Best Hip Hop Albums of 2016 (Cril’s Picks)



1. Masta Ace – The Falling Season


Okay, so this album dropped sometime in July of this year, and I must say I didn’t anticipate it would be this good! Rarely do you find albums today the go along with a concept and you feel like you are right there experiencing the whole story from start to finish. Maybe it’s the narrative skits which Masta Ace eloquently places throughout parts of this album, or maybe it just his knack for being a great story teller coupled with raps over some of the most soulful hip hop beats on a project this year. I gotta give it up to Kick Beats for lacing TFS with such dope instrumentals. I really enjoyed seeing Ace go from a young’n growing up in Brooklyn, attending a school in a neighborhood he wasn’t to familiar with, going through the trials and tribulations of an adolescent in the hood and finally graduating High School. The album finishes with a happy ending and serves as just a rewarding listen overall. There were certainly a lot of great albums I could’ve put in this place but I chose this album as #1 mainly due to the feel good vibe it gave off. I can honestly say that no other album provided an easy feel good vibe, concept wise this year. The song that made all of this come together was the "Coronation" song near the end of the album. It reminded me of that feeling when I myself graduated H.S. and College. It’s one of those reflective albums that I could actually relate to. Big Shout out to Masta Ace who also turned 50 years this year and is still producing music on High Lyrical level! Congrats on a super amazing LP!


2.  A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here.. Thank You For Your Service


Aight so this album right here obviously got a lot of attention for various reasons. But really aside from the hype, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed this album. It didn’t necessarily sound like a traditional tribe album (whatever that means) but I could nonetheless appreciate the direction, displaying no shortage of vibes. All I can say is that this album was straight about the vibes. It didn’t quite hit me with the first 2 tracks but as this album furthered in, I was all grooving. I really enjoyed the versatility and depth as far as each member’s rhymes. Jarobi and Q-Tip shined and Phife did his thing just like we’ve known him to do. I also enjoyed the instrumental change-ups. They kept it really soulful and the album transitioned easily from track to track but in an unusual but intriguing way. I think that the group nailed it when it came to closing the album, as the ending served more as a tribute to the late great Phife Dawg. I was fulfilled to hear Consequence and Busta Rhymes represent lyrically on the album. Everyone else who contributed from Kweli to Kendrick to Kanye and Andre 3000 played a great position filling in feature wise. This was what you call a Tribe Family Album. It certainly gave off the feel of unity and everyone coming together to rep for the Tribe legacy and that of Phife. Big ups to ATCQ for pulling off one of the best albums this year and also getting the major recognition for it. BTW those first two tracks didn’t take too long to grow on me, and further ensured that there was no skippable track on this album.


3.  KA – Honor Killed The Samurai


Just about every year I look forward to a new KA Album that I’m always sure will make my top Album list. This one clearly follows suit! Yeah I know I’m a huge KA fan, but with lyrics like this how can you not be. I mean “My gift might be missed if missed with Trash Raps” and “Time spent getting bent hard to be upright citizen” are some of the many standout lines that prove how powerful of a lyricist KA is. This album is not for you to specifically vibe to. Although the music provides a cinematic experience instrumentally, This is a heavy lyric driven project and you really have to lend your listening ear. Lucky for me, I actually enjoy deciphering lyrics. There are so much heavy lyrics line for line on this album. The replay value is probably the strongest for any hip hop album I’ve heard this year. Ka is truly in another lane lyrically and next to MF DOOM he is currently my favorite Emcee hands down. His music sounds like you’re listening to a veteran who has seen the ups and downs of the street life and is sharing from his experience so that young’ns coming up don’t make the same mistake. Standout tracks are Just, Mourn at night and $. On the “$” track, we get to hear Ka’s humility and humanitarian side shine. A side that I have noticed and admired many of times on his other albums, However he really gets specific here, highlighting the exploiting of the culture materialistically . He hits us with lines like "I need money, not for trivial material, to fix our flaws the whole cause is ethereal, what you mining for, if un aware share with blind and poor, you telling stories that’s cellabratory, the times at war”. This track and many others on this album will have you intrigued by Ka’s authentic and humble display of street life that manages to bring you into the realities of this world without glorfying it. Salute to the homie KA for always delivering thought provoking and intricate hip hop street poems for us to enjoy and be intrigued by.


4.  Elzhi – Lead Poison



Wow! What can I say Elzhi dropped an album this year! That statement a lone is a huge one. I can say that I have grown enormously to appreciate Elzhi and recognize him as one of our most Elite but slept on emcees. He says the kind of stuff that makes you say "I Love Hip Hop!" And he does that effortlessly on this new album “Lead Poison”. After such a long wait, I knew that it would live up to the hype. Maybe it's because I’m such a lyric head and I’ve never known Elzhi to disapoint rhyming wise. But even on the production side, this album still delivers. The artwork for the album is super dope too, and represents Elzhi and his theme for this album well.   Lines, lyrics, bars, rap patterns, intricate wordplay, stories! You get it all on this album. One of my favorite lines on the album comes from one of the opening tracks “Introverted”, where he says “Cause I eat when I’m depressed I’m so sorry for the Wait (Weight)” . I mean I don’t know if I’m doing it justice by writing it here but that’s a line you really need to hear on the album. Another track “Two 16’s” was a standout for me due to its clever story telling and double entendre hook. What really moved me about this song was not necessarily what the story was about, but how it was told. There’s a line in the second verse that shows the relationship between the two main characters in each story, but you really have to listen to the first verse to catch the line there, that ties the both stories together.  I also really liked the track “Hello!!!!!” where we witness Elzhi rapping about being trapped inside a speaker and a notebook trying to get the listener to hear his cry and free him from being locked inside the music. I mean the concept is extremely brilliant. Who thinks of rapping about being trapped in their own notebook and asks the listener to rescue them from the situation. Check the reference line: “This punch line punched me and I caught a right hook from a hook, it lay me out over the beat like some vocals”. I mean do I need to say more. There’s so much more dope conceptual but brilliant lyrical tracks on this album, where Elzhi doesn’t only manage to sound dope lyrically but also make sense as he pens these super clever stories. Shout out to one of the Best Emcee’s/Lyricists of all time! Elzhi deserves his spot with the elite hands down! Oh yeah props to Producers Bombay and Karriem Riggins who also do a great job giving this album a raw soulful feel.


5.  Common – Black America Again


What a year 2016 has been indeed for my people of African decent here in the U.S! And although there was no shortage of politically charged Hip Hop from various different artists reflecting on police brutality and injustice that spawned the Black Lives Matter movement. This was the most complete album that addressed the conditions of Black People history and present, this year. Common got back to true lyrical form with this album. Much Props to Karriem for providing such a superior soulful backdrop. My standout tracks on this album would have to start with the self titled track, as well as Pyramids, The Day Women Took Over and Little Chicago Boy. Really though, this was another album that had no skippable tracks. The shining moment for dedicated fans of Common’s previous albums, was to hear his Dad speak on the "Little Chicago Boy" track. As many of us who followed Common’s previous LPs know, he would usually have his Dad a.k.a Pops featured for some words of wisdom at the end of albums. Being that his Dad recently passed, we weren’t able to hear him on the last Common album, but he returned in classic form on this project. I feel like his presence this time took the project to an even greater height. Aside from that, this project was heavily soulful and very reflective of the Black American Struggle as well as its overall Beauty. The music really stuck to the theme and was thoroughly needed and appreciated for the times we are presently living in. Salute to Common!


6.  U.G. – Portals


Ok here’s a project that I didn’t even know was coming out. I just remember seeing a post on stating that this was UG from Cella Dwellas  for his first single “The Mystic”. I was immediately intrigued by his clever delivery and super unique flow, not to mention his cinematic subject matter. To make a long story short, that’s exactly what I heard consistently throughout the album. My favorite tracks are The Mystic, Super Gods, Might & Magic and Portals. Salute to U.G.! If you’re a fan of unique delivery and raw rap flows you need this.


7.  Torae – Entitled


Aight, so this album came out at the top of 2015! But make no mistake I did not forget its impact! This was a really well put together album. I feel we got to hear Torae on a more personable and relatable level than ever before. I just loved his honesty and loyalty for the Hip Hop artform on this. The opening song “Imperial Sound” set a nice tone for the album, then we got the ill lyrical contribution from emcee Phonte on "Clap Sh*t Up". The song "Coney Island’s Finest" took us back to Tor’s upbringing in his hometown highlighting all of the ball players and entertainers that made it out of the Brooklyn Neighborhood. Another standout for me was "The eNd", where Torae speaks on his choice to stop using the N Word, Really dope introspective record! Shout out to Tor on his wonderful efforts to produce a successful Album. Thoroughly enjoyed this one!


8.  De La Soul – And The Anonymous Nobody


Yeah, with all the hype surrounding this album, I was very intrigued to take a listen and get to dissecting. At first I admit I didn’t get the message. I had to sit with the album a bit. Often I would visit the Rap Genius site to review some of the written lyrics on the album. Once I was able to decipher the rhymes consistently throughout the album, I got the gist. I was impressed with the sound quality on the album and also impressed with the understanding that De La had used samples of their older jam sessions to create the instrumentals for this project. The LP also had a very warm and analog feel to it. Lyrically the project sounds abstract but the subject matter represents longevity, overcoming industry challenges, reflecting on their developments as artists and maintaining their relevance today alongside the new artists. My favorite tracks are Memory, Royalty Capes, Pain, and Exodus. Big Ups to De La for showing they could still hold it down in 2016 by achieving a super successful crowdfunding campaign and being nominated for a Grammy Award in 2017!


9.  Reks – The Greatest X


Reks did an amazing job on his latest Album "The Greatest X"! Don’t get discouraged by the 35 track listing, there’s a lot of thought provoking lyrics and boom bap soulful production for you to vibe to on here. It’s one of those albums you may have to sit with just segment by segment, or simply just track by track. His raps are clear and honest and his ability to show lyrical dexterity is definitely present. There are lots of dope features on here as well! Of all, I really appreciated his socially conscious lyrics. Something we got to see a lot more in 2016 from other emcees, reflecting on the political climate of race matters in this country in the present and in the past. My favorite tracks are A.N.O.N.Y.M.O.U.S., Plane Gang, Liberation, My Dark Skin, and Kites. Salute to REKS! You did with this one!


10.  Ab-Soul – Do What Thou Wilt


This LP came later on in the year, and dropped the same day as J. Cole’s which was dope as well. But the depth of lyrics on this album just couldn’t go un-recognized. Ab-Soul does it lyrically like he usually does, and also gets interpersonal like he usually does with his raps, but this time the depth is on another level. Lots of memorable quotables too! If you’re a fan of Soul, then you know!


11. Ras Kass - Intellectual Property: #Soul On Ice 2


I'ma keep it short from here on, but this LP is just Ras Kass doing what he usually does lyrically.  Thought provoking, Bars! and dope beats.  Another great project to check for from 2016.  

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