Right, no need for major introductions. 2016 is coming to an end. I do music articles. That means an end of year list is mandatory at his stage so, here are my ten favourite projects for the year.
I’m not going to do much writing on these records as they are not the focus of this but there are a few records that did not make it into my top ten but are still definitely worth listening to…Just not as much as the top ten for me. Do What Thou Wilt by Ab-Soul probably would have snuck into the top ten if I had been able to sit with it for a little longer prior to writing my list, it’s a very solid album and a return to form in a similar vain to his 2012 Control System record. A Tribe Called Quest’s album, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is also a very good listen, and having listened to it a few times it still surprises me that the group sounds as fresh and modern as they do, with the late, great Phife Dawg also sounding vibrant in some of the last verses he recorded prior to his passing. My final honourable mentions are Kano’s Made In The Manor, which contains a perfect fusion between UK Grime tracks and hip-hop tracks in a very adult sounding take on the genre; and Chance The Rapper’s Colouring Book 3, which is a terrific album, fusing gospel sounds with hip-hop seamlessly, and would have placed higher but it didn’t have as high a replay factor for me.
10 – Lemonade by Beyoncé
This album saw Queen B at her very best for a full project for the first time in a while. There was real heart behind this project, fuelled by her alleged relationship problems with husband, Jay-Z and those emotions were expertly channeled through the narrative of the album which was thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. She was a lot more aggressive and direct with her lyrics and utilised features from the likes of The Weeknd, James Bay and Kendrick Lamar very well. My standouts off of the record are the country tune, “Daddy Lessons” and “Sorry” which I absolutely love. This would have ranked higher but as with some other albums this year, I really don’t find myself going back to play this enough for it to break higher up in the list. Nevertheless, the cultural impact this record had, setting the internet alight immediately as it was released as well as what it did for TIDAL in terms of sign-ups because of it, and that SuperBowl performance cannot be understated here.
9 – untitled. unmastered by Kendrick Lamar
In a year when he didn’t release a full record, it’s amazing that this project from Compton rapper, Kendrick Lamar is as good as it is. Despite the project essentially consisting of unrefined cuts that didn’t make his 2015 To Pimp A Butterfly album, the 8 tracks here display a quality level which in many ways rivals the finished product of some of his contemporaries. Standouts on this short tape include “untitled 02” (which may rear it’s head when I go on to list my favourite individual tracks of this year) and “untitled 07” which features production from Swizz Beats and Alicia Keys’ 5 year old son, Egypt. This probably would have been much higher up if it wasn’t essentially pieces picked up off of the cutting room floor, but still worth a listen.
8 – Still Brazy by YG
YG came back with aplomb this year. Following his fallout with longtime collaborator, DJ Mustard, many were sceptical about how the Bompton rapper would be able to advance without the man who underpinned his whole sound up until this point. Well, the answer to that was, very, very well. This album sees YG develop on everything that was good about My Krazy Life and adds a lot more depth and content to his narrative. Set against the backdrop of paranoia and drama caused by both the aforementioned fallout as well as his being the victim of a shooting in his own studio, the album feels passionate as hell. It even veers into the political realm with songs like “Blacks and Browns” and the hit-single “FDT”. It’s a solid record that really demonstrated the further reaches of YG’s potential and showed a real progression.
7 – Prima Donna by Vince Staples
Vince Staples is a Long Beach rapper who came to prominence in the early 2010’s for his work with Odd Future members Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. For many, including myself, we were properly introduced to his exceptional skill as a feature on Earl’s “Hive” track off of his 2013 album, Doris. Since then we have had two very good EP’s from the rapper and then last year’s Summertime 06, which was amongst the best rap records of the year in many publications. He followed that album with this EP, which is short, but also accompanied by a 10 minute music video which I would thoroughly recommend watching. The tracks create a small narrative path, and the sounds used deviate into the more off kilter and experimental side of Staples’ repertoire. My favourite tracks on this are definitely “Loco ft Kilo Kish” and “Prima Donna ft A$AP Rocky” which are also very worth the listen, with the features really complimenting the artistic style of the record. It’s a bit of a deviation from the typical west coast sound but one that I found thoroughly rewarding.
6 – Lil Uzi Vs The World by Lil Uzi Vert
Damn I absolutely love this album. Lil Uzi Vert is as fun and colourful as the album art would suggest and some of the singles off of this record are amongst my favourite tracks of the year for sure, such as “Money Longer” and “Canadian Goose”. Don’t get me wrong, lyrically there is nothing here but man is this not an enjoyable ride regardless. This tape is exactly why I hold this man as the gold standard of the new age “mumble rappers”, because this is that form of music done right. The production of Don Cannon and Maaly Raw perfectly compliment his style and he is most definitely in his pocket throughout this record, and probably best of all, the length of it is perfect as it comes in, turns up and dips out before the quality can dip.
