Many would say that 2016 was not a great year for hip hop music in general, but my rebuttal to that is What the heck are you talking about? While it was certainly not the best year, I do have to say that that it was pretty good to say the least.And I have listened to enough hip hop albums in 2016 to list of my top ten and even have numerous honorable mentions. So, without further ado, the remaining contents of this blog post are filled with my favorite hip hop albums of 2016.
But, first, I will list off the many honorable mentions (that are in no particular order) and explain why they didn’t make the top ten and why I feel that they are worth mentioning. I will also provide my rating for each album at the end of the titles. And, here we go…
- Run the Jewels 3 by Run the Jewels (83 / B-)
- Upon first listen of this on Christmas Day, I did not enjoy it for some reason. It seemed sub-par. But, that did not stop from listening to it five days later, the day before New Year’s Eve. And the album really clicked for me this time. The reason that it did not make my top ten is because while it had many good aspects about it, the album simply did not have enough to crack the top ten. The first reason I feel that it is worth mentioning is because the production by El-P is definitely the best he’s ever done. The second reason is that the chemistry between El-P and Killer Mike is tremendous. The constant back-and-forth bars between the two of them is simply pleasing to the ear. I certainly recommend going to their first two albums – Run the Jewels and Run the Jewels 2 – because I feel that they a bit better than this one.
- Vice City by Anonymuz (79 / C+)
- I really liked this album because 1) Anonymuz is a very lyrical rapper and it shows; 2) it is very conceptual and tells a very haunting and chilling story; and 3) it provides very dark and eerie production throughout. The reason I did not put this into my top ten is because the album felt a bit disorganized, but that should not discourage any listener to stray away from it. When listening to it, one could sense the potential that Anonymuz has. He definitely has a really good album, or more, in him. Just wait.
- Eden by Ivy Sole (80 / B-)
- This was one of the last albums that I listened to this year, despite it being released back in April. This album is very soulful and very sweet. Despite being her first album, and it being released independently, the entire album is very cohesive and is reminiscent of Lauryn Hill, though she explicitly says in “All Mine” that she is “no second coming of Lauryn” and that she “has bigger hills to climb.” #Bars. The reason that I did not put this into my top ten is because it just did not have everything that I feel makes a great overall album. But, the album is definitely worth listening to.
- Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper (89 / B+)
- This one might cause some controversy for me. And to that, I say that this album was very enjoyable and offered more than simply hip hop music. But, I honestly did not find myself coming back to this album (and replay value is a strong factor in my top ten lists). This album is certainly innovative on Chance’s part and is definitely deserving of Album of the Year out of all the other albums.
- Telefone by Noname (90 / A-)
- I know what you might be thinking: Why did you rate this album so high if you weren’t going to place it in your top ten? And that is very understandable, because I racked my brain, wondering if this deserved to be in my top ten. And while the album was great, it suffered the same ailment that Coloring Book did: I simply did not listen to it enough times after my initial listen. But, you should definitely give this album a listen, because it’s jazzy and soulful. Plus, it’s short (about thirty-three minutes in length), so you know everything on it is good.
- 4 Your Eyez Only by J.Cole (83 / B-)
- This was a very sweet album, to say the least. A slight step in a different direction from 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Cole gets way more personal on this album, and the overall story is cohesive and has a bit of a twist at the end. I didn’t put this on my top ten because it just didn’t have everything, and some of the songs were a bit questionable (yes, I’m talking about “Foldin’ Clothes,” though I understand where the sentiment comes from). Tracks like “Déjà Vu” and “Neighbors” showcase Cole’s ability to be aggressive and be a storyteller, respectively, but, like I said before, it did not have everything.
- Floss by Injury Reserve (77 / C+)
- This album really surprised me. I had not heard of any of their earlier music prior to listening to this one, so I had no idea what to expect, other than what Wikipedia described. While this album is consistent with top-of-the-line production and epic bangers – such as the intro track “Oh Shit!” and the ninth track “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe” – it simply boils down to replay value as well as overall sound.
- Good by Deante’ Hitchcock (81 / B-)
- This was another surprise for me. I gave this album a listen because a YouTuber (RDCworld1) had given it a recommendation. So, after listening to it a couple of times, I found it to be really good. “Really Feel” is definitely one of the album’s highlights.
And now, for the actual…
Top Ten Hip Hop Releases of 2016
10. 3001: A Laced Odyssey by Flatbush Zombies (85 / B)
- At number ten, I decided to go with the March release 3001: A Laced Odyssey by Flatbush Zombies. When I first heard, I though that it was one of the best album I had ever listened to. So, I listened to it a few more times. While I do not think it is one of the best I have ever listened to now, I still feel as though it is really good and is deserving of my number ten spot on my list.
- I chose this as my number ten album because the production was nothing if not terrific and the chemistry between the three rappers are almost unparalleled in the hip hop community. One of my favorite lines of the whole album is “My only mission is to burn in hell and not in prison / That’s why I’m spitting shit that makes Jesus question religion,” which is rapped by Meechy Dark on the intro track “The Odyssey.”
- Favorite tracks include: “The Odyssey,” “Bounce,” “RIPCD,” and “Good Grief.”
09. Negus by Kemba (85 / B)
- Very politically charged, this album is somewhat similar to Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly, because it covers such topics as racism, violence, and black empowerment. But, to me, this album was more raw while Kendick’s was more finely tuned. But, that certainly does not take away any listening value to Negus whatsoever, as it took my number nine spot. I feel this album could have been intensified with better choices of beat production on some tracks, but other than that, I feel as though this album could be considered a modern hip hop classic.
- Favorite tracks include: “Fly (Intro),” “Kings and Queens,” “Already,” “Hallelujah,” and “Brown Skin Jesus (Outro).” The album also includes some interludes that are really inspiring.
