Let’s face it, it’s been a year of L’s.
With an excruciating election, a number of heartbreaking celebrity deaths and the lamest summer movies in recent memory dominating the news cycle, everyone has been eagerly waiting for the pain of 2016 to end.
But if anyone is walking away from this year with a ‘W’ it’s hip-hop fans.
Music in general has been the saving grace of 2016, but keeping up with hip-hop has certainly been the most fun.
Virtually everyone delivered, which is an amazing feat in the era of internet hype.
Wall to wall, 2016 hip-hop never let up, from Anderson Paak’s “Malibu” back in January, all the way up to Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love!” just recently on Dec. 1.
But first, let’s revisit that concept of internet hype, which had some high highs and low lows this year.
Hype plays into hip-hop so heavily, considering the popularity and universal coolness of being a hip-hop fan, that it establishes a monolith of all-time greats before anyone has a chance to keep up, let alone object.
Not to say that hype doesn’t also contribute to the fun of hip-hop.
The build-up to Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” and huddling around a laptop to stream the album premiere at Madison Square Garden will remain incredibly fond music memories, and were maybe more exciting than the payoff of the actual album.
But the intense hype surrounding the hip-hop community can be off-putting as well, which was evident in Drake’s “Views” and Frank Ocean’s “Blond.”
A never-ending Twitter feed of “this is the GOAT” tweets led to the realization that there was no way those albums were going to be as good as people made them out to be.
The quickness and ease of labeling something as “the best” made it hard to have a distinguishable opinion on those albums without outside interference.
“Views” fell flat and forgettable, and while “Blond” delivered, the hype it created for itself was nearly impossible to live up to.
That being said, most did not falter under the high pressures set in the current state of hip-hop.
YG’s “Still Brazy” brought a new party staple in “Why You Always Hatin’?” and a political outcry with “FDT.” Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book” blessed and soothed with religion and friendship and ScHoolboy Q’s “Blank Face LP” provided ambition in its sinister and psychedelic backdrop.
Freshmen came through as well: Noname, Lil Yachty, Kamaiyah and Swet Shop Boys all released their debut full-length projects this year.
Perhaps what’s most striking about 2016 hip-hop is that it became bigger than itself, not just in hype, but in genre.
Hip-hop isn’t synonymous with rap anymore. Previously mentioned “Malibu,” “Awaken, My Love!” and “Blond” certainly aren’t rap albums at all, but still were staples to hip-hop heads this year.
Danny Brown’s “Atrocity Exhibition” could double as an industrial rock album, while M.I.A.’s “AIM” ventured into experimental pop and included a feature from ex-One Direction member Zayn Malik.
Hip-hop has become the most popular genre in the world, and with that it has grown wider in scope and artistry.
It’s certainly the most talked about genre, which in turn makes it the easiest conversation starter.
Chance or Kanye can be topics of discussion in any setting, particularly among this generation, no matter how much the people involved have in common otherwise.
While it’s great that hip-hop can be so uniting, it’s hard not to believe that unity could be painted falsely.
Especially when the most significant aspect of this year was discovering intense division, no matter how much people believed it didn’t exist.
Laying out hip-hop in the context of 2016, AKA the year of Donald Trump, is revealing in that it emulated the roller coaster of emotions that was the election.
Chance mirrored hope, YG, disbelief and Danny Brown, fear, in that order both emotionally and by release dates.
Following that narrative, the most puzzling release of the year was A Tribe Called Quest’s “We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service,” which dropped exactly three days post-election.
It was their first album in 18 years, and followed the death of member Phife Dawg, who died in March.
The album was excellent, arguably the Tribe’s best, but the real question was, why now?
In some ways, it was exactly what people needed in those depressing days following Trump’s election.
It served as motivation, while also providing something to celebrate in the wake of losing.
More prominently, “Thank You 4 Your Service” epitomized what was to be learned from hip-hop this year; there’s always something to look forward to.
At the times when it seemed 2016 couldn’t get any more hopeless, a new album came out and offered a desperately needed ray of light.
Even when hype is off-putting, at least it’s always positive and hopeful.
That’s what’s so wonderful about hip-hop, not only do the fans know something better is coming, they demand it.
And that’s a pretty fitting attitude to say goodbye to a dreadful 2016 with.