18 artists, musicians, writers, and tastemakers talk about the art that defined their year.


Illustration by Erik Carter


Hasan Minhaj


Senior correspondent, The Daily Show

Dave Chappelle’s recent Saturday Night Live opening monologue is proof that he's the greatest living comedian of our generation. He’s one of the only comics I watch where I don’t see the punchline coming; I can never see the strings in the magic trick. If you watch his monologue it’s hilarious, touching, poignant, and he delivers it like you’re at one of his shows. By sticking up for his beliefs Dave Chappelle Tupac’d himself without having to die: he walked away from a $50 million deal to come back a decade later and get a $60 million deal. Fucking legendary.

@hasanminhaj

Kimberly Drew


Social Media Manager, The MET

It was a big year for art, and these were some of the most important exhibitions.

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry at MCA Chicago and The Met Breuer — Without a doubt, Mastry is the single most important exhibition mounted this year. It spans nearly 40 years of the artist’s career and eloquently maps the interior of Marshall’s practice. It’s nuanced and luscious. Totally a must-see.

Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter (BWA for BLM) at New Museum and Tate London — Orchestrated by Simone Leigh, BWA for BLM, is a project that supports the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement through performance, meditation, and digital communication. It was created to hold space for healing and innovation.

Jennie C. Jones: Compilation at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston — Jones’s work blends sound, sculpture, politics, and experimentation. A quintessential jazz woman, Jones’s abstractions explore our perceptions of sound as a material.

Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight at The Whitney Museum — Carmen Herrera is 101 and still making work. She has made remarkable contributions to art history. “Lines of Sight,” on view through January 9, focuses on the formative years of the artist’s career and presents a number of works that have never been displayed in a museum. You can also watch a documentary about the artist on Netflix.

Cameron Rowland: 91020000 at Artists Space — Rowland’s “91020000” was one of the most visceral and thought-provoking exhibitions of 2016. Using sculpture, Rowland was able to articulate our proximity to the prison system and how it permeates our lives.

@museummammy

Shamir


Musician

By far the best video and single of 2016, for me, is "Goth Easter" by a Portland-based post-punk band called Golden Hour. The Pacific Northwest has been known for being the place to start a band if you’re an angry woman or LGBT person stressed out by the ways of the world. The members of Golden Hour happen to inhabit both of those identities, yet what set them apart for me is how tame but still in-your-face they are in the delivery for “Goth Easter.” The call-and-response melodies bring me back to knick knack school yard days. The accompanying video is very literal, but also very amusing. Goth Easter egg hunts sound like such a Portland-specific thing, but hey! I might start a new Easter tradition where me and the crew slurp PBRs and have an adult Easter egg hunt.

@ShamirBailey

ADVERTISEMENT

Jeanette Wall


Manager, PWR BTTM and Mitski
A&R, ATO Records

A photo posted by Ebru Yildiz 📷 (@ebruyildiz) on

Earlier this year, one of my all-time favorite photographers released a retrospective book on the famed Brooklyn DIY space, Death By Audio. Ebru Yildiz went to every single one of the legendary space's final shows and captured the emotional exit as folks who lived, worked, and played there were forced to leave. It's a really special piece for those who cherished the space and the bands who played there, but what made it so meaningful to me was that Ebru created something with her own hands. Nobody asked her. She was just there, seeing her favorite bands and other nights photographing bands she may have never heard of. She was there to capture pure emotion and a special and meaningful slice of history, telling a passionate story of her own volition.

This year, I've had the opportunity to work with Ebru on shoots for a number of artists I work with, from Mitski to Joseph to PWR BTTM to Margaret Glaspy. She has a such an incredible way of bringing out a person's spirit in her photos. It is so special to see her apply such incredible skill to tell a specific yet universal story of this space. When you pick up Ebru's book, you feel the hard work in every sweat-spraying, microphone-wielding image. Works that came from the heart are what fuel us through each passing year; art with fingerprints all over it that is warm to the touch. These are the pieces that connect us and bring us the truest stories.

@missmiscreant

Andre Wagner


Photographer

Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book is a masterpiece, and “How Great” is my favorite track. The opening breaths of the song take me to church no matter where I am: in a car, at the gym, last in line at a post office — it doesn’t matter. “How great is our God. Sing with me, how great is our God.” The vocals wrap around my body and give me the chills every time, as if I’m sitting in the front pew of a mega Baptist church. After Chance, comes Jay Electronica with: “They poisoned the scriptures and gave us the pictures of false messiahs/ It was all a lie/ Mystery babylon, tumbling down/ Satan’s establishment crumbling down.” The metaphors in his lyrics are piercing. Especially at a time like this, in a country like ours. I have faith that truth will alway comes to light.

