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#FirstTake: The best debut projects of 2016

REVOLT's Year End Review series kicks off with a look at the year's best debuts.

Like we always do at this time…

The year in music developed plenty of highlights, moments, and superstars. In this day and age, booming upstarts are becoming billed stars at a quick pace. In 2016, we witnessed this fact via a slew of stellar debut albums from artists who basically broke ground with their standout projects. From dvsn and 6lack revamping R&B, to Noname and Jamila Woods pushing the rap needle forward, these artists are sure to make 2017 all the more interesting. Here, REVOLT celebrates the debut projects from the new class of creators who altogether proved that #FirstTake is the charm.

dsvn, Sept 5th

dvsn took R&B by storm when they released their alluring debut album, Sept. 5th, in late March. With 10 melodic songs, the Canadian OVO act gave listeners a compelling collaboration of immersed basslines, crisp high-hats, and the serene sound of that contemporary R&B that our generation’s been missing. While futuristic slow jams such as "Too Deep," "Do It Well," and "In + Out" will leave you weak in the knees, cadenced songs like "Another One" and "Sept 5" will have you ready to get up and move on command. Daniel Daley’s smooth voice also adds to the album's hypnotic vibes, leaving you wanting to do nothing but play the album consistently. I think it's safe to say that this #FirstTake was a knockout. — Amber Mackie

Nao, For All We Know

After releasing two EPs in both 2012 and 2015, East London singer/songwriter NAO blessed her fans with her long-awaited debut album, For All We Know, and boy, was it worth the wait. The upbeat 18-track album was full of NAO’s unique electro-R&B sound as well as her mousey striking but sultry voice. She made sure to show off her soprano tone and electronic sound in songs like "Get To Know Ya," "Inhale Exhale," "Adore You," and her hit song "Bad Blood." While the majority of her songs on the album were enthusiastic and sanguine NAO made sure to leave fans with a few slow jams. She quietly yet beautifully murmured on tracks like "In The Morning," and "Blue Wine" proving to listeners that her voice has great depth. NAO made sure she gave you everything she had on this #FirstTake, holding nothing back. — AM

Noname, Telefone

Noname released her debut mixtape Telefone this year, almost four years after its announcement. While many might not quite know who Noname is you've probably heard her voice on songs like Chance The Rapper's "Lost" (Acid Rap) and "Finish Line/Drown" (Coloring Book) or Mick Jenkins' "Comfortable" (The Waters), both fellow Chicago rappers. Noname’s debut mixtape came as one of the most shocking projects to release in 2016, not because many fans were wondering if Noname was turning into Jay Electronica, but because Telefone was so worth the wait.

One of the most astonishing things about Noname is her voice. She's a rapper but more important, she’s a poet. With her soft-spoken voice she sings melodies and creates imagery of the truth of a harsh reality, but her voice is also lined with beauty and hope for the future. Telefone is her story as a girl growing up in Southside Chicago as she transitions into a woman. It’s raw and honest and tackles issues of systematic oppression, violence, abortion, losing family members, and what it’s like to grow up in a place where most of your friends are "Casket Pretty." As an emerging female rapper who isn't concerned with looks or sex appeal but rather focuses on painting pictures through her words — not to mention this girl can rap very very well — Noname’s Telefone easily put her at the top of the list for artists to watch in 2017. — Asia Howard

Kaytranada, 99.9%

Taking a leap from SoundCloud wizard, his former tag, to musician extraordinaire, Montreal beatsmith Kaytranada melted minds and genres with his long-awaited debut album. All of 99.9's eclectic featured guests, including AlunaGeorge, GoldLink, Vic Mensa, Little Dragon, Phonte — and a standout entry from Craig David — served as Kay's muses as he bounced dazzling sounds off their unique energies, resulting in a funky sonic explosion. — Ralph Bristout

6LACK, Free 6lack

At first blush 6lack sounded like artists you'd heard before (PND, Tiller, etc.). But his debut album Free 6lack proved he had his own story to tell. If you listen to music on any streaming platform, you could not escape the song "Prblms," nor did you want to. 6lack deserves recognition for taking trap-and-b, a genre just on the verge of redundancy, and breathing life into it through original delivery, a knack for melody, and relatable stories. He told everyone who would listen that _Free 6lack _represented a new era for him: He'd left a bad label deal, did some maturing as an artist, and determined to find his own lane — and we witness that rebirth over 11 solid tracks. —Driadonna Roland

Jamila Woods, HEAVN

Had Chance the Rapper not gone and literally influenced the way Grammy Award eligibility worked (streaming-only releases can now be considered), his Coloring Book effort would be my very obvious pick. But as he, and it, nabbed seven nominations as a result of his push for inclusion, I’ll opt for the debut album from his fellow Chicagoan and frequent collaborator Jamila Woods, HEAVN. (It would have been a close second, anyway.) Delivered via Soundcloud for free and featuring more guests from their makeshift Windy City collective Chance, SABA, and now Nico Segal), HEAVN is the soundtrack to uplift in the face of oppression and self-love in the face of misunderstanding. With lush harmonies delivered in her jazzy, folksy lilt over beats that incorporate hip-hop, soul, and even playground anthems, call-and-repeat chants, and spoken interludes, Woods touches on race, injustice, and violence, but every time I hear it, I can’t help but think about how pretty the whole damn thing sounds. —Danielle Cheesman

REVOLT's 2016 Year-End Review: #FirstTake | #RestUp | #CrossTheLine | #NoRules | #SimplyTheBest | #BreakingGround | We Need To Talk About Drake's 'Views' | Best Music Videos

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