2016 is a year we will remember for quite some time and damn was it a good one for hip-hop and R&B. While we lost some of the greats including Prince, David Bowie and Phife Dog, we also received some truly incredible bodies of work from amazing artists, both new and old.
Hip-hop continued to evolve and be stronger then ever, showing there are so many sides to the ever-expanding genre. With artists like Anderson Paak coming out of nowhere and becoming one of our favorites to watch, to hip-hop legacy act A Tribe Called Quest losing a member while creating their first new album in over 15 years, there's so much to take in.
Travis Scott and Young Thug fully utilized auto-tune and managed to truly craft it as their instrument of choice. Mac Miller and Childish Gambino decided to jump on the soul train and release albums that took a great detour from what we expected. Gambino didn't even have a single rap verse…
We've decided to rank the top 20 best hip-hop / R&B albums of 2016 from 1 to 20. While the decisions were difficult to make, you'll read why we thought each one deserved it's spot as we factored in the entire team's opinions over here. Hopefully you have something to say in either applause or uproar, or even excitement about discovering your new favorite artists. Either way, share what you think below at the very bottom in the comment section. Enjoy!
1. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Wow. What a year for Anderson .Paak. After stealing the show with the most features on Dr. Dre's Compton album last year, the 30-year-old Oxnard, CA native capitalized on the spotlight by dropping our favorite hip-hop / R&B album of 2016. Malibu is an incredible 16-track project that blends hip-hop with soul, funk and R&B in a way we haven't heard before. The album has been on repeat for us all year. The LP's production isn't your typical hip-hop instrumentals, however. It is entirely filled with live instrumentation inspired by soul and funk while maintaining hip-hop percussion. The raw, uplifting instrumentals allow .Paak to fully harness his hybrid sound, mixing numerous musical styles into one cohesive sound. His passionate, buttery-smooth vocals carry emotion you can feel in every song as he effortlessly transitions from singing to rapping without ever skipping a beat.
Once .Paak started to gain attention from Malibu, there was no slowing down. He became the go-to act to get a feature from. His TV performances were next level and accelerated his rise. He established himself as an all-around incredible performer who could sing, rap and play drums, all while carrying a fun-loving charisma that could win anyone over. He went from one of the best kept secrets to becoming everyone's new favorite artist. If you haven't listened to Malibu yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. It's grabbed our well-deserved #1 spot for best hip-hop / R&B album of the year. Hopefully you like it as much as we do.
Standout tracks: "Come Down", "The Season | Carry Me" and "The Waters"
2. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
This installment of Chance The Rapper's mixtape series did not disappoint. Coloring Book came as a long-awaited follow-up to his breakout Acid Rap mixtape and delivered an evolved, gospel-inspired sound. Chance selflessly put his next mixtape on the back burner to work with his good friend & longtime collaborator, Donnie Trumpet, on his critically-acclaimed album, Surf. On this project, we begin to hear a new sound from the rapper. Over the course of the three years between his official projects, Chance matured as both a person and artist. Coloring Book came after Chance became a father. You can hear how his lyrics reflect this new chapter in his life as the content becomes deeper and more uplifting than his past releases. Coloring Book finds a new sound from Chance as well. He successfully takes a different direction incorporating gospel influences into his songs for a hybrid hip-hop sound building on his already great discography.
Coloring Book skyrocketed Chance The Rapper's career. The incredible, not to mention free, project was so impactful that it lead to the Grammys organization changing their age-old qualifications to allow free releases to be considered for an award. Chance raised the bar with his latest release and changed the entire industry's perception on independent artists. Coloring Book proves you can be an independent artist who releases free music, tours the world and sells out your own music festival while grabbing seven Grammy nominations.
