Best Music 2016

In hip-hop 2016, publicity reared its head after several years driven by the chaotic whims of social media disruption, and The Industry reasserted its hold on new and rising artists. The press remained in a static position, generally aware that its job was to defend The Kids, and artists with savvy management exploited that for literally months of blanket “debate” that served only to solidify Yachty’s bona fides as a divisive representative of the generation gap.

I remain sympathetic generally to the Yachty/Uzi Vert/21 triumvirate, to varying degrees. Yachty’s personality, and Uzi Vert’s embellishment/development of the Bang 2 aesthetic, can be fresh to me, and 21 undeniably made one of the year’s most sonically cohesive projects. Yet I’m also wary of how little skepticism or critical discussion accompanied their rise—it became all-or-nothing, largely because media Old Heads sought to discredit them altogether, and archetypal Teens and their adult enablers cheerlead in response.

The authenticity fetishism that caused so much handwringing around drill music was just as prevalent in discussions around 21 Savage, if not moreso, yet this time few seemed to care; Yachty put out several good records, but so far his personality looms larger than his music. And the elevator pitch for Uzi Vert as hip-hop-goes-pop-punk means that he’ll live or die by his Hits, which so far is a smallish catalog. This isn’t intended to undermine any of these artists: more to encourage better writing about them.

Fixating on the New Artists To Know About crowded out discussion of how artists who’d emerged in previous cycles had grown: Shy Glizzy, Lil Herb (many fans in Chicago refuse to call him by his new moniker G Herbo), Tink, and Dej Loaf all took major forward steps, but we remain fixated on the new.

The either/or of celebrity journalism versus “these might be our new celebrities” journalism is just depressing in part because it detaches music criticism from any sense of the zeitgeist. There was a lot happening in rap this year outside “the discourse.” Baton Rouge became a hip-hop hotbed, between the cacophonous fight music of WNC Carlos and an emerging star in NBA YoungBoy. Kodak knocked out two tapes in which he seemed to find his voice. Famous Dex—whose rap style I’m not enamored of—appeared out of thin air, spinning off more good records than any rapper I heard this year.

A big story locally this year was Chicago’s acclaimed new rookie class, which I appreciated but at times felt filtered through a narrow sensibility of artistic worthiness that unconsciously undermines hip-hop as a project. I saw little attention locally for Tink and CupcakKe, two artists whose work was among the year’s strongest. Likewise, few headlines drifted down to Queen Key, perhaps the city’s biggest new artist this side of Lud Foe and Dex. That said, acclaimed projects by Noname and Saba were strong, and the similarities between the latter’s “World In My Hands” and Drake’s “Fake Love” suggested to me that many of acclaimed Chicagoans could have a much larger imprint in the wider world outside publications as they develop.

Chance’s Coloring Book was good, and I really like several songs on it (“Summer Friends,” “All Night”), but I dunno, when it came time to make this list it felt like including it was taking up space that could go to artists receiving a fraction of the coverage; likewise, songs like “Broccoli” and Uzi Vert’s “You Was Right” were records I loved for a period, but couldn’t justify mentioning here, because what would be the point? If you somehow missed those records this year, check them out, assuming your cave has wi-fi.

I’m experiencing it at a great remove both culturally and in a literal sense, but Afropop, though still one of the most exciting movements in music, had a slightly down year; disappointing projects from Davido and Burna Boy aside, you just had to work a little harder to find the best stuff. I also may have been distracted by Afrobeats approximations, as its influence started to work its way into the international bloodstream: Alicia Keys “In Common,” UK Afrobeats artist Maleek Berry’s “Kontrol,” Justine Skye’s WizKid collab.

Here’s 50 songs and 20 albums I enjoyed in 2016:

50. Lil Peep “About U”
49. Lil Haiti “Good Vibe”
48. Chi Hoover “Adderall”
47. Dreezy feat. Gucci Mane “We Gon Ride”
46. Blac Youngsta feat. Quavo “Come Thru”
45. Plug “Body Bounce”
44. Fight Me feat. Sunny Woodz “No Napkins”
43. Jimmy Wopo “Elm Street”
42. Lud Foe feat. Lil Durk “Cuttin Up (Remix)”
41. Mozzy “Messy Murder Scenes”

40. Rocaine “Eight”
39. Kanye West feat. Ty Dolla $ign “Real Friends”
38. Kid Ink feat. Jeremih and Spice “Nasty”
37. idontknowjeffery “Don’t Trust Jeffery”
36. Nipsey Hussle “County Jail”
35. Chief Keef “Check It Out”
34. Kodak Black feat. Gucci Mane “Vibin In this Bih”
33. Joey Purp feat. Chance the Rapper “Girls @”
32. Yuna “Best Love”
31. Chris Crack & Vic Spencer “Supernatural”

30. Kehlani feat. Little Simz “Table”
29. PARTYNEXTDOOR feat. Drake “Come And See Me”
28. Tobi Lou “Hopefully”
27. Guordan Banks “Keep You In Mind”
26. NBA YoungBoy “Gravity”
25. Jeezy “Let Em Know”
24. PnB Rock “Selfish”
23. Migos feat. Lil Uzi Vert “Bad & Boujee”
22. SiR “Tricky”
21. Young Devi D “Fallin'”

20. Koran Streets feat. KI “Struggle”
19. DJ Esco feat. Future and Lil Uzi Vert “Too Much Sauce”
18. DJ Henry X feat. WizKid “Like This”
17. Young Thug and Travis Scott feat. Quavo “Pick Up the Phone”
16. Babes Wodumo feat. Mampintsha “Wololo”
15. PJ “I’m Good”
14. Alkaline “One More Time”
13. DJ Luke Nasty “OTW”
12. YFN Lucci feat. 2 Chainz, Quavo, and Lil Wayne “Key to the Streets (Remix)”
11. Saba feat. Smino and LEGIT “World In My Hands”

