Their greatest strength has always been not caring what hip-hop is supposed to sound like.
The music is as bleep-y as it is banging (James Blake produces on two tracks) and touchstones include Andre 3000, James Joyce, Leonardo DiVinci and Jay Gatsby.
Following in the wake of Chance the Rapper's critical smash Coloring Book, his Savemoney crewmate Joey Purp debuts with the bright iiiDrops, another Chicago dispatch full of soaring horns and impassioned deliveries.
His lovestruck, singing-in-the-shower style – imagine a cross between Ol' Dirty Bastard, Chance the Rapper and a private-press R&B record from the Seventies – is bent, delirious and totally intoxicating.
There's brilliance in even Lamar's cast-offs, and an intimacy here that makes this more than just a gift for his ravenous fans --it's an illuminating look at a red-hot rapper's craft.
They call themselves the "Black Beatles," and even if they've somewhat abandoned their hook-y bubblegum melodies, at least they've embraced the Fab Four's experimental mindset.
Schoolboy Q's 2014 major-label debut, Oxymoron, marked him as the most street MC in L.A.'s Black Hippy rap collective. No less stressed or conflicted than that crew's breakout star, Kendrick Lamar, he's reporting from deeper within the fog of war on his follow-up.
Noname unfurls thoughts about a life where love and freedom are in the distance and too many friends are "casket-pretty." It's some of the year's most thought-provoking hip-hop.
For all the different genres it consumes and spits back, it sounds like no other band on earth.
One of the most timeless rap groups ever has returned with a record that doesn't sound like 1996, but doesn't sound like 2016 either. It's imbued with the same feeling of "Push It Along" that they've had from the beginning.
While Atrocity Exhibition is stuffed like a piñata with colorful addictions ... its also teeming with the isolation, paranoia and regrets you could expect from a rap album named after a Joy Division song.
As usual it's Thug's own sound that predominates: the heroic howls, rasps, mumbles and wheezes of a man who is as captivating a vocalist as any in pop.
It's a labored-over opus that wishes it were a mixtape, trying hard to curate the vibe of a sprawling mess, and that's because it's made by an artist who feels like a mess and doesn't care to hide it.
Reaching back to the very beginning of black music in America, Chance recontextualizes one of the most enduring African-American art forms for 2016's most urgent one.