You know what they say: “Hindsight is 20/20”. Although we elected not to make a formal list back in December, as we are off to a slow start for new music in 2017, we’ve decided to take a look back at some of the projects that we are still bumping in the New Year.
This is a year in review, 2016.
10 BEST PROJECTS OF 2016: A Year in Review
A Compilation by Nick Kelly
2016 was by far one of the best years for music, especially when it comes to the genre of Hip Hop. One the same token, 2016 was one of the best years for me as well. Personally, 2016 was all about discovering who I am and turning my dreams into goals. From January to December, advancing in life came easy with the aid of music.
Looking back at the year, it brought us some of the best projects of this generation. The world was impacted heavily by several different artists: Frank Ocean came out of hiding to drop not only his new album Blonde but also to release his soundtrack Endless, all while showing off his construction skills in building a staircase.Schoolboy Q, Travis Scott, and Kendrick Lamar proved why they belong in the game. Mac Miller and Kanye West added to their discography with sounds of love and gospel. Chance the Rapper released his third mixtape, A Tribe Called Quest brought us their reflection on the world, and Kid Cudi even pushed past his demons to drop a new album.
While all impressive in their own rights, here is a list my ten favourite projects of 2016. Keep in mind this is strictly my preference and opinion, every artist is unique in their own way, but here are those that appealed to me.
10. SKIN by FLUME
The production of Skin by Flume is completely mind blowing. The electronic balance that the album carries, while mixed with the heavy hitting lyrics of such artists as Vic Mensa and Vince Staples is breathtaking. The soft soulful words of Tove Lo on the track Say It brings chills to the skin upon every listen; Perhaps that may be exactly what this whole album aims to do, I mean it is titled Skin after all.
The mixing of the song “Wall F**k” is simply incredible. The album as a whole is both sparkling and intriguing, and with each listen only continues to get better.
9. untitled unmastered – KENDRICK LAMAR
In 2015, Kendrick Lamar dropped To Pimp a Butterfly, an album that will go down as one of the best in the last decade. In 2016, Kendrick Lamar released untitled unmastered, an eight track compilation containing tracks with no titles, only dates. Several of these songs carry a familiar vibe to the tracks in To Pimp A Butterfly. Questions have been asked if these eight tracks are the close cuts that Mr. Lamar decided not to use in To Pimp A Butterfly, but it isn’t certain.
Whether this is the case, or if untitled unmastered is supposed to be a separate project all together, these eight glorious tracks will put you in a trance of inspiration, similar to that offered from all of Kendrick Lamar’s projects.
8. THE LIFE OF PABLO by KANYE WEST
Kanye West may indeed be the Einstein of this generation.
The Life of Pablo is a project of pure genius, as Kanye West successfully Jekyl & Hyde’s gospel and hip hop together, beautifully. Mr. West opens the project with the track
“Ultralight Beam” which features an incredible guest verse from Chance the Rapper that sets the tone for the album. Pt. 2 features a masterful sampling from the hit song “Panda” by Desiigner, while “Real Friends” questions who exactly Kanye’s real friends are, with a little help from Ty Dolla $ign. The album even contains a track titled “I Love Kanye” to which Kanye reminisces on his old self, and addresses the critics that enjoy his older music far more than his newer music. Overall, TLOP has directed Kanye West and his music into a new light, proving the style of gospel meets hip hop truly works.
7. THE DEVINE FEMININE by MAC MILLER
In September, Ray wrote an article on how Mac Miller ALMOST created the perfect discography. Honestly, I agree with this and I’ll tell you why: Mac Miller is an artist who with each album, mixtape or overall project continues to advance his sound. In the early days, Mac Miller was known as another white rapper who simply wanted to make the team, nonetheless get into the game. From K.I.D.S to Blue Slide Park to Best Day Ever, his music had an incredible vibe, but it projected from there with Watching Movies With The Sound Off. The drug infused Macadelic had a far different sound than anything from before, progressing on to GO:OD AM, a rebirth of sorts for the artists, and finally we move into The Devine Feminine – an album of love songs created by Mac Miller himself. The album holds an incredible overall feeling of love, sex, and relationships. “Dang!” a single from the album incorporates an astonishing hook from Anderson .Paak along with the characteristically smooth verses from Mac – the album also includes a duet with Mac’s girlfriend Ariana Grande titled “My Favorite Part”.
