With only a few months left in the year, the "Who conquered 2016?" debates are on the horizon. Who had the best album? Who had the best single? Who had the best ad-lib? All questions that will soon be answered as we slowly creep closer to the new year. The one question I’ve pondered the most in the last few days is, “Who is 2016's hip-hop MVP?”
It’s been an interesting year for many artists, and while there have been more winners than losers, only one rapper can lay claim to the title of 2016’s MVP.
It’s easy to ignore an ant, but it’s impossible to overlook a giant, and in 2016, there’s no giant bigger than Drake. Views outsold and out-streamed everyone. The release of Views eclipsed the rest of the music industry for a record-breaking 13 consecutive weeks. During Drake’s incredible album streak, “One Dance” sat at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks. I’m not a big fan of using album sales as a measuring stick for artist clout―numbers can be fabricated—but you can’t make up the sold-out stadiums. His seats are full of fans who can sing and rap his every word. Views ascended Drake to the height of his acclaim, the peak of his celebrity―a rapper who is adored as a pop star. It was just announced today that Drake has broken Michael Jackson's record for the most American Music Award nominations. 2016 has been one long year of breaking records for the Toronto star. This level of notoriety is what rapper’s dream of, and only a few will ever achieve such popularity. I believe Drake can climb even higher, but if he happens to descend from here, it will be a long fall from the top.
Kanye is another behemoth that has had an excellent year. Even though the rollout was one of the worst in music history, The Life of Pablo has been a constant conversation piece since it’s release. The videos, the singles, the performances, the merch, and the tour―Kanye has completely dominated across the board. I’m sure he could sell an Android to the late Steve Jobs if given the chance. I can’t walk out of my house without seeing someone wearing his shoes, his shirts, or dressed in Kanye-esque fashion. This year has encapsulated Kanye’s status as one of the biggest celebrities in the world. There’s no way to escape his presence on or offline; he is a rockstar without the rock band. Kanye is admired, adored and beloved by most people and peers, it’s very hard to compare Kanye’s stature in the game to any other rap artist. The way he has the world in the palm of his hand for better or worst is astounding. Kanye has mastered the art of relevance, and this year has been a perfect indicator of how the world revolves around him and his family.
2016 is the year that Gucci Mane was finally released from prison. After years of screaming, “Free Gucci,” one of Atlanta’s most influential rap artists came home and has been working nonstop. Gucci has been able to reset his career, and it’s largely due to his new look and sound. He’s leaner, more articulate, sober, and focused on reclaiming all that he lost during his time locked away. The changes are minor, but big enough where rumors could spread that Gucci had been replaced with a clone. Now that he’s off of house arrest, the possibilities for Gucci are limitless. He can go on an actual press run now, something that wasn’t possible during the release of Everybody Looking. He’s also able to tour—a live Gucci performance is highly anticipated by fans who haven’t seen him in the flesh. More collaborations will likely come into fruition now that he can sit in the studio with different artist and producers. He worked with Drake and Kanye under his previous circumstances, and now that he’s free as a bird, Gucci can fly higher than the clouds.
Chance The Rapper
Chance The Rapper is unbelievable. Everything he has done in 2016 would be impossible for your average artist. The only word to truly describe what he has done this year is "exceptional." No other artist was able to release such a highly anticipated album through iTunes for free. No other artist has appeared on daytime and late night television as many times as Chance. No other artist sparked a conversation that led the GRAMMYs to change their qualifications for nomination. He’s doing it all by being one of the best rappers out. Chance may do a lot of singing, and he incorporates elements of gospel, but he truly lives up to his name when it’s time to spit. Say what you will about mumble rap, but it’s what Chance is doing that will have a lasting impact on present and future artists. He is simply a mountain mover—a climate changer, an industry disruptor—and he’s doing it all his way. A new book of rules will be written based on what Chance has done in 2016. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s proving that you can be victorious without abiding by what the industry holds to be the standard. Chance is slowly shaping into the standard.
Childish Gambino has not released an album in 2016. A project was performed during his Pharos festival, an event that he put together all on his own. There’s no word on whether the album will ever be released, but the simple fact that he was able to deliver new music directly to his fans through a festival that he controlled is amazing. Why perform at Coachella when you can throw your own version? It was a private event that was able to stay mostly private. He raised the bar even higher with the premiere of FX's Atlanta; far and away one of the best television shows of the year. Not only is a rap artist writing, producing and starring in a show that’s being shown on cable television, it’s being done in such an authentic and exceptional way. Hip-hop is being represented every week in prime time. From the music to the surprise guests, rap and hip-hop win every Tuesday when Atlanta airs. Even though he hasn’t released a project, it’s hard to dismiss the importance of what Donald Glover is doing to push rap forward.
There are other artists worthy of being named. Kendrick’s Untitled Unmastered was brilliantly released as a string of live performances before the album hit Apple Music. J. Cole has been quiet, but going double Platinum with no features is too incredible to overlook completely. Anderson .Paak teeters between genres; he isn’t easily defined as a rapper, but he’s in such a close proximity to rap it’s hard not to include him in the running. There are simply so many artists in rap winning right now, it’s hard to narrow this short list down to one MVP.
It’s hard to compete with Drake, but you can’t dismiss what Chance is doing as some simple feat. The same goes for Kanye, Gucci, and Donald Glover―everyone is prospering in their own way. Hip-Hop can only have one MVP, but as a whole, it’s hard to deny that a lot of good is happening in the genre.
2016 has been a win for the culture.
By Yoh, aka Nineteen91 aka @Yoh31.