2016 was fucked up. First of all, they killed Harambe. That could have been prevented. Other terrible shit happened, too. Like how everyone started saying “Alt Right” instead of the superior, much more accurate term: Neo-Nazi Buttmuncher. (We let them get away with that one without even a fight. Just sayin’.) And as I write this civilians are being murdered in mass in Allepo, by Russian and Syrian government forces, as the entire world stands by and does nothing. Essentially, 2016 has seen a complete and total breakdown of humanity across the western world.
But music has the power to, if not heal, at least act as a conduit for expressing our grief and anger. And on that level, rap and R&B in 2016 has been essential, at least for me. Here is an introduction to some of the years best releases.
(The Best Rap and R&B Albums of 2016 List is at then end of the article)
2016’s Rap and R&B in Review
Item 1: GUCCI MANE OUT DA FEDS!
Unfortunately for the white supremacists out there, rap and R&B music didn’t follow the same God-awful trajectory that our national politics did. First of all, Gucci Mane was released from prison earlier this year. That ruled. And I’m just gonna address any misguided fools out there that don’t fuck with Gucci Mane. I guess you didn’t get the memo? Gucci Mane is the “Trap God.” That ain’t nothing. That’s everything, actually. And his status, much like man-made climate change, is only in dispute among fools and an assholes. But if you, dear reader, have never encountered his music, I highly suggest acquainting yourself with some of his more notable bangers like, “Go Head” or “So Icey” or, better yet, spend an hour with his classic 2007 album Back To The Traphouse—It’s start-to-finish “HOLY SHIT!” and has an endless supply of slaptastic production by Zaytoven, before his was a thing (Ballers” and “I Might Be” are the obvious standouts, but everyone has their favorites).
With that in mind, it shouldn’t surprise you, then, to hear that Gucci had a peerless 2016. Even if you didn’t mess with his long players—and I’ll admit they weren’t, you know, amazing—nevertheless his feature game is not to be trifled with. Guwop was all over several of the year’s best rap singles, including: Young Thug’s “Floyd Mayweather,” Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles,” Dreezy’s “We Gon Ride,” Kodak Black’s “Vibin’ In This Bih,” and 2 Chainz’ “Good Drank.”
Quick sidebar: Kodak Black might be a rapist. I’m (perhaps foolishly) giving him the benefit of the doubt for now. But if it turns out that he is guilty, I, for one, will never mention his name again.
Item 2: 2 Chainz is Still Alive and He Oughta Be Your Favorite Rapper
Kodak Black’s grossness aside, let’s move on to funner things like 2 Chainz! Maybe you thought he was dead. He is not. He is, in fact, very much alive and making the absolute best music of his entire career. He began the year with an excellent mixtape, Felt Like Cappin’, that the entire rap world ignored for some reason. Then, in a move that endeared 2 Chainz to me eternally, he released a joint album with Lil’ Wayne, called Colle Grove. Truthfully, there was some filler on this record, quite a bit of it, actually. It was essentially the Felt Like Cappin’ mixtape with a few added collaborations between the two artists. However, the LP did have its virtues. Case in point: “Bounce.” This is a fabulous jam, one that will last forever. It’s all I ever wanted from a rap song. And it should be noted, Lil Wayne hasn’t sounded this good in a long time, and that’s important because his juice isn’t exactly what it was back in his heyday.
And, for me, I guess that’s what makes Colle Grove so friggin’ heartwarming. The game has basically turned their back on Lil’ Wayne. Honestly, 2 Chainz didn’t have much to gain, carreer-wise, from making a joint album with him—the only conclusion you can come to is that he did this whole project to show some love to a guy who’s, to put it bluntly, having a pretty hard time right now. That’s a real motherfucker, right there. That’s true friendship. And I must admit, I have difficulty listening to the opening track, aptly called “Dedication,” because I always tear up during the hook when 2 Chainz shouts out Weezy, like, “That my dog!”
My goodness! Give me a moment…I’m a little verklempt.
Ok! Moving on! But not from 2 Chainz just yet because his year didn’t end there. He released two more EP’s. The better of the two was Hibachi For Lunch, and I cannot overstate this: it was one of the better releases of the year. Go ahead, listen to it. See for yourself. Start with “Good Drank” and marvel at how much Migos’ Quavo has grown as a vocalist. There’s a reason randos are beefing with Quavo these days, they scared he’s gonna take over the game.
Item 3: Lemonade is a Good Drank, but There Are Other, Even Better, Dranks.
Then there was Beyonce. And I should preface what I’m about to say by pointing out that I love Beyonce! In my mind, Beyonce is right up there with Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin—her music means that much to me. When she dropped the Mike Will-produced, “Formation,” I lost my goddamned mind. I mean, this is a song for the friggin’ ages. The video is breathtaking—when it came out, I watched it in silence, on repeat, for hours, dumbfounded. The message was powerful, the music is vital. She played it at the Super Bowl (she wasn’t even the main artist playing the halftime show) and kicked so much ass that it’s all anybody remembers from the game. Or at least it should be. Because she rightfully stole the show. Right wing media hated it.
In a word, it was perfect.
It was not. Which isn’t to say it was bad, necessarily.
Let me just put it this way: Solange, Beyonce’s sister, made a really solid R&B album. Track for track I’d say that I enjoyed Solange’s album even more than Lemonade. If you haven’t heard A Seat At The Table, put it on this holiday season and cuddle up with a big glass of eggnog. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, and (added bonus) you won’t have to skip “Daddy Lessons” every time you put it on. The standout here is, “Cranes In The Sky” and for my money it’s the kind of slow jam, with a powerful message to boot, that Lemonade was sorely lacking. Again, no dis on Queen Bey here, just pointing out that Solange may have just dropped her strongest album while Lemonade may very well be among Beyonce’s weakest efforts.
You heard it here first.
Item 4: R&B is Taking Over…You’ve Been Warned.
Solange wasn’t the only person making supurb R&B this year. There was also Ty Dolla $ign who’s album, Campaign, was spotty but occasionally amazeballz, but no one seemed to notice (“Hello” and “Stealing” are two of the finest R&B jams of the year). It should also be noted, Ty’s feature game in 2016 was unbelievable. My man deserves the John Stockton award for Kanye’s “Real Friends” alone (“I just showed up for da yams tho!”). But there were some several dozen other notable features, too.
And then there was Noname. Her thoroughly solid mixtape, Telephone, is without a doubt the best project that all the critics slept on this year. That said, it sure seems to have ended up on everybody’s year end list. So it looks like people have finally caught wind of her brilliance–which is terrific, but funny. It’s also a decidedly good sign for Noname’s career. I’m guessing by this time next year, A-List backpackers like J. Cole and Kendrick will be begging her to hop on their shit. All I really care about, though, is that she keeps making inimitable, gorgeously blissed-out, jazz-influenced hip hop. She’s on a different tip than just about anybody, to be honest with you. Indeed, it’s rare to encounter an artist this young with this much to say. Basically, if she can just keep doing her, I imagine she’ll be a legend in no time.
Another new entry into the R&B canon from 2016 was Jacquees. His January mixtape, Mood, is another terrific effort that almost everyone in the critic biz slept on. Maybe people are just sick of hearing Birdman hollerin’, “RICH GANG!” over every beat that comes out under his name. That said, you could do a hell of a lot worse than “B.E.D.” “Ready,” and “Know You” in your quest for dope R&B this year.
And speaking of Jacquees, did you know that he is one of Jeremih’s many doppelgangers? Allow me to explain:
Item 5: Jeremih and His (sort of) Long History of Employing Doppelgangers
One of the most promising tours of 2016 was the so-called “Summer’s Over Tour” which I mistakenly assumed was a co-headlining thing between PartyNextDoor and Jeremih. I say “mistakenly” because this tour was in fact headlined by PartyNextDoor. That decision was problematic, to put it mildly. While both Jeremih and PND are great artists, Jeremih is clearly the more popular of the two. At least as of right now he’s had his name on a lot more hits. PartyNextDoor, meanwhile, hasn’t been quite as successful. Which might be a little unfair to say, because PartyNextDoors greatest songs are often credited to Drake. Take “Wednesday Night Interlude” and “With You” for example. Both great songs! “With You” has Party on the hook and with the better verse. And, “Wednesday Night Interlude” Drake doesn’t even take a verse…so, ummm, WTF? How is that even on a Drake album? No one knows. In any case, I’m not saying PND is bullshit or anything, just that he is clearly the less popular artist—and I’m also saying that Drake steals his best shit on a pretty regular basis. So stop it, Drake. Seriously, you’ve got your own shit, leave PND’s shit alone.
Man! It probably sucks to be PartyNextDoor, except, I take that back, it probably rules to be PartyNextDoor.
Anyway, I digress! Things between PartyNextDoor and Jeremih were not all peachy. And the tour started to go a bit awry when the the boys landed in Chicago (Jeremih’s hometown). If reports are to be believed; Jeremih requested to play a little longer set than usual for his hometown crowd but was thwarted when the soundcrew cut off his earpiece two songs into his set. This caused Jeremih to, ummm, shall we say: lose his cool, go off on a long-ass, obscenity-laced, rant and then promptly storm off stage.
A few days later, in Houston, someone who was DEFINITELY NOT JEREMIH, donned in a hoodie and sunglasses (ostensibly to obscure his true identity) showed up to to perform, or rather to perpetrate and lip-synch Jeremih’s songs on stage. Needless to say, the crowd noticed. It did not go over well. And Jeremih was promptly fired from the tour a few days later.
If you’re thinking, “This is fucking crazy.” You’re right. But it gets even crazier. Because this is definitely not the first time Jeremih has used a doppelganger. And what I’m about to tell you is a Bearded Gentlemen Exclusive (probably because no one else cares, but still).
