age
What’s Old Is New
What Genre Is This
Over-rated (clap, clap, clap, clap)
I Feel Like Pablo

Like the great American philosopher Flavor Flav once said, “We can do this like Brutus.”

Sister Sister

I tried to let go my lover
Thought if I was alone then maybe I could recover
To write it away or cry it away
Don’t you cry baby

Cranes in the Sky – Solange

I’ve seen a ton of lists put their stamp on Beyoncé’s Lemonade (which was a popular drink and it still is) as the top album of the year. I sort of get why. It wasn’t just an album release. It was an experience. There was a mystery around the release. Synching the release of the album on Tidal with an HBO film was exceptional marketing. Twitter blew up with people wondering about the content of the film/album. Was Jay Z taking his first L since Nas handed him a two piece with biscuit after “Ether”? And on TV?

But because Beyoncé is such a master marketer, I immediately had reservations about what was going on. I think my dude Big Money coined it as slightly sleazy when he and I discussed it earlier this year on #BALLSOHARD Radio. I’m sure Bey and Jay have issues like any other couple. They may have more issues than most being that they’re two of the biggest celebrities today. But to me, Lemonade felt like a big marketing campaign rather than what most people felt it was, which was Bey at her most vulnerable.

I did like Lemonade. It’s closer to the kind of album I think she has in her before it’s all said and done. But I don’t think it was anywhere near the best album I heard all year. Though, I have to admit, “Daddy Lessons” was pretty dope.

To me, the best album by a Knowles sister all year long was Solange’s A Seat At The Table. Talk about vulnerable. Truly, if Beyoncé wants to craft that near perfect album, she should take a page out of baby sis’ book. Solange’s album is cohesive like if you were doing a huge jigsaw puzzle where 3/4s of it is the sky. You need to be patient with it while you put it together. She’s actually singing about something too. This just isn’t about relationships. It’s about all of the things she’s seeing and going through in the world today. Listen to “Cranes In The Sky” and then go back to Lemonade and tell me that there’s anything that beautiful on that album.

Speaking of singing about what’s going on in this world today…

Artists My Age

I’ll send you back and forth, you’ll never know you try your luck
They call me Las Vegas, you get what you pay for
Girl, I’m not your lucky card, I’mma make you take a loss
But I am worth it, love’s what we wage for

Hard II Love – Usher

Alicia Keys is 35. John Legend is 37. Usher is 38. Common is 44. Earlier this year, I turned 40.

Why is this important? I’ve been listening to each artist for a very long time. And since we’re not all that far apart in age, a lot of what they sing (or rap) about, I can relate to. That’s part of the key with hanging onto a faithful audience. But it hasn’t always been that way. Because the music industry is all about chasing hits, each artist has had an album or two (or in Alicia and Usher’s cases, more) where they seemed to be chasing trends rather than relating to their audience who had grown up with them.

But in 2016, each of those artists produced their best albums in recent memory. And the theme in each of them to me was that they were growing with their audience. Keys, Legend, and Common all took hearty swings at trying to add political elements to their sound without completely making political albums. What about Usher? Well, my guy Usher did what he does best which is sing about his love life, but in this case, he did it in a more mature way, undressing himself to show his faults. But he was still sexin’ ‘em up. He’s always been Hard II Love.

Keys’ relationship with husband Swizz Beatz went public when it came out that they started dating when Swizz was married to a singer named Mashonda. Biggie Smalls once rapped, “Beef is when I see you, guaranteed to be in ICU.” I thought Mashonda and Alicia were headed there. It may have taken them a few years to be friendly, but Alicia penned a song which was a bit of a shoutout to Mashonda called “Blended Family” on her latest album HERE. Because of my own personal situation, it tugged at my heart strings.

It may not be easy
This blended family but baby
That’s what you do, what you do, what you do
What you do for love

The song isn’t fantastic. It won’t win any awards. But it’s a deeply personal record that you were hoping for, if you knew their story. HERE is also not fantastic. She still hasn’t found the magic that was in her first two albums. But her lyrics are more political. She’s singing about more personal things that seem meaningful, rather than extensions of songs that she wrote when she was a teenager. Her next album may be the adult Alicia we’ve been waiting for.

Common already had one comeback album with his 2005 joint, Be. But each album since then until 2014′s Nobody’s Smiling, made it seem like he was taking a page out of Ice Cube’s playbook; making albums just because he probably should, rather than because he wanted to. He wasn’t just a rapper. He was now a rapper-slash-actor. His most recent album, Black America Again is his best album since Be. Probably because he’s now Mr. Hollywood, this album was entirely slept on. But this wasn’t just him fulfilling his contract. His wordplay was fierce, he was saying what was on his mind politically which was influenced by this being an election year, and the production made sure that everyone understood that this wasn’t just some happy album.

John Legend might be corny. Okay, he’s super corny. But he also pens and sings tunes that become wedding themes. Wait, that helped the argument that he’s corny. Let me start again. He’s also made one of the most soulful throwback albums of the 2000s with 2006′s Once Again. His work has been hit or miss since then. Well, until Darkness And Light. It’s his best work in 10 years.

When you see Legend on TV discussing the world today, he’s woke as all hell. He’s thoughtful and progressive, which isn’t how you’d necessarily describe his music. With this album, he was able to take that TV persona and show it off in song. Legend even gets to the point of temptation on “How Can I Blame You”. For my money (which is the $14.99 I pay for Apple Music), Same Old Story is the Legend love, whether he’s woke or not. What can I say? I’m a softie for his corny stuff too.

What’s Old Is New

Yo, I’m savant with the game
Gon’ tell Robi yo’ name
Provide words that’s heard, setting your body aflame
Ooh, you off the chain, I’m handling your terrain

Enough!! – A Tribe Called Quest

If you asked me point blank at this time last year if De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest would drop albums in 2016, I would’ve said no and bet money on it. De La released and the Anonymous Nobody… and Tribe released We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. Why the ellipses in both titles? No clue. But they’re both really good. De La, with their classic records in sample clearance hell, cut up live band performances into samples for their production, which makes their songs sound fresh. But it is grown ass man rap, which isn’t going to vibe very well with the under 20s.

Tribe on the other hand was able to give service to their diehard fans and still sound like the best hip hop group in the game today, all on the same album. There was a sentimental value with it because we (as in the world) lost Phife Dawg. But that isn’t the only reason it was good. Q-Tip sounded like he was cryogenically frozen for fifteen years, coming out of the gate like he never left. (Yes, I know he had a solo career, but still.) And who knew Jarobi could flow like he does here? Add artists like Jack White, Busta Rhymes, Kanye West, Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Consequence, and Talib Kweli and you have some damn fine gumbo.

Phife’s vocals are good. They’re soul food. But there’s not enough of them. I wanted to hear more Phife, but beggars can’t be choosers. I’ve wanted a new Tribe album for years. And they gave it to me. And it was fantastic. It was my 6th best date all year long. Just me and Tribe.

(I’ve gone back and forth and forth and back on which song is my favorite on this album. On first listen, it was “The Space Program” and then it was “We The People”. And then it was “Dis Generation” before it became the sort-of-sequel to “Find My Way”, which is “Enough!!”. Gun to my head, it’s probably “We The People”, but that may change again. On great albums, there are multiple favorite songs.)

What Genre Is This

Too late
You wanna make it right, but now it’s too late
My peanut butter chocolate cake with Kool-Aid
I’m trying not to waste my time

Redbone – Childish Gambino

I’m still not exactly sure what to classify what Anderson .Paak, Childish Gambino, Blood Orange, and Frank Ocean did.

Anderson .Paak’s Malibu is more sleazy soul than rap, but that’s not to say it’s not hip hop either. It’s all of it and more. Albums like Malibu need multiple listens and I feel like I need about 250 more to fully understand it. All I know is that when I listen to it, my lip is in a full snarl.

Childish Gambino has had to face a lot of criticism early in his career. Is he nerd rap? Is he cookie cutter rap? He decided that he was neither and made a pure funk album. “Awaken, My Love!” is kind of like his show Atlanta in that it’s dense as all hell. There’s no predictability to either. Explain the Bootsy Collins sampling of I’d Rather Be With You and his screechy vocals for Redbone.

“Awaken, My Love!” isn’t an easy listen. But that’s not the point. The point was for Gambino to come out with his dukes up, ready to parry any blow coming his way. The dude’s a fighter.

I’m not exactly sure how I was hipped to Blood Orange. It may have been in a column about the best albums you’ve never heard. And I’m still not sure if I completely like Dev Hynes’ style. But I know that when I heard Better Than Me, it felt like a Culture Club song got impregnated by a Mannie Fresh beat with the Call Me Maybe girl singing all sexily.

Finally, Frank Ocean’s Blonde is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year. My guy Frank, okey doked Def Jam by releasing a visual album on Apple Music which fulfilled the last album on his deal. And then he released Blonde on his Boys Don’t Cry imprint immediately thereafter. And holy cow, what a release it was. Ocean masterminded a crazy buzz which went from “what the hell is this” when the visual album came out to “Frank Ocean might be the smartest person in music” when Blonde dropped. I’ve never seen such an unconventionally commercial artist get so many music fans, no matter their favorite genre, in a tizzy.

Blonde is really good. Not everyone will love it because they don’t feel his emotion, but that’s exactly what I like about him. I have no real idea what he’s thinking about or feeling. It leaves me wondering. And wondering.

Over-rated (clap, clap, clap, clap)

Underneath the chandelier
We’re dancin’ all alone
There’s no reason to hide
What we’re feelin’ inside
Right now!

