Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2016

Hey everyone, welcome to my Top 10 Hip-Hop albums of 2016, a.k.a. Shit-on-Panny-For-His-Terrible-Music-Taste Round One! This will be my only blog exclusive Year-End List! So be sure to catch the rest on my YouTube channel in the next couple weeks, including the one I already put out. A few clarifications before we get into this:

  • As always – and it’s kinda frustrating that I have to even say this – this list is 100 percent my personal taste! C’mon guys, none of this shit is ever “objective”, whatever the hell that means. These records are arranged solely based on how much I ENJOYED them. An album in the number three slot is not “better” than an album in the number seven slot – I just dug it more!
  • Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered was not eligible, because it wasn’t an official full-length release.
  • Death Grips’ Bottomless wasn’t eligible either – I’d rather file that one under “experimental” music. Dug the hell out of it though!

With all that nonsense out of the way, let’s dive in!

10. THE DIVINE FEMININE – MAC MILLER

Likely to be my most controversial pick, Mac Miller’s fourth record (and best yet) is as fun, wide-eyed, blissful, and heartwarming as any music I heard all year. It’s this brazen celebration of love and sexuality that carves its own unique niche in Hip-Hop. Mac’s whole-hearted commitment to the LP’s concept, his (as usual) great beat selection, and his flawless balancing of his talented guests made this one the ultimate not-so-guilty pleasure.

Top 3 Tracks: “Cinderella”, “Dang!”, “Stay”

9. COLORING BOOK – CHANCE THE RAPPER 

Unfortunately, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Chance’s hugely hyped third project because, well, it was HUGELY HYPED. Overly so, to the point where I got so fucking sick of hearing about it. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it! Chance’s playful personality and seemingly unending charisma continue to set him apart. Not to mention, Coloring Book has more than enough bars, soul, and inventive genre fusions to go around.

Top 3 Tracks: “Angels”, “No Problem”, “Blessings”

8. 3001: A LACED ODYSSEY – FLATBUSH ZOMBIES

The debut full-length from these Brooklyn upstarts gives me high hopes for the future of the genre. Though its clearly rooted in ‘90s nostalgia, 3001 has one eye looking out the front windshield, embracing some trap-based production and molding it to fit the Zombies’ over-the-top O.D.B.-esque charisma. And there’s a sizable melodic undercurrent that makes it all feel like more than just a gritty, drug-addled cypher.

Top 3 Tracks: “R.I.P.C.D.”, “Bounce, “Good Grief”

7. LAYERS – ROYCE DA 5’9

Royce’s unbelievable rhyming skills are on display once again? Zero surprise there. Where the surprise did come: the Detroit OG did right by his phenomenal bars by surrounding them with legitimately great songs, something he and his Slaughterhouse counterparts have struggled with in the past few years. His beat selection is outstanding, with the swaggering production on tracks like “Wait” and “Layers” guiding him to the finish line like a spotter on a bench press. Other times, like on the opening track “Tabernacle” – the single best Hip-Hop song of 2016 – his lyrics and storytelling are so mindblowing that I could literally listen to him a cappella.

Top 3 tracks: “Tabernacle”, “Pray”, “Layers”

6. HANDSHAKES WITH SNAKES – APATHY

CT’s own Apathy came through with an album so directly up my alley, it’s like he made the damn thing with me in mind (I’ll take a second to pause while you wonder if I’m a paranoid schizophrenic). It’s got hard-hitting, sample-based boom bap production, it’s got intricate lyricism up the wazoo, and Ap’s constantly railing against the youngest generation of rappers and the autotune and “emo-rap” that’s becoming all the rage with the kids these days. Don’t sleep on this project!

Top 3 Tracks: “Pay Your Dues”, “Charlie Brown”, “Amon Raw”

5. FISHING BLUES – ATMOSPHERE

My initial review of the latest from these Minneapolis veterans was a bit more mixed, but this fucking record just grew on me and grew on me and grew on me. A lot of it has to do with Ant’s gorgeous production, as well as Slug’s endless likability on the mic. Even when he’s not expressing it in the most impressive or clever of ways, I vibe with everything Slug says here. And that’s how this LP snuck into my Top 5 – I had a profound emotional connection with it. At the end of the day, fuck the critic shit – that’s what music’s about.

Top 3 Tracks: “Fishing Blues”, “Everything”, “The Shit That We’ve Been Through”

4. WE GOT IT FROM HERE…THANK YOU 4 YOUR SERVICE – A TRIBE CALLED QUEST

 Tribe’s sixth LP and swansong is better than anyone could’ve hoped for. The fucking thing picks up RIGHT where classics like Midnight Marauders left off – it combines thoughtful, semi tongue-in-cheek rhymes with rich, instrument-driven production. The only difference, of course, is We Got It From Here feels incredibly TIMELY. In a year where American politics devolved into sickening chaos and everybody seems to hate each other for ten million different reasons, Tribe are exactly who we needed to hear from. Oh, and the features are out of this world. Are you gonna pass up an album that has Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Elton John, Busta Rhymes, and Talib Kweli on it? Didn’t think so.

