In 2017, I made it a personal goal to listen to a lot of new music. Early on I started listing my favorite albums, as well as ranking my ten favorite in a specific order. With the Grammy’s this weekend, I felt it appropriate to release this list and share my thoughts. I even got some of my NCB cohorts to give their opinions and improve the variety a bit. So without further ado, here’s my list of honorable mentions, as well as the best albums of 2017. But first, some general things:
Wow, there’s a lot of hip-hop on this list.
Yeah, I mainly listen to that. It is what it is.
How dare you not put *blank album* or *blank artist* in!
Look, it was a huge year for music. Odds are that I didn’t even listen to whatever you’re mad about, and if I did, it probably just wasn’t good enough to make the cut. That’s fine.
This list sucks.
It’s all based entirely on my opinion. So yeah, it probably does.
Ok, now for the list.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (In no particular order)
SATURATION / SATURATION II / SATURATION III – BROCKHAMPTON
All three of the SATURATIONs are great and each hold surprising depth throughout. In what was a huge year for Brockhampton, the first SATURATION was definitely the pinnacle, but all three deserve the nod.
4eva Is A Mighty Long Time – Big K.R.I.T
This two-disc album is full of good stuff, but the second disc is where it really shines. K.R.I.T. goes full Southern on it, and tracks like Keep the Devil Off are incredibly fun.
ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ – Joey Bada$$
Great album, great message, and great features. While the theme remains static throughout, its presented in so many different ways that it doesn’t quite ever hit the territory of repetitive, which is good.
Wins & Losses – Meek Mill
A really great album with some high energy – Meek recovered from getting decimated in his beef with Drake quite nicely. It gets a little long, but if you stick around until the end, you’ll run into some of the best tracks. The Quavo and Teyana Taylor features were particular highlights.
The Autobiography – Vic Mensa
This album was actually part of the top ten when it came out, and then this year blew up and it eventually got left off. Mensa’s album is really strong with a ton of range and different tones and emotions. Who would’ve known the best story Mensa could tell was his own?
The Sin and the Sentence – Trivium
Two years removed from the let down that was Silence in the Snow, Trivium is back with a bang. With yet another new drummer in Alex Bent, Trivium returned to its roots on this record: a mix of screaming and clean vocals with solos and harmony galore. The album itself has a variety of tracks that highlight the styles the band has followed over the years. “The Heart from your Hate” is a track that showcases the harmony between bassist Paolo Gregoletto and frontman Matt Heafy. “Beyond Oblivion” and “Thrown Into the Fire” highlight the hybrid scream/clean vocals well and give the album a feel of what was on their Shogun and Crusade albums. The album itself is thrash metal, but as always, Trivium is a band can go from progressive to metal core and back in a matter of three tracks. For the metal heads, this album is a must listen. Though it may not crack the top 10 of the year, it is worthy of an honorable mention for sure.
– Brandon Gonzales
Divide – Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran is typically a safe artist who can best be described as “fine”. However there are some real gems on this one. I still listen to Castle on the Hill whenever I’m getting to go home, and Galway Girl is alright if you ignore how much it pissed off the Irish.
One Night Only – Cousin Stizz
Cousin Stizz runs the risk of getting a little…boring. His bars are never so interesting as to make a song great and the beats/production are never quite good enough to keep you locked in throughout. But overall, this album is solid, if not lacking some growth from his last two projects.
SUPER SLIMEY – Future, Young Thug
Would you believe me if I said this was the best project either two artists worked on in 2017? In what was a big year for both, this was easily their best work. The production is dope and Future and Thug play off each other so well that it makes you wonder why it took this long for a collab album from the two.
Rainbow – Kesha
In many ways, Rainbow is the very consistent with Kesha’s other music. The highs are always great but the lows are quite forgettable. What sets rainbow apart is that the highs blow the damn roof off and fly into space. Vocally, Praying is superb, and that’s without considering the message behind it and the struggle Kesha went through prior. Let ‘Em Talk is a certified banger. I didn’t know I needed an Eagles of Death Metal/Kesha collab and yet here I am. 2017 was so wild.
Something to Tell You – Haim
“Familiar” is a label that gets thrown out a lot by people who talk about the pop-rock band HAIM. Their influences are evident, but they mold them into such an enjoyable sound that’s impossible not to be washed over by it. This is none truer than with their second studio album, Something to Tell You, which was released back in July.
The date is fitting because it was meant to be played during summer, while you’re driving with the windows down and the sun setting on the horizon, or in your room on a record player (it practically begs to be played on vinyl) at night with your windows open and a summer breeze filling the room.
The title track kicks off the album and it’s a springy, fun listen with lyrics that underlie deeper problems that will rear their heads in later tracks. Throughout, the album has bouts of scintillating electric guitar (prominently on Kept Me Crying) mixed into generally calm and soothing melodies. Right Now is my favorite, a song that is irresistibly impossible not to hum along to.
There are problems with the album, the production is downright puzzling at times (listen to the stripped-down live version of Right Now compared to the studio version and tell me which one is better), but HAIM is able to overcome and create music that whiffs of nostalgia while not straying too far into it. It’s a very good and fun listen that even classic rock lovers like your dad will enjoy.
– Robby Cowles
Funk Wav. Bounce Vol. 1
Funk Wav. Bounce Vol. 1 was a nice departure from Harris’s typical style, and the result was a very dope summer album full of solid tracks packed with great features. Put this thing on by the pool this summer and jam the day away.
Renaissance – The Underachievers
I hadn’t heard of these guys until this album dropped, and I’m stoked I got to learn. Renaissance is going to get slept on because The Underachievers aren’t big, but they should be. This album is full of great tracks and no low points to speak of.
Back to the Basics – Rich Homie Quan
Though a little hard to understand at times, Rich Homie Quan has always been good. His latest album is no different, and while I haven’t gone back to it in-full in quite some time, I just can’t skip an individual track from it when it comes on.
Beautiful Thugger Girls – Young Thug
I was talking to my guy Alex Schubauer about this album, and Young Thug in general, and we both came to an interesting conclusion: we both like Young Thug, but we can’t really put into weird why we do. This album has the same effect: I like it, but I really couldn’t tell you why. It’s very strange, I know.
RTJ3 – Run the Jewels
Technically the album dropped during the last week of 2016, but 2017 wouldn’t be the same without its soundtrack of political and societal unrest. “Talk To Me” was the perfect track to usher in the year of the Trumpkin, and RTJ 3 was a showcase of El-P and Killer Mike reaching their collective peak. For the kids that didn’t get to experience Public Enemy at their apex, this was the next best thing – songs with meaning all wrapped up in an epic sounding package. From soundtracks to rallies, we’re going to be hearing this album for years to come.
– Derek Hernandez
After Laughter – Paramore
A very fun, 80-s pop-synth jam from top to bottom, After Laughter is another perfect album to set as the soundtrack to a summer day. With all the change Paramore has gone through, it’s no wonder their style has changed so much – or so dramatically – but here’s hoping this stays awhile.
Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz
Looking back over this list, I had to go back and remember what I really liked about PGLTM. I threw it on as I started to work on some separate stuff, and I can’t myself jamming to every beat. Some albums are made to sit down and really listen to, while some are mad to throw on and casually enjoy. This is the latter, and I enjoyed it very much.
HNDRX – Future
This is probably a snub, and a lot of people will likely put this in their top ten, but I was just alright on it. Don’t get me wrong, HNDRX is good, but considering I wasn’t a big Future fan coming into the year, I didn’t have the best expectations. It exceeded them, if not as much as some feel it probably should have.
Humanic – Lou the Human
A newcomer on the scene, Lou self-released his debut album last year. The result is a heavy East Coast (dare I say almost Wu-Tang-esque) style that’s incredibly dope. Here’s hoping Lou can blow up and keep making some good stuff in the future.
From A Room: Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 – Chris Stapleton
Before 2015, Chris Stapleton spent most of this century writing songs for country stars like Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Tim McGraw, and more. I’m sure that’s a nice way to make a living, unless you’re blessed with a booming, goosebump-inducing voice. A couple years ago, Stapleton released Traveller, his debut album that went double platinum and earned him Grammy love. He became known as the throwback outlaw type that was actually accepted by the country music industry, probably because he wrote a lot of their songs.
Stapleton returned this year with From A Room: Vol. 1 & 2, two separate half-hour records filled with terrific country tunes that sound nothing like the quasi-rapping, overly sentimental stuff you hear on mainstream country radio. Hard-charging barn burner tracks “Second One to Know” and “Midnight Train to Memphis” really let Stapleton loose, while slower ballads like “Either Way” show off his powerhouse pipes, always brimming with utter conviction.
The content on From A Room (heavy-drinking man reflects on love, family, and how to live) isn’t all that original, but the music’s strength comes from its simplicity and honesty. Lines like “People call me the Picasso of paintin’ the town” and “We go to work, go to church, fake the perfect life” feel ten times more authentic coming from Stapleton than they would almost any other country artist.
– Drew Wendt
THE TOP TEN (In a particular order, obviously)
10. SYRE – Jaden Smith
Coming out in November of 2017, Jaden Smith’s first studio album came at the tail-end of a packed year for music. The album is impeccably produced and Smith, who has previously been featured on products by Tyler, the Creator, Kid Cudi, Just Bieber, Childish Gambino, and quite a few others, finally takes the center stage. The results are…great, actually. Smith’s whole existence had become something of a meme, and despite having features on prominent artists’ albums (most of them good, in my opinion), people were still surprised when this album was actually good. Smith’s lyrics and flow don’t necessarily carry the project, but they certainly stand out on their own, and combining them with the production creates something potent. If Smith can keep making albums on the level of SYRE, then he can be as weird as he wants. Just keep the music coming.
9. Melodrama – Lorde
In all honesty, this album should be a lot higher. In a year full of pop duds (Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, etc.) this album stands as the definitive pinnacle of the genre for the year. And a lot of that has to do with Melodrama barely being a pop album. Whereas Pure Heroin had radio hits like Royals and Team, that were more poppy and simpler in nature, with Melodrama you feel the growth that Lorde has experienced from her first to second albums. It has more maturity than Pure Heroin, which says a lot when you consider how grown up Lorde seemed on that album upon its release. But Melodrama also has more emotions, which is also a byproduct of Lorde’s growing up and leaving the comfort of youth. You can hear the new experiences and emotions that Lorde has experienced and expresses through her music, and it shows a tremendous amount of growth in just the two years that separate her two albums. One can only imagine that, as she continues to grow and experience more new things, her music will grow and evolve even further as well.
8. Luv is Rage 2 – Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert’s first studio album probably won’t crack most peoples’ album of the year lists, which is a shame because there’s something about it that I really love. It has more polish than any of his previous releases, and while it isn’t perfect, the way he moves from each track and changes things up is both interesting and pleasing. The production is simple, and while that could be perceived as a bad thing, it actually works well because it’s typically catchy, especially when layered under Uzi’s voice and different bars. Throughout the album, he mostly expresses his thoughts and feelings over a recent breakup in a few different ways. Probably the best song on the album is him singing a duet with Oh Wonder! about his breakup and how time is the ultimate healer of a broken heart. He also explores some other themes though, opening the album by bragging about his success since his last album, perils of the music industry, and how other Soundcloud rappers are stealing his style. The whole thing is clean, well put together, and surprisingly thematic. Also, a video came up on the internet of Uzi talking to some school kids while eating a popsicle as, not like 20 feet away, some girl gets photographed on an ATV. I think about that video at least once a week. I love Lil Uzi Vert so much.
7. American Teen – Khalid
You almost certainly heard a song from American Teen in 2017. Khalid burst onto the R&B scene with his debut studio album last year, and tracks like American Teen and Young, Dumb and Broke became instant radio hits. However, looking beyond just those hits off of the album, the whole thing shines all the way through. For someone dropping his first album at just 19, Khalid has surprising depth, however he also manages to write about and reflect on youth in an insightful way for someone who’s still consider to be in the prime of it. In his own words, the third track, Location, is an “ode to the digital era that we’re going through. Everything is controlled by phones now.” That’s not something you’ll find from most young, up-and-coming singers. This album wasn’t just a flash in the pan either; Khalid has seen tons of other success providing vocals and tracks for artists like Marshmello (Silence) and Lorde, on the aforementioned Melodrama (a remix of Homemade Dynamite). While it’s ok to wonder if his songwriting can continue to grow and flourish under his new-found fame, Khalid is too good vocally to fade away altogether, and if anything, his star is only going to get brighter from here.
6. Freudian – Daniel Caesar
Full disclosure: I didn’t listen to this song until earlier this week as I was still working on these reviews. I am so, so glad I did. This album is, top to bottom, so damn good. I actually listened to the first two tracks and then started over because they’re so incredible that I had to listen to them again right away. Caesar’s voice is so silky smooth throughout, and the features deliver on every single song. Dealing with love and loss, Caesar hits both so well. Whether singing praises and comparisons to a love on Best Part or arguing with himself over letting a woman go on Loose, Caesar delivers emotion and vocal beauty on every track. With R&B’s growth over the last couple of eyars with new artists like Anderson .Paak, Miguel, SZA, and others, Caesar stays high in the ranks with a stupidly good project. Don’t miss out on this one. I nearly did and I’m still kicking myself over the near-miss.