Standout tracks: “No Problem” “Summer Friends” and “All Night”
3. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
Hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest lost their beloved member Phife Dawg this past spring. To celebrate his life, his fellow ATCQ members gave him the ultimate tribute by dropping We got it from Here… Thank you 4 Your service as their first album in 18 years. As someone who grew up on Tribe’s music, I was pleasantly surprised by the finished product. The star-studded album included contributions from Phife, as well as guest appearances by Andre 3000, Kanye West, Elton John, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Jack White, Talib Kweli, longtime collaborator Busta Rhymes and more. They built on their signature jazzy, boom-bap instrumentation with a modern adaptation, making their latest album just what we wanted to hear from A Tribe Called Quest in 2016.
Standout tracks: "We The People" "The Space Program" and "Solid Wall of Sound"
4. Frank Ocean – Blonde
Frank Ocean’s follow-up to channel ORANGE was one of the most hyped albums in recent history. The surprise release was teased for several years and came with a new musical direction. Not only was Blonde a bizarre album rollout, the music itself was much more experimental for Ocean. For the first time, we heard him play with vocal pitching and new sounds. He even rapped a bit. Once again, Ocean placed emphasis on his songwriting as his dense lyrics take multiple listens to fully digest. Each song is different from the next and feels incredibly unique. Not only did he sound amazing throughout the project, but each guest really stepped it up. Even Andre 3000 made an appearance on the interlude-type track, "Solo", in which he rapped in double time for two minutes.
Standout tracks: “Nikes” “Nights” “Self Control” and “White Ferrari”
5. Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine
Mac Miller took a big step as an artist on his latest album, The Divine Feminine. His maturation is evident as the 24-year-old’s latest release is an uplifting LP focused on love. Mac became sober this year and said he’s much happier now than he’s been in years. You can tell it through his music, too. The production places importance on live instrumentation as we hear a combination of jazzy layers focused on live horns, guitars and keys, as well as hazy electronic elements. Mac sings quite a bit on the album and it sounds great. All in all, he delivered an incredibly chill product about love that makes for a smooth listen from start to finish with standout features from Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar and Ty Dolla $ign, among others.
Standout tracks: “Dang”, “We” and “Stay”
6. Travis Scott – Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight
Travis Scott’s Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight showed an incredible amount of artistic growth for the Houston rapper and producer. While we knew he could make hits, we were still skeptical of his abilities as an album artist. Birds changed that. The rapper showed a keen ability to craft a cohesive project without a skippable song. He further progresses his talents of setting a mood as he expertly captures a nighttime aesthetic throughout. Travis uses auto-tune like a shape-shifting instrument, carrying the album’s infectious melodies that we find stuck in our head for days at a time. The production is top-notch and has made Birds my go-to whenever someone passes the aux cord. Andre 3000, Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, and Bryson Tiller are among the featured artists on the 17-track output.
Standout tracks: “Coordinate”, “Through The Late Night” “Goosebumps” “Pick Up The Phone”
7. Kendrick Lamar – untitled, unmastered.
Kendrick Lamar is the type of artist who records 70+ songs and then narrows it down to 16 for an album. This kind of work ethic is what resulted in his latest album, untitled, unmastered. The recording sessions for his GRAMMY-winning album To Pimp A Butterfly spawned a collection of raw tracks that didn’t make the cut, but were still great songs. Instead of pushing his To Pimp A Butterfly singles at his TV performances, he debuted a few of these previously unreleased songs with no intention of releasing them on a project. Thankfully he decided to gift us with eight of these gems. That’s what we hear on untitled unmastered. He essentially dropped an LP of throwaway tracks (in his eyes) that he didn’t even name or finish mixing, and it was still one of the best hip-hop albums of the year.
Standout tracks: “untitled 02”, “untitled 07” and “untitled 03”
8. Gallant – Ology
Gallant quickly bursted on the scene with with his otherworldly voice, capturing not only our attention, but earned him a major co-sign from Elton John. The genre-blending project brings a modern approach to soul and R&B. The poetic songwriting on Ology put’s his emotional, crooning vocals at the forefront of the project. Gallant has one of the most stunning voices I’ve ever heard and puts his incredibly raw talent on full display throughout Ology.
