As crappy as 2016 was overall, longtime Solange fans could at least throw their hands up in relief that our girl was finally get the notice she's deserved for the longest time. A Seat at the Table is a stunning R&B album, but so was her Sol-Angel & The Hadley St. Dreams record and True EP. But Seat took everything a step further by including important conversations about race—topics that weren't in her past releases—making her moment in the spotlight all the more profound. The record was her first No. 1 and wound up on tons of Best of 2016 lists (including ours), just a few additional cherries on top for a too-oft overlooked singer-songwriter who's always had something to say.—Jeff Benjamin
"I admit, I was a passive fan of Donald Glover. I enjoy his earlier music and thought he fit in well in Community. However with the arrival of Atlanta, his casting as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars' upcoming Han Solo origin movie and the amazing album Awaken, My Love, I’ve gained a newfound love and admiration for the renaissance man. All I need is a live show and I’ll probably be a full fledged stan."—Malikah Shabazz
"The year-defining TV show Atlanta was simply the arrival of something Donald Glover fans knew was waiting to be unleashed all along; it was seeing his art unanimously praised that was the new thing. But the Childish Gambino album, Awaken, My Love!, is our latest prime example of an act proving they can make us all see them in a new light at the exact same moment, together."—Zach Dionne
Honestly, I’m such a big Taylor Swift fan. But this year—with her feuds with Calvin Harris and Kanye West—I saw her more as a flawed human than as the perfect idol. On the other hand, I think 2016 was the year where people really started to see her as a songwriter, when we found out she wrote "This Is What We Came For" and Little Big Town’s "Better Man."—Emilee Lindner
"Who passed the aux cord to Vic Mensa?" was a joke more than a few cool kids made the day Kanye West debuted The Life of Pablo at Madison Square Garden. 'Ye did it on a laptop, one he passed around to his coterie of young rap stars afterward. Young Thug, awesome. Vic Mensa, boooooo. I guess.
So it was pretty damned spectacular to watch what the Chicago 23-year-old behind "U Mad" (whose talent, btw, was very much established) did next. He dropped a razor-sharp, super-belated EP, There's Alot Going On. He joined the protesters at Standing Rock at the end of November. That wasn’t long after he made a stand on Kimmel the night before the election, doing his anti–police brutality song "16 Shots" and declaring:
“I’m a young black man from Chicago and I’m tired of not being able to trust the police. I wanna have faith in the men and women sworn to protect me. I don’t want to see another 17-year-old killed like Laquan McDonald murdered in the street. So when I hear a candidate talking about 'law and order' and 'stop and frisk is the answer to our problems,' you don’t know our problems in Chicago and you damn sure don’t speak for us. Tomorrow we have the biggest election of our lifetime. So you gotta get out and vote against hate. Because Donald Trump is a racist, and if you don’t vote, racism wins. That’s what I got to say.”
I originally wrote him off as a joke, taking cult classic '90s hits like Brownstone's 'Say It' and Devonte & Tanto Metro’s 'Everyone Falls in Love Sometimes' and essentially remixing them, then dropping them as singles. However, after hearing his version of Drake’s 'Controlla' and the track 'Litty' he's featured on Meek Mill’s Dream Chasers 4 mixtape I’ve changed my mind. The kid is nice and on my list to look out for in 2017. I still don’t approve of blowing the dust off '90s hits. That's a lay up.—Esteban Serrano
"I'd say Ariana Grande because this was the year I finally realized 'Oh, I DON'T actually dislike her.' Now I really enjoy her and her music. Between her great Dangerous Woman album, her Halloween obsession, and never hesitating to speak out against things she sees as wrong, I think I did a 180 on her over this past year."—Mark Sundstrom
Ari could always sing her ass off, but her inability to control her voice and properly enunciate was always an issue for me. Yet this year's Dangerous Woman album finally showed me she was capable of using that beautiful tone the right way. Now I can finally sing along to her incredible tunes without getting confused by the lyrics.—Bianca Gracie
Mac Miller has always been that goofy stoner kid that always made you laugh in college. But this year, with the release of Divine Feminine, something changed. He’s not messing with so many drugs now, and his reborn respect for women (and his enviable relationship with Ariana Grande) has me feeling something in my loins. :X—Emilee Lindner
It's difficult to see your favorite rapper (and someone I admired for a long time) go off on the deep end and go against everything he used to stand for. I held on being a supportive fan of Yeezy throughout all his antics over the past few years. But when he revealed that despite not voting in one of the most vital elections of our time, he would've voted for Trump, I knew I had to step back. If that wasn't enough of a heartbreaker, the guy freaking MET with the president-elect at Trump Tower. Yeah, let's just take a break from 'Ye for a little while.—Bianca Gracie
Through thick and thin, terrible and triumphant, Kanye West was the year's most consistently visible artist. And somehow, 12 years after introducing us to The College Dropout, every single moment seemed like a new, enhanced or warped lens on this very-long-established, already-über-debated figure. Whether you’re still on the Yeezy ride or not, it’s still whipping around corners, looping strangely back on itself at double the speed, and opening up brand new—sometimes nightmarish, sad, enraging—vistas.
