We’ve reached the point of the year when memes and hashtags start to sum things up, and it looks like the internet’s consensus is that 2016 was “trash.” While that may be true in the sense of politics, social issues and international affairs, that sentiment does not apply to this year’s musical landscape. Chock full of pleasant surprises, healthy debates and record-breaking successes, 2016 in music has arguably been one of the best of this decade. Here’s who the major players were, from the controversial to the downright legendary, discussed by experts and some of the industry’s major players.
In 2016, A Seat at the Table was purely necessary, but I didn’t fully realize just how therapeutic it really was for me. When I went through that unfortunate incident with the 76ers, I realized that [the album] was all I listened to for the entire week. I’ve been around and experienced racism and injustice, especially growing up in the South. Reflecting on what happened, I was angry but I put things into perspective thanks to Solange. She did that for many of us this year.
There couldn’t have been something more perfect than this album. It was so proud and unapologetic and gave us strength as Black folks. For non-Black individuals who haven’t gone through the situations being spoken about, it may have helped them digest things a bit more. That’s the power of music.
We needed something that was inclusive of the entire Black community, too, and I thought Master P and Lil Wayne’s contributions were absolutely genius. It’s that type of thing that lets Black men know they, too, have a seat at the table. It made us want to wrap our arms around them as Black women even more. When you hear their stories and understand how this world sometimes lumps all Black men together, it’s refreshing for Solange to let them know it’s OK to keep shining in your melanin. It doesn’t matter if you have candy paint on your rims or golds in your mouth — keep shining.
– Sevyn Streeter, Singer and Songwriter (as told to Diamond Alexis)
Looking at it from my point of view, what Lil Wayne did in 2016 was great, but not where his previous years were.
He was dealing with a lot of business and gearing up for what he’s bringing in 2017 sonically and the projects he’s got going on. Of course, we’ll be [in the studio with him]. Anything Wayne works on, rest assured Cool & Dre are gonna have something crazy on there. We’ve been cutting records and he has so much music already. With Wayne, he always has such an amazing catalog of stuff that hasn’t been released, where he can go through the music and cut a batch of new stuff and put together an amazing project.
He doesn’t really let a lot of people come up with melodies and hooks on his music and with us he gave the green light. We’ll send him a couple of beats and one with a hook or melody or an idea, and then he takes it from there and brings it to life. He doesn’t do that with a lot of people. With some artists, we’re kind of in the studio for the whole process and we have done that in the past with Wayne.
Now that he has a grasp on the things that took place this year and is handling it all, he’s been gearing up for an amazing 2017-2018. I’m just excited for him, because he’s our brother and we’re just glad that we’re a part of it.
– Cool (of Cool & Dre), Producer (as told to Kathy Iandoli)
A lot of times we give artists credit for just maintaining. They’ll come out, drop a few projects, make some kind of impact, but never actually evolve as far as their art. They don’t take things to another level. Rae Sremmurd has. I’ve been watching Rae Sremmurd from the beginning. Mike Will put them on my radar before they were even signed. Since then, they’ve grown and took things to another level as far as the music they're making and their personalities, even Mike Will’s production.
They’re definitely in the front of the leaders of the new school. There ain’t too many groups in hip-hop, like real real groups of guys that come out the gate. Instead, you see all of these pairings like Future and Drake, 2 Chainz and Wayne. They’re showing and proving by acts and deeds not words and lip service. Their résumé is speaking for itself right now, especially with “Black Beatles.”
As with all groups, there’s talk about going solo, but I would like to see them stay together even if they decide to drop solo projects. I’d like to see them get involved in TV and movies, too. I’ve been trying get them to do some things for a few years now but somebody kind of beat me to it. But I’d love to see them do a Project X type movie or a fun reality show like Mac Miller used to have with his crew. They’ve got so much to offer the game.
– Charlamagne Tha God, Radio and Television Personality (as told to Ashley Monaé)
The first word that comes to mind when describing DJ Khaled’s 2016 is "major" but for the sake of not plagiarizing Khaled, I would have to say abundant.
His blessings were overflowing since the day he decided to use Snapchat and deliver daily comedy mixed with motivational mantras the internet didn't know it needed. Got haters? Tell "they" to exit. Too lazy to exercise? Khaled is Snapping while sweating it on the treadmill. Want to watch Khaled water his flowers, drop gems from a hammock and yell "lion order" at every lion statue he owns? He had all of that and kept Snapchat users coming back for more by simply documenting his life daily, which not only made him more relatable (who doesn't love cocoa butter and weekly massages?) but an aspirational muse.
