flowsfordays Presents: Our Favorite Chicago ‘Indie’ Mixtapes of 2016

Let me start this off by saying this is a list of favorites. These year end lists, while interesting, are sucking the life out of my music intake this year. I have ignored most of them, but I can’t help looking at some of the articles. The one I enjoyed and agreed with the most was Pigeons + Planes. The most God awful one was Hip Hop DX. But I digress.

I would also like to state that I’m sure I missed some noteworthy projects. One of the rules I put into place while making this list was to ONLY include free projects (either streaming or free download.) I didn’t include the obvious like Coloring Book (Chance The Rapper) Bucket List (Saba) and anything from Vic Mensa, Towkio, Noname, Sterling Hayes, Mick Jenkins, The Chance x Jeremih tape etc etc. If there was a noteworthy album/project that you don’t see here…trust me, I probably loved it. I wanted to focus on the tapes that deserved more shine and that you may not be aware of.

The output this year from the Chicago scene was absolutely incredible. I quiet honestly couldn’t keep up…hence why I’m sure I’ve missed tapes that even I’ve played from time to time. Below are the ones that I have kept in pretty frequent rotation. I also put some standout cuts at the bottom of the write up, so if you don’t want to play the whole thing you can have some songs to start with. I hope you enjoy it.

ALSO – We made another year end list…our 50 favorite loose cuts out of Chicago this year. Check that out here.

Josh K – Black Balloons

Josh K delivered one of the most overlooked quality r&b/hip hop projects of the year. The production is incredible; mostly handled by C Sick. I compare the project to 6lack’s FREE 6LACK project, but quiet honestly Josh covers more ground and stays more consistent throughout the LP. His vocal range is deeper and there is more substance to his voice. He’s even got a feature from Fab and outshines him.

Essential Cuts: If You Don’t, Ashamed + After

Adamn Kills – Back 2 Ballin

Adamn is an acquired taste. He has gained quiet a lot of attention (although the buzz has gotten quieter in the last few months) and it all started with this tape. If you’ve heard any of his work you’ll know he doesn’t sound like any other artist… not only in the hip hop spectrum but in music period. I throughly enjoyed this project. He came out with Mr. 650 at the end of this year, but B2B will always hold a special place in my heart.

Essential Cuts: Luol Deng, Shawn Kemp, + My Stance

Air Credits – Broadcasted

Damn, I love this project. When the singles started hitting SoundCloud I knew it was going to be something special. Air Credits is made up of ShowYouSuck and The Hood Internet whom are legends in their own right. So many genres are covered in the 15 track project…listening in full is a trip. It is meant to be played all the way through so I highly recommend doing that. The group has been touring like crazy and their performance on stage is out of this world. They are actually hitting Lincoln Hall in Chicago today which should be a great way to kick off the new year. There are still a few dates coming up so check them out here.

Essential Cuts: Camaro, All I Need Pt. 2 + Passport

Appleby – Down Dance

The mysterious sensation Appleby has been drawing attention since 2015 when he released some singles off SoundCloud. Everyone from The Source to Pigeons and Planes to Maxim covered him, singing his praises but also trying to understand who this guy was. His debut Mask + Lies was set to drop in late 2015, but instead we were hit with Down Dance at the top of the year. I’m not complaining… the 4 track EP was incredible. It was a lo- fi wonderland (excluding Castles which happens to be my favorite track on the project.) Elias Abid has his hands all over DD (production wise), and Iris killed his feature on Random Love. Here’s hoping a full length comes in 2017.

Essential Cuts: THE ENTIRE THING

Castro – Arrogant

FREE DOWNLOAD 

I hadn’t heard of Castro until the good people over at FSD posted his tape in May. He eerily sounds a lot like King Louie but is clearly not biting as dude shows up on the third track Dirty Money. The project will keep you amped up for the entire 10 tracks thanks to BlockOnDaTrakk’s excellent production across the board. Castro has tons of energy with a squeaky yet passionate voice. The subject matter is a little limited, but it’s one of the best street tapes of the year.

Essential Cuts: Arrogant, Money All I Need + Standby

DGainz – Oddball

Oddball is such an underrated project…I can’t stress that enough. Gainz has been a staple in the Chicago scene with his music videos but has really proved himself as an artist. This tape is him at his best. Manipulated and auto-tone vocals can be overplayed, but Gainz makes it sounds extremely catchy. There are many songs that don’t use any of those elements including my favorite song, 1017. He has such a nice range of styles and can execute any beat with ease.

Essential Cuts: 1017, Ain’t Been + Potholes

femdot – fo(u)r.  thr (we). to (u.)

If you are a hip hop fan, you’ve probably heard of femdot. He dropped 3 incredible projects just this year and I couldn’t pick one over the other. I’ve had all of them in heavy rotation and for good reason. He is a bright voice in the Chicago scene and has made it on the national level as well. His production choices are impeccable. Dude is soulful and enjoys samples. He’s called D. Phelps on for a ton of songs over the 3 EP’s and it’s clear they mesh well. If I HAD to choose between the three it would be to (u). As I wrote about in my extensive review of the project, it’s his most focused tape to date speaking on his most relatable topics. He delves deep into relationship issues evoking a narrative in a certain part of his life. He’s made all of the tapes available for free download so hop on that while you still can.

