For decades, Hip-Hop has always been seen as a young man’s sport. Unlike other genres, it’s hard for Rap artists over the age of 40 to get as much hype as Tribe’s comeback album. Phife Dawg’s recent death hurt a lot of Rap fans but this feels like something more than just a tribute album. The production is vintage but completely unique and everyone involved spits well from original members Q Tip, Jarobi and Phife, to guest stars including semi-official member Consequence, Busta Rhymes (who spits some of his best rhymes in years), Andre 3000 and Kendrick Lamar.
Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q’s career has reached so high in the stratosphere that it’s so easy to forget how talented Ab-Soul is with the pen-game in TDE. Probably the darkest album of the year, Soulo opens his third-eye even wider and gets extremely dense on Do What Thou Wilt. Themes of misogyny and religion permeate the album that grows more haunting with every listen. Don’t worry, there are plenty of straight up bangers allowing Ab-Soul to get at otherworldly wordplay wise.
Rap history will call Chance The Rapper’s third mixtape Coloring Book a game changer. Not only is it one of two streaming only projects going up for Grammy’s Best Rap Album in 2017, but it proved major labels weren’t necessary for turning internet sensations into mainstream stars in this digital era. On its own merits, Chance goes to church with a Gospel-influenced project that blends his carefree-black boy notion with some serious socio-political subject matter. Who else in Hip-Hop can get Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Young Thug, Justin Bieber, Jay Electronica and Kirk Franklin on one album? Lil Chano from 79th, that’s who.
Views became the biggest selling Rap album of the year streaming and sales for one easy reason. Drizzy lightened up on the rapping, sung more and leaned more toward international Pop. The 6 God managed to make the ultimate millennial playlist album and let’s not forget how much of a Pop cultural phenomenon “Hotline Bling” found itself. Most importantly, Noah “40” Shebib evolves his icy cold Toronto sound, too, which helps where Drake falls off artistically sometimes.
The year’s biggest comeback story obviously goes to Gucci Mane. Not even 24 hours released from his three year prison stint, Radric Davis dropped the Mike Will Made It-produced “1st Day Out Da Feds,” and revealed himself to be a changed man. From his leaner frame to reluctance to partake in drugs and alcohol, the transformation even led to rumors of Atlanta’s king actually being a clone. His first major label album in five years and following a ridiculous mixtape run while locked behind bars, Everybody Looking was the return fans wanted and more.
2014 Forest Hill Drive became a transformative moment in J. Cole’s career. The North Carolina rapper/producer realized his promise as the millennial everyman surviving an industry meant only for larger than life personalities. Then there was the accomplishment of being the only rapper to go Platinum without features in damn near two decades. For his fourth full-length album, 4 Your Eyez Only, Cole expands on some of the themes explored and nails it. Only J-Cole could make bangers like “Neighbors” or “Immortal.”
Being his usual sonic innovator-like self, Kanye West made an album that perfectly reflects how crazy his 2016 was. Once a Tidal exclusive, The Life of Pablo dropped in early 2016 and literally saw various updates for much of the year. While Ye has always offered total sonic shifts with each album, all of them felt particularly structured. The Life of Pablo lacked all of that and became the wildest project in the rapper/producer’s catalogue. When he wanted to explore his love of New York-inspired West Coast Hip Hop, he went to storied producer Madlib and Kendrick Lamar for “No More Parties In LA.” When Kanye felt like exploring the year’s biggest viral hit, he turned to an interpolation of “Panda,” by Desiigner on the song, “Father Stretch My Hands.”
No album this year features as much consistently good rapping than Layers. Royce Da 5’9 proves why he’s become a legend in the Detroit Hip-Hop scene. As the title proclaims, Layers has the Slaughterhouse member opening up in ways unseen of him. Every song features bar after bar of lyrical gymnastics and vivid storytelling. From the opening track, “Tabernacle,” which depicts the birth of his son, death of his mother and a performance that eventually got a young Eminem’s attention, to his story of alcoholism on “Hard,” this album is all about real emceeing.
Oxymoron proved ScHoolboy Q could deliver hitmaking potential on-par with Top Dawg Entertainment brethren and current rap god Kendrick Lamar. Matter of fact, it even earned him a Grammy nomination. A leaner and more sinister effort, Blank Face LP at the very least demonstrates an improvement of his already gruff introspective lyricism steeped in West Coast gangsterism. For every star-studded moment including the Kanye West assisted “THat Part,” ScHoolboy Q pulls and doesn’t let go.
After a shooting that nearly took his life and professional breakup (and eventual make-up) with frequent collaborator/close homie DJ Mustard, there were many questions regarding YG’s follow-up to his Def Jam debut My Krazy Life. A meaner and slicker sophomore project, Still Brazy has the Compton rapper getting tighter all around. Giving Hip-Hop its biggest political statement this year with “FDT,” there are plenty of tracks perfect for any gangsta boogie from the Drake and Kamaiyah-assisted “Why You Always Hatin” to “Twist My Fingaz.”