6. BLANK FACE LP – SCHOOLBOY Q
THis album will bring you straigHt into tHe streets of Los Angeles, being directed around by ScHoolboy Q, witH some aide from Anderson .Paak, Kanye West, Vince Staples, Traffic, TF and fellow TDE members Kendrick Lamar, SZA and Lance Skiiiwalker. ScHoolboy Q even acquires Tyler tHe Creator for tHe production of tHe song “Big Body” featuring THa Dogg Pound, along with tHe soft vocals of Candice Pillay on tHe track “WHateva U Want”. E-40 is featured on tHe Hard Hitting track “Dope Dealer”, and altHough tHe vibe of “Overtime” doesn’t necessarily fit into tHe overall project, ScHoolboy Q closes tHe album out with tHe track “Tookie Knows II”, featuring Traffic and T.F. THe final track closes tHe final pages of tHis story, resulting in prison. THe Blank Face LP is one of tHe best albums to ever leave PuncH’s desk and TDE’s doors. Was tHat a little mucH?
5. MALIBU by ANDERSON .PAAK
2016 introduced us to the graceful stylings of Anderson .Paak, and with that came Malibu. The album carries a soulful vibe with sounds that really put you in a similar environment to which Malibu possesses. “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” is truly the first song to really take off with a toe tapping beat. The transition of songs is incredible on this album, especially from the electric guitar riff of “Put Me Thru” to the fast drum beat of “Am I Wrong” that features a verse from Schoolboy Q. The R&B craft of “Come Down” is a personal favourite as it features a head nodding bass guitar and gives off an overall performance feeling, as if this should be performed in front of a live audience. 2016 put Anderson .Paak in the spotlight and it is interesting to see exactly what the crooner has in store for us in 2017.
4. WE GOT IT FROM HERE… THANK YOU 4 YOUR SERVICE by A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
A Tribe Called Quest returned in 2016, to bring us their views on this generation, and boy was it a classic. Although Phife Dawg passed away in March, his vocals and image was still released in his memory. A Tribe Called Quest opens the album with the electrifying “The Space Program”, reminding everyone of the classic flow and trading of bars that ATCQ is known for. Things turn soulful with the track “Solid Wall of Sound”, before returning to that collaborative flow with “Dis Generation”, where Q-Tip proclaims “talk to Joey, Earl, Kendrick, and Cole, gatekeepers of flow. They are extensions of instinctual soul.” The album continues with “Kids…” which features Q-Tip and André 3000 trading verses. Anderson .Paak is featured on the track “Movin Backwards”, giving a soulful addition to the bars that ATCQ provides. Kendrick Lamar is featured on the album on the track “Conrad Tokyo”, spitting an intense verse. Through the whole album, A Tribe Called Quest gives us their opinions on the world today and how the industry of hip hop and rap music has changed through the decades. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service comes to a close with the track “The Donald”, to which one may think is referencing Donald Trump, however the song is about the legacy of Phife Dawg which is brought to light by verses from Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes and Phife Dawg himself. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is a historical album, bringing the legacy of A Tribe Called Quest and Phife Dawg into the light one last time.
3. COLORING BOOK by CHANCE THE RAPPER
If you know me, you know I am a massive Chance the Rapper stan. So, allow me to bless you with some knowledge on why Coloring Book belongs on this list at the number three spot.
This man – Chance the Rapper, HE HAS NO LABEL. Chance has been distributing free music since the day he came into this world. Coloring Book is Chance’s third official mixtape, to which debuted on Apple Music and is now featured on Spotify, Soundcloud and other streaming services. Chance the Rapper has features from classic artists such as Kanye West, Lil Wayne and T-Pain along with new artists such as Big Baby D.R.A.M, Towkio, Noname, and Francis and the Lights. Keep in mind also, HE HAS NO LABEL. Chance the Rapper is up for 7 Grammy Nominations and is working on his first official album. This man is insanely talented and HAS NO LABEL! The track “No Problem”, focuses on the message that an artist shouldn’t be held back by any label, and to those record labels that do exist: you don’t want to mess with Chance the Rapper. The song “Same Drugs”, holds an incredible force of emotion as Chance expresses that as people grow, they change and don’t always follow the same path, but that it’s okay. The track “Juke Jam” brings an anthem to dance found in Chicago known as juking. “How Great” features two intense verses from both Chance the Rapper and Jay Electronica, along with the gospel singing of Chance’s cousin – Nicole. The mixtape closes out with “Blessings (Reprise)” which features a soulful verse from Chance, explaining that he found his blessings. The track concludes with a choir of stars including Ty Dolla $ign, BJ The Chicago Kid and Anderson .Paak belting out the words “are you ready for your blessings? Are you ready for your miracles?”
