It’s been a banner year for music. High profile releases, the impactful deaths of legends like Phife, Bowie, Prince, George Michael, and Sharon Jones. A mental breakdown here and there. All the while we’ve been bombarded with handfuls of brilliant projects. Here’s ten of the best from 2016: enjoy and let the debates begin.
Schoolboy Q — Blankface
Q put together one of the most enjoyable records of the year. He’s flexing while simultaneously not giving one whole fuck. Blankface is the sound of modern day live stream sinning, capturing our attention just long enough to leave a mark.
A Tribe Called Quest — We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
Tribe’s sixth and final record is hands down one of their best. Recorded secretly following a stellar Tonight Show appearance, the album brims with classic Tribe feels with Q-Tip handling the production duties. It’s powerful, insightful, and perfect for a year filled with emotional highs and sickening lows.
Flatbush Zombies — 3001: A Laced Odyssey
The Zombies are frontline defenders of the abstract. They continue to make progressive records without pretension, handling themselves like as if they have been in the game for decades. A Laced Odyssey is a stony, grimy classic which we probably won’t fully appreciate for another few years.
Kevin Gates — Islah
Gates’ unique brand gets stronger with each release. His personality is elusive, standoffish, and even a bit absurd, but somehow it works perfectly on Islah; blending the best and worst of Gates without ever taking its foot off your neck.
Young Thug — Jeffery
Arguably the most polarizing artist on the list, Thug continues to impress with his left-field take on the norms of contemporary hip hop. He’s never going to reinvent the wheel, yet Jeffery proved there are few sounds he won’t tackle from track to track.
Danny Brown — Atrocity Exhibition
Named after an equally neurotic Joy Division song, Atrocity Exhibition is Brown at his most damaged. While he appears to twitch and flail through a track, songwriting is quickly becoming his weapon of choice. Look no further to “Really Doe” featuring Kendrick, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt for a modern dose of perfection.
Run The Jewels — RTJ3
Rap ushered in a cultural revolution, and if El-P and Killer Mike keep bubbling with this kind of creative consistency they’ll be at the forefront of the next one. 2016 needed Run The Jewels, so Run The Jewels delivered. No one else rages against the machine quite like this.
J. Cole — 4 Your Eyez Only
Cole popped up and surprised the world with his 4th record, a simmering and complex project that had no choice but to confront the massive expectations that came with it. It’s a snapshot of an exact moment in time which just so happens to coincide with Cole growing up: fatherhood, politics, social injustice, folding clean clothes. It’s all here, and all relevant.
Aesop Rock — The Impossible Kid
The wordiest-wordsmith award on the list goes to Aesop Rock for rambling his way through his 7th record with a power and fury unparalleled in rap today. You’ll need breaks while wading through The Impossible Kid, but dedicating yourself to unpacking these bars will reveal a crystal clear world of family struggles, drug use, and mental health issues told by an MC with his eyes firmly planted in the rearview.
Kanye West — The Life Of Pablo
While there were plenty of records ‘better’ than TLOP this year, none were worthy of more debate and discussion than West’s latest opus. From the first spin, it’s clear: this record is the least refined and precise of his career. That alone makes for a perplexing and ever-unfolding listening experience. Is it rough-edit, a mixtape, another calculated piece of Kanye’s batshit crazy puzzle? We will truly never know.
Honorable Mentions: Zachg- Whole Tushie, 21 Savage- Savage Mode, Mick Jenkins- The Healing Component, Rae Sremmurd- Sremmlife 2, Dave East- Kairi Chanel, Travis Scott- Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight