2017 may go down as the poopiest year of the ‘10s. Unless of course you’ve spent the whole year with the TV off and your earbuds plugged in your ears, in which case you may think of 2017 as a pretty solid year for Hip Hop & RnB music. Not nearly as good as 2015 or 2016, but 2017 has given us many new faces and many new favorites, while also reminding us just how much some familiar faces have grown. So what better thing to do than to torture myself by only picking out my personal Top 10 albums for this year. I’m not sure if it was harder picking my top 10 or ranking my top 10, but nonetheless I am a fighter so let us move on to the list.
10. Smino – blkswn
The first time I fell in love with Smino’s music was last year on the Monte Booker assisted track “Kolors”. The song was just a teaser of what could happen when Booker’s atmospheric, groovy beats mix with Smino’s eccentric flow and sharp lyricism. That blend of styles is what eventually would become the St. Louis artist’s debut album, blkswn. Running at 18 tracks long, blkswn can best be described as a long, but never boring, ride through space at 2:00 a.m. in a Honda Civic (and yes I am aware that there is no sense of time in space). Producing nearly the entire album, it is hard to ignore what Booker is able to bring to the table as an up and coming producer redefining the genre of hip-hop. Smino raps on various different topics that range from Netflix and chilling with his shawty to speaking on the black experience in America and delivers this with a very fresh and unique flow. Also, the sequencing on the album cannot be ignored. It’s is so good to the point where you don’t know where one song ends and the next one begins, producing a very fluid album listening experience. For sure worthy of a Top 10 position this year.
Favorite Tracks: “Glass Flows”, “Netflix & Dusse”, “Anita”, “Father Son Holy Smoke”
9. Goldlink – At What Cost
Goldlink impressed many critics, fans, and myself with his second mixtape And After That, We Didn’t Talk, which was released two years ago. Instead of continuing his career in LA or another major city, Goldlink decided to stay home and create an album all about home. At What Cost is all about, and for, the DMV (a popular nickname for the area surrounded by Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia). Goldlink raps about many DMV related topics, such as go-go music and the increased gun violence and death of many black youth in the area. It’s easy for Kendrick Lamar or Drake to rep their hometown because their hometowns are so popular already. The DMV is a city often underlooked as a major hip-hop city and Goldlink wanted to prove that on At What Cost. With features from many popular DMV artists, like Wale, Mya, and Shy Glizzy, and songs that feature go-go production, At What Cost is a fun, dancey, and entertaining album that let’s the world in on the sounds of the DMV. Also, it would be remiss of me not to mention that “Crew”, with its infectious hook sung by Brent Faiyaz, is one of the best songs of this decade. Don’t @ me.
Favorite Tracks: “Have You Seen That Girl?”, “Meditation”, “Crew”, “Kokamoe Freestyle”, and “Some Girl”.
8. SYD – Fin
Despite the name of the album, Syd’s career in music is far from over. Syd (formerly Syd da Kid) has been around making music since 2011 with Odd Future. Her band, The Internet, has put out 3 albums, including the Grammy-nominated Ego Death released in 2015. In 2016, Syd delivered a few features for artists like KAYTRANADA, Isaiah Rashad, and Common. It was 2017, however, where Syd established herself as an independent and confident voice in R&B. Fin is Syd’s first solo project and she sounds as fierce as she has ever been. Leaving the familiar neo-soul sounds of Ego Death behind, Syd goes for a more contemporary, 90’s R&B flavor on Fin. Focusing on topics of success and relationships, Syd delivers a fresh R&B album in a time where R&B is beginning to become stale in lyrics and trap heavy in production. Syd has struggled with stage fright and anxiety for most of her career, but these past two years, and on Fin, Syd has proven that she is here to be a confident, sexy, and bold R&B artist. Syd’s songwriting ability and magical, lush voice make for a stellar debut album.
Favorite Tracks: “Shake em Off”, “All About Me”, “Smile More”, “Body”, and “Dolla Bills”
7. Princess Nokia – 1992 Deluxe
A few things caught my eye when i first saw Princess Nokia’s 1992 Deluxe: it was an album titled after a year (those albums are proven to be better), her bright smile on the cover, and her totally New York tomboy outfit. New York City’s Puerto Rican culture is huge and is one of my favorites. Unfortunately, there haven’t been many representatives of Puerto Rican culture in Hip-hop (Fat Joe is the only one to come to mind). But have no fear, Princess Nokia is here and she is amazing. You may know her from that video of woman throwing soup on a man’s face in a subway after he was screaming racial slurs and two young black males. Yeah, she’s the one who threw the soup. That same attitude is what makes 1992 not just a great, gritty album, but also a very classic New York album. Nokia’s bars and verses are vicious and unapologetic. Nokia raps about her mischievous upbringing (“Bart Simpson”), her tough personality (“Tomboy” & “Mine”), and the beautiful city she grew up in (“Saggy Denim” & “ABCs of New York”). She mixes modern trap production with classic NY boom-bap and clever, illustrious lyrics to create a wonderful peek into the life of Princess Nokia.
Favorite Tracks: “Bart Simpson”, “Mine”, “Saggy Denim”, “Green Line”, “Goth Kid”, “Brick City”, and “Chinese Slippers”
6. Brent Faiyaz – Sonder Son
If Brent Faiyaz’s name sounds familiar it’s because it should. I mentioned him earlier when I was talking about Goldlink’s explosive hit “Crew” that really made Brent Faiyaz a popular name. He also worked on a project with his group Sonder, which was a very soft and smooth RnB album. But Sonder Son sounds completely different from anything he has released before. Sonder Son is the proper introduction to Brent Faiyaz himself and proof that he is more than just a really good voice. Sonder Son is filled with personal narratives and introspection, which is pretty different from most RnB albums you hear nowadays. It does, of course, come with a few love songs as expected on almost any RnB album. But what makes Sonder Son stick out to me the most, and why it’s on this list, is the throwback 90’s RnB production and 90’s feel it has. Faiyaz was born in 1995, but Sonder Son sounds like it was made in 1999. The 22-year old’s clever and mature songwriting and production with beautiful guitar riffs and slow drums makes for a very solid debut release.
Favorite Tracks: All of them but I want to say that “Talk 2 U” is my absolute favorite.
5. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Vince Staples is young, black, intelligent, and loud and Big Fish Theory will not let you forget that. Vince came out with his strong double-disc debut Summertime ‘06 two years ago and in the last two years, Vince has drop any guest features for a wide range of artists (ScHoolboy Q, Gorillaz, Kali Uchis) and even dropped the Prima Donna EP last year. These last two years highlight how much Vince has grown as an MC and has even strayed away from his usual sound and Big Fish Theory is a good example of that growth and change. Vince is still rapping about topics concerning race and politics, but this time in more curt and direct manner than before. With shorter verses and repetitive hooks, Vince wanted to get straight to the point on this album. Fans of Vince Staples will no doubt the huge difference in production this time around. Giving off Yeezus vibes, the production is very industrial-EDM heavy with maybe only one or two songs that actually sound like a traditional hip-hop beat. With features from artists like Kilo Kish, Ray J, Ty Dolla $ign, and a killer verse from Kendrick Lamar, Big Fish Theory is the backdrop to a dark, apocalyptic future. Kind of imagine if Tron was set in Long Beach, California under a corrupt system and that’s what Big Fish Theory sounds like.
Favorite Tracks: All of them
4. Tyler, The Creator – Scum F*ck Flower Boy
Tyler’s debut studio album came out over six years ago and Mr. Creator has come a long way since his roach eating days. Released two years after the experimental album, Cherry Bomb, Flower Boy is Tyler’s most mature album to date from his writing to his production. The first single “Who Dat Boy” (featuring a verse from his buddy A$AP Rocky) was a very excellent return from his two year hiatus and “911/Mr. Lonely” is one of the best (and most fun) songs to come out this past summer. From the very first track, it is clear that Tyler’s production has been highly influenced by very bright and sunny sounds, which matches perfectly with the sunset and sunflowers on the front cover. You can also tell that, from the very beginning as well, that Tyler is getting more personal on this album than he has on any other album he’s put out. Discussing topics of fame, loneliness, nostalgia and his own sexuality, we get a very good look on what’s really going on inside the mind of Tyler, The Creator. As usual, the entire album was produced by Tyler himself and it is some of his best production. With lush strings and vibrant keys, it is very clear that Tyler has been learning how to incorporate more sophisticated instrumentation into his work. And despite the list of popular names that pop up in the features (Rex Orange County, Frank Ocean, Kali Uchis, Lil Wayne), it still feels like Tyler’s show and he is shining brighter than ever.
