David Bowie’s Black Star placing atop the Pazz & Jop album list breaks a run of black stars taking the album prize, a four-year streak that went: Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, Kanye West’s Yeezus, D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Each of those albums won more decisively than Bowie, whose 113-point margin over number two album finisher Beyoncé is the slimmest since LCD Soundsystem’s 51-point win over Radiohead and MIA in 2007. And note that Bowie needed 209 of our 550 voters to get to the 2367 points, while Beyonce racked up 2254 with just 180 delegates — meaning those who loved Lemonade loved it hard.
Those more culturally than statistically minded will note that the run from Ocean to Lamar started with the deeply personal and moved through a blend of the personal with the intensely political. But as Greg Tate points out in his Pazz & Jop essay, both Bowie and Beyoncé (as well as number three album finisher A Tribe Called Quest) combined the personal and political in ways that reflected the inescapable gloom and struggle of 2016. Bowie’s win was driven not just by those mourning his loss, but by the way the dislocation and death that haunts Black Star captures the tenor of these times, even if the album was released when the notion of a Donald Trump presidency was still more a joke than a terrifying reality. Beyoncé, of course, mixed the marital and the martial, with “Formation” taking the crown on our poll’s songs list.
The top ten albums ranking leans heavily toward what Tate has dubbed the Knowles Industrial Complex: Beyoncé stan Chance the Rapper at number four (watch that clip of him fanning out at the VMAs if you need proof); baby sis Solange at number five; duet partner Ocean at number six; friend of the family Kanye at number ten. Radiohead, Leonard Cohen, and Car Seat Headrest round things out, but 2016 belongs firmly to black stars.