With countless rap and R&B projects dropping this year, it’s safe to say 2016 has been an incredible year for hip-hop and urban culture. There’s been an unprecedented wave of new music from established giants in the modern rap game, like Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, to exciting debut albums from the likes of budding stars, such as Tory Lanez and Isaiah Rashad. For a hip-hop fan like myself, it’s been great to get lost in all types of different music and, with 2016 coming to a close, the question is, what is the best project of the year so far? Mainly due to extreme procrastination from uni work, I’ve decided to compile a list of my top ten. Let’s get into it:
10. Untitled Unmastered | Kendrick Lamar
In March, Kendrick surprised fans with a compilation of unused demos recorded during the making of 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, his third studio album. Kendrick previewed three of the tracks on late night talk shows throughout 2015 and during his performance at the 2016 Grammy Awards. Kendrick continues to push the envelope with his alternative approach, regularly incorporating live instrumentation, soul and jazz into his music. “Cornrow Kenny, he was born with a vision”, Kendrick proclaims on ‘Untitled 02 | 06.23.2014’, and this vision shines through on this smooth project.
9. The Sun’s Tirade | Isaiah Rashad
The Sun’s Tirade is the debut album from Isaiah Rahsad, Kendrick Lamar’s label mate and one of the most exciting new artists from Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE). This album serves as the follow-up to Rashad’s 2014 project, Cilvia Demo and sees Rashad bringing chill vibes and his signature lyrical versatility to topics ranging from struggling through alcoholism to dealing with chronic apathy and a lack of passion. Hopefully there’s a lot more to come from him.
8. Slime Season 3 | Young Thug
Young Thug dropped Slime Season 3, the highly anticipated third and final instalment of his Slime Season projects, in March. Young Thug is a rapper whose eccentric style divides opinion throughout the hip-hop community and he is one of the pioneers of the ‘mumble rap’ trend that seems to be dominating the so-called new school of rap and hip-hop (and simultaneously infuriating the old school hip-hop purists). I love his unique delivery and flow, although I admit there are times when it is difficult to tell if he is actually speaking English or just speaking Young Thug. That being said, once you’re used to his special brand of rap, Young Thug provides the perfect hype music and this album doesn’t disappoint.
7. TWENTY88 | TWENTY88 (Big Sean & Jhené Aiko)
Big Sean and Jhené Aiko’s undeniable chemistry shines through on this chilled-out collaborative album, set in the year 2088. The album takes us through the ups and downs of a modern day relationship from both the male and female perspective, with Jhené delivering smooth, sensual vocals that perfectly complement Big Sean’s hard-hitting bars and lyrical flow.
6. Views | Drake
This has been a very, very big year for Drake. It saw him achieve his first number one single as a lead artist in Canada and on the US Billboard Hot 100 with the Caribbean-influenced One Dance and saw the release of Views, his behemoth fourth studio album. After being teased for almost two years, Views went on to sell over a million copies in its first week, gaining over half a billion streams and going double platinum in the US. It dominated the charts, sitting atop the Billboard 200 for ten consecutive weeks, making it Drake’s most successful album to date. However, despite the commercial success and countless award nominations, Views is not the album that we fans deserved after almost two years’ worth of hype. The album is solid and has plenty of stellar, stand-out tracks but it lacks cohesion and the topics and themes had all been addressed by Drake in previous albums. Not many of the tracks would be out of place on 2011’s Take Care or 2013’s Nothing Was The Same. Drake has struggled to artistically challenge himself to try something new. Despite this, Views is one of the best hip-hop albums of 2016 and it is impossible to deny the 6 god’s standing as one of the top five rappers in the game with the incredible ability to make banger after banger. But does he write his own raps?
5. The Life Of Pablo | Kanye West
2016 saw the return of Kanye West in all his glory with his seventh studio album The Life of Pablo, which sees Kanye at his crazy, experimental and creative best. The heavy gospel influence throughout the album is apparent, with the hauntingly beautiful ‘Ultralight Beam’ a particular favourite. In true Kanye West fashion, there seemed to be endless controversy surrounding the release. From the numerous title changes to the now infamous Taylor Swift line in ‘Famous’, the lead up to the release of this album became a spectacle in itself. When Ye described the album as a “living, breathing, changing creative expression”, I didn’t realise he meant that there would be countless changes, with the latest addition of the track ‘Saint Pablo’ in June, four months after the album’s initial release date. Ignoring all the confusion and distractions surrounding the album, it’s safe to say this is one of Kanye’s best bodies of work to date, with shades of “the old Kanye” even coming through at points.
4. Blank Face LP | ScHoolboy Q
ScHoolboy Q is tHe yin to His TDE label mate Kendrick Lamar’s yang. WHilst botH rappers often paint pictures of life on the tougH streets of Compton, Kendrick tries to put a more positive spin on it, attempting to deliver a more uplifting message. In stark contrast, ScHoolboy’s verses are dark, depicting the Harsh reality of His former life as a member of the Hoover Street Crips gang. THis contrasting dynamic between the two TDE Heavyweights makes listening to tHeir music all the more entHralling and, on ScHoolboy’s fourtH studio album, Blank Face LP, we are met witH a gritty gangster rap project witH sHades of old scHool Wu-Tang Clan influences througHout (ScHoolboy Q claimed tHat Wu-Tang Clan member GHostface KillaH was tHe inspiration beHind tHis album). If you’re a TDE fan, check out tHe Black Hippy remix of ‘That Part’.
3. Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight | Travis Scott
Travis Scott’s sophomore album, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight was a pleasant surprise. His 2015 debut album, Rodeo, was enjoyable, but such a strong follow up was unexpected. The stand out feature of Travis’ music has always been his hard trap beats and he delivers yet again on this project, blessing the fans with the perfect music for turning up. I still have no clue what the title “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” actually means but, in the immortal words of Travis Scott, “it’s lit”!
2. I Told You | Tory Lanez
Since the commercial success of his hit single, ‘Say It’, with plenty of radio play, Tory Lanez has gone from strength to strength and enjoyed a year of musical success. I Told You is his hard-hitting debut album and gives an autobiographical narrative of his whole life, from selling drugs in gangs to the present day, where he’s trying to break into the hip-hop music scene and become “the biggest artist in the whole world”. If you really want to appreciate this album as Tory Lanez intended, listen to it once through in its entirety with all the skits so you can understand the whole story behind the lyrics. Tory Lanez has rubbed a lot of artists the wrong way with his unshakeable confidence in his own abilities and there’s an underlying beef brewing between himself and Drake as a result of this. Could he possibly come for Drake’s spot as the best rapper in Toronto?
1. Coloring Book | Chance the Rapper
Much like the majority of Chance’s post-Acid Rap music, Coloring Book is strongly influenced by gospel music, with almost all the songs mentioning God in some way. Chance doesn’t fit the mould of the typical rapper and the artistic progression from his previous work can be clearly heard in each track on this album. Chance refuses to sell his music (instead releasing it all for free through various streaming platforms) and has adopted a strong anti-label stance, even dedicating the song ‘No Problem’ to proclaiming his hatred of the control that major labels have over artists in the modern day music industry. Chance is living proof that artists can independently create music, retaining complete creative license and control over their work, and still have a huge impact in the music industry. He made history this year, with this album being the first to chart entirely due to streaming and the Grammys announcing changes to their rules to allow stream-only albums to be made eligible for a Grammy. With Frank Ocean taking a leaf out of Chance’s book and releasing Blonde independently, Chance is almost single-handedly sparking a huge change in the music industry and the control artists have over their own music.