Versace On The Floor – Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars has a great track record. He’s one of few pop/R&B artists that I look forward to. Doo-Wops & Hooligans and its sequel, Unorthodox Jukebox were tremendously fun albums. But Jukebox dropped in 2012, making it four years since Bruno had released a full album of music. In those four years, things done changed, yet Bruno seemingly stayed the same. In most cases, there’s nothing wrong with that. But in 2016, 2012 Bruno sounded dated. The party jams were there. But what he thought was fun, didn’t seem as fun anymore. It’s quite possible that my perspective has changed.

Songs like Versace on the Floor seemed forced (and really, he had to come up with that title first and written the song around it). I understand what he was trying to do. He was trying to make a fun album that was a bit of a throwback to the late 80s and early 90s. But what I wanted was a 2016 version of him, not what he thought he would’ve sounded like in those times.

I’m not a big The Weeknd fan. I’ve found his writing to be juvenile and his songs to be super emo. And he feels himself a bit too much for my taste. But I can see why people like him. He writes solid hooks and has a go-to falsetto. Because of that, I went into Starboy with an open mind. I really wanted to enjoy it. Couldn’t do it. The entire album felt like a big turn off. I hope he grows as an artist, but much like Bruno, it seems like he plateaued this go-’round.

I Feel Like Pablo

Real friends, how many of us?
How many of us, how many jealous? Real friends
It’s not many of us

Real Friends – Kanye West

No matter what you think of Kanye West, what’s inarguable is that he’s the most influential MC of the current era. Like Big Money Mike once said, if not for Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak, Drake wouldn’t have the lane he does today.

By the way, check out Big Money’s favorite albums of the year on Popblerd.

Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo was a little long and very much over the top, but if you listen to it without the current bias of how you feel about him, what you’ll hear is creative catchy anthems. He may also have introduced some of you to Chance The Rapper, who is featured on “Ultralight Beam”, which will take you to church.

Foot on the Devil’s neck ’til it drifted Pangaea
I’m moving all my family from Chatham to Zambia
Treat the demons just like Pam
I mean I **** with your friends, but damn, Gina

Anytime someone shouts out Martin, I’m quoting them. What TLOP is to me is the album I listened to most in 2016. To be fair, most of those listens were in the gym, so it’s not like I was going to hear Maxwell’s latest the most. But it was the most listenable album through and through. (Tribe’s new one would’ve eventually surpassed it for me, but it came out so late in the year.)

Speaking of Chance, Coloring Book was a pretty immense hit from a guy who doesn’t even sell records. My kids were all over Chance when it dropped and told me to listen and I’m glad I did. (It’s kind of crazy when they’re telling me about artists when it’s been the other way around since they started to get into music.)

Chance comes off friendly (which he is), fun (which he is), and colorful (which he is). But what he also is, is talented. He’s not going to drop a 16 that changes your life, but his songs are well-structured and complete and he feels like a musician who can rap, rather than just a new jack rapper.

What’s funny is that the best rap album all year long may be from someone who just put together his unreleased stuff in March and dropped it without any promotion. Kendrick Lamar is probably the best of the new jacks. His untitled unmastered features songs recorded in 2013 and 2014 (with one song from 2016) and they don’t have actual song titles. He’s a marvel.

Okay fine. I guess I will put my favorite ten in a list.

Fav 10 of 2016
1. We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
2. Blonde
3. The Life Of Pablo
4. A Seat At The Table
5. Coloring Book
6. untitled unmastered
7. Darkness And Light
8. “Awaken, My Love!”
9. Malibu
10. Hard II Love

Last. Views

(Just kidding, Drake’s record wasn’t that bad. It was just boring.)

P.S. I can’t go without at least giving a shoutout to those who died in 2016. It seems like every other day someone that I grew up watching or listening to passed away. I think we’re at a time where folks who were seemingly in the media much of their lives are passing. It’s going to be like that for a while. Even folks like Glenn Frey, Maurice White, and Vanity, who passed away earlier in the year have been seemingly forgotten. What about George Martin? Mighty Merle? Tupac’s mom Afeni Shakur? Leonard Cohen?

I think the one that hit me hardest was the aforementioned Phife Dawg. Yes, even more than Prince and Muhammad Ali. He was my guy. I’ve probably listened to Phife rap just as much or more than anyone except maybe Tupac and Jay Z.

Crossing over from music to film and TV, I had forgotten that Gene Wilder passed. Gene Wilder. Bill Nunn who played Radio Raheem, a very memorable character also passed. And I’ll never forget Tommy Mykal Ford, who played Tommy Strawn on Martin. He still don’t got no job, man. And of course, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, George Michael, and finally, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds.

Finally, to bring this thing full circle, I’m going to leave it in Q-Tip’s hands.

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2 Thoughts on “My Year In Music 2016 – The Ramen Noodle

  1. Brittany on December 29, 2016 at 4:20 PM said:

    Nice! Completely agree with you on Beyonce and Solange. I loved both albums when they were first released, but Solange’s is the one I actually listened to most. And…I forgot that Drake even released Views this year. It was incredibly boring, lol.

    • Sorry it took me so long to get back to you Britt! I didn’t even realize I had these comments until recently.

      Big question is, does John Mayer get the top spot in 2017!

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