Another year has gone by and it has not disappointed with the amount of music that we got in the hip-hop world. I have narrowed it down to the 10 albums that I loved most during the year and some honorable mentions that I think are also worth checking out. I’ll include a song from each album that I think is a good intro to the album in case you hadn’t heard it before. So let’s begin with some honorable mentions.
Clipping – Splendor & Misery
The noise rap/industrial hip hop group known as Clipping, headed by rapper Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame (for which he won a Tony for), released this interesting concept album this year. Splendor & Misery takes you on a journey in a futuristic spaceship flying through the cosmos. The experimental beats they use on this record is a step up from their last project, CLPPNG. Plus, Daveed’s skills are nothing to take lightly. Favorite tracks: “The Breach”, “All Black”, “Air ‘Em Out”, “Baby Don’t Sleep”, “A Better Place”.
“Air ‘Em Out”
Injury Reserve – Floss
I was introduced to Injury Reserve last year with the release of their breakout project Live From The Dentist Office and after the opening track, I knew this was a group to keep on the lookout. Luckily, they released another album this year in Floss, which was a shame it was dropped so late into the year, but it’s still a great album that I recommend you give a chance to. Favorite tracks: “Oh Shit!!!”, “Bad Boys 3”, “All This Money”, “S on Ya Chest”, “All Quiet on the West Side”, “Keep on Slippin”.
Ab-Soul – Do What Thou Wilt.
Once again, this is a case of an album that released too late into the year that maybe could’ve taken a spot in my top 10. Ab-Soul came through with a solid album in Do What Thou Wilt, full of incredible wordplay, double entendres, and an underlying theme about women that makes the listener think twice at women’s issues, all while rapping over dark beats. Favorite tracks: “RAW (backwards)”, “Huey Knew THEN”, “Beat The Case”, “D.R.U.G.S.”, “YMF”.
“Huey Knew THEN”
Top Ten List
10. Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
I have to admit, it took me a bit to understand what all the hype was surrounding Death Grips, revisiting them every so often after The Money Store came out in 2012, but this year their sound finally appealed to me, and just in time for this new album too. Bottomless Pit is just another example of how Death Grips keeps pushing the hip-hop genre, with experimental sounds and the lyrical content from MC Ride that keeps pushing boundaries. Even though I personally don’t think it’s better than The Money Store or last year’s The Powers That B, it is still a real solid album for Death Grips and earns the number 10 spot on my list. Favorite tracks: “Giving Bad People Good Ideas”, “Spikes”, “Eh”, “Bubbles Buried In This Jungle”, “BB Poison”, “80808”.
9. Noname – Telefone
Chicago rapper and poet Noname, who you might have heard on Chance’s album this year, came through with a sweet project in Telefone. In it, she tackles a lot of issues that she has seen and experienced growing up, such as young black people being killed in Chicago, family issues, and a real interesting take on abortion. This project definitely got me interested in Noname and has me hoping more of her music has me as satisfied as Telefone had me, with its sweet beats and flows. Favorite tracks: “Yesterday”, “Diddy Bop”, “Reality Check”, “Casket Pretty”, “Bye Bye Baby”, “Shadow Man”.
8. Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo
2016 was a year that brought me 4 albums from 4 of my favorite artists ever, and this is one of them. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Mr. West and his music. I don’t think that Pablo is at the top of Ye’s discography, and it was an album that definitely had to grow on me, which weirdly started after Taylor Swift was exposed, but it definitely came across as another addition to Kanye’s legendary career. The mix of gospel, soul, and hip-hop that Kanye did on this album took me back to Ye’s early days, but with a more updated version. And then there were the couple tracks that continued on the sound he started experimenting with on Yeezus. The “never ending album” concept was also interesting to see, with Kanye updating, adding, removing, and rearranging the tracks on the album weeks after its release date. Plus, it brought together Kendrick and Ye for the first time ever, what more could I ask for? Favorite tracks: “Ultralight Beam”, “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”, “Pt. 2”, “Famous”, “Freestyle 4”, “Waves”, “FML”, “Real Friends”, “Wolves”, “No More Parties In LA”, “Saint Pablo”.
7. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered
Speaking of Kendrick, he also came out with a release of his To Pimp A Butterfly leftovers, which was better than most rappers’ actual albums this year. Even though these were songs that didn’t make the cut, this album of b-sides still worked well together, especially with Kendrick’s lyrics as good as ever, and not wasting any time with the first track giving a detailed portrait of what he thinks the apocalypse will look like. Then with bangers such as the second track which brought us all to ask to get Top on the phone, Kendrick released this solid set of previously unreleased material that stood tall. Favorite tracks (just the numbers since they’re all untitled): “01”, “02”, “03”, “05”, “06”.
6. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Along with great music, this year brought us the deaths of many great artists that we grew up admiring. One of these, of course, was Phife Dawg, which shook the rap world. Tribe always held a special spot for me for the way they pioneered an alternative style of hip hop, from the gangster rap that was prominent at the time, to beats with heavy jazz influence that still contained lyrics that could go head to head against anyone in that era. We Got It From Here took me back to the feelings I felt when I first heard The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, and it meant that much more knowing this was the last album that Phife was alive for and specifically worked on. Touching on themes such as gentrification and racism, We Got It From Here is a damn good album and a great send off for Phife. RIP Phife Dawg! Favorite tracks: “The Space Program”, “We The People…”, “Whateva Will Be”, “Dis Generation”, “Mobius”, “Conrad Tokyo”, “The Donald”.
“We The People…”
5. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Yes, I put this album on my hip-hop list, even though most would put this album in an R&B section. I felt that Anderson spent equal amount of time rapping and singing in this album, so I put it in this list. Plus, I think it would have been lower in my non hip-hop top 10, so I decided to give it its fair recognition. Anderson Paak is definitely in a lane of his own with his soulful beats and the ability to sing and rap equally as good. The drums throughout this whole album are great as well, and I bring that up because Paak played the drums on the whole album. And if you haven’t seen him play songs from his album live with his band, you definitely should check out the Tiny Desk Concert he had for NPR here. Pure talent coming from Anderson Paak and I hope to hear more from him soon. Favorite tracks: “The Bird”, “The Waters”, “The Season | Carry Me”, “Am I Wrong”, “Without You”, “Room In Here”, “Come Down”, “Celebrate”.
“Am I Wrong”
4. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Danny Brown is back to his raw style after changing it a bit on his commercial debut album Old, which saw him go for a more toned down sound to please the new audience he was having. Gladly though, Atrocity Exhibition is a return to form for Danny and further shows him experimenting different sounds and ideas that went over really well for me. We see him rapping about drugs and the effects they can have on a person, specifically him, and we also hear a more somber, personal Danny Brown on some tracks where he changes his tone of voice to make the listener know that what he is rapping about is something he regards as difficult to talk about and depressing. And by the way, “Really Doe”, the posse cut on this album which comprised of Kendrick, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt, was insane. Favorite tracks: “Tell Me What I Don’t Know”, “Rolling Stone”, “Really Doe”, “Ain’t It Funny”, “Pneumonia”, “When It Rain”, “Get Hi”.
3. ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
I Had been wondering How Q would follow up His debut album tHis year, with the sopHomore slump curse looming over him. THen wHen “Groovy Tony”, the album’s first single, came out, I knew that Q Had another banger on His Hands. I was glad to Have been more than satisfied with the Blank Face LP after my first listen and knew tHis would be one of the best Hip Hop albums of the year. ToucHing on the tHemes of the gang life in his native city of Long BeacH and the excessive incarceration of black men in cities like tHese, ScHoolboy came tHrougH with a great album along witH banging beats. Favorite tracks: “TorcH”, “Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane”, “Know Ya Wrong”, “Ride Out”, “By Any Means”, “Dope Dealer”, “JoHn Muir”, “Big Body”, “Tookie Knows II”.
2. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
Chance followed up his highly regarded mixtape Acid Rap with this year’s Coloring Book, which fused gospel, hip hop, and jazz together amazingly. Stepping up his rapping skills significantly, and even taking us to church throughout much of the album, Chano had me grooving throughout the more lighter songs but making me listen closely during the more somber moments in the album. Doing all of this without a label, and providing it for his fans for free, Chance continues to pave roads for future talented musicians who now know it’s possible to make it without a big record label backing you. And let’s not forget that he also brought change to the Grammy nomination process, because they made stream only albums available for nominations, and Chance even grabbed 7 nominations for the upcoming award show. Favorite tracks: “All We Got”, “No Problem”, “Summer Friends”, “Blessings”, “Same Drugs”, “Angels”, “Juke Jam”, “Blessings (Reprise)”.
1. YG – Still Brazy
Yes, the man who brought us such classics as “Toot It And Boot It” takes the top spot on my top 10 list. YG just really turned it around on this album, which is the first project he released after being shot 3 times at the studio. You can hear the anger and hunger coming from YG in all the tracks. Even if he’s not known for being a super lyrical rapper, the themes that ran throughout the album would make you think otherwise, and you wouldn’t be wrong in this instance. The beats are reminiscent of old school west coast hip hop, along with touching on the people who shot him, black on black crime, and how it is to be black in America, where even the police, who are supposed to be there to protect and serve, are against him for nothing more than the color of his skin. Plus, the album brought us the universal “fuck Trump” anthem that I still love to bump when rolling through white neighborhoods. It was so raw that the secret service had to step in and told him to censor some parts or else they would block the album from ever hitting the shelves. Favorite tracks: “Don’t Come To LA”, “Who Shot Me?”, “Twist My Fingaz”, “Gimmie Got Shot”, “Bool, Balm, and Bollective”, “She Wish She Was”, “Still Brazy”, “FDT”, “Blacks & Browns”, “The Police Get Away Wit Murder”.
“Police Get Away Wit Murder”