@photodre

Molly Matalon


Photographer

This year I saw Nan Goldin's “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” slideshow at MoMA for the first time, which felt like a rite of passage I had somehow missed. I listened to this related playlist on the plane ride to Paris (my first time leaving the States!) to attend the Offprint Book Fair, as well as on the train while traveling between Paris and Amsterdam. It was super romantic for me to listen to this playlist that so specifically and historically relates to photography, while on a trip I was taking as a result of my pursuit of the same thing.

@mollymatalon

Jordan Casteel


Visual artist

Earlier this summer I was with my friend Harold at a Young M.A. concert in Brooklyn. He noted that the concert felt like a gathering of young people who had found a safe space to be themselves, free from judgment. In that moment, the same differences that fuel a sense of otherness — often used to bring us down — became a source of celebration. Exalted otherness, bringing to light what I continue to feel in creative spaces since. There is a (re)claiming happening in film (Moonlight), music (Solange), television (Atlanta; Insecure), literature (Homegoing), visual art (Kerry James Marshall) and beyond. This year in particular, artists everywhere generously empowered people to be who they are. Human.

@jordanmcasteel

Brendan Frederick


Director of Content, Genius

Rihanna's ANTI is my favorite album of 2016, and “Higher” is the brilliant kicker that solidified this for me. It’s a maudlin little song that clocks in at only two minutes, starting with a pretty amazing disclaimer: “This whiskey got me feeling pretty/ So pardon if I’m impolite.” From there Rihanna belts her way through an endearingly reckless drunk dial to an ex before passing out.

The song’s glassy-eyed mood is set by No ID, who samples a 1971 viola melody from The Soulful Strings, a group known for instrumental covers of ’60s R&B hits. They were covering an obscure Gamble & Huff B-side, but taken out of context here it evokes something older and smokier — perhaps a slow motion version of Django Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz from the 1930s.

And “Higher” was written by Bibi Bourelly, who strikes the perfect balance between sloppy and sage, peeking over the fourth wall in the process: “And I know I could be more creative/ And come up with poetic lines/ But I'm turnt up upstairs and I love you/ Is the only thing that's in my mind.” This is the rare ballad that dips into vulnerability and sadness without drowning in mawkish clichés. It’s funny, sincere, brassy; basically the character we all imagine Rihanna is IRL.

@bfred

Kenesha Sneed


Illustrator and ceramicist, Tactile Matter

I’ve had Solange's A Seat At The Table on repeat since it was released in late September. In the months since, I’ve blasted “Don't Touch My Hair” and “Mad” while driving in my car, window down. The entire album resonated with me on every single level. And if the music wasn’t enough, the striking and tender visuals also had me in my feelings — especially at a time when it felt so needed to self-cleanse through music.

@tactilematter

ADVERTISEMENT

Emilie Friedlander


Editor-in-chief, THUMP

I’ve had this pet theory all year that the punkest thing going on in the Brooklyn music scene right now isn’t music, but modern dance. “Authority Figure” — the 150-person, group-choreographed, self-described “social psychology experiment” that Sarah Kinlaw and FlucT’s Monica Mirabelle put on at the Knockdown Center in May — whet my appetite, but then I found out about Otion Front Studio, and realized many of the people involved were putting on similar, smaller-scale happenings there pretty much weekly. Otion Front — pronounced “Ocean” — is a performance space and dance studio run out of a small shed in the back garden of what used to be the Bushwick DIY venue, Fitness. A group of five friends run it, but people can rent out the shed as a practice space on the cheap — and many do because the scene around Otion Front seems to inspire people to get involved.

Many of the performances I’ve seen at Otion Front use abstract musical scores and the movement of bodies in space to examine issues of sexuality, race, and human relationships in the internet era (iPhones are a frequently used prop). A lot of the shows follow the same rough, processional script, dictated in large part by the venue’s physical layout: in part one, spectators gather in the hallway by the door, and are then escorted down the stairs and through a claustrophobic basement corridor. Then, they walk out the back door and up the stairs into the garden to remove their shoes, enter the shed, and sit cross-legged on the ground for part two. This is sometimes followed by third and final act in the garden.

Each time, the performers interact with and decorate the space a little differently. For a recent performance by Eartheater’s Alexandra Drewchen, the walls of the basement were covered in silver paper, and a fog machine made it hard to see and breathe; another time, Monica Mirabelle used a pair of scissors to slowly cut through a piece of paper that was obstructing our passage through the hallway. None of this seems to cost very much to produce, so it all comes down to imagination. At the end of one notable performance by Kathleen Dycaico, a dancer lay beside me on the ground, looked deep into my eyes, and recited The Myth of Orpheus to me in sweet, motherly tones. Then she led me by the hand into the garden, spat a quail egg into my hand, and forced me to dig a hole in the ground and bury it. Can you get any more rock & roll than that?

