by Ben Pinette
List week in ya area. This time around I’m focusing on the top hip hop/r&b artists of the past year. Enjoy and thank you for being here!
10) Young Thug
Never thought the up-and-coming club rapper who made ‘Danny Glover’ and ‘Stoner’ would ever get this big. What a story. Thug broke both fashion and gender barriers this year – along with dropping some of 2016’s biggest rap singles. Everyone from 3 Stacks to Kanye has shown their love for the Atlanta hip hop artist, and he’s undoubtably cemented himself as one of the top creative forces in the game.
Notable Feats: JEFFERY, Slime Season 3, ‘Pick Up the Phone,’ ‘Offended,’ ‘Guwop Home,’ ‘Minnesota Remix,’ ‘Mixtape,’ I’m Up, ‘Who’
Canadian producer ‘Kaytranada’ has been blowing up for years on Soundcloud with spectacular remixes to dance/pop/hip hop songs. He finally graced fans with his debut album in 2016, titled 99.9%. Front to back the release is stunning, and its guest list is nothing short of impressive. Karriem Riggins, Anderson .Paak, Syd, Vic Mensa, Phonte, BADBADNOTGOOD, GoldLink, River Tiber, Little Dragon and more all appeared on the LP, contributing to a symphony of organized madness and funk. But, Kaytranda wasn’t done there. He also dropped a mixtape following his debut, which featured over an hour of fresh beats and unique collaborations. Add that in with some dynamite hip hop production credits and you’ve got yourself quite the twelve months.
Notable Feats: 99.9%, 0.001%, ‘Cranes in the Sky (Solange Remix),’ ‘Kiss it Better (Rihanna Remix),’ ‘Only Girl,’ ‘Communicate,’ ‘Light Weight,’ ‘Fall in Love,’ ‘All Night,’ ‘Lavendar,’ ‘Aurora Borealis,’ ‘Gravity,’ ‘Dressed 2 Kill’
Spitta, Spitta, Spitta. How do you do it? The New Orleans MC dropped the most music of his entire career in 2016, which is quite the feat considering his almost robotic output in the past. In total, Curren$y has dropped twelve projects this year, with one more probably coming on 12/30. That makes thirteen projects! And not a bad one in the bunch. Sure, some were definitely better than others (The Carrollton Heist I’m looking at you), but each had its moments. When it’s all said and done this dude will be heralded as one of the top Southern hip hop artists to ever do it. Body of work speaks for itself.
Notable Feats: The Carrollton Heist, The Legend of Harvard Blue, Bourbon Street Secrets, The Owners Manual, Andretti 9/30, Revolver (and the short film), Stoned on Ocean, Andretti 10/30, Weed & Instrumentals 1 & 2
7) Kendrick Lamar
Really don’t even need a description for Kendrick at this point. He’s been residing at the top of the game since 2012 now, and can always be expected to bring the heat in every year. Whether it was his surprise mini-album or all the guest verses he mutilated, 2016 was another dominant year for Compton’s golden child. Folks, we are all witnessing the rise of a legend.
Notable Feats: untitled unmastered, ‘No More Parties in L.A.,’ ‘Freedom,’ ‘God is Fair, Sexy, Nasty,’ ‘Conrad Tokyo,’ ‘Wat’s Wrong,’ ‘THat Part Black Hippy Remix,’ ‘Holy Key,’ ‘The New Cupid,’ ‘Really Doe,’ ‘Sidewalks,’ ‘Goosebumps,’ ‘Ain’t That Funkin Kinda Hard on You?’
6) Smoke DZA
This is probably the biggest surprise on the list, so I’ll explain. DZA is one of the illest rappers from NYC right now, and he has been for a minute. This year he dropped three top-notch projects, one with Harry Fraud and another with f*ckin’ Pete Rock! Yes, that Pete Rock! The one who worked on Illmatic! His other full-length release was actually an election-themed mixtape that boasted the likes of Roc Marciano, Joey Bada$$, A$AP Rocky, Domo Genesis and Action Bronson, and was also incredibly dope. Take a minute for that to all sink in. Three great releases in under twelve months! In which he took on our president-elect, worked with Snoop Dogg for the first time and collabed with the legendary Pete Rock! That’s a resume. Every 16 the Kushed God delivered was on point this year, and his releases blew me away. Finally getting the recognition he deserves.
Notable Feats: Don’t Smoke Rock, He Has Risen, Don’t Pass Trump the Blunt, ‘Ringside 4,’ ‘Get it Right,’ ‘Trust the Shooter,’ ‘CottonMouth,’ ‘Mr. Fuji’
5) Metro Boomin
Another self-explanatory choice. Metro was everywhere this year. If an album was poppin, chances are he was behind it in some way. He also was usually surrounded by the most popular names in rap (Future, Young Thug, Uzi and 21 Savage come to mind), often birthing careers in the process. His name alone produced one of the year’s biggest memes, due in part to one of the year’s biggest beat drops. It was so popular that the meme even found its way into the shitshow that was the 2016 presidential election! Metro is already planning on making big moves with Nav early next year, so keep your ears peeled for more greatness.