Khaled’s incessant optimism is admirable. It took 10 years for him to be considered "successful" by social media standards (following the plethora of magazine covers, a book, endorsement deals), but he has always orchestrated massive street hits and can translate his diverse musical tastes (R&B, reggae) into hip-hop terms with ease.
Again, it may have taken him a decade but he finally received all the #fanluv he deserves without being bitter, at least in the public eye, about it. Khaled keeps his brand positive 24/7 and is always equally grateful for every blessing and obstacle. That's especially necessary in a generation that lets likes on social media dictate self-worth.
– Adelle Platon, Writer and Editor at Billboard, Co-Founder, hersweat
D.R.A.M. has not only been on playlists this year like "Most Necessary," "Rap Caviar," "Are & Be," "Channel X," "Love Sex & Water," "Hip Hop Central" (in Canada)...the man has also been featured on playlist covers.
The song "Broccoli" was a big hit on playlists ranging from "Rap Caviar" to "Teen Party." The song appeared on "Rap Caviar" in early April for a good chunk of the year because it did so well amongst listeners. It turned into a No. 1 record so it had an extended shelf-life. It's still popping on "Get Turnt Up" to today.
I met D.R.A.M. in L.A. at my prior job through his manager, Tunde, when he dropped his #1EpicSummer mixtape. And then "Cha Cha" started to blow up around the time I started at Spotify, so he came by a few times. He has an electric personality and immeasurable passion and lights up the Spotify offices and studios every time he visits.
My favorite D.R.A.M. moment of 2016 was watching him and Erykah Badu perform at the Soul Train Awards. I was watching from an airplane seat and didn't have headphones so there wasn't any volume. However, the chemistry and body language was so strong that I could feel the passion without headphones.
– Tuma Basa, Head of Hip-Hop at Spotify (as told to KC Orcutt)
Do I think Teyana was slept on? Definitely. This is someone who I’ve known for years, so to see her out here on the road and doing so incredible many things and get no support or attention has been unfortunate. But she’s she’s always had the talent. There’s no denying it. Even with the “Fade” video, that talent has always been there. We all saw her giving us Lil’ Kim on VH1 Honors — she killed that!
It’s the world that just now caught up in 2016. And at the end of the day, being an amazing mother is just something added to her portfolio. There are so many different levels and parallels with Teyana from acting and modeling to dance and fitness. This year she woke people up. From her new DJ Mustard-produced record featuring Chris Brown, her new fitness line and collaborative sneakers with Reebok, [her daughter] has her own baby head wrap line — all of these things make her an outstanding businesswoman in addition to the music. She’s still going to be that entrepreneur, whether people can see that or not. I’m just happy that this year she got eyes on her that she rightfully deserves. I could go on and on about Teyana.
– Karen Civil, Industry and Media Maven, Owner of KarenCivil.com and LiveCivil.com (as told to Diamond Alexis)
One of the dope things about The Life of Pablo was how Kanye released it. I thought it was very unique how one day you'd be listening to something and then the next day you’d listen to it again and it's got a new hook or verse. I think that perspective of allowing people to be in the studio with him, so to speak, was brilliant. That's the difference between Kanye and somebody else that's just putting rhymes together and making a song. No artist has ever done that, that I've known.
Kanye always brings attention to everything, he's an extremist and very detail-oriented. For him to work with different artists, such as Kirk Franklin, and seeing what he does with them is just incredible. As someone who knows how hard he's worked and has actually worked with him, it's awesome to see somebody that’s so passionate about what they do and still be super successful at it. It's also very refreshing because it's not a lot of people that have that drive or even are brave enough to express themselves like he does. Everybody wants to play it safe for the most part.
All I know is he's brilliant and he's gotten us through a lot of points in our lives. Whether it was studying or working out or doing music or simply being inspired, he's been there for us. He's been somewhat of an influence all across the board.
– My Guy Mars, Musical Director and Producer (as told to KC Orcutt)
Frank Ocean’s 2016 was one hell of a return. His absence was so loud in that everybody wanted to see how he could follow the critical acclaim that he already garnered. And because he stays away from the spotlight so much, it only added to that mystery behind what he possibly could be working on. And at a time when we have artists that drop a mixtape every month or even five songs a month, it was refreshing to see somebody who said, “I just wanna chill and take my time with this.”
I also thought the Apple Music rollout was interesting. He was shrewd about [the business] behind it. Nobody really knows what happened, and you have these anonymous sources that are putting out this information that only makes him look like a mastermind who managed to escape his mythical label — this giant powerhouse in music — and come out “independent” in this way that made it seem like he outsmarted the system. It made him more of a rebellious, evil genius of a musician who only loves the art and doesn’t love the business.
