THE #GEEKSWAG AWARDS [Best Hip-Hop of 2016]: Soundtrack 4 Tha Geekz.
1. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid – In addition to the brunt of Aesop Rock’s stilted, often second-person conversations (“you’re dreaming of Arcadia, you’re feeling like a baby tooth/ Awaiting panacea, channeling your inner Beowulf”) the rapper seems to be having a lot more fun behind the boards, too. Tracks like “Kirby”, “Waters Tower” and “Rabies” show a higher level of instrumental complexity, laced with drums that hit harder than anything on Bazooka Tooth or Skelethon. With those strengths magnified x20, The Impossible Kid is the most complete hip-hop album of 2016.” – 4.75/5
2. Apathy – Handshakes With Snakes – “Loved how the emcee/producer used metaphorical pop culture to shadow his industry commentary; it’s the far more admirable show-don’t-tell method a lot of pop-hating indie rappers fail to use.” – 4.5/5
3. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3 – “You’d never know this was already the pair’s third album in just over as many years with how hungry their flows go; imagine your ‘favorite”’ club/trap rappers with actual lyrical content!” – 4.5/5
4. eLZhi – Lead Poison – The third solo dish from eLZhi is arguably the finest front-to-end lyrical performance of the year. – 4.5/5
5. Ka – Honor Killed the Samurai – “The finest ‘Wu-Tang’ album you’ll hear all year; it’s Masta Killa in his dreariest, monotone dopeness over the most sinister RZA b-sides RZA never made.”- 4.25/5
6. Beneficence – Basement Chemistry – Pure beats and rhymes; the type of 90s hip-hop strength we needed to the year of Trap Crap. – 4.25/5
7. *TIE* J-Zone – Fish-N-Grits /// Open Mike Eagle + Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival – These were two of the most fun listens all year; lots of comedy rap with skill, fully supported by Zone’s real drumplay on the former and White’s minimalistic manifesto on the latter. – 4.25/5
8. Code Nine & Purpose – Below Sumerian Skies – My longtime friend DJ Rolo calls this one an “instant classic”. Other than being thrown off by some too-familiar samples, the beats are all hypnotic with lyrics that are superbly descriptive. – 4/5
9. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 your Service – ATCQ’s final entry is a solid one to their legendary catalog, with some surprising guest spots and a plenty of Phife. Nice to see Jarobi do something for once, too! Ha! – 4/5
10. Czarface – A Fistful of Peril – The Marvel Comics of this rap shit! Esoteric and Deck destroy weak emcees with geek references and playful banter over more of 7L’s neck-shattering soundscapes. – 4/5
Honorable mention: Reks – The Greatest X, Apollo Brown & Skyzoo – The Easy Truth, Sick Jacken – Psychodelic, L’Orange & Mr. Lif – The Life & Death Of Scenery, Mr. Lif – Don’t Look Down, Joe Budden – Rage & The Machine, Snowgoons – Goon Bap, Ras Kass – Intellectual Property: SOI2, Flatbush Zombies – 3001: A Laced Odyssey, Havoc & Alchemist – The Silent Partner, Common – Black America Again, Dillon & Paten Locke – Food Chain.
My honorable mention’s honorable mention: Homeboy Sandman – Kindness for Weakness, Ugly Heroes – Everything in Between, Epidemic – 4 Dimensions on a Paper, Mickey Factz & Nottz – The Achievement: Circa ’82, Token – Eraser Shavings, Ruste Juxx & Kyo Itachi – Meteorite, Truth – From Ashes to Kingdom Come, UG – Portals, Copywrite – Blood, Bath & Beyond, V-Zilla – Mosaic Musick, Timeless Truth – Cold Wave, Emanon – Dystopia, and everything and anything from Planet Asia in 2016!
Instrumentals/R&B: Anderson .Paak – Malibu, Kaytranada – 99.9%, K-Def – The Unpredictable Gemini, DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will Fall.
1. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered. – Despite its technical conditions–and following a classic like To Pimp A Butterfly, this surprise from King Kendrick was “a perfect blend of blues, jazz, funk, neo soul hip and trip-hop. ‘Levitate’ has been my anthem all year. Pimp! Pimp! Hooray!” – 4.5/5
2. Curren$y & Alchemist – The Carrollton Heist – I love albums that puts you in another world and this album makes me feel like I’m watching an “old Prohibition-era Gangster movie mixed with 70s Blaxploitation, channel surfing through 80s primetime.” – 4.25/5
3. Havoc & Alchemist – The Silent Partner – Hardcore Street Rap at its finest. “This album came just in time, right when I was getting sick of all the same old trap rap songs that sound completely the same over and over. Havoc and Alchemist creates the gulliest project of the year. Thank you Hip Hop gods!” – 4.25/5
4. Joe Budden – Rage & The Machine – “This was a great album all around, giving us 80s babies the lyricism and 90s nostalgic production we all been fiending for. Also, Joe teams up with Slaughterhouse teammate Joell Ortiz to the joy of hip-hop geeks worldwide.” – 4/5
5. J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only – “This album is a celebration of an artist finding his sound and mastering it. Cole gives you a story that’s wrapped in a open letter to his late friend’s daughter that gives truth to the world around us.” – 4/5
Honorable mention: Czarface – A Fistful of Peril, Flatbush Zombies – 3001: A Laced Odyssey, Mickey Factz & Nottz – The Achievement: Circa ’82, Meyhem Lauren – Piatto D’Oro, A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…, Rapsody – Crown, KXNG Crooked – Good vs. Evil, Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!, Run the Jewels – RTJ3, Planet Asia & DJ Concept – Seventy Nine, ScHoolBoy Q – Blank Face LP, Blu & Nottz – Titans in the Flesh, Ugly Heroes – Everything in Between, Royce da 5’9″ – Layers.
1. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book – You could accuse me of pandering to my local sensibilities with this pick, but all the same, you likely won’t find this album anywhere outside of the top few of the year on any given list–even ones that cover all ranges of music. It’s a bit preachy for some, but sonically, lyrically, not many can match Chance. – 5/5
2. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3 – What started as a side project is now consistently getting better and finds RTJ on the very top shelf of hip-hop. It doesn’t matter if your taste is more mainstream or #GeekSwag, these guys have rap for you to hear. – 5/5
3. Kanye West – Life of Pablo – Kanye does it again; his ever-changing experimental style has led him to a more gospel sound. I feel this was a trend in 2016. Anderson .Paak, Chance and Ye’ all had various doses of gospel influence this year. – 4.5/5
4. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service – Quite possibly the best album from one of hip-hop’s best and most enduring acts. – 4.25/5
5. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid – I feel like all the old Def Jux and Rhymesayers acts had a pretty good year this year, and the influence of that early 2000s era of hip hop is being felt all the way up the ladder now. Aesop isn’t for everyone, as he’s a bit lyrically heavy; but he’s in top form here. – 4.25/5
Honorable mention: Czarface – A Fistful of Peril, Apathy – Handshakes with Snakes, eLZhi – Lead Poison, Flatbush Zombies – 3001: A Laced Odyssey, Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition, Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered., Anderson .Paak – Malibu.
1. eLZhi – Lead Poison – “Every so often the great genre of what we love and know as Hip-Hop is blessed with a gift of rhythmic pleasure. And the former Slum Village member delivers an album worthy of completely uninterrupted play, beginning to end. Twice even!” – 4.5/5
2. De La Soul – and the Anonymous Nobody… – An album for the 35 & over hip hop crowd, the eccentrics, the skaters, the hippies, basically everyone. Not having released a studio album since 2004, the everlasting threesome shake the rust off; wait, what rust? De La Soul has been introduced to a new generation of hip hop fans, and well, they should feel lucky! – 4.25/5
3. B.o.B. – E.A.R.T.H. – I’ll take hip hop w/ substance for $1,000, Alex. BANG….as in the big bang theory, comes Educational Avatar Reality Training Habitat, a project released from the ATLien on Earth Day 2016, that even features scientists, experts and President Barack Obama. A very interesting listen from the “Flat Earth Truther.” – 4/5
4. Ugly Heroes – Everything In Between – “I’ve learned a few things after giving the project an uninterrupted, and albeit enjoyable, listen. The hip-hop supergroup consists of Apollo Brown (the group’s producer who provides the MC’s with many soulful, jazz inspired beats), Verbal Kent (a Chitown drummer-turned-emcee), and Red Pill (a Detroit native who uses music to reflect the struggle, passion and resiliency of the Motor City) that zing up a wonderful reminder that the culture of hip-hop is still being well represented.” – 4/5
Honorable mention: Joell Ortiz – That’s Hip Hop, Mayhem Lauren – Piatto D’Oro, Havoc & The Alchemist – The Silent Partner, Fabolous – Shootout 2, Royce 5’9” – Layers, Mr. Lif – Don’t Look Down.
1. Snowgoons – Goon Bap – The album is a homage to the nineties, with a who’s who of underground artists (Locksmith, Token, etc.) and true lyricists from the that Golden Era (Method Man, Ghostface, Chino XL, etc.). Of course, the Snowgoons pack some of the heaviest instrumentals in the game. – 5/5
2. REKS – The Greatest X – Content, content, content. Did I mention content? 31 tracks with lyrics for days from the most underrated MC in the game today, with deep metaphors that are sure to fly over the heads of most. – 5/5
3. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid – His unique style and ability to keep it simple while being ridiculously complex gets him a Top 3. – 4.75/5
4. Vinnie Paz – The Cornerstone of the Corner Store – Any Vinnie P LP makes my Top 5 before it drops. Nobody can mimic The King of Philly Underground, Box Cutter Pazzy! – 4.5/5
5. *TIE* Czarface – A Fistful of Peril /// Beneficence – Basement Chemistry – Usually I’m an old head that likes the signature style Czar is known to bring, but “All in Together Now” left me impressed and ready for Round 3 from these UGHH All-Stars. A Fistful… feels like a comic book as you roll through it. And “with contributions from Da Beatminerz, DJ Spinna, and L’Orange, Basement Chemistry is one of the best Boom Bap throwback albums in the last 5-years.” – 4.5/5
Honorable mention: Ka – Honor Killed the Samurai, Novellis – The Clear Soul, De La Soul – and the Anonymous Nobody…, A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…
1. Childish Gambino – Though I didn’t get the chance to review Awaken, My Love!, I do agree with “The Belser” that Gambino’s “bold move go with more jazz/funk fusion”–you know, the Bootsy Collins and P-Funkadelic stuff–paid off. Of course I miss the relatable wordplay of the past! But despite all that, this sweet departure proved to be the most exciting non-mixtape (p.s. got love for Royalty) of the Hollywood actor’s career. Didn’t hurt the LP that Atlanta was the hottest new show on TV, either. – 4.5/5
2. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book – “A great album with many great songs, several worthy of a lengthy repeat–as well as enjoyable from beginning to end more than twice. Congrats, Chance, your third mixtape is easily the feel good album of the year.” – 4.25/5
3. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo – “Kanye channels all other Ye’s scattered through time and galaxies to exist in the now, and gives you an album to be absorbed as a single unit of audio. In which case equal attention has been paid to all layers of each song, the lyrics tell just as much of a story as the drums; the featured singer is just as important to the atmosphere as the snair.” – 4/5
4. Open Mike Eagle + Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival – “HPFF has that personal touch-your-soul-with-relevance kind of vibe, but stays light hearted enough for you to laugh at your own outrages and insecurities.” – 4/5
5. *TIE* ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP /// Ab-Soul – Do What Thou Wilt – TDE had a solid 2016. “What sets Q apart from the other party rappers is that there are legit stories of struggle and sacrifice in each song”, while Ab put out “a dope album for those that still enjoy lyrics and intricate rhyme schemes.” – 3.75/5
Honorable mention: Kid Cudi – Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’.
1. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 your Service – After over a decade and a half, Tribe returned in style. While this album is a bit of a departure from the traditional Tribe style, it’s got every bit of the traditional Tribe quality. The first two tracks, “The Space Program” and “We The People” are more political than your traditional Tribe tracks, but are actually my two favorite tracks on the album. It was definitely worth the wait. – 4.5/5
2. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3 – Killer Mike and El-P kill it again. This another album with some heavy political content, so there seems to be a running theme in this list. – 4.5/5
3. Open Mike Eagle + Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival – Mike’s combination of clever wordplay and harmonic flow–which I’ve always been a huge fan of–is on full display. Tracks to look out for are “Check to Check,” “The Curse of Hypervigilance” and “A Short About a Guy That Dies Every Night”. – 4.25/5
4. Blu & Nottz – Titans in the Flesh – Blu’s exceptional lyricism combines well with Nottz’ great beats for an excellent album. Tracks to look out for are “Giant Steps”, “End of the World” and “God Shit”. – 4/5
5. Vinnie Paz- The Cornerstone of the Corner Store – The Rap Animal’s at it again. Paz’ hard hitting style plays just as well in a solo album, as it does as part of an ensemble. I may be a little biased here as he is a member of Jedi Mind Tricks (the first east coast underground group I liked), but this album is fire. – 4/5
1. Ugly Heroes – Everything in Between – The best pure album of 2016, packed with relevant, oftentimes touching lyrical content from Red Pill and Verbal Kent and some of Apollo Brown‘s dopest beat production yet. Yes, folks; that’s saying something. Go hear it. – 5/5
2. Homeboy Sandman – Kindness for Weakness – A lyrical beast, Homeboy Sandman always offers his best lyrically, and this album also has a nice array of production value. “Kindness is so well functioning, a listener won’t need to skip songs because they are altogether very good. Another great project from Stones Throw! – 4/5
3. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… – For more than a decade much like the continuous quest Zelda sets out on, we bared witness to a new indigenous style of a village tribe killing it. Yes–that old style is now revitalized with a new spin, and a more modern view of life. Luck for us, even if for only one last time, “Quest” continues. – 4/5
4. *TIE* Rapsody – Crown /// KXNG Crooked – Good vs. Evil – “After some encouraging words and even more intense flows, Rapsody emerges as a premier hip-hop artist”, while Crooked I’s Good vs. Evil “comes off like 14-rounds of ammunition bouncing off the psyche–a full-frontal assault that makes the boys of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket run home to momma.” – 4/5
5. Slaine – Slaine is Dead – If the underground claimed another righteous MC, well, hell hath no fury than a pissed-off home base. “Slaine spares no verbal punches on his latest piece, crushing everything in his way out the gate. I truly enjoyed how this EP comes across a bloodline behind a classic 80’s action flick.” – 3.75/5
Honorable mention: Anderson .Paak – Malibu, M.I.A. – AIM, Blueprint – Vigilante Genesis, Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered., Bryan Ford & Killah Priest – For the Future of Hip-Hop, DJ Khaled – Major Key, Eric Roberson & Phonte – Tiggalero, ScHoolboy Q – Blankface, Asher Roth, Nottz & Travis Barker – Rawther.
1. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3 – An instant hip hop classic. This album had hype leading into it’s release–and it delivered. – 4.5/5
2. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… – Lyrical content that hip-hop needs right now. ATCQ keeps it classic and fresh, all the while injecting self awarness, with thought provoking lyrics. RIP Phife. – 4.5/5
3. *TIE* Common – Black America Again /// J-Zone – Fish-N-Grits – This Chitown vet has yet to let down, and this might be his best since hangin’, snaggin’ beats from Yeezy. B.A. is an intricate and a complex weaving of simplicity in his flow, while J-Zone’s “Fish-N-Grits brings the funk, heart and heat; it’s the type of album that will open some sleepy eyes, and awaken a feeling we all universally share for rap.” – 4.25/5
4. Harleighblu & Starkiller – Amorine – A futuristic and musical hybrid of hip-hop and sci-fi. Mad #GeekSwag from this album, with outstanding vocals and beats that take you between Tron and Blade Runner – 4/5
5. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered. – Hip-hop and Kendrick have become synonomous, and this past year the Compton rapper didn’t disappoint with his surprise Cali-classic. Bump it in your lowrider. – 4/5
Honorable mention: Yasiin Bey & Ferrari Sheppard – December 99th, De La Soul – and The Anonymous Nobody…, J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only, Kid Cudi – Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin’, Tone Spliff – Pull No Punches, Banks & Steelz – Anything But Words, D.I.T.C. – D.I.TC. Studios, Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book, Various Artists – The Hamilton Mixtape, Phantogram – 3, Blu & Ray West – Crenshaw Jezebel.
***GHG’s GeekSwag Albums of the Year***
1. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3
2. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 your Service
3. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
4. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
5. *TIE* eLZhi – Lead Poison /// Ugly Heroes – Everything in Between
Honorable mention: Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered., Open Mike Eagle + Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival, Czarface – A Fistful of Peril, De La Soul – and the Anonymous Nobody…, Havoc & The Alchemist – The Silent Partner, Kanye West – The Life of Pablo, Vinnie Paz – The Cornerstone of the Cornerstore, J-Zone – Fish-N-Grits, ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP, Flatbush Zombies – 3001: A Laced Odyssey, Anderson .Paak – Malibu.