Here's our list of the best albums of the year, the stand out tracks and a short review of each project.
25. You Only Live 2wice – Freddie Gibbs
Must Listens: 20 Karat Jesus, Andrea, Crushed Glass
After accusations of sexual assault Freddie Gibbs found himself locked in an Austrian jail cell for three months, for many this would have been the end of the road in music. Thankfully, Gibbs was found not guilty in court and freedom was granted. This short project is the byproduct of this ordeal and is performed and put together excellently. Combining heart-wrenching lyricism and Freddie’s trademarked deep, powerful delivery; You Only Live 2wice is the perfect way for Gibbs to re-enter the realm of Hip-Hop and stamp down some authority. 20 Karat Jesus also contains one of the best beat switch-ups of any song on this list. Very few albums this year sound so good in the car on a late night.
24. Pretty Girls Love Trap Music – 2 Chainz
Must Listens: Riverdale Rd, 4am, OG Kush Diet
For too long 2 Chainz was the butt of most Hip-Hop related jokes. His hilarious and over the top lyrics and infinite popular features on songs made it easy for casual listeners to make said jokes. However, in recent times it seems Mr Chainz has taken it upon himself to show the masses that he’s actually a very good, and at times serious, rapper. Pretty Girls is a noticeable reminder of this (not that fans of his needed reminding). Whilst he hasn’t lost the roots of why people love 2 Chainz on this album, Pretty Girls is certainly the most mature, polished and proficient album of his long career. For an artist in the lane 2 Chainz is in to put out an album with so few skip-able tracks is commendable.
23. Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross
Must Listens: Santorini Greece, Idols Become Rivals, Game Ain’t Based On Sympathy
Rozay has had one of the most consistent rap careers in the history of the genre and I believe in many ways is under-appreciated. So the way in which this album was received upon it’s release was great to see. Rick Ross has one of the best ears for beats in Hip-Hop and this album is no exception (God bless BINK! for some of these instrumentals). Very few people, in fact maybe no one, sounds better floating over a jazz-infused, Mafioso style beat and Rather You Than Me has plenty of that. The first three tracks will have you feeling like you’re laying on the most expensive Italian sofa on the market, looking up at a 3 meter wide chandelier. Don’t fret though, there’s a decent amount of MMG trademarked trunk-shakers too.
22. Rags EP – EarthGang
Must Listens: Meditate, Red Light, House
‘How can you put a 5 track EP on this list?’ I hear you ask (probably), well, listen to it and you’ll understand. EarthGang are recent Dreamville signees from Atlanta whose talent holds no bounds. There have been many occasions listening to their music and thinking how reminiscent some of it is to prime Outkast records. That should be a good enough reason alone to go listen to this if you haven’t. The second you hear label-mate JID come in with his insane flow on the opening tracks gloomy, off kilter beat, I assure you, you’ll be hooked.
21. More Life – Drake
Must Listens: Gyalchester, Passionfruit, KMT
The fact I absolutely did not have to do a ‘must listens’ for this album because you’ve definitely heard them all, as well as the difficulty in picking just three, sums up the fundamental reason this album/playlist is included in this list. Whilst I will be the first to say Drake's track record in producing cohesive and memorable full bodies of work is spotty, More Life is one of his better projects. Admittedly there are a lot of songs, maybe too many, but there are also countless tracks that were enormous, inescapable hits, amazing features (mainly from Young Thug) and a huge variety of different styles of sounds. You’d be pressed to not find something you like on this album and what Drake did for British artists Giggs, Skepta, Sampha and Jorja Smith is more than admirable regardless of its reception.
20. Saturation - BROCKHAMPTON
Must Listens: GOLD, STAR, HEAT
Hip-Hop’s first boy band? Brockhampton are one of the most exciting new acts in Hip-Hop this year. After befriending each other online, their two (soon to be three) albums this year made huge waves and received great reception from critics and fans. It was a tough task deciding between Saturation 1 and 2, but the first installment just seemed to edge it, maybe down to the breath of fresh air it supplied upon its release. Both are excellent albums, and I look forward to the 3rd.
19. The Iceberg – Oddisee
Must Listens: Like Really, You Grew Up, Rain Dance
This album is poetry personified. There’s really little else needed to say about The Iceberg. The lyricism, themes and concepts on every song are outstanding; they tackle so many subject matters from politics to mental health all in such a poetic way, and it’s all backed by Oddisee’s own production that is so impressive and easily digestible that this project works perfectly as background music or the most intense form of listening. An exquisite album, all without a single swearword, for all you protective parents out there.
18. 12 – ASAP Twelvyy
Must Listens: Castle Hell, L.Y.B.B, A Glorious Death
An album from one of the ASAP Mob that may have gone under the radar for many people. Twelvyy put together a gritty, dark and very typically New York Hip-Hop album. This style of music is perhaps not one typically associated with ASAP but it will be now, thanks to 12. Accompanied by some excellent features from many members of the MOB and friends (Ferg, Rocky, Flatbush Zombies, Joey Badass etc), Twelvyy takes the listener on a trip to New York as you hear to the trials and tribulations that were presented in the growth of Twelvyy as an artist and as a man. Another member of the ASAP Mob to now look forward to their future releases.
17. Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?! – Milo
Must Listens: Landscaping, Sorcerer, Rapper, Embroidering Machine
‘And for following every rule, all you received was applause.’ I hope you have an encyclopedia handy when listening to this, or at the very least the Genius app. This project is a minefield of abstract references, open-ended theories and questions without answers. It’s certainly an album for those who like to be mentally exercised by music, yet the production lends itself to casual listening too. If that is your thing, then Milo, the part rapper, part philosopher, is absolutely for you and Who Told You To Think is a project worthy of his high standards. You may find yourself rewinding songs a few times though.
16. HNDRXX – Future
Must Listens: Neva Missa Lost, Selfish, Use Me
The hardest working artist in Hip-Hop released two albums in a week this year, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Whilst FUTURE was filled top to bottom with bangers such as Mask Off and I’m So Groovy, songs we know Future can churn out in his sleep; HNDRXX is Future exploring his capabilities in more ‘pop’ sounds. This is not to say this album is in anyway conventional. The drugged out, trap blues that we’ve come to love from the Atlanta native are very much still present. It’s just perhaps a more accessible sound for the masses to digest. Both projects serve their own purpose, like a Percocet infused Ying & Yang.
15. Culture – Migos
Must Listens: T-Shirt, Get Right Witcha, Bad & Boujee, Deadz
Quite simply, this album is just a great time. It’s fun, energetic and…well… really good. Culture is absolutely Migos' most sharp and well-executed project to date, combine that with the insane amount of hype that singles like Bad & Boujee received and you’ve got yourself one huge album. Quavo, Take-Off and Offset work in complete harmony to rhyme, ad-lib and ride over the instrumentals with Rolls-Royce level comfort. Perhaps Culture’s most under-appreciated quality is the fact is doesn’t, at any point, feel like it’s dragging. It’s just constant bangers. Oh, and Take-Off’s verse at the end of Deadz is incredible.
14. Flower Boy – Tyler, The Creator
Must Listens: See You Again, Potholes, 911 / Mr Lonely
Flower Boy seems to be the album Tyler has been striving to make since he burst onto the scene all those years ago. The sounds are so smooth and soulful; listening to it almost feels like those few moments of sitting by a fire after being out in the freezing cold and you can finally feel the warmth returning to your body. There is an incredibly interesting juxtaposition between the sound and feeling just described and the content Tyler continues to allude to in the lyrics. He sounds hurt and incredibly lonely, yet maybe finally open and accepting of whom he really is (e.g. Garden Shed)?
13. All-Amerikkkan Badass – Joey Badass
Must Listens: Temptation, Amerikkkan Idol, Rockabye baby
Everyone knows Joey can rap very, very well, yet this album is still surprising. However, that is mainly down to the content. Whilst it isn’t delivered in the brash nature of it’s triple K’d older cousin from Ice Cube, Joey still conveys his thoughts and feelings on the current (and historical) nature of America’s socio-political state. Lyrically it’s a thoughtful and emotional project; sonically it’s a certain turn of pace from the Pro Era member and it all comes together excellently.
12. Common Sense – J Hus
Must Listens: Common Sense, Did You See, Leave Me, Fisherman
It was another huge year for UK music and J Hus was the constant sound track for it all. Did You See was one of the biggest songs in the country this year, so the pressure was on for J Hus to put out an album that matched up, and boy did he deliver. With arguably the best opening track of any album on this list, the track list just continues to serve up a variety of afro-beat infused tunes to more trap flavored songs, as well as some conventional UK Hip-Hop. Although I hate the phrase, I think the best way to describe this album is – ‘it’s a vibe.’ An easy, fun listen with hilarious one-liners, catchy hooks and great production. J Hus continues to prove why he’s considered such a gem in the UK scene.
11. Rap Album 2 – Jonwayne
Must Listens: TED Talk, Afraid Of Us, These Words Are Everything, Blue Green
Half album, half musical therapy. Rarely are albums as honest and vulnerable as Rap Album 2. Even after ignoring the excellent production and proficient rapping, and just focusing purely on the content of Jonwayne’s words you’re left with an intimate, conversational 45 minutes. Jonwayne’s deep, comforting voice takes the listener on a journey into the mind of someone suffering with addiction, depression, anxiety and struggles with fame. At points it’s upsetting, other times it’s humorous, but overall it’s a tremendously sobering listen.
10. Sonder Son – Brent Faiyaz
Must Listens: Talk 2 U, L.A, Gang Over Love, Stay Down
I first listened to this album in full lying by a pool in 30-degree heat where my only concern was if I was hydrated enough. The fact is, I may as well have been on death row in a North Korean prison, for a crime I didn’t commit, in a cell with Russ telling me how he produced, mixed and mastered all his songs, and I STILL would have been as tranquil and at ease as I was poolside. Brent’s voice is heaven sent and the production on this project is warm and silky smooth. There’s even moments on this album that have real hints of old school R&B classics that will have you wanting to go dance in some rain (Talk 2 U). An all round great R&B debut from a future superstar.
9. Blkswn – Smino
Must Listens: Anita, Netflix & Dusse, Amphetamine, Glass Flows
The amount of times I muttered something along the lines of ‘wow this guy is incredible’ under my breath whilst listening to Blkswn is countless. It’s borderline unfair how someone can simultaneously be such a supremely talented singer and rapper. You’d find it tough to place this album or Smino’s style in a particular lane and that’s really what makes this project so good. What Blkswn lacks in vowels, it makes up for in pure musical heroin that you’ll be yearning to return to time and time again.
8. Process – Sampha
Must Listens: (No one Knows Me) Like The Piano, Reverse Faults, Plastic 100C
An exceptionally human album from an unearthly voice; Process is a Mercury Award winning album from South-Londoner, Sampha. The tear-jerking, spacey 10-track project dabbles in topics of angst, self-doubt, love and loss. The soundscape alternates between overwhelming, vast, swirling synths and just a man with his piano, both of which perfectly capture the emotion of each song or moment, equating in an album that is utterly captivating. It’s quite a debut.
7. Freudian – Daniel Caesar
Must Listens: Best Part, We Find Love, Transform, Get You
I can’t remember the last time love sounded so good. As I wrote in this article ‘Daniel Caesar has the ability to have you longing for someone to hold at night with Transform, then rejoicing and clapping along to We Find Love moments later.’ Freudian is the possibly the only R&B album mentionable in the same breath as Blonde by Frank Ocean. In fact in many ways it has hints of Frank scattered over the project, but at no points does it feel as if it’s taking too much and becoming plagiarized. Daniel Caesar’s pure and palliative voice is used throughout the album to deal with a passionate relationship that Daniel tries desperately to mend despite it’s potential for toxicity.
