NPR Music 10: 2016 2016 was shaped by the loss of David Bowie, Prince and Phife Dawg — along with many more beloved artists — and driven forward by Beyoncé's landmark album, Lemonade.
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NPR Music 10: 2016

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NPR Music 10: 2016

NPR Music 10: 2016

Read and Listen: Memories of the year of Beyoncé, the loss of David Bowie, Prince and more beloved artists, the (short-lived) end of American Idol, and more

NPR Music 10: 2016

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January 8, 2016

David Bowie releases Blackstar

David Bowie

Try to imagine hearing the songs on this album in the days — just two of them — before we knew it would be Bowie's last. Listen to the strain in his voice during the first half of the title track; hear him squeeze out an incantation to powers that guide those few humans chosen to be watched, for a time, by all the rest of us, like some high priest of celebrity, knowing that sacrifice is imminent. Hear his breaths, heavy and purposeful, in the roiling intro of "'Tis A Pity She Was A Whore" and try not to think about how many he had left when these were recorded. Attempt to hear "Lazarus" as a distant chapter of the Major Tom saga rather than a hospital-bed admission of fragility. See if you can hear him bark "Where the f*** did Monday go" and not hear it as a collective wail from fans around the world dealing with our first day without him. Just try and listen to him sum up a life's possessions and intentions — any life, he's a chameleon, after all — in "I Can't Give Everything Away" and not crumple into a heap.

It's not possible, of course. The arrival of Blackstar will forever be linked to the departure of its creator. So just put it on again, and listen closely, and be grateful for the time spent. --Jacob Ganz


January 10, 2016

David Bowie (1947-2016)

David Bowie performs at the Forum in Copenhagen in October 2003. Bowie died on Jan. 10, 2016. Nils Meilvang/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Nils Meilvang/AFP/Getty Images

David Bowie performs at the Forum in Copenhagen in October 2003. Bowie died on Jan. 10, 2016.

Nils Meilvang/AFP/Getty Images

Rock's greatest shape-shifter departed his human form and left countless fans bereft.


February 28, 2016

Anohni is nominated for an Academy Award

Anohni performs during the FYF Festival at Los Angeles Sports Arena on Aug., 28, 2016. Scott Dudelson/WireImage/Getty Images hide caption

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Scott Dudelson/WireImage/Getty Images

Anohni performs during the FYF Festival at Los Angeles Sports Arena on Aug., 28, 2016.

Scott Dudelson/WireImage/Getty Images

After "Manta Ray," from the documentary Racing Extinction, was nominated for Best Original Song, Academy Award organizers cut Anohni's performance due to "time constraints." As the second openly transgender person to be nominated for an Oscar, Anohni protestested the awards with a powerful essay, calling out "a system of social oppression and diminished opportunities for transpeople that has been employed by capitalism in the U.S. to crush our dreams and our collective spirit."


February 2016

Kanye releases The Life of Pablo (and then gets to tinkering)

Life of Pablo

No album rollout has exemplified the era of Google Docs quite like Kanye West's malleable and manic The Life of Pablo. After a litany of scrapped working titles (remember So Help Me God, Swish and Waves?), Kardashian-embellished track lists and braggadocious tweets, West finally played the album at an opulent Madison Square Garden fashion show on Feb. 11. But he wasn't finished quite yet --in the two months that followed, Pablo endured countless revisions and releases. Though the edits tapered off around April, there's no telling if West might stitch something new onto the album in the future.


April 7, 2016

American Idol is canceled

A moment from the American Idol finale on April 7, 2016 at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images hide caption

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A moment from the American Idol finale on April 7, 2016 at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Love it or loathe it: American Idol democratized America's concept of pop stardom, made stars of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and Adam Lambert and convinced a generation that musical glory was all about reaching for the high notes. Then, after 15 seasons, it went out with a melismatic whimper.


April 21, 2016

Prince (1958-2016)

Prince performs at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on June 30, 2011. Prince died on April 21, 2016. Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

Prince performs at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on June 30, 2011. Prince died on April 21, 2016.

Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

The world loses one of its most innovative and iconoclastic musicians when The Purple One dies unexpectedly at the age of 57. The multi-instrumentalist, producer, songwriter and performer leaves behind a legacy of redefining musical genres and disrupting industry norms, and leaves a Love Symbol-sized hole in our hearts.


