40 Best Rap Albums of 2016

Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, Danny Brown and more in the year in rhymes

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Kevin Gates, 'Islah'

11. Kevin Gates, 'Islah'

As melodic warblers have taken over hip-hop's mainstream, Kevin Gates' instrument has only become more idiosyncratic – his voice full of stern gravitas, stand-at-attention authority and classically technical bars. Judging from the success of his debut studio album – the only non-Drake LP to go Platinum this year – rap fans are clearly craving his distinctive sound. On this brawny, unhurried record, he navigates smutty pileups – "Kno One" and "Jam" (featuring an indelible hook from Trey Songz on the album's deluxe edition) – and the violent, sobering reality of the world around him: "Told Me" is one long, claustrophobic gasp for air. Gates appears to be having the most fun when he composes paeans to his own work ethic, like "Thought I Heard (Bread Winners' Anthem)" and "2 Phones," which slowly but surely climbed into the Top 20, embodying the persistence of someone who's been dropping a mixtape a year for practically a decade. E.L.

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