6. The Never Story – J.I.D
Must Listens: EdEddnEddy, All Bad, Never, Lauder
When I first heard Kendrick Lamar it was the summer of 2010 and within about 10 minutes of listening to some of his songs I got an indescribable feeling within me, I just knew I had just experienced something very special. My friends and I refer to that extremely rare feeling as, ‘the fizz.’ The Never Story gave me the fizz. J.I.D raps (and sings) with such proficiency it’s as if he’s been in weekly one on one tutor lessons with Andre 3000 for years, just waiting for his opportunity; and when it arrived in the form of signing to J Cole at Dreamville, he grabbed it with both hands and dunked that motherfucker, shattering the back board in the process. Now we wait (im)patiently for his next project…
5. 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time – Big K.R.I.T
Must Listens: Get Away, Price Of Fame, The Light, Confetti
To release a 22 track album to the instant gratification generation of 2017 is a bold move. KRIT clearly had a lot of faith in the quality of his music to have the confidence to assume people would stick with the project for its entirety. The irony is, I played this album almost all day everyday for around a week after it’s release and every time it finished, I wished that it hadn’t. 4eva is Big KRIT’s magnum opus; it’s lathered in brutal honesty and introspection, yet still infused with typical KRIT style charm and charisma. It’s truly phenomenal right down to the sequencing, a must listen for any Hip-Hop fan.
4. Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody
Must Listens: OooWee, Nobody, Laila’s Wisdom, Power
Rapsody uses her outstanding word play and story telling to relay tales of love, sufferings from racism and tribulations with sexism. For those who aren’t Black woman, it’s insightful and moving; for those who are, I can only imagine how emotive and powerful this album must be. Rapsody is one of the best rappers in the game right now and this album proves it. Full stop. Period.
3. Ctrl – SZA
Must Listens: Love Galore, The Weekend, Broken Clocks, Drew Barrymore
In terms of content, this album could not be more appropriate for a teenager or someone in his or her 20 somethings. SZA wades through a jungle of loneliness, insecurities and anxiety. She does so in a way that is almost comforting for the listener who may be dealing with similar issues – a feeling of ‘we are in this together.’ Musically however, Ctrl is a project that will undoubtedly be appreciated by all generations. SZA’s beautifully unusual and soulful voice paints pictures much more vividly than some of her contemporaries, whilst the instrumentals act as if scores from a movie. The best R&B album of the year.
2. 4:44 – Jay-Z
Must Listens: The Story Of OJ, 4:44, Smile, Marcy Me
The amount of deliberating I did going back and forth between this being 1st or 2nd in this list has led me to call this 1b, not 2. 4:44 was as much an amazing moment upon its release as it is a wonderful album. When you’re Jay-Z you really have nothing else to prove in the rap world, or at least that’s what we thought. Yet, HOV in fact did have something to prove. He proved that he is STILL capable of producing a near perfect album – 21 years after releasing his first near perfect album. With all of ‘rap twitter’ simultaneously listening to 4:44 together in what felt like a cyber listening party, the day was filled with joy and praise for the greatest rapper of all time. Why? Because Jay managed to stick to his roots with exquisite rhyming, production, word play, flow and story telling; whilst doing something he’s only done here and there over his career, and that’s drop his guard, being vulnerable and extraordinarily honest. Another classic in Mr. Carter’s catalog?
1. DAMN – Kendrick Lamar
Must Listens: Duckworth, Fear, DNA
I feel people are running out of superlatives to describe Kendrick and his art. DAMN is a dizzying blend of genre obscurity and commercial viability, it’s essentially a To Pimp A Butterfly and Good Kid Maad City cocktail. K.dot’s acrobatics between intense frustration at the state of his country and deep introspection regarding his mental welfare are performed with typical expertise. The TDE front man appeared to be more determined than ever in his pursuit of solidifying himself as the greatest rapper alive, yet managed to maintain the content that raised him to those heights in the first place. From the visuals that accompanied the music, to what is one of his greatest verses ever (on Fear), to arguably the most interesting rap story in modern times (duckworth), to the socio-political and religious nuances intertwined in the lyrics – Kendrick delivered it all with almost zero promotion in a time where self-furtherance is part and parcel with everyday life and still managed to outsell his much more vociferous contemporaries. Whilst sales do not equate quality, it’s perhaps a positive sign that true art is still very much appreciated.
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