Top 3 Tracks: “We the People”, “Dis Generation”, “Kids”

3. TOP OF THE LINE – RITTZ

The third LP from this criminally underrated Strange Music Signee is a spectacular blend of head-splitting double-time flows, meticulously crafted multi-syllabic rhyme schemes, banging production, and infectious pop hooks to top it all off (the latter of which helps set him apart). But most importantly, Rittz has so much to say, touching on a myriad of interesting topics and not wasting a single bar. To give you an idea, here’s a brief list of things the Georgia MC discusses (and chronicles in detail, really) throughout these 21 tracks: his battle with substance abuse, the death of his dog (“Nostalgia” is the most touching moment on the album), race relations in America and how they relate to the white rapper, suicidal thoughts, spirituality, the decadent touring lifestyle, infidelity in relationships, his come up in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and loads more. And it’s all compelling, lyrically dazzling, and packaged into digestible, straightforward tunes.

Top 3 Tracks: “The Formula”, “Nostalgia”, “KISA”…then the other 18

2. ATROCITY EXHIBITION – DANNY BROWN

As an MC, Danny Brown is occupying a lane entirely his own. Though some may be turned off by his eccentric, almost cartoonish delivery, Atrocity Exhibition is undeniably one of the most unique, dark, zany, and wildly stimulating Hip-Hop records ever made. Brown’s tortured rhymes sit atop an A.D.D.-inducing array of beats that contains nods to Rock, Punk, a bit of R & B, and whatever the hell “Ain’t It Funny” is. The all-star posse cut “Really Doe” and the bare “Pneumonia” are two instances where Brown dials back the crazy and serves up some straightforward bangers, but most of the time his mind is off in cacophonous La La Land, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Top 3 Tracks: “Ain’t It Funny”, “Rolling Stone”, “Really Doe”

1. THE LIFE OF PABLO – KANYE WEST

Man, I really had to dig deep on this choice. Once I had my Top 3 narrowed down, I immediately started stressing, my mind racing through every possible negative reaction to my opinions – the worst thing to pay attention to as a music writer. But I planted my feet firmly, blocked out all the outside noise, blocked out all of my friends’ and peers’ opinions, and listened to my gut. What was the Hip-Hop album I got the most enjoyment out of in 2016? What album defined the year for me? What album had the most great songs, and the least not-so-great songs? The answer: The Life of Pablo. Sure, Atrocity Exhibition would’ve been the safe “critic-approved” choice, and Top of the Line is the ultimate underdog, but the dopamine receptors in my brain keep pointing toward the wacked-out, schizophrenic genius of Kanye’s seventh record. For me, this is his best since Graduation. It’s got everything – incredible features, suberb production, lyrics that are as thought-provoking as they are confrontational, incendiary, and outrageous…I know few agree, but this record is a classic. Thanks Kanye, I’ll forgive all your other dumb shit.

Top 3 Tracks: Jesus Christ….ummm…..”Famous”, “Waves”, “Real Friends”?

And here are five HONORABLE MENTIONS:

The Impossible Kid – Aesop Rock

The Art of Hustle – Yo Gotti

Don’t Smoke Rock – Smoke DZA & Pete Rock (full review here)

Black America Again – Common

Do What Thou Wilt. – Ab-Soul (it’s only been out a few days, but wanted to shout it out! It’s HARDD!)

 

November 2016 Album Round Up!

Hey everyone! Nine days into December, I hope all the obnoxious repeats of Mariah Carey, Wham!, and God knows what else by your “spirited” friends and family haven’t broken you yet. I love how these fucking people try to make me feel like the Grinch just ‘cause I don’t want to hear the same five songs every day for a month. I actually love a lot of Christmas tunes, but as someone who will listen to Grindcore on Wednesday, Disco on Thursday, and Shoegaze on Friday, it’s the lack of variety that kills me.

Anyway, ya boy’s in full-on Year End List mode!!! “List Season”, as I deem it, is my favorite time of year every year! I have tons of fun holing myself up for hours on end listening, re-listening, and deliberating for hours on end about lists that 95% of people don’t give two fucks about. But I do give two fucks, and I’ve got a lot to say this year. I’ve already published one list on YouTube, and several more are on their way! Stay tuned! In the meantime, here are eight records I checked out last month. Keep it gangsta.

