The biggest streaming music exclusives of 2016

Commentary: Exclusive deals meant that some of the most important albums of 2016 were initially unavailable for many to hear. Here's what you might've missed.

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Xiomara Blanco is an associate editor for CNET Reviews. She's a Bay Area native with a knack for tech that makes life easier and more enjoyable. So, don't expect her to review printers anytime soon.
Xiomara Blanco
3 min read
Josh Miller

Oh, you don't have an Apple Music or a Tidal subscription?

Then you probably initially missed out on some of the most buzzworthy albums of the year. Luckily for you, most of these were only exclusive for their first few weeks of release and are all -- save one -- now available for everyone to stream on Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora or whatever's your streaming platform of choice.

Are these my favorite albums of the year? No, not all of them (Solange's "A Seat at the Table," my No. 1 fav, is notably missing), but these in my opinion are the most important releases of 2016.

Drake -- 'Views'

Release date: April 29, 2016

Platform: Apple Music

Window of exclusivity: Three weeks


"Views" is the first album to reach a billion streams on Spotify and Apple Music.

Josh Miller/CNET

Drake is like the Taylor Swift of hip-hop; his presence in pop culture in undeniable, his songs are emotionally driven while being catchy AF and he's a shill for Apple Music. His latest album, "Views," doesn't stray from his signature sound, but its chart-topping singles are a big reason why the dancehall sound was so popular in 2016.

Despite its initial exclusivity and popularity on Apple's streaming platform, "Views" has been a great success on Spotify. Drake's ending 2016 as Spotify's most streamed artist of the year (for the second year in a row) and his infectious hit single "One Dance" is officially Spotify's most streamed song ever.

Chance The Rapper -- 'Coloring Book'

Release date: May 13, 2016

Platform: Apple Music

Window of exclusivity: Two weeks


"Coloring Book" is still a streaming-only album. No physical copies have been released.

Josh Miller/CNET

If you don't know who Chance The Rapper is, or haven't listened to his album "Coloring Book" (it's the sonic equivalent of bathing yourself in warm rays of sunshine on winter day), you should.

Chance had a historic 2016. Aside from MTV naming him 2016's artist of the year and memorable features on Kanye West's new album and "The Hamilton Mixtape," "Coloring Book" is the first streaming-exclusive to be nominated for a Grammy and chart on Billboard.

Kanye West -- 'The Life of Pablo'

Release date: February 14, 2016

Platform: Tidal

Window of exclusivity: Two months


The album title refers to Pablo Escobar, Pablo Picasso and Paul the Apostle.

Josh Miller/CNET

Sigh. Where to begin? Kanye had a rough 2016.

His first album in three years, "The Life of Pablo" was initially released as a "living album" and Tidal-only exclusive. As part owner of Tidal, Kanye infamously tweeted that the album would never be available via Apple. Fast-forward two months and the album eventually popped up on Apple Music and Spotify. One fan was so upset by this, they even went as far as suing him. (To be fair, if they're a fan they should know by now to take Kanye's tweets with a grain of salt.)

Frank Ocean -- 'Blond'

Release date: August 20, 2016

Platform: Apple Music

Window of exclusivity: Three weeks


"Blond" is technically Ocean's second studio album.

Josh Miller/CNET

Frank Ocean marches to the beat of his own bird sounds.

Fans (like me) had been pining, waiting with bated breath since the summer of 2015 for a new album, only to be finally satiated in the summer of 2016 with the release of "Endless," an artsy-fartsy visual-album that follows Ocean as he builds a staircase, and "Blonde" the epic, emotive, vulnerable, progressive vision of modern R&B music fans (like me) could've only dreamed of.

Beyonce -- 'Lemonade'

Release date: August 23, 2016

Platform: Tidal

Window of exclusivity: Still only streamable via Tidal


You can stream some of the singles from "Lemonade" on other platforms, but the entire album is only streamable through Tidal.

Josh Miller/CNET

In 2013, when Beyonce unceremoniously released her self-titled album by surprise on iTunes with music videos for every song, no one knew what to expect from her next. Little did we know "Lemonade" was on the way.

The critically acclaimed, genre-bending visual-album chock-full of personal and political commentary, made its debut on HBO and immediately after was made available to stream exclusively via Tidal, the streaming service she co-owns with her husband Jay Z, and Kanye West. Within a few days fans could buy the album via iTunes, but if streaming was preferred, Tidal was -- and still is -- the only place to stream "Lemonade."