ZuluZuluu edges out Haley Bonar in our best-of-2016 Minnesota album poll

Twin Cities Critics Tally 2016: The cosmic hip-hop sextet's debut record edged out Haley Bonar in our year-end poll. 


Between P-Funk’s and Sun Ra’s spacey ’70s jams and more recent albums by OutKast and Janelle Monáe, Afrofuturism is nothing new in music. But it felt like a fresh and timely art form within the Twin Cities music scene in 2016, thanks to ZuluZuluu.

A collective more than a band, the psychedelic neo-soul/hip-hop sextet dropped in traces of all those aforementioned artists and our musical patron saint Prince in a seven-song, 29-minute debut EP that local music writers have collectively declared the best Minnesota album of 2016. While ZuluZuluu’s “What’s the Price?” was loaded with infectious cosmic grooves good for tuning out the din of 2016, the lyrics offered an alert, visionary, utopian exploration of African-American identity and art in a year that saw race issues boil up locally and nationally.

ZuluZuluu is only the second act to top both our 14th annual Twin Cities Critics Tally — a compilation of 24 music pundits’ year-end top 10 lists — and City Pages’ Picked to Click poll as the best local newcomer.

The first to do so was Minneapolis singer/rapper Lizzo, for her classic debut “Lizzobangers” in 2013. No surprise, Lizzo pops up again in TCCT 2016. She was named best live performer, while her feel-good summer jam, “Good as Hell,” was voted song of the year. Critical props also were showered on TCCT mainstay Haley Bonar’s album “Impossible Dream,” an unusually close runner-up, earning more votes than many of our past No. 1 albums.

While those artists deservedly shared the spotlight in 2016, critics overwhelmingly agreed that the biggest reason the Twin Cities music scene seemed so alive this year was the communal, hopeful, artful reaction to Prince’s death. These albums do his legacy proud.

1. ZuluZuluu, “What’s the Price?”

At first an unusual and wee bit untidy assembly of local hip-hop/R&B visionaries — including falsetto-slinging singer Proper-T, rapper Greg Grease, DJ Just Nine and singer/producer MMYYKK — ZuluZuluu impressively coalesced in the studio. “What’s the Price?” boasts ethereal beats and synths but earthy lyrical/vocal tones. While there’s no lack of noteworthy songwriting, from the big-pictured title track to the provocatively quirky romp “Bicycle Seat,” the EP opens with a cover that perfectly sets the tone: “Black Maybe,” which Stevie Wonder wrote for his late ex-wife Syreeta Wright. “You’ve seen the way they’ve done your boy,” Proper-T sings, “and the boy’s still down after 300 years.” While the music continually leaves you guessing, there’s no mistaking the mission here. (192 voter points)