Don’t get it twisted, the full-length album still matters.

Hip Hop is as competitive as it’s ever been, with rappers vying for great ratings and reviews, record sales streams and that coveted Grammy nomination. Whether they call them albums, albums-before-albums, LPs, EPs, projects or mixtapes, the attention to detail and time spent in production and mastering is at an all-time high.

Which is why we still love to give the great ones their just due. A lot of discussion and debate went into creating this Best Rap Albums of 2016 list, as several artists pushed the year-end deadline to the very last millisecond, but we’re confident in our picks and would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

20. J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only

Release Date: December 9, 2016
Label: Dreamville/Roc Nation/Interscope
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 1
Production Credits: J. Cole, Ron Gilmore, Elite, Boi-1da, Cardiak, Deputy, Frank Dukes, Childish Major, Vinylz, Peter Cottontale, Elijah Scarlett, Steve Lacy, Velous, Nico Segal, BLVK, Nate Fox, Nate Jones, Theo Croker

The ever-reserved J. Cole returned once again to his December 9 roots with another project his adoring fans didn’t get a chance to fully prepare themselves for, but were 100 percent ready to take on. Brandishing polished storytelling abilities (with the real-life account of “Neighbors” and the moving title track), the Villematic undoubtedly forgot a lot of the energy at home at Forest Hills Drive. Nonetheless, the succinct project was ripe for catalog building for one of the game’s current elites.

19. Danny Brown – Atrocity ExhibitioN

Release Date: September 27, 2016
Label: Warp
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 77
Production Credits: Paul White, Black Milk, The Alchemist, Playa Haze, Evian Christ, Petite Noir

Noisy, brash and at times totally bonkers, Danny Brown’s Warp debut fit perfectly with the label’s catalog and pushed the limits of how far experimental music could go while still keeping Hip Hop at its core. The 15-song project’s influences bounce from post-punk to electronic to industrial, while the Black Milk-produced “Really Doe” (which recruited Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt and Ab-Soul) showed how potent Danny could be while coloring in the lines.

18. A$AP Mob – Cozy Tapes Vol. 1

Release Date: October 31, 2016
Label: ASAP Worldwide/Polo Grounds/RCA
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 13
Production Credits: Cardo, Dun Deal, BLVCK VMISH, Plu2o Nash, DJ Smokey, Wavy Wallace, Hector Delgado, Lil Awree, Maaly Raw

Guided by its lead single and arguably one of the best videos of the year in “Yamborghini High,” each mob member rides their respective wave on this record. Flacko may be the undeniable center of attention, and strong guest verses from the likes of Tyler, The Creator, Wiz Khalifa, and a slew of ATLiens overshadow the Mob’s glowing fellowship, but with solid production and a focused agenda, the Harlemites ultimately make Yams proud with this project.

17. Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered.

Release Date: March 4, 2016
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment/Aftermath/Interscope
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 1
Production Credits: Cardo, DJ Khalil, Hit-Boy, Swizz Beatz, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Adrian Younge, DJ Spinz, Frank Dukes, Yung Exclusive, Astronote, Ritz Reynolds, Bizness Boi

A collected stash of B-sides from as far back as 2013, this 34-minute project is rough and at times unfurls at its edges, but Kendrick’s pen is still at its best on the jazzy instrumentation of “untitled 03,” and over a dope Godfather sample on “untitled 07.” Let’s get Top on the phone for another polished LP in the new year.

16. Mick Jenkins – The Healing Component

Release Date: September 23, 2016
Label: Cinematic
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 110
Production Credits: Kaytranada, Cam O’bi, BadBadNotGood, Sango, Monte Booker, Dpat, Rascal, THEMpeople, Atu, Dee Lilly

Yet another youngin’ shinin’ out of Southside Chicago, Mick makes his mark on THC with agile flows and spacey production from the likes of Kaytranada and Soulection’s Sango. Drowning in a Hunter-S.-Thompson-sized scrip sheet, the MC crafts a well-rounded project that navigates notions of love, blind faith, and violence from the POV of young, black America.

15. Various – The Hamilton Mixtape

Release Date: December 2, 2016
Label: Atlantic
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 1
Production Credits: The Roots, !llmind, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mike Elizondo, Ben Folds, Trooko

Lin-Manuel Miranda and a staggering 36 collaborators brought his musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton to wax for the masses that couldn’t see it on stage. The mixtape was at once a captivating ride through American history and a relevant testament to our current turbulent political landscape.

14. Ka – Honor Killed The Samurai

Release Date: August 13, 2016
Label: Iron
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: N/A
Production Credits: Ka

This middle-aged firefighter received praise from Millennial and Gen X rap aficionados of the lyric-focused underground rap sub-genre. Honor Killed the Samurai consisted of Ka’s laconic vocal delivery that matched the album’s dark sauntering beats and his descriptions of the pitch-black, crime-stricken concrete jungle of Brownsville, Brooklyn.

13. De La Soul – and The Anonymous Nobody

Release Date: August 26, 2016
Label: A.O.I./Kobalt
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 12
Production Credits: De La Soul, The Anonymous Nobodies, Pete Rock, Supa Dave West, Kaveh Rastegar, Money Mark, Dave Palmer, Davey Chegwidden, Jordan Katz, Ethan Phillips, Joshua Matthew Lopez

This Kickstarter-funded project proved to be a victory for the legendary trio. Boasting a rainbow spectrum of collaboration choices from artists such as Jill Scott, Usher, Snoop Dogg, 2 Chainz and former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, De La continued their legacy of keeping fans “plugged” into their signature eclecticism and cryptic wordplay.

12. Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade

Release Date: September 2, 2016
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 17
Production Credits: Dave Free, Mike WiLL Made-It, Cam O’bi, J. LBS, Steve Lacy, FrancisGotHeat, Crooklin, The Antydote, DZONYBEATS, Al B. Smoov, Carter Lang, Tiggi, Chris Calor, D. Sanders, Pluss Pops, Deacon Blues, D.K. the Punisher, Free P, Jowin Park Ave

On Tirade, Spottie consistently measures his humble Tennessee upbringing against his new-found fame with accessible punchlines and crooning comparable to Curren$y. His occasional outbursts and sedative-induced flow over a range of blues-tinged and distorted production exhibit the TDE rapper’s determination to keep rising to the summit of the mountain.

11. T.I. – Us Or Else: Letter To The System

Release Date: December 16, 2016
Label: Grand Hustle, Roc Nation
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: N/A
Production Credits: Mars, Mike & Keys, Lil C, MP808, Trev Case, Deputy, The Pusha Beats and more

T.I. added personal depth to his Us Or Else EP for his most well-rounded album since Paper Trail. Letter To The System is filled with witty political commentary and authentic reflections over Southern-fried production.

10. The Game – 1992

Release Date: October 14, 2016
Label: Blood Money/eOne
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 4
Production Credits: Bongo, Cool & Dre, Scott Storch, Terrace Martin, SAP, Phonix, Tycoon, JP Did This 1, The Chemists Create, Drumz & Rosez

On the surface, 1992’s biggest story will always be the promotional run that involved The Game beefing with Meek Mill. Behind that lies another fantastic album from the man who just last year put out two amazing albums with The Documentary 2 and The Documentary 2.5. His days in the major label system may be over, but Game proves his rapping ability still prevails past the machine.

09. Travis Scott – Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight

Release Date: September 2, 2016
Label: Grand Hustle/Epic
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 1
Production Credits: Boi-1da, Mike Dean, TM88, Cardo, Hit-Boy, Honorable C.N.O.T.E., Vinylz, T-Minus, WondaGurl, Frank Dukes, Cashmere Cat, Sy Ari Da Kid, Yung Exclusive, Ricci Riera, Nav, Cubeatz, Murda Beatz, dF, Allen Ritter, TEAUXNY, Nisi, Evian Christ, Daxz, Illa Jones Mel & Mus, OZ Rogét, Chahayed, Travis Scott

2015 was supposed to be the major mainstream breakout for Travis Scott, and despite Rodeo being a solid project, it didn’t garner enough attention to send him into the big leagues. BITTSM is a different beast that also provided one of 2016’s biggest hits in “Pick Up the Phone,” featuring Quavo and a scene-stealing verse from Young Thug. Beyond that, the rapper/producer gets even grander with his production.

