In a year marked by violence and hatred, the beats and melodies of Solange, Kendrick Lamar, and Frank Ocean are transforming anger into contemplation.

"I like to think that I made a punk record," Solange said of her new album, A Seat at the Table. "A highly honest, disruptive, angsty record with all of the nuances that I wanted to express. With punk music, white kids were allowed to be disruptive, have rage, destroy property and provoke riots. I like to think that this is my punk moment, and that I'm doing that through this album."

At first brush, A Seat at the Table doesn't sound like a punk album. Instrumentally, it's understated. If Solange was looking to tell us a story, she's given us the rhythms of a life: steady, with some interruptions. Instead of bass blasts and hype-men, she croons under falsettos and muted keyboards and silences. But after my seventh or eighth run through the album, my ears started popping, and I realized Solange had actually made a punk record—just a quiet one.

As the silences accumulate, the album's eruptions become that much more rattling (through an explosion of horns on "Don't Touch My Hair"; behind the Dirty Projectors-esque choral play across "Junie"), but the past year has turned this tranquility into a mainstay for hip-hop. In the absence of spaces for healing in the larger culture, black musicians are paving them on wax.

Who you listened to said more about the times you were living in than anything else.

That concept—a healing hip-hop—might sound like a paradox for the uninitiated. But really it was inevitable. Its subjects are contemplative. Its choruses are triumphant. And despite our stupidass pundit narratives, we get a parallel portrait of black life in America, available for anyone willing to look (you've just gotta open your eyes). Because when the political discourse enveloping black Americans deems you bombastic and inept—since of course we're all living in Gotham, incapable of portraying beyond the imagination—what could possibly be more rebellious than turning down the volume? And whispering your grievances? And chuckling softly on the chorus? The tracks are filtered through the lens of their blackness—a lens as necessary, and revolutionary, and, ultimately, as motherfucking punk as any the genre's ever heralded.

That moment's been a long time coming: in his essay on punk for the New Yorker, Kelefa Sanneh says that "no matter how heavy or hard the mosh parts get, [punk] never pretends to be anything other than a bunch of young men blowing off steam. Hearing them now, you're tempted to wonder whether that's all hardcore ever really was." It's a sentiment you could just as easily give this blend of hip-hop. Having emerged from the garages and alleys and basements of outsiders and misfits and fuckups across America, a genre with a face as pale as punk might feel like the antithesis of hip-hop offhand. You couldn't be faulted for wondering what The Ramones and The Clash and Turnstile and Green Day and have in common with Sampha and K-Dot and Moses Sumney and The Internet. But in the same way that punk reacted to an authoritarian state, in a system that boxed them in, today's hip-hop artists are actively butting with the same affairs, scaling back an emphasis on beats and glitz for the sake of interiority and reflection.

And as a form that emerged in the late '70s—depending on who you ask—hip-hop's very inception was always political in nature. From Gil Scott-Heron's Pieces of a Man to De La Soul's Stakes is High, to Dead Prez and Black Star and damn near all of Public Enemy, records came to fruition with geopolitics in mind. Who you listened to said more about the times you were living in than anything else. Sentiments that had already found themselves on deck were streamlined into a larger consciousness, and once earmarked tracks passed under the counter became rallying cries ("They put out my picture with silence," Eazy E noted, "cause my identity itself causes violence") it was no longer possible to ignore the fact that hip-hop had proliferated the country's consciousness.

Last year, Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly solidified the shift, one that's been mostly wrought by the genre's younger artists. But it isn't as simple as shuffling the musicians in the deck. As we, against every possible impulse, become more and more accustomed to black pain on camera, and black pain on loop, and black pain compacted to hashtags, we've changed how we react to it. The fact that a form conceived on hyper-masculinity incarnate has turned to healing and contemplation could be evidence enough for a recalibration in the culture, and that's a notion underlined all over Butterfly: in lieu of braggadocio and excess, Lamar riffs on depression and anxiety. He leans on brassy interludes and cymbals to underline his points. But more often than not, these tracks feel like tiny exhalations, creating a little room to breathe where there was none before.

