Aside from the obvious releases, like Drake, The Weeknd, PARTYNEXTDOOR and DVSN etc., 2016 delivered some incredibly cohesive albums that didn’t just tell the story of the city, but told it in their own individual ways. From Brampton (notable MVP of the scene) to Scarborough, the Greater Toronto sonic landscape has not only become an environment to fostered a massive amount of talent despite its small population, but continues to make an impact around the world.
While last year’s list focused on introductions, in no particular order, this year’s list serves as a tell-all and show and prove, fully equipped with some MVPs, some new players, and a few artists who, quite frankly, may be signed within the next few months if they haven’t been scouted already.
Editor’s Note: PND has released some great projects. The Weeknd has also released some great projects. A carbon-copy album of either of these two artists most likely did not make this list. Find your voice, xo.
1. R.O.Z. – When The Smoke Clears (Mixtape)
R.O.Z. isn’t a new name in the scene, but perhaps this year, it’s a name people got more familiar with. With a bright light shinning on Da Degrees team, which includes Big Lean, When The Smoke Clears serves as the first full-length project R.O.Z. has released since 2012, and shows exactly what he’s on moving into 2017.
2. Ace Autumn – There’s More (EP)
Perhaps this release went over your head, but the lyrical prowess Ace Autumn seems to have definitely shouldn’t. In just 5 tracks, Ace not only introduces himself, but also calls out the lyrical shortcomings of others offers an introspective look into his life over upbeat, yet somewhat petulant production.
3. JAHKOY – Foreign Water (EP)
Since signing with Def Jam a year ago, it seems like JAHKOY has been building the foundation for a lengthy career ahead of him. Contrary to the moody R&B vibes Toronto has come to be known for, JAHKOY employs positive energy and melodic production to produce his sound. Although he was scheduled to release his first LP Glory Child this yeaar, for now, the Toronto-born, L.A. based artist is experiencing some Foreign Water.
4. Charlotte Day Wilson – CDW (EP)
Although she was brought to the attention of the world via BADBADNOTGOOD, Charlotte Day Wilson has been working on her craft for a minute – even before the alt-R&B wave was a thing. Influenced by jazz, soul and R&B, and pulling in elements like electronic synths and live instrumentation, Charlotte Day Wilson’s self-titled EP plays every chord necessary to stand out.
5. River Tiber – Indigo (Album)
After Drake sampled his single “No Talk” on IYRTITL, River Tiber was launched into an international spotlight with swiftness, and quickly followed up with his own mutli-layered debut album, Indigo. The R&B crooner takes on dark and seductive production, delivering melancholy feels and warm harmonies.
6. Jazz Cartier – Hotel Paranoia (Album)
Although I feel like Jazz has blown up after touring the world to the point where I shouldn’t have to list this album here, and you should just know – I’ll just reiterate yet just in case. After establishing his career with Maurading in Paradise, Jazz dropped the spooky-hotel themed album, Hotel Paranoia at the top of the year. Sharing fears of working to hard – or not hard enough, and the fake friends that tend to lurk in the wings, the ‘Prince of the City’ is one to watch if you haven’t started yet.
7. Tona – Ivy League (Album)
Following his 2015 release Carpe Diem, which I still think was massively slept on, Scarborough vet Tona came back with an even bolder project titled, The Ivy League. Basking in 17-tracks, The Ivy League paints the picture of everyday life – relationships, accomplishments, socio-political issues, and ‘Borough pride – through the silkiest production and Tona’s, well, basetones vocals. For anyone who’s looking for the rapper’s favorite rapper, get your education with this LP.
8. Tamera Russell – Cavity (Album)
To play up the themese on her debut EP Sweet Tooth, this year, Tamera Russell – a self-producer singer, released a 12-track follow-up titled, Cavity. Somewhere between her velvety vocals and the cautious, but soulful production, Cavity serves as a honeyed skeleton for all things great.
9. Clairmont The Second – Quest For Milk & Honey (Album)
For an artist who only became eligible to vote this year, Clairmont The Second’s music career has already been pretty lengthy, and full of success. On boarded by Red Bull, Clairmont has become a golden child in the city – someone who raps like they were meant to be in the golden era, but relatable to the youngest millennial around. Quest For Milk & Honey, entirely self-produced, highlights just that through its 13 feel-good cuts.