08. YG – Still Brazy

Release Date: June 17, 2016
Label: 400/CTE/Def Jam
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 6
Production Credits: Ty Dolla $ign, Hit-Boy, Kamaiyah, Larrance Dopson of 1500 or Nothin’, Terrace Martin, P-Lo, Swish, CT Beats, YG

A touch of paranoia is added to YG’s smooth menace as he once again rides a commanding flow over bouncy production. Getting shot and becoming famous will do that to a man, but the bool, balm and bollected rapper turned it into excellence. See the politically incorrect “FDT” or radio-ready streetness of “Why You Always Hatin?” and “Twist My Fingaz” for direct examples.

07. Ab-Soul – Do What Thou Wilt.

Release Date: December 9, 2016
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 34
Production Credits: Mike WiLL Made-It, WondaGurl, Willie B., Sounwave, Tae Beast, Antydote, A$AP P on the Boards, Skhye Hutch, Rahki, FrancisGotHeat, Bentley Haze, DJ FU, Juice of All Trades, PakkMusicGroup, Tommy Black

After These Days…, it seemed like Ab-Soul was destined to play the bench while his Top Dawg Entertainment brethren Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q drifted into mainstream prominence. After Do What Thou Wilt. came out, those worries were put to rest thanks to one of the boldest (and most confusing) statements from an MC we heard all year.

06. ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP

Release Date: July 8, 2016
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment/Interscope
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 2
Production Credits: Metro Boomin, Swizz Beatz, Tyler, The Creator, Cardo, Southside, The Alchemist, DJ Dahi, Frank Dukes, Yung Exclusive, Dem Jointz, Sounwave, Larrance Dopson of 1500 or Nothin’, J.LBS, Tae Beast, Willie B, Cubeatz, Nez & Rio, Tony Russell

The crown jewel of TDE’s impressive 2016 campaign, Quincy paired his 72-minute gangsta rap marathon with an equally jarring trilogy of short films. Sentimental in its delivery of delinquency, Blank Face dives deep into stories both old and new from the groovy Crip, utilizing stark wordplay and a strong compilation of collabs from the likes of Yeezus and E-40 to produce Q’s strongest project to date.

05. Royce Da 5’9 – Layers

Release Date: April 15, 2016
Label: Bad Half Entertainment
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 22
Production Credits: Mr. Porter, DJ Khalil, S1, Jake One, Nottz, AntMan Wonder, DJ Pain 1, Epikh, Daniel Smith, G Koop, J. Rhodes

Barrages of boom bap and poetic prowess prove as pillars for the Motor City MC, and after a five-year hiatus on the solo front, Royce came back with Layers to solidify his rhyme-spitting reign. Oscillating between narratives of family life and big-picture problems, his hyperactive delivery leaves this project chock-full of lyrical gems, checking off all the boxes of a well-structured rap record. The album dropped on Tax Day and Nickel came correct to collect.

04. Kaytranada – 99.9%

Release Date: May 6, 2016
Label: XL Recordings/HW&W
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 73
Production Credits: Kaytranada

With the bloody summer and political unrest dividing much of the country in 2016, a sampling auteur from Montreal brought us together under one groove. The debut album from Kaytranada was a kaleidoscopic blend of synth pop, neo-soul and modern funk sensibilities, with low-end bass drum kicks that made b-boys, hipsters, and artsy fashion boutique shoppers dance their way through the second half of 2016.

03. Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo

Release Date: February 14, 2016
Label: Good Music/Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 1
Production Credits: Boi-1da, Rick Rubin, Noah Goldstein, Mike Dean, Chance The Rapper, Metro Boomin, Swizz Beatz, Frank Dukes, Karriem Riggins, Madlib, Havoc, Menace, Caroline Shaw, Plain Pat, Sinjin Hawke, Cashmere Cat, Southside, Hudson Mohawke, Velous, Charlie Heat, Darren King, Benji B, Allen Ritter, DJ Dodger Stadium (DJDS), Derek Watkins, Andrew Dawson, Anthony Kilhoffer, Mitus, Sevn Thomas, Trevor Gureckis, Charlie Handsome

The grandiose spectacle that was the Pablo rollout at Madison Square Garden stands as somewhat of an addendum considering ‘Ye’s tumultuous end to 2016. But even after getting Hip Hop’s hopes up with promises of 40 features from K. Dot to Thugga, ditching the latter part of his tour for a psych-ward stint, and befriending The Donald (just to name a few), Yeezy’s seventh solo album remains his greatest creative contribution of the year.

A contemporary smorgasbord of sounds, guests, and videos, Pablo hyperactively depicts Ye’s reality while also paying homage to the many styles he’s championed over the years. Projected here in his fullest form, Ye morphs into the “old Kanye” on “Real Friends” and “30 Hours,” the moody maestro on “Wolves” and “FML,” and even the poppy hashtag rapper on “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Highlights.” Pablo proves that no matter how manic the life or thoughts of Mr. West may be, his influence and ability to shape the culture of music remains ever-present.

02. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

Release Date: November 11, 2016
Label: Epic/SME
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 1
Production Credits: Q-Tip & Blair Wells

In what was a mostly dark 2016, Hip Hop saw a ray of light with the release of A Tribe Called Quest’s swan song. Complete with new bars from the late, great Phife Dawg, the album gave us a sense of hope in the midst of political strife and social injustices. Tribe’s sixth studio LP perfectly wove nostalgia — with features from Busta Rhymes and Consequence — with the new school, enlisting Kendrick Lamar for a verse. There was even an appearance from the elusive André 3000. With everything flowing so effortlessly, it’s hard to imagine there was ever any strife between Q-Tip and the Five Foot Assassin. The production, the lyricism, the heart were all here.

Album Of The Year: Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

Release Date: May 13, 2016
Label: What’s a record label?
Highest Billboard 200 Chart Position: 8 (plus a nomination for Best Rap Album at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards)
Production Credits: Kanye West, Francis and the Lights, Kaytranada, The Social Experiment, Lido, Cam O’bi, Peter Cottontale, Brasstracks, GARREN, Stix, CBMIX, Jordan Ware, Rascal

He came, he saw, he colored.

It takes quite a scribe to out-church Kanye “Jesus Walks” West, but Lil Chano From 79th evoked the gospel preached on “Ultralight Beam” and reaped blessings with his improperly labeled “mixtape,” Coloring Book. It became the first album to chart on the Billboard 200 solely due to streams, paving the way for another unprecedented distinction with its Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Album.

But those were just post-splash appendices, and the story written in granite will show how Chance The Rapper created a unique moment that momentarily protected Young Thug and Lil Yachty from slander, brought T-Pain and Kirk Franklin to the same pulpit on the rousing “Finish Line / Drown” and had shook A&Rs second-guessing that record label pitch out of fear for dreadheads in the lobby.

Although it hasn’t always been the case in years past, HipHopDX’s top-rated rap album of 2016 is also our Album of the Year.


Check out more of DX’s year-end content below.

The 2016 HipHopDX Year-End Awards

The 20 Best Rap Albums Of 2016

The Best R&B Of 2016

The Best Mixtapes Of 2016

The Most Slept-On Rap Albums Of 2016

The 50 Best Songs Of 2016

The 50 Most Lit Songs Of 2016

The Steve Lobel “We Working” Artist Of The Year

The Worst Rap Albums Of 2016

Remembering Those We Lost In 2016