Essential Cuts:

thr (we). – onourown

fo(u)r. – doomsday/shawnee’s intro

to (u.) – The EP is meant to be played all the way through

Jaro – La Bleue

Jaro is quiet possibly my favorite producer out of Chicago. He works his ass off every year, but 2016 saw some of his best work yet. He dropped two EP’s this year (along with a slew of singles with production credit) titled La Bleue and la rouge ep. Both were great, but my favorite was Bleue. I did hear it as a more accessible project. All of the featured artists did their job extremely well. The cool thing about Jaro is he seems to have an organic relationship with everyone he puts on his songs. His work with Beach Jesus was my introduction to the beat smith and I enjoyed his electronica tinged tracks. he’s really been stepping up his instrumentals, and is as versatile as ever.

Essential cuts Low Lights + Bad Guy

Jayaire Woods – FREETHEFALL

Getting a premiere on Compex.com is pretty dope. They seemed to love FREETHEFALL and I enjoyed it just as much. I would call it a psychedelic trap influenced project that has a host of different instrumentals. Jayaire is a unique artist incorporating rap and some crooning. He sounds confident in whatever he records. He even got a feature with Lil Yachty that stands as one of the strongest tracks on the tape. Just a few months ago he dropped my favorite song in his discography titled Feel which I highly recommend checking out.

Essential Cuts: PSA, Man Of The Year, Breathe

Jeremih – Late Nights: Europe

FREE DOWNLOAD 

I haven’t found a Jeremih project that I haven’t liked (even his debut project was great.) He really stepped it up on his mixtape Late Night: Europe. There is so much to love here. He is the master of the “new wave” of r&b. The tape came out in the summer and I heard it bumping out of cars all around Chicago. The dude is obviously respected far and wide. The tape was created in just a few weeks as a celebration all of the time he has spent abroad.

While there are some issues with features (Wiz + K Camp) the project is very polished. Friends of mine said the songs were too one sided as they are mostly about sex. While this is true, it sounds great from the production to his always on point vocals.

Essential Cuts: Paris (Who Taught You), Berlin (She Wit It), + Belgium (Get Down)

JR Donato – Why So Serious?

I’m going to get this out of the way. I’m not a fan of Taylor Gang. In my humble opinion they have fell off and nothing they are putting out sounds well thought out. Their acquisition of Lil Uzi seriously made me cringe, but it is what it is. Putting that aside, JR is one of the most promising artists out of the collective. Why So Serious? is a short but sweet project where JR shows his best self. This isn’t a flawless tape by any means, but it was a guilty pleasure for me. Some cuts were just not good, but I sincerely enjoyed playing it through when I wanted some background noise. There are some songs to pay attention to which I’ll list below.

Essential Cuts: I’m Back On It +  Lemme Show You

K.eYe.D – Pools Closing

This project is so dope. It’s 8 tracks of pure hip hop goodness fueled by Thelonious Martin’s sample heavy production that is just getting better and better. K.eYe.D has an impeccable way of spitting poetics in a way that keeps you captivated all the way through. He has a laid back flow, but can get energetic like on track #6. There is also some vocal variation. I would call the album abstract, but is also easy to play through. I am PRAYING this comes out vinyl, but until then stream above.

Essential Cuts: Rotation, Flashing Lights/AMiDROWNING + POOLSCLOSING. 

Lil Trav – Trav Goku

FREE DOWNLOAD 

The first time I heard this I played it so much it was a bit sickening. I truly saw it as a pop album.. almost every song was catchy. It makes sense as Trav is one half of Sicko Mobb, one of the best duos out of Chicago. They make great party music so it was only right Trav continued the theme. He keeps the melodic approach going throughout the tape and damn it’s addicting. I will say some cuts were a little rough, but overall it was pretty flawless.

Essential Cuts: Addicted, Trap Shit + El Chapo

Malcolm London – OPIA

When OPIA dropped it caught waves. That’s a bit of an understatement as it was picked up on almost EVERY relevant music blog. Seriously. Google it. To catch you up, Malcolm is an activist, poet, educator and artist that has been a constant in the Chicago scene. He runs the Chicago Youth’s Open Mic Series with Chance The Rapper and continues to give back to the community. OPIA reflected his activist nature. The project touches on self love, healing, and acceptance. It’s executive produced by Save Money producer EB with features from Vic Mensa, Nico Segal and Jamila Woods (among others.) This is truly a Chicago affair… and was featured in our top 5 projects of the week back in late October.

Essential Cuts: Opia, Cigarettes and Coffee + Charlie

Musa Reems – Another Dos(e)

Not only has Musa become one of my favorite Chicago up and comers, he’s become a trusted friend. We premiered his video Not With Gang along with an interview which was such a great experience. He’s gotten premieres everywhere, including a radio interview. Let’s not forget his loosie Get It (Bussin’). He dropped his first solo EP, Another Dos(e) in the summer, and lets just say it’s doing numbers. Although it’s only two tracks, its accumulated over 100K views in just 4 months.

It’s easy to see why. His flow is smooth as butter and his control over the mic is insane. This guy is only 19, but has the confidence and talent of a OG. Both songs show his range of potential and I’m sure his upcoming project Where The Sun Never Rises will give us a full taste of what he has to offer.

Essential Cuts: 2 tracks…play both. 

Pavy – Me, By Jonathan McCoy

Pavy needs more credit for his artistry. This project dropped just a few months ago and I’m still taking it all in. I enjoyed the album so much that I decided to collaborate with him on a breakdown of each song, which you can read here. He can sing, he can rap, he can get jiggy, and create introspective tracks. It’s important to get it a thorough listen as it might sound a little odd on the ears at first. It’s poetic and artistic as it is.

Bonus: We hosted a dissection interview with him in mid October of this year on his excellent music video Drift.