Standout tracks: “Weight In Gold” “Talking To Myself” and “Bourbon”
9. NxWorries – Yes Lawd!
NxWorries' debut album has made the duo one of our favorite new hip-hop groups. It's no surprise that Anderson .Paak makes his way into our top hip-hop albums post once again. This time, it’s for the Yes Lawd! collaborative LP alongside powerhouse producer Knxwledge that's under their NxWorries joint venture. Knxwledge’s impressive production credits include works with Kendrick Lamar and Joey Bada$$ among others. He’s proved to be a natural fit alongside .Paak with his silky smooth foundations. You can tell both artists had a lot of fun with this release as some tracks showcase hilarious, random samples while others such as "Lyk Dis" were some of the most exciting hip-hop tracks of the year. At 19 tracks and 48 minutes in length, Yes Lawd! has a raw feel to it that makes the listening experience similar to a mixtape. The genre-blending project is filled with fun surprises and takes inspiration from .Paak’s idols in soul music. The LP fittingly dropped on Stones Throw Records and delivers skillful sample-based production that would make J Dilla proud.
Standout tracks: “Scared Money” “Lyk Dis” and “Suede”
10. Young Thug – Jeffery
Aside from being one of the most interesting personalities in rap, Young Thug released some of the most eccentric hip-hop projects of the year. He actually had two releases this year that we considered for this list, but decided to only include Jeffrey due to its ability to stand the test of time. Depending on the day, I could say either Slime Season 3 or Jeffrey is better as both projects are incredible in their own way and explore different sounds from Thugger.
Leading up to Jeffrey’s release, Young Thug explained he would be tapping a new sound on the project to make it more accessible, which led to the project having the most crossover-friendly music. "I never had a street mentality," he said before Jeffery dropped. "I always had a Michael Jackson mentality. I really am Jeffery." This was apparent as he mostly ditched the hard-hitting hip-hop tracks for a hybrid sound centered on his uncanny melodic tendencies. Jeffery fully displayed Thug’s flamboyant, unconventional sound that keeps listeners on their toes for each song. His elastic vocals hop along the beat while he shifts his flow and rhythmic patterns in a way that only Young Thug can make work.
Standout tracks: “Wyclef Jean” “Floyd Mayweather” “Harambe” and "RiRi"
11. ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face
ScHoolboy Q’s second major label release, Blank Face, brought a more refined sound and persona from the TDE rapper while bringing on several strong guest appearances. He previously bounced back and forth between party rap and more aggressive, dark rap, but took on an ominous “Groovy Tony” alter-ego with Blank Face. Q’s hilarious personality is present on the project while the on-point production ranges from abrasive and hard-hitting to bouncy and funky. The body of work grabs features from Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, SZA, Miguel, Vince Staples, Jadakiss and more.
Standout tracks: “THat Part” “Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane” and “By Any Means”
12. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
Kanye West took the album rollout process to another level on The Life of Pablo. He teased the project for months, changing its name several times and going as far to call it the best album of all time. TLOP has a raw, chaotic and unpolished feel to it, but still manages to capture a singular, cohesive sound throughout its 19 tracks. Kanye has a way of making sure he's always relevant. The album only builds on this as recorded some all-time ridiculous moments, including his line about making Taylor Swift famous which put the media in a frenzy. The LP is littered with features from Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Chance The Rapper, The Weeknd, Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Young Thug, Desiigner and many more. Kanye called it a “living breathing changing creative expression” and went on to make additions to the LP. In typical Kanye fashion, he quietly updated songs over a month after its release without making an announcement.
Standout tracks: “Ultralight Beam” “No More Parties In LA” and “Fade”
13. 6LACK – Free 6LACK
Atlanta-based artist 6LACK is one of our favorite newcomers of 2016. The 24-year-old recently escaped a bad label deal that had lasted five years, and dropped the fittingly-titled Free 6LACK to celebrate. The 11 track debut doesn't bring any features as 6LACK flexes his impressive singing and songwriting talents. This hybrid sound of hip-hop / R&B has been a growing trend while 6LACK finds a way to stand out by delivering his music in an artistic, meaningful manor. The vibe is a nod to early music from The Weeknd as he finds a similar dark and moody sound. His catchy vocal melodies and memorable lyrics compliment his uniquely coarse voice that carries hip-hop leaning R&B vocals over the dark, somber trap productions. Free 6LACK was one of the best surprises of 2016 and is someone to keep on eye on down the road.
