2016 was a huge year for rap; we saw To Pimp A Butterfly win the Grammy, Chance become Kanye’s successor and the arrival of new artists like Lil Uzi Vert and Desiigner take center stage.
With new albums from last year’s top artists and even more new ones, 2017 is going to be even bigger. Rap is taking off in a new direction, being increasingly more conscious, politically aware, and experimental. These albums highlight the very best that is coming out of the rap scene right now.
DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick is finally back, releasing The Heart Part 4 and HUMBLE. in March, and dropping his newest studio album DAMN. on April 14th. DAMN. is nothing like Kendrick’s past works. It doesn’t have the raw energy of Good Kid, Maad City, or funkiness of To Pimp a Butterfly. Instead DAMN. taps into Kendrick’s greatest talent; his gift for storytelling. Still touching on many of the same themes of his past work, DAMN. is an all encompassing body of artistic development, where Kendrick is in his element.
Standout tracks include DNA, LOVE, HUMBLE., and DUCKWORTH.
ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ – Joey Bada$$
Joey Bada$$ debuted his newest album at 5th on the Billboard Top 200, but don’t let the commercial success fool you. There are some hype tracks, but the entire album is steeped in frustration with race relations in America. The production value of Joey’s sophomore album is noticeably higher than his previous work, but the standout feature is really his lyricism and message. The entire album feels like a love song to America from a young black man, trying to figure out why he is unloved in return.
Standout tracks include LAND OF THE FREE, FOR MY PEOPLE, and LEGENDARY.
Telefone – Noname
Female rappers can be hard to find, but Chicago native Noname is worth the search. She came to the public eye after being featured on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, but Noname’s solo work is just as beautifully crafted. Telefone is a poetic ode to the intricacies of life; she pours herself into melancholy, desperation, and joy. Her work is heavily influenced by late 19th century blues, with a delicate modern twist to the production. Telefone is an adventure into the relaxed, feminine side of rap, with Noname as an expert guide.
Standout tracks include Diddy Bop, Bye Bye Baby, and Freedom.
4 Your Eyez Only – J. Cole
Released in December of 2016, J.Cole’s fourth studio album was a huge break from his past work. Cole is known for pumped up racks like G.O.M.D and Work Out, but 4 Your Eyez Only takes a whole different turn. Slowed down beats and reflective lyrics mark the album as a marker of Cole’s range while allowing him the space to meditate on love and personal growth, after starting a family with his wife. Love for his daughter, love for his wife, confusion about the future and mortality all take the spotlight on J. Cole’s highly reflective work.
Standout tracks include Neighbours, Foldin Clothes, and For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper
Chance won three Grammy awards for his 2016 mixtape, Coloring Book, but for those who haven’t checked it out yet, it’s a must-listen. Taking over the moniker of Chicago’s rapper from Kanye, Chance is one of the most talented musicians of our time. Colouring Book is laced with jazz and gospel music, with Chance’s signature lyricism. Coloring Book is the celebration of love and life needed, after a rough year in 2016.
Standout tracks include No Problem, Blessings, Mixtape, and Finish Line.
Feature images via WeHeartIt