As we all know, 2016 was an outstanding year for hip-hop and urban culture, with all the major players in the rap game dropping projects. Even artists like J. Cole and Frank Ocean rediscovered their ability to actually release some music. In the UK, the grime and urban scene continued to flourish and, last year, we saw BBK headline Wireless Festival and Skepta sell out Alexandra Palace for his stunning homecoming concert. It seems like an impossible task for 2017 to top last year but, after only a month, we’ve already been treated to new material from Wiley and, with albums from Big Sean and Migos expected to drop in the next fortnight and a “playlist” from Drake on the horizon, we have plenty to look forward to this year.
10. Tha Carter V | Lil Wayne
Cast your mind back to June 2008. Lil Wayne and Birdman were still best mates and Wayne had just dropped his critically acclaimed sixth studio album, including four top 20 singles, and went on to be Wayne’s most successful to date, selling 3.6 million copies and winning the Grammy for ‘Best Rap Album’ in 2009. Since then, a lot has happened in Lil Wayne’s personal life, including a prison sentence and the threat of retirement. It’s fair to say that Lil Wayne’s career has stalled in recent years. In 2013, Wayne announced that Tha Carter V would be his final album. It was originally scheduled for release in late 2014, however a messy contract dispute between Lil Wayne and Birdman has meant that fans have been starved of Tha Carter V for more than two years. Lil Wayne’s career hangs in the balance, which makes the eventual release of Tha Carter V all the more important. It’s possible we will never see the release of this album but, with snippets of the album recently leaking online, I am hopeful that 2017 will be the year that we finally hear Lil Wayne’s final masterpiece.
9. A$AP Rocky
A$AP Rocky, the leader of the A$AP Mob, hasn’t released a solo project since his second studio album: 2015’s AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP. The album was brilliant and definitely one of the best projects of that year, but his releases have been sparse ever since, with Rocky preferring to instead focus on his other interests, like Kendall Jenner. He’s recently been pictured in the studio with the likes of Lenny Kravitz and Jim Jonsin and, if the experimental style of his last album is anything to go by, it will be interesting to hear what’s being cooked up.
8. Jay Z
Jay Z is undeniably a living hip-hop legend and doesn’t need to prove himself to anybody. However he hasn’t released a classic album since his epic collaborative effort with Kanye West- 2011’s Watch the Throne (2013’s Magna Carta Holy Grail was solid but nothing special, in my opinion) and it feels as though we fans are owed one more classic album from this true hip-hop great before he retires. Jermaine Dupree and Vic Mensa have both hinted that this album does in fact exist and is not just the stuff of legend. With his superstar wife Beyoncé effectively releasing a Jay Z diss album in last year’s Lemonade, Jay has a lot to address on this album, not least the infidelity rumours. Will he tell us who “Becky with the good hair” really is?
7. Vic Mensa
I was a big fan of Vic Mensa’s EP, There’s a Lot Going On, which he released last summer and it whetted fans’ appetites for his debut album. Vic is a frequent collaborator with the likes of fellow Chicago rappers Kanye West and Chance The Rapper and features heavily on Chance’s early mixtapes (his verse on ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’ is breathtaking). There are many similarities between Vic and Chance, but where Chance paints an optimistic and hopeful picture with his gospel-inspired raps, Vic’s music has a much darker message. Vic’s raps also carry a very political message, addressing matters ranging from police brutality to systemic racism in America. With Donald Trump beginning his presidency in earnest, I’m sure Vic has a lot to get off his chest on this album.
6. A.A.B.A. | Joey Bada$$
Joey Bada$$’s debut album B4.DA.$$ was a low key banger and one of the best projects of 2015. He’s been very quiet since its release, preferring to focus on his acting skills (he has a recurring role on Mr. Robot) and dropping just a handful of tracks in the meantime. His follow up album A.A.B.A. was originally scheduled to drop on 8th November 2016 (U.S. Election Day) but was delayed for “perfection”. He seems to be wanting to take a more political approach with his music and dropped a freestyle called ‘Land of the Free’ on 20th January (his birthday and Trump’s Inauguration Day). If you are a Narcos fan or if you just want to hear some pure heat, listen to his track ‘Front & Center’, which samples the theme tune.