10. Derin Falana – Live From Rocky Mountain (Mixtape)
Almost a year to date after releasing his 905 mixtape, Derin Falana didn’t just return with his 2016 project, Live Form Rocky Mountain, but also a feature on the soundtrack of Director X’s feature film, ‘Across The Line.’ Rooted in gospel chords and weighty basslines, the 9-track project is layered just like the place its named after.
11. EverythingOshaun – Until Now (EP)
Every year, there’s an artist that rolls up and manages to bring their entire city out for them – this year, that accolade goes to Brampton’s EverythingOshaun. Having performed at SXSW and CMW in 2015, EverythingOshaun carried that energy over to the release of his fiery EP Until Now, and proved that he wasn’t playing around this year. If you have a chance to see him perform live, take it!
12. Dallas Hill – Better (EP)
Full disclaimer: Dallas Hill is from Halton Hills, which, I couldn’t point out on a map if you asked – however, it’s close enough to Toronto that his Better EP came across my life. Taken on a more subdued and simplistic approach, the 7-track EP channels a range of sounds, but is mostly rooted in trap&b.
13. Jimmy Yitty – One For All, All For Yitty (EP)
Jimmy Yitty, otherwise known as JimmyFromEastYork, made our list last year with the release of his collaborative tape Glass of Chardonnay, but this year, he makes it on his own with One For All, All For Yitty. Produced entirely by LEVIathan, the 9-track EP captures more than who Jimmy is, but also the movement he’s trying to create.
14. Layla Hendryx – Out Of Time (Mixtape)
Originally coming from Ottawa but planting herself in Toronto, Layla Hendryx first came onto the scene with her 2015 release, Channel 6. A year later, and the alt&B singer came through with an 11-track project that highlights a melodic range, as well as some stoic dark waves of the city.
15. BADBADNOTGOOD – IV (Album)
Although it may not be a rap or R&B album, BADBADNOTGOOD have earned so many stripes over the years that it’s difficult not to throw them in the mix. As their fourth release, the soulful, eclectic and smooth IV is their first release to feature vocalists, such as Charlotte Day Wilson, Mick Jenkins and Sam Herring, but also MTL producer Kaytranada.
16. ShaqIsDope – Black Frames (Mixtape)
At the end of 2015, we were hearing a lot about ShaqIsDope’s Black Frames mixtape, but it took him until April to release it. Similar to his previous release, Eary Beginnings: The Shaquille Baptiste Story, ShaqIsDope tells a coming-of-age story once again, but this time, one that expresses fighting the temptations that come with it.
17. Roy Wood$ – Waking At Dawn (Album)
Note: Roy Wood$ released his Nocturnal project about an hour after I finished this list. I’m sure it’s great, I’m sure it’d subsequently make this list, but until I actually listen to it, Waking At Dawn is the move.
If you come across Roy Wood$ in real life, there’s this hungry energy he emits that marks just the beginning of his career. Serving as his debut album, Waking At Dawn has Roy chasing some R&B dreams, as opposed to what we came to known on his Exis EP. While it’s not the strongest of the two releases, the diversity of the project sets aside a space for exploration, and hopefully, finding his path.
18. JiMMY B – Return of the Jiggy (Mixtape)
If there’s two things to expect from JiMMY B, it’s some ridiculous combination of lower and upper case levels for titles, and a lot of Scarborough pride. The 6-track EP, produced entirely by Money Montage, is gritty and dark, and that kind of street release that’s always appreciated.
19. CMDWN – Atlanada (Album)
What happens when you bring city cousins together? Albums like Atlanda. Stretched between Atlanta and Toronto, FIJI and Ca$tro Guapo, who make up CMDWN, take listeners the ultimate feel-good trap rap-vibe journey through their 13-track debut effort, while tracks like “We Are Not” and “Wrist” have bodied Toronto airwaves all year.
20. Jviden – Pure (EP)
After calling on fellow Brampton artist K. Forest on “Classic,” Jivden released an delicate, yet layered project that embodies its name – Pure. Without a doubt, Pure invites listeners to a dream-like sequence, while still offering an honest balance of insecurities and achievements.
21. Gov – Nights (EP)
Toronto transplant via the UK kicked up some dust with the delivery of his Nights EP just as grime started to gain some appreciation in North America. With production from Syk Sense, as well as features from Ye Ali, Amir Obe and Keffaleng, the 8-track project, which borders a little more on the soulful side, documents the everyday story of what being young in a major city is all about.