10. Famous Dex feat. 12TilDee “Took Time”
9. Chris Crack “Love Is Still Awesome”
8. WNC Carlos, JMM Larry and SOG Sherwood Flame “Cross Me”
7. French Montana feat. Kodak Black “Lockjaw”
6. Oliver Heldens and Throttle “Waiting”
5. The 1975 “A Change of Heart”
4. Maleek Berry “Kontrol”
3. Kevin Gates “Time For That”
2. Rae Sremmurd “Black Beatles”
1. Rihanna “Sex With Me”

Top 20 Albums 2016:

1. Tink Winter’s Diary 4
2. The 1975 I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
3. Koran Streets You.Know.I.Got.It (The Album) 
4. Kiss Daniel New Era
5. CupcakKe Cum Cake 
6. Vic Spencer/Chris Crack Who the Fuck Is Chris Spencer?? 
7. Kevin Gates Islah 
8. Famous Dex Dex the Robot
9. Kodak Black Lil B.I.G. Pac
10. Saba Bucket List
11. Alkaline New Level Unlocked 
12. Tweet Charlene
13. Lady Donli Wallflower
14. dvsn Sept. 5th
15. Shy Glizzy Young Jefe
16. KING We Are KING
17. G Herbo Strictly 4 My Fans
18. Ty Dolla $ign Campaign
19. Lil Peep Hellboy
20. Tree I.B. Tree

7 responses to “Best Music 2016

  1. Solid list here, would’ve chosen some different songs by Dex or Uzi, but whatever.

    Agreed the critical discourse around rap music this year felt so weird and bleh. I don’t see any Gucci* on your list here, outside of a few guest spots, but every piece I read felt like it was buying into the narrative of us NEEDING TO CARE THAT HE WAS BACK DOING MUSIC. Like, I’m happy Gucci is out and his new stuff isn’t terrible, but it isn’t at his 2011 level and not even his 2007-09 run. The same of Yachty, a kid whose cool and good, but if his music isn’t “important” then I want more critique of his ~image~, one one he didn’t even create, not to be all cultural studies, but fine ways to talk about this stuff without retelling paper thin twitter narratives. Maybe I just want blogs or something, but this year felt like a strong culmination of how little taste there is in music writing and its simply people going through the motions of “this is good and I’m told this is good, so I’ll tell people to listen to it.”

    And not even in a populist sense, but in the well “kids like Travis Scott, let me go through the motions to explain why they must like him.” It just feels bleh. Poor critics without taste saying that Lil Uzi Vert is cool, but can barely articulate why “Money Mitch” is amazing. (Lol, I know I’ve tweeted about how hard it is talk about that stuff, but lol isn’t this what we’re here to do). And I say this as a person that was so deep in soundcloud that I listened to all of Unotheactivist’s soundcloud, but was like on NBAYoungboy, who is personally just okay. But, like I would love to see words about Playboi Carti’s music that try to explain why it is good than just he’s COOL. I prob fall into some of this shit, but like we could do better.

    Anyway I’m scatterbrained and hungry so I’ll shut up. Also, Meek Mill and A Boogie should’ve been on here, clear example of bias against the north. >:)

    *Everything I said about Gucci also applies to Boosie, and to a lesser degree Young Thug, whose music this year was fairly mediocre to me, but is on many EOTY lists to *grinning emoji face*

    • Agree w/ lots of this, esp the footnote. What do you mean abt NBA—looks like there’s a word missing in the sentence.

      w/ NBA I felt like the hype got way ahead of the music super early because people could see he was a Star and it had Views, that said I thought he’d improved on the 38 baby tape & i found a few of the more reflective records showed growth.

      • Lol, me dropping words. I was a bit “eeeehhh” on NBA. Now, if I’m singing his praises in six months, please show me up on this fact. But, yeah I hear talent, but I expect/hopes he gets better.

        That’s one thing I’ll say about the “He’s popular, thus good” line of thinking is that some of these kids may have some talent, but like can/should get better. Like I remember Lil Uzi Vert’s 2014 stuff and it was god awful, but he’s gotten way better and is starting to almost start write good “songs” so I never want that to be lost. That’s almost why I wanna like Gucci’s 2016 stuff cause he’s clearly putting in the work to do good music, but it just isn’t connect like his older material to me.

        Also, to bring up regional bias, I’ll say not being in the south/listening to southern radio everyday really throws off my sense of ~rap~ that I didn’t notice as much last year when I was in NC then moved to NYC. Like, Young M.A. is cool, but when I spoke to people outside of NYC they didn’t know her other songs, where in NYC I heard more than “Ooouuu” at least the top of the summer, before it took over. The same way I still hear “Computers” from cars, but lol never hear Rich Homie Quan or YFN Lucci. Those kinds of artists are ones I def feels are lost in the shuffle right now. Like 21 Savage made a good record, but that he’s “bigger” than YFN Lucci is strange to me, cause I feel 5 years ago they’d be on the same level, but there are no YFN Lucci memes.

  2. Nice list Dave. I didn’t follow Famous Dex this year but will check out. I appreciate you making a list that doesn’t have any obvious picks.

    I was curious what you thought of Ty Money this year with Cinco de Money 2? And the Mick Jenkins album?

    • I thought Ty & Mick’s releases were both slightly disappointing in different ways. Both had some really good cuts though, on another day “What They Taught Me” and “Drowning” would both have made this top 50 (and did in earlier versions)

  3. Pingback: 2016 RAP | DRIVE SLOW

  4. Pingback: So Many Shrimp Radio Ep. 3 — Saba | we eat so many shrimp

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