Notable Feats: Savage Mode, The Life of Pablo, ‘Forever Young,’ EVOL, ‘Dope Dealer,’ ‘Bad and Boujee,’ ‘What’s Understood,’ ‘Ronda (Winners),’ ‘Hercules,’ Purple Reign, ‘You Was Right,’ ‘Bounce Back,’ Woptober, ‘Who,’ ‘Six Feet Under,’ ‘Up’
4) Frank Ocean
Yes, the return of Frank Ocean! Between his second studio album, masterful visual album, and limited-edition magazine, fans were blessed with tons of new content from the artist this year. This is how you pull off a proper comeback. Spread yourself over so many different mediums that there’s no way you won’t succeed. The fact that Blonde was near-perfect didn’t hurt either. Glad to have you back Frank, even if it’s just for a short while.
Notable Feats: Blonde, Endless, ‘Boys Dont Cry’ magazine, ‘Wolves/Frank’s Track,’ duping Universal Music
3) Gucci Mane
Here we are, the top three. I nominate Gucci Mane for best prison release tour ever by a hip hop artist. He’s sober, in great shape and destroying everything he touches. In just half of 2016 alone he dropped three albums, a collab tape with another 2016 superstar, multiple high-profile features and even his own holiday-themed merchandise line – imagine if he had a full year! Couldn’t be happier for him; amped to see that he already has big ambitions for 2017 too! Guwop has returned with a vengeance. Anyone else think it’s getting cold outside?
Notable Feats: Everybody’s Looking, ‘Champions,’ ‘Forever Black America Again,’ ‘Lockjaw Remix,’ The Return of East Atlanta Santa, ‘Good Drank,’ Woptober, Free Bricks 2K16, ‘Black Beatles,’ ‘Floyd Mayweather,’ ‘Work For It’
2) Anderson .Paak
If we’re talking strictly music, .Paak shined the most out of everyone this year. Not only did he release a stupidly smooth r&b/hip hop album with
god producer ‘Knwxledge,’ but he also was the champion of guest features. He stole the show on almost too many songs to count, and it felt like I heard something I liked from him nearly every week. And I didn’t even mention Malibu yet! I can’t praise that project enough. Even before mentioning it .Paak’s year was something to marvel at, but once you add Malibu to the list, well, it’s a god damn takeover. The fact that he’s signed to Aftermath makes all of this even scarier; do not lose sight of this dude in the years ahead. He’s been taking us on one of the most fun rides in all of music for a while now, and it looks like he’ll continue to do so down the road. Yes lawd!
Notable Feats: Malibu, Yes Lawd!, ‘GLOWED UP,’ ‘Dapper,’ ‘Blank Face,’ ‘Responsibilities,’ ‘Dang!,’ ‘Money on Me,’ ‘OooWee,’ ‘Movin Backwards,’ ‘It G Ma Remix (Josh Pan Opus),’ ‘Put it Down,’ ‘Mission Road,’ ‘No Slaves,’ ‘Blessings Reprise’
1) Donald Glover
Let me break this down. Although Gambino didn’t put out a single hip hop song this year and instead dropped a funk/neo-soul album, he still was the top artist in the culture. His achievements were unprecedented, and he absolutely shined in many different settings. Let’s dig into the reasoning:
First, I have to talk about Atlanta. In my opinion, that was easily in the year’s top shows. Despite having a thirty minute runtime and only ten episodes all season, the show was packed with memorable moments, lines and characters. It was bold, refreshing and awkwardly relatable, with Glover pulling all the strings behind the show’s success. Not only did he create the show and star as its protagonist, but he also helped direct and write multiple episodes. The show often provided well-crafted commentary on both black culture and overall American culture too, proving that Glover can excel as a showrunner and lead actor at the same time.
Next, I have to discuss the sheer excellence of “Awaken, My Love!”. In recent memory, I can’t think of an artist who pulled off a genre switch this drastic. This sounds like nothing, and I mean nothing, that Gambino had ever dropped in his career prior, and it shocked countless people upon first listen (in a good way). Not only did longtime fans like myself praise the change in sound, but critics and legends did as well. A top TV show and album in the same year? Who else can do that?
Onto the final point. Music and television are conquered, so what’s next? Has to be movies right? Well, of course! To top off the watershed year, Donald Glover was cast in the upcoming Han Solo Star Wars film back in October, solidifying his already absurd 2016. Music, television and cinema. That’s the big three. Few artists have ever pulled such a feat, and the best thing about this is that it’s just the beginning. The Star Wars movie hasn’t even come out yet, more seasons of Atlanta are in the works and I guarantee we can expect more music from Gambino in the future – both in hip hop and in other genres. Hats off to you, Donald. You were a bright spot that continued to illuminate one of the worst years in recent memory, and 2016 will forever be known as the year of Glover.
Notable Feats: Atlanta (and its all-black writing staff), ‘“Awaken My Love!”,‘ landing (haha pun) the role of young Lando Calrissian, ‘No Hookahs‘
Q-Tip (RIP Phife – shouts to the whole Tribe)
Chance the Rapper
Run the Jewels
Royce da 5’9″
Mike Will Made It
Lil Uzi Vert
images via Young Thug, Thom Browne Eyewear, Kaytranada, Liam MacRae, Curren$y, Mario Anzuoni, Reuters, Smoke DZA, Metro Boomin, Frank Ocean, Gucci Mane, Jonathan Mannion, Anderson Paak, Erika Rich, American-Statesman, Ibra Ake & Donald Glover