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You’ll probably hear that 2016 hip-hop belonged to Atlanta.

This is the year the region’s most prominent ambassadors cemented their status as national icons. Young Thug released three increasingly excellent commercial mixtapes that culminated with his greatest work yet, this summer’s JEFFERY, which nabbed him a handful of radio staples with “Digits” and the Travis Scott-assisted “Pick Up The Phone” along the way. Meanwhile, Future became a verifiable festival-topper, Drake tour mate, and bona fide rock star, landing his very own Rolling Stone cover over the summer. 2016 also saw the breakthroughs of sure-to-be career artists in 21 Savage and Lil Yachty, artists paving their own lanes amidst a scene always at risk of becoming homogeneous. Yet, barring everything else, Atlanta would have still had a landmark year from the return of Gucci Mane alone — elevated post-prison to an elder statesman of the game and as prolific as ever to the point of cultural saturation.

But even if Atlanta hadn't rushed trap into the mainstream, then most people would undoubtedly cite Chicago as 2016’s most significant rap scene. The city’s young iconoclast Chance The Rapper had his biggest year yet in an endlessly rising run and brought up his entire squad alongside him. Companions and collaborators Joey Purp and Noname put out two of 2016's best albums,while squadmates like Saba, Towkio, and Vic Mensa all released deeply personal and accomplished projects. Even those unaffiliated with Chance made big names for themselves nationally, such as the meditative Mick Jenkins and latest XXL Freshman Class inductee G Herbo. And beyond the thriving youth energy, the legends of the Chi were inescapable on both the radio and in the press (see: Kanye).

Now, I can’t refute that both regions each had an impressive 12 months. However, I’d offer that what’s been happening on the west end of our continent was of equally notable value.

As always, E-40 is overflowing with new music, releasing his most recent and as always excellent double album The D-Boy Diary a few weeks ago. Furthermore, Lil B has taken bold new steps in earning credibility as more than simply a movement, evolving into a respectable rapper’s rapper with his impressive spattering of features on his Clams Casino debut LP 32 Levels. And amongst all that, in the blink of an eye, G-Eazy has upgraded his status from recent breakout star to stadium headliner. Moreso than any time since a decade ago, the Bay’s got something to say.

Most noteworthy of this recent resurgence is that it has been driven predominantly by the region's rookies. The Bay Area is proving we have more to offer than a continuously receding moment of “hyphy” with a fresh young cast of breakout stars bending the long-established geographic molds. In celebration of the fresh-faced visionaries who have put the Bay back on the rap map, the Bay Bridged is proud to unveil our inaugural year-end Bay Area Rap Hall of Fame. The inductees are all vital voices having their brightest moment yet, and below you can learn a bit more about each of them, why they matter, and what we hope from them going forward.

Caleborate

Caleb

Why was it his best year yet?

Caleborate isn’t simply one of the best new rappers to break out of the Bay, he’s one of the most warm and thoughtful. 1993, his follow-up to last year’s Hella Good, is introspective, to be sure, but Caleb’s definitively an extrovert — he revels in sharing his shine and uses it to light up the whole party. Caleb’s perspective is level-headed and good-hearted — he’s nostalgic for childhood, but uses the boundless optimism of his early 20s to fuel his ambitions, which include completing his education. You can see his devotion to his friends and upbringing in his clips for minimalist banger “Consequences” and the celebratory one-off “08 [Carter Flow].” His best video of the year though? The delightfully campy video-game visuals for “Game Over.” Caleborate can’t help but have a face you want to see succeed.

Most notable accomplishment?

Caleb launched his first-ever headlining tour just last month, and played across the West Coast, including San Francisco’s Social Hall. His hometown performance in particular seemed to be a family affair, taking place the day after Thanksgiving alongside a full band. If that wasn’t enough to make 2016 a landmark year for the young rapper, he also opened a show for Oakland R&B queen Kehlani back in August at UC Berkeley. As much on stage as off, Caleb is a dynamic, glorious force of upstart energy — and here’s hoping he can bring it to bigger and bigger stages on the next go-round.

Best song of the year?

While a spiritual homage to Lil Wayne’s best era, “08 [Carter Flow]” takes its cues largely from Kanye circa '04, from the cyclical soul sample to the homegrown flexes and brash confidence. “I’ve been going hard but I can go a little harder though,” Caleb offers, reminding us that he’s far from his peak, and that everything he’s let us in on so far is only the start of what’s lining up to be an original and essential career. But wherever it goes next, “08” feels like the moment it all got revved up — a spirited exercise in embodying his idols that wound up proving his capacity to become one himself.

Plans for 2017?

Would it be too much to ask to get a full version of the “Midnight” demo he self-leaked last year via Twitter? If so, I’d settle with seeing Caleb land himself a well-deserved spot on the Treasure Island or Outside Lands lineup.

Elujay

Elujay

Why was it his best year yet?

The 20-year-old Oakland MC may have put out the first essential jam of 2016 when he dropped “Soul Food” during the inaugural week of January, offering his Bay Area spin on the smooth gospel that’s become a signature of Chicago’s non-drill rap scene. Elujay waxes political and poetic, tackling police brutality and structural racism with a buoyant hopefulness — one that doesn’t seem plausible anymore as the year’s revealed just how much darker we could go. This approach defines Jentrify, the rapper’s resilient debut LP that keeps an eye squarely on social inequity but doesn't lose sight of where he’s from — often using the latter to flesh out his impressions of the former. He’s rewriting the cultural narratives routinely erased in both his hometown and the rest of the nation. To that extent,Jentrify doesn’t simply come across as significant, but absolutely necessary.

Most notable accomplishment?

While the video’s only barely cracked 1,000 views on YouTube, there’s a home-cooked charm and charisma that comes with the Adrian Per-directed clip for “Flagrant,” (which features Oakland’s YMTK). The song itself is a jazzy, horn-assisted love letter, and the video complements that off-the-cuff romanticism with a sweet and sassy love story that takes place on the basketball court. It’s a notable achievement for both rappers in the video, but also for Per, who's also been behind the lens for a number of Caleborate’s videos this year in addition to clips by Derek Pope, P-Lo, and numerous other MCs.

Best song of the year?

It’s never been too difficult to become disenchanted with reality, but it’s also never been this dismally effortless. It’s beginning to feel like most peoples’ default is indifferent, if not downright disparaging of how far we have left to overcome. Yet “Soul Food” is a brief respite from that mindset. Elujay offers a sly hymn, almost seductively peaceful at a time when there seems to be no common ground anymore. With the world as gratuitous as it’s been, escapism has taken the form of gentle reminders of little joys when it may otherwise seem too dim to notice them.

Plans for 2017?

Elujay will likely capitalize on the higher profile he’s earned in the wake of Jentrify, which I hope involves his own headlining tour, as well as more music videos as delightful as “Flagrant.” 

Kamaiyah

Kamaiyah

Why was it her best year yet?

Picking up on the momentum of her prior year’s inclusion on Pitchfork’s “Best Songs of 2015” for “How Does It Feel,” Kamaiyah released her debut LP A Good Night In The Ghetto this March to widespread acclaim. Existing as a singular force amongst a sea of rap styles, Kamaiyah doesn’t so much say her words as she bestows them as royal declarations, and her novel delivery and joyously chewy melodies have caught the attention of rap stars as wide-reaching as YG and E-40, the latter of whom featured her for a spectacular guest verse on his most recent album D-Boy Diary. But Kamaiyah’s proved herself first and foremost by herself, having sold out headlining shows in both coasts this summer, as well as two absolutely unforgettable performances at this year’s Treasure Island Music Festival. And her momentum is far from slowing down: Iif 2016 is when you first heard of Kamaiyah, 2017 is when she makes it impossible to listen to anyone else.