Essential Cuts: Until The Morning, Drift and Alcoholic 

Rico Recklezz + DJ Cortez – Realer Than Wordz 2

FREE DOWNLOAD 

Rico has been making headlines throughout 2016. I’m not going to go into it…here’s an article if you want to somewhat catch up. I like to focus on the music (in most cases) and Rico makes a lot if it. Mixtapes are always abundant and he’s dropped a heap of them this year. My favorite of the bunch is the second part of the Realer Than Wordz series with DJ Cortez. He gave us the first in 2013, but this one is undoubtedly stronger. It’s a hefty project clocking in at 23 tracks, but it’s a riveting ride. This is as hardcore as it gets. It’s purely a street mixtape that bangs. I hope a non tagged version will come out (maybe it already has – if so link me please.)

Essential Cuts: I can’t pick 3 out of 23 tracks, sorry guys 🙂 

Saint Millie – Adderall

Adderall surprised me. Millie departed from his lyrical dexterity and approached this project is a new way.  Back in May when it dropped Millie talked to Noisey about his new sound.

It’s definitely been a journey. I wanted to be more melodic this time around. I wanted to focus on having bigger hooks this time around. Having a vibe that like—even if I’m not in the room, the music itself can carry.

He did just that and created one of his strongest projects to date. Noisey also called it a “high energy positive influence” which is exactly how I would describe it. I was a huge fan of his Glory album back in 2014 (Money Motivation was my shit for a year) but I appreciate his experimentation. He brought in some great company with Sir Mikey Rocks, Mano, Logan Cage and Sicko Mobb. Also, if you haven’t done so, check out the No Heauxs video. God damn.

Essential Cuts: No Heauxs, ET Phone Home + Thinking Of You

Supa Bwe x Sunny Woodz – ISSA EP

I’m always looking out for some newness from Supa. Dead Again 3 was a classic. Since it dropped every song has gotten at least 140K views…some going into the millions. While I really enjoyed the project it was the ISSA Ep that did it for me. It was entirely produced by Sunny Woodz who always contributes well to the Chicago scene. Supa sounds angrier on the tape which, accompanied with features from Warhol.SS Fight Me and JUJU, meld for a flawless and fun EP.

Essential Cut:  No Napkins

Na$im Williams – Sometimes God Has A Kid’s Face’

Na$im has been tearing up instrumentals for awhile now, but this is my favorite work from him to date. We conducted an exclusive interview with him along with the release of SGHAKF which you can check out here. There is a lot more to the project than what meets the eye, so definitely give it a read. Overall it’s a diverse project, but very cohesive. He is undoubtably one of the hardest working producers in Chicago and it shows.

Essential Cuts: Play all the way through

theWHOevers – R U Down

These guys don’t get enough credit. The duo of Je$$e and Lloyd Dotdot are constantly delivering in their tracks and projects. One of the highlights of the year was R U Down, a 7 track EP. It just sounds classy, like it could be played at an upscale bar. It’s funky, it’s energetic, and it has just the right amount of the hip hop element. There is even some r&b vocals (specifically on Waiting Game). While it can go a little slow, I urge you to give it a full spin. You’ll definitely find something you like.

Essential Cut: 4 Ring Finger

Thelonious Martin – Late Night Programming

I just can’t get enough of LNP. Dude, I even got it on vinyl from Amazon. It is by far my favorite instrumental project of the year. This guy is getting better and better…it’s almost scary. Yoh from DJ Booth put it best. To gain a quick understanding, here is an excerpt:

Late Night Programming, Thelonious’ sophomore album, is an ode to television, Adult Swim, and his musical influences. From the first track to the last, the runtime is 24 minutes long—the length of a half-hour television show not including commercials. If you let it run from last to first, it’s a smooth transition, as if the listener allowed the next episode to continue even though it’s a rerun. Every song is strategically placed—there are familiar skits and bumps from Adult Swim, a song that represents when it gets so late that you start to see infomercials, and the album ends with a hilarious Everest commercial, which is usually a sign you’ve been up too late.

PLAY ALL THE WAY THROUGH

Tink – Winters Diary 4

FREE DOWNLOAD 

Tink is a legend here in Chicago. In just 4 years time she’s put out 7 mixtapes including her celebrated Winter’s Diary tapes. Her debut album, Think Tink, was supposed to impact this year…but unfortunately we didn’t get anything. To hold us over the 4th installment dropped this August. I’ve never enjoyed a Tink project so much. As always her singing and rapping game are off the charts, and now she’s starting to make pure pop hip hop (in the best way possible.) She worked with Timbaland, Cookin Soul, and Jahlil Beats on the project and it shows as her voice and rhyming style bounce perfectly over the production. She speaks on some changes in her life and the emotions that have come up for her. An excellent project all around.

Essential Cuts: Your Side, What Is Real + Pullin Up (Interlude) 

Ty Money – Cinco De Money 2

The first Cinco De Money tape was one of my favorite projects of last year. As many Chicago publications mentioned, it deserved way more attention. Part 2 dropped this year and thankfully more people picked up on it. Ty once again excels at bringing real life issues (his and others) into the center of his music. He contemplates life, but isn’t afraid to ride over some high octave production. While the original Cinco tape is still my #1, the 2nd is a great addition to his growing discography.

Essential Cuts: Fake, Feet On Neck + Charisma

King Louie – Tony 2

FREE DOWNLOAD 

I don’t think anyone was expecting this to drop. Quick story: on my way to a concert in Chicago I got a Lyft from downtown and my driver was one of Louie’s best friends. He actually told me something was coming soon, and even got him on the phone after snap chatting me reciting lyrics to some of his songs. Small world. So, I kinda new something was coming.