The good thing about Frank Ocean is that no one ever knows what’s next. When he dropped Endless, people thought that was it. Then he dropped Blonde the next day. So it’s hard to predict. But I think 2017 is going to be a good year of touring for him. We already had these leaks of the festival lineups that he’s going to be on.
– Andres Tardio, Music Journalist and Photographer (as told to Kathy Iandoli)
As someone who has known him since he was performing as Breezy Lovejoy in people's garages, I think 2016 has obviously been the most important year in Anderson .Paak's career.
Literally the day after Compton dropped, he deleted his Facebook because it was just too much. All of a sudden, he was no longer on our friends lists. That definitely signified the moment where it all changed.
I'm not surprised whatsoever with his success. It's just been a long time coming. He was always the artist who blew people's minds away. Not only was he an incredibly talented musician and performer, but he'd get on the drums and sing at the same time, and people hadn't seen that before, especially not in the L.A. underground where he was coming up. He's been doing since this since the days of MySpace and not much has changed.
His live performances are still unbelievable. He doesn't turn down the opportunity to put on a show, big or small. He's performed at nearly every festival you can imagine this year. He did a European tour, too. His devotion to making sure that everyone around the world knows him is admirable. He's not just doing SXSW so his brand goes up in that market. It's apparent that he's more focused on sharing his gifts whenever he can and wherever he can.
– Amanda Mester, Editor at Ambrosia For Heads (as told to KC Orcutt)
There was the idea that Acid Rap should have been nominated for a Grammy. So over the last few years, there’s been people who were pushing for this. I certainly think that we are at a time where young people have taken the tools of democratized technology and have begun to re-imagine what the world can and should look like. In some ways, his Grammy nomination is emblematic of that. It’s Chance and his team developing a strategy to circumnavigate multi-national companies in order to render them obsolete.
Part of what Chance represents and part of who he is is someone who is culturally free. He’s exploring and experimenting in a lot of different genres, because that’s just where his interest is taking him. Of course he’s a rapper, but you could argue that Coloring Book is also a gospel record; it’s also a soul record.
He has an incredibly gigantic imagination. I think that, even in a small space, we’ve seen what his stage show could be. I’m sure at some point we’ll see theatrical productions, more films. There isn’t a ceiling and I think there isn’t a ceiling because he’s put himself in a situation, and around a community, that encourages that kind of radical imagining. He’s been encouraged his whole life, and continues to be encouraged, to invest in his imagination. And I think that’s a powerful thing.
– Kevin Coval, Chicago Poet, Author and Cultural Activist (as told to Iyana Robertson)
It’s cliché to say they’ve had a great year because that’s why we’re talking about them. It’s the fact that they’re all unique to themselves and were able to break through. That’s commendable in itself. They all represent something different. There’s no comparing one to another, which is how it should be.
People can say whatever about Desiigner but there’s no denying “Panda.” Beyond the catchiness of “OOUU,” the comfort Young M.A has in who she is and what she represents means a lot. She’s authentic and a spitter. As much as I don’t like to put New York rappers in a box, my personal taste is a spitter [laughs]. So I love to see someone like her come out and really put bars together. Dave East too. A-Boogie knows how to make a good record and making music that connects with people is what it’s all about at the end of the day.
You don’t want anybody fronting. You’ve got to be your authentic self and that’s what New York rappers should be about more than anything. It’s not about putting everyone in a box and saying that everyone should be a spitter and rap to Premier beats. Honestly, that’s not how everyone from New York grew up nor their experiences.
This group feels exciting. I’m interested to see how they evolve. Will Dave East make a mass appeal crossover record? Can M.A grow from a singular record? The possibilities are endless. It’s up to them.
– Angie Martinez, Radio Personality and Author (as told to Ashley Monaé)
Meek’s 2016 in music was what we needed from him. I definitely think DC4 was his strongest comeback after all of the adversity with Drake, The Game and 50 Cent in addition to all the other social media stuff. Plus, he’s one of the top rappers in the game right now.
To have to go in every venue, every club, every radio station and hear “Back to Back” being played, literally, back-to-back and people jumping in your mentions talking wild, that had to be hard. I don’t care what hood you’re from or how you move in the streets, he still musically rose above all of it. With the album, he seemed like he was back to finding his balance. And, of course, going from the streets of Philly to being with Nicki [Minaj] and mentioned among hip-hop elites humbled him in a way that helped him find that balance. My biggest hope for Meek was that he wouldn’t end up as another Ja Rule. But I do want the good old Philly Meek to take storm again. The same Meek that smashed hip-hop [with “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)”].
Now there’s only more space and opportunity for him to keep that momentum. Stop worrying about social media Ls; stop worrying about anything that has to do with Drake. Leave all of the controversy behind and just surpass, Meek. That’s what made DC4 such a solid comeback — the ability to bounce back from how they attempted to humiliate him.
