In terms of hip-hop and R&B releases, 2016 was one of the best years in recent memory. Join Andy to see how 2017 measured up in comparison.
10. FUTURE | Future
In February, Future quietly went about making history by dropping two albums, FUTURE and HNDRXX, in the space of seven days. In doing so, he became the first artist in music history to have two different albums debut at number one in consecutive weeks. On HNDRXX, we were met with the more vulnerable, sensitive side of Future but, with FUTURE being home to two of my favourite tracks of the year in ‘I’m So Groovy’ and the infectious ‘Mask Off’, I couldn’t deny his eponymous album its spot on my list.
9. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music | 2 Chainz
Martin Luther King Jr. famously once said, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that water is wet; and that 2 Chainz simply does not deliver bad verses”. I challenge anyone reading to find me a bad 2 Chainz verse in the last six years (his verse on the remix of Robin Thicke’s 2013 track, ‘Give It 2 U’, is the closest I can recall). Pretty Girls Like Trap Music is a hood classic from one of the most consistent veterans in the game right now.
8. Laila’s Wisdom | Rapsody
I first encountered Rapsody when she stole the show with the final verse on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Complexion (A Zulu Love)’ from his 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly. It is not often that a rapper completely outshines Kendrick on a track but Rapsody is not your average artist. Her immaculately woven lyrical content shines through on Laila’s Wisdom, an album which has been dangerously slept on in my opinion, and even earned itself a well-deserved 2018 Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album.
7. Wins & Losses | Meek Mill
After the monumental L he sustained in his infamous 2015 beef with Drake, Meek Mill found his career at a crossroads. Although his core fan base remained loyal, many casual Meek Mill fans simply lost interest and didn’t want to hear from him anymore, reducing him to little more than the easily meme-able butt of the joke. Things had gone quiet for Meek and he faced the challenge of reviving his faltering career and recapturing the hearts and minds of his wider audience. The October 2016 release of his DC4 mixtape, the fourth instalment of his Dreamchasers series, served as a welcome reminder of Meek’s talent as an MC and arguably reignited the fire that his career had been severely lacking. With Wins & Losses, Meek successfully managed to put his career back on track, delivering a stellar project on which we hear him at his most versatile, rapping frankly, openly and honestly about the various wins he’s enjoyed and losses he’s endured. I would argue that the Drake beef ultimately helped Meek more than it did Drake, renewing his focus and forcing fans to realise exactly what they were missing whilst he was silent. The reaction of the hip-hop community to Meek’s recent reincarceration for violating parole, which sparked the wider conversation surrounding parole in the American criminal justice system, is proof that hip-hop culture has widely accepted Meek Mill again.
6. Flower Boy | Tyler, The Creator
I’ve always found Tyler’s wacky, hilarious antics more entertaining and appealing than his music but, as a casual fan of his music, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a more mature-sounding Tyler discuss themes including depression, loneliness and his sexuality on this smooth, introspective album. As his name suggests, Tyler, The Creator, is a creative force to be reckoned with and the fact that he also solely produced the entire album affirms his standing as one of the culture’s most creative influences. Flower Boy is fully deserving of its 2018 Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album and, although he is the underdog, it would be brilliant to see Tyler take home the Grammy for this excellent project.
5. Culture | Migos
From their signature ‘Migos flow’ infiltrating the mainstream to the Atlanta trio popularising the “dab”, Migos dictates a lot of what happens in hip-hop culture today. Migos is aware of its wide-reaching influence and, thus, it’s fitting that they chose the album title Culture: Migos is the culture! The first half of Culture is arguably the strongest of any album this year, with four of my favourite tracks this year (‘T-Shirt’, ‘Call Casting’, ‘Get Right Witcha’ and ‘Slippery’) as well as the ubiquitous ‘Bad and Boujee’ all coming within the first 25 minutes. Migos is the world’s biggest rap group and their chemistry is so evident that sometimes I question if Quavo, Offset and Takeoff all share the same brain. Although they face stiff competition, part of me wants to see the three Migos take home the 2018 Best Rap Album Grammy for Culture.
4. 4:44 | Jay Z
Listening to projects from legendary veteran rappers can often be jarring. I sometimes feel like their work must be venerated because of everything they’ve achieved. However, on the other hand, it’s usually abundantly clear that this artist is past their prime and it can even be cringeworthy to hear them attempt to reproduce their previous magic or attempt to remain relevant by jumping on the latest popular wave. With it being four years since the release of his distinctly less than spectacular Magna Carta Holy Grail, I can forgive anyone for expecting Jay Z to fall into the aforementioned category. However, Jay Z expertly avoids this on 4:44, delivering a truly stunning, more personal album of mature, soulful and emotional content. Although Jay has spent over two decades at the pinnacle of hip-hop and his career has been one of remarkable, unprecedented consistency, I feel that he has always kept fans at arm’s length to some extent, portraying himself as a hustler and the living embodiment of swag, but rarely letting us know what he is dealing with beneath the surface.