I’ve never heard a bad project from this guy. Everything he puts out is solid. You can find at least 5 tracks to blow out of your speakers on every tape. Tony 2 is no different. It is 15 tracks of exhilaration with L’s signature flow. The subject matter is straightforward and he sounds more focused than ever. There are tons of producers all over the tape that make this exciting to listen to. Make no mistake, these aren’t just loosies thrown together to make a full project. Take time to digest this.

Essential Cuts: Shorty, 32 Bars + Bounce It (best beat on the tape…sheesh) 

Brian Fresco – Casanova

This is a beautiful EP. As he told Billboard when the project dropped:

“The fact that I can make a song like “Higher” and then come all the way on the other end and make a song like “Bussin’,” and then go in-between and make a song that’s eight minutes in “Dandelion,” then make a song that sounds like a sunny day in “Together,” it’s versatility. People are starting to notice it and pick it up, really, off of this last album.”

He has shown true growth from his Mafioso project dropped back in 2013. While the tape is still one of my favorite releases from that year, Casanova gives us a full taste of his versatility as an emcee. The bars are there, but he’s trying out new beats such as the dancehall inspired Higher and the hard rock element of Elimidate.

Essential Cuts: Higher, Call + Fam

Wil Akogu – Language Of The Soul

Wil is on another level with his artistry. He puts everything he has into his music videos, singles, albums, and artwork. This year he put out his best project yet in Language of the Soul. It’s 5 tracks of dark, soulful, and introspective tracks. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played Exodus…its all encompassing and cinematic. This is thanks in part to the wonderful producers dispersed throughout the project. Shlohmo even makes an appearance.

There is so much to Wil…I’ve gotten to know him a bit. Just look at his Buried Alive video. It’s NINE minutes…truly an epic short film. There was a listening party for LOTS which you can check out here.

Essential Track: Exodus 

Plainro – Leaves

This EP blessed my ears off a submission (that, for the record, wasn’t from Plainro himself.) Leaves is a gorgeous piece of work. His vocals echo and sway, giving off an airy and chilling vibe. Whether he meant to or not, Plainro gives us advice on life, seeming confident in what he does know and what he has yet to figure out. He definitely gives us bars on this, but not in a straightforward manner. It was great to see Ausar and Josi on the EP…they gave it another punch.

Essential Tracks: Play all the way through. 

Meech – Saints

While Chicago blogs picked up on Saints, only a few online publications outside of the city gave it a write up. It’s too bad. Opening song Saved may be my favorite song of the year. It’s infectious and complex. I can’t even imagine how long it took to perfect that one. The remaining 4 tracks pack just as much umph. The production is what got me…from Mic Lee, Brandon Blanton and Demetrius G everything sounds grand. It is impressive to hear the growth from his 2014 project Violet. It’s only up from here.

LISTEN TO SAVED!

Ajani Jones – Astrals EP

Another flowsfordays favorite came out with a solid 4 track EP just in time to make it into this list. To get familiar with this Chicagoian check out one of our many posts on him here. He’s already dropped a host of impactful cuts such as Liberators and The Fall (with Femdot.) so it was only right to get a (somewhat) longer piece of work from him. We did a review of the project right when it came out…excerpt below:

He just dropped his 4 track EP astrals entirely produced by BanksTheGenius (who has been working non-stop.) It is a self reflective record and easily listening hip hop at it’s finest. Don’t be fooled – it is full of dizzying bars and wordplay. He seems to rap with ease and doesn’t let up in energy.

The title beautifully reflects the production and theme of the project. Banks is one of the most versatile producers (and rappers) out of Chicago and proves it throughout these 4 songs.

Essential Cut: Mazerunner

Yung Ja$per – UnoThrash EP

You may be tempted to label Ja$per’s music right away, but give this EP a full listen. He approaches the sub-genre of “street rhymes” in a totally unique way. There is actual melody in this tape (the highlight being Boss Boy.) In our interview with him back in October revealed that he creates music in whatever way he feels fit. A lot of it is free-styling, which I get a sense of in UT. I don’t mean this in a bad way…his personality shines through on every track. He makes it his own.

Essential Cut: Guns N Lean

Ausar – The 6th Page Letter

My absolute FAVORITE “lesser known” tape of 2016. Hands down. Ausar literally dropped this two days ago, but I can’t get enough of it. Others agree as he trended on Twitter the night of the release. It definitely reminds me of Coloring Book, and quiet honestly is the exact same amount of quality. It’s knowledgable, it’s positive, its reflective, and vulnerable. Ausar is struggling with life along with us, relaying his questions and fears throughout the 10 tracks. I told him as soon as PSA Pt. 1 and 2 hit my ears that he was getting his Kanye on in which he replied (I wanted to do something for the kids.) He is an extremely humble and appreciative dude. He even dropped off hard copies of the project yesterday and is sending one to me in the mail.

A huge highlight of the EP is Plainro. His contribution to Dirty Laundry especially was chilling to hear. of course Josi, Freejay, Christian JaLon and every other artist involved gave their all and assisted Ausar in such a great way.

10 songs is just the perfect amount to reel people in without suffocating them with airtime. Just listen guys.

Essential tracks: All are amazing.

flowsfordays Presents: Our 50 Favorite Chicago Loose Songs Of 2016

I don’t even know how to start this off. So much work was put into this post. It was exhausting, it was time-consuming and it was fun. This isn’t a chore for me, more a celebration of Chicago hip hop.