I also did not know he could make a song like "30 Hours." —Zach Dionne
Since initially breaking out with "Habits (Stay High)," Tove Lo was more or less considered the dark-and-quirky songstress who knew how to have a good time. But in the lead up to sophomore album Lady Wood, a confident, sexually assured feminist came to the forefront: One that flashes festival-goers and speaks about her drug use and sexuality. Last month, she shared how this has been helpful to her younger fans "Girls say to me, 'I'm so happy you're open and speak so freely about sex and being a sexual person,' she told People. 'I'm sad it angers people because I'm a woman. If I were a man, you wouldn't blink. I didn't think it was gonna be that big of a deal, that I'm a girl, a woman, who's open about it—but it apparently is, and I'm very happy to take on that hat."—Jeff Benjamin
"I still like her old songs but when she came out with the music video for 'Blended Family' I stopped being a fan. If I was Mashonda I would not be okay with being in the music video, I wouldn't want to be a 'blended family.' That was some low key shade and petty being thrown and I hope Mashonda knows it."—Mang Sabrina Xiao
One of the biggest joys of 2016 was watching Rihanna plant her flag as a god-level album artist, and as an examplar for the increasingly strange concept of taking a fucking break once in a while. She also commandeered one of the best songs of one of my favorite albums of last year (Tame Impala's Currents) and made it into a RiRi classic. She also showed an inspiring amount of patience for Drake, rapped her ass off on a Mike WiLL Made-It single and sang an EDM song Taylor Swift secretly wrote.—Zach Dionne
I admit it: I didn't see the big fuss about Chance the Rapper and was a late bloomer to his music. But after listening to Coloring Book and witnessing his charming set at Made in America, it became clear why people loved this guy so much. Chance has a genuine soul that is rare not just in hip-hop, but this music industry in general. There's a reason why he has so many BFFs, both fans and fellow artists!—Bianca Gracie
Can we all just agree on the fact that Gucci Mane did the most tremendous 180-degree career change this year? After being released early from jail in May, the ATL rapper became a true star and dropped FIVE (!!) solid projects. The way that he spits about finessing, trapping and stunting on these lesser rappers is true poetry, and I can't wait to see what else he has up his Versace sleeve in 2017.—Bianca Gracie
Because, three years after leaving G.O.O.D. Music, insulating himself artistically and taking semiautomatic shots left and right, Kid Cudi opened himself up with unfathomably raw honesty, pain, shame and hope, opening up on Facebook for his 10 million followers and untold more around the world:
"Its been difficult for me to find the words to what Im about to share with you because I feel ashamed. Ashamed to be a leader and hero to so many while admitting I've been living a lie. It took me a while to get to this place of commitment, but it is something I have to do for myself, my family, my best friend/daughter and all of you, my fans.
Yesterday I checked myself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges. I am not at peace. I haven't been since you've known me. If I didn't come here, I wouldve done something to myself. I simply am a damaged human swimming in a pool of emotions everyday of my life. Theres a ragin violent storm inside of my heart at all times. Idk what peace feels like. Idk how to relax. My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember and I never leave the house because of it. I cant make new friends because of it. I dont trust anyone because of it and Im tired of being held back in my life. I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be happy and smiling. Why not me? I guess I give so much of myself to others I forgot that I need to show myself some love too. I think I never really knew how. Im scared, im sad, I feel like I let a lot of people down and again, Im sorry. Its time I fix me. Im nervous but ima get through this. I wont be around to promote much, but the good folks at Republic and my manager Dennis will inform you about upcoming releases. The music videos, album release date etc. The album is still on the way. Promise. I wanted to square away all the business before I got here so I could focus on my recovery.
If all goes well ill be out in time for Complexcon and ill be lookin forward to seeing you all there for high fives and hugs.
Love and light to everyone who has love for me and I am sorry if I let anyone down. I really am sorry. Ill be back, stronger, better. Reborn. I feel like shit, I feel so ashamed. Im sorry.
I love you,
The post has gotten 416,000 likes, been shared 137,600 times and amassed 56,000 comments. Cudi has since left rehab to make celebrated live appearances and a dazzling album of epic proportions.—Zach Dionne