For this reason, I sometimes find it difficult to connect with his music on a deeper, emotional level. On 4:44, Jay Z finally dedicates a whole album to showing vulnerability, rapping honestly and addressing his infidelity and marital struggles. The album is also full of gems, with Jay giving the younger generation business advice focused on diversifying assets, investing in and supporting Black business in order to build generational wealth within the Black community. Music journalist, Touré claimed, “for hip-hop to continue to thrive, there must be a true adult wing for the grown folks who loved hip-hop in its early years but now have families and no time to go to the clubs…” and, at 48 years old (practically a pensioner as far as rap is concerned), it’s refreshing to see Jay Z continue to push the culture forward. The album’s brevity is the only reason 4:44 hasn’t landed higher on this list, but Jay’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the eight Grammy nominations received by 4:44 are simply more accolades to embellish his already storied career.
3. More Life | Drake
Although it isn’t immediately obvious, Drake is currently undergoing the most difficult period of his career so far. Ever since Drake rose to mainstream prominence in 2009, he has lived a charmed life. He rapidly rose to the summit of hip-hop and he’s sat there ever since, as evidenced by his omnipresence on the Billboard Hot 100 (Drake had a song in the charts every week for the past eight years). However, with his astounding Billboard streak coming to an end this year, and considering the somewhat lukewarm reception to his latest offering, More Life, could this be confirmation that Drake has peaked, and his career is about to begin a slow decline? Will we see Drizzy’s impact on the culture diminish?
Regardless, I still think More Life is a great project and was an improvement on 2016’s Views. Drake tows the line between appropriation and showing appreciation perfectly on this project, paying homage to his numerous musical influences. These musical influences include the Afro-Caribbean and UK music scenes. Tracks like ‘KMT’, ‘Sacrifices’ and ‘Passionfruit’ are amongst my favourites from this year and I’m convinced Drake still has a few more years at the top of hip-hop
2. ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ | Joey Bada$$
With ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$, Joey Bada$$ arguably delivered a more important message through his music than that which we have heard from any other album in 2017. The album is an abrasive, politically charged body of work that takes aim at white America, white supremacy and, of course, Donald Trump. It is refreshing to hear such social consciousness and activism from one of the younger rappers in the game, with Joey recognising the responsibility he has as an artist to shed light on issues such as corruption in the media and the American judicial and criminal justice systems. Joey does this all without abandoning his musical excellence and his dedication to bars and lyrical ability, the lifeblood of real hip-hop.
1. DAMN. | Kendrick Lamar
If you didn’t already know that I would pick Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. as my hip-hop album of the year, then you don’t really know me at all.
For those who don’t know, I am a Kendrick stan. However, this is not why DAMN. is 2017’s best hip-hop album in my opinion. In DAMN., Kendrick crafted a masterpiece which cemented his position as the greatest rapper alive. It is a completely unique listening experience, almost serving as an amalgamation of the highs of his previous classic offerings, Section 80, good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp a Butterfly.
DAMN. also sees Kendrick reinvent his sound, moving away from the jazz/funk influences of his previous storytelling, conceptual albums and achieving commercial success with tracks like ‘LOYALTY.’, ‘LOVE.’ and ‘HUMBLE.’, all while maintaining his artistic integrity. The now double-platinum DAMN. is 2017’s highest selling album, shifting 603,000 units and debuting atop the Billboard 200 chart in its first week.
DAMN. feels like an instant classic and, despite the album dropping almost eight months ago, I still stumble across the subtle nuances hidden beneath Kendrick’s delicately woven, dexterous lyrics. For instance, I’m still not sure what he’s talking about when he repeats “what happens on Earth stays on Earth” throughout the album or who the blind woman on the album’s intro track, ‘BLOOD.’ is meant to represent. Maybe I’m not ‘woke’ enough to fully understand it yet. Maybe Kendrick is trolling and there actually isn’t a deeper meaning or symbolism behind some of his lyrics. Who knows? All I know is that this album is exceptional. It will be interesting to see whether Kendrick or Jay Z comes home with the 2018 Best Rap Album and/or Album of the Year Grammy for their respective albums, but it’s obvious which album would get my vote.