2016 Was a great year for music. We had Rihanna’s Anti, Post Malone’s Stoney, D.R.A.M.’s Big Baby D.R.A.M. , Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love. While Anti & Awaken My Love aren’t Rap albums, I believe they are two of the best records of the year, regardless of the genre. Here are my Top 3 Rap/Hip Hop EP’s of 2016. There are also a ton of features which means the records encompass a wide array of artists. So. Much. Music.
In no particular order :
Blank Face LP – ScHoolboy Q
Debuting at #2 on Billboard’s Hot 200 and garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance with Kanye West for “tHat Part”, “Blank Face LP” is one of the best rap records to come out in 2016. It ‘s the fourth studio album from the TDE rapper and sold 52 000 copies in the first week, surprising and undeservedly down from the 139 000 first week copies sold of his 2014 “Oxymoron” album.
The production is diverse and compliments his flow, putting his words at the forefront of attention. With production credits going to the likes of Swizz Beats on “Lord Have Mercy” and Metro Boomin on “Dope Dealer” as well as an extremely pop-friendly production by Tyler, the creator on “Big Body” which features tha Dogg Pound.
The same can be said for the feature artists, Bay Area legend E-40 is amusing and shows his veteran status on “Dope Dealer”, Vince Staples feels right at home rapping about beefing in the ghetto on the loud “Ride Out”, Kanye West delivers one of the year’s catchiest feature verses on “tHAt Part”, Kendrick Lamar’s unaccredited features on “By Any Means” and “Black THoughts” are unexpected but nevertheless extremely satisfying and not to mention the soulful ramblings of Anderson .Paak on “Blank Face” almost stealing the show from Q.
ScHoolboy doesn’t allow the features to steal the limelight though, you are always aware that this is his record and the other artists are there for the ride. His confidence and urgency ensures that He is in the driver’s seat of this project.
Q expresses his love and adoration for his daughter on “WHateva U Want” and brings the listeners’ attention to growing up in the hood on “JoHn Muir”. He raps ominously about crips and gangbanging on “Ride Out” and displays bravado on “THat Part”. Groovy Quincy is at his best when sticking to his rap roots though, this is evident in the only hit and miss being the RnB styled ”Overtime” which featured Miguel and Justine Skye.
That being said, Blank Face is one of the most engaging rap records of the year as it narrates growing up inScHoolboy Q’s community, his success an what’s to come, through a smoked out haze of menace, grander and sonic variety.
The Life of Pablo – Kanye West
After one of the most tumultuous and drawn out album releases of the year, Kanye West finally released The Life Of Pablo on February 14th exclusively to TIDAL. Only coming to other streaming platforms in April. The album release was not without scandal; a Taylor Swift name drop had Swift’s camp and fans up in arms. TIDAL exclusivity resulted in the album being illegally downloaded 500 000 times in it’s first week of release.
As any Kanye fan would know, each of his record’s are influenced by his personal struggles and his very unique outlook on society and celebrity life. “808’s & Heartbreaks” was influenced by the tragic passing of his mother and the end of his relationship with then-fiancé Alexis Pheifer. “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” was recorded during his self-imposed exile after the Taylor Swift “ Imma let you finish” incident at the 2009 VMA’s and the reaction from the public and media alike. That record received widespread critical acclaim. The Life Of Pablo is the same in the way it is influenced by Kanye’s life after the release of his 2013 album “Yeezus” (an album that I think is severely underrated).
Kanye addresses failed reltionships on the Chris Brown featured “Waves”. He references a cousin who threatened to release a sextape of the rapper, having to pay said cousin $250 000 to prevent this from happening. He raps of his friends and family on multiple tracks. “Saint Pablo”, “Real Friends”, “FML” stand out in conveying that Kanye is very aware of his shortcomings and mental health issues, referencing the antidepressant “Lexapro’, something He has done before. This is an extremely personal record, one that He wished to share with fans.
With a plethora of guest producers and artists, TLOP has an extremely dynamic sound. West serves as producer along with frequent West collaborator Mike Dean. Notable production credits include Swizz Beats (Famous) and Metro Boomin (Waves), Rick Rubin, boi1da and Chance the Rapper. Production contributors describe West as “the ultimate creative”, pushing them to think outside the box of hip hop. This is evident in the finished product; this is no ordinary hip-hop album.
Guest artists include long time friend Kid Cudi, Rihanna, Chance the Rapper (who’s verse on “Ultralight Beam” sets the stage and tone for the whole record), Post Malone, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Ty dolla $ign and breakthrough rapper Desiigner(His hit “Panda” was first featured on “Pt. 2”, yet another artist who West has given a global platform to).
The strength of TLOP not only lies in West’s talents as a rapper/producer but by one of his strongest traits (a trait that could be considered lazy, but one that I feel is a testament to his furthering of the genre) – He allows other artists to take center stage for the good of the song. “Ultralight Beam” would not be the song it is without Chance the Rapper’s verse, “Famous” feels soulful and important thanks to a Nina Simone sample by Rihanna.
You cannot deny all that Mr. West has done for hip-hop. He reinvented hip-hop with “The College Dropout” and continues to change the direction of the genre with each record. This has culminated in the organized chaos that is TLOP. Boldness, honesty, love, scandal, depression, pleasure, treachery and tragedy tell a story of a man who is far from perfect. Something each of us can relate to.
Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper
2016 was a big year for Chance the Rapper, a widely praised feature on Kanye West’s ”Ultralight Beam” exposed the young Chicago rapper to a much bigger audience. While He has had quite the following, Acid Rap didn’t feature on any charts. The collaboration with West gave Coloring Book the widespread hype it needed and subsequently deserved.
This record is technically a mixtape, and while I have associated mixtapes with generally un-curated material, this record is the furthest thing from that. Coloring Book received widespread critical acclaim, scoring a rating of 90 on Metacritic. Chance didn’t lie when He said “let’s do a good-ass job with Chance 3” on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam”.
The Social Experiment handled most of the production, a production crew led by a close friend of Chance’s, the same crew He collaborated with on the 2015 album “Surf”. Other notable producers include Kanye West(All We Got), Kaytranada(All Night – which is my favourite track off the record), Brasstacks(No Problem) as well as Francis and The Lights.
Coloring Book has been described as Gospel Rap, As multiple songs concern Christianity(Look no further than “How Great”). As such, the production features a lot of soulful synths and samples. That being said, “Smoke Break” mentions smoking marijuana, “All Night” is a club banger.
Chance is a proud ambassador of his hometown Chicago. Thus the inclusion of the Chicago Children’s Choir on “All We Got”; “Same Drugs”; “How Great” and “Finish Line/Down” mean more than just a feature. This inclusion helps to drive home the soulful sound Chance is able to attain in Coloring Book. Justin Bieber, Jay Electronica, Kanye West, T-Pain, Future, Lil Wayne, 2Chainz and Ty dolla $ign all feature, bringing something unique to each track.