22. Tasha The Amazon – Die Every Day (Mixtape)
Having become one of Spotify Canada’s favorite artists, as well as joining the Red Bull circuit, Tasha The Amazon has had a all-star year – so naturally, the release Die Every Day had to follow. Weighing in at 8-tracks, the co-produced EP pushes high energy and booming basslines, perfect for any end-of-the-world soundtrack.
23. Flex The Antihero – Born Rebels (Album)
There was a moment in time where Flex The Antihero was continually releasing music with ease, and suddenly, he disappeared. Two years later and he returned to release Born Rebels: a raw, honest and telling (double-speed) story about depression, lost friends and strength. Every syllable counts towards a story – Flex’s story.
24. Keysha Freshh – In Samadhi (EP)
There are some artists in this city who very genuinely embody the essence of the golden era rap, and Keysha Freshh is one of them. As her 6th project, In Samadhi, which reflects a meditative consciousness, emits just that – the ability to be mindful of decisions, while delivering some old school vibes, scratching and timeless jazz-soul production.
25. Don Meeno – Giinchy 5x (Album)
At the top of the year, Don Meeno warmed up the end of winter with the release of his 16-track album, Giinchy 5x – a project that highlighted his lyrical ability and smooth deliveries, as well as several catchy hooks and features from his crew. Despite being a little more quiet since its release, the tape’s energy still radiates through the streets.
26. Keffaleng – Still Shanti (EP)
For someone with family in the upper echelons of Toronto music, Keffaleng (fka Keffa) is trying to assert himself as an artist who can vibe out in melodramatic production, but offer a brighter outlook to the bigger picture. In his 5-track EP, Keffaleng relies on CVRE to handle the bulk of the trap soul production, but as opposed to falling to its dark theatrics, the 21-year old emits a little more personality.
27. Scrap Gang – Only Option (Mixtape)
Scrap Gang is one of those groups that I came across this year, knowing absolutely nothing about (and still knowing very little), but who caught my attention with the release of their tape, Only Option. Throughout their 14-track mixtape, Fresh, Yogz and KG effortlessly trade bars and play off each others energy, allowing them to cultivate group dynamic that’s often lost in rap music today, especially in Toronto where mutli-person rap groups are few and far between.
28. DillanPonders – ACID REIGN (Album)
Although DillanPonders’ 2016 album is only set to drop on December 29th, I was lucky enough to get an advance copy – which makes this entry still valid. DillanPonders has always been known to be extremely cutthroat and crass, but has amassed a cult-like following for his honesty and raw vulnerability when speaking about his drug addiction, amidst other detrimental vices. With production from some of the city’s newest players, this time around, DillanPonders may be just as bold, but a little more confident in the 12-track effort.
29. Blaise Moore – London (EP)
At just 5 tracks, Blaise Moore is a gem that that’s rough enough around the edges to hold the purest of sounds, but polished enough to say exactly what needs to be said in her 5-track EP, London. As her vocals levitate over stripped-down production, Blaise explores notions of heartbreak, loneliness and the after-thoughts steaming from awful relationships – relatable, cohesive, and scarily refreshing.
30. Shabazz – Alma Sola (EP)
For an artist of Sudanese decent, and straight out of Missisauga, the subtle essence of South American music is discreet and unexpected for a Toronto-based release – but it works. Throughout his 8-trap EP, Alma Sola, Shabazz has put together a soundtrack that mimic’s the chaos and, at times, calmness of shows like ‘Narcos,’ while maintaining this expressive ambiance that’ll leave you hooked.
31. Dustin Wareham – Jouska (Mixtape)
The term ‘jouska’ refers to a hypothetical internal conversation that plays out in your head – it’s something we all do, but just don’t know what it’s really called. Dustin Wareham, however, uses this term to outline his energetic 16-track mixtape, that pulls on some Southern chords, golden era flows and even a little bit of rock. Whether he’s speaking to the nostalgic ghetto blaster or the ‘rock city’ Toronto was once known as, Dustin’s conversation has just gotten started.
32. Meezy Musik – Pressure (EP)
Lending itself to more gospel and promising undertones, Meezy Musik’s releases have always had a strong spiritual lead (and he may be one of our few ‘gospel’ rappers), and his 8-track EP Pressure comes nothing short of that. Uplifting melodies and dynamic features boost this project into a new level, while Meezy wears several hats showing not only his diversity and range, but also his journey.
33. TRIPSIXX – We Own The Night (EP)
Much like the title of this EP, TRIPSIXX radiates in dark production and even darker lyrical content. While he grew up in Windsor, the border city artists has taken influences from Detroit and Toronto to produce an tape for the drug-laden parties, the Queen St. W vibes and people living the savage life like they have nothing to lose.
34. $heed – Ward 11 (Mixtape)
When “Kawallin” dropped earlier this year, it became a street anthem over night, and the term itself became more popular than ever, but for $heed, that wasn’t enough. Throughout the course of his 9-track mixtape Ward 11, $heed manages to stay afloat between rapping and singing, and while it may not always be fluid, the melodic deliveries outshine any kinks.
35. Staasia Daniels – Hidden Gems (EP)
Although we’ve come to know Brampton for a massive amount of rappers, Staasia Daniels is a songstress on the rise, too. Although she’s been making music since 2011, her Hidden Gems EP marked the official start of her journey – one of which is as smooth as silk, and reflects a lyrical freedom, as well as an emotional trek filled with, well, hidden gems.
36. Drega – Where The Wolves Are (EP)
After releasing his EP Trap Songs last year, Degra has been working among the wild streets of Toronto, and followed up in 2016 with the release of his 8-track EP, Where The Wolves Are. Despite the production of the project being a little too simple at times, what strikes heaviest are the ominous lyrics that cradle it.
37. Just John – Renaissance Boy (LP)
Just John has been highlighted as a key Toronto creative for years, but it took him two years and to the very end of 2016 to release his debut LP, Renaissance Boy. The Blank Canvas Gallery owner uses the project to highlight his upbringing in Scarborough, as well as the struggles he’s faced as a product of lower-income environments, and how they’ve shaped his unique artistry that circulates through this project.
38. Kavale – Carpe Diem (LP)
For the better part of 2016. Kavale spent his time building anticipation leading up to the release of his sophomore album Carpe Diem, a project definitely worth the wait. Raised in the choir but influenced by hip-hop, Kavale’s ear for production, smooth deliveries and ability to captivate listeners shines brightly on the 10-track project.
39. Cardo Antonnio – Estate (EP)
Produced entirely by J Cortz, Cardo’s 7-track EP Estate is a testament to an artist’s growth. Cardo explores stronger melodies, deliveries and cleaner production in the pursuit to tell his story about fears, the industry and goals, and while he still hasn’t completely found his own voice, it’s a start.
40. Tobias – Blessing In This Art (EP)
Serving as a testament to staying true to yourself, Tobias (fka Bias Truth) released Blessing In This Art with such confidence it was hard to miss. The self-identified ‘God-fearing creative’ uses the 10-track EP to project words of wisdom and uplifting messages for dark times, but manages to do so with hard-hitting production and silver-tongued deliveries.
41. TOBi – FYI (EP)
Earlier this year, Brampton artist TOBi (fka Tobi Aji) released an colourful 7-track EP that embraced uptempo melodies and vocal diversity titled, FYI. Produced entirely by Nate Smith, the project boast soul jazz undertones as TOBi offers a range of deliveries (and genres, really) throughout, as well as the Kewku Collins- assisted single, “Don’t Wanna Think.”
42. XUAVE – Ego Birth (EP)
With features from Lucki Eck$ and Nessley, XUAVE’s Ego Birth EP, is a blessing to a new generation of rap fans and the underground generation, too. Entirely produced by ATL’s Richie Souf (except “Bitch I’m Fucking Gorgeous”), the 6-track EP rides the more eclectic waves of the trap rap movement, but is so deeply rooted in bravado that whether you’re riding along with him or not, XUAVE won’t care either way.
43. Dijah SB – Manic Luxury (EP)
In just 5 tracks, Dijah SB manages to address topics that are often overlooked in the rap community, but came center stage in 2016. Taking on harmonious production from Tamera Russell and Martin Sole, Dijah uses her EP to tell the story of her battles finding peace mentally through bouts of depression and anxiety, but will concurrently tell you that she’s comfortable in her own skin and will still take your girl.
44. Pryde – I Don’t Belong Here (Mixtape)
To be absolutely honest, I’ve never latched on to Pryde’s (fka D-Pryde) movement, and it’s not because it wasn’t good, it just didn’t stick for me. However, it’s hard to deny his movement is impossible. Following the passing of his mother in early 2015, Pryde returned from ‘hiatus’ a year later with the release of with the somber, but reflective project, I Don’t Belong Here. While the mixtape is a precursor to his LP, it definitely showed that, without a doubt, Pryde does belong here.
45. K. Forest – Eyes of Taiga (Album)
After gaining positive critical reception for his Forest Fire project at the beginning of the year, as well as a remake of “Guidance” by Travis $cott, Brampton’s K. Forest eases out of 2016 by releasing his full-length LP, Eyes of Taiga. The co-produced 11-track project is polished, dark, moody, and even seductive, but represents everything we’ve come to know of K. Forest, and slowly but surely, he’s creating his own voice.
46. Big Spoxx – Born Here Raised Here (Album)
When a veteran producer like Sproxx drops off a tape, you pay attention. The Rexdale born and bred producer called on some of the illest in the city for Born Here Raised Here, and subsequently challenged everyone to deliver their best bars over his production. From Shad and Matthew Progress to Tona and Los Poetas, this is easily a telling tale of where Toronto has come from, and where it could go.
47. Murda Beatz – Keep God First (Mixtape)
When Murda Beatz came onto the scene, it was hard to believe this long-haired kid from Fort Erie, ON, would become the most notable trap producer in Canada – but here we are, and he’s doing everything right. So why does this compilation tape make the list? Because Murda opted to highlight Smoke Dawg, Jay Whiss, Jimmy Prime and Pressa among the massive celebrity rap features.
48. Aden – Last Mountain Valley (EP)
If you’re down for the tripped out, ominous and somewhat depressing releases that tend to come out of Toronto, then Aden’s Last Mountain Valley expresses just that. It’s stark presence gels well with Toronto’s winter cold, and although Aden may have not found his complete identity yet, this EP represents all the kids who believe in the all-black Toronto uniform.
49. Grindhouse Project – To Kill A Critic (Album)
As the upper echelon of the city’s most underground artists, Grindhouse Project’s To Kill A Critic embodies a level of grittiness contemporary releases tend to lack. As a real project for the streets, Trace Motivate and 306 team up with producers Astro Mega and Futurewave to deliver eight tracks of raw, unfiltered and tenacious bars – oh, and with a small touch of soul.
50. Harvey Stripes – Yours To Discover (EP)
For me, Harvey Stripes releases have always been someone hit-or-miss, but his February EP Yours To Discover, taking after Ontario’s slogan of course, hit too hard to ignore. Albeit its celebrity features, the true stars come in the form of Layla Hendryx, as well as production from Nav, Andrew Triple-A and Murda Beatz.
1. BLMTO – Toronto Black City: A Love Letter In Song To Black Community (Compilation Tape): To bring awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement worldwide, but especially in Toronto, the Blackout compilation tape was put together with some of the city’s most promising socio-political voices, like Spek Won and Ian Kamau.
2. Harrison – Checkpoint Titanium (Compilation Tape) : At just 21-years old, Harrison has emerged as one of the city’s most promising producers, and continues to prove why with every release. Serving as his debut album, Checkpoint Titanium harnessed the notions behind ‘futuristic soul’ music, and featured the likes of Clairmont The Second and a l l i e.
3. Dirty Deeds – Let’s Be Friends (Album): With features from the likes of Temi, Cola and JD Era, Toronto producer Dirty Deeds’s 15-track Let’s Be Friends is an eclectic and imaginative project that’s been 4 years in the making. Ranging from electronic and house to rap and hip-hop, there’s something to entertain all.
4. Elaquent – Worst Case Scenario : Elaquent has established himself as a sample-heavy beatsmith who’s embraces soul and heavy drumlines throughout his music, and the release of his project Worst Case Scenario shows no different. From organs and keys to synths and samples, the 12-track project is lush and full-bodied, even without the few features.
5. Sean Leon – Life When You’re The Movie: Although I don’t think he considered it to be a full project, with 5 new tracks, as well a new version of “God / Guard Up,” Sean Leon took on this notion of a playlist to a new level – and for now, it’ll tie over fans until the release of Black Sheep Nirvana.
In just under 15 minutes, these artists stood our with their 3-4 track EPs – some of which serve as a layover until a bigger project, some of which explored new sounds, and some of which were just well needed. Instead of giving a EP recap, just give these singles a spin.
8. JAPE – Play
– which is why they’re not on this list.
Louis Val – Limbo EP
Joe Impala – Swings EP
G Milla – Party In Hell
Ramsay Almighty – Take A Trip
Derek Wise – Glam Wave
Blake Carrington – F.A.I.L.U.R.E.