2016 is almost over. Chicago has stood proud proving that the city can’t be fucked with. I’ve been listening to hip hop seriously for quiet some time, and it was only in August of this year that I decided to bring my passion to putting others on to great underground hip hop. While flowsfordays is based in Chicago, we’ve posted a ton of other content from some amazing artists outside of the city.

We all know at the end of December we’ll be getting an overload of year end lists for music. While some are informative, others definitely miss the mark. All music is subjective, but some big publications get it wrong.

While the site might not be global yet, I am working tirelessly day in and day out to bring fresh, new content that others will enjoy. I’m not one to post popular music-you can find that all over the web. It gets stale. I want to help you guys discover some great records, videos and albums you may have never known existed.

That being said, I have put together my 50 FAVORITE loose tracks coming out of the city of Chicago from 2016. Let me say a few things:

  1. Loose tracks/loosies are defined as: Songs released by an artist that were not placed on any EP/mixtape or album. 
  2. Yes, I’m sure I’ve missed a bunch. Remember, these are my favorites. To analyze thousands of tracks and come up with the “best” is insane. These are the ones I’ve played the most in 2016. 
  3. These are not in order. There is no ranking here. 
  4. Please forgive me if I misspelled an artist/producer/contributor’s name. Maybe just forgive me for any incorrect spelling/info in general. I feel confident that almost all of my text is correct, but remember…there are 50 songs here.
  5. And finally – I know there are a few weeks left in December. But four more year end lists are heading your way and I had to make room. I’m sure some amazing songs will be released in the remainder of December, but no year end list can cover everything.

Every song has a stream and some extra hyperlink goodies so you can do some exploring. This was a huge project and I truly hope you take advantage of what’s been given. More than anything, please enjoy.

These Days – Dally Auston

Dally Auston has released quiet a few singles this year, but These Days is his best offering yet. It’s a shorter song, but thrives with a tight chorus. Jack Vegas’ plucking instrumental gives Dally the perfect backdrop to wax poetics on numerous topics, my favorite being the line “your bitch I swear she plado.”

His upcoming project, ROSES, should be impacting soon, and might have at the time of this writing.

Countin (prod. by Mulatto Beats) – Qari + Warhol.SS

My Chicago cohorts all know Warhol.SS has dropped a crazy amount of music in 2016. Qari (formerly Carl) was featured on one of my favorite songs of 2016 (Palms off the new Odd Couple album) and gave us a few loosies as well. Mulatto has continued to produce his ass off. While their single offerings were notable, it was when they all hopped on Countin’ that put them on this list. Warhol is at his best as he provides the chorus (which is set oddly in the beginning.) Qari brings the song to life with bars on bars; and Mulatto once again proves his undeniable chemistry with not only Qari but Warhol.

I Want You (prod. by C-Sick) – Spenzo & Tory Lanez

I don’t have to tell you twice that the Tory Lanez had the biggest year of his career in 2016. His debut album, I Told You was HUGE although the timing was a bit unfortunate (Frank Ocean’s Blonde anyone?) There was some criticism on the project, but overall it was received well.

2016 was pretty good to Spenzo too, as it saw him get on a track with Young Thug (which didn’t do as well as it should have) and towards the end of the year, a song with Taylor Bennett and Brian Fresco. Arguably his biggest song to date (besides possible contender Wife Er) was with Tory Lanez, called I Want You. The song could have easily been a cut off I Told You, which just proves C-Sick’s versatility as a producer. Tory does his thing as usual, but Spenzo gives a huge verse completely repping Englewood and his humble beginnings. Spenzo has gone the r&b route before, but this is him at his most polished. At the time of this writing, the song has garnered over 430K plays and continues to build.

WYT (What You Thinking) (prod. by The 25th Hour) – eGo Jaleel 

One of my favorite deep, underground hits of the year goes to eGo + The 25th Hour’s song WYT. 25th Hour’s stuttering beat and eGo’s ability to rap + sing on the same track produced one of the strongest cut’s out of Chicago this year. 25th Hour is a criminally underrated producer, but you can learn more about his career and what’s coming next in our exclusive interview here. eGo gave the song away for free and is still available for download, so be sure to cop.

Next To You (feat. Jeremih) – Twista

Twista puts on for his city. He’s been featured on so many Chicago emcee’s songs that it’s hard to keep track. But, we all know when he does the solo route things get serious. He excels on the pop front once again…and enlisting Jeremih for the infectious chorus is a smart choice. The song samples Rose Royce’s “I Wanna Get Next To You, giving it a lollipop soul sound.

Brand New – C$

C$ sent me this submission as soon as it impacted back in October. I loved it so much I hit him up about being a part of our dissection interview series. It ended up being one of my favorite interviews to date. You can get a VERY in depth look at the inspiration and process of creating the track by clicking this link.

In summary: it was produced by Taylor King who C$ was introduced to straight through SoundCloud. It’s an insane beat, and C$ flows vigorously throughout. His latest drop Dial Tone hit us later on, but Brand New is my favorite to date.

Hopefully – Tobi Lou

Tobi is as versatile as it gets. He’s made his mark in Chicago garnering 12.8K followers on SoundCloud (at the time of this writing.) His song Hopefully hit us at the top of the year, but instantly stood out to me. He has a soft voice on the chorus, then incorporates auto-tune and a melodic flow to reveal some inner emotions about a hopeful new relationship. He produced the track along with LYNY. Watch out for (around) the 2:40 minute mark as that switch up is killer. There were a lot of songs to choose from with Tobi, but this cut stands out the most.

