2016 seems like a lifetime ago. Barack Obama was still POTUS, XXXTentacion was just a budding SoundCloud rapper and we were still walking around sans masks and touching foreign objects without direct fear of possible death. What a time to be alive.
Five years ago was also a good year for hip-hop, with some memorable albums—several from some of the rap game’s biggest names—serving as the soundtrack for the final year B.T. (Before Trump). Kanye West stirred things up in the first quarter by ending a three-year album drought and releasing his seventh solo studio album, The Life of Pablo, on Valentine’s Day via an exclusive Tidal listening experience. The album rollout was made into a whole event, with the epic listening party taking place at Madison Square Garden in New York City. A return to normalcy—as normal as Kanye can be—from his experimental Yeezus album, The Life of Pablo earned ’Ye a 2017 Grammy Awards nomination.
In 2016, Drake also staked his claim on the year by releasing the highly anticipated album Views in the spring. Replete with Billboard Hot 100 hits like “Hotline Bling,” “Controlla” and the international smash “One Dance,” which was inescapable all summer ’16, Aubrey proved once again he is second to none as an uncanny hitmaker.
J. Cole closed out the year with his fourth studio album, 4 Your Eyez Only, which came as a bit of a surprise. The platinum-selling album with no features sold nearly half-a-million copies in its first week, on its way to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
There were plenty of other high points throughout the year. The elusive Frank Ocean chose 2016 as the year to follow-up his Grammy Award-winning Channel Orange album with the equally as impressive Blonde. Travis Scott was starting to lift off into the atmosphere with the release of his Astroworld predecessor, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight.
2016 was lit. With a half-decade of retrospection, XXL highlights 104 hip-hop albums turning five in 2021.
See Hip-Hop Albums Turning Five in 2021