Apparently I’m a hip-hop head just as much as the next guy now, especially based on my Spotify streaming activity. Putting an album list together was not easy, but it was quite rewarding, and not nearly as difficult as ranking my favorite songs. Here’s everything I loved from the past year, ranked.
Favorite Song: untitled 5
Some may argue this is not an album, but these raw, “unmastered” leftovers from Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly are nothing short of album quality. These songs never got far from me this whole year, and continued to make it back into queue week after week. That shelf life, along with musicality and lyricism of this album made it an undisputed number one on my list.
Awaken, My Love!
Favorite Song: Me and Your Mama
This album may be the freshest release on this list, but it didn’t take more than a few listens for it to land a spot in my top 5. Not only is this just some damn good music, plain and simple, but for an artist like Childish Gambino to reinvent his sound so effortlessly and beautifully is something I couldn’t acknowledge without high regard. This album has carved slot in musical history and is something I can be listening to 40 years from now. Just take it from Questlove.
Favorite Song: The Bird
2016 belonged to Breezy Lovejoy. Two albums (both on this list), countless features, and epic performances from this dude made him the spearhead of the trajectory of modern music. AP’s blend of raspy soul and hip-hop attitude is infectious, and I look forward to taking this album with me for years to come.
Favorite Song: Swizz Beatz
Far too often I see this man grouped alongside B-listers like Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black, and 21 Savage. Young Thug is on another level, and he shows it with this project. His unique voice and often ridiculous noises and rhymes add so much texture to seemingly run of the mill trap beats. Youg Thug has truly crafted a sound of his own in a genre littered with copycats. From his sea lion-esque squealing to his gender transcending fashion, Jeffery deserves a gold medal in 2016.
Favorite Song: Nights
The first time I heard this album, I was extremely hungover and stuck in traffic. Needless to say, I hated it. But I listened once more, and again, and again, and here it is at number five, with some of the greatest compositions possibly of all time. While it may be difficult to digest at first, regardless of your physical or vehicular state, Frank Ocean’s blonde is truly a beautiful whirlwind of emotion and melody, and it was more than worth the wait.
Favorite Song: LITE SPOTS
If you don’t like to dance, you will after listening to anything Kaytranada gets his hands on. This dude deserves a lot more recognition and I’m glad this release has some created some buzz around an a pioneer and ambassador of the underground. Check out is 2011 Boiler Room set in Montreal you’ll see what I mean.
Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight
Favorite Song: biebs in the trap
As much as I didn’t like this album compared to his last project, I couldn’t help but fall in love again with Travis’s intoxicating auto-tune and trippy instrumentals. I’ve never had codeine, but I imagine that this album is what it feelos like. Dare I say, it’s lit.
Chance The Rapper
Favorite Song: Finish Line / Drown
It’s pretty hard to not love Chance. His adorable character and unique rapping/singing flow, along with his increasingly gospel-inspired sound on Coloring Book makes for an extremely captivating collection of music.
DJ Quik & Problem
Favorite Song: A New Nite / Rosecrans Groove
Now this is how you G-Funk. This collaboration between hip-hop artists DJ Quik and Problem may only be an EP, but it’s incredible re-imagining of OG Compton rap had me hooked all year. Problem flexes his rap chops while Quik’s arrangement has you convinced this came out over 20 years ago.
Big Baby D.R.A.M.
Favorite Song: Misunderstood
Doin Real Ass Music. This singing/rapping rising star lives up to his name on this debut album. You probably heard his collaboration with Lil Yachty, Broccoli, one too many times this year, but that amazingly silly hip hop is just a fraction of what D.R.A.M. can do well. He spans all dimensions and ranges of his voice on this release and shows everyone how being true to yourself can create some musical magic.
The Life of Pablo
Favorite Song: Ultralight Beam
I don’t know what to say about the rest of his aspirations, but Kanye continues to prove he is one hell of a producer. The opening tracks on this album can render you emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausted.
A Seat At The Table
Favorite Song: Mad
I’m curious if Beyonce’s album would have ended up on here had I been able to listen to it (stupid Tidal). Luckily, her sister Solange put out this amazing collection of R&B and soul.
Favorite Song: 9
Sorry. I listened to this A LOT.
The Beautiful Game
Favorite Song: Dean Town
The basslines that Joe Dart of Vulfpeck lays down will have you thrusting your chin out over your chest for the duration of this album.
