2016 is winding down and, unfortunately, we haven’t been treated with very many top-shelf hip-hop releases.
They’ve been a few standouts, of course – Elzhi, Royce 5’9, Mick Jenkins, the Flatbush Zombies and Kendrick Lamar among them – but there has been way more mediocrity than masterpieces these last few months.
Just because you keep telling yourself that Drake album is good doesn’t mean it’s true.
It’s all good, I’m here to get your playlists off life support.
Let’s take a look at five great hip-hop releases that haven’t been featured yet on the site but are deserving of your attention.
Skyzoo & Apollo Brown, The Easy Truth
When lyricism comes as easy as it does to an artist like Skyzoo, all he needs is the perfect production to accent his storytelling. Apollo Brown comes through on The Easy Truth, crafting some of the best beats I’ve heard in the past 12 months. If you’re looking for turn-up tracks, keep moving – The Easy Truth is a realm of hi-hats, lush instrumentals and boom bap that perfectly suits Sky’s laid-back lyricism. If you’ve been turned off by this year’s glut of Mumble Rap, this is the album for you. This one’s gonna be pretty high on those year-end lists.
Damian Lillard AKA Dame D.O.L.L.A., The Letter O
Many athletes have entered the rap arena over the years, typically giving us more lows than highs.
But, somewhat surprisingly, NBA superstar Damian Lillard bucks that shaky trend. The Portland Trail Blazer turned heads after his freestyle on Sway in the Morning went viral and that laid the groundwork for this debut – brimming with life lessons and solid storytelling. The album certainly isn’t flawless – Dame’s flow tends to lag sometimes, making a few tracks a bit dull – but it’s a promising debut that shows he’s a force in the booth and in the paint.
Z-Ro, Drankin’ & Drivin’
It’s crazy: Z-Ro has spent more than two decades dropping quality albums nearly every 12 months, yet he’s still a relative unknown to mainstream listeners outside of Houston. Y’all need to catch up. Drankin’ & Drivin’ is the Z-Ro we’ve known and loved since the 90s – soulful crooning that envelops gut crushing punchlines and hilarious storytelling. Whether he’s yelling about how much he despises his baby’s mother or shedding tears for fallen friends, Z-Ro never bites his tongue – and I doubt he sobers up anytime soon.
De La Soul, and the Anonymous Nobody…
The curse of all legendary artists is being forever linked – and constantly expected to top – their past classics. And let’s be real – De La’s ninth album doesn’t reach the heights of their 90s heyday. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a strong piece of work on its own. Though most of the subject matter is pretty heavy, and the production equally subdued, there’s still enough of the group’s classic wit and chemistry to uplift even the most dour moments. The album’s strength is its introspection and De La embraces its role as rap’s guiding conscience.
Dave East, Kairi Chanel
Yeah, I know this is actually a mixtape, not an album, so it’s a bit of a cheat – but who can tell the difference between a mixtape and an LP these days anyway? Kairi Chanel feels like a fully-formed album, packed to the brim with no-nonsense raps and a dizzying array of guest stars. Strong production and even stronger concepts – the thought-provoking “Don’t Shoot” among them – make this a worthwhile listen.
What other albums this year deserve more love? Let us know below.