Throughout the year, the consensus has been that 2016 gave us more good music than we could humanly handle, with releases from pretty much every top-tier talent in the game, and those releases going in wholly unpredictable directions. Rihanna gave us a whiskey drinking anthem, Beyoncé did a country tune, Kevin Gates went pop, Kanye West did gospel, Danny Brown and ScHoolboy Q embodied demented psychedelia. It was a year of fearlessness in hip hop and R&B, with the chaos swirling around the world acting as an open invitation to move to the beat of whatever drum you chose, because it's now or never. What's even more surprising is that most of those top-tier risks paid off, with the only major disappointment from an upper echelon talent being deemed as such because he didn't go far enough with reinventing his craft. 2016 was in-fucking-credible for albums that contain multitudes and personalities that captivate in their singularity. 

A quick note about our criteria for what constitutes an "album" in these confusing times: for this list, we only considered for-sale projects that got wide physical releases (with one notable exception that's in here because no one ever mistook it for a mixtape), and were released before last week. That means no Chance, Thug, Cole, or Soul. Stay tuned for our Hottest Mixtapes list, which will round out the immense bundle of projects that we thought were exceptional this year.