Let me start off by saying I have very particular tastes in music and I do not like that about myself. I’m someone who doesn’t always listen to the newest tunes, but my New Year’s Resolution was to give mainstream artists more of my time, so my list is a mix of names both well-known and underground. My favorite album of the year so far would have to be Ears Hear Spears by Insight The Truncator and Damu The Fudgemnuk. This album applies the sample-heavy sounds of early hip-hop while critiquing recent social issues, which have been a problem longer than most people think. It’s “old-school” to say the least. An equally sample-heavy album is Apocalyptic Bastard by Darko The Super. Darko is probably my favorite current artist, and although his music will repel the general population, I deeply admire his honest lyrics and wild manipulation of samples for his own devious purposes. He’s pure punk. Roc Marciano’s Rosebudd’s Revenge illustrative lyrics paint a rough and luxurious picture, like a Mona Lisa made of bullets. And the beats! They’re somehow simultaneously icy and hot. I haven’t heard too much about Oddisee, but The Iceberg was seriously some great music, whether you like hip-hop or not. His is a sound that anyone could be in to. The World Is MIND by KRS-One makes my list, partially due to the beats. I still love KRS-One’s verses, but the production on this album was for lack of a better term “hard.” It was hard, everybody. If I’m allowed to include SZA’s Ctrl, I’ll gladly leave it here. I don’t usually ingest a lot of R&B, but this album ignited some feelings I didn’t know I had. I thought I would feel pressured to include DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar because most people would be expecting it, but I think it’s a deserving album and I enjoyed it. And the videos for “DNA.” and “HUMBLE.” were a bonus! Darko The Super and ialive comprise a duo called The Hell Hole Store, and their recent album Return To The Hell Hole Store is so very solid. The back and forth lyrics of the duo is very natural for a group specializing is atypical and unique wordplay and sound. Another immersive project on my list is No More Favors by Tek.Lun and DrewsThatDude, and it’s a diverse instrumental album that I feel truly has something for everyone, especially if you like to drive at night. Number 10 is ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$. I’m not sure why I like this as much as I did, and I think the dollar signs and title are a little korny. I think many artists cover the topics Joey Bada$$ does on this album and they do it well, but something about his delivery was engaging to me. So there are my top 10 favorite hip-hop albums of 2017 so far, and Ctrl, as I guess it’s not really a hip-hop album. This list might be wildly different come the end of the year, but these are currently my 10 favorites.
1. “Ears Hear Spears” by Insight The Truncator and Damu The Fudgemunk
2. “Apocalyptic Bastard” by Darko The Super
3. “Rosebudd’s Revenge” by Roc Marciano
4. “The Iceberg” by Oddisee
5. “The World Is MIND” by KRS-One
6. “Ctrl” by SZA
7. DAMN.” by Kendrick Lamar
8. “Return To The Hell Hole Store” by The Hell Hole Store
9. “No More Favors” by Tek.Lun and DrewsThatDude
10. “ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$” by Joey Bada$$
It has been an interesting 1st half of 2017 I tell you. A slew of incredible projects already dropped and the rest of the year is looking solid from what I can see here. My pick is a mix bag of rap/RnB/Funk. Some of the names here are pretty obvious and shouldn’t surprise anyone. Lupe’s DROGAS light-despite not being as consistent as Tetsuo it still hits the mark because Lupe can rap his ass off regardless. Thunder Cat is highly recommended-I cant say much but just go cop it. Rick Ross’ RYTM got me surprised- it is actually DOPE regardless of what you think of Rozay. Oddisee’s is pretty much critically acclaimed at press time so check it out if you haven’t. In usual fashion I had to pick 3 from my underground stash. Westside Gunn comes through with the heavy “Hitler On Steroids“, Saga & Thelonious Monk flip things up with their collabo project “Molotov” while Wille The Kid (he is so underrated, it makes me cry) hits the 3 point shot with the grainy “Deutsche Marks“. Obvious ones are SZA’s sensual CTRL and K Dot’s “DAMN”
