I used to do separate lists for mixtapes, albums and EPs but it has become increasingly difficult to classify projects aside from using a concrete metric like length. People started releasing mixtapes of new material, others called them free albums and now the streaming services are shifting how we consume music overall. The point being, I will name a bunch of my favorite full length albums that dropped this year and later this week I will announce my favorite EPs. This year a lot of my favorite artists delivered projects that lived up to my expectations while a couple others actually won me over with their new creative directions. The projects below are listed in rough order of my preference with Chance, Anderson .Paak and Isaiah Rashad at the metaphorical ‘top’ but I really feel like ranking art anymore.
Mac Miller The Divine Feminine
Some longtime Mac Miller fans had a tough time making the jump with him to this more melodic, love-themed album but it was actually the first project of his I really rocked with.
Common Black America Again
Common continues to use his platform, on and off wax, to say what he thinks is most important and this album carries on that tradition well.
Royce Da 5’9” Trust the Shooter
His album was great too but I’ve found myself revisiting the mixtape he released in anticipation, even more.
Riz MC Englistan
Before skyrocketing in popularity from The Night Of and the new Star Wars movie, Riz dropped a very impressive mixtape with insight into life as a Pakistani-English man, immigration policy and culture.
Young Thug Slime Season 3
On this project, Thugga found just the right balance of charismatic nonsense and eccentric talent. “Drippin” is one of my favorite tracks in 2016.
Saba Bucket List Project
I sincerely hope that all of the, deserved, attention that Chance the Rapper has been receiving will also shine a light on the rest of the Save Money Crew. A few of their projects made it onto this list, not the least of which was Saba’s debut Bucket List Project.
Smoke DZA & Pete Rock Don’t Smoke Rock
The legendary Pete Rock teams up an underground superstar in Smoke DZA for some straight New York hip hop!
Joey Purp iiiDrops
Another young, crazy-talented individual from Chicago. What is it in the water over there?
Jamila Woods Heavn
One of my biggest regrets of 2016 is missing Jamila’s Francisco tour stop because I know she will never play in a venue that intimate again. Heavn was stellar and refreshing; go listen if you haven’t.
Kamaiyah A Good Night in the Ghetto
“How Does it Feel” had everyone excited for A Good Night in the Ghetto. Kamaiyah’s second official, but first breakout, song grabbed attention of people around the country, and especially all over the net. She followed up with a catchy project that doesn’t contain many fillers. Excited to see where the Oakland rapper can take it next.
Without putting a name on it, this list is apparently skewed towards emcees with an important message. There are obvious exceptions but the emcees that say what needs to be said are grabbing my attention. Kemba has packed so much into Negus that I learn something new with each listen.
NxWorries Yes Lawd!
If not for Chance the Rapper, 2016 would belong entirely to Anderson .Paak. Piggy-backing on his formal introduction through Dr. Dre’s Compton album, Breezy Lovejoy released a solo album and one under a group moniker NxWorries.
Kendrick Lamar untitled unmastered
These are the songs that didn’t make TPAB.. still, Kendrick found a way to make them impactful in their own right. He’s that good.
Another 35 minutes of “Drown” [off Coloring Book]-esque bliss from the Chicago artist. She says this may be the only actual project we ever get from her so let’s savor it.
Kanye West TLOP
No, it isn’t my favorite Kanye album but the highs are high and Kanye’s impact every year is unquestioned. Time will tell if this ages as well as his other projects but I am still bumping it in 2017.
ScHoolboy Q Blank Face LP
Q is arguably not on Kendrick’s level but he has established TDE as a two-star (at least) team. His Blank Face LP continue to fill-in our understanding of Q’s worldview over dank beats.
Little Simz Stillness in Wonderland
Less than 12 months removed from her official debut album, Little Simz dropped another fantastic album in Stillness. Hip-hop’s ability to give a voice to so many different types of people and communities continues to amaze me.
Jay IDK Empty Bank
Jay’s Subtrap was my favorite free project last year. I had never heard of him but his skill was immediately apparent and the stories, accents and lyrical devices that he employed were so novel. Empty Bank continues to display all of those positive traits on an even grander scale. Subtrap was an individual’s story with overarching, broader themes but this one is much more macro take.
Blitz the Ambassador Diasporadical
The only album on this last that the artist worked on from more literally all over the World. Blitz did not take his mission to coin and define the term Diasporadical lightly. His blend of music from different regions, and the inclusion of said region’s musicians, make this album something to explore over and over again.
Run the Jewels RTJ 3
RTJ3 snuck its way onto a lot of end of the year lists when Killer Mike & El-P dropped it weeks before the scheduled release date, barely making the calendar year cutoff. Even though we haven’t had much time to sit with this yet, it is clearly the quality we’ve come to expect from these two.
A Tribe Called Quest We got it from here… Thank You 4 Your Service
I can’t imagine putting an album out 18 years, year 18 years, after your last with everything that Tribe means to hip-hop but this album is great! I think it sounds like an up-to-ate Tribe album. Doesn’t sound like they are stuck in the past and doesn’t sound like they are just trying to make 2016 music. This is Tribe in 2016.
Isaiah Rashad The Sun’s Tirade
Rashad has plugged himself into the TDE machine pretty seamlessly. Some may had wished that there was a smaller gap between his two releases but, even with delays from personal problems and business decisions, he seems to know and appreciate his role on their roster now. And the delay did not impact the quality at all, The Sun’s Tirade is still getting burn.
Anderson .Paak Malibu
There’s a reason that Bruno Mars just tapped Anderson .Paak to open on the 24kt Magic Tour. This guy is going to be a household name by the end of 2017.
Chance the Rapper Coloring Book
The hype is real. I loved Acid Rap but this album gave me the same feeling that I remember getting the first time I heard my personal favorite albums. It’s been 7 months and my affection has not diminished. My favorite song changes constantly but it is always one of ’em. I don’t care if Chance’s next project is 2020, I’ll be good.