Favorite Tracks: “See You Again”, “Who Dat Boy”, “Pothole”, “911/Mr. Lonely”, “Boredom”, “November”, but really all of them
3. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
I think I speak for most people who listened to DAMN. that the title is more than appropriate. Once I finished listening to this 55-minute project, all I could say was “damn”. From beginning to end this album slaps. And it slaps hard. The transition from the suspenseful intro “BLOOD.” into the Mike WiLL Made-It produced “DNA.” is rush of bars and beats as we are reintroduced to much angrier Kendrick Lamar that we haven’t heard for a few years now. DAMN. is a pretty good painting of what 2017 turned out to be as far as politics and social issues go. Lamar discusses what’s going on his life (“FEEL.”, “LOVE.”, “FEAR.”) as he is becoming even more of a superstar, while also reflecting and commenting on the current state of the people (“LUST.” and “XXX.”). As expected, Lamar’s pen game is as vicious and intricate as ever and the production on this album has been taken new heights. Sounding nothing like his last two LPs, DAMN. further shows how Lamar has probably grown the most among his peers and is definitely one of the best.
Favorite Tracks: All of them let’s be honest it was pretty fire
2. SZA – Ctrl
Ctrl is one of my favorite albums of the year (it’s my #2 duh), but my sister loves the album even more than me and has her own personal connection to the album. So the following review will be told by sister, Carmen. Enjoy.
“This album is one of the most empowering albums of 2017 for women. Solána Imani Rowe is a badass woman who is not afraid to sing what she really feels. SZA released her debut album this past June, after months of delays, and it debuted at number three on the Billboard 200. The types of things she sings about mainly on this album are the empowerment of women, demanding respect from men, sexual acts and behavior, the intimacy and heat of relationships, and just the grimy truth of how people are in today’s society. The first song on the album is “Supermodel” and it is about how SZA slept with her ex-boyfriend’s friend because her ex did her wrong and left her. This was such a dope way to start an album off because she comes straight out and says basically “yeah I’m leaving and slept with your friend oh well that’s what you get”. Not many women in the industry will say something so straightforward. SZA’s lyrics and the way she sings them so confidently is what makes this album very strong. The following track on the albumis the Travis Scott assisted “Love Galore”. SZA wrote this song to tell the story of a man hitting a girl up saying he’ll be down and how he’s a real one but then after he gets what he wants he leaves. This song is one of the most popular off the album because of the boppy vibe it has. It’s something that as soon as you hear the beat and what she’s talking about you just go “ahhh sookie sookie now” and just dance. My personal favorite off the album is “The Weekend” because she sings about the role of the main chick and the sidepiece in the relationship. Many women, and myself love the vibe that the song gives off because the feeling of having someone trying to play and take advantage of you but then the tables are actually turned and you’re the one who’s playing them is like no other. Also it explores the high people get off of sexual behavior because for SZA to be a woman and to tell that man you are only here to give me what I want to please me sexually and that’s it, incredible.”
Although it is not her first album under Top Dawg Entertainment, Ctrl is the proper introduction to SZA and proves she is ready to be a superstar.
Favorite Tracks: “The Weekend”, “Go Gina”, Drew Barrymore”, “Doves In The Wind”, “Garden(Say it Like Dat”
1. Joey Bada$$ – ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
Personally, I think Joey Bada$$ is the best MC in the game right now. While some people may give the “Best MC” award to Kendrick Lamar, I think if Joey can make 3 more albums like ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ (ABBA), then he would definitely deserve that title. Joey has put out three solo projects, one of which was his debut album. All three of his previous projects were solid, with clever lyrics and an old school boom-bap aesthetic. However, on his debut album, Joey never really switched things up and basically released another mixtape. I’ve always compared to Joey to Biggie in how he has the ability to sound effortless when rapping and has never really had a bad verse or song in his career. Since we know that Joey is a good rapper, I was really looking forward to ABBA in hopes that he would also be able to construct a good album with a message and a concept. And boy did Mr. Bada$$ deliver. Running 12-tracks long, ABBA is Joey’s most political album yet. Splitting in down the middle, we see in first 6 tracks that Joey takes on a Superman role in addressing racial issues in America and provides lots of hope. The production is rather light and joyful, and Joey has a very calm tone throughout. That is until the last 6 tracks on the album. Starting with “Rockabye Baby”, Joey switches the flavor and starts to release his own personal anger over the issues in America by rapping with a voice that is much more aggressive and production that slaps. Most importantly, though, this album is relevant and could not have come at a better time. Being so young, it is impressive to see an artist like Joey Bada$$ take on political rapping and while also making a good and cohesive project. ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is one of Joey’s strongest projects and it was my personal favorite for the year of 2017.
Favorite Tracks: All of em fam
A$AP Mob – Cozy Tapes Vol. 2
Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom (honestly have not given this a thorough listen or else it might’ve been top 10)
J.I.D. – The Never Story
Daniel Caesar – Freudian
BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION II