Corey’s Top Albums of 2016



Savage Mode

21 Savage & Metro Boomin

Anyone who has sat through all of Savage Mode knows that 21 Savage is not a particularly gifted lyricist.  His guest verse on Meek Mill’s “Offended” is especially revealing, as I’m fairly certain any middle-school student’s haiku English project is more sophisticated than a couple of 21’s cringe-worthy opening lines, “Hundred shotters with me, woah / VVSs on me, woah / VVSs on me, bling / badaboom badabing.”  He also does not provide much, if any, originality with the content of his raps.  At its best, the majority of Savage Mode includes a narrow hodgepodge of very predictable hip-hop subjects.  Then why has this project been such a hot topic in 2016, resulting in a platinum single and a plethora of cosigns from 21’s much more reputable hip-hop peers?  Because it offers a well-needed dose of viciousness that is unmatched by nearly any other hip-hop release this year.  Each remorseless bar on Savage Mode goes hand in hand with 21’s image, from his gritty appearance to his aggressive presence on social media.  Everything about 21 Savage in and out of the booth has furthered his haunting persona and legitimized the authenticity of his raps.  And, at the end of the day, the exceptional production from Metro Boomin certainly doesn’t hurt things.  If nothing else, this project deserves a nod simply due to the impact it has had on the hip-hop industry since its release, reminding hip-hop artists and audiences everywhere that gangsta rap is alive and well. Favorite Song: No Heart



Northern Lights

Zeds Dead

I find that most full-length electronic LPs run into problems with either being too redundant or relying heavily on whatever trends are currently popular in the genre, attempting to duplicate them in a less memorable fashion.  Zeds Dead’s Northern Lights certainly does not avoid these pitfalls, but there are still plenty of nuances to their usual song compositions that any fan will enjoy.  None of the tracks are glaringly bad, but the most forgettable ones come when Zeds Dead tries to adapt mainstream EDM sounds into their traditionally alternative-electronic niche.  While these tracks will likely be skipped when revisiting the album, one welcome result of the filler on Northern Lights is that it emphasizes the gems more clearly.  “Where Did That Go,” “Lights Out,” and “Stardust” offer a sometimes-necessary relief from the relentless grime of tracks like “DNA” and “Already Done.”  “Me No Care” is a clear standout, and feels like a literal sprint as the track progresses with no refrain—just a three-minute buildup of Zeds Dead’s most recognizable sounds and samples.  Is Northern Lights better than Somewhere Else?  Debatable, but probably not.  Nevertheless, Northern Lights stands as a great addition to the Zeds Dead catalogue and a notable release of 2016. Favorite Song: Where Did That Go





I have done my best to avoid reading too many comments from the Drake Stans blindly dick-riding this album and the Internet trolls thoughtlessly hating on this album.  Unfortunately, avoiding them entirely has proven to be impossible and, just like many other music buffs, I am tired of seeing or hearing any discussion of this album anywhere in my life.  With that said, every fiber in my body does not want to include Views on this list simply because its inclusion furthers the album’s discussion and the presence of the Drake dick-riders and hating Internet trolls.  But truthfully, the accolades for the album alone can justifiably land Views on any list of 2016.  There’s not much to say about this album that has not been said many times already.  I agree with nearly all of the criticisms this album has received—it is too long and most of the songs sound and feel like watered-down versions of old Drake songs.  Unwanted skits at the end of songs, an unnecessary interlude from Majid Jordan (a shameless plug for his OVO label artist), and an out-of-place feature from the late Pimp C (the only reason for this feature’s placement on Views is so Drake can boast about having Pimp C on his album) are just a small handful of questionable decisions made by Drake as the album’s executive producer.  However, after the disappointment has settled as Views predictably fails to live up to its unreal hype, we are still left with some excellent tracks.  “Weston Road Flows,” “Feel No Ways,” and “Still Here” have been played and replayed from April to December this year.  Views is not the crown jewel of Drake’s already impressive discography, but it also is not the “trash” album that all of the Drake-haters want it to be. Favorite Song: Weston Road Flows



Yes Lawd!


