Best Soul Music Albums & Singles of 2016
2016 was a really, really good year for R&B/Soul Music. With an abundance of new and young talent gaining popularity (Anderson. Paak, BJ The Chicago Kid, Gallant, Major, Ro James, etc.) along with an incredible amount of veteran voices returning with albums (Keith Sweat, Brian McKnight, Dave Hollister, Tweet, Joe, Maxwell, Anthony Hamilton, Jaheim, Mya, Fantasia, Chrisette Michelle, etc.) and some of the biggest names in the genre right now all dropping new music (Beyoncé, John Legend, The Weeknd, Solange Knowles, Frank Ocean, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Usher, Bruno Mars etc.), it seemed as if there was never a dull moment. And there wasn’t! Creating this Best Soul Music 2016 list was a bit nerve wrecking since there’s so much to choose from.
Some readers may be disappointed because some of the more popular mainstream “obvious” selections may have been omitted, but truthfully mainstream success doesn’t always equate a great album… in my opinion.
Don’t debate me, debate your drunk uncle…
10. Tweet – Charlene
Tweet returned with her third album this year after a lengthy absence. But one listen and it’s clear that she was missed. She’s featured on Solange’s album and does some background vocals on the Solange project as well, but in the end her own offering beats out Solange for that tenth spot.
09. Anderson. Paak – Malibu
Easily one of the critically acclaimed albums of this past year, the West Coast bred singer/songwriter put together a smooth, jazz laced, melodic and vocally pleasing debut album. The Dr. Dre protégé has a bright future ahead of him if Malibu is any indication.
08. BJ The Chicago Kid – In My Mind
BJ’s sophomore album is quite an eclectic mix of Gospel, R&B and Hip-Hop. Once you get past some of the questionable tracklist arrangement, the album holds its own as a clear best soul music 2016 standout.
07. Eric Benét – Eric Benét
I called this album a sensual masterpiece when I reviewed it upon it’s release and I meant it. Eric delivers quality albums it seems like every time out and this album didn’t disappoint not one bit. Give it a listen and I dare you to challenge it for its spot among the best soul music albums of 2016.
06. Dave Hollister – The MANuscript
I was lucky to discover this album, as there was no promotion that I was aware of and no mainstream single (as far as I know), but Dave Hollister provides a vintage Dave masterpiece with The MANuscript. There’s no doubt in my mind that this was a top ten with one of the overall best contemporary R&B albums I heard all year.
05. Sammie – Indigo
This was no surprise… to me. Sammie has been on an absolute tear musically for about 5 years. His Insomnia mixtape from a few years ago was phenomenal and everything he’s released since has been just as impressive. Another one that may not get mainstream attention, but Sammie has anchored my playlist for the last couple months of the year.
04. Lukas Graham – Lukas Graham
Lukas Graham is the reason this is the Best Soul Music countdown and not an R&B countdown. The Denmark pop/soul band lyrically put together an unapologetically urban album, so much to my surprise that I started to think they were Black when I first heard it. From the single “7 Years” to “You’re Not There” to the album closer “Funeral” it still catches me off guard how good this album really is!
03. Joe – #MyNameIsJoeThomas
Joe says this album is his last. I’m still hoping that was just a bad joke or a ploy to rake up album sales. If it turns out to be his last, Joe definitely went out with a bang incorporating elements of R&B, Soul, Country and Hip-Hop for his album. And I will say it again, Joe’s version of Adele’s “Hello”, which appears on this album, is better than the original!
02. Bruno Mars – 24K Magic
Bruno Mars kind of cheated with this album. He recreated the sound or style of a number of hits from the 80s and early 90s and packaged then together with a lead track that incorporated the elements of his breakout “Uptown Funk” song from a year before. (You can’t tell me the “24K Magic” single doesn’t sound just like “Uptown Funk”!) I hear Bell Biv Devoe, Guy, Heavy D, and Shai among others on this album, but Shai is the only artist given the official sample in the album credits. Borrowed sounds or not, this album is amazing. It’s to be seen if he gets in some Robin Thicke type trouble in the coming months.
01. Gallant – Ology
Here’s the thing… listen to this full length debut from this Maryland native and I challenge you to skip a track. Reminiscent of an early Maxwell album, Gallant stirs the soul in a way that no other album could this year. Its not fake deep, just quality R&B grooves. I won’t apologize for listening to great music.
Top Ten Best Soul Music Songs of 2016
First and foremost I disqualified all music that was too heavy handed with a sample (sorry Bruno Mars, Tory Lanez, Ro James, etc).
Lukas Graham “7 Years”
Alicia Keys “In Common”
Usher ft. Future “Rivals”
The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk “Starboy”
Ten. Jidenna – “A Little Bit More”
Nine. Rihanna – “Needed Me”
Eight. Lloyd – “Tru”
Seven. Maxwell – “Lake By The Ocean”
Six. Major – “Why I Love You” (live version of this track will give you chills)
Five. Solange – “Cranes In The Sky”
Four. Beyoncé – “All Night”
Three. Guordan Banks – “Leanin’ On” or “Keep You In Mind” (technically both released in 2015, but gained popularity in 2016)
Two. John Legend – “Love Me Now”
One. Joe – “So I Can Have You Back”