The Year 2016 in Review
Author: Zach 'Goose' Gase
2016 was weird. By now you've read all about the countless tragedies that happened over the past 366 days. (Of course a year this shitty would have an extra day.) But the music was equally weird.
The best music came from massive R&B/Soul personalities such as Frank Ocean, Beyonce, Solange and Rihanna. Hip-hop had a little bit of an off year; the best releases came from surprising names, while the genre's go-to stars dropped duds.
Here are my top 30 albums of the year, along with the biggest disappointments of 2016.
30. Kendrick Lamar - "untitled unmastered."
Kendrick Lamar released one of the best albums of the decade in 2015 with "To Pimp a Butterfly." A year later, he released "untitled. unmastered.," which gave fans an unfiltered glimpse into the creative mind of the Compton rapper.
29. Kid Cudi - "Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin'"
Before "Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin'," Kid Cudi had more bad albums than good ones. He was an artist who let his ego and ambitions get in the way of making good music. "Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin'" is the Cleveland rapper/singer's best work since "Indicud" and possibly "Man on the Moon 2." It could've been better if it was 20 minutes shorter, but it's still a surprisingly pleasant showing from an artist on the verge of irrelevance.
28. Lando Chill - "For Mark, Your Son"
A relatively unknown name before 2016, Lando Chill released his Mello Music Group debut in the late summer. While "For Mark, Your Son" flew under the radar, the Arizona-based rapper/singer/producer's first project with the indie rap powerhouse is a promising start for ambitious Lando Chill.
27. Ugly Heroes - "Everything In Between"
By now you know what you're getting with an Apollo Brown record. However, Ugly Heroes' two emcees, Red Pill and Verbal Kent, both show growth on their second record and continue to be one of the best trios in underground rap.
26. ScHoolboy Q - "Blank Face"
TDE's most energetic member returned with another solid offering. "Blank Face" is a leaner, more-focused effort than 2014's "Oxymoron." It also dabbles in "To Pimp a Buttefly"-like jazz production, adding a nice element to Schoolboy's gruff.
25. Atmosphere - "Fishing Blues [Explicit]"
With more than 20 years in the game, Slug and Ant have sealed their spot as indie rap legends. Following the lackluster 2014 album "Southsiders," it was unclear if Slug had anything left in the tank. "Fishing Blues," while a far cry from their peak in the early to mid 2000s, shows that Atmosphere can still produce quality grown folk rap.
24. Rapsody - "Crown"
Rapsody follows up her Kendrick Lamar feature and Roc Nation signing with a 10-track EP titled "Crown." She has a punchline of the year nomination with the lyric: "I see error (Ciara) in your ways, there's not future with it."
23. Lamon Manuel & Analog(ue) Tape Dispenser - "Music to Feel Like S--t To"
Underground Chicago rapper Lamon Manuel spent five years crafting "Music to Feel Like S--t to" with producer Analog(ue) Tape Dispenser. The 13-track album more than lives up to its title, as Lamon Manuel uses vivid imagery and dense metaphors telling his tales of heartbreak and depression. "Music to Feel Like S--t to" has some of the strongest writing you'll hear on any rap release in 2016, but its most poignant moments come when Manuel scales back on songs such as "Paper Plates" and "Ex-Girlfriend Haiku," on which he repeats the phrase "Yes, I want to know if the sex is better, but only if it's not."
22. Danny Brown - "Atrocity Exhibition"
Danny Brown's fourth album continues trends from his previous two records, with even more experimental production and flows.
21. Gucci Mane - "Everybody Looking"
Gucci Mane's 2016 started in federal prison and ended with three studio LPs, including the excellent "Everybody Looking." He's sober and living a healthy lifestyle, and he's sharper on the mic than he's been his whole career.
20. Kamaiyah - "A Good Night in the Ghetto"
"I wanted to make a soundtrack for the average 18-25 year old thriving, living and having a good time," Oakland rapper Kamaiyah told The Fader earlier this year. The 21-year-old rapper more than achieved that with her G-Funk influenced debut project, "A Good Night in the Ghetto."
19. D.R.A.M. - "Big Baby D.R.A.M."
In 2015, D.R.A.M. was completely swagger jacked by Drake, after the Canadian rapper released "Hotline Bling," a song that sounds a little too much like "Cha Cha." The Virginia-based rapper/singer bounced back with an even bigger hit in 2016 with "Broccoli." D.R.A.M.'s debut album is filled with a mixture of different styles and flavors, most of which are great. He's one of hip-hop's most versatile talents.
18. Run the Jewels - "RTJ3"
Released on Christmas day, this album is just over a day old as I'm writing this. It's extremely difficult to rate an album with this little of time, but it's clear El-P and Killer Mike's third effort as Run the Jewels belongs on this list. "RTJ3" does feel like a step backwards from their second effort, as the first half of the album feels like rehashes of their previous work. However, on the second half of "RTJ3," Killer Mike and El-P drop some of their most impressive work together with songs like "2100," "Everybody Stay Calm" and "Thursday in the Danger Room."
17. Red Pill - "Instinctive Drowning"
Throughout Red Pill's career, he has released music that is deeply personal and at times, a little depressing. On his second full-length with Mello Music Group, the Michigan emcee takes that to the extreme. On "Instinctive Drowning," Red Pill raps about his family's battle with alcoholism, including the intense title track, on which he recalls the night his mother died.
16. De La Soul - "And the Anonymous Nobody"
On their first album since 2004, De La Soul is a strong of emcees as they've ever been. "And the Anonymous Nobody" is the trio's most ambitious efforts they've ever released, touching on all kinds of genres from punk to glam rock to Ô80s synth pop, with varied degrees of success. But songs like "In Memory of... (US)," they show that few can make boom bap better than De La Soul.
15. NxWorries - "Yes Lawd!"
On his group album with Knxledge, Anderson .Paak's rapping takes a step back from his work on "Malibu," but "Yes Lawd!" is all about grooves and vibes. NxWorries released one of the most soulful records of the year.
14. Oddisee - "Alwasta"
Since 2009, Oddisee has been one of the most consistent artists in hip-hop. Paired with his instrumental LP, "Alwasta" is a 7-track EP that flew under the radar. While it may not be as fleshed out as 2015's "The Good Fight," Oddisee touches on different subject matter on "Alwasta," most notably about being Arab and Muslim in modern America.
13. Elzhi - "Lead Poison"
It felt like this album was never going to come out. After a Kickstarter campaign and several delays, Elzhi finally released "Lead Poison." The Detroit spitter is still as technical as hip-hop's finest writers, but he grows as an artist and songwriter on "Lead Poison," with personal songs like "Introverted" and "February."
12. Chance The Rapper - "Coloring Book"
"Coloring Book" was one of 2016's most critically acclaimed projects. Personally, I felt Chance the Rapper's third mixtape was a step back from 2013's "Acid Rap" and was poorly mixed and sleepy at times. However, there are still glimpses of the Chicago rapper's brilliance and endless potential on "Coloring Book" that make up for some of the tape's flaws.
11. YG - "Still Brazy"
Before "Still Brazy" I didn't take YG serious as a rapper. I thought the West Coast rapper was okay on the mic, but was mostly carried by top-notch production from DJ Mustard. On the Mustard-less, G-Funk flavored "Still Brazy," YG reveals a different side of him with politically charged songs such as "FDT," "Blacks & Browns" and "Police Get Away with Murder."
10. Isaiah Rashad - "The Sun's Tirade"
In a year when TDE saw releases from Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul, Isaiah Rashad managed to have the best project from his crew. He may not have the name recognition of his labelmates, but his catalog is the most impressive and consistent in TDE of anyone not named Kendrick.
9. Kanye West - "The Life of Pablo"
In many ways "The Life of Pablo" is a disappointment. It's sloppy, unfocused and at times straight up bad (why is "Nikes" on here again?). But even with all those flaws, "Pablo" is loaded with some of Kanye's best work including "Wolves," "FML," "Saint Pablo" and the pop triumph "Fame."
8. Common - "Black America Again"
It's been a long, long time since Common has been this sharp and focused. His last two LPs have had some moments of greatness mixed in with cruise-control Com, but "Black America Again" has the Chicago legend rapping like it's 1997.
7. Saba - "Bucket List Project"
Chicago's hip-hop renaissance has birthed some of the genre's best young talent. With so much talent coming out of the city, it can be difficult to stand out from the rest. On Saba's third mixtape "Bucket List Project," the West Side rapper sets himself apart from the crowd.
6. Aesop Rock - "The Impossible Kid"
Aesop Rock remains one of the most consistent emcees in hip-hop. His 2016 is a dense and thought-provoking as anything else in his catalog, but for the first time, he gives his fans a little glimpse into his personal life.
5. Noname - "Telefone"
Noname has been making her rounds in Chicago over the past few years, working with some of the city's biggest names such as Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins and Saba. "Telefone" was several years in the making, but it more than lived up to its lofty expectations.
4. Anderson .Paak - "Malibu"
Anderson .Paak is the undisputed MVP of 2016. He did it all this year, but his best work was January's "Malibu."
3. Open Mike Eagle & Paul White - "Hella Personal Film Festival"
Open Mike Eagle has been one of the best rappers of the past three years. His collab LP with Paul White (who you know from his work with Danny Brown) continues his last couple records "Dark Comedy" and "A Special Episode of." Mike combines his dark humor with some of the most personal and political songs of his career.
2. Mac Miller - "The Divine Feminine"
Mac Miller has grown as an artists with each album. From 2013 onward, Miller has flashed potential of greatness and that come into full fruition on the year's most surprisingly great record "The Divine Feminine." He spends a lot of this record singing about love and sex, but when he does rap, it's some of the sharpest emceeing of the year.
1. A Tribe Called Quest - "We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service"
The fact this album exists is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. Following Phife Dawg's death, many lost hope Tribe would ever make music together again. This album was released on the same week the United States elected Donald Trump as the 45th president and was the perfect soundtrack for the confusion and anger following the election.
Most Disappointing albums of the year:
* Chance the Rapper - "Coloring Book"
"Coloring Book" was a major win for Chance the Rapper, and he's well-deserving of any accolades he receives. However, Chance's third mixtape falls flat in a lot of ways, and after his lukewarm collaboration album with Donnie Trumpet (now known as Nico Segal), "Surf," I'm worried he may never fulfill his huge potential.
* Kanye West - "The Life of Pablo"
"TLOP" was a mess. Kanye West had a messy 2016, culminating in a gut-wrenching photo op at the Trump Tower. I hope 2017 has better things in store for the man who once was one of my favorite artists and people.
* J. Cole - "4 Your Eyez Only"
J. Cole does very little to shed his critics' claims that he's a boring rapper on "4 Your Eyez Only." With an album as short as "4 Your Eyez Only," forgettable songs are more glaring. Unfortunately half of the album is memorable.
* Yasiin Bey - "December 99th"
Not that Dec. 99th is a bad record. It's perfectly fine. He was supposed to release three albums this year, but as of Dec. 26, the artist formerly known as Mos Def has only released his collaborative record with Ferrari Shepherd.
* Future - "EVOL"/"Purple Reign
After a massive 2015, Future was bound to cool down. "EVOL" and "Purple Reign" are both solid projects, but neither are on the level of "Monster," "56 Nights," "DS2" and "Beast Mode."
* Vic Mensa - "There's Alot Going On"
2016 belonged to Chance the Rapper, but fellow Savemoney emcee Vic Mensa was also poised to breakout this year. After inking with Roc Nation and appearing on Kanye West's "TLOP," Mensa finally released his first project since 2013's "Innanetape" with the 7-track EP, "There's Alot Going On." While the tape had some great songs ("16 Shots" and "Shades of Blue"), it didn't quite hit as hard as fans were hoping. Hopefully Vic is holding onto his best material for his forthcoming LP, or else he's going to get left behind by other Chicago up-and-comers.
* Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - "This Unruly Mess I've Made"
Did you remember that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis released their second LP earlier in 2016? That's okay if you didn't because it seems like everybody else did. While "The Heist" wasn't a great record, it had its moments. On "This Unruly Mess I've Made" Macklemore is outshined by not only his producer but also most of his guests.
* Ab-Soul - "DWTW"
I think it's getting clear now that Ab-Soul is not the artist many had thought he was after he released the phenomenal "Control System." His latest album, "DWTW," is an improvement over the awful "These Days," but it's still a mess. "Threatening Nature" has got to be one of the worst songs I heard all year.
* Drake - "Views"
What happened? "Views" was supposed to be Drake's triumph, but instead the Toronto hitmaker released his most uninspired album of his career. With chart-topping hits and breaking streaming records, I don't think Drake is going to care that "Views" was a bloated mess.
* Vince Staples - "Prima Donna"
"Prima Donna" is likely just a stop-gap project in between full length projects, but Vince Staples took a noticeable step back in 2016.
* Tonedeff - "Polymer"
Tonedeff promised his "Polymer" album back in 2012. After countless delays, he dropped the album in 2016, and while it is a display of great technical rapping and production, but a lot of the songs felt sterile. At 20 tracks, the album is an exhausting listen and difficult to get through.
* Mick Jenkins - "The Healing Component"
Mick Jenkins' debut album "The Healing Component" isn't a bad album, but it certainly failed to meet expectations. Mick Jenkins might be the most technically gifted rapper of Chicago's young group of rappers. But on his 2016 LP, he narrows in too much on his concept of self-love, his message gets a little redundant.
Originally posted: January 3, 2017