Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Was The BEST YEAR For BLACK MUSIC Since PURPLE RAIN On GQ MAG!!!

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in response to the storm that has been 2016, music has been exceptional!!!

It's hard to name an artist that didn't put out new music; everyone from Radiohead to The Weeknd dropped albums this year. And if you, like me, noticed that a staggering amount of the music you loved from the past 12 months was made by black artists, there's data to back that up: Black artists had their best year on the Billboard Top 100 since 2009 (largely thanks to the dominance the Black Eyed Peas that year), and even more notably, black artists had their best year on the Billboard 200 (which tracks album sales) in over 30 years. Black artists delivered in a year when we needed them most—and their music was not only popular, but it was insightful about government, police brutality, protest, love, friendship, family, and self-worth.

On the Billboard Hot 100, Rihanna, Drake, Desiigner, and Rae Sremmurd all topped the charts; in total, a black artist had a No. 1 single for 27 weeks this year. Meanwhile, J. Cole, The Weeknd, Future, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Travis Scott, Young Jeezy, A Tribe Called Quest, both of the Knowles sisters, and Prince had albums that were on the top of the Billboard 200. Rihanna's ANTI was top of the charts for two weeks, and Drake's Views topped the chart for 13. That comes up to a whopping 27 weeks that black artists also topped the Billboard 200 in 2016.
You'd have to go back to 1984 to find a year that saw black artists top the album charts for more than 27 weeks. That's right—the last time black artists topped the Billboard 200 for this long, Purple Rain and Thriller were on the charts for 36 weeks. (The next most since then was in 1993, when the Bodyguard soundtrack, which is credited to Whitney Houston, ruled the charts with the classic rendition of " I Will Always Love You," and black artists topped the charts for 26 weeks.)

Hip hop saw major releases from the heavyweights, yes, but artists like Lil Yachty and Young Thug continued to flip the genre on its head with new levels of weirdness. Killer Mike and Bernie Sanders became BFFs. 21 Savage put out one of the most emo songs of the year with Metro Boomin, who had a sound-defining year behind the boards. One of the year's most banging traditional hip hop songs was made by a queer black woman. Craig David completed a chart-topping comeback in the UK after a 10-year hiatus from dance music. Black women artists dropped truly innovative, politically relevant, and culture-shifting records: ANTI is Rihanna's strongest work to date, and is one of the best albums of the year, Solange teased out her experiences with quieter meditations on her anxieties and victories as a black American woman, and Dawn Richard, released a futuristic album of sultry bangers. There were visual albums, TV specials, magazines, merch ( so much merch), artist curated festivalsfashion shows, and unforgettable televised performances. It was truly an explosive year, one that the musicians we lost this year—like Phife Dawg, Sharon Jones, and Prince—could be proud of.

Blackness in America isn't granted the option of being apolitical. For some people, politics is just a matter of intellectual opinion and discussion, but for people of color in America, politics is a matter of life and death, and black art has always internalized this perpetual struggle for equality. This year, though, black political aesthetics were widely accepted into the mainstream. It is no coincidence that with the rise of Black Lives Matter and a resurgence of political activism nationwide, artists from all levels have been expressing their politics in their music. Beyoncé used Black Panther imagery in her Super Bowl performance; A Tribe Called Quest called out our President-elect on Saturday Night Live with "We the People," spitting back the bigoted rhetoric that has become so mainstream this year. Kendrick Lamar rapped in literal chains at the Grammys. Frank Ocean's Blonde starts off with "Nikes," where he muses, "RIP Trayvon / That n*gg* look just like me." Artists like Alicia Keys and Common crafted entire albums celebrating blackness while simultaneously calling attention to the systemic problems that plague black America. Even across the pond, Skepta's Mercury Prize-winning album Konnichiwa sends a clear message to the politicians that led the Brexit charge, rapping, "Man don't care what colour or gender / Nobody's votin' for your corrupted agenda."

It feels good as a black American that in a time when our President-elect can't bring himself to say that Black Lives Matter, people of all colors across the nation found something they needed in black musicians' work. It's a small victory when police are still largely not being convicted when they kill unarmed civilians that black artists were the top five most-nominated artists for the 2017 Grammy Awards.

GQ Journalist SHAKEIL GREELEY has truly heard it all to be able to break down for us why 2016 Was The BEST YEAR In BLACK MUSIC Since PURPLE RAIN.

-CCG

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