2016 is over and although it seemed to many like everything was going to shit it was an incredible year for music. Now that the dust has settled I’ve been looking back over all of the music we’ve been blessed with, but instead of doing the usual “best albums” I thought I’d take the time to shine some light on the releases that didn’t get anywhere near praise they deserved. All of the releases below would are in my favourite 40 of the year but I’ve seen them get little to no praise from blogs, magazines and people in general. So take a look through these releases and hopefully you’ll discover some music that could make it in to your own personal end of year lists.
As with my round up articles I’ve included a link to buy/download each release and a YouTube link to a track from each. You can access a playlist of all the tracks here.
Black Kray – Soulja Luv Rari World
2016 was the year that “mumble rap” became a common and divisive phrase in the hip-hop scene and although I think it’s usually an inaccurate label, in the case of Black Kray it is quite fitting. This is in no way a criticism though, Black Kray’s unintelligible ramblings give his music a unique feel and although it’s certainly not for everyone I love his style. Combine these odd vocals with some spacey cloud rap beats and you have a catchy, interesting album. Imagine Ol’ Dirty Bastard at his most incoherent, rapping over beats that Yung Lean would use and you’re pretty close to the vibe on this album.
Cappo – Dramatic Change Of Fortune
I loved a lot of albums from last year but this is undoubtedly my favourite. Cappo’s 2004 release ‘Spaz The World’ is one of my all-time favourite albums so I’m always excited when he puts out new material. I certainly wasn’t disappointed when I heard this latest offering from the Nottingham native, this album is nothing short of a masterpiece, meticulously constructed it is a beautifully cohesive piece of music.
Cappo raps like a heavyweight, every word lands with power and precision, switching up his flows to match the multitude of bizarre rhythms that span this LP. The lyrics on this album are superbly poetic and Cappo uses repetition in a way that I have never heard before in hip-hop. Throughout the whole project there are lines that Cappo keeps coming back to which excellently tie up all the tracks. The line “never in your wildest dreams restore your faith” crops up numerous times which innovatively signifies the end of the song or a beat change.
As good as everything else is on this album, the beats are what really give it an edge. All of these instrumentals are sublime, there is such a richness to the sound and an inventiveness to how they’re put together. Cappo produced all off the tracks himself with some help from Theorist on a few tracks and you can tell that he’s taken influence from his previous collaborators The P Brothers because the drums on here are especially hard and crisp. These almost industrial sounding drums punctuate a large range of samples and some wonderfully deep basslines. What makes these instrumentals stand out even more is how they evolve throughout the tracks, riffs are brought in and out while subtle sounds creep in the background.
From the straight brutality of ‘Ellelle’ to the beauty of ‘North’ this album is close to perfect. I implore you all to stop what you’re doing and listen to this album right now, you won’t regret it.
Dälek – Asphalt For Eden
Dälek were one of the first acts to be labelled with the term “noise rap”, it was certainly the first time I heard the phrase used and it instantly grabbed my interest. I loved the group’s 2007 album ‘Abandoned Language’ but a few years after that release in 2010, they took a hiatus from making music. Fast forward to 2016 and we get Dälek’s triumphant return with ‘Asphalt For Eden’, a desolate and brutal hip-hop soundscape. The instrumentals used by Dälek are unlike anything else I’ve heard in hip-hop, heavily distorted guitar riffs drone and saturate these tracks creating a wall of sound that is backed with steady, unrelenting drums. MC Dälek completes the intense aesthetic with his distorted raps that burst through the powerful instrumentals.
Greenova South – Kome Ryde With Us
Pepperboy, Squadda B (of Main Attrakionz) and Young God (of Blue Sky Black Death) revive the cloud rap sound and push it to dreamy new levels on one of the year’s most relaxing albums. This is 10 tracks of pure good vibes, an audio massage to put you in a tranquil state. Young God’s production is simply luxurious, packed with sweeping synths, gentle keys and euphoric pitched up samples all combined into subtly complex compositions. Pepperboy and Squadda B deliver unadulterated positivity via their laid back flows that breeze over those lush beats. This is an LP oozing with love and joy, which is something we all need more of in life.
