The 45 Best Albums of 2016


23. Apathy – Handshakes with Snakes

Apathy’s fifth solo album has aged well since it dropped in the summer. Ap proves to be the complete package of both producer and MC, as this album is produced entirely by himself. He shows off his versatility as an MC, spitting raw battle raps in a variety of flows. Fans have come to expect this regularly from Apathy, but what’s special about this album is the growth he’s shown as a producer. This is some of the finest sample-based hip-hop production of 2016, as Ap uses the sample to draw the listener in, then keeps them locked in with his vicious raps. Apathy is truly a rapper’s rapper, as the content critiques all aspects of hip-hop, from the performance, to the business, to the cultural impact, and his approach to both rap and production can be things to study. – Shaun Yassin


24. letlive. – If I’m the Devil

There’s only really one song on If I’m the Devil that you could say was quintessentially letlive., which isn’t meant as a slight towards them. Renowned for being rough and ready, the post-hardcore act clean up their act and allow their sound to be distributed to a wider audience – can you blame them when you consider the strength and passion of Jason Aalon Butler? My only wish is that it had come out after the election, so that its hopeful yet worried tone of the state of America would be even more poignant. – Jimmy Donnellan


25. Mala – Mirrors

The last time Mala embarked on an international musical project, it was Mala in Cuba and it was unlike anything else anywhere in the dubstep scene. To make Mirrors, he travelled to Peru, and the results are no less staggering. The DMZ veteran somehow found the perfect midpoint between his deep bass sensibilities and traditional Peruvian music to create something utterly unique and achingly beautiful. It’s tragically fitting that an album so rooted in mixing cultures came out on the same day Brexit happened. – Callum Davies


26. BadBadNotGood – IV

After a remarkably strong trio of albums, I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed with Seattle jazz outfit BadBadNotGood’s fourth effort, the Ghostface Killah Sour Soul collaboration. On a musical level, it worked, but it had to stretch itself to make the rapping element fit. With IV they’ve not only rectified that, but gone so far beyond anything they’ve ever done before. You won’t find any covers here, but the way the album darts between jazz, soul and hip-hop demonstrates just how far the group have come, and every single featured artists involved absolutely nails it. – Callum Davies


27. Ed Scissor & Lamplighter – Tell Them It’s Winter

Ed Scissor, or Edward Scissortongue as once known, has been casting a long shadow over UK hip hop for some time now. Standing apart from many of his more boisterous contemporaries and label mates, Scissor instead seems to cast a figure somewhere between rapper and poet. Crafting intricately detailed settings within which he places his often harrowing scenes and their less than reputable cast of characters, including himself, Scissor’s lyrical fables hone in on the daily grind, the nightly unwind, relationships, drugs, and just attempting to exist. On Tell Them It’s Winter, Scissor seems to be at his lyrical peak, which is only emphasised by regular collaborator Lamplighter’s exquisite production, giving his words a low lit path on which his words can work without being outshone. However, as sparse as Lamplighter’s production may seem, it’s subtly layered and its mix of acoustic and synthetic sounds perfectly capture the cold and unforgiving urban sprawl that Scissor paints and the human warmth of his cast of characters. – Morgan Roberts


28. No Panty – WestSide Highway Story

This free album dropped out of nowhere and became the jam of the summer. Producer Salaam Remi set out to craft a hip-hop album that’s a celebration of Puerto Rican and Latino culture, so he got New York MCs Joell Ortiz, Nitty Scott and Bodega BAMZ (who all have some Puerto Rican blood in them) to form a group and put the right flavour over his beats. The album is filled with that Spanish flavour that gets you dancing, while the three MCs keep their bars sharp. It’s also refreshing to see a group with both male and female representation, all spitting competitively and bringing their unique perspectives to the table. Save for a couple emotional tracks, this is probably the funnest hip hop album of 2016, with a perfect blend of festive party vibes and skilled lyricism. – Shaun Yassin


29. Banks & Steelz – Anything But Words

The unlikely pairing of the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and Interpol’s Paul Banks is a fun experiment to witness. With RZA’s recent musical exploits garnering mixed reviews (such as Wu-Tang’s 2014 album A Better Tomorrow), an experimental, collaborative side-project like this may be just what he needed. There’s no twenty-year legacy to live up to here; it’s a clean slate with two legends jamming out and creating something entirely new for each of them. Between Paul Banks’ rock background and RZA’s history with hardcore hip-hop and film scoring, they’re able to create an album with many different vibes and flavours, making it a well-balanced journey with many emotions. As a hip-hop head, I don’t know much about Interpol or Paul Banks’ previous work, but RZA sounds like he’s having the most fun making an album in years – this may be his best album since the 1990s. – Shaun Yassin


30. Keaton Henson – Kindly Now

This is perhaps not one I’d recommend if you’re looking for a happy album, but I can assure you that Kindly Now will move you to the core. Take the single Alright – with its hypnotising sound and compelling video, it promises to suck you in with a hauntingly beautiful sound and lyrics that are so raw it feels invasive to listen. Before you know it, he’ll have pulled you in and leave you feeling emotionally shattered at the end of penultimate Holy Lover, another hypnotic number that’ll spiral you into the depths of Henson’s voice and beyond. – Libby Mayfield


31. Touché Amoré – Stage Four

Over the last few years and three previous albums, Touché Amoré have made somewhat of a name for themselves as torchbearers for the sort of post-hardcore renaissance’s earnestly emotional and confessional side. Through frontman Jeremy Bolm’s equally poetic lyrics and impassioned screams, set to the band’s frenetic yet melodic instrumental backing often in bursts of barely two minutes fitting their seemingly spontaneous outbursts, the band have built quite a following of like-minded, struggling souls able to relate of empathise with Bolm’s lyrics. However, no more so relatable or easily empathised with are Touché Amoré, than they are on Stage Four; an album that start to finish deals with death of Bolm’s mother to cancer. It is perhaps for this reason that Stage Four is the band’s most harrowing and emotionally draining album, but conversely is perhaps their most emphatic, accessible, and melodic album to date. It is also their best. Unrelentingly honest and impassioned, this is what great post-hardcore should be and everything Touché Amoré has been building toward. – Morgan Roberts


32. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

It’s amazing how Danny Brown is still finding the most unique ways to rap over the most left field beats. I challenge you to find me a rapper that can rap over beats like ‘Ain’t It Funny’ or ‘When It Rain’, and still make it sound so good. We saw him take on some EDM sounds on his last album Old, but here the beats have spiralled completely out of control and there isn’t really a specific style that he’s going with. Perhaps that’s what he was trying to tell us with the opening track ‘Downward Spiral’, it’s a batshit insane album, and for the 3rd time, Danny Brown has completely blown me away. – Ryan Leith


33. Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos

Kate Tempest is surely one of the most fascinating, amazing artists of our generation, and watching the way her storytelling developed from Brand New Ancients to Everybody Down to The Bricks That Built the Houses was inspiring. In Let Them Eat Chaos, she departed from that narrative and into something more self-contained. It’s a beautiful, powerful story, but the thing that really stands out for me about it is the fidelity of the beat-making. Dan Carey has developed massively as a producer, and this is him at his level best. – Callum Davies


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