Overall this album brings a bit of everything to the table. Chance still delivers on his verses, he brings some gospel into the mix and the features are explosive. AND HE HAS NO LABEL. That right there is why Coloring Book deserves this number three spot. Really, there is only one question left: Are you ready big fella?
2. AWAKEN, MY LOVE by CHILDISH GAMBINO
If 2016 was the year of anyone, it would be the year of Childish Gambino. He created, produced and stared in Atlanta, a show on FX with comedy & depiction like no other. He had his very own concert in Joshua Tree, bringing what was then titled Pharos to life. Finally, Childish Gambino released his third album – following Camp and Because the Internet with Awaken, My Love.
To kick of the season, Gambino released two very different tracks from what we were used to with “Me and Your Mama”, and “Redbone”. Awaken, My Love is something totally different from the usual rap/hip hop Childish Gambino that we love, however Awaken, My Love is something so incredibly fascinating that it’s hard not to love it. Childish Gambino changed the game by diving into the soulful, R&B side of things proving that he is astonishing in anything the man puts his mind into. All of the tracks on this album have their own funk and grove to them. “Redbone”, was an instant hit with the groovy production and odd yet smooth pitch of Gambino’s voice. “California”, flows nicely with a very tropical beat, giving the vibe of California itself. “Baby Boy”, brings the connection between the life of Childish Gambino and Donald Glover, when he begins to discuss the issues of a family, and how his baby boy – his son is his pride and joy. Childish Gambino ends the album with “Stand Tall” a very soulful time where he recalls the lessons that his father and mother have passed on to him, and what he hopes to pass along. Even if you’re not a fan of Childish Gambino, I would still give this a listen, it is something extremely different. This is a project unlike any of his others. If you take anything away from this, let it be that if you put your mind to anything it can be achieved. Oh, and “smile, when you can.”
HONORABLE MENTIONS AND DISLIKES
Before we dive into the number one spot, I’d like to mention some projects that I found incredible, but not quite the top ten. Think of it as a separate collection in its own right, but if this list was any longer than only a top ten, these would be the projects that would follow:
· Telefone – Noname
· Gradient EP – Miles Canady
· Anti – Rihanna
· Ology – Gallant
· Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight – Travis Scott
· Do What Thou Wilt – Ab-Soul
· Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ – Kid Cudi
· iiiDrops – Joey Purp
· Bucket List Project – Saba
· Endless – Frank Ocean
Although 2016 was a magical year for music, it also had some downfalls, naturally. Personally, I can’t get behind these albums. Maybe they just weren’t what I was expecting, or maybe I just can’t get behind the artist. Not to say that some of these projects contain some good verses or one or two good songs, but as an overall project, they just aren’t for me:
· Views – Drake
· Major Key – DJ Khaled
· Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown
· 4 Your Eyes Only – J.Cole
· Stoney – Post Malone
So there it is, there are the best and worst projects of 2016, in my own personal world. However, I haven’t mentioned the best of the best yet. This may come to no surprise to many, as it’s the only big album not mentioned through this whole post yet, but here is the best god damn project of 2016:
1. BLONDE by FRANK OCEAN
After years, YEARS of anticipation, Frank Ocean finally came out of hiding, dropping the BEST album of 2016.
Blonde speaks volumes, showing connections of drug use, the racism in the world, and of course, love. Blonde comes in hot with EXTREMELY important songs. I’m serious, if you haven’t heard this album or even a select few of the songs I’m about describe to you – GO DO IT NOW. “Nikes” is an amazing introduction, foreshadowing the vibes of what is to come.”Ivy” proves exactly how amazing love can be, followed by “Pink+White” that dives into the use of drugs. On the track “Solo”, Frank Ocean expresses the important of self-love and that you can find the good in bad. Then, we get into “Self Control” which may very well be the MOST AMAZING SONG of 2016. It hits you directly in the feels, it brings your emotions forward, the man says the line “cause you see me like a UFO, that’s like never,” AND IT SOUNDS GOOD. The song surrounds the relationship between him and a partner who just aren’t getting along, foreshadowing a relationship with drugs. The song even has samples from Yung Lean himself. “Self Control” is the best song of 2016, hands down. “Nights” is another classic from the album with a very aggressive flow to kick things off before the song shifts, turning into a slow R&B feel. “Solo (Reprise)” features an intense verse from André 3000, reflecting on the new generation of artists coming to the industry.
Overall, the whole album is astonishing. The emotions, the vibes that Blonde acquires and the feels it can direct your way, it’s simply incredible. I’m dead serious, if you take anything away from this whole list, PLEASE – PLEASE go listen to Blonde by Frank Ocean. I swear, it might just change your life.