10 Best Rap Albums of 2016

Who said the album is dead? The format was alive and sound in 2016, with one quality work hitting your favorite streaming platform before you had time to fully digest the last one. With so many to choose from, I found the job of narrowing down this year's best hip-hop albums both difficult and exciting. In the end, I went with the handful of albums I kept returning to over and over despite the abundance of new music available. Here is a look back at my favorite hip-hop/rap albums of 2016. 

10
of 10

Skepta - Konnichiwa

Skepta - Konnichiwa

"They tried to steal my vision. This ain't my culture; It's my religion."

Konnichiwa is not the hit-packed fourth album of a grime savant. It's not the nakedly honest, tantalizingly brazen capstone to a crucial career. It's not the urgent, defiant sneer of an underdog putting an entire genre on his shoulders. It's not the transatlantic hunger of a renaissance whose genius instincts stomp all two-tone beats. No. Nothing to see here.

09
of 10

Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition

Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition

"Staring the devil in the face but ya can't stop laughing."

In which Danny Brown returns with more nightmarish tunes layered atop feverish beats. You'll like it for Brown's anxious and provocative poetry. You'll like it for haunting samples. You'll like it for the highly-selective guest list. Bottom line: If you liked Old and XXX, you're going to love Atrocity Exhibition.

08
of 10

Kendrick Lamar - Untitled Unmastered

Kendrick Lamar - Untitled Unmastered
TDE

"Might tell Obama, 'Be more like Punch.'"

Untitled Unmastered came out of nowhere. Just when you wondered how Kendrick Lamar would follow-up an album as significant and triumphant as To Pimp a Butterfly, he popped up with eight new tracks, each with a powerful message.

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07
of 10

Bas - Too High To Riot

Bas - Too High to Riot

"My neighbors look at me funny, like I should move out / N---a, you get a new house."

In a year that saw lackluster albums from veterans (looking at you, Wiz Khalifa), Bas stood out to me as one of the most impressive neophytes. With his sophomore album, Too High to Riot, the 29-year-old Dreamville poet proved himself to be a formidable, focused artist. The production cracked open the window of hip-hop nostalgia ("Methylone," "Clouds Never Get Old"). The content showed Bas to be a pensive, thoughtful writer ("Live For," "Black Owned Business").

06
of 10

Schoolboy Q - Blank Face

Schoolboy Q - Blank Face

"My heart a igloo."

Keeping up with Kendrick Lamar can either seem like an opportunity or a challenge for TDE rappers. Rather than try to match Lamar's ambition, Q has always found a way to excel in his own lane. Blank Face isn't just another notch in his well-decorated belt; it's his first fully-developed album. It's the one that combines his essence--authenticity, attitude, surgical execution--to create a lasting piece.

05
of 10

Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book

Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book

"I don't make songs for free; I make 'em for freedom"

Coloring Book plays at the intersection of gospel and soul. The music is truly enjoyable. Lyrics are on poignant ("Scars on my head, I'm the boy who lived"). Guest features are on point, if at times reverential. The more established collaborators are content in ornamental roles, like a veteran athlete making way for the first-round draft pick to shine. Chance proves himself more than capable, setting the tone for a team of collaborators as diverse as Jay Electronica, T-Pain, Kirk Franklin, Jamila Woods, and Young Thug--sometimes on the same track.

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04
of 10

Common - Black America Again

Common - Black America Again

"As dirty as the water in Flint, the system is."

Since Black Messiah and To Pimp a Butterfly, we've seen a wave of albums focused on the conversation around what it means to be African-American in America. 2016 produced a few more, including T.I.'s Us or Else and Solange's A Seat at the Table. Common's Black America Again really surprised me with its clarity and cohesion. After a slew of off-balance albums, I wasn't sure what to expect from Black America Again.The multihyphenate rapper-actor-activist shows himself to be refreshingly strident and focused with his dissection of a wide range of socio-political issues, from police brutality and modern racism to the wage gap and gender discrimination.

03
of 10

Aesop Rock - The Impossible Kid

Aesop Rock - The Impossible Kid
Rhymesayers

"I'm trying to jettison the ballast with the hazardous waste."

I can't believe anyone made an album this good in 2016. Aesop Rock self-produced his seventh album, The Impossible Kid. It was largely recorded in a barn. Maybe that's why it sounds like a solitary journey "Don't need no help, all by myself," proclaims the sample on the haunting "Dorks."

The entire thing is a window to the mind of one of rap's most intelligent visionaries. In between reflective tracks like "Lotta Years" and "Rings," we get Rock's powerful appreciation for cryptic imagery.

What's truly remarkable about The Impossible Kid, though, is that an MC with an unfair reputation for loquacious lines has merged his dexterity with hook-driven songs that both simplify and crystallize his growth as a songwriter.

02
of 10

A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service

A Tribe Called Quest - We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service

"I expect the best from you, I’m watching from my heaven view/Don’t disappoint me."

I expected a solid album. I expected decent production. I expected a Phife Dawg tribute. I hoped to hear long-time Tribe affiliate Busta Rhymes on a track or two. What I didn't expect was for this crew of fortysomethings to craft the best pure-rap album of 2016 and elevate their game while doing it. But that's exactly what Tribe has done on We got it from Here... 

Everything--from the pillowy sheen of the production to the one-two punches of the rhymes--shows a group drawing curtains with a deafening ovation.

01
of 10

Anderson.Paak - Malibu

Anderson Paak - Malibu

"I was hungry, I was dirty, I needed a shower."

After stealing the show on Dr. Dre's ComptonAnderson.Paak was ready for his full-fledged debut. And boy, what an introduction. Spending quality time with a perfectionist like Dre clearly had some influence on Paak's work. Malibu is one for the ages. It has that fresh and familiar feel, like sounds you've heard before even though you haven't. It's honest and disarming; vulnerable and introspective; riveting and masterful. An uplifting, wide-lens look at life with an attitude of gratitude. I can't remember the last time I played the same album from January to December without getting bored of it.