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!)

 

September 2016 Album Round Up!

Since I was three years old – to put that in context, since BEFORE the world witnessed Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio bang on the Titanic and her subsequent refusal to share a rather spacious floating door, choosing instead to let him die – this was the first non-Summer month that I have not spent in a classroom. That’s almost 20 years of steady structure tossed out the fucking window. It’s almost surreal, but in the immortal words of Blink-182, “I guess this is growing up.” And growing up meant that in September 2016 I was busier than I have ever been, working and interning for absurd hours, scrambling to find time for quality, in-depth listens of all of these new records, and trying to somehow squeeze out a social life and some gym hours. The whole listening-to-new-music thing worked out reasonably well, although the true release mayhem came RIGHT on September 30th, so I’m still catching my breath. But I’ve got a bunch of great stuff to recommend! Enjoy my ramblings, and hope you’re all looking forward to October as much as I am – it’s gonna be fucking STACKED!

Bad Vibrations – A Day To Remember

This Metalcore/Pop-Punk band’s last effort – 2013’s Common Courtesy – is one of my favorite albums ever. So I didn’t expect Bad Vibrations to meet that high water mark. In the end, I’m walking away feeling positive yet slightly underwhelmed. The first half of this LP is packed with some of ADTR’s best material to date, like “Bullfight”, “Naviety” (showcasing their poppier side), and the title track (showcasing their more aggressive side), but there are a few duds and filler tracks in the latter half (“Turn Off the Radio”, “Forgive and Forget”, “We Got This”) weighing it down. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight – Travis Scott

I was a bit late to the Travis Scott party, so the peculiarly titled Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight is the first time I’m experiencing his new music alongside the rest of the world. Scott’s hugely hyped sophomore full-length is not perfect, but it’s PACKED with bangers, and it’s been my go-to party album for the entire month. Particular highlights include “Coordinate”, “Goosebumps”, “Pick Up the Phone”, and “Through the Late Night”, the latter of which is the best thing Kid Cudi has been involved with in over half a decade. Between Birds and Young Thug’s Jeffery project last month, Hip-Hop is incredibly turnt right now. RECOMMENDED

Winter’s Gate – Insomnium 

I haven’t disliked a single album from these Finnish Melodeath masters, but “Winter’s Gate” is special. It’s a conceptual behemoth that meets the highest of Melodic Death Metal standards without ever getting ahead of itself. Along with Be’Lakor’s excellent Vessels LP this past June, Winter’s Gate proves that this style of Metal is as vital as it ever has been. You might see this one again when the time comes for “Best Albums of 2016” discussions. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Natural Causes – Skylar Grey

For her second album as Skylar Grey, the “Love the Way You Lie” songstress took a bold leap from the cookie cutter Pop of 2013’s Don’t Look Down into something much more spacey and ethereal. I was psyched about the transition and wanted more than anything to be blown away by the whole record, but in reality, I fell in love with a handful of tracks and could take or leave the rest. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Yellowcard – Yellowcard

Even though they’re one of my all-time favorites, Yellowcard’s swansong left me indifferent. There are some flashes of the Yellowcard that I grew up loving, but the track list suffers from what I call “ballad syndrome” – of 11 songs, 5 or 6 of them venture into ballad territory. That’s not ok for a Pop-Punk album, or any album for that matter. These slow cuts aren’t terrible, but it makes for a strange and uneven listen. Rather than going out with a bang or a whimper, Yellowcard went out with a polite wave goodbye. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown

On his fourth project, Danny Brown is once again an utterly singular Hip-Hop artist, from his unmistakable delivery, to his slightly avant-garde production, to his eccentric, drug-riddled storytelling. Don’t be fooled by his abrasive persona though; the guy can rap his ass off. Just check the gritty “Lost” or the star-studded “Really Doe”, the latter of which finds Brown holding his own with heavyweights like Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt. On second thought, scratch that “Really Doe” analysis, ‘cause “heavyweight” now describes Danny Brown too – he’s not only at the top of HIS game, he’s one of the most compelling rappers on the planet right now.

Creatures Watching Over the Dead – Charred Walls of the Damned

 Richard Christy, Steve DiGiorgio, Jason Suecof, and Tim “Ripper” Owens fire up their Metal supergroup again for album number three. This is BY FAR my favorite record of theirs. Hearing Ripper’s soaring, melodic vocals over some legitimately heavy riffs is particularly refreshing – I don’t know about you, but I get tired of the same throat-gurgling screams over everything. I love to hear a singer with old school PIPES, and the ex-Judas Priest frontman really brings it here. The melodies don’t stop at Ripper either – the track “Lies” is sent off with an ultra poppy riff and a sugary guitar solo that sounds like a Pop-Punk band got parachuted into a Metal anthem. Elsewhere, shit can get crushingly heavy (“The Soulless”), technically dazzling (Jason Suecof’s harmonized lead in “Tear Me Down”), and even thoughtful (“My Eyes”).The songs aren’t ALWAYS there, but the mastery these veterans exhibit over the genre is a true joy to listen to. RECOMMENDED

The Altar – Banks

Banks sophomore LP is a noticeable improvement over Goddess, her super hyped but slightly underwhelming debut. Plodding moments like “To the Hilt” and “Poltergeist” hurt the track list in its latter stages, but I’ll be damned if there’s aren’t some bonafide Alt-Pop smashes on here. “Gemini Feed” has proven to be a wise choice for a single, and “Trainwreck” continues in a similar vein. “This Is Not About Us” veers more toward the Electro-Pop route, while “Fuck With Myself” contains explicit Hip-Hop nods – the latter a display of swaggering attitude previously absent in Banks’ music. She’s definitely headed in the right direction; in the future, I’d love to see her further explore the edgier side that she began to tap into with The Altar. RECOMMENDED

The Divine Feminine – Mac Miller

Mac Miller’s best album to date is vulnerable, sensual, and loosely conceptual, dealing almost exclusively with love, sex, relationships, and women. Never an MC who could quite carry a full-length on his own, Mac leans on his talented guests with the perfect amount of weight, whether it’s Anderson .Paak on the fun and upbeat “Dang!”, Ty Dolla $ign on the DJ Dahi-produced “Cinderella” (the LP’s best song by far), Kendrick Lamar on the closer “God Is Fair Sexy Nasty”, or his boo thang Ariana Grande on “My Favorite Part”. I am beyond impressed with Mac’s wholehearted commitment to exploring, developing and delivering something totally different from the rest of his catalogue. Love it or hate it, you’re unlikely to hear another Hip-Hop record quite like this one in 2016. RECOMMENDED

Sorceress – Opeth

It’s a crying shame that I haven’t had the time to give this album the full review treatment, but October’s going to be the busiest fucking month of the year and I don’t want to fall behind. It’s only been out for a week, but here are my two cents: if I want Still Life or Blackwater Park Opeth, I can continue to wear out those fucking records to death. I ENCOURAGE stylistic change, as long as the music is up to par. And Sorceress is easily the best of Opeth’s 2010s output – that dramatic, fan-dividing shift in Mikael’s vocal delivery finally feels at home amongst these proggy yet catchy tunes. At the time of the initial transition on 2011’s Heritage, it felt like career suicide, but Sorceress justifies the creative decisions Opeth have made these past few years. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Schmilco – Wilco

Wilco’s tenth album is delivered with the same modest indie spirit that I’ve associated with them since I first heard AM as a 14-year-old. Schmilco is laid back, chill as fuck, and most importantly, it’s folky without those big cheesy pop hooks vacuuming the life out of it (looking at you, Mumford & Sons, how’s it going?). It didn’t knock my world off its axis or anything, but it’s exactly what I anticipated. Can’t be mad at that. RECOMMENDED