Anderson .Paak has really had a hell of a 2016.  Yes Lawd! is just another testament to his talent as a singer and ability to craft a fresh and exciting album from front to back.  Knxwledge does a great job of providing .Paak with jazzy, instrument-rich production that fits right into his comfort zone.  In general, the chemistry between .Paak and Knxwledge is natural and effortless, as seen on highlights such as “Suede,” “Starlite,” and “Scared Money,” the latter which sounds like it was taken right out of an R&B Greatest Hits album from the 80s.  Although there are some missteps with tracks that don’t seem to serve much of a purpose, most notably “Fkku,” my biggest qualm with Yes Lawd! is the track length and sequencing.  Upon listening to the album all the way through, everything feels seamless.  However, going back and listening to individual tracks is awkward and unsatisfying.  With many of the tracks, due to their incredibly brief length, they end just as the listener begins to fully enjoy them.  While these seemingly trivial flaws may not bother all listeners, they do hinder the project from reaching its full potential.  Still, they are not significant enough to overshadow the high points of Yes Lawd! or come close to preventing it from being one of the better projects released this year. Favorite Song: Suede



The Divine Feminine

Mac Miller

“Dang!” alone validates this album on any list for this year.  That song is the shit.  As for the rest of The Divine Feminine, it’s worth pointing out that the project marks a very necessary stylistic transition in Mac Miller’s career.  Last year’s GO:OD AM was far from a bad album, but it was beginning to become more and more clear that Mac Miller was going to stay in the minor leagues of hip-hop artistry unless he changed something about his craft.  His days of shallow frat rap are far behind him, but the lyricism and storytelling of his more mature material has never been enough to catapult him into the upper echelon of hip-hop.  With The Divine Feminine, we see Mac Miller’s reaction to this realization with a bold attempt to push the boundaries of his music, channeling a heavy jazz and R&B influence.  The production on “Congratulations” and “We” work well with Mac’s rap voice and “God is Fair, Sexy Nasty” wraps the album up very nicely.  Mac Miller even tries his hand at singing on a couple tracks, which, unfortunately, is awkward and undesirable.  Like previous Mac Miller projects, some of the tracks still feel like they are missing something (and Mac’s singing is not the missing link).  The success that makes The Divine Feminine so entertaining is that the rest of the songs achieve a clear triumph that eclipses the high points of any previous Mac Miller album, making it a worthy mention for this year’s best. Favorite Song: Dang!




The Weeknd

I am a humongous fan of The Weeknd.  Ever since hearing House of Balloons, I have been captivated by his voice, sound, and general development as an artist.  I will openly acknowledge some of my own bias and admit I like The Weeknd so much that he is sometimes past the point of doing any wrong in my eyes.  Even so, I cannot rank Starboy any higher than this and maintain a clear conscience.  Lead by two outstanding singles, “Starboy” and “I Feel It Coming,” the album was situated to be the perfect hybrid of original Weeknd sounds and themes with just enough pop influence to mount an epic mainstream takeover while still pleasing his more dedicated fans with substance and depth.  This was partially the case, as Starboy performed incredibly well commercially.  The substance and depth, on the other hand, is somewhat lacking.  At 18 songs and a weak second half, Starboy can feel somewhat tedious.  Other than “I Feel It Coming,” which saves the day at the album’s close, the majority of tracks after the first half are pretty forgettable.  And, just for the record, “Stargirl Interlude” is stupid.  Who thought it was a good idea to toss in a two-minute interlude with a damn-near incomprehensible Lana mumbling something that I’m guessing is supposed to be the one female perspective on the album’s content when they could have given us another full-length track together?  Even at its worst, Starboy still manages to entertain on some levels.  The Weeknd’s ear for beats is topnotch, calling on an impressive array of pop producers like Max Martin and Cashmere Cat to create lush backdrops for his always-amazing vocals.  “True Colors” is beautiful and can go toe-to-toe with any ballad from a previous album.  “Reminder” and “Party Monster” find The Weeknd getting back in touch with his old vices and hubris in a way that will satisfy both his new and old fans.  The strengths of Starboy verify its status as a quality release and a welcome addition to the wealth of good music 2016 has supplied—I just personally expect more from one of my favorite artists. Favorite Song: I Feel It Coming



Atrocity Exhibition

Danny Brown

Prior to Atrocity Exhibition’s release, I read an interview with Danny Brown in which he described how no other artist comes close to imitating his style or filling his general void in the hip-hop galaxy when he is not releasing music.  His newest release reinforces the truth of the reality that only Danny Brown can be Danny Brown and, on Atrocity Exhibition, Danny Brown being Danny Brown is just as enjoyable and well-needed as ever.  Danny’s creativity in beat selection helps establish a unique identity for the record as there is virtually no sign of mainstream hip-hop trends in the production.  The quirky samples and overall dark tone feel like an enchanting journey through the mind of the album’s creator.  “Really Doe” offers a dream lineup of MCs rapping over a looped glockenspiel for an outcome that is exactly what anyone could possibly want.  “Pneumonia,” a head-knocker complete with Schoolboy Q adlibs, will be a welcome inclusion to Danny’s mosh-inducing setlists.  I personally find myself gravitating back to these more abrasive cuts—ones that could have fit just as easily alongside tracks like “Dope Fiend Rental” and “Dip” on Old.  While some tracks perhaps have more staying power than others, the entirety of Atrocity Exhibition is very worthwhile and wholly inimitable. Favorite Song: Pneumonia



Still Brazy


If someone told me that YG would drop two west coast classics back when he made the XXL freshman cover in 2011, I would not have believed him.  Honestly, I probably would have straight up laughed in his face.  Truthfully, I still doubted YG after the success of My Krazy Life as I credited its merits primarily to DJ Mustard’s stellar work on the boards.  Still Brazy has finally proven to me that YG is here to stay and he deserves the credit I have been withholding from him for all of these years.  “Don’t Come to LA” begins the album fittingly, wasting no time in delivering the central theme of Still Brazy—although you might be nodding your head to the beat, everything is not cool.  It is still us against them.  This idea is at its boldest on “FDT,” on which (just in case you’ve been living under a rock throughout 2016 and don’t know) Nipsey and YG exclaim “Fuck Donald Trump.”  The fearless political opinions expressed on Still Brazy got it plenty of attention, but it is not without its moments of carefree fun.  “Why You Always Hatin?” has proven that YG and Drake are a beyond-satisfying recipe for swag-rapping bangers.  It is not a perfect body of work however, as “She Wish She Was” has no place on the album or any album for that matter as there are more than a handful of unapologetically sexist lines that I am not okay with.  A couple other songs maybe miss their mark just a little, but, other than that, Still Brazy has plenty of replay value and solidifies YG as a mainstay in the west coast hip-hop scene. Favorite Song: Why You Always Hatin?

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Coloring Book

Chance The Rapper

Coloring Book oozes nostalgia all the way down to its title.  “Juke Jam,” a personal favorite, reminisces on budding romance at youth parties; “Smoke Break” calls back to simpler times when there were more opportunities for weed, sex, and relaxation; “Mixtape” is a tribute to the dying art of the free album due to the popularization of music streaming services.  The list could go on and on.  This same nostalgia in the content of Coloring Book just begs its listeners to make moments associated with the tracks on the album—moments that, one day, they will also fondly reminisce upon.  Hence, creating a never-ending cycle of nostalgia.  In this way, Chance has crafted a piece that people will inevitably fall in love with as they give in to the cheap nostalgic appeal.  It really works great and anyone who made it through 2016 can certainly think of at least a few warm memories that they experienced while listening to a song off the album.  I myself will never forget when Chance came out to “No Problem” during Future’s set at Lollapalooza—the energy in the crowd was totally electric.  Some corniness does, however, prevent this album from being flawless.  It appears most have chosen to embrace the flashes of cheesiness on Coloring Book, but I personally cannot overlook how Chance’s overly-positive attitude can come off as preachy.  Also, although I still like the songs, on “Smoke Break” it sounds like Chance is attempting his best Future impression and on “Mixtape” it sounds like he is doing his best Young Thug impression.  Maybe that was the point?  Regardless, there is undeniably so much to love about Chance’s most recent work.  An album that makes you smile this much absolutely belongs on a list for the best of 2016. Favorite Song: No Problem





Telefone was a really pleasant surprise this year.  First off, and maybe most importantly, Noname offers a wanted alternative to the abundance of thugged-out MCs that have dominated the female voice in hip-hop since the years of Lauryn Hill.  It is no coincidence that, after Telefone dropped, the Lauryn Hill comparisons could be heard from a mile away.  Secondly, it’s just a great debut mixtape.  Chicago producer Cam O’bi laces Telefone with soothingly mellow instrumentals that work nicely with Noname’s softer rap voice.  The project is incredibly listenable and Noname makes a profound assertion here and there, but sometimes these bright moments are missed as the tape could be more engaging.  Telefone’s strengths overcome its minor faults, positioning the mixtape as a welcome breath of fresh air from the oversaturated trap rap of the mainstream. Favorite Song: Diddy Bop



Slime Season 3

Young Thug

“She suck on that dick on the plane / and I just called her airhead.”  Contender for the best opening lines ever on a mixtape?  Young Thug wastes no time throwing the listener into Slime Season 3, beginning the short project with one of the best songs this year, “With Them.”  For those unfamiliar with Thugger, anything he does is shamelessly 100% Young Thug and Slime Season 3 is no exception.  His crooning voice, sometimes unintelligible lyrics, occasional disregard for following any meter, and ridiculous ad-libs are all present in full force.  In many ways, Slime Season 3 is more traditional Young Thug than his other two releases this year.  The unstoppable London on the Track, who is definitively one of the top three producers this year, supplies Thug with much of the cutting edge production throughout the album.  The chemistry between Thugger and London at this point is irrefutable as their dozens of songs from Barter VI, Slime Season, and Slime Season 2 prove clearly that they bring the best out of each other.  On Slime Season 3, this hot streak shows no sign of stopping—“Memo” is awesome and “Digits” still gets me heated AF every time I hear it.  On an eight-song mixtape, there can be no room for slipups and, while they are still entertaining, “Drippin’” and “Slime Shit” could be better.  A more obvious criticism is that it would be nice if Slime Season 3 was a few tracks longer.  The first installment is still my favorite, but Slime Season 3 is a welcome threequel to the series and keeps me wanting to hear more from Young Thug. Favorite Song: With Them




Denzel Curry

Right around the time I was getting frustrated by the lack of originality in the new age of trap-pop mumble rappers, I heard Imperial.  It had never been so satisfying to hear a rapper attack instrumentals with such ferocity, filling each bar with an abundance of multi-syllable words.  Denzel Curry sticks out like a sore thumb against his peers because of his ability to rap well.  It’s really that simple.  One gander through this year’s XXL “freestyles” and Curry’s is one of maybe 3 that isn’t laughable.  Although the mediocrity of his fellow XXL freshmen may put the spotlight on his talent, the attention is far from undeserving.  Denzel Curry is exactly what this new wave of hip-hop artists needs and that truth is showcased throughout the entirety of ImperialFavorite Song: This Life




The Game

Outside of the booth, The Game can be a bit of a cornball.  Hip-hop beef conveniently timed before album release dates and his friendship with the Kardashian sisters are just some of the things that make his life seem like a cliché reality TV show.  While there is plenty of truth in the mantra “any publicity is good publicity,” this time around the beef with Meek Mill reeked of “publicity stunt” too heavily.  So heavily that, unfortunately, it caused 1992 to be one of the most slept-on releases of 2016.  The listeners who passed on the album because of The Game’s obnoxious dramatics missed out.  The aptly-titled 1992 proudly wears its influences with samples from Ice-T, Grandmaster Flash, and the Wu-Tang Clan scattered throughout.  The album functions as a dope reminder of the original themes and sounds of hip-hop that still inspire today’s artists.  With only a few features, 1992 is The Game’s confident statement that he can still carry a full-length LP to a worthy victory on his own.  The release is more proof of his unwavering consistency in a prolific career and is an exceptional listen from start to finish. Favorite Song: True Colors / It’s On



I Told You

Tory Lanez

When I saw Tory Lanez live (he was great by the way), he had a bit during his set where he covered “Poison” by Bell Biv DeVoe and “Pony” by Ginuwine before jumping into his own “Say It.”  This intro to “Say It” was a clear gesture to align his own single with well-known classics.  Tory was making a statement that, not only did he make a hit, but he made something timeless.  And he absolutely did.  “Say It” was my favorite song of 2015—I want it played at my future wedding.  The timelessness of “Say It” speaks to Tory’s potential and versatility as his rap cuts are comparable in quality to his R&B gems.  Packed with a wide variety of incredible R&B and hip-hop tracks, I Told You displays the scope of Tory’s versatility.  “I Told You / Another One” maintains an unprecedented level of intensity for the entire eight-plus minutes of autotuned rapping.  In contrast, tracks like “All The Girls” are radio-friendly R&B anthems that are bound to be stuck in the listener’s head for hours.  The album is too skit-heavy, but there is no denying the unique appeal of each individual song.  I Told You manages to offer a shockingly diverse tracklist that still feels authentic and true to the artist, making it a must-listen of 2016. Favorite Song: Say It



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Kendrick Lamar

untitled unmastered. is maybe the best collection of throwaway tracks ever released.  The fact that these songs did not make the cut for a full-length album but are still so awesome is just more proof that Kendrick Lamar is in the top tier of hip-hop artistry.  The rough content of untitled unmastered. actually contributes to its appeal, making it feel like an invitation into the studio for an exclusive behind-the-scenes experience.  This sneak-peek look into the creative process of one of hip-hop’s best makes for an exciting and unique listening opportunity. Favorite Song: untitled 08




Young Thug

The track titles on JEFFERY suggest Young Thug’s peers and idols (Harambe?) inspired the mixtape’s sound, but the titles are about as far as their influence goes.  JEFFERY still has everything one would expect from a Thugger project although the production does incorporate some instrumentation that is new for him.  What makes JEFFERY stand out from his other releases this year is that it is the most well-rounded.  The mixtape still includes the mandatory bangers except, this time around, they are spaced out more clearly with an assortment of other distinct, interesting styles.  Whether he is barking a ballad on “RiRi” or attempting his best Haitian impression on the adlibs of “Kanye West,” Young Thug is always a pleasure to listen to. Favorite Song: Floyd Mayweather



Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight

Travi$ Scott

Every year there is at least one highly-anticipated album that gets unfairly torn apart by the critics.  This year, that album was Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight.  The project’s biggest criticism among several reviews was the lack of depth in Scott’s lyricism.  It is true that the lyrics from Travi$ are glaringly subpar on Birds, but he has never been a great lyricist.  Truthfully, that has never even been a part of what makes him so captivating.  Since Owl Pharaoh, it has always been the production of his releases.  Coincidentally, it just so happens Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight is one of the best-produced albums of the year.  The production is so outstanding that it’s almost always enough to make the listener ignore the shallowest moments of lyricism.  And for those who cannot get past Scott’s disappointing lyrics, there are some impeccable guest appearances from Andre 3000 and Kendrick Lamar to provide the fix. Favorite Song: Goosebumps



Do What Thou Wilt.


Do What Thou Wilt. is exactly what anyone can want from an Ab-Soul project—heavy concepts, dense production, and insanely complex lyricism.  The album provides endless entertainment as the listener catches a different mind-boggling rhyme every time he revisits it.  Not only did Soulo outdo his own high standard of lyrical intricacy, but his song concepts are just as thought-provoking as his lyrics.  And to top it all off, the YMF spits his discussions on religion, sexism, and civil rights over some of 2016’s hardest and most haunting instrumentals. Favorite Song: Raw (backwards)




Anderson .Paak

There’s so much to love about Malibu and the Renaissance man behind its creation, Anderson .Paak.  His scratchy vocals seem to work for everything, whether he’s singing a ballad or rapping a verse on a dance track.  Each song on Malibu is unique from the last, but it still feels naturally cohesive when played from front to back.  There is a different favorite moment for each of the album’s listeners, yet its entirety is still likable for everyone.  Anderson .Paak’s ability to achieve these delicate balances is a what makes Malibu so special and memorable. Favorite Song: The Dreamer