April 23, 2016

Lemonade

Beyonce performs during the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show on Feb. 7, 2016. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images hide caption

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Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Too many words have been spilled on Beyoncé's Lemonade already, so here is the truth, in as few as possible: Beyoncé owned 2016. It was her year from start to finish, and in her honor, we hereby bestow upon Queen Bey a timeline of her very own:

  • February 6: The "Formation" video debuts.
  • February 7: Beyoncé hijacks Coldplay's Super Bowl halftime show to perform "Formation."
  • April 14: Launch of Beyoncé's activewear line, Ivy Park.
  • April 23: Beyoncé gets people to actually watch broadcast television on a Saturday night by debuting Lemonade as a visual album on HBO.
  • April 27: The Formation World Tour begins.
  • June 26: Beyoncé performs "Freedom" with Kendrick Lamar at the BET Awards.
  • August 28: Beyoncé wins eight moonmen at the MTV Video Music Awards.
  • November 2: Beyoncé performs "Daddy Lessons" with the Dixie Chicks at the CMA awards.
  • December 6: Lemonade is nominated for nine Grammys. (It doesn't end well, but that happened in 2017.)

May 26, 2016

A Free Gucci Mane

Gucci Mane performs at the Gucci and Friends Homecoming Concert at Fox Theatre in Atlanta on July 22, 2016. Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Atlantic Record hide caption

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Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Atlantic Record

Gucci Mane performs at the Gucci and Friends Homecoming Concert at Fox Theatre in Atlanta on July 22, 2016.

Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Atlantic Record

It was one of the biggest twists of 2016: Gucci emerged from prison sober, svelte, smiling and ready to record, launching the Internet into a fury: "Has Mane been replaced by a government robot?" Nope, it's still him — just a 2.0 version, healthy and working as hard as ever.


June 16, 2016

Grammy Awards officially acknowledge streaming-only releases

The Grammy Awards' official recognition of streaming-only projects began in 2016. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

The Grammy Awards' official recognition of streaming-only projects began in 2016.

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Nothing exemplified the apparent permanence of music's shift into the ether more succinctly than the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences deciding that Grammys — awards embodied by a statuette in the shape of a phonograph — could go to streaming projects like Chance the Rapper's 2017 winner, Coloring Book.


October 13, 2016

Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Prize for literature

Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. Here he performs on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2015. Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images hide caption

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Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images

Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. Here he performs on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2015.

Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images

After spending over half a century as a venerated voice of American music, Bob Dylan joined the likes of Toni Morrison, Samuel Beckett and Jean-Paul Sartre as a winner of the Nobel Prize in literature — the first time a musician was given the honor.


November 11, 2016

A Tribe Called Quest releases its final album, We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service

Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White of A Tribe Called Quest perform at Bestival in Wareham, England on Sept. 9, 2016. Tabatha Fireman/Getty Images hide caption

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Tabatha Fireman/Getty Images

When A Tribe Called Quest released its sixth and final studio album in November 2016, there were countless ways to dissect its title. Were the veteran statesmen out to reclaim their spot in hip-hop's changed landscape? Was it clairvoyant commentary on a presidential election that would polarize America around issues of race, gender and immigration the same week of its release? Or was it a parting shot, divinely intended for the fallen member of the four-man crew whose untimely death eight months prior preceded and precipitated its release?

When asked about its meaning by Touré for The New York Times, Q-Tip confessed, "I don't know. We're just going with it because he liked it." He, in this case, was Phife Dawg, the "funky diabetic" and celebrated everyman of Tribe, a group that spoke to and for a generation of 'round-the-way hip-hop fans more than any other.

Reunion albums rarely rise to the occasion. We got it from Here lived up to and exceeded it. From Tribe's inception, Q-Tip, Phife, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi represented something more than a rap group — they represented life. Then, the unit whose very ethos was centered on the collective coming-of-age experience ushered us through the final stage of life. In the end, it was everything it needed to be: A castigation of the divisive politics of race and place ("Space Program," "We the People," "Whateva Will Be"), an interrogation and celebration of rap's intergenerationalism ("Dis Generation," "Kids..."), and a rightful eulogy for the man whose presence was both felt and missed throughout the album ("Lost Somebody"). --Rodney Carmichael