On the surface, artists are allowing themselves looser instrumentation, with woozier rhythms—and then there are the rhymes themselves, less reliant on braggadocio and have. Vince Staples spits straight-faced despondency up and down Prima Donna ("I just wanna be DaVinci baby / Why they wanna kill me baby?"); while Blood Orange (aka Dev Hynes) curates a steady lilt of contemplation throughout Freetown Sound: ("And no one even told me / The way that you should feel"); and Jamila Woods presses on HEAVN, and Isaiah Rashad broods across The Sun's Tirade; and then there's Frank Ocean, drifting all over Blond, riffing on fleeting love and cops that don't care and aimlessness in the city and being needed everywhere and nowhere.

Because as shitty of a year as it's been, hip-hop has served as our great unifier.

"I'm not brave," he claims, "I'd rather live outside"—and yet nakedly stating that desire for the record, a venerability so many of us move mountains to deflect, is the pinnacle of valor. It's about as brave as any one of us could be.

These artists come from all over—New Orleans to Compton to Brooklyn to Chicago. They're gay and they're straight and they're signed and they're indie, but here they are, finding middle ground through solidarity. There is a clear-eyedness fueling the music. An underlying skepticism. We hear the vertigo, and the inevitability, and the implications beneath them, and it'd be easy to chalk this up to some shit about music bringing communities together. But these are not just reactions, they're also reports of the world. When Vince Staples asks why you're killing him (us), he isn't really asking you to answer him. When Chance asks if you're ready for your blessings, it is a rhetorical question: he knows we are. We have been for a minute. But that doesn't make the question any less worthy of being asked.

And now is the time to ask it. Perhaps that's how art works: surfacing in whatever way that it can, adapting to the forms of those who need to tell it. And it would seem that where many of our authors and pundits and filmmakers and policy-makers are hell-bent on chronicling one inept narrative after another, hip-hop is dictating its own—a literal parallel history.

Empowerment unites these works. An ownership of one's space. Of course we would hope that the circumstances necessitating these tracks weren't brought about to begin with, because we've fought and will continue to fight for that, but we also know that won't happen. Not completely. Not really. And yet the deafening silence that follows this truth is being met with a dope fucking bass in the background: because as shitty of a year as it's been, hip-hop has served as our great unifier.

The last time I heard Solange's "Don't Touch My Hair," my ma and I were driving one of the feeder roads plaguing Houston when some white boys in a sports car tried to run us off the road. We'd waited the length of a red light, and they obviously had somewhere to be. For a minute or two, they swerved in and around us, yelling epithets and throwing the finger and the usual ignorant shit. You could chalk it up to their youth, or blindness to the possible reverberating effects, but those are rational approaches, thing to mull over in the aftermath. And I wasn't in the mood to do that. I wanted to crack a fucking head open.

But rather than dig an unfillable hole for myself, I turned to the stereo—and here was Solange Knowles, commiserating with me over the exact same dilemmas. And her words floored me the way they've floored countless people over the past few weeks. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes for a minute or two, and laughed (although I suspect ma may have been wondering what the fucking joke was).

That's what good music does. It opens your ears, again and again. And I stopped thinking less about the music than the jubilation behind it, and how that strife was born out of anger, and how that anger was turned into a triumphant thing. Because the thing about hip-hop is that it transforms that energy; it gives you something tangible. So when you're mulling over traffic stops in Charleston, or unlawful detentions in Prairie View; or you're stuck in the cloud that hangs over your head, this thing that just sort of is, and it's just sort of us, you listen to these tracks and they tell you that perhaps, possibly maybe, you aren't the only one.

You listen to them again. They seem to confirm. You turn the volume up just a little bit more.