Admit it, 2016 is one of the best years in hip-hop we’ve had in a long time. It started in January, when sleeper star Kevin Gates unleashed his debut album, Islah, to critical acclaim. Combining his slick songwriting chops with his unorthodox subject matter, Gates made one of the best major label debuts we’ve seen in years.
But it wasn’t long before Kanye West swooped in with The Life of Pablo, his first album since 2013’s polarizing Yeezus. Safe to say his new shit is getting a much better reception than his last album; Chance kills his verse on the first track so how could hip-hop heads hate it?
Kendrick Lamar followed soon after with a surprise project full of throwaway sessions from To Pimp a Butterfly, some of which make you move and some of which make you stop in your tracks.
But major label artists aside, independent hip-hop is in a great space right now. Flatbush Zombies outsold some of your favorite rappers with their official debut full-length 3001: A Laced Odyssey, Denzel Curry is busting heads down in Florida with Imperial, Young Dolph‘s got Memphis on lock, Elzhi is spinning weaves of rhyme patterns more intricate than a spider’s web and tons of other rappers are making incredible music on their own.
So with the first three months of the year in the books, XXL circles back to highlight some of the biggest projects of 2016 so far, along with some lesser known joints that you need to put in rotation ASAP. If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.