With exactly six months to go in 2016, we rank the 20 best projects from the first half of the year.
In the midst of a year that was already challenging peoples' definitions of mixtapes, albums, and "free" projects, Chance The Rapper asked, "Am I the only n*gga who still cares about a mixtape?" On the surface, it made sense-- Chance is one of the few top-tier artists who've never sold a single copy of his internet-only projects-- but as his latest, Coloring Book, was released exclusively via a deal with Apple Music, both his independent claim and the definition of "mixtape" were subsequently scrutinized. Is an artist still independent if he cuts a deal with one of the country's largest tech companies? Is a mixtape still a mixtape if it not only contains all-original beats, but also plays decidedly like an album?
This debate has no easy answer, but it's changed the way consumers as well as industry bigwigs view the playing field. For starters, streams now count as sales, and thanks to Chance himself, free projects are eligible for Grammys. Because of all these vast sea changes spurred by internet democratization as well as streaming consolidation, we're grading projects a bit differently in 2016. Instead of having separate categories for mixtapes, EPs, and albums, we're throwing them all into the same gladiatorial coliseum and letting them duke it out among each other.
We're now officially halfway through the year, so we've ranked the twenty best releases of 2016's first six months. These aren't necessarily in the order of the scores they received in our staff review (some weren't even reviewed by us), and the whole editorial staff weighed in to determine a ranking that best reflected everyone's opinions.