Ah, 2016 is nearing a close, which means we get to do some reflection. Like every other music blog on the internet, this means we’ve decided to put together a top albums list. It helps us ignore the fact that we’ve completely run out of article ideas for the time being, and hopefully helps distract you from the festering pile of manure that has been 2016. This list is also not limited to hip-hop, which I’m sure is confusing. Now, grab yourself a bowl of popcorn and dig into the list that’s almost certain to make you feel some degree of outrage.
Also, thank you to everyone who has supported us this year. As much as we tend to be a cynical bunch at times, it truly means a lot. You could even say that we love you… In the platonic sense, of course.
15. The Veils – Total Depravity
Total Depravity was a very interesting alternative rock release for many reasons, among those being the groups collaboration throughout with independent hip-hop mainstay El-P. At the very least this would have been an incredibly solid alt-rock album, but the odd touches of hip-hop and electronic influence made it something really unique. It feels a bit inconsistent at times, but Finn Andrews’ and company brought a performance more than worth the purchase.
14. Mr. Lif – Don’t Look Down
It’s always special to see one of the old Definitive Jux crew doing something great years after the label stopped operating; moreover, it was really awesome to see Mr. Lif return to the rap scene after nearly seven years to delivery an incredibly solid album. Don’t Look Down was thoughtful, well written, and felt like a modern update to the underground sound Definitive Jux spent so many years dominating.
13. DIIV – Is The Is Are
Is The Is Are proved to be quite the step up from the alternative rock group DIIV. Though it certainly has moments that felt like they fell a little short (mostly the singles), and perhaps could have used some trimming, Is The Is Are was a wonderful album. The dreamy, reverbed out, sound was equally addictive and catchy. Don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re melting while listening, because it sounds like melting. Does that make sense? No? Okay… Moving on.
12. BADBADNOTGOOD – IV
The fourth BADBADNOTGOOD release may be a little more commercial than their previous efforts, but it also has some of their most engaging and accessible material. It should be noted, however, that the group managed to stay grounded in their roots on IV. The sound evolution is notable, but they didn’t lose themselves. The features on the album all did a really wonderful job, as well, with artists such as Mick Jenkins and Sam Herring providing vocal relief from pure instrumentation.
11. Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival
Admittedly, our review on this album didn’t paint it as brightly as it should have. Hella Personal Film Festival turned out to the the type of album that took some time to fully sink in. Perhaps it was Mike’s calmer demeanor, or maybe it was the slightly different production provided by Paul White. Either way, Hella Personal Film Festival was a stunningly relatable album. Mike Eagle resumed his role as rap’s most down-to-earth everyman while gliding with ease over the off-kilter production. Hella Personal Film Festival lacked some of the catchy standouts like some of Mike’s other material, but as a whole it may be his most solid release to date.
10. Koi Child – Koi Child
This Australian hip-hop and jazz band brought one of the most engaging listens of the year with their self-titled debut. Recorded on a remote island, Koi Child’s use of live instrumentation and energetic vocals created an incredible atmosphere. Though the album may not be as socially rooted, it seemed to take a similar approach to music as a group like The Roots. Oh, and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker executive produced it, so there’s also that.
9. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
Aesop is notorious for hiding his true meaning deep within extended wordplay and a massive vocabulary, but The Impossible Kid saw him take a step back to allow us into the more personal aspects of his life. This album proved to be one of his most accessible, emotional, and at times humorous releases in his discography. It almost seemed to have given him new breath as an rapper. The production was also very good, particularly the rock inspired drum work.
8. Russian Circles – Guidance
Russian Circles have always suffered a bit from inconsistency with their albums, but Guidance felt like them at their very best. This album was ruthless, hard hitting, and incredibly dense. Any shortcomings from the band’s previous efforts seem to have been corrected, and what’s left is a beautiful post-metal album with ample replay value. Prepare to have your mind melted by something new every time you revisit Guidance.
7. clipping. – Splendor & Misery
Coming in at the sixth spot on this list is clipping. with their “space slave opera” album, Splendor & Misery. The experimental rap trio certainly put out their best and most consistent work with this effort. The story on the album was concise, and supplemented flawlessly with their harsh, noisy, and space inspired instrumentals.
6. Ka – Honor Killed the Samurai
Ka is very much an underrated gem within hip-hop with his incredibly consistent discography. Honing his distinct chamber rap style, he pushed himself even further with this year’s Honor Killed the Samurai. This album was the dose of penmanship many have been craving, and the stripped back instrumentals allowed Ka’s vocal performance to be the star of the show.
5. FLANCH – FLANCH
FLANCH was one of those records that came out sounding like nothing before it. It’s a genre breaker in many ways, playing with hip-hop, indie, electronic, noise, and various other genres within its relatively humble running time. The religious and internet-era theme through the tape echoed painfully relatable. FLANCH was a haunting release, and one well worth of being in the top five of the year. For something so impossible to describe it is truly a beautiful work of art.
4. David Bowie – Blackstar
Given the context of this albums release, it seems reasonable to expect that it will be near the top of most album lists for 2016. Unfortunately, what many will fail to talk about is the fact that the music of Blackstar is absolutely gorgeous in its own right. David Bowie didn’t shy away from showing experimental-noise influences on this record, and it paid off wonderfully. Stripping away that context of his death this would still be one of the top albums of the year, and certainly one of Bowie’s best in years. On a blog with less hip-hop focus, this album would probably be closer to the one spot on a year end list. It was that good.
3. A Tribe Called Quest – Thank You for Your Service… We Got it From Here
This is another release where as much can be said about the context as there is about the music itself; however, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that A Tribe Called Quest managed to seamlessly update golden era style into a modern hip-hop classic. There’s not a track that felt out of place on Thank You for Your Service, and the music is paired with an equally impressive message at times. Given that Tribe hadn’t released an album in 18 years, it was absolutely incredible to see them smoothly slide back into hip-hop. Rest in Peace, Phife Dawg.
2. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
Fortunately due to absolute dumb luck (or possibly laziness), the surprise Christmas release of the much anticipated Run the Jewels 3 didn’t mess up this top albums list. Isn’t that fantastic? It sure is. Anyway, Killer Mike and El-P’s consistency was really given an opportunity to shine on Run the Jewels 3 and they did not disappoint. The third installment from the duo brought 50 minutes of punchy, in your face, bass-heavy, cheeky, and insightful hip-hop. The overall sound is much more similar to El-P’s solo work than the previous Run the Jewels’ albums, but it worked out excellently to craft an album which feels slightly different yet familiar.
1. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Honestly, if anyone was going to put out a truly revolutionary sounding hip-hop album it was going to be Danny Brown, and he did. Atrocity Exhibition (borrowing its title from a Joy Division song) is absolutely phenomenal. This album was spacey, unique, and absolutely insane. Atrocity Exhibition felt like a bad drug trip in all the right ways. Once it ends, you feel as if you need to get some fresh air; however, don’t be surprised if you find yourself revisiting this album over and over. Atrocity Exhibition was incredibly disorienting, and catching everything at once felt near impossible. This is a hip-hop album that sounded like nothing else before it, and it truly earned the title of best album in 2016.