1- Westside Gunn- Flygod – The Buffalo MC delivers the Griselda family opus with this mostly Daringer produced album, a gritty, flawless collection of heavy, crisp beats about street life and much needed New York rap braggadocio. Throughout is Conway (including “Dunks” which includes a ’16 favorite: “A lot of these rappers is weird, they wearing leggings and dying their fuckin hair”) holding it down for his brother. Also ill features from Benny, Your Old Droog (the melodic “Vivian at the Art Basel”), Roc Marciano, Action Bronson, and Meyhem Lauren.
2- A Tribe Called Quest- We Got It from Here...Thank You 4 Your Service – This final Tribe album delivers an emotional musical journey without relying too heavy on nostalgic kitsch. From the jump off “The Space Program” through the first single “We the People” we know this isn’t a standard boring comeback album. Q-Tip and Phife are still the main attraction, and surprisingly Jarobi has got some lyrics to go too. Busta Rhymes is peppered throughout, rhyming with vigor (“The Donald”) we haven’t heard since the early 2000s. The guest list is impressive: Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000, Consequence, guitars by Jack White and an Elton John hook.
3- Meyhem Lauren – Piatto d’ Oro – This plate of gold is the Queens’ MC’s golden ticket with boom bap beats and precise lyrics throughout. Don’t call Laurenovich Action Bronson’s ‘Fuck That’s Delicious’ hype man, this album stands alone over a vintage NYC 90’s sound. Standout tracks like “Badmon Ting” and “Money in my Pocket” are just what the titles suggest, no pretentious bullshit, just straight lyrics. Production wise it’s a damn all-star lineup: DJ Muggs, The Alchemist, and Large Professor among others.
4- Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition – It’s probably cliché to say this album is a psychedelic journey through Hip-Hop while on copious amounts of dust and your hair on fire. But alas, the description fits. The Detroit MC got lyrics, beats, delivery and cameos all straight bananas. Main producer Paul White meshes perfectly with Brown’s off/no-kilter style highlighting sex, drugs, and craziness. Posse cut of the year on “Really Doe” with Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and a fire closing verse from Earl Sweatshirt.
5- Onry Ozzborn – Duo – While an album with a guest appearance on each track might seem clunky, Onry Ozzborn and his producers pull it off with precision. The Seattle based rapper assembles such luminaries as Aesop Rock, Kimya Dawson on the melodious “Neonerd”, Rob Sonic on the hard “Not Really,” Eligh, Homeboy Sandman, and Pigeon John on the closer “Firefly.” Worth checking out is the pre-Lemonade released 15 minute duofilm incorporating each track and each guest.
6- MarQ Spekt & Blockhead – Keep Playin – MarQ Spekt and NYC producer Blo9ckhead return with an ill followup to their 2014 release JustPlayWitIt. Grilchy, as Spekt is apt to say, is the operative word here, as thick layered beats are laid out for our MC to do work. The patois tinged “Insomnia” featuring C-Shotta got that cruising feel, Conway pops up on “Point Break,” while Karniege makes his usual ill-spitting appearance on “Caratrax.”
7- Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid – Aes steps through in 2016 with his now-standard album of cascading rhymes after rhymes that would make the thesaurus blush. Impossible Kid lives up to its declarative title with such diverse-as-an-understatement topics as his forlorn art career (“Rings”) to grief (“Get Out of the Car”) to his brothers (“Blood Sandwich”) his cat (on “Hey Kirby”, which is understandably my kids’ favorite song and best puppet video of the year.)
8- Pyscho Les – Dank God – The Beatnuts / Corona Queens vet comes hard on this throwback joint, picking where he last left off: lots of smoking, lots of women, tough beats and lyrics. Who’s on this album? Who isn’t? Inspectah Deck, Jeru Da Damaja and Pete Rock on the NYC big-ups “Hip Hop Neva Left," the EPMD sampled “Danger Zone”, "Dope Addict" with the effusive Kool Keith, and perhaps the year’s illest joint “Baba Barz” with RA The Rugged Man.
9- Czarface – A Fistful of Peril – Their trio’s third release picks up on the heel’s of last year’s #1 SG Album with much of the same formula: hard hitting beats with Inspectah Deck’s and Esoteric’s fierce word play. The formula works again. Clocking in at a smooth 35 plus minutes, there’s no time for fuckery over the 13 tracks, including cameos from Pyscho Les on “Dust” (“my turf, you just here on a field trip,) Conway on the grimey “Machine, Man & Monster” and Meyhem Lauren and Rast RFC on “Steranko”.
10- Dillon & Paten Locke – Food Chain – The moment the first track “Sound the Alarm” blasts from the speakers it’s apparent Dillon and beat maker Paten Locke know exactly how to make the connoisseured rap fan nod their head. It doesn’t stop there, as throughout the album the same formula permeates; the laid back vibe of “Thirsty Loops,” to “Humdinger” which features Supa Dave West and Dres (yes that Dres), then “Hamsammich” with two crazy verses from Homeboy Sandman and Tone Tank.
11- Elucid – Save Yourself – The Backwoodz Studioz lyricist brings his solo LP and shines throughout with a underground narrative and an honest look through a complex lens. This is one of those albums that must be digested, a couple listens won’t suffice. It takes multiple listens with songs like “Obama Incense” and the penetrating “Jealous God” before the listener can truly “get it.” Armand Hammer cohort Billy Woods appears on tracks “Lest They Forget” and the eerie yet invoking“Bleachwater.”
12- Homeboy Sandman – Kindness for Weakness – “I don’t make the same jam or record twice… I am way too nice” Home Sand says to his fans on “Taking (Bleep)” and that is 100% accurate. The vibe on this record is tremendous, highlighting the MC’s lyrical dexterity with a consistent beat selection. Backed by a few producers, including Jon Wayne and RJD2, the former putting in work on “Heart Sings”, and even Large Professor on “It’s Cold,” Homeboy Sandman offers a concise, easy listen, but yet thought-provoking.
Others Receiving Votes:
Masta Ace – The Falling Season
Apathy – Handshakes with Snakes
Apathy – Handshakes with Snakes
Ab-Soul – Do What Thou Wilt
Ka – Honor Killed the Samurai
Vinnie Paz – Cornerstone of the Corner Store
Ryu – Tanks for the Memories
Timeless Truth – Cold Wave