Totality (feat. Christian JaLon + Scotty Brown) – Squeakpivot + Waxroof 

This song is pure floetry. It was released back in October, but has gotten lots of attention since. The focus is on the producers Waxroof and Squeak, and vocalists Christian JaLon and Scotty Brown. He’s collaborated with artists on a few key Chicago tracks, but this one is almost flawless.

Side note: Squeak was featured on Saba’s newest LP, Bucket List Project, which was HIGHLY praised. It was a great look for him.

I Got The Keys (Freestyle) – E.Nos

E.Nos completely killed this instrumental. I Got The Keys is the intro track off DJ Khaled’s 2016 LP Major Key. It featured Jay Z + Future, but E.Nos still does it justice. It’s a quick one…just under 2 minutes, but is reminiscent of Future’s legendary predatory flow. There is some voice manipulation as well. Trust me, this could have gone wrong. But Nos made the mark.

Raise Hell – Sir The Baptist

When Raise Hell dropped music critics and fans went crazy. It hit playlists on Spotify and inspired a lot of interviews with the 27 year old singer. It’s the first single off his upcoming album Preacher’s Kid. As expected it’s full of traditional church hand claps, gospel backings, and a get up and dance beat. Sir grew up in a neighborhood in Chicago called Bronzeville which is a historic Chicago neighborhood with roots in jazz and blues. Everyone from Muddy Waters, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong hung out there. You can definitely hear the influence in his music. Don’t sleep on this one.

flowsfordays Presents: Our 10 Favorite Instrumental Albums of 2016

As each year goes by I see more and more music blogs overlooking hip hop instrumental albums. It’s disappointing to see as many of them are just as intricate and conceptual as albums with lyrics.

We’ll always have Donuts, Endtroducing…, and Petestrumentals, but producers around the world are serving up platters of straight up instrumental caviar across the web… yet they are largely unnoticed. (To begin your journey start with Bandcamp.com.)

The year is almost over and while bloggers tend to wait till the last minute to deliver their “year end lists” I’ve taken the liberty of giving you my top 10 instrumental albums of 2016 a month early. Being lost in a sea of debate, criticism, and a lot of hate is not something I want to be a part of. Music is subjective. Let me repeat: MUSIC IS SUBJECTIVE. There is no “album of the year,” as we all have different criteria for what makes an album great. Even music critics aren’t the end all be all (no matter what they say.)

So, to wrap things up…these are MY favorite instrumental albums of the year (in no particular order besides the first.) All of these projects have been listened to way more than a handful of times in order to give my best recommendations. I have spent a good long time on this so you can get a backstory on the artist/album, my personal experience with finding it/listening to it, and hyperlinks to do your own exploring. All of this is for the love of music. And, quiet honestly, it was a hell of a lot of fun.

NxWorries – Yes Lawd!

You saw this coming. Nxworries, the duo that is artist Anderson .Paak + producer Knxwledge dropped a damn near classic album this year in Yes Lawd!

Anderson .Paak blossomed in 2015, and has completely taken over 2016 with his album of the year nods with sophomore offering Malibu, a passionate performance at the Grammy’s and the January announcement of his signing with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label. He’s played sold out shows, was on the cover of XXL as a 2016 freshman and was even did a short documentary with Noisey.

While Anderson has had more of a publicized success story, Knxwledge has gained credibility in the underground circuit releasing an unheard of amount of instrumental projects in the last 6 years alone. He finally got his big break producing Momma off Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly.

These guys have a lot to offer the music world seperately, but when they come together for an album you know they will deliver. We got a taste of it in last years Link Up & Suede EP, but when news broke of their full length, social media went bezerk.

Yes Lawd! is my absolute favorite instrumental inspired album of the year. Knwledge is at his best because he has found a sound that works impeccably with Anderson and sticks to it. We could label YS as “church music” or “music for the soul” and I don’t doubt it is both of those things. But more than that, it is a modern take on the classic one producer one artist album.

The album is littered with instrumental gems that are best appreciated with multiple listens. Although .Paak is all over the album, credit must be given to Knwledge who, on Yes Lawd! has shone brighter than the this year’s most popular artist success story.

3 Essential tracks: Livvn, What More Can I Say + Suede 

Thelonious Martin – Late Night Programming

They call him King Thelonious in the Chi, and for good reason. He graduated with a music business degree from my alma matter Columbia College in 2015, has worked with established artists like Vic Mensa and the SaveMoney crew, and has done high profile work with huge (yet indie) hip hop label Closed Sessions.

For quiet some time now Thelonious has grabbed the attention of rappers, producers, and other music industry professionals by collaborating with a slew of artists throughout the country. Included (but not limited to) are Action Bronson, Curren$y, Mac Miller and Ab-Soul.

Every interview with this guy details how much he has studied the art of sampling, his idolized producers and other genres of music. He released his 2014 debut album, Wünderkid which proved to be a huge moment in his career. He more than delivered, but there were features on most of the album not completely making it his own.

The most pivotal moment of his music career has been the release of his sophomore LP, Late Night Programming. Yoh, from DJBooth, made an excellent point in his recent write up of the album. He writes:

his 2014 Wunderkid debut album featured heavy hitters like Mac Miller, Curren$y, Smoke DZA, and Ab-Soul. The album was successful, a strong combination of soulful instrumentals and stellar rap verses, but it was missing something, it was missing Thelonious’ presence

Late Night Programming is 1000% Thelonious. When I heard Afternoon Swim for the first time I knew Martin had grown exponentially as a beatsmith. It’s a 2 minute and 30 second song but its split up into pieces that somehow sound cohesive. As you can read in Yoh’s piece, Late Night Programming is an ode to Adult Swim, which has continued to heavily influence his music. Little pieces of the show are dispersed amongst tracks, keeping the theme upfront. LNP flows extremely well. It’s an easy bumper front to back and is a contender for my favorite album of the year.