So! Check out this truly amazing Young Thug song, called “Beat It,” it is produced by London On Da Track and features “Jacquees”
I can tell you with 100% confidence that this song has been streaming on all three major platforms (Apple, Tidal, Spotify) for well over a year and it’s been credited to Young Thug (Featuring Jacquees) the whold time. How do I know this? Well, because over the past year I’ve tried all three platforms and this joint is in heavy rotation.
But get this (And I say this as a big fan of Jacquees):
The person featured on this track is without a doubt NOT Jacquees (note: even the Youtube video cites this as Jacquees). Which isn’t to say that Jacquees wouldn’t have killed this song had he been on this track. The fact remains, it isn’t him.
So who is it, then?
That’s where it gets interesting. The person featured on this track (and of this I am equally certain) is none other than, Chicago’s very own, Jeremih. How can I be so sure? Well, I’ve spent an embarrassingly large portion of my life listening to Jeremih, and as a fan of both artists I am perfectly capable of telling the two of them apart. But what’s most interesting (to me) isn’t that this is an incredible song that no one seems to have noticed. (It is by the way!) It isn’t even that someone got this wrong with a typo. It’s that EVERYONE seems to have gotten this wrong and no one seems to have noticed that this is Jeremih. If this is indeed a typo, it’s a typo that every streaming platform is making. It’s enough to make you wonder who got the forty-five cents Spotify paid out for the millions of times I’ve streamed this song?
Anyway, the point is, Jeremih has always been a mysterious man. And you should expect him to use doppelgangers for the forseable future–because that’s clearly his M.O. Nevertheless this is very good news for any of you out there who, like me, want nothing more for Christmas than for Young Thug and Jeremih to make like K-Ci and JoJo and do an album of sultry bedroom jams. Indeed, this is a pretty rare and precious collaboration between two of the best vocalists in the game. And apparently, up until now, I was the ONLY person on the planet aware of it, so I thought I’d let you know, too. Just in case you cared. Don’t say I never do any thing nice for you.
You should also check out “Harambe” by Young Thug, it’s probably the best rap cut of 2016.
Item 6: Watch Out For Salt Lake City in 2017
And in the spirit of doing nice things for you, dear reader, I shall now wrap up this overly long rant. As you can see, there was lots of great rap and R&B music this year and, unfortunately, I couldn’t get to all of it, which is why we’ve made the list below (Man! I really should have mentioned YG, and how he DEFINITELY should keep making joints with DJ Mustard). There is one last thing I simply must to tell you about, and that is my hometown heroes Swell Merchants. They’ve kept our little city cool all summer and warm all winter! These kids aren’t just making the best rap music in Salt Lake, they are quite simply making the best music (period) that Salt Lake City has seen in decades. You should check their Soundcloud page and know that one half of the group, Young A$$ Nico, just released all-killer solo project this week. I saw them play last week and their opener, Shanghii, deserves a shout too for being fucking amazing. Assuming you missed the show, check out their badass hit “Curtis Jackson” below. Here’s to hoping all these guys blow up in 2017. A Young Thug feature would help, just sayin’ Thugga (think about it).
Happy New Years!
Item 7: The 40 Best Rap and R&B Albums of 2016
1) A Tribe Called Quest: We Got it From Here … Thank You For Your Service (Full Review Here)
2) Anderson Paak: Malibu & NxWorries: Yes Lawd!
3) Noname: Telephone
4) Frank Ocean: Blond(e)
5) Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition (Full Review Here)
6) Chance The Rapper: Coloring Book
7) Young Thug: Jeffery
8) Schoolboy Q: Blank Face
9) Ka: Honor Killed The Samuri
10) Vince Staples: Prima Donna
11) Kanye West: The Life of Pablo (More Coverage Here)
12) Clipping: Splendor and Misery
13) 21 Savage x Metro Boomin: Savage Mode (or as my girlfriend calls it, Sandwich Mode … as in “Imma Sandwich on these hoes!”)
14) Aesop Rock: The Impossible Kid
15) Dalek: Asphalt For Eden
16) Kendrick Lamar: Untitled Unmastered
17) Rae Sremmurd: Sremm Life 2
18) Tinashe: Night Ride
19) 2 Chainz: Felt Like Cappin’ and Hibachi For Lunch EPs
20) Jazz Cartier: Hotel Paranoia
21) A$AP Ferg: Always Strive and Prosper
22) Ty Dolla $ign: Campaign
23) Antwon: Double Ecstacy
24) Terrace Martin: Velvet Portraits
25) Ab Soul: Do What Thou Wilt
26) Tory Lanez: I Told You
27) Jacquees: Mood
28) Yoni & Geti: Testarosa
29) Kamiyah: A Good Night In The Ghetto
30) Solange: A Seat At The Table
31) Joey Purp: iiiDrops
32) Travis Scott: Birds In The Trap Sing McNight
33) Avalanches: Wildflower
34) Clams Casino: 32 Levels
35) Open Mike Eagle: Hella Personal Film Festival
36) Dae Dae x London On Da Track: DefAnition
37) Childish Gambino: Awaken! My Love
38) YG: Red Friday EP
39) Murda Beatz: Keep God First
40) Swell Merchants: Soundcloud page