We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
A Tribe Called Quest
Favorite Song: Dis Generation
Not many groups can make a come back with a swan song as well as ATCQ did with this album. It’s everything that made them legends perfectly maintained in a trophy case of political satire and thoughtful features; not to mention the historical and emotional importance it carries with the recent passing of former member Phife Dawg.
Favorite Song: Diddy Bop
Noname might be one of the most creative and intelligent lyricists I know, and she found some seriously talented musicians and producers to craft the cotton-candy cloud of groovy insight and emotional baggage that is Telefone. She’s basically the mellow female version of Acid Rap Chance.
Favorite Song: Fire
Some of the coolest music to come out this year, Jack Garratt’s Phase is an epic symphony of electronic, rock, and soul elements.
Favorite Song: Stockholm
TDE did not disappoint this year. Among major releases from the labels frontmen, like Kendrick, Schoolboy Q, and Ab-soul, newcomer Lance Skiiwalker put out it this really engaging and unique piece of work. Introverted Intuition resides in perfect balance somewhere between PARTYNEXTDOOR and The Weeknd. As far first impressions go, Skiiwalker had me head over heels, and I am very much looking forward to his next project.
Favorite Song: Crime Riddim
Along with some helpful exposure from Drake, Skepta hammered a solid stake into American rap culture with this release. This album is straight bangers, but with the maturity and creativity that most British artists seem to exude, not to mention the accent. Do yourself a favor and see what they have to rap about in the street of London.
Favorite Song: Let Me Love You
Haters gonna hate. She bad and she know it.
Too High To Riot
Favorite Song: Night Job
Dreamville artist and J. Cole protege Bas is easily one of my favorite hip-hop artists I stumbled upon this year. Too High To Riot is both ambient and energetic, full of thoughtfully crafted melodies and basslines, as well as some top-notch flows that keep me excited for his next project.
Favorite Song: Morning Sex
This southside resident is on to something with his first full length project, and he knows it. With some seriously epic beats to support him, Joey Purp puts 110% into his performances on iiiDrops that make him a name to keep track of in 2o17.
But You Caint Use My Phone (Mixtape)
Favorite Song: What’s Yo Phone Number / Telephone
She’s still got it. The soul queen parody’s Hotline Bling and surrounds it with a mixtape full of hip-hop gold.
Favorite Song: Scared Money
Nxworries is the dangerous duo Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge. Together they create this sweet and sensual sound that transcends generations, simultaneously caressing your eardrums and firmly but lovingly grabbing your ass.
You’ll Pay For This
Favorite Song: Too Young
This is just a good album and that’s that. Track after track offers an incredibly catchy hook and sassy guitar riffs that connect the dots between your 20-something hipster ears and the scene-loving punk junkie of your middle school self.
For All We Know
Favorite Song: Happy
Nao is a high-pitched soul-soothing funkmaster that you may have heard along side Mura Masa or Disclosure. On her debut album she makes it clear why these artist ands many others alike took note of her talent. While she did recycle several older releases to complete this project, they still manage to muster out as much fun as they did the first time around.
Favorite Song: Tarova
If I had to name a band with the most notoriety and raw talent, it would have to be Snarky Puppy. In their first studio album, the large group of musicians delivers some of the greatest jazz fusion of the decade. If you ever have a taste for something a little more intellectual than your average daily mix, go ahead and give this a listen.
Favorite Song: Valdez Off Crenshaw
If you love the increasingly jazzy and funky nature of what Kendrick Lamar has been doing as of late, then you can thank this man right here. Terrace Martin has some mad skills when it comes to jazz, and this album shines some light on his underrated influence on the music scene.
Favorite Song: Black Beatles (unfortunately this song might have to die with the rest of 2016)
These guys know how to throw a party. They even tell you on the first song. Rae Sremmurd delivers raw, fun energy on almost everything they do, and lots of it. While Black Beatles may have lost some playability due to meme-fication, it’s still a smooth and zesty escort into the all night rager of Sremmlife 2.
Community Service 2! EP
Favorite Song: Black Beatles (unfortunately this song might have to die with the rest of 2016)
Chi-town represents once again. You’ve probably seen Towkio hanging around with Chance the Rapper or Vic Mensa, who delivers some heat on this short but in your face project.
Blank Face LP
Favorite Song: Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane
Check out GroovyQ’s shows on his Snapchat, and you’ll see why you should be checking out this album if you haven’t already. The energy and attitude Schoolboy can put into a song is contagious, and this sounds grooms itself into a stank-face inducing storybook on Blank Face.