– Buzy Baker, HotNewHipHop Correspondent, Host of Dash Radio's 'For The Culture With Baker' (as told to Diamond Alexis)
Gucci Mane is one of the most authentic artists from the original wave of trap music in the early 2000s. Between his work ethic, street legend persona and antics, coupled with undeniably infectious music and his "children" and cohorts keeping his name alive, his return was worth the wait.
From day one, Gucci has been an animated figure but someone you probably wouldn't want to play around with. He gave us radio hits, street classics, club bangers and so much more. The proof in this is hearing how many other artists who cite him as an inspiration while making a spectrum of music.
Other than his interview on Power 105's Breakfast Club, my favorite Gucci Mane moment of 2016 would be his Snapchat takeover or him getting engaged at the Hawks game then announcing the union to be on 10/17/17. Very Gucci of him.
This year was definitely make or break for him. And we saw Gucci, a legend who went a very long time without getting his just due, finally have his unique and colorful past accepted by mainstream media and even fashion.
– Kolby Turnher, Contributor to Vashtie.com and Media Consultant (as told to KC Orcutt)
It’s impossible for me to separate Tribe’s reunion and reappearance in 2016 from a few key events. The first would be the election of Donald Trump and the fact that there’s this incredible synchronicity between the stuff they were recording before dude was even elected and the fact that they debuted this work on national television on Saturday Night Live right after he was elected with Dave Chappelle hosting. The songs they performed were so evocative of the times. It felt God-ordained.
Even 18 years later, they’re right on time. It’s helped me understand how important [A Tribe Called Quest] were and are even more. I’m getting [college] student papers now on Tribe, and they help me understand things more. While many groups were sampling jazz, it was really their aesthetic that became the dominant in the ‘90s. Without them, we wouldn’t have Pete Rock or J Dilla or Talib Kweli and the Soulquarians.
The second is Phife’s death that’s the ghost present in the room. Thirdly, I’ve been writing a book on mise-en-place and have become friendly with Jarobi, answering the mystery of who he was and why he was there and why he wasn’t there. It felt good to see him rhyming on TV. And yet it was bittersweet because their brother is not with them.
– Dan Charnas, Author, The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop (as told to Kathy Iandoli)
When I watched Lemonade, I saw Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Audre Lorde’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens. I think womanism shifted attention to Black women as knowledge producers. The hashtag #LemonadeSyllabus, which was started by Candice Benbow, provided a space “for Black women to share the works of art, history and literature that came to mind or informed their reading of the visual album.” This for me was the beauty of Lemonade and its significance. It visualized the works of our foremothers and connected that with the works of our current thinkers.
While the issues explored in Lemonade are ones that all women experience, they were particular to Black women. From Malcom X saying “the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman” over “Don't Hurt Yourself” to including the Black mothers of Black people killed at the hands of police brutality to using the words of Warsan Shire, Lemonade was for us.
I personally have chosen to not set an expectation for Beyoncé. So I haven’t really put much thought into what I want to see from her. As a Black woman creator, I think there are so many expectations on her from all sides. She is struggling with misogynoir and anti-Blackness in all facets while also struggling to prove that she is indeed Black enough and woke enough. It is important that, as a Black woman who is familiar with this struggle, I do not add my own expectations.
– Bilphena Yahwon, Owner and Curator of goldwomyn.com, Author of teaching gold-mah how to heal herself (as told to Diamond Alexis)
This year was interesting for Drake. I think his beef with Hot 97 made radio more relevant to how artists view radio, because he wasn’t necessarily saying “F**k Hot 97,” but in not so many words he was. Here he is, the biggest artist arguably in hip-hop, worried about what our station’s saying about him. That shows [radio] is still an important opinion — whereas someone could have argued that it wasn’t, but it has to stand for something if he’s worried. It was a weird position when it happened because people were wondering if we’d sink or swim. But in this type of situation, it’s really just publicity. People were tuned in to hear what we were going to say, and Hot’s not going to change. We still play Drake’s records.
I’m interested to see where Drake goes from here. If this year was a sign of anything, people are looking to see him fall. As sad as this is, everyone’s interested in watching someone getting dethroned. I wouldn’t be super shocked if someone took a shot at him next year and maybe actually succeeded in making him “less cool.” But there’s also the chance that he’s so high up that he can’t be touched. Reference tracks leaked proving he didn’t write these songs and it literally did nothing to him. What could really hurt him at this point? Maybe he’ll have another crazy year and keep breaking records. It could go either way, but I think he’ll be all right.
– Marisa Mendez, Media Personality and Digital Producer at Hot 97 (as told to Kathy Iandoli)