Havoc & The Alchemist – The Silent Partner
It’s perplexing that a collaborative LP between one half of Mobb Deep and such a legendary producer as The Alchemist could be included in this article but somehow this release has gone almost completely unnoticed. I absolutely loved The Alchemist’s 2013 album with Prodigy and this project with the other member of Mobb Deep is just as good, if not better. If you’re familiar with these two then you know exactly what you’re getting, but that’s in no way a bad thing. Havoc is the king of dark, street rap and The Alchemist conjures up the perfect understated, gloomy beats to back him up. Throw in some stellar guest verses from Prodigy, Cormega and Method Man (who drops one of the best verses I’ve heard from him in years) and you have an excellent album that fulfils that 90s nostalgia but still brings something fresh to the table.
Ivy Sole – Eden
There are a lot of amazing independent artists on Bandcamp so it’s became a great place to browse and discover new music. I stumbled across a lot of great albums on the site last year but Ivy Sole’s ‘Eden’ has to be my favourite. Ivy Sole has such an enchanting voice, there’s a sincerity to it that you don’t often hear, like she’s completely putting her true self in to the music without any pretence. Sole’s lyrics also reflect this truthfulness as she reflects on her relationships, goals and the desires in life. The instrumentals on the release are soulful and serene, drifting along as Sole’s vocals freely switch between rapping and singing. ‘Eden’ is a highly personal album with a warmth that I rarely feel, Ivy Sole is definitely a young talent to look out for.
The Kleenrz – Season 2
The Kleenerz is the duo of underground Los Angeles MC Self Jupiter and Los Angeles producer Kenny Segal. I’m familiar with Kenny Segal from his exceptional work with the likes of Busdriver and Milo but although I’ve often heard the name Self Jupiter, I’ve never actually heard him rap so this album served as a great introduction for me. Self Jupiter’s style is quite unique, he’s very expressive and his delivery often sounds as though he’s reciting poetry in a constant stream that could sound off beat if you weren’t paying attention. This complex flow lends itself to the vivid lyrics as he paints Tarantino-eque imagery, telling tales of Los Angeles’ violent underbelly. Segal’s beats are equally cinematic, building tension and working as a fitting score for Jupiter’s tales. The production style that Segal uses is distinctive, his instrumentals feel almost hand crafted, they’re intricate and always switching up slightly with subtle layers of sound. To end most of the songs on this album Self Jupiter lets the beat ride out, giving Segal a chance to shine as he morphs samples into complex and catchy little interludes. This LP is another example of Kenny Segal’s ability to work with some of the most uniquely creative MCs around and mould his sound to them to make something memorable.
Mr. Lif – Don’t Look Down
10 years ago Mr. Lif was one of the biggest names on the underground hip-hop scene as one of the heavyweights on seminal record label Def Jux, but having taken a 7 year break from his solo hip-hop career the name Lif had faded in to the background for a lot of people. Even though it’s been a while, Lif hasn’t lost a step and has put together a concise and thoughtful album. Every track on the LP serves a purpose, right from the first two tracks that tell the story of an altercation with a home invader which bring Lif to a dark place, then moving on to the next few tracks which become more uplifting but still introspective. The album continues with some epic imagery on ‘Whizdom’ which is features a legendary beat from Edan (I really hope this means he’s going to be releasing more music soon, he’s been missed). We’re then treated to some flawless back and forth raps with fellow Perceptionist, Akrobatik who as always works very well with Lif, especially over the punchy beat on here. Throughout this project the beats are raw and funky, building tension on the earlier songs then lifting the mood as the album progresses. We’re finally lead to the gargantuan finale of the title track with a leviathan of an instrumental layered with a floating organ sweep, sombre piano and a groaning bass sound bubbling up from underneath as Lif closes the album out. On top of this superb album Lif also released a collaborative EP with L’Orange so it’s looks like he’s definitely back for good, and that’s fantastic news for any hip-hop fan.
Ocean Wisdom – Chaos 93′
High Focus is one of the biggest record labels on the relatively small UK hip-hop scene and although I’m not a big fan of most of their releases this one really stood out. There are so many people making boom bap at the moment (especially in the UK), all trying to capture the much loved sound of the 90s but often ending up with something dull and unoriginal. However Ocean Wisdom has come with his own version of that golden age vibe that breaks away from the generic formula. Classic boom bap style samples and drums are laced with chest rattling bass, the production provided by Dirty Dike is some of the best I’ve heard from him. Lyrically, Ocean Wisdom drops killer punchlines with a classic British flavour while his rapid fire flow is reminiscent of Das EFX (if he was from London). If you’re feeling nostalgic for the 90s but need something with a bit of an edge then look no further.
Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival
Open Mike Eagle gained a lot of critical praise for his stellar 2014 album ‘Dark Comedy’ which gained him a lot of fans and really got his name out there. Unfortunately this buzz seems to have died down because this project with Danny Brown collaborator Paul White has gone mostly unnoticed, and that’s a massive shame. There’s a strange vibe to this album though, I wasn’t sure about it at first but it really clicked with me after a few listens and became one of my favourite albums of the year, so maybe other fans didn’t give it the time it needs to nestle it’s way in to your brain. The project has a very euphoric, psychedelic feel, but there’s something a little unsettling lying beneath, as if you’re having a serene hallucinogenic trip but you’re on the edge of it turning dark.
As with most of Open Mike Eagle’s music the lyrics are often profound, delving in to some serious issues, but at the same time he uses a lot of humour and bizarre imagery. Like on the track ‘Smiling (Quirky Race Doc)’ about the prejudices black people face in public places, it’s a serious topic that Eagle poignantly explores but then goes on to use the line “Grown man avoided like a ghost fart”. This mixture of politicism with joviality makes for a thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining listen.
It’s a real tribute to Paul White’s talent that he produced the entirety of this album and the majority of Danny Brown’s ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ all in one year, because the two sounds could not be more different. While ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ was coarse and abrasive ‘Hella Personal Film Festival’ is flawlessly smooth, using funk and soul samples to construct these floaty, uplifting tunes. There is a richness and depth to the music that you don’t often hear, White is a true musical expert able to create some of the most pleasurable music I have ever heard. Together this pair have made something truly special, an album that is soothing yet sombre, easy listening with a deeper meaning, music that will stay with you long after you’ve heard it.
Trim – 1-800 Dinosaur Presents: Trim
1-800 Dinosaur is a collective of electronic music producers from the UK, comprised of Foat, James Blake, Airhead, Mr Assister and Klaus. On this project they call upon UK MC Trim to provide vocals for the crew’s vibrant instrumentals. Trim is known for his work on the grime scene but he’s always had a unique flow and has worked with Blake previously, making him a great fit for the unconventional compositions on this release. You could probably slap some silly label like “post grime” on this music but that’s only because you’d struggle to find another way to describe it. The instrumentals here are varied, from stomping, bass heavy tracks to others that with little to no percussion, but despite the range of vibes there is a general aesthetic that links everything together. There are a lot of grime type sounds in the production but the use of space and insane progression takes it outside of that genre. Similarly, Trim uses grime flows at times but his pure poeticness and astute pacing sets him apart. Simply put, this stuff sounds like the future, it’s vibrant, challenging and at times even shocking, a prime example of what forward-thinking music should be.
Vic Spencer – St. Gregory
Chicago has been an incredible city for music for the last few years with acts like Chance The Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Lucki Eck$, Supa Bwe, Noname and many others putting out great projects, but one of my favourite and also most overlooked artists is Vic Spencer. For years now he’s been putting out his own twisted style of hip-hop with killer bars, jazzy beats and deep bass. This album is one of Spencer’s most refined so far, packed with punchlines and wordplay, also showing his aptitude for storytelling on ‘Gone Fishin’ Pt1,2,3′. With an instantly recognisable voice and unpredictable flow, Spencer brings his A game over off-kilter beats that are almost Madlib-esque but with more bass.
Yung Simmie – Simmie Season
The first time I head Yung Simmie was on Denzel Curry’s monstrous tune ‘Threatz’ and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. Simmie just has one of those voices I could listen to for days, his cadence is soothing and relaxed yet there’s this underlying violence to it that adds strength to everything he does. His flow shares this type of contradiction in that it’s uniform and laid back but there’s an energy there that gets me hyped. The beats on this tape are beautifully simplistic, facile but effective samples looped over fiercely sharp and punchy 808 drums. Shortly after this release Yung Simmie dropped ‘Simmie Season 2’ which is also well worth checking out, but I give the edge to the first one because of the more varied production sounds and magnificent verse from the mighty Denzel Curry (on ‘Shoot Da 3’).