Another year in rap, another list that I can't keep down to 5 or 10. And I still don't know how to pronounce Rae Smreurrd? Smruerdrd? and I really don't see what's so great about that 'Black Beatles' joint. On the other hand, that stupid 'Panda' bullshit came and went.
Albums of the Year
Ka :: Honor Killed The Samurai
Ghost Dog didn't die at the end of The Way of the Samurai. He lives in a Brownsville basement, waking at 3am from PTSD nightmares and digging in the crates for the dustiest loops. Another way: Illmatic never got released, and Nas has spent 20 years refining and compressing his craft for a wintertime debut.
Ka has blessed us with his fifth release, and it carries on the tradition of both reducing and elevating rap to its finest natural elements. The sword-sharp writing, the pared-down beats, all delivered with exacting precision. It's street-level frescoes carved on grains of rice. Just as there's five elements of hip-hop (six including arguing about Wu-Tang), Zen includes the tea ceremony, sword fighting and calligraphy--the art and meditation practice of writing just one letter, just one thought, after long and careful clearing of the mind, with one chance only to get it right. So it is, as always, with Ka. He soldiers on. He blesses us with his service.
Elucid :: Osage EP / Save Yourself
Did Amerikkka get the president it wanted or the president it deserved? Elucid's one-two drops were the records we needed, and didn't know we wanted. Personal and political, strictly hip-hop yet reaching far and wide beyond it, it's a roam through what it means to be here, today. Like I said earlier, he's breathing ghosts on this one. It's fractured blues and St. Augustine visions. Sipping on Flint water in ruined tabernacles. Sprinkling baby powder in kicks on power lines. For real, god took a bag of coal and turned it into gems. Every cut on these are repping some Jane Jacobs, some Amiri style. Skinny Luther nailing it up son.
Most Slept On
Man. Y'all slept so hard on these, you got those pillow creases on your face.
The Difference Engine :: The 4th Side of the Eternal Triangle
Can't recommend this one enough. Huge, funky live sound but still with great drums and on-point cosmic, literate and political rhymes. It's like if Zach de la Rocha had been more into Fishbone, Bad Brains, Parliament and Heavy Mental than Anthrax and Minor Threat. Go get this one.
The Higher Up :: The Higher Up Album
An amazingly accomplished debut that bridges early Digable with '98 Juggaknots with today's lighter but still iller cats like Denmark Vessey. Polished production maintaining a consistent, lush sound, smooth & soulful but also rugged, introspective but also rhyming-about-rhyming, great storytelling without sparing the wordplay. It's the greatest record nobody was talking about this year.
MVPs :: Griselda Gang
These cats ran shit in 2016, hands down. They had every guest verse on lock and ran the East Coast, no doubt. I mean, they never left the studio this year I don't think. They're at the peak of their powers, able to lace a verse on every track out there without any dip in quality. A lot of cats complaining about how many MCs out there copping the Marcberg style, but Griselda rode out the cold Buffalo winters to bring it back with a lot more Mobb Deep up in it. I mean, these dudes named their crew after one of the evillest narcos there ever was, Griselda Blanco, a cold-blooded killer at 11 years old and dropped in a drive-by at 69. (Not The Story of Griselda like I first thought, which is good, I don't really fuck with Boccaccio.)
WestSide Gunn brings the nasal, on some AZ with more attitude or the Troy Ave that shoulda been. Conway brings the million-yard-stare of Prodigy after thirty years on lockdown. I mean the dude been shot in the face and is still rhyming. Together they go for that great high/low combo a la Cypress, PE and Rae/Ghost. They know how to ride a beat, drop their illest lines when you least expect, and keep it straight old school G. The secret weapon here is Daringer, who produced all their best tracks--a close study of the grimy loop genealogy of Muggs begat RZA begat Havoc begat Alchemist begat Roc Marci. The kid goes deep and knows how to pull down that foreboding, smoked-out, hazy sound.
If you ever owned a pair of Timbs and don't fuck with these guys, something wrong with you.
You Already Knew
A Tribe Called Quest :: We Got It From Here
I never was the biggest Tribe fan outside of a long drive or a drunken house party, but I definitely fuck with this (along with everyone else). Thicker and heavier than their old stuff. It just. Fucking. GOES.
Danny Brown :: Atrocity Exhibition
Didn't understand some of the older heads not feeling this. I mean, it's a straight trilogy from XXX and Old, who's done that since P.E. or Gangstarr? What, you want him to go back to those shitty flip-phone beats from the Detroit State series? He keeps killing it, keeps putting more of his raw self out there, keeps experimenting, keeps making great records.
Also those 'When It Rain' and 'Pneumonia' joints though! Sounds like two cats fucking and one cat has a eye scratched out and both of them are on acid somehow and they're fucking in a pile of crushed up Adderall and spilled rum and it's smearing all over the place and they knock over a pile of dirty plates and THEN the party gets started. That's what that shit sounds like.
'Underground' hip hop...the term's a lousy catch-all for any record not on a major label, on Bandcamp not Youtube, getting more play in indie bookstores than strip clubs. But under that umbrella is incredible breadth, artistry, complexity and an ever-expanding definition of what it can be. I mean you got your Def Jux vets (Aesop, Lif), your Original Dirge Rap (dalek), your Neo-Afro-Futurists-sic (Kemba, Saul Williams), your rising multiplatform 'art rapper' (Open Mike), your weird frustrated kid in a gold mask pouring his bitter heart out (NoEmotion), and your If-There-Was-A-Dischord-or-SST-for-Rappers-These-Dudes-Would-Be-Signed, Never-Stop-Rhyming-&-Grinding, Cats-I-Always-Fuck-With (all the others who I always fuck with).
None of these records are alike, except they're all outstanding examples of the art and the craft.
Aesop Rock :: The Impossible Kid
Blueprint :: Vigilante Genesis
dalek :: Asphalt for Eden
Kemba :: Negus
L'Orange & Mr Lif :: The Life & Death of Scenery
Mr Lif :: Don't Look Down
NoEmotionGoldMask :: A Freaking American
Open Mike Eagle & Paul White :: Hella Personal Film Festival
PremRock & Fresh Kils :: Leave In Tact
Saul Williams :: Martyrloserking
Short Fuze & Uncommon Nasa :: Autonomy Music
We Are Not For Them :: Captures, Vol. 1
Words Hurt :: Fuck That Pretty Boy Shit
Meat & Potatoes Just Goes Hard Shit
Fuck your kale smoothie and cinnamon-spice frappucino. There'll always be room in the rap diet for a Waffle House breakfast or the now-infamous bodega chopped cheese.*
Czarface :: A Fistful of Peril
DJ Rude One :: ONEderful
Vinnie Paz :: The Cornertone of the Corner Store
(*Offer may vary depending on your location.)
Ill True Mentals
Best of the illbient, beat-driven shit this year I heard that made the hairs on my neck stand up.
Bugseed :: Street Mentality
FRKSE :: Rode A Horse Made of China
Ill Clinton :: Juniper
odd nosdam :: Sisters
Quelle Chris :: Lullabies for the Broken Brain