3 Essential tracks: Afternoon Swim, Late Night Financial + Up Too Late

Nate Charity – Colors

I can’t stress this enough: This is a criminally underrated album. I’ve never heard something like this coming out of Texas. Nate Charity is a duo consisting of Nate Coop and Charity Evaughn who linked up at a Space City Beat Battle. A bit about the event via The Houston Press:

Four times a year, not counting the annual championship, 16 music producers whom you very likely do not know show up at a venue. They get paired up against each other, play a snippet of their music for one minute, then listen as a more successful producer whom you also very likely do not know tells them what was good and what could’ve been done better. That better-known producer then decides which contestant gets to try his beat against someone else.

Their claim to fame is the beat they produced for Designer, Lil Dicky + Anderson .Paak’s XXL Freshman Cypher. The instrumental was only a portion of what they were capable of, and they proved that with Colors. The opening track, Black Magic, is a fitting title as Nate + Charity somehow put tiny strings of sounds into one complete track. Just like Thelonious, Nate Charity uses this strategy throughout the EP to incredible effects.

The next track, Crimson, starts with a warpy backdrop and then the drums hit. A high pitched chorus follows and then we get another loop. It’s equal parts angelic, dynamic, and powerful. Indigo has a jazzier sound with small elements of rock and electronica. Emerald Island is glittering, (no pun intended) ambient, and all encompassing. I listened so intently for the full 15 minutes that is Colors, that I had a bit of an out of body experience sitting in front of my computer at Starbucks. Nothing could deter me from finishing the EP. Whenever I need some time to contemplate, reason, or make an important decision, I know Colors will be there to stimulate my mind.

3 Essential tracks: Black Magic, Indigo, and Purple High

Zen Zan – Island Life

Lets take it back. 2015. Every hip hop fan out of Chicago was rooting for music group Hurt Everybody. The trio was made up of Supa Bwe, Carl (now Qari) and Mulatto Beats.) They played countless shows all across the city. Nothing could stop them. Then suddenly, in the beginning of the year, the group disbanded and everyone was pretty bummed. The disappointing news hasn’t stopped me from playing their music (especially 2K47) or checking out their solo endeavors.

Why do I bring this up? My introduction to these guys was their song In Seoul off their 2014 debut full length project Hurt Everybody EP. I wasn’t accustomed to the instrumental I was hearing. I was captivated by its sound. Somehow I found out it was co-produced by Zen Zan (along with Supa). I immediately memorized the name.

I checked Hurt Everybody’s social media accounts very often in that time and I kept seeing his name on some of my favorite loosies from the group. There was Thot Goddess, Stay Awake and Majin Quwop. I finally looked him up on SoundCloud and came across a handful of his tapes. All of them were played through on the spot.

You have to act quick on his projects as he has since deleted all except Island Life, which happens to be a contender for instrumental project of the year. Zen dubs it “electronic” (at least on SoundCloud) but the moment you pay opening track Aloha, Honolulu you will hear uptempo jazz, horns, and hip hop drum kits. Zen was smart to name the EP Island Life as it could easily be the soundtrack to a vacation in Hawaii. It plays like a steady stream, one song moving on to the other seamlessly, yet the songs aren’t repetitive or boring. You’ll hear something different with each cut.

There are laid back funk grooves in Tequila Sunrise, full brass band backings in Far Out O’ahu and bass that will knock the coffee right out of your hands. It’s somber, chill, and inviting.

3 Essential tracks: Aloha, Honolulu Far Out O’ahu + Pineapple Express

Air Tech Sani – Exotica

I’m a big fan of bass bumping, earth shattering, hard knocking beats. I flock to them. Not every song with this type of production will sound good, but I do admit I give high energy tracks more leeway. I preface with this because one of the best instrumental projects of the year is a soothing ambient LP titled Exotica. Shocking to say the least. I was introduced to Sani 2 years ago when he dropped his (very) full length album, Genesis. It was 21 tracks of “whats going to happen next.”

Genesis was lively and enjoyable, so when Exotica came up on my TL I automatically hit play. As soon as I did I entered a dream like state that was hard to come out of. Indigo was an automatic favorites as it reminded me of a lullaby…almost out of a Disney movie. Not cheesy in any way; but more magical, creative and dreamy.

Castor was a bit more uptempo and contained a mix of instruments that I never thought would work together. Trust me: they do. It’s short, but a sure highlight. Ice Blue gives off a boom bap style with some cooing vocals that are probably sampled pieces. Bonus track Canna brought the entire project together. If an instrumental could be catchy, Canna would be it. Slap a talented vocalist on there and you’ve got gold.

There is one song on his SoundCloud page called Anytime which is a collaborate piece between himself and an artist named Via Rose. It’s actually very nice; I hope Sani reaches out to more people if he cares to.

3 Essential tracks: Tea Tree, Ice Blue and Canna

Jaro – La Rouge

Earlier I spoke on the talented trio that was Hurt Everybody. My intro on producer Jaro will start in a similar vein. I discovered my absolute favorite Chicago group, Beach Jesus, back in 2015. Lets just say my mind was frickin’ blown when I heard Snake Ladies. My brain almost erupted when I heard it live at Portage Theater and I am horrified that the footage I captured has since been lost.

Beach Jesus is made up of vocalists Chandler London (who now goes by Chandy) and Jessiath along with multi faceted producer Jaro. Jaro has had his hands in all of Beach Jesus’ projects including my top 10 album of 2015, Two Weeks Vacation. This was Beach Jesus’ first full length project which came out sounding wonderful.

This year Jaro has given us two solo EP’s titled La Rouge and La Bleue. La Rouge stands to be my favorite of the two. It is a full sounding project although it’s only 5 tracks deep. Jaro challenged himself on La Rouge as it sounds more cinematic than his previous work. This can be heard especially on opening track Moonlight. Featured artist Sean Deaux provides soothing vocals, but it is Jaro’s powerful and rising keys that sent chills down my spine.

He goes into a melodic pop number in Medusa enlisting Aura and Cae Jones for help. I especially enjoyed purely instrumental cuts Be My Love and Unlike You. Unlike You uses Ciara and Bow Wow’s early 2000’s hit “Like You” as the central piece. Just let that sink in.

Jaro has continuously provided epic beats for Chandy, Jessiath and a growing number of other artists, but La Rogue proves he can make one of the best instrumental projects of the year all on his own.

2 Essential Tracks: Moonlight and Unlike You

Odd Couple – Liberation

Liberation just dropped, (3 days ago at the time of this publication) but I’ve listed to it front to back 4 or 5 times since. The album has continued to play in the background every time I write.

I didn’t know if I was going to include Liberation in this list as almost every song has at least one feature. After listening 2 times through it was easy to see that Odd Couple’s skillful beats are what carries the LP through. Had this been a compilation piece with various producers dispersed throughout, the album wouldn’t have impacted me as much.

Liberation has gotten placement on Pigeons and Planes, Spin, The Fader and even a review on Pitchfork (with a rating of 7.2 which is impressive for the publication’s almost impossible standards.)

Yes, the verses and vocals are very impressive, (especially Qari and Kweku Collins on Palms) but it is Odd Couple’s ability to bring all these artists together that has given the project critical acclaim.

Liberation’s greatest asset is Odd Couple’s insane ability to find pockets for artists to enter into. The second song, Palms, showcases this best. Songs like Visions and Hereditary knock the most. It makes sense as Joey Purp, Kipp Stone and GLC have a great track record with that type of production. Songs with Jamila Woods, Webster X and Rich Jones are softer and a bit hazy, yet everything is placed properly. This has been the best year Chicago has ever seen for hip hop music and Odd Couple has continued the quality output.

3 Essential Tracks: Palms, Visions, and Blinded

Oddisee – The Odd Tape

If you are a fan of hip hop, I’m sure you’ve at least heard of multi talented artist and producer Oddisee. His discography is crazy, but his first (arguably) big look was his mixtape Traveling Man which was released on Mello Music Group. It dropped in 2010 and by the end of the year made best album lists across the web.

Since then he has dropped 5 studio albums, 5 mixtapes, 2 EPs, and has produced for the likes of Joey Bad$$, Homeboy Sandman, Has-Lo and many more. 2016 has been a great year for Oddisee as EP Alwasta was polished and one of his best projects to date. His biggest accomplishment this year has undoubtably been the release of his instrumental project The Odd Tape.

The Odd Tape sounds perfect. Literally perfect. Every drum kicks at the right time, cymbals and guitar licks step in when needed and the sequencing on the LP is impeccable. It almost takes on an obsessive quality as Oddisee definitely spent long nights perfecting each song.

Tracks 1-5 play as a jam session…spontaneous and carefree. Then On The Table hits and we are suddenly in a convertible driving through the city on a warm summers night. An oddball is thrown in with Out At Night, which happens to be one of my favorite tracks on the album. The closing three are the highlight of The Odd Tape and have been replayed quiet a bit on my end.

3 Essential Tracks: Out At Night, Long Way Home + Still Sleeping

Mounika. – Seagulls EP

Seagulls came out two weeks into the new year but has created a huge stir in the BandCamp world. Hundreds of people have paid for the newest EP from the French producer. She got her start in 2013 by putting out The Wake Up EP which has some nice boom bap and electronic infused tracks. When I first heard it I mentally gave it a thumbs up and moved on, not sure if she could deliver a stand out piece. All this being said, Mounika works her ass off. Her compilations are filled to the brim, often spanning 20 tracks or more.

Things picked up with Basket Sound (2014) Born To Be Beats (2015) and part 2 and 3 of the  Basket Sound Series but nothing has come close to the absolute masterpiece that is Seagulls. She’s been using samples throughout her projects, but Seagulls is the peak. I honestly don’t know all of what she chops up…it would take a good while to figure it out without directly asking her.

Be prepared for some down tempo grooves. Some tracks are super slowed down, others are more impactful. I’m not going to say much more about this as I think it is best described by actually listening to it in it’s entirety.

3 Essential Tracks: Other Woman, All I Want Is You, In The Rain (Outro)

DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will Fall

The GOAT DJ Shadow dropped an album this year…did you really think I wasn’t going to include it? I think we can all agree nothing will ever top Endtroducing… but The Mountain Will Fall is a fine offering. Sonically there is way more diversity, from the dark and muddy song Suicide Pact to country guitar licking Nobody Speak (with Run The Jewels) to experimental Depth Charge. I appreciated the album more so because DJ Shadow was adventurous and didn’t give us exactly what we all wanted to hear (Entroducing… Part 2.)

3 Essential Tracks: Nobody Speak, Bergschrund, and Mambo