Best Music of 2016: Biggest Breakthroughs of 2016

2016 saw the rise of several musicians from playing small clubs to playing major venues, appearing on national television, and earning the respect of their peers, critics, and fans alike. In our latest Best Music of 2016 feature, we highlight five artists who made the leap and who enter 2017 poised to conquer the world.

Anderson Paakanderson paak

Anderson Paak closed out 2015 in a pretty big way, featuring on a number of tracks on Dr. Dre’s Compton record. That’s what had people predicting big things for the Oxnard hip-hop dude heading into this year. Still, nobody could have foreseen the monster 2016 that Anderson Paak ended up having. It began in January with the release of his masterpiece second record Malibu. Things kicked up a notch at Coachella when during the first weekend he brought out Gary Clark Jr. and rapper T.I. He followed that up the second weekend at the Polo Grounds when Dre and Kendrick Lamar made appearances. It felt similar to when Dre and Snoop Dogg headlined Coachella in 2010 and brought out a soon-to-be blowing up Kendrick during their set. Paak only seemed to get more and more praise from hip-hop’s kingpins, and for good reason. If you’ve been to a Paak show, you know it’s unlike any other hip-hop show you’ve ever seen. Paak’s band is incredible, and he’s a little bit of Kendrick meets James Brown on stage, while also jumping behind the drums while rapping from time to time. Now you can’t go anywhere without escaping his music. His big song “Come Down” is featured in an NBA on TNT promo, in the latest Madden video game while “Am I Wrong” is in a Google Phone commercial. He crushed it on the Tonight Show and every other televised performance of his. His Tiny Desk set was easily the most dynamic of the year. He followed that up by releasing Yes Lawd! under the NxWorries moniker with Knxwledge which features the smash hit “Suede.” The whole album is fantastic and worth your time. He’s incredible as a featured artist on other people’s tracks — from KAYTRANADA to Mac Miller to Snakehips to TOKiMONSTA. It’s crazy to see how low on the poster he was for Coachella this year — in six months he will probably be headlining second-tier music festivals and I wouldn’t be shocked if he headlines big ones in three years.


Flume is another artist whose second album blew them up beyond their previous stature in 2016. The Aussie producer and DJ waited four years until releasing the follow-up to his well-received self-titled debut. His Coachella performance featured some early tastes of his album Skin dropping in May. It turned Flume into a superstar. The song “Say It” featuring Tove Lo was a massive hit, as was “Never Be Like You” featuring Kai. The album also features Beck, Vince Staples, Vic Mensa, Little Dragon, AlunaGeorge, as well as Raekwon. He’s a bonafide top-line festival act now and will be a common headliner of fests in 2017. He had multiple nights sold out in LA at The Shrine and his live show is beyond what most DJs bring. His production is of an extremely high level and he’s not just pushing play. He toured the world with that setup and will probably be playing the biggest venues cities have to offer from here on out. Also, bonus points because I’ve been told I look like him. I actually used this to win tickets to one of the shows at The Shrine.


Gerald Gillum aka G-Eazy is from near where I grew up, having spent most of his time in Oakland, Calif. I’m shocked I didn’t really get introduced to him until my best friend made sure we saw his set at Life is Beautiful Festival in 2014 in Las Vegas. At that set, he referenced having played Las Vegas the last time to a small crowd at Warped Tour. I became a huge fan of his live show immediately and couldn’t believe how hyped he had this crowd. Fast forward a few years later and it’s insane just how big Gerald has blown up. I’ve seen his live show go from your regular live rap show to something extraordinary. One way to show how he grew from 2015 to 2016: his LA shows during GRAMMY week. In 2015, he brought out The Neighbourhood, Bay Area legend Too $hort, and Rae Sremmurd. In 2016 at The Shrine, he punched up the guest appearances to Diddy, Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa, YG, Ty Dolla $ign, A$AP Ferg, and Bebe Rexha on his monster hit “Me, Myself & I.” He had one of the biggest crowds at Coachella. He them embarked on a stadium tour during the summer that sold extremely well. I was at his Bay Area homecoming show at the Shoreline in Mountain View in July and it was insane. The dude featured on a Britney Spears song this year. Though I personally enjoyed his 2014 album These Things Happen a bit more than 2015’s When It’s Dark Out, but there’s no ignoring the fact he’s become a massive radio staple with the latest one.

Chance the Rapperchance the rapper

Chance the Rapper is music’s most successful independently-made artist in the world. He’s kept from signing with a major label this long and yet has a level of exposure most indie artists dream of. 2015 was the year Chance matured and became a bonafide headliner — a title he will carry with him into 2017 as he will headline a number of festivals across the country. One thing that has made Chance so appealing is him doing things on his own terms. His 2016 mixtape Coloring Book is the first that will be up for a GRAMMY, and he’ll probably walk away with more than one. The album is one of the year’s best and it’s at or near the top of nearly every major outlet’s year-end lists. The tour that followed the album was one of the most successful of the year and saw Chance take a giant leap. His live band is incredible, his stage show matches it — even if it is a little weird with all the puppets and whatnot. His performance of “Blessings” on The Tonight Show was one of the best late-night performances of the year — complete with help from the likes of Ty Dolla $ign, D.R.A.M., Anthony Hamilton and Raury. His performance of “Summer Friends” with Francis and the Lights on The Today Show was equally awesome. The dude even knocked it out on The Ellen Show with Lil’ Wayne and 2 Chainz. Chance also became a meme after his run-in with Beyonce at the MTV Awards. The 23-year-old Chicago rapper is entering 2017 as an unstoppable force — and better yet, he’s got a great head on his shoulders.

The 1975the-1975

This band is not my bag at all — I feel like they’re a homeless man’s version of INXS with douchey haircuts and even douchier tattoos — but you can’t deny the rise they had in 2016. Their second full-length album, which had a ridiculous title, was released to critical acclaim. They seemed to have come a long ways as live performers. I remember seeing them at Coachella in 2014 and the lead singer Matty Healy just seemed to be a drunken intelligible mess. Now they’re putting on shows in arenas across the world. I don’t love their music, but appreciate them helping bring exposure to acts like The Japanese House, who toured with them and definitely made fans at shows as evidenced by their sold-out show at The Echo just this week.