1 Oddisee – The Iceberg
2 Thundercat Drunk
3 WestSide Gunn – Hitler On Steroids
4 SZA – CTRL
5 Kendrick Lamar- DAMN
6 Rick Ross – Rather You Than Me
7 Saga & Thelonious Monk: Molotov
8 Joey Bada$$$ – All american badass
9 Lupe- DROGAS Light
10 Willie The Kid – Deutsche Marks
Honorable Mentions: Raekwon “The Wild”, Syd “Fin”
2017 for music so far has been STACKED with projects. I had to go back and listen to everything to see what I forgot about and what I missed. One of my favorite rappers King Kendrick Lamar gave us a surprise hit with DAMN. GoldLink gave the DMV even more reason to stand up and get the rest of us hip to issues and their way of life with At What Cost. 2 Chainz proved he’s still got it and takes us on a journey with Pretty Girls Like Trap Music (I even reviewed it!) and we saw Joey Bada$$ release a politically charged album that’s exactly what 2017 needed called All-Amerikkkan Badass. Steve Lacy, SZA, and Khalid all had me feeling some kind of way on the emotional spectrum with their releases…ranging from sadness, cool, non-existential relationship woes and wanting to go on a road trip with friends and forgetting about life for a second. The three biggest more polarizing releases this year would fall to Vince Staple’s Big Fish Theory, Thundercat’s Drunk, and Young Thug’s Easy Breezy Beautiful Thugger Girls. These three albums play with what your use to from the rapper and producer and while they may turn people off, I found the two albums confident approaches and evolutions of their discography. These are some of the best albums of 2017, so far in a nutshell to me.
1. Kendrick Lamar- DAMN
2. 2 Chainz- Pretty Girls Like Trap Music
3. GoldLink- At What Cost
4. Joey Bada$$- All-Amerikkkan Badass
5. SZA- CTRL
6. Khalid- American Teen
7. Vince Staples- Big Fish Theory
8. Young Thug- EBBTG
9. Thundercat- Drunk
10. Steve Lacy- Steve Lacy’s Demo
The first 6 months of 2017 has been crazy for hip hop and R&B. It’s usually a hard hitting year for one or the other but rarely both. Somehow 2017 has managed to allow both genres to flourish and let me just say that we have truly been blessed. Kehlani and Jidenna finally released their debut albums and it was everything we never knew we needed. Kehlani’s album SweetSexySavage in particular definitely lived up to all the hype it was getting. Mixing in soulful 90’s R&B with a smooth millennial twist SweetSexySavage is easily my favorite body of work so far this year and the most played album in my lineup. I even have mini solo karaoke parties where I specifically sing this album at the top of my lungs but that’s unimportant. What is important is that this album deserves to be on everyone’s top list. Along with Kehlani we received another debut R&B album coming from Khalid with American Teen that was equally as impressive as it was enjoyable. Location is the biggest hit off the record currently but I foresee many more tracks being highlighted as the year progresses.
Now, what would a top ten list be without anyone mentioning Kendrick Lamar and DAMN though? Basically a terrible top ten list. Everything Kendrick drops is gold and DAMN is no different. It’s the highest selling album so far this year and that honestly shouldn’t be surprising. Storytelling has always been Kendrick Lamar’s greatest gift to hip hop and the imagery that DAMN paints through each track is worth a listen over and over again.
One of my favorite and most surprising guilty pleasures so far has been Queen Elizabitch by CupcakKe and if I didn’t list her in my top 10I wouldn’t forgive myself. Reminiscent of an old Lil Kim or Nicki Minaj (back when she used to really spit) CupcakKe definitely laced her tracks with sensuality and a lyrical prowess that will continue to keep her name in your mouth especially if she isn’t in it yet. If you don’t believe me just listen to “Cumshot” and you’ll understand why she deserves every bit of recognition I’m giving her.
This list was not easy to make (which it never really is). Each one of the albums I have listed has a crazy amount of replay value. I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to Thundercat’s Drunk or Pretty Girls Like Trap Music by 2 Chainz. If the first 6 months are any indication for how the rest of the year is going to go than it’s going to be LIT!