5 – 3001: A Laced Odyssey by Flatbush Zombies
The full length commercial debut of this eclectic New York trio was awaited with baited breath by many hip-hop heads, on the back of the critically praised BetterOffDead mixtape in 2014. Whilst a commercial release posed an issue for the sample heavy sound many fans had grown to love, the group’s producer/rapper Erick “The Architect” Elliot managed to find a way around this to create some of the most interesting sounding hip-hop the group has produced. An added note to this album is that there is an additional layer to the album, when watched in sync with the Stanley Kubrick epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. I won’t ruin it for you here, but would recommend loading up the film and pressing play on the album when the MGM Lion pops up. My favourite tracks on this album are most definitely “R.I.P CD” and “Trade-Off” both of which had stellar verses from all three members. On previous albums, Meechy Darko had been by and far the standout on the majority of tracks he featured on, however on this record, everyone brought their A-Game on all the tracks. Also, my enjoyment of the record was further enhanced by actually being able to see the Zombies perform live at their show in London which was just as wild and entertaining as the album.
4 – The Sun’s Tirade by Isaiah Rashad
This album marks the triumphant return of Isaiah Rashad after a prolonged absence since his debut, Cilvia Demo. It builds on a lot of what made that record so great, bringing the smooth sounds and raspy vocals back with even higher production values than the last effort. Tracks such as “Wat’s Wrong ft Kendrick Lamar and Zacari” and “4r da Squaw” really are something to behold, with Isaiah’s delivery in both being at centre stage here. Topically, it continues right where Cilvia left off and further develops on the issues of alcoholism and depression which were foreshadowed in some tracks on that record. It’s a much more ambitious effort and for the most part it pays off here. Whilst it may not completely carry on the more ethereal sounds of his earlier efforts, here his use of features really pushed Isaiah to deliver some of his best verses to date, refusing to be outshone on his own album. This is another stellar entry in the ever expanding TDE catalogue.
3 – Blank Face LP by ScHoolboy Q
TDE Rapper ScHooolboy Q followed up His 2014 Oxymoron record witH tHis, mucH more ambitious project wHicH improved upon many of tHe positives of its predecessor and eliminated tHe majority of issues from it. The HigHs Here were HigHer, and tHe grittiness was turned rigHt up to 11 for tHe bulk of tHe record, even tHe softer spots sucH as “WHateva U Want ft Candiice Pillay” and “Neva CHange ft SZA” were injected witH a HeigHtened sense of funk making tHem seem less out of place. Ignoring “Overtime ft Miguel & Justine Skye” wHicH doesn’t really fit, tHe rest of tHe album is dark, moody and laced witH ScHoolboy’s grit and dark Humour. Not only tHat but tHe guest verses on tHis are amazing, witH Jadakiss absolutely destroying “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane”; Vince Staples bodying His verse on “Ride Out ” and fellow 52 Hoover Crip members, Traffic and TF bringing tHe Heat on “Tookie Knows II” amongst others. THis is for sure Q’s best work so far, and definitely deserves its Grammy nod.
2 – Blond(e) by Frank Ocean
This was an album what seemed like a lifetime in the making. Four long years had passed since Frank Ocean had blessed us with his Grammy winning, Channel Orange record, and in the time between these albums, the fans had a whole load of nothing quench the thirst. Memes expressing fans pain at still listening to “Pyramids” and “Bad Religion” in 2016 began to appear, and then after 3 or 4 false alarms, and the Endless visual album…it arrived. And boy did it deliver. This album is an ethereal journey through Ocean’s mind, with exceptional cuts such as “Nikes”, including a killer closing verse from Japanese rapper Kohh and “Solo”, which is by far my favourite song on the whole record. I’m big enough to admit that during one of the more tender moments in my first play-through I almost shed a solitary tear, as I was that caught up in the feels. This is much more unconventional and experimental than his previous releases, however, I felt like many of the artistic risks he took here paid off in full, creating a beautifully complex sequel to Channel Orange. 100% worth the wait for me.
1 – Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown
I honestly don’t even know where to begin with this album. It is absolute carnage and chaos, an artist at their experimental best, pushing the boundaries of the genre in a way which also perfectly suits him. In a return to the musical direction similar to his earlier breakout album XXX, the sounds here are eclectic and daring. From the gritty to the psychedelic to the bizarre, you can find it all here. The star studded standout track “Really Doe” has guest features from Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar, all of whom bring fire here whilst Danny contributes his own incredible verse. Other than that, Danny and the production take centre stage for the bulk of this album, with very little in the way of features. This doesn’t take away from the album however, as Danny flies through these unusual beats with ease, making seemingly awkward and potentially hazardous beats seem as if they are the simplest drum loops known to man. Among the other highlights here are “Pneumonia”, “White Lines” and “When It Rains” all of which showcase his amazing delivery and lyrics ranging from the gritty to the downright insane. This album is incredible, back to front and more than worthy of it’s place at number one on my list.