Top 5 Albums of 2016 (So Far)

Believe it or not, we’re about halfway through 2017.

As always, there has been no shortage of great music up to this point. From hip-hop to electropop, established artists pushed themselves to new creative heights and up-and-comers broke out some refreshing sounds.

So without further ado, here are my top five albums of 2017 (so far).

5. Ed Sheeran – Divide
Released: 3 March 2017
Genre: Folk Pop
Favorite Track: “Supermarket Flowers”

The third studio album from this 26-year-old English singer-songwriter is easily his strongest to date. Sheeran effortlessly shifts from upbeat, autobiographical songs like “Eraser“, which touches on the dangers of celebrity life, to emotional ballads like “Supermarket Flowers”, a track dedicated to his late grandmother.

But what stands out the most on this record are the romantic themes. For instance, the hit song “Shape of You” is a snappy, R&B-like pop song clearly inspired by Sheeran’s current girlfriend, Cherry Seaborn. Not to mention, it samples TLC’s “No Scrubs“, one of the greatest pop/R&B tracks of the 90’s.

In addition, “Perfect” is probably the most identifiable love song you will hear all year.

Well I found a woman, stronger than anyone I know / She shares my dreams, I hope that someday I’ll share her home

The toughest task for a modern-day pop artist is to write songs that have a small-town, everyday vibe, but still strike a universal chord. Sheeran does that with so much ease on this album.

4. Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross
Released: 17 March 2017
Genre: Hip-Hop/Trap
Favorite Track: “Apple of My Eye”

Despite the drastic decline in gangster rap, the 41-year-old Miami-based rapper has continued to crank out album after album for the past ten years. Rather You Than Me, his ninth studio album, is another essential listen and his best release since Teflon Don, one of my favorite rap albums of all-time. Rozay’s confident, tough delivery combined with his stellar ear for beats makes this is an essential listen for all hip-hop fans.

Before delving into this album, however, it’s important to note Rozay’s history with intro tracks on earlier releases. Songs like “Rich is Gangsta“, “Pirates“, “I’m Not a Star“, and “Mafia Music” all touch on his luxurious lifestyle and high-profile status. On Rather You Than Me, Rozay takes a much more introspective approach on the intro track, “Apple of My Eye.” The soulful vocals of Raphael Saadiq combined with the smooth saxophone sample and atmospheric piano keys give off a much more emotional vibe, something that is very rare on a Rozay album, let alone one of his into tracks. That vulnerability is clear in Rozay’s verses, which touch on subjects ranging from his past health issues to some of his insecurities before becoming a hip-hop icon.

But of course, what’s a Rozay album without some bangers? Tracks like “Trap Trap Trap” and “Dead Presidents” harken back to his performances on Teflon Don. Rozay also continues his string of “Maybach Music” tracks at the end of the album with Dej Loaf on “Maybach Music V.” Dej Loaf and Katt Rockell’s smooth deliveries match up perfectly with the Budda & Grandz beat, while Rozay raps glowingly about a love interest. Overall, Rather You Than Me is another example of Rozay’s gift of making albums.

3. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
Released: 14 April 2017
Genre: Hip-Hop
Favorite Track: “DNA.”

*Read my review of DAMN. here. Includes track-by-track breakdown and rating.*

My opinion on this album has not changed since my review, so I’ll try to keep this brief.

DAMN., the fourth studio album from Compton-based rapper Kendrick Lamar, is all about asking serious questions about how much responsibility everyone holds for the imperfect world we live in. On the track, “PRIDE.”, he proclaims, “In a perfect world, I would be perfect, world.” In that scenario, Kendrick would have no flaws and not be subjected to criticism. But obviously, that is not the case.

DAMN. affirms Kendrick’s place not just at the top of hip-hop, but at the top of the entire music industry. While DAMN. is not on the level of To Pimp a Butterfly, it’s still one of Kendrick’s best projects to date. At this current pace, Kendrick Lamar is on his way to becoming one of the greatest musicians of all-time.

2. Melodrama – Lorde
Released: 16 June 2017
Genre: Electropop
Favorite Track: “Liability”

At 17, New Zealand singer Lorde became an instant star with her debut album, Pure Heroine, and breakout song, “Royals.” Three years later, her follow-up, Melodrama, should cement her status as the current queen of pop music.

Melodrama isn’t exactly a concept album. It’s more of a loose narrative about a night out, something that should relate to a lot of young adults. A night out cam encompass highs, lows, and maybe a bit of regret. Lorde uses those feelings to explore relationships and the constant battle between the external and internal self. That is clear on the opening track and lead single, “Green Light“:

Well those great whites, they have big teeth / Hope they bite you = external / internal

Lorde’s best performance on the album comes on the track “Liability”, an intimate, passionate and relatively simple piano ballad that shows just how much she has matured as an artist. For one, the lyrics, something that was a weakness at times on Pure Heroine, are much more adventurous and detailed. “Liability” explores the difficult position that fame has put her in. Fame not only casts light on the “star”, but it shines on the family and friends of said star just by pure association. As a result, it creates weird dynamic between star and associates, and in this case, Lorde becomes a “liability” in her relationships.

So they pull back, make other plans / I understand, I’m a liability

It’s a very interesting angle on fame not just for Lorde herself, but for pop music in general.

Melodrama is, in all the right ways, honest, brave, and full of brilliant songs with lyrics that address the themes of heartbreak, loneliness and solitude. On the powerful, stripped back ballad “Writer in the Dark“, Lorde fanatically sings, “I’ll love you till you call the cops on me.” In other words, love can make people do crazy, insane things. It just shows how difficult it could be for some to move on from a relationship.

I think we have a superstar on our hands. Oh, and did I mention she’s just 20 years old?

1. Tuxedo II – Tuxedo
Released: 24 March 2017
Genre: Funk/R&B
Favorite Track: “July”

If you’re not familiar with Tuxedo, you’re missing out big time.

Tuxedo is a funk group composed of R&B singer Mayer Hawthorne and hip-hop producer Jake One. Their debut self-titled release was very fun and filled with groovy basslines, catchy hooks, infectious vocals, and terrific production. They took all of that to a whole new level on Tuxedo II.

It’s essentially one big ode to 80’s synth funk, which is one of my favorite types of music. Think Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” or Prince’s “Erotic City“, but with a more modern twist.

Besides one or two songs, there is not a track on this album that is worth skipping. In terms of content, there is not a lot to break down. It’s mostly just fun, dancing, love, relationships and other common themes found in funk music.

At this end of Tuxedo II, I guarantee that you will “Fux with the Tux.” Who knows, it might be even better the “2nd Time Around.” I will definitely have this album on repeat for all of “July” and the rest of the summer.

I’m still fairly new to reviewing music, so feedback on this would definitely be appreciated. Did I get this right? Let me know what you think in the comment section or send me a tweet @danny_shin131

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