5. CTRL – SZA
In what is easily the most underrated album of 2017, CTRL marks the triumphant rise of TDE’s next hip-hop superstar. SZA explodes onto the scene with her debut studio album, and while the year of 2017 belonged to Cardi B’s Bodak Yellow, SZA took the reigns as the best female rapper in the game right now. Because for all Bodak Yellow is, it’s just a single, and while Nicki Minaj is, well, Nicki Minaj, the few things she actually did in 2017 were largely disappointing. That’s not to make it a competition among the three of them, I don’t want to cannibalize the few excellent mainstream hip-hop females we currently have, but rather I compare them to heap praise onto SZA. The album, top to bottom, is immaculate, and covers themes and topics you won’t hear anywhere else in hip-hop right now. Part of that is, well, because SZA is female. You won’t hear a dude rapping about being a girl’s sidepiece and yet The Weekend, one of the best tracks on the album, has SZA looking at a three-way relationship from the angle of both females. It’s new, fresh, and just a taste of everything SZA covers (in the first verse of Supermodel, the opening track, SZA talks about banging her ex’s homeboy). The other part of it is that SZA actually covers things that casual listeners can relate to. From relationships to anxiety, she deftly moves from subject to subject covering everything with equal skill. Don’t sleep on this album.
4. 4:44 – Jay-Z
4:44 is, among other things, refreshing. It’s nice that after 12 studio albums, the most recent of which was basically about being rich, Jay can still make something that actually resonantes and connects with people. That isn’t to say that it’s entirely relatable; how many of us can truly say we’ve gotten everything we’ve ever wanted in life, only to find it didn’t provide total happiness? However, this project felt the most connection between Jay-Z and the listener in quite some time. For one, it’s impeccably produced. No I.D. is arguably the single best producer in all of hip-hop right now, and albums that have his fingerprints on them have been finding success after success as of late. As someone who isn’t a Jay-Z fan, per say, having beautifully crafted production layered under his lyrics makes for much better listening. That’s not to take anything away from Jay either – from top to bottom, 4:44 resonantes lyrically as well as sonically. And while it might still not be that relatable for the common listener, it’s quite understandable. And after 22 years and 13 albums, being able to understand Jay-Z is nice.
3. Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples
In what is easily the most unique project of the year, Big Fish Theory stands out because of how unlike every other hip-hop album from the year it is. In what was a mammoth year for the genre, Vince Staples chose not to build on the sound and image he created with his debut studio album, Summertime 06, and chose instead to push himself into a new direction yet again. The results couldn’t be better; the entire project oozes with futuristic beats and sounds, with Staples’ signature flow and lyrics over the top. But whereas Summertime 06 was an album to sit and listen through, Big Fish Theory provides a tracklist that you want to get up and move with. Even the slow jams make you want to nod along – 745 is one of the best tracks on the album, due in part to its gorgeously catchy production. The whole thing is packed in tightly together, only clocking in around 36 minutes, total. However, the amount of “stuff” Vince packs into the album, from the production to the lyrics to the features, easily makes it one of the best albums of the
2. Flower Boy – Tyler, the Creator
This might actually be my favorite project of the year. I debated putting it in the top spot not too long ago, but considering this album already climbed up from outside of the top five to second, I felt that was good enough. Flower Boy is a masterpiece. Tyler, the Creator has been known for being somewhat of an outspoken rebel of hip-hop, however this album really opens himself up in a brand new light. The production is incredible, each track painting a soundscape with which Tyler and friends can paint pictures on. Never mind that the lyrics contain some of the most introspective and reflective thoughts that Tyler’s ever written, but when layered on the beauty he’s crafted for each track, it all comes together gorgeously. See You Again might be the best song of the year. Everything from Foreward to Enjoy Right Now, Today flows with intent and purpose, and yet there’s such a variety of sounds and ideas that this really feels like one of the most well-rounded albums of the year. I finally realized how criminal it would’ve been to keep this album out of the top two after I’d listened to it for like, the eighth time in one week. If this is the new standard for Tyler, the Creator, then sign me all the way up.
1. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
This one is a no-brainer. DAMN. finds Kendrick Lamar at his apex, combining the layered production and intricate storytelling of Good Kid M.A.A.D. City and the lyrical perfection and introspection of To Pimp a Butterfly. But while GKMC was the world’s introduction to K-Dot, and TPAB the affirmation that he was here to stay, DAMN. is the thing that cements Kendrick as the greatest rapper alive. Five of the tracks from the album charted in the top 20 of Billboard’s Hot 100, and Kendrick was recently nominated for seven different categories at the 2018 Grammy Awards. And that’s really the biggest thing that surprises me about DAMN. Kendrick had already cemented himself as one of the best rappers in the game with all of his other albums. But this, his first big project with expectations from a popularity aspect as well as a cultural one, was bound to be scrutinized. And yet, Lamar did what he’s always done: said exactly what he wanted to say, and left us to debate and discuss every syllable. He weaves an intricate story of..well, a lot of things really, and wraps it all into such a tightly constructed package that it almost feels too short. That is, until you realize it only feels short because you want there to be more.