1. Kehlani – SweetSexySavage
2. Thundercat – Drunk
3. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN
4. Dj Khaled – Grateful
5. 2 Chainz – Pretty Girls Like Trap Music
6. Kintaro – Universal EP
7. Jonwayne – Rap Album Two
8. CupcakKe – Queen Elizabitch
9. Jidenna – The Chief
10.Khalid – American Teen
SZA – CTRL
Murs – Captain California
2017 felt like the year of sleeper hits. At the tail end of my top 10 is Vince Staples with BIG FISH THEORY. The young rapper who has been fed a diet of R&B, Soul, Funk, and other fusions of music to bring us his sophomore album. Much like the title suggests, the album allows its listeners to peer into a fishbowl lense of the rap game: the toxic behavior it can breed while also celebrating the new life rap stardom can give an emerging artist. At 9, we have Raekwon with THE WILD. The seasoned Wu-Tang member returns to us again with a packed house of 808 synths, high-hats, & that classic boom bap with a spin all his own. Syd makes perfect sex music, and that’s not up for debate. In her breakout album, Fin, Syd the Kid bring us a confident, cool new voice to R&B. Even from the first track, “Shake Em Off”, Syd establishes herself as the boss, “Young star in the making/Swear they sleeping on me”. What I love about this album is Syd knows exactly who she is. Now she is waiting for you to recognize game or get left behind. I couldn’t be any more grateful to for Joey Bada$$ sophomore album “ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$”. While many artists can come off as heavy-handed with overtly political content, The Badmon’s approach is more earnest, only further compliment by a solid production, which pulls both 80’s and 90’s flavored beats, smooth bass guitars, and disjointed piano riffs. Thundercat’s DRUNK speaks to the weird black kid in me before I became a hip-hop head. Thundercat is as much weird as he is soulful, an oddball with strange but powerful command of the lyrical. As a cool falsetto, and artist whose work has looked death in the eye time and time again, Drunk is not only a return to live but how to negotiate the normalcy of it. I was surprised Jay-Z’s 4:44 made the list. At this point in his career, and several alleged retirements from the game, I didn’t think Jay-Z had anything left to rap about. I was right. This isn’t a Jay-Z album, but rather Sean Carter’s first album. From the beginning the rapper kills his ego and lays down that ego which has driven much of his career. I didn’t expect these startling turns in this album, especially the knock-out cameo from his mother Gloria Carter. I knew DAMN had to make my list. At number 4, DAMN is the first of its kind, a palindrome album— an album that is two different albums played back and forth. DAMN is currently the highest selling and streaming album of 2017 . In my top 3, all women and all newcomers to music take their rightful places. Sabrina Claudio’s CONFIDENTLY LOST is sexy, vulnerable, and honest. Claudio’s sound is a miasma of nostalgia while still looking forward. Kelhani’s “SweetSexySavage” is the “The Bad Bitch Gospel” album. Kelhani effortlessly blend irreverent youth and confidence with vulnerability and sensuality to address all the personal and professional hurdles Kelhani has endured to make it here. Kelhani just isnt’t here to play games and god bless. At number 1, is CTRL by SZA.
16-22-year-old me waited a very long time for CTRL to come into the world. I have never listened to an album in which I felt so seen and understood. From starling confessions (“I’ve been secretly banging your homeboy”) more tender remarks (“I can’t be that easy to forget like that”) and even these brief churches of lyrics (“Lie to me and tell me my booty gettin’ bigger even if it ain’t”), SZA maturity, foresight, and ability to reflect back to the girls she has been—the girl who revenge fucks her ex’s friends, the “side-chick”, the girl who validates herself by how much attention she gets— is a testament to how much the young artist has grown and how much she still has to offer.
1. CTRL: SZA
2. Kelhani: SweetSexy Savage
3. Sabrina Claudio: Confidently Lost
4. DAMN: Kendrick Lamar
5. 4:44: Jay-Z
6. Drunk: Thundercat
7. ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$: Joey Bada$$
8. Fin: Syd
9. Raekwon: The Wild
10. Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory