The 10 best South African albums of 2016
by: Live Staff - 8 December 2016
2016 showed us flames, but musically it was one of the best. From Zaki Ibrahim’s experimental electronica EP Orbit: A Postcoital Prequel, to Priddy Ugly’s unique take on trap You Don’t Know Me Yet, to Jullian Gomes’s deep house masterpiece Late Dreamer, we bring you our favourite albums of the year. In no particular order.
1. Priddy Ugly – You Don’t Know Me Yet
True to the title of his mixtape-turned-album, little known Priddy Ugly, made waves with the spring release of You Don’t Know Me Yet. With the amazing Wichi 1080 on production, and boasting features like HHP, A-Reece, Refi Sings and Shane Eagle, Priddy Ugly introduced his unique take on trap in style. Nominated for the 2016 South African Hip Hop Awards for Mixtape of the Year, Priddy Ugly has only whet the appetite of the industry. With epic bass-heavy beats, blended with Priddy’s brilliant prose, YDKMY is the musical personification of the adage “say it with your chest”. – Misa Narrates
2. Zaki Ibrahim – Orbit: A Postcoital Prequel
Zaki Ibrahim has been away from the scene for about four years since the release of her 2012 album Every Opposite. She’s currently working on a comeback album, and to give us a taste, she released a 4-track EP called Orbit: A Postcoital Prequel. On the project, Zaki brings those natural smooth vocals she’s known for. The production is electronic, thanks to the producer Maramza, who’s responsible for the soundscape.
Staying true to her hip-hop roots, she samples Lord of the Undergrounds’s “Chief Rocka” classic, and drowns it in synthesizers on the opening track “One”. The second song is a trapsoul slow-burner, which is my favourite. The third is a dancefloor-ready EDM banger, while the closing track is sombre, where she sings over a moody instrumental that has no drums, sounding a bit like Alicia Keys. I can’t wait for the full album in 2017. – Sabelo Mkhabela
3. Frank Casino – Something from Me
Following the well-received release of DJ Speedsta’s hit single, “Mayo”, on which he’s featured, Frank Casino invites listeners into his personal space through his debut release Something From Me. The 16-track project is tight knit with songs that complement each other, songs such as “Pablo”, “Sauce” and “Whole Thing”. A notable feature on the project is the rapper Priddy Ugly, who appears on “Sauce”. Something From Me gives the listener details of Frank Casino’s aspirations, interests, and objectives in a precise manner. It’s rooted in Frank Casino’s experiences and communicates a compelling honesty. – Andile Rada
4. Jullian Gomes – Late Dreamer
Jullian Gomes is a South African deep house gem. His debut album, Late Dreamer is a mindful and heartfelt body of work, consisting of soothing beats that work for both a chillout and the club. Late Dreamer is made up of soulful, afro and deep house. It boasts smooth vocals from big names such as The Lazarusman, Ziyon, Kabomo, Bucie and Sio. If you love deep house, you’ll definitely enjoy Late Dreamer. It ticks all the boxes, the production is amazing, and so are the vocals. And it has replay value, so you will probably still be playing it this time next year and beyond. – Mandy Alexander
5. Kid Tini – Coming of Age
In a time when rappers are mimicking each other, comes Kid Tini. The 19-year-old rapper from Butterworth, Eastern Cape, released his debut mixtape Coming of Age earlier this year, and he instantly became my favourite rapper in Mzansi. Every track has everything that makes a great song. From the beats, to the lyrics – the punchlines are insane. This young kid knows how to use similes and metaphors. “They catch a handful of feelings ’cause we throw them in chunks/ I done sharpened up the raps but the lyrics is blunt/ See, they couldn’t top this if they was sharing a bunk,” he raps on the title track. Kid Tini knows how to tell a story, a skill I think many rappers lack. He is poised to do some great things in 2017. – Aseza Pupuma
6. Sjava – Isina Muva
