2016 was a phenomenal year for Hip-Hop. De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest gave us albums. The long-awaited Kanye released (after he retooled it a few times). And to fulfill the rule of three, Gucci Mane was released from prison and has been wrecking the game with numerous album and track credits.
What follows is quite possibly an incomprehensible organization of my favorite releases of the year. In this two part series I’ll begin with a rundown of the honorable mentions. While there are no rules regarding what I’ll select beyond being released during the 2016 calendar year, keep in mind neither De La or ATCQ are included in either list. Both are legendary hip-hop groups. Give them a spin. Top 10 coming soon.
Honorable Mentions (in no specific order)
YG – Still Brazy: A fan favorite for many this year, YG’s sophomore studio album gives listeners an extension of His Krazy, rather, Brazy Life. YG continues to rep Compton in such a way that’d make N.W.A. Snoop and DJ Quik proud, creating a sense of exclusivity in tracks like “Don’t Come to L.A.” The Bompton artist knows that his streets are just that, but he illustrates enough of his activities in South Los Angeles through a sound reminiscent of G-Funk to keep fans clamoring for more. Notable Tracks: “Gimme Got Shot”, “FDT” & “Still Brazy”.
NxWorries – Yes Lawd!: Knxwledge and Anderson .Paak join for the full length album to complement 2015’s Link Up and Suede. Admittedly this project took some time to grow on me, particularly due to the somewhat disjointed combination of .Paak on Knxwledge production. Some songs, particularly “Kutless” and “Lyk Dis” sound like Knxwledge had some prerecorded .Paak vocals and finagled until he found a match. Honestly though, these moments are few and far between, and Yes Lawd! serves as a staple album, bringing the general good vibes .Paak is known for along with Knxwledge’s funky and sample-laden production. Notable Tracks: “H.A.N.”, “Another Time, Get Bigger / Do U Luv” & “Suede”.
Joey Purp – iiiDrops: Remember when Kanye was Chicago’s golden child? Or when Consequence and Common had their lay of the land in the Chi-Town rap scene? Just as Chance the Rapper is helping to continue to leave Chicago’s rap footprint, a number of young artists are adding to the craft. Despite only being an honorable mention, Joey Purp’s 2016 effort contributes to the growing presence of Chicago in hip-hop. Seeing features from fellow Chicago artists Chance, Mick Jenkins, Saba, theMIND, Vic Mensa and Teddy Jackson, Purp brings a heavier sound than something as jovial as Coloring Book, but roots himself in soulful samples and clean percussion. Notable Tracks: “Escape”, “Cornerstore” & “Photobooth”.
Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.: Even Kendrick Lamar’s unfinished tracks are worth a listen. Released as a surprise drop on March 4, 2016, the eight-track ep provides more of the layered production behind the socially aware lyrics fans have come to expect from Cornrow Kenny. If you enjoyed TPAB and for some reason haven’t had a listen yet, have at it. Notable Tracks: untitled 1-8, can’t go wrong with any of those.
Frank Ocean – Blonde: Somehow Frank Ocean managed one of best releases of the year in lieu of being hyped to near Detox levels. Despite originally having a vengeance against Nikes upon my first listen, the track, and the entirety of Blonde has grown on me. From bringing Andrè 3000 out of pseudo-retirement to collaborating with former OFWGKTA cohort Tyler, the Creator, Frank Ocean assures fans that whatever went down in the 4 year interim between Channel Orange and Blonde hasn’t impacted his ability to make an ethereal and atmospheric album coordinating with his distinctive voice. Notable Tracks: Give Endless, his video album a listen as well. Some of the sonic motifs are shared across Endless’ shorter play time.
Dave East – Kairi Chanel: For no nonsense fans of the gritty yet somehow melodic New York rap scene, enter Dave East. While East doesn’t bring the most lyrically intensive content, even rapping “You ain’t trapping no more, stop making drug records,” he has found his spot in the ever popular hustler’s music niche. Over these 14 tracks listeners can’t forget East’s rise to fame through the projects of Harlem, just as he inspires “the grind” through dreams of houses, cars and women. He even brings out some NYC favorites in Fabolous and Cam’ron. Notable Tracks: “It Was Written”, “Type of Time”, “30 Niggaz” & “S.D.E.”.
Jay Prince – Smile Good: In a year dominated by Chance the Rapper’s gospel infused hip-hop (which, admittedly I appreciate but do not revisit often), the U.K. rapper Jay Prince brought some of his own trademark brand of positive vibes with an eight-track release. Smile Good is equal parts optimistic and reflective, both stemming from Prince’s releases dating back to 2012. Continuing with his penchant for soothing instrumentals, Prince stays grounded in the modicum of success he’s received. Notable Tracks: “Father Father”, “Squad”, & “Smile Good”.
Michael Christmas – Baggy Eyes EP: With a fondness for food, TV and self-pleasure, Michael Christmas offers a refreshing style in the midst of more “hardcore” rappers. Don’t be mistaken, the Beantown native takes his craft seriously, but gallivants under the guise of the everyman. Christmas is never far from rapping about Empire, One-Punch Man or Adventure Time, eating burritos or his general apathy for going outdoors. Baggy Eyes EP brings smooth, lounge-esque production to accompany Christmas’ eccentricities, not unlike the conversational but outlandish stylings of Action Bronson. Notable Tracks: “Cell Phone”, “Who Care”, “Intercontinental Champion” & “2 Flights”.
Other albums worth a spin:
Chuck Inglish – Texturizer Vol. 1
Payroll Giovanni – Sosa Dreamz
Wale – Summer on Sunset
Cousin Stizz – Monda
Oddisee – The Odd Tape