In as much as 2016 ran us through the gauntlet of political uncertainty and upheaval, and the death of some of our most beloved pop culture icons, it has been an oasis of good music in an otherwise acrid cultural landscape. We run down 10 of the best albums, locally and internationally, to come out of 2016.
10. A-Reece, Paradise
An exciting newcomer in the South African hip hop scene, A-Reece alternates between hard raps and more melodic songs singing on record in his debut. His personal sound not quite solidified yet, influence from his label-mate Emtee is evident on tracks like Kena and Ama Hater that easily sound like pickings off an Emtee project. He digs deep on Family and Couldn’t and gives us the kind of insight that leave you eager to see him grow and take over the game in years to come.
9. Kanye West, TLOP
Also known as the album with more updates than Adobe. One of West’s more haphazard projects, this album is perhaps a reflection of an incoherent state of mind, with events in his personal life playing out on a very public stage, and his jarring statements attempting to clarify them giving us a glimpse into that sketchiness. Fans expected a return to College Dropout Kanye after the eccentricity of Yeezus and were met with a not-quite brilliant but not-quite awful in-betweener of The Life of Pablo. The disappointment of this album lies in the ridiculously high bar that he’s set for himself; while it’s still an overall good album, we know that Ye can do better.
8. Young Thug, Jeffery
Our first introduction to Jeffery was by way of its cover. Not entirely androgynous, the cover – with him donning a dress – alluded to the multiplicity of his character, evident in Jeffery, and almost reminiscent of another ATL native, André 3000. Each song title an ode to his idols, his homage infuses characteristics of each idol’s musical style into the tracks themselves. What the album makes up for in musical versatility – Thugger’s flow and delivery is incomparable and his beat selection incredible – it lacks in depth and lyrical prowess. Still one of the most versatile and flat-out entertaining projects to be released this year, Jeffery continues to tap on the glass of artistic definition till he breaks through.
7. Chance the Rapper, Colouring Book
Chance never impressed me with Acid Rap, but the combination of optimism and spirituality on Colouring Book was an endearing project that couldn’t be ignored. There’s something to be said for somebody who evolves 2 Chainz and Future into warm and uplifting characters on his album. Chance took the drudgery and turn up of hip hop and takes you to church with the power of positivity.
6. Stogie T, Stogie T
The gift and the curse of the established artist is that new projects will always be held up to a mirror of previous work released and not viewed in isolation. More so with Stogie, who not only changed his stage name to embody the shift, but whose subject matter devolved from putting the human condition on wax to rapping about money and bitches. Apart from the Just Blaze knockoffs of We Own This Bitch, Freakend, and Son of a Soldier, the production is excellent, and, combined with the lyrical exceptions of Funny Love, Sub City and Son of a Soldier, remind you that he’s still better than most. The gist of the album can be summed up with his tweet “Tumi was trying to stay black. Stogie Tryna stay in the black.”
5. Solo, .Dreams.B.Plenty
One of the better local releases this year, Solo reminds us that the concept album is not only timeless, but that it can be executed brilliantly. The album speaks to a middle-ground in his career with the frustrations of navigating artistic freedom and commercial acclaim, and also celebrates his family and their influence on his life. It’s a layered and honest offering, a conversation with himself at most times, and a validation of his status as one of the best artists in SA.
4. Anderson .Paak, Malibu
That you can’t box Anderson .Paak into a neat little compartment is probably his best quality. He segways from rap to soul and RnB effortlessly. His singing and rapping segue in an album that is personal, poignant, and nostalgic of his upbringing in Oxnard, California. He’s worked on his fine-tuning his sound and delivers the uniquely styled album of an artist that’s come into his own and walks his own path.
3. Nasty C, Bad Hair
A quality that few rappers manage to master, part of Nasty C’s brilliance is in his seamless fusion of lyricism with dope beats. One of the most highly anticipated debut albums in recent memory, this 19 year old effortlessly navigates an emotional labyrinth and draws you in with self-reflection that invokes the same in the audience. He doesn’t disappoint. His real gift is that the standard of SA hip hop has been raised and skating by with the bare minimum just won’t cut it anymore, not with the calibre of Bad Hair in the market.
2. Skepta, Konnichiwa
It took a while to get here but Konnichiwa is apt in its title as a re-introduction to the world. Skepta injected a new fervour into the grime scene with this album release, and gave a voice, and a confidence, to the average black man in Britain with his bravado and anti-authoritarian rhetoric. AND IT BANGS!!! Skepta alternates between vulnerability and determination and resolutely asserts himself and his grime identity in this, no doubt, classic British record.
1. Schoolboy Q, Blank Face LP
This former banger has reached a crossroads in his life and his fourth official release is the brilliant and introspective testament to that. A sonic departure from his previous releases, he precariously balances between the gritty beats and the soulful ones in a musical representation of the yin and yang of his gangster past and hopeful future. The album is the portrait of a man free of pretence, captured with strokes as intricate as those of Leonardo da Vinci himself. The title, almost antithetical to the richness of the body of work, affirms that Schoolboy Q will not be typecast into a mould, but continue to define himself and his work as an ongoing work in progress.