@AdHocEmilie

Sean Doherty


The 6 Track

In 2016 I tightened my circle, and stopped spending money and going out. I found myself motivated for the first time in my life: the launch of my lil’ Toronto rap blog, The6Track, lit a fire under my ass. Funnily enough, I live — and will continue to live for the next year and a half — just outside the city, in the soul-crushing suburb of Oshawa, where I go to college. After cuffing up with my bb gyal I pretty much stopped coming to Toronto and, as a sort of remedy, I starting watching rap videos nightly, often for far too long, just to get a glimpse of the city.

All 800+ posts that I’ve written on The 6 Track have been Toronto-related so, of course, nothing could better define my year than a T-Dot-made tune. I have to give it to Pressa’s “John Connor.” The track didn’t hit me immediately but, before long, I was watching the music video on loop before bed, and waking to it in the morning. Pressa’s infectious, high-pitched, gloriously city-themed hook hasn’t lost its effect on me and never fails to pick me up out of a slump. Seeing Pressa hit an ice-cold dab over a clear Toronto skyline is probably the next best thing to being there in person.

@The6Track

Frank Waln


Musician

It has been a rough year for Indigenous people as we watched society mock and erase us (Columbus Day, Halloween, Cleveland Indians fans during the World Series) while #NoDAPL water protectors at Standing Rock faced brutality and violence at the hands of the state. This song pulled me out of the resulting hopelessness more than once and was medicine for my spirit pain. In a time when a lot of people have been disconnected from spirit through colonization, violence, and hetero-patriarchy, “All Nations Rise” transcends time, trauma, and boundaries to shake our spirits awake in the way only an Indigenous woman can do.

@FrankWaln

Lauren Martin


Writer and radio host, RBMA

Dark, heavy, and immersive performances have anchored my 2016. DJ Spider played ominous techno at Welsh rave festival Freerotation, beneath red and black images of police brutality and public protest. GAIKA stalked the tiny stage of The Waiting Room for Tropical Waste, the air thick with warped dancehall riddims and languid South London bars. There was Dean Blunt as Babyfather, who wove in and out of chalky smoke and chatted lines from BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow, after DJ Escrow blasted Mavado and DMX into the dark. All the while someone in the crowd sold nos balloons with Union Jacks printed on them; brains fuzzed up as “This makes me proud to be British,” rang out over and over with a grim smirk.

But the most touching performance was very different. In June, I sat on the floor of a marble church in London’s Zone 1, listening to minimalist classical music for cellist Oliver Coates’s Deep ∞ Minimalism — Éliane Radigue's OCCAM I on a bowed harp, ’70s Moog pieces by Laurie Spiegel, and vocal constructivists performing Meredith Monk. Expecting to be bored or restless, my threshold for concentrated listening increased as I relaxed: 10 hours in, spatial rhythms and resonances produced emotional results. It was a covenant, away from the constant din of recent traumas: A right-wing white nationalist had murdered [British parliamentarian] Jo Cox and, shortly after, the UK voted to leave the European Union. Pauline Oliveros was present and said that those few weeks had strengthened her idea that it’s critical not just to listen but “to be listening,” as a constant act. “Listening is hearing plus attention.” Afterward she led a tuning mediation during which she said that one day she’d like to lead a worldwide tuning mediation via online radio, because that “would unify people rather than set them apart.” Pauline Oliveros passed away this November, a few weeks after her Red Bull Music Academy lecture in Montréal. I am grateful that I was present for both.

@codeinedrums

Brittany Luse


Podcast host, Sampler and For Colored Nerds

For me, 2016 was all about acclimating to adulthood. Overall, it was cool. Acquiring a second set of sheets and incorporating acupuncture into my stress relief practice were definitely net positives. Still, I kind of missed me circa 2010, when I wore thigh high suede boots and a lot of imitation leather to my neighborhood bar in DC (in August! on weeknights!). But when I heard Tinashe croon, “I’m nothing like a girlfriend/ I’m not like someone I’m supposed to be,” over the plink-plink instrumental on “Company,” I was reborn. She sounded slinky and dangerous and a little like parts of myself I’d long neglected. I ordered a new pleather skirt that week.

@bmluse

Angela Flournoy


Author of The Turner House

Outside of frequent forays for solace and inspiration into the catalog of the late, brilliant, Prince Rogers Nelson, the artist I listened to most this year was Robyn Rihanna Fenty. With a January release date, ANTI was the first in a year of very good music. I’ve enjoyed many of Rihanna's albums, but I can’t say I’ve often felt them, to the point of playing them on a loop, no songs skipped. It impacted me more than I expected. I was a bit evangelical about ANTI, even converting my mother to fandom over the month we spent traveling together in the summer. Here Rihanna was stretching herself vocally, yes, but she was also embracing a brand of hip-hop influenced R&B that reminded me of the best of Mary J. Blige, with minimal pandering to pop expectations. It is simply an album full of jams, and we needed jams in 2016. Her performances at August’s MTV's Video Music Awards reignited my ANTI infatuation as the year began to head to a close. It was a retrospective on a decade-long career, and it was like witnessing someone come of age: from hesitant and coquettish to self-assured and badass. I watched Rihanna wind and grind in a cape-length durag and felt pure delight.