Standout tracks: “PRBLMS” “Ex Calling” and “Free”
14. Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade
The addition of Top Dawg Entertainment’s Isaiah Rashad was the first time the prestigious label expanded beyond its core original members: Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul. He became a fan-favorite following his incredible Cilvia Demo mixtape a couple years ago and followed it up in a big way with his debut studio album, The Sun’s Tirade. For those unfamiliar, we have you covered with a catch up guide on the talented rapper.
During the time between these releases, Rashad developed and then kicked a drug and alcohol habit. This shows in his 17-track LP which shares the honest subject matter of self-reflection and maturation. He builds on his hazy, yet slick, signature sound across the versatile, melodic project with a warm, relaxed vibe to kick back to. Once again, Rashad and SZA show amazing chemistry on their duets. Moreover, we hear great contributions from TDE members Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock.
Standout tracks: “Free Lunch” “Wats Wrong” and “Stuck In The Mud”
15. Logic – Bobby Tarantino
Logic is an artist we’ve been supporting for years and it’s been exciting to watch him grow. The longtime TSIS regular dropped his surprise mixtape Bobby Tarantino this past summer, marking his first mixtape since he made the leap to studio albums in 2014. Bobby Tarantino, produced by Logic and 6ix, was delivered as a gift to fans so they had something to tune into in between albums. His last mixtape was Welcome To Forever in 2013 which was actually presented by TSIS. Logic delivers his technical rapping abilities and fast flows over Bobby Tarantino's smooth instrumentals.
Standout tracks: “Flexicution” “Super Mario World” and “The Jam”
16. Domo Genesis – Genesis
After years of consistent quality releases, Odd Future affiliate Domo Genesis impressed us with his debut studio LP, Genesis. We didn't really know what to expect on the project and were pleasantly surprised by its soulful, funky nature. Domo was always the “stoner rapper” of Odd Future, but is able to maintain a level of seriousness in his raps while keeping things groovy and mellow. The project shows growth from Domo as he takes his laid-back vibe to a new level with bouncy, soulful production paired with jazzy live instrumentation. Genesis has a similar vibe to Anderson .Paak and Mac Miller’s new albums so it makes sense he grabbed stellar features from both artists, in addition to Tyler, The Creator, Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, King Chip and more.
Standout tracks: “One Below” “Dapper” and “Coming Back”
17. dvsn – Sept 5th
Toronto-based, OVO-affiliated duo dvsn (pronounced division) first appeared as a mysterious R&B act, but have since revealed themselves as the incredibly talented producer Nineteen85 and vocalist Daniel Daley. Their strong introductory album Sept 5th is sex-fueled R&B body of work that highlights Daley’s insane falsetto vocals and Nineteen85’s slick electronic R&B production (alongside fellow executive producer and Drake’s right hand man Noah “40” Shebib). Sept 5th progresses the contemporary trap-inspired R&B sound forward with 10 tracks, beautifully balancing the production and vocals.
Standout tracks: “Hallucinations” “With Me” and “Too Deep”
18. A$AP Mob – Cozy Tapes: Vol. 1 Friends
A$AP Mob’s first installment of their cozy tapes has their fearless leader A$AP Rocky on 7 of the 12 tracks with each featured artist stepping up to the plate. Cozy Tapes: Vol. 1 Friends' art pays tribute to the late A$AP Yams, their co-founder and creative director who tragically lost his life to a drug overdose. The feature-heavy project brings appearances from members of A$AP Mob including A$AP Ferg, A$AP Nast, A$AP Ant, and A$AP Twelvyy. Tyler, The Creator, Wiz Khalifa, BJ The Chicago Kid, Skepta, Lil Yachty and Madeintyo also bring their talents to the release.
Standout tracks: “Crazy Brazy”, “Telephone Calls” and “Bachelor”
19. Majid Jordan – Majid Jordan
Majid Jordan’s self-titled debut album Majid Jordan is an enjoyable listen from start to finish. The Toronto duo was first put on the map after appearing on Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home”. They ended up grabbing a feature from Drake himself on their album hit, “My Love”. The forward-thinking duo provides a modern take on 80's R&B and has established themselves as one of the more promising new acts. The OVO-released album finds groovy, dance-friendly production with catchy, crooning vocals.
Standout tracks: “My Love” “King City” and “Something about You”
20. Spark Master Tape – Silhouette Of A Sunkken City
Mysterious rapper Spark Master Tape is one of the most enigmatic personalities in hip-hop and continues to grow a cult-like following with his ambitious 22-track album, Silhouette Of A Sunkken City. Spark raps from the perspective of a fictional, comic book villain-type character who boasts a life of crime while using entirely pitched-down vocals. For those unfamiliar with his work, check out our catch up guide on him. After amassing a dedicated fanbase from his first two mixtapes, Spark seemingly disappeared without any explanation. Then he returned with this project that's filled with booming production, combining trap-leaning hip-hop and experimental electronic production. He interestingly constrasts dark aesthetic with uplifting samples and instrumentation. Spark’s distinct sound captures both menacing and soulful moods with each track sounding different than the last.
Standout tracks: “Livin Lavish”, “Tenkkeys” and “Run Em Dry”
Kid Cudi – Passion, Pain, And Demon Slayin’
Kid Cudi’s sixth studio album brought back the signature sound we know and love from him. The LP is a long, enjoyable journey with excellent production and amazing guest appearances from Andre 3000, Travis Scott, Willow and Pharrell. This is an album that will take some time to digest, but is definitely one you should check out.
Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love
While Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love album isn’t necessarily a hip-hop / R&B album, we felt it wouldn’t be right to not mention it. His latest project is one of our favorites of the year. He went an entirely new direction channeling a 70’s funk / soul sound, and did not disappoint. While it’s a very different sound from his previous releases, we highly encourage everyone to give it a listen.
J Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only
J Cole blessed his fans with a surprise release just before the end of the year. His latest project delivers 10 new tracks as he once again showcases his talents without any features.
The Weeknd – Starboy
The Weeknd’s latest endeavor was an enjoyable addition to his discography and brought features from Kendrick Lamar, Lana Del Rey, Future and Daft Punk, the last of which makes two appearances on the project.
Run The Jewels – RTJ3
Run The Jewels dropped their album after we made this list but are very deserving. Their third project is great as they continue their amazingly consistent output of music.
Young Thug – Slime Season 3
Young Thug had an incredible year. Slime Season 3 is as good as Jeffrey and captures Thug’s street rap sound. SS3 is filled with bangers that truly showcase his bizarre delivery and unconventional sound.
Mick Jenkins – THC
Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins’ debut LP showcases his passion and talent over a collection of smooth beats from artists such as BADBADNOTGOOD and frequent collaborator Kaytranada.
Drake – Views
Drake's latest album Views didn't necessarily show artistic growth from the Toronto artist, but is still an enjoyable project we recommend listening to if you haven't yet.
Cool Company – Slice Of Paradise
We were sent Slice Of Paradise this year without hearing Cool Company’s music before and were pleasantly surprised. The silky smooth production seamlessly combines funk and soul influences with live instrumentation and a touch of electronic production.
Joey Purp – iiiDrops
Joey Purp is one of most exciting rising artists in the Chicago hip-hop scene. He developed his sound and grabbed great contributions from Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa.
Post Malone – Stoney
After some delay, Post Malone’s debut album came on Dec. 9th. His music doesn’t have the deepest lyrical messages, but he does a good job of capturing a chill vibe on Stoney.
D.R.A.M. – Big Baby D.R.A.M.
28-year-old Virginia singer and rapper D.R.A.M. successfully put together a versatile debut album bursting with joy. The album is as bright and colorful as his larger-than-life personality.