What’s happening folks?! It’s been a pretty nuts couple of weeks in Hip Hop. From the tragic shooting in NY at the T.I. concert to the phenomenal return and history making accomplishment of Chance The Rapper, this is without question a non-boring time in the game. While many scoff at Meek Mill winning the Billboard Rap Album of the Year over the likes of Kendrick and Drake, none can deny the crazy half year this has been, and now it’s time to look at the best releases of the year thus far.
16. Flatbush Zombies - 3001: A Laced Odyssey
The intriguing and talented trio of Zombie Juice, Meechy Darko, and Eric Ark Elliot present another smoked out, psychedelic trip that is the world of the FBZs. This extended family of Pro Era expands off their last mixtape, Betta Off Dead, and with cuts like “Fly Away” and “Ascension”, these cats, who are already gaining a cult following, will only become more successful and gain more fans along the way. Be prepared for a dope, yet slightly to-the-left, album from this Brooklyn collective.
15. Nyck Caution - Disguise The Limit
Is there a hotter East coast collective right now than Pro Era? While some might say the A$AP Mob is, Pro Era has definitely been more consistent. Last year, Kirk Knight and Joey Bada$$ dropped excellent releases – but now it’s Nyck Caution’s turn and he does an admirable job with this mixtape, Disguise The Limit. Personal cuts like “Somebody” and title track all show the deep mind of this young NY native. With releases coming from rapper/producer Chuck Strangers and possibly another Bada$$ album on the way, there’s truly no stopping this collective.
14. Murs & 9th Wonder - Brighter Daze
Backpackers rejoice! Murs and producer extraordinaire 9th Wonder reunite for a surprise album, Brighter Daze, that caught people completely out the blue. We’re not complaining at all, as this album sounds like they never missed a beat since their last album, The Final Adventure. Lots of standouts, but who can dare front on their reworking of Pharcyde’s incredible “Otha Fish”? Hopefully, we can get more from these two.
13. Masta Ace - The Falling Season
Legendary emcee Masta Ace returns on his own without his eMC collective with the follow-up to his acclaimed MA DOOM: Son Of Yvonne collab with MF DOOM. On this album, The Falling Season, we see Ace through his young high school days, in which he experiences his embracing of Hip Hop culture, bullying, academic successes and struggles, and girl crushes.
While just short the exceptional albums of Disposable Arts and A Long Hot Summer, cuts like “Young Black Intelligent” and “Me & A.G.” are examples of how Ace has stood among these young cats as still one of the illest around. Mastering the art of the relevant and adaptable concept album, he still has a lot more yardage to him.
12. Drake - Views
At this point, it’s undeniable that Drake is the most in-demand rapper in the game that’s not named Chance or Future. Millions of albums sold and after dropping his best effort to date in last year’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late mixtape/album, many were still wondering about the release of his much-anticipated Views From The 6. He managed to drop another mixtape, only this was a collab with Future in What A Time To Be Alive. Still, no Views From The 6. We started getting teasers, trailers, and billboards saying that the “6 god” was coming. After delivering three singles with “Onde Dance”, “Pop Style” featuring Jay-Z and Kanye West, and the reggae-tinged flavor of “Controlla”, it appeared he was back, and possibly with a vengeance. While not quite the monster we were anticipating, there were still enough enjoyable moments to quench the thirst of the most hardcore Drake fans.
11. Statik Selektah & KXNG Crooked - Statik KXNG
When the announcement came of boom-bap expert Statik Selektah teaming up with ferocious west coast rhyme animal and one-quarter of Slaughterhouse, KXNG Crooked (formerly Crooked I), the streets were immediately perked up. The album didn’t disappoint once it dropped. Blistering cuts like “Let’s Go” and “I Hear Voices” define the album with crazy production from a crazy producer and insane lyricism. Now how about that that Slaughterhouse Glass House album???
10. Elzhi - Lead Poison
Detroit’s own lyrical menace, Elzhi, returned with his most poignant and personal album to date. After finding out he had been dealing with personal issues, alcoholism, and depression, we heard it painfully bleed through in this album. Sounding reinsured and refocused, Elzhi has returned with a meditative yet reflectional piece of work that shows that he’s not only one of the D’s finest, he’s human. Appropriately entitled Lead Poison, Elzhi shows his weight with great cuts like “Two 16s” and “February”, examples of above average lyricism storytelling.
9. Torae - Entitled
Coney Island emcee Torae has been called the “young veteran” for a few years now, and his ferocious flow and excellent lyricism brings him back to the forefront with his new solo album, Entitled.
Fresh from his FIRE collab album with Skyzoo, Barrel Brothers, Torae is back to wreck miss and rip off heads with cuts like “Clap Shit Up”, “Coney island’s Finest”, and the Pete Rock-crafted “Get Down”. Trust me cats, this is an album to not to be slept on nor messed with. Torae is here to stay.
8. J Dilla - The Diary
At long last we finally, thanks to Ma Dukes Yancey and Nas, got our hands on the LONG awaited solo rap album from the late great iconic producer/rapper J Dilla.
Supposedly finished back in the mid-thousands, this album contains grooves from not just himself, but outside help from the likes of Supa Dave West, Pete Rock, and Madlib, among others. The Diary even contains the heralded lost gem “Fuck The Police”. However, it’s the cut with Nas called “The Sickness” that shows how special this album really is.
For all Dilla fans, this is without question, one you NEED.
7. Kanye West - T.L.O.P. (The Life Of Pablo)
The ever enigmatic moment stealer, Mr. West. Once again, walking the line between messy and genius comes T.L.O.P., which although is far better than the overall erratic, unorganized flaw that was Yeezus, is still not quite the standard of his college-themed first three monuments, but it still contains a beauty within the puzzle that makes people wanna stay glued to this project. He gives thanks to the Most High on the churchy “Ultralight Beams”, he connects with Kendrick on the Madlib on the scorching “No More Parties In LA”, and gives a woeful letter to his father on “Father Stretch My Hands”. His strengths outweigh his negatives on here, but as he includes on his actually stellar interlude cut “I Miss Kanye”, we miss the old Kanye.
6. Royce Da 5'9" - Layers
Many consider him the most complete emcee to emerge out the D, and rightfully so. Ryan Montgomery (aka Royce 5’9″) has been known for acclaimed work for the better part of over a decade now, and his new album, Layers, is definitely no different.
Definitely a personal album, his most personal since his stellar Death Is Certain, Royce pulls the curtain back on the amazing standout “Tabernacle”, but also kills the mic on cuts like “Hard” and “Wait”. Earlier in the year he dropped the EP, Tabernacle: Trust The Shooter (see later) and with more projects coming including The Book Of Ryan, and hopefully the long awaited Glass House album from Slaughterhouse, this could be the busiest year yet for Royce.
5. Havoc & The Alchemist - The Silent Partner
For years, Prodigy was always regarded as the iron half of Mobb Deep lyrically, but cats would sleep on the skills of Havoc. He wasn’t just the monster behind the boards, but his mic skills weren’t too shabby either. This was especially showcased on his solo albums of The Kush and 13. Now he’s back with Mobb affiliate and famed beat-monster The Alchemist with The Silent Partner.
Already acclaimed with P for his work on Return Of The Mac and Albert Einstein, it’s Hav’s turn to collab with this insane producer, and the results are borderline spellbinding. Recapturing the old Mobb sound, Al provides the perfect soundscape for Hav and friends like P, Cormega, and Method Man to rip apart. While not necessarily breaking any ground theme wise, what isn’t broken doesn’t need to get fixed in this case. This is classic Mobb and Al.
4. Royce 5'9" - Tabernacle: Trust The Shooter
Earlier I stated how Royce was a complete emcee and is without question one of the most feared lyricists in all the game. This was first reaffirmed on this surprise EP he dropped to serve as a teaser for Layers. In some regards, this EP was even better. This is just straight up raw lyricism, which goes from passive (“Which Is Cool”) to ever aggressive (“Dead President Heads”), and with scorching beats from the likes of Rhyme tag team partner DJ Premier, Nottz, and S-1, this EP is simply flames, and shows that he belongs to be in talks of the most respected emcees of all within the past ten years.
3. Oddisee - Alwasta
In 2015, Mello Music Group’s Oddisee delivered one of the year’s single best offerings in The Good Fight. This year, while delivering his next solo offering at year’s end, he dropped a surprise EP for the heads, and what an excellent EP it is.
Slightly darker and moodier than the boardwalk of The Good Fight, Oddisee continues to show why his star appeal can’t keep getting ignored. With cuts like “Lifting Shadows” and “Slow Groove”, his mainstream appeal will grow and grow more and more, and he could well be the next big emcee/producer in the business.
2. Kendrick Lamar - Untitled Unmastered
Besides Top Dawg, there’s one person to thank for this album getting released: LeBron James. If it wasn’t for him tweeting TD to have King Kendrick drop an album filled with the live, unreleased performances he would get down to on shows like the Grammys or Stephen Colbert, this would never exist.
While Untitled Unmastered simply gives us the cuts in their rawest form, each cut on here represents something exquisite and special. Tracks like “Untitled 03”, “Untitled 05”, and “Untitled 06” would’ve been PERFECT for his landmark To Pimp A Butterfly. Had this been a mastered, reworked album, this would’ve been the perfect companion for TPAB. Although Untitled Unmastered is more like Kendrick’s Lost Tapes, this still stands as a classic for the potential in these tracks alone.
1. Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
If there ever was a more serene, peaceful companion to last year’s To Pimp A Butterfly, this would be it. Highly regarded emcee out the Chi, Chance The Rapper, was last seen with The Social Experiment delivering the hit-and-miss Surf, but was especially known for his prior mixtape Acid Rap.
Lately, he’s been chopping it up with Kanye and Justin Bieber, and when it was announced he was finally dropping his next mixtape, heads were waiting – and it was truly worth the wait. If you’re expecting Acid Rap 2 however, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed. This is the traveling of a young man searching for an embracing God while still trying to find his way, and the results are simply fantastic.
The album sounds of one long version of Kanye’s “Ultralight Beams” or even Kanye’s “Jesus Walks”, only with the occasional hood elements of the 2 Chainz/Lil’ Wayne-assisted “No Problem” and the Future-assisted “Smoke Break”, however we’re back in church with “How Great” and the T-Pain/Kirk Franklin-collaborated “Finish Line/Drown”.
Will Coloring Book be for everybody? No. However, for those that clearly see a star is being born in front of our eyes with an album this special, this is a treat and really shows how much a man can grow within the span of three years.
As you can tell this has been a pretty interesting year already, with Future, ASAP Ferg, and alternative Hip Hop act Death Grips having dropped great albums this year as well.
We still have highly anticipated albums from Nas, Common, The Game, T.I., Phonte, De La Soul, Pusha T, ScHoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad, Ab-Soul, and reportedly Yasiin Bey’s final album coming up – making the remainder of the year very exciting!