1. SZA, “Ctrl”: As the beat of the opening track of SZA’s debut album played at a concert this week in New York City, the entire venue passionately sang the first two minutes of the song “Supermodel,” and the singer hadn’t even showed her face onstage. And that’s just it — SZA is the voice of this generation. The 28-year-old’s “Ctrl” is a masterpiece about a girl navigating in life — dating, falling in love, dealing with dusty boys, self-doubt, acceptance and more. Her voice glides over each song nicely as she spits matter-of-fact lyrics and even finds ways to reference the TV shows “Martin” and “Narcos,” as well as “Forrest Gump,” in the songs. “The Weekend” is her at the top of the game; “Broken Clocks” is just as addictive; and “Normal Girl” and “20 Something” prove that SZA is not one of those alternative R&B artists with one or two tricks up her sleeve.
2. Kendrick Lamar, “DAMN”: To put out one epic album is impressive. Two? It’s remarkable. BUT THREE? It’s astonishing. There has not been a more consistent act in music in the last few years like Kendrick Lamar. Icon status is “DAMN.” closer than we might think.
3. Taylor Swift, “Reputation”: Don’t be a hater — you know Taylor Swift knows how to craft perfect pop music. “Reputation” is exceptional, especially the songs “End Game,” ‘’Delicate” and “Dress,” perfectly showing how Tay Tay continues to grow as an artist.
4. Jay-Z, “4:44”: So, this SUPERSTAR with a super private wife and uber private life uncovered his most intimate thoughts and life moments — and people were moved by what he revealed. It wasn’t just for the stuff that went on to dominate blogs and entertainment headlines. No, it was Jay’s vulnerability, proving that honesty is what keeps artists relevant, long after they’ve transitioned from being the new hot thing.
5. Daniel Caesar, “Freudian”: Listening to Daniel Caesar’s debut album will make you want to fall in love. The Canadian newcomer brilliantly sings R&B songs that echo D’Angelo and hit straight to the heart. “Freudian” is a beautiful work of art.
6. Sam Smith, “The Thrill of It All”: Sam Smith’s “Thrill” is a ride you don’t want to get off.
7. St. Vincent, “MASSEDUCTION”: St. Vincent’s fifth album, full of electro pop, glam rock and techno sounds, is an adventurous album that deserves to be heard by the masses. Even when she slows things down — like on “New York” and the excellent “Happy Birthday, Johnny” — she’s just as alluring.
8. Miguel, “War & Leisure”: “I’m Luke Skywalkin’ on these haters,” a confident Miguel sings on “Sky Walker,” the first single from his fourth album. And he’s right — he’s barely got competition when it comes to music. “War & Leisure” is just another grand album in his catalog.
9. H.E.R., “H.E.R.”: Gabi Wilson, under her stage name H.E.R., shines brightly on her full-length debut album, with songs like “Focus,” ‘’U” and “Losing” showing that, like SZA, H.E.R. is also a groundbreaker in the alternative R&B movement.
10. Haim, “Something to Tell You”: Who doesn’t want to be part of the sister trio Haim? The rockers, who proved how outstanding they were on their 2013 debut album and at live concerts, keeps up the momentum on their sophomore release, “Something to Tell You,” highlighted by Haim’s harmonies.