Most notable accomplishment?

Kamaiyah’s full-length debut is definitively her greatest achievement of the year, but in regards to what’s she’s going to be most known for from 2016, it’s without a doubt her hook on YG’s Drake-assisted smash “Why You Always Hatin?” The Oakland MC doesn’t seem out of place for even a moment stuntin’ alongside the two far more recognizable rappers, and if anything she seems almost the most comfortable decadently partaking in the on-screen lavishness that she’s been striving for ever since she first wondered how it might feel. Kamaiyah’s guest spot here was an important moment, one she’s been stretching throughout the entire year since YG asked her to open the entirety of his nationwide “Fuck Donald Trump” tour.

Best song of the year?

YG has been Kamaiyah’s most loyal big name cosign, having performed with her during her breakthrough Fader Fort set at this year’s SXSW before bringing her on to sing the chorus of “Why You Always Hatin?” However, before Kamaiyah got her widest exposure yet appearing in a music video alongside Drake, YG lent his own brand to the Oakland star on her track “Fuck It Up,” a squirming anthem of indifference to cultural norms and Kamaiyah paving her own way straight through any and all obstacles. Kamaiyah would have credibility with or without all her famous connections, and on “Fuck It Up,” she makes you wonder who is really using who for the brand association.

Plans for 2017?

Kamaiyah’s been quiet about what she’s looking at next following her rapid ascent this year, but it’s safe to assume she won’t let her current spotlight go to waste. Announcing a new album and riding out the wave on a solo tour or two would seem to be in the cards.

Rexx Life Raj

RLR

Why was it his best year yet?

After “Moxie Java,” his joint single with Nef The Pharoah broke out, Raj released his latest full-length Father Figure to heightened recognition, and it’s much deserved. The album is an accomplished compilation of Raj’s distinct aesthetic — a composed regality, slyly animated but arrogantly chill. He carries an effervescent swag, one grounded as much in Berkeley’s history of activism as it is in the city’s creative aura. He also boasts brilliant shit talk, but he’s not so much about spitting venom as he is about inducing clarity. It’s all of these qualities that were finally given their due credit this year, and it’s now impossible to go back to a time when it seemed like Raj wasn’t the hottest in the Bay.

 Most notable accomplishment?

“If it aint ballin’, than what do you call this?” It’s Raj scoring one of the definitive bangers of the past year, and he didn’t even need to rattle any trunks to do so. “Shit N’ Floss” is seductive as hell, bending you into Raj’s zen-like orbit as he stunts over a stupidly slick beat. It’s an anthem that doesn’t raise its voice, with Raj putting on wide display his lyrical athleticism and acumen. The Telegraph Ave. filmed music video is perfectly emblematic of why 2016 was so great for Bay Area rap; every hall of famer this year came up not in spite of their hometown, but by repping it harder than ever before. 

Best song of the year?

Spanning a mere two minutes, “Handheld GPS” — the mission-statement centerpiece of Father Figure — is a distillation of Raj’s rhythmic wisdom in a succinct package. Nearly every couplet feels like an actionable quote: “I don’t even know what I’m shooting for / But I’m shooting anyway,” “I’ve been minding my business / I’ve been building my business,” “Sitting back, counting blessings / Don't accept no for answers, ask questions.” It was enough to garner him a Pitchfork track review, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if you see him earning some red circles on the site by the end of next year. Raj has a number of stunners to his name, but “Handheld GPS” is his first masterpiece.

Plans for 2017?

Raj has a vault of bangers ready to go, so expect releases to keep trickling out over the next year, such as his magnificent recent one-off “Running Man,” or to be put to use on his eventual follow-up to Father Figure. I’ve heard a number of those unreleased tracks, and I can tell you that Raj’s viscous flow routinely burrows itself as an earworm that lasts months. Once those songs come out, well you might just see Raj's name pop up in our hall of fame once again by this time next year.

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