The Sun’s Tirade

Isaiah Rashad

Maybe he’s not as lyrical as his labelmate Ab-Soul.  And maybe he’s not as menacing as his labelmate Schoolboy Q.  But I’ll be damned if Isaiah Rashad’s debut studio album doesn’t have some of the best hip-hop songs of 2016.  The whole album is awesome but a few of these songs are fucking good.  Some occasional mumbling and light-hearted skits work to establish a vibe of mellow nonchalance throughout The Sun’s Tirade, even during its more upbeat moments.  This improvisational feel makes it stand out against many of the other releases this year and its handful of incredibly good tracks doesn’t hurt either. Favorite Song: 4r Da Squaw


Blank Face LP

Schoolboy Q

Blank Face LP goes back and forth between seemingly promoting and condemning the street life, revealing the difficulties that come with trying to distance oneself from the hood.  By the end of the album, it is clear that Schoolboy Q believes in a better alternative to the gang lifestyle.  Each track, except for “Overtime” which Q himself initially did not want to include on the album, works to deliver this message in the grittiest, grimiest way possible.  “Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane” gets a golden star for being the hardest track of 2016 and is sure to make anyone want to drive around in search of their worst enemy.  The project has been in heavy rotation since its July release with no real sign of stopping, proving that Blank Face will have its listeners str8 ballin like a bitch well into the new year. Favorite Song: Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane



We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

A Tribe Called Quest

Q-Tip and the late Phife Dawg confidently declare “It’s time to go left and not right / gotta get it together forever” on the jazzy opener for We got it from Here.  The album’s message of unity and acceptance could not come at a better time.  The racial divide in America and general turmoil in the world sometimes feels helplessly unsolvable, but on We got it from Here it has never seemed more conquerable.  Just leave it to A Tribe Called Quest to deliver such a well-needed message and sound amazing doing it.  While the lyrics are addressing current affairs, the themes are broad enough and the production funky enough to give the album an undeniably timeless feel.  Phife Dawg is looking down with a smile on his face. Favorite Song: The Space Program



4 Your Eyez Only

J. Cole

This album has no bangers, it’s not loud or exciting, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  The J. Cole haters love to criticize him for being boring and putting his listeners to sleep, making 4 Your Eyez Only an easy target.  But the truth is that Cole’s forte is the storytelling, full-album narrative style of this album.  His ability to construct a vivid plot arc with developed characters has made his storytelling songs the most treasured of his catalogue.  These tracks are in ample supply on 4 Your Eyez Only as much of it details the story of J. Cole’s close friend who got taken away from his daughter due to his inability to leave the street life behind.  The story alone is powerful, but Cole’s delivery is immaculate—particularly on the closing track that will undoubtedly stir up some feels in its listeners.  After my first time through the album, I sat staring at my laptop just waiting for my chills to go away.  Music that elicits emotion on the level of 4 Your Eyez Only is hard to come by, making the album an unforgettable and cherished experience. Favorite Song: Neighbors




Frank Ocean

Blonde is nothing short of amazing.  Frank Ocean has assembled another superb project, but this time around things are more unpredictable.  Several moments on the album, most noticeably during the album’s opener “Nikes,” Ocean subs chipmunk vocals in for his own.  Sometimes production abruptly changes in the middle of a track.  A couple songs feel boldly experimental, like “Futura Free” which is over nine minutes of the listener saying WTF more than a few times.  On Blonde, Ocean achieves a middle ground in which he can innovate playfully while still retaining enough normality to avoid scaring away his listeners.  This pocket of daring sonic creativity paired with beautiful writing results in some of the best arrangements of his career and of 2016. Favorite Song: White Ferrari



The Life of Pablo

Kanye West

Kanye threw a little bit of everything into TLOP.  Industrial noises similar to those heard on Yeezus, soul and gospel influences that resemble his earlier releases, and some altogether new sounds work in unison to give us his most recent project.  Taking it all in initially is a little much, but ultimately The Life of Pablo is an album all the more perfect because of its imperfections.  The outcome is yet another masterpiece in a flawless Kanye West discography that will be treasured for years to come. Favorite Song: Waves