Exclaim!'s Top 15 Hip-Hop Albums Best of 2016



 
1. Chance the Rapper
Coloring Book
(Independent)
 
In a year when doom and gloom felt so pervasive as to be defining characteristics of it, Chance the Rapper shone a beacon of joy and hope that pierced the clouds, starting with his guest spot on Kanye West's "Ultralight Beam." "This is my part, nobody else speak," he uttered, clearing the stage for Coloring Book, the Chicago MC's third and, unequivocally, best mixtape.
 
Over 14 tracks of glory, gospel and guests upon guests — Kanye, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Jeremih, Young Thug, Justin Bieber, Jay Electronica and, yes, his cousin Nicole, among others — Chance made happiness and optimism sound unimpeachably cool, even in a time when, as he asserts on the charging opener, "music is all we got."
 
In between more personal statements like the sweet nostalgia of "Same Drugs," commentary on his Xanax addiction and references to his daughter throughout, Chance addresses more universal issues, like the continued importance of independence and artistic agency in hip-hop ("No Problem," "Mixtape") and, perhaps most prevalently, faith ("Blessings," "How Great").
 
Yet whether you choose to read the god on Coloring Book as the Christian deity or as a metaphor for faith that transcends human struggle, the crucial aspect of it here is that it provides a light at the end of a dark tunnel. It was that sense — more than the magnificent production, the exuberant instrumentals and the sharp, staccato lyrical bars — that made Coloring Book feel not just special, but absolutely necessary.
Stephen Carlick