20 Best Hip-Hop and R&B Albums of 2017 (So Far), Ranked (Pt. 2)Posted September 19, 2017 by Brendan V
Now eight-plus months through the calendar year, it's time for a part two in our quest to highlight the very best hip-hop and R&B albums of 2017. Following our first Best of 2017 installment, which we published back in May, much has changed, starting with a host of great new albums that made their way into our updated top 20.
The 20 best hip-hop and R&B albums of 2017 (so far) are ranked based on a weighted voting system that combined the individual rankings of our core writing team. Four months after our first ranking was published, we've had more time to sit with the albums in our original list, and so you'll notice that many of the selections have been shuffled around in our overall order.
Below you will find the top 20 hip-hop and R&B albums (so far) of 2017, ranked. Once again, we both expect and anticipate dissension among our readers and we look forward to you voicing your complaints in the comment section below!
20. Jonwayne — Rap Album Two
Label: Authors Recording Company
Release Date: February 17, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “TED Talk,” “Out of Sight,” "These Words Are Everything"
See Also: Jonwayne’s Sobriety is a Powerful Testament to Music As Therapy
“I don’t look like a rapper, but yeah, I do rap,” Jonwayne deadpans on "Live from the Fuck You," the second track off his appropriately titled Rap Album Two. Of course, that’s an understatement. Not only does the 26-year-old emcee from La Habra, California rap, but he raps really well. “The album bridges the gap between [Jon’s] specific struggles and universal themes of artistic duality, addiction, self-loathing and ultimately, self-acceptance,” Brent Bradley wrote in his review of the album. Masterfully, Jon wrote a rap record that acts as a prescription to treat life's everyday bumps in the road—stress, depression, anxiety, fear. We’re all just trying to figure shit out, but it's much easier when a friend is along for the ride. —Z
19. Syd — Fin
Label: Columbia Records
Release Date: February 3, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Know,” “Got Her Own,” “Insecurities”
See Also: Syd’s Inspiring Journey From Antidepressants to Self-Assured Stardom
2017 is the year The Internet pulled a Wu-Tang, using their GRAMMY-nominated breakout album Ego Death as a platform to establish themselves as solo acts (before regrouping for a new album next year). Syd’s Fin traded in the soul-soaked funk for Timbaland-leaning R&B—“Know” could pass for an unreleased Aaliyah joint—but the once timid, anxiety-ridden songstress shone as a sexy, self-assured solo star in this new soundscape. A few years ago, “Insecurities” might have been a song about Syd’s crippling flaws; in 2017, she’s effortlessly rising above them. —Andy James
18. BROCKHAMPTON — SATURATION
Label: Question Everything
Release Date: June 9, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "HEAT," "GOLD," "MILK"
See Also: BROCKHAMPTON Is the Most Exciting Group in Hip-Hop Right Now
BROCKHAMPTON is the most exciting group in hip-hop right now—that much was obvious when they dropped “FACE,” “HEAT” and “GOLD” in the space of three weeks earlier this year. By the time SATURATION arrived, the rat pack of KTT users only solidified their spot. From Kevin Abstract’s smooth hooks to JOBA’s punk-pop pipes and Ameer Vann’s authoritative raps, the album combines all these different sounds, styles and stories into a completely unique package that’s anchored by mutual highs (“GOLD,” “BOYS”), lows (“TRIP,” “CASH”) and knowledge of Hollywood actors (“STAR”). BROCKHAMPTON is an All-American Boyband like America has never seen before, and SATURATION is only the start. —Andy James
17. Migos — C U L T U R E
Label: Quality Control Music
Release Date: January 27, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "T-Shirt," "Call Casting," "Bad and Boujee"
See Also: Is Migos Holding Quavo Back From Becoming a Breakout Solo Star?
Following the commercial flop of their 2015 debut Yung Rich Nation, coupled with legal issues, Migos continued to grind but seemed resigned to a fate of watching the flows and lingo they popularized power the success of others until finally striking gold with their chart-topping streaming behemoth, “Bad and Boujee.” While the push to capitalize on the single’s exploding popularity and get an album out could have easily sounded rushed and forced, the sophomore studio full-length from Quavo, Offset and Takeoff is the sharpest effort in the group’s discography. CULTURE finds all three members at their very best, matching their long-underrated rapping abilities with even more infectious melody and topping it off with their most effective ad libs to date. Above all, it’s a great fucking time. —Brendan Varan
16. Khalid — American Teen
Label: RCA Records
Release Date: March 3, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Young Dumb & Broke,” “Location,” “Let’s Go”
See More: Meet Khalid, the 18-Year Old Singer That Blew Me Away This Year
American Teen couldn’t be a more perfect title for 19-year-old Khalid’s debut album. Filled with graceful vocal performances and entrancing production from the likes of Syk Sense, OZ and Hiko Momoji, the album captures the charming optimism and endless possibilities of youth; if you could bottle up that summer after you graduated high school, this is what it would sound like. Khalid is a certified star who’s here to stay long after he turns 21. I can’t wait to hear the songs he writes about being an American adult. —Andy James
15. Drake — More Life
Label: Young Money Entertainment / Cash Money Records
Release Date: March 18, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Blem," "Sacrifices," "Do Not Disturb"
See Also: Rap Lines That Make No F**king Sense: Drake’s ‘More Life’ Edition
Drake marketing More Life as a “playlist” may have been a clever ploy to ease the pressure of following up his record-breaking Views album, but this is still one of the 6 God’s most enjoyable releases. With its mix of dancehall-flavored jams (“Blem,” “Madiba Riddim”), bouncy trap cuts (“Portland,” “Sacrifices”) and grime bangers (“Skepta’s Interlude,” “No Long Talk”), More Life finds Drake both