A Year In review: 9 Hip Hop Artists Who’ve Had A Breakthrough 2016
By Anton Constantinou
From the charts to the headlines, 2016 has proved to be a massive for hip hop music on a popular scale
This year has seen the release of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo and Drake’s Views, along with further albums from Anderson Paak and the Flatbush Zombies. There has also been comebacks from Tribe, Master Ace, De La Soul, J-Zone, and a J Dilla reissue in the form of The Diary.
Some might describe 2016 as the year of the “singing rapper”. Sure, rappers have been singing hooks for decades, but never to the level that we’re seeing now. During the 90s it was the job of D’Angelo, Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah and other such R&B stars to inject a little soul into tracks, but these days rappers like Fetty Wap and Post Malone seem more than willing to go it on their own. And by switching it up, them and others have made the music form increasingly more experimental.
This year alone has seen Beyonce drop a country song, Kanye go gospel and Rihanna try her hand at neo soul, rock and dancehall, with the drop of Anti. Danny Brown and ScHoolboy Q have also opted for an avant-garde approach, incorporating elements of psychedelia into their respective albums, Atrocity Exhibition and Blank Face.
Unlikely as it is that hip hop will return to the controversy of the Death Row years, 2016 has not been without its share of bad news. On March 22nd former Tribe Called Quest member, Phife Dawg, was pronounced dead, following a lifelong battle with diabetes. Three months later, Lil Wayne got rushed to hospital after a seizure on a flight. Kid Cudi’s seeking of medical attention in October for depression and suicidal urges has communicated a softening side to rap, as regards to mental health. Just recently, Kanye West was committed for hallucinations and paranoia, and subsequently had to cancel his Saint Pablo tour.
Between the big releases and the suffering, however, various new artists have emerged. Here at Highlight Nation, we’re all about up and coming talent, and nine rappers in particular, who’ve broken through this year, have shown potential to be just that.
With over ten mixtapes to his name by the end of last year, Gates’ first studio album, Islah, wasn’t so much a breakthrough as a confirmation of his stake in the game.
Originally down for a December 2015 release, it was pushed back a month, allowing him to kick off 2016 on a high. Islah, meaning “to make better” in Arabic, is characterised by catchy melodies and an assortment of moods, ranging violence, to determination and hedonism. On release it hit number 2 on the Billboard 200, and produced a total of four singles: Kno One, Really Really, 2 Phones and Time for That.
The man from Louisiana, believe it or not, has his own range of energy drinks. Just last month, he announced the release of a pineapple flavour. Expect plenty of zest from the rapper in 2017.
While not the first member of Odd Future to go solo, Domo sounds decidedly different to Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt.
Less eerie and easier on the ear, his first studio album, self-titled, Genesis, which dropped in March, is filled to the brim with soul.
Awkward Groove gets things started with melodic singing from Samantha Nelson and Carmel Echols. Go picks it up in the middle, and includes guest appearances from Tyler, Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J. Lost and Found rounds the album off nicely with generous helpings of jazz and a sentiment of “changing dreams”.
Lil Uzi Vert
For a 22 year old, Lil Uzi Vert did terrifically well to be named on Complex’s XXL Freshman list for 2016.
Described by Spin magazine as “articulately charismatic” and a “natural entertainer”, he’s dropped not one but two mixtapes this year, each with a whole host of producers on board.
Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World is a melting pot of off-beat melodies and cheery synths, while the Perfect Luv Tape gives us more of a spiritual insight to Vert’s repertoire.
Atlanta has given us many rappers down the years, and one of latest mouths from the south is MadeinTYO: a 24 year old recording artist whose April debut release, You Are Forgiven contains the laid back breakthrough hit ‘Uber everywhere’. The track has just recently been certified platinum by the recording industry association of America. His name, which stands for made in Tokyo, derives from the years he spent living there as a teenager.
Back in January, we touched on Isaiah Rashad’s new single, Smile and asked whether it would pave the way for a studio album. Well, that question was answered in September with the launch of The Sun’s Tirade.
On it, the Tennessee rapper alternates between self discovery and self loathing, questioning his own family ties and former addictions. He’ll be touring The States in early 2017, so if you’re there, be sure to hit up one of his gigs.
Here in the UK, a certain Tottenham MC has been making waves with his experimental debut EP, FYO (Fuck Your Opinion).
Following the album’s arrival in April, it’s received airplay on BBC Radio’s 1 and 1xtra, and is produced entirely by RAF Riley – the same guy who’s remixed tracks for Labrinth, Plan B and Usher.
Avelino has a smooth, mellow voice well suited to the dreamy sounding beats set before him. Wedged somewhere between the grime and trap movements, he possesses a unique a voice and a rhyming ability which harnesses its strength through a laid black flow.
The first female on our list – and a pretty talented one that.
The free soul they call Noname is both a hip hop artist and a poet, who first caught the attention of the media by appearing on a Chance the Rapper mixtape in 2013.
Her own debut release, Telefone, came out just recently in July and is beautiful to listen to. The title of album refers to a series of pivotal telephone conversations she’s had growing up which have carried her into adulthood.
It’s bleak, emotional, and very much centered on the pains of a black woman. Lovers of slam poetry are encouraged to check her out.
Anyone who’s collaborated with the Four Owls has gotta have a good thing going. Enter Ocean Wisdom – an up and coming UK rapper with a boom bap flow and a fondness for black clothing.
His double-time rapping has earned him a reputation as an artist who can spit fast but still remain meaningful. We reckon he’s a bit like a cross between JME and Wu Tang.
Chaos 93, his breakthrough release this year, is old and new sounding at the same time. On the one hand, it’s your typical 90s New York release: dark, bass heavy, rhyme centred. On the other hand, his choice of locations for his music videos, coupled with the featuring artists on the album, remind you that his roots are very much in 21st century Britain.
Wisdom may owe his success to a moment of stardom on YouTube, but his music speaks to a time long before the rise of video-sharing.
Third on our list of London rappers is artist who, from a young age, was regularly exposed hip hop and decided to do something about it. In Capo Lee’s case, music runs in the family – his dad was a mic man and his uncle, a ragga artist, so could say he was destined to follow in their steps.
Capo got into emceeing the old way – by starting out as a DJ. What began with the odd bar or two behind the decks, soon turned into a hobby. Testing his skills alongside the likes of Black the Ripper, Scorcher and Chip, Capo then got into making songs, eventually dropping his big track, Liff, in late 2015.
Still riding high of the success of Liff, Capo kicked off 2016 with the suitably titled, Mud – a down and dirty grime joint, with a badass intro, and supporting bars from D Double E. Check out the video, below:
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