5. Astroworld | Travis Scott
Travis Scott had an incredible 2016, releasing his stunning sophomore album, Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight, which went to number one and was one of my favourite albums of 2016. The simple fact is Travis Scott’s music is pure fire and, if his past solo albums, Rodeo and Birds, are anything to go by, we can safely say that Astroworld will be lit.
4. Big Sean | I Decided
Big Sean’s fourth studio album, I Decided, is scheduled for release on 3rd February and he’s already released two singles ‘Bounce Back’ and ‘Moves’ to promote the album. Both tracks are impressive and are further proof of Big Sean’s continued progression as an artist. The concept behind the album centres on how making the correct decision at important moments can completely change your life. Big Sean has also confirmed that Eminem is featured on the album and, following a co-sign from Andre 3000, I can’t wait to hear this album.
3. Culture | Migos
Atlanta rap trio Migos first started seeing major success in 2013 when they burst onto the scene with the Drake-assisted ‘Versace (Remix)’. They swiftly followed this up with hits like ‘Fight Night’ and ‘Hannah Montana’, but the buzz around Migos had seemingly died down in the last couple of years. That is, of course, until they dropped ‘Bad and Boujee’. Its success saw it reach number one and brought with it a fresh wave of widespread appreciation of Migos. This went as far as a shout out from Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) at the 2017 Golden Globes award show, where he thanked Migos for making ‘Bad and Boujee’, describing it as “the best song ever” (I couldn’t agree more!). Quavo, the 2016 king of features, is complemented well by Offset’s staccato delivery and Takeoff’s lyrical prowess and crazy ad-lib game, making Migos the perfect blend of high energy trap music. Culture is scheduled for release on 27th January and they have recently released more tracks to promote the album. Most notably, they released ‘T-Shirt’, the visuals for which are cold, and ‘Call Casting’, the video for which was recorded in Nigeria, where they gave what looked like a truly incredible performance.
2. More Life | Drake
I am of the opinion that Drake actually releases too often and it diminishes the impact of his music. Having said that, Drake had a phenomenal 2016 and you simply can’t ignore him or deny his ability to make bangers. Therefore, when he announced, on 24th October, that he would be releasing a “playlist” called More Life in December, I was naturally excited (and intrigued to know the difference between a playlist and an album). Nineteen85, producer and member of OVO R&B duo dvsn, revealed that Drake will use More Life to “introduce new music and new artists to the rest of the world”. More Life is expected to be heavy on features, with rumoured guests including Bryson Tiller and J. Lo, and Drake has already released three tracks in support of the “playlist”: ‘Fake Love’, ‘Two Birds, One Stone’ and the 21 Savage-assisted ‘Sneakin’’. Drake delayed its release to the “top of 2017”, so we could be listening to More Life in the very near future.
1. Turbo Grafx 16 | Kanye West
In the last few months of 2016 alone, Kanye West went through enough drama to fuel multiple albums’ worth of material to comment on. His wife, Kim Kardashian, was robbed at gunpoint in Paris and this traumatic event seemingly triggered a downward spiral which involved the cancellation of the remainder of his ‘Saint Pablo’ tour, saw his public rants become even more erratic and confusing and culminated in his involuntary hospitalisation due to exhaustion and stress. Nobody knows what kind of mental state Kanye is in right now, but we do know that the last time Kanye went through emotional turmoil and receded from the limelight, he returned with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a classic album which is widely regarded as his best work. It’s impossible to know what to expect from Kanye’s next project, which makes its release all the more exciting. I am firmly in the “I miss the old Kanye” camp and, in my opinion, his first two albums, The College Dropout and Late Registration are topped only by My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Will this album see the return of the old Kanye? Could we will finally get an explanation for that infamous meeting with Donald Trump? The fantastic The Life of Pablo was one of the highlights of 2016 and, if Kanye can follow it up with an album of comparable or even better quality, then we are all in for a treat this year.