2016 was a bad year because we are probably being punished for sleeping on such an amazing album. At 16 tracks, Isina Muva is long. But it’s all good. While a lot of people think Sjava is biting Mashayabhuqe KaMamba’s style, I think he’s authentic. Sjava is inspired more by mbhaqanga than maskandi, which Mashayabhuqe is overtly inspired by. Sjava sounds like what the Soul Brothers would if they made music in 2016 and sang over trap production. The lyrics aren’t that strong, they can be a bit of a cliché at times, but it’s the way he sings that makes him special. Ambitiouz Ent, the label he’s signed to, should do better in future and promote this guy as much as they promoted his label mate A-Reece’s Paradise album. – Sabelo Mkhabela
Stream Isina Muva on Apple Music or buy it on iTunes
7. Thandiswa Mazwai – Belede
First the keys, then the soft hum of Thandiswa Mazwai’s voice before we hear a #FeesMustFall protester lamenting, “From who must I run? Why are you brutalising me?” and then, goosebumps. This was my reaction as I listened to the first track on this jazz tribute album. She does justice to the track “Jikijela” which was first sung by Letta Mbulu. She almost pulls it into the future, connecting it to today’s struggle. Track after track, she continues to do this, with expert support from drummer Ayanda Sikade, pianist Nduduzo Makhathini and bassist Herbie Tsoaeli.
Normally I’m not a fan of tribute albums, but there’s something different about Belede. Maybe it’s because she has been away for seven years, or that even after all the protests, universities like Wits are still upping fees by 8%. Maybe it’s that it’s dedicated to her mom. I don’t know. But it works. After such a crappy year, Belede feels like the bandage South Africans, especially young black women need. To know that you’re not alone, that others have fought before you and Thandiswa herself came back, for you and others who may have been bruised by 2016. – Neo Maditla
8. Stogie T – Stogie T
Tumi is a changed man. Under the new moniker, Stogie T, his music is easier on the ear, compared to his earlier stuff. It’s because of the 808-based production he chose for the self-titled album, and the features he enlisted. The likes of Emtee, Yanga, Nadia Nakai, AKA all breathe freshness into the album. Tumi’s still the best lyricist in South Africa. In this album, he explores success, racism, and also touches on personal issues like his marriage and his relationship with his mother with impressive eloquence. He raps in his polished flows, and they sit comfortably over all the beats. I love every track, except “#FF” which features Nadia Nakia. Sorry, Tumi, but not even you can convince me Nadia can rap. – Sabelo Mkhabela
9. KLY – KLYMAX
KLY is the crooner the South African industry has been waiting for. He effortlessly fuses trap, soul and RnB to come up with a signature sound that reflects his Joburg surroundings. KLY explores several themes on this project, leading to an entertaining journey through upbeat peaks on “Soul Touch” and a slightly more ominous feel on “5AM In The East”. The 22-year-old also addresses unrequited love on one of the best RnB tracks of the year “Direction”. Not to be left out of your turn up playlist, the deluxe edition of KLYMAX features the standout track “Scrr Pull Up” and a collab with Riky Rick on “Too Much”. That co-sign is a great boost for the talented singer, songwriter and producer who promises a huge 2017. This Wichi 1080-helmed project is the perfect foundation for KLY to build upon while he flirts with intricate melodies and addresses subject matter that will hopefully “Keep Love Young”. – Mayuyuka Kaunda
10. Naye Ayla – Exi(s)t
Whether or not you know about Naye is irrelevant. Her EP, Exi(s)t, was brilliant. She’s a member of the Culture Cartel, a band based in Pretoria. Naye’s Exi(s)t dropped in November, featuring the likes of Una Rams, Youngsta CPT, and her own rendition of Nasty C’s “Juice Back”. Ayla’s eerily soothing vocals coupled with the lazy acid trip feel bring a far more sultry feel to 2016’s rhythm and blues scene. – Misa Narrates
What was your favourite album this year? Let us know in the comments section below.