@angelaflournoy

ADVERTISEMENT

Alex Wong


Writer

I rarely get excited for singles and album releases anymore, and maybe that’s because of my age — 32. But when you have Drake, Jay Z, and Kanye on a track like "Pop Style," it feels like an event. Between Drake’s “Chaining Tatum” line and Kanye contributing references to sake, tinted windows on a Tahoe, as well as a Street Fighter II sample, both did their part to make this a memorable song. But I’ll remember “Pop Style” mostly for Hov’s six-second “verse” where he raps: “They still out to get me, they don’t get it. I cannot be got and that’s a given.”

SO MANY QUESTIONS. On the day this was recorded, had he just found out that Beyonce was about to air her grievances on LEMONADE so he stumbled in the studio trying to find a verse? Did he think it would be fun to play a practical joke on Drake by sending him the verse as an email attachment that was 0.01 MB? Did Kanye drag him into a situation he didn’t want to be involved in?

There’s probably an actual answer to this but, what’s more important is that those six seconds sent me on a path of rediscovering Jay’s entire catalogue. For the record, his “Go Crazy Remix” verse is iconic and I’ve even come to accept Magna Carta...Holy Grail because I’m apparently addicted to mediocrity. In 2016, I came to appreciate Jay once again and, in the process, realized that his “Pop Style” cameo was a reminder that everyone you grow up with eventually goes. And then I concluded that adulthood is just a series of goodbyes and bought an $80 OVO golf shirt to distract myself.

@steven_lebron

Narcy


Musician, professor

2016 was wild for the night. From losing Prince to the devastating loss of architect Zaha Hadid, one of my greatest inspirations, it felt like I was cry face emoji all year. But the passing of one icon also brought us more life: Muhammad Ali. Huddled over a laptop, my lady and I watched one of the most important collective cultural experiences of our generation — a superhero being laid to rest. The memorial service for the one and only Ali was sweet poetry. Through his passing, Ali summed up the state of the world: Black, First Nations, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, all celebrating life and humanity. During a time of resurgent Islamophobia, the champ had the Qu’ran being recited all over American news networks, the internet, the world. That’s power. Thank You Muhammad Ali. You are still my hero.

@TheNarcicyst

Jenna Wortham


Staff writer, New York Times Magazine

The first thing I laid eyes on at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture was a tall silver pot. It had been burnt on the bottom by flames lapping up the spillage of water, vinegar, and salty fatback that bubbled over each time it was used to cook a batch of collard greens. And that pot was used a lot: It came from a D.C. institution, the Florida Avenue Grill, one of the oldest black-owned restaurants in the country.

Objects are selected for museums because of the stories they can tell about a time in the world and the surrounding lives of people. A collards pot is a staple of Black American life, so ubiquitous that it is wholly unremarkable, and yet, once memorialized behind a pane of glass it morphs into something breathtaking and extraordinary. Collard greens were one of the few foods enslaved peoples were allowed to grow and, over time, became a symbol of the many ways black people in America cultivated cherished traditions out of total and utter depravation.

The pot is parked on the third floor of the museum, almost hidden on a low shelf surrounded by dense displays of text and photos, and other artifacts celebrating black life. Which is to say: no one would blame you if you missed it. But my eyes were drawn to it immediately. Seeing something so familiar, so integral to the way I grew up placed so regally filled me with an indescribable amount of joy and self-worth and value.That pot says to me: black life is special, and I’m so glad you grew up exactly the way you did, and I hope you remember this tradition and introduce it to your own family one day. I know I’m anthropomorphizing the shit out of that silvery pot, like it’s a Pixar character or an extra from The Brave Little Toaster, but it’s important. It’s important because 2016 ended the exact same way it started, by trying to convince the world that Black Lives Matter. Not just black lives, but a black way of life, that the way we look, talk, sound, and live is sacred, worthy, and worth treasuring.

A single light softly illuminates that greens pot, making it look like the most royal piece of cookware in history. It is retired, but still ready for action. It is a stubborn reminder that we’ll live how we have always lived: Capable of withstanding untold amounts of work, and undeterred by a little fire.

@jennydeluxe

Cool People’s Picks: 18 Artists, Writers, And Tastemakers On Culture That Mattered In 2016