2016 has been a big year for rap music, the amount of ridiculously great albums and tracks coming out of both the UK and the US has been insane, and if it continues this way, 2017 is going to be paradise for all us rap heads. Gabriel and Alex from VRBL, the Bristol based Hip-Hop collective and label, have teamed up with Diss to put together a list of their favorite hip-hop albums, and UK rap songs from 2016. Most of these you should already know, but if you’re lucky you might stumble across some new bangers.
10 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2016
- Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine
A self-professed studio rat, Mac Miller just cannot, and should not, stop. In my opinion, this album, amongst his many releases, is one of the best to date, and is certainly his most musical – full of twiddling jazz keys, passionate horns and off-kilter crooning, this is the perfect thing to listen to whist reclining in your dressing gown, sipping a glass of wine and arm-dancing. True to the title, Mac delivered to us a varied and in depth account of his relationship with the better sex.
- Ab-Soul – Do What Thou Whilt
After the disappointing ‘These Days’, back in 2014 (Fuck, was it really that long ago??), the Black Lip Pastor finally returned to form with his latest offering. Featuring everything you’d expect from a solid Ab-Soul album – complex imagery, weird third-eye shit, and hella, hella punchlines – this album definitely bangs, also largely because the dark, experimental, beats on it are just so good. Ab, like Mac, focuses largely on the feminine on this album… ‘God’s a girl?’.
- Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
Despite possibly the sloppiest roll-out ever, a reported mental breakdown and many claiming that Ye has fallen off as of late (including J.Cole), he still managed to release one of the best albums of the year. True, it is a sprawling, unpredictable and uncohesive piece, that will make you switch between thinking West is a genius and an insane egomaniac with every beat change… but undeniably, that’s part of the appeal. Everything he does is a spectacle and we can’t help but watch on in awe/horror, and this album is no different. That’s not to say the music isn’t good either – ‘Ultralight Beam’, ‘Father Stretch My Hands’, ‘FML’, and ‘Real Friends’ have all been my favourite songs at different points throughout the year.
- Noname Gypsy – Telefone
Chicago has been churning out talent for a while now, and if this album is anything to go by, it’s not going to stop anytime soon. With her debut full-length Noname has proven once and for all that she is much more than just a female version of Chance The Rapper, although this was rightly far from her primary intention. Blending her signature spoken-word style with beautiful melodies, she has produced something special here. The songs are relatable, poignant and heart-warming, and they sounds like summer, even now (30th Dec, 4am).
- Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
Even though this ‘album’ is just a collection of tracks that didn’t make it onto 2015’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, I couldn’t help but put it on the list. I mean, what Kendrick album won’t make it onto my albums of the year in any year he releases one? He’s King Kendrick, the best rapper alive, so of course these ‘throwaway’ tracks are better than 99 percent of any other rappers’ catalogues. Also, this album is responsible for that one night out when I got black-out drunk and disappeared from the rave, and when Alex got through to me on the phone, the only words he could get out of me were “Levitate, levitate, levitate, levitate!!!”. So there’s that.
- D.R.A.M. – Big Baby D.R.A.M.
If this was a list of the most fun albums of the year, D.R.A.M. would get the topspot everytime. His infectious, outrageous personality spills out across every song, putting a smile onto even the most stuck-up hipster’s face. It features some of the biggest bangers of 2016 (‘Cash Machine’ and ‘Broccoli’ along with everyone’s favourite red-haired trapper, LIL BOAT!) as well as appearances from Thugga and Neo-soul legend Erykah Badu. On top of all this it shows D.R.A.M. off as the amazing singer and talented musician that he is, dude’s got some serious chops. I’d love to see more people like D.R.A.M. – people who make good shit and aren’t afraid to show they’re having fun doing it.
- A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
When this album was first announced, shortly after the sad news of the death of founding member Phife Dawg, nobody knew what quite to expect. Would Tribe try to return to their classic 90’s boom bap sound or would they try to fit in with the current scene, maybe utilising 808’s and a little autotune? The answer is, they did neither and we should have expected exactly what Tribe have always delivered – excellence. They somehow managed to find the balance between being experimental af and holding onto that thing that makes them Tribe, and of course spat some killer raps too. Plus the guest appearances are brilliant – it seems Q-Tip only lets the best join him in the studio – whether they’re from the old or new school (Busta Rhymes, Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Paak, Talib Kweli).
- Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
This album is dark, abrasive and nothing but quality. Danny, a master of the art of rap, switches flows and delivery on every song – his signature high-pitched squeal slipping seamlessly into a lower, rougher and more sober vocal style. This balance serves as the perfect audio metaphor for the endless partying and inevitable comedown which fills this album and Danny’s world. The psychedelic production is out of this world, and the lyrics are suitably terrifying as we follow the raucous rapper through his own personal, self-made hell. It also features, ‘Really Doe’ which is no doubt posse-cut of the year.
- Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
After ‘Acid Rap’, Chance’s 2013 breakthrough project, he knew he’d need to drop something special to live up to all of our super-heightened expectations. He did just that. ‘Coloring book’ is one of the most soulful and uplifting rap albums ever made, it’s straight CHUCH. If anything, Chance has only bettered himself in every aspect of his style – the raps are tighter, the singing more on-point and the songwriting more touching. Although the constant religious references may become exhausting for a non-believer like myself, it’s very easy to look past this and let the album do it’s job, to fill you with a feeling of warmth and happiness, which is no-doubt partly indebted to Chance’s excellent band, The Social Experiment, who kill it all the way through. Chance also employs the technique of getting a rapper to feature and then completely killing them in their own style – check ‘Mixtape’ with Young Thug and Lil Yachty or ‘How Great’ with Jay Electronica.
- Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade
On ‘Rosegold’ Isaiah tells us “I brought the music for the vibers though” and here at VRBL, we’re all about the vibes. I honestly can’t explain exactly why this is album of the year, but it is. It’s that one album that I’ve found myself coming back to time and time again, that I never had to force myself to like or get used to, from the first play I just vibed with it. The beats are smooth and mellow, the vocals low-key and croaky, but both slyly bang. The flows are tight then loose, the lyrics profound then comical. There’s not a lot more I can really say but go and listen to this shit, if you haven’t already, and if you have. I’m sorry, but if you don’t like this album, we probably can’t hang, and definitely can’t smoke together.
- Cole – For Your Eyez Only, Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP, Run The Jewels – RTJ3, Common – Black America Again. And before anyone starts screwing at me, Anderson Paak’s ‘Malibu’ and Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love!” are not rap albums. Also, Vic Mensa’s ‘There’s Alot Going On’ and Vince Staples’ ‘Prima Donna’ would be the best EP’s of the year. Bang bang.
16 Best UK Rap Songs of 2016
2016 has been arguably the biggest year for UK rap and Grime in it’s history, and it’s looking like this momentum will carry on through to 2017. With so much absolute quality coming from our small little island this year, it was pretty hard to put this list together, but i’ve scoured the depths of my soundcloud likes, and I think i’ve put together a pretty solid list. So in no particular order, the 16 best UK rap songs of 2016 are;
So there’s our list, did we miss any out? Let us know on the VRBL facebook, and look out for more Diss x VRBL collaborations in the future.
words by Gabriel Wigington & Alex Rodrigues (VRBL)