The few good parts of 2016
One thing that has stayed constant throughout history, whether good year or bad, you’ll always hear the same statement; “This year was a terrible one for music”. The beauty of opinion flourishes at the end of every 365 day-term when people decide to discuss their favourite projects through calm, civil manner and with matured respect that comes with every debate you can find on the internet. With this being a blog centred on the discussion and dissection of music; particularly said genre that partakes in the past time of rapping, it’s only fitting that I keep up with the trend of any other with an opinion and run down my favourite pieces that came out this year. Keep in mind I’m including one mixtape on this list of LPs.
(Honourable mention goes to Run The Jewels 3, too late to review and make it on the list but a top 10 worthy record nonetheless)
10. Views – Drake
Views really shouldn’t be here, it should be left to the halls of obscure-but-above-average albums that Drake churns out every year. And yet I can’t deny the basic enjoy-ability of Drake’s consistent production and struggle bars – his trepidation with unfaithful friends, women and the cheesecake factory made for some cringe-worthy bars but personal tales that the Canadian rapper conveys with a never-failing sense of intent and fragility. His approachable demeanour makes him likeable at most levels, communicated well across 20 tracks that make up his most solid LP to date. It’s the most streamed album of all time for a reason – accessible, but with just enough edge to call it hip hop; it’s Drake’s testament as to why he’s one of the most talked-about artists on the planet right now.
Highlights: Childs Play, Views, Hype
9. The Life of Pablo – Kanye West
TLOP is a mess-filled masterpiece made by a mind at war with itself. Its heights are some of the highest this year has seen, where flashes of the old-school Kanye genius shine through in a contemporary style that shows he’s still one of the most creative artists around. While at the same time these high points are paired with his just as potent fits of narcissism that make for his tiresome audio ego-trips, TLOP manages to be one of the most interesting records of the year that gained attention from all corners of the media. Through its constant changes and frenzied release, Kanye put out a project that battles with itself more than Jekyll and Hyde – but boy did the battle sound good.
Highlights: Real Friends, Waves, Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1
8. Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown
Hip hop’s snaggle-tooth bearing, grin-wearing, most unpredictable rapper came through with a truly insane piece of work back in September – a record I still can’t really wrap my head around today. A drug-fuelled celebration of all things sinful, Danny Brown brilliantly intertwined unrelenting creative spirit with a no limits style that resulted in the year’s trippiest release. It’s hard to explain what makes Atrocity Exhibition so good without just getting someone to listen to it and hearing the insanity for themselves; but it’s safe to say it’s the most polarising-yet-unique take on the genre we’ve seen in a long time. Though sometimes it’s a little to crazy for its own good, Atrocity Exhibition should be approached with a sense of caution, but will likely be walked away from with a sense of wonder.
Highlights: Really Doe, Tell Me What I Don’t Know, When It Rain
7. Genesis – Domo Genesis
It would’ve been a crime for Genesis to creep under my radar (as it sadly did with so many others), so I’m glad I took a chance on the lesser know member of the semi-existent Odd Future group. What Genesis entails is a quiet, subdued kind of genius that sits happy in its precise execution of what its host calls “Acid Jazz and blue grass”. It’s a laid back, unhurried project that takes its time to show you every inch of its instrumentals alongside its contemplative and questioning rapper who matches it with an easy-going flow. It might’ve been easy to toss it aside as dull and remiss of any excitement, but for me Genesis was a welcome change of pace from the usual whiplash-inducing mixtape music in such abundance at the moment.
Highlights: One Below, Coming Back, Faded in the Moment
6. The Sun’s Tirade – Isaiah Rashad
What’s a top 10 list without any TDE on it? Isaiah Rashad’s sophomore album seemed to be the dark horse hit with the hip hop community this year, coming from a young artist who had reluctantly been out of the spotlight for a prolonged amount of time due to drug-induced spells away from music. Isaiah comes up courageous and triumphant against his demons through the smooth trappings of a jazz-influenced track list, taking every beat switch and hook in his stride and making himself right at home in them. He tackles both personal and communal issues across The Sun’s Tirade, approaching each with an intoxicated smile and no ounce of ego to be found – this is how you tell a label to keep you.
Highlights: Free Lunch, Wat’s Wrong, Tity and Dolla
5. untitled unmastered – Kendrick Lamar
And what’s a top 10 list without any Kendrick? It may be a sad state of affairs with the fact that the guy’s B-sides from last year’s To Pimp A Butterfly made for some of the most interesting listens this year. Draped in a murky atmosphere, the tape is the rapper’s most experimental project to date with journeys into both jazz and soul inspired production, echoing the sounds found on TPAB. It proves TDE’s golden boy isn’t afraid to wade into uncharted waters even in the face of the stardom conformity his past efforts have brought him. The record feels raw and yet composed with a purpose, showing off what can be done with a host of live instruments and a mind that can bring them all together in such an abstract way.
Highlights: untitled 02, untitled 03, untitled 07
4. Still Brazy – YG
As homages go, Still Brazy may have reached unintentional greatness with its obvious love for the signature sound of the West Coast. YG and his plethora of producers came into his second LP with a clear goal that they achieved in style, merging the classic ‘gangsta’ motifs of the 90’s with a modern-day shine. YG, LA resident and Bloods gang member, goes from DJ Mustard hype man to full blown storyteller on the tracks listed here, telling of the episodes of gang violence that’s shaped him into the introverted man he is today. YG delivers cold, threat-filled raps to all walks of life, even the Republican candidate-turned soon to be president. Still Brazy offers a fantastic myriad of G-funk inspired tracks, basking in talk-box vocals and drum loops that the likes of Dr. Dre would be proud of hearing.
Highlights: Twist My Fingaz, Who Shot Me, Police Get Away wit Murder
3. Negus – Kemba
This exploration into the American black experience stands to be the most under-appreciated and looked-past gem of 2016. Kemba, an MC forged in a bitter tirade against the country that sees his people lay in the streets on the regular, mixes braggadocio, spirit and courage across the 12 tracks – using each instrumental to great effect for his analytical vignettes. Lyrically, it has some of the most thought provoking lines that were written this year, backed by some production with some real heart behind it. Every track tells its own story and every story is bolstered by its telling, with the rapper standing as the isolated soul of the record – angry and sceptical, but with a little but of hop mixed in too. Negus deserves more recognition when looked at as a conscious album, and I can only hope it comes as Kemba grows bigger with each forthcoming release.
Highlights: The New Black Theory, Greed, Brown Skin Jesus
2. Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper
It’s safe to say Coloring Book was a game changer. Not only did it solidify Chance as an artist capable of making grammy-worthy music, but also as one that released that music on a free platform. The idea of mixtapes and how they are seen in the wider music community has fluctuated throughout the years, but with Coloring Book the Chicagoan showed that these stream-only projects could represent just as much quality as a commercial one. Incorporating sounds from a spectrum of origins, Chance uses his prowess to explore a number of musical endeavours, pairing them with sharp, witty writing. Peppered with gospel influences and an impressive feature list, it gives good reason as to why it’s one of the most talked-about records of the year and to how the kid from 79th street is changing the game for the better.
Highlights: Blessings (Reprise), No Problem, Angels
1. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service – A Tribe Called Quest
The Tribe gets the top spot of the list without question. No, it didn’t push boundaries and it didn’t blow minds with any new ideas – but what it did do was remind people why it was called ‘The Golden Age’. We Got it from Here perfectly revisited the sounds that made ATCQ so popular back in that decade, taking care with how it treated each issue but still executing it with a care-free and lovable style that somehow still holds up. With stellar production reminiscent of when tracks were cobbled together by chopping up tapes and samples and rhymes that still pose questions relevant today, the Tribe’s 6th and final album was everything I hoped it would be. A reminder of what hip hop really meant at one time, the album was a collection of love letters to the very genre it belonged to, mixing political and cultural statements with good times and hardship. A Tribe Called Quest didn’t disappointment this year; and while it is sad their journey has ended, at least I can say it ended on a high. RIP Phife Dawg.
Highlights: The Space Program, Dis Generation, Ego
If you’re reading this… thanks for reading – both this post and any others you might’ve checked out this year. I know it’s mostly trash but I’m working on it.
Happy New Year