10. Isaiah Rashad
Isaiah Rashad could have been on this list a lot earlier. During the press tour for his excellent debut LP The Sun’s Tirade, Rashad confirmed that his debut’s long gestation period was a result of his substance abuse. After Top Dawg Entertainment nearly canned the whole project, Rashad fought back, not so much with a vengeance as with an appreciation of his circumstance. 2016 was one of the best years in rap that I can remember, and Rashad’s chopped southern flow was the perfect chaser to the frenetic pace life, and music, came at us this year.
You have to give it up to Dæva for still trying to create an air of mystery. While little is known about Dæva, her excellent dream-pop collection Beta Persei is more than enough information to know the enigmatic act is worth following.
When “Touch” landed a couple years back, Shura was an artist to watch. That was in 2014. You’d be excused for thinking Nothing’s Real was a mirage at first, but look a little closer, and it’s real. It’s also one of the best collections of pop music released this year, anchored by “Touch.”
A Drake cosign is almost as good as a blank check these days (note: almost), and Toronto’s dvsn rode the rapper’s coattails to one of the year’s most anticipated debuts. Sept. 5th is a set of traditional R&B over contemporary instrumentals
Noname emerged a couple years ago on the Chance The Rapper collaboration “Israel (Sparring),” and what we suspected from that single we could confirm with the release of Telefone. The album is presented with a clarity seldom seen on rap debuts. If one thing stands out most on Telefone, it’s Noname’s confidence.
5. Jamila Woods
Operating out of the same network as Noname, Chicago’s Jamila Woods took hold as the region’s spiritual advisor in 2016 with her poetic debut Heavn. When people talk about the great, positive music coming out of Chicago, most people allude to Chance The Rapper. But look closer, and the light begins here.
Producer Kaytranada released the excellent 99.9% earlier this year, a wonderful collection of soul-leaning tracks anchored by Kaytranada’s modern touches. With guest appearances from AlunaGeorge, Craig David and Vic Mensa to name a few, Kaytranada certainly knows how to throw a party.
3. Katie Gately
Katie Gately took cues from Grimes in crafting her debut LP Color. The album toes the line between experimental and pop, but is always captivating.
D.R.A.M.’s unrelenting positivity is one of the best things to happen in music this year. “Broccoli” became the year’s best summer single, and his debut Big Baby D.R.A.M. taps into that same joy.
No debut stood out as confidently as A Good Night in the Ghetto, Kamaiyah’s debut mixtape. The set successfully showcases the Bay Area-native’s personality, her charisma and – on the excellent “Niggas” – her libido. For Kamaiyah, 2016 went from being one good night to one hell of a year.