Battles – In Flames

Sometimes I seriously wonder who the In Flames fanbase consists of at this point. They’ve now spent over a decade making syrupy Metalcore-ish music that seems to have an inverse time-quality relationship (translation: it keeps getting shittier). This newest one, while not as terrible as 2014’s Siren Charms, takes some vocal cues from Bring Me the Horizon (the “melodic gang vocals” that show up in “The End”, “The Truth”, and the final chorus in “Here Until Forever”), puts some late-‘90s In Flames in the microwave, and then overproduces the shit out of it. I actually didn’t mind it that much, but I’ll be sticking with The Jester Race. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest

The Queens legends’ swansong and first record in almost 18 years, We Got It From Here picks up RIGHT where classic Tribe albums like Midnight Marauders left off. I’m astonished at how effortlessly these three veterans manage to make music with the same charisma and gusto that they had a quarter of a century ago. This LP is loaded with all kinds of exciting features (Andre 3000, Talib Kweli, Kendrick Lamar, Busta Rhymes, and even Elton John), but ironically, it’s just icing on the cake – the core of the record is three of Hip-Hop’s (dare I say) elder statesmen taking the kids to school. I’m blown away. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

24k Magic – Bruno Mars

I can’t believe Bruno Mars took almost four years to follow up Unorthodox Jukebox! It doesn’t feel that long ago at all, right? Well, he’s back with a third record that expands on the unapologetic throwback sound of “Uptown Funk”, his collaborative smash with producer Mark Ronson. 24K Magic is almost entirely rooted in nostalgia for the Pop and R & B of the ‘80s and ‘90s – much of the production is synth driven, with bombastic clapping snares and funky basslines.  Many of these songs have a brazen sexuality, a dose of braggadocio, and are fairly lighthearted, making for a simple, quick, and easy listen. For me, some of it connects and some of it doesn’t. “Chunky”, “That’s What I Like”, and “24K Magic” are three of my favorite Pop songs of 2016, while I could do without the obnoxious “Perm” and the dull closing ballad “Too Good to Say Goodbye”. Currently, the addictive title track is this LP’s only single, but I imagine that’ll change soon. Future single predictions: “Chunky” and “Versace on the Floor”. RECOMMENDED

Hardwired…To Self-Destruct – Metallica

God, my life was so fucking different the last time Metallica put out a record. Death Magnetic came out EIGHT FUCKING YEARS AGO! Wow. Well, the Thrash legends are finally back with another underwhelming but solid LP. My main issue with much of Metallica’s music remains intact: the meandering song structures. These songs are essentially just piles of riffs stacked on top of each other with little regard for concision or quality control. So there ends up being lots of wasted space. The upside, of course, is James Hetfield delivers a ton of riff gems amongst the wasted space. Fans should be (and seem) happy. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Black America Again – Common

Common’s soulful 11th album is – as its title may suggest – loaded with impassioned social commentary, particularly as it pertains to race relations in America. The powerful title track addresses the Flint water crisis, refers to mass incarceration as “the new plantation”, and comments on racism in sports (“Maria Sharapova making more than Serena”). It all feels like a call-to-action for the black community. While profound and sobering, these weighty themes do start to take their toll on the listener, which is why light-hearted breathers like “Love Star”, “Unfamiliar”, and “Red Wine” are helpful. But for me, the best thing about Black America Again is Common’s bars! Look no further than the song “Pyramids” or the amazing first verse on “A Bigger Picture Called Free” for lyrical gymnastics that we haven’t heard from the Chicago OG in forever. He does some of the best rapping of his career on here. And content-wise, he has a lot to say. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Starboy – The Weeknd

 Cut out the filler, kids. The Weeknd’s third studio Starboy would’ve been one of the best albums of the year if he had done just that. There is so much FIRE on here, particularly on the first half of the record, but as a listener, I feel like he wastes a good 20 minutes of my time within these 18 tracks. “Attention, “Rockin”, Nothing Without You”, “All I Know”…these all could’ve gotten the axe. STILL, I have been bumping this LP non-stop since it came out – I really do love its tortured-partier themes, its butter smooth production, The Weeknd’s unique croon, and the night-time atmosphere the songs suck me into. The title track is one of 2016’s greatest moments, and there are a good eight or nine other bangers on here that I’m gonna continue to vibe with. RECOMMENDED

Atoma – Dark Tranquillity 

One of my favorite Metal bands of all time and I didn’t review this, even though I wrote about the singles and everything. Why? Well, I didn’t have much to say about it. If I reviewed it, I would’ve given it a strong 7/light 8 and said something to the effect of “this is another great DT album”. But at this point, there are already ten of those! So even though the music is solid on Atoma, it’s starting to feel like I’ve heard everything I’m gonna hear from them. So I cherry-picked my favorite tracks (“Atoma”, “Forward Momentum”, “Our Proof of Life”, “Clearing Skies”) and moved on. I’m hoping for a bit more surprises next go ‘round! RECOMMENDED

Built to Last – Hammerfall

Power Metal mainstays Hammerfall are on their tenth album now. And if you didn’t already expect a rehashing of the band’s other nine LPs, the third track “Sacred Vow” uses multiple previous song titles as lyrics. Look, if you’re into this type of Power Metal – Priest/Maiden throwback sound combined with corny lyrics about warriors, I can definitely recommend Hammerfall’s Steel Meets Steel compilation from 2007 (particularly the second disc). But this record here? You don’t need to hear it. It’s the exact same shit. I’m not gonna say Built to Last is a bad album, ‘cause it’s not a blatantly “bad” album. I just don’t particularly care that it exists. NOT RECOMMENDED