Note: Listen to every song on these albums. They’re worth your time.
#3. King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude – Pusha T
Pusha almost didn’t give us this masterpiece this year: dropped in mid-December, Darkest Before Dawn is the absolute last album to make my list. And with good reason: this is Pusha T’s best solo body of work so far. There is absolutely no excess on this LP: at 10 tracks and about 30 minutes long, this is an effortless listen, and every track makes its presence felt, loud and clear.
Push is rapping at his sharpest, on some of the best production he’s had. There is noticeable edge to the vocals and the lyrics, exacerbated by the issues of race Push touches on through the album. And while he’s always had great production, here is focussed, thematic production; there is no joy to it, the 808s and bass elevating the grit of Pusha’s lyrics to powerful places. Darkest Before Dawn is a testament to Pusha T as a musician, as one who can curate a laser-sharp body of work. And to think, this is only the prelude.
#2. In Colour – Jamie xx
In Colour is one of those wonderful albums that can be treated as an audio-visual experience by virtue of its cover art and the music itself. Vibrant, warm, cool and silky in turns, this project is one of the most eclectic electronic albums in recent memory. What stands out the most is the seamless incorporation of samples, original production and vocals to present a flowing piece of music that finds form without being limited by any of its elements. Jamie xx incorporates a veritable plethora of influences with a remarkably contemporary flavour, ensuring that In Colour isn’t eccentric, yet like nothing you’ve heard before. I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times), a tropical pop wonder, with rap and reggaaeton vocals is a thematic crux of the album.
Jamie xx is a connoisseur of electronica, and In Colour is his most compelling buffet. Let the music play and soak in its beauty.
#1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
Everyone saw this coming. There is no way around it. To Pimp A Butterfly album transcends rap. Hell, this album transcends music. What Kendrick is conveying here moves beyond the realm of socially conscious music; it is a consciousness all in itself. This album is so incredibly complex, sonically and conceptually. The lyrics, quite literally, weave short stories that cohere into an incredibly descriptive whole. They are, as James Joyce put it, the portrait of an artist and by extension, his culture. In the same vein, the production on TPAB is aggressively retro, while still sounding fresh; a melting pot of black music, be it funk or jazz or the blues. This is hip-hop grounded firmly in its roots. I am truly stunned by the magnitude of this album.
To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t meant to be easy listening, it isn’t music you can listen to passively. This is a microcosm of the spectrum of overwhelming life Kendrick has lived through. It is a representation of the African-American experience, through the eyes of one if its own, straddling the line between stardom and humility, money and power, and good and bad. This is, dare I say it, a classic work of art.