1. FKA TWIGS
“LP1” An architecture of state-of-the-art, ultra-minimalist UK R&B, drenched in vulnerability, bravura, and soul. Amazing performer; album of the year.
2. FLYING LOTUS
“You’re Dead!” A blessed journey into liminal space between life and death, turbulence and surrender, with psychedelic aims, hip-hop tools, and jazz ancestry.
3. MIREL WAGNER
“When the Cellar Children See the Light” The year’s top “haunted-Americana” outing comes from an Ethiopian-born Finn, and is somehow all the deeper.
4. MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO
“Comet Come to Me” From one of American music’s quiet but persistent revolutionaries, a perfectly crafted record of bluesy but luminous epiphanies.
“Racine Carrée” The slender, androgynous, socially conscious Belgian singer is a force of nature, a poet of ordinary lives rendered as massive, cathartic dance songs.
6. NOURA MINT SEYMALI
“Tzenni” The standout of the year’s West African roots offerings comes from a Mauritanian griot couple and their emphatic traditional-meets-rock band.
“The Lagos Music Salon” The Ugandan/Rwandan/American singer lands her cosmopolitan songcraft in the creative chaos of Africa’s biggest city, to grand effect.
“Tabula Rasa” The tightest, and musically deepest and most diverse, of this year’s R&B cornucopia from Nigeria, a fast-growth sector in the global pop economy.
9. SHABAZZ PALACES
“Lèse Majesty” From Saturn by way of Seattle, a fresh round of ever-more-cryptic, yet unassailably funky, utterances from hip-hop’s premier Afrofuturists.
10. SEUN KUTI
“A Long Way to the Beginning” Helming his dad’s band with many original members, Fela’s son is coming into his own full force as singer, conscience, provocateur.
The investment of artists like Talib Kweli, Killer Mike, David Banner, J. Cole, and more in the gathering #BlackLivesMatter movement is a sign of hope, and urgency, in a pop culture that’s been too numb to the nation’s spiral of violence and despair.
Siddhartha Mitter can be reached at email@example.com.