08. Slow Motion, Volume 2 by Jarren Benton (88 / B+)
- I really wondered if this album even deserved to be in my top ten list. But, after much consideration, it made my number eight spot, mainly because of all the aggressive bangers on it. Tracks like “WTFUTB” and “No Fucks to Give” certainly showcase that side of Jarren, while tracks like “Miss You” show his more vulnerable and sensitive side. Overall, this project was very well-balanced and is very deserving of my number eight spot on this list.
- Favorite tracks include: “Slow Motion Intro,” “WTFUTB,” “No Fucks to Give,” and “Miss You.”
07. Konnichiwa by Skepta (88 / B+)
- This was my first big step into British hip hop and grime music. I had listened to artists like Plan B and Professor Green before, but I had never listened to any full Grime album at all. For a first time Grime listener, this is definitely a good step into the genre. The production is kind of in-your-face and is really aggressive.
- Favorite tracks include: “Konnichiwa,” “Lyrics,” “Numbers,” and “Take Me Back.”
06. Do What Thou Wilt by Ab-Soul (88 / B+)
- This album. This freaking album. The Abstract Asshole certainly stepped his game up after releasing These Days… in 2014, which I did not like at first. Certainly one of the more intellectual and lyrical releases of this year, this album tackles topics such as feminism, misogyny, conspiracy, religion, occultism, drugs, and many others. This album is also filled with lyrical wordplay out the wazoo. Honestly, you can listen to this album ten or fifteen times and still not get everything that he is trying to say.
- Favorite tracks include: “RAW (backwards),” “Braille,” “Huey Knew THEN,” “Threatening Nature,” “DRUGS,” “Evil Genius,” “The Law,” and “YMF.” I would also like to mention “Wifey vs. Wifi / PMS.” The last verse of the first part is actually very clever, though it might come off as corny to anyone else.
05. X Infinity by Watsky (89 / B+)
- I have been a fan of Watsky since the very beginning, having just stumbled across him when surfing through YouTube. And I have never turned back. Three albums, three mixtapes, multiple features, and one book later, Watsky releases his fourth studio album with more ambition and more poignancy than the others. With this album, Watsky incorporates his singing voice more than any of his previous releases, and he lets his weird side out much more, especially on tracks like “Springtime in New York” and “Going Down.”
- Favorite tracks include: “Tiny Glowing Screens, Pt. 3,” “Chemical Angel,” “Little Slice,” “Pink Lemonade,” “Don’t Be Nice,” “Stick to Your Guns,” “Midnight Heart,” and the entire “Lovely Thing Suite,” that takes up the last sixteen minutes of the album. I would also like to mention the bonus track: “Exquisite Corpse.” This ten-minute “posse-track” is similar to what D12 would have done in the early 2000s and I simply love it.
04. Lead Poison by Elzhi (89 / B+)
- This year was the first year that I listened to Elzhi, and I found myself wondering What the hell have I been doing with my life? Elzhi is definitely one of the better lyrical rappers that the 2000’s have offered us. One of the reasons that I enjoy Elzhi’s music so much is because he has sort of a laid back flow coupled with hard-hitting lyrics and out-of-this-world rhymes and wordplay.
- Favorite tracks include: “Medicine Man,” “Introverted,” “Two 16’s,” “Hello,” “The Healing Process,” “Alienated,” “Cosign,” “Misright,” and “The Turning Point.”
03. Layers by Royce da 5’9″ (86 / B)
- While this album is rated lower than the last five albums, I probably replayed this album more times than I listened to the last five combined. Royce is my favorite of the Slaughterhouse crew, and this album showcases why I enjoy his music so much. Two of the main reasons I enjoy him is his wordplay and rhyme scheme. Many of the words he rhymes, especially in this album, simply have no reason being put together, but Royce does what he does best. His wordplay is simply out of this world. Certainly one of the more lyrical albums released this year.
- Favorite tracks include: “Hard,” “Startercoat,” “Wait,” “Misses,” “Dope,” and “Quiet.”
02. Made in the Manor by Kano (92 / A-)
- My number two spot is another British hip hop and Grime album, this one by Kano. This album was perhaps more cohesive and flowed much better than Konnichiwa, and it just sounded great. It is because of this album, and Konnichiwa as well, that I will be listening to more artists like them.
- I enjoyed every single track on this album, so it is very hard to choose a few that I liked the most.
So, after eight honorable mentions and nine albums placed on the top ten list, we are finally at the top spot. After listening to so many hip hop albums, I felt that maybe two could be placed at number one, and one of them is actually number two.
So, what made my number one spot? What album was the best in 2016, in my opinion? Well, that album is…
01. The Easy Truth by Skyzoo and Apollo Brown (92/ A-)
- Another fantastic project released by Skyzoo, this time joining forces with legendary producer Apollo Brown. Having listened to A Dream Deferred and Music for My Friends earlier this year, I simply had to listen to this new release. Much like his earlier projects, Skyzoo gives each track his own personal touches and often tells stories about him, his childhood, his family, and his friends. And by himself, Skyzoo is amazing, one of the best hip hop artists to ever pick up a mic. And when you pair him up with Apollo Brown? Well, it’s top ten worthy. No, it’s number one worthy.
- Everything about this album nears perfection. From the production to the beats to the lyrics to the storytelling, this album is very deserving to be my number one album of 2016. I will most definitely be listening to this album again and again for the rest of my life because it is simply one of the best.
- Like the number two album, every single track on this album is amazing. It is too difficult to pick out a choice few to consider my favorites.
So, there you have it. My top ten hip hop releases of 2016. It was an interesting year for hip hop to say the least, but I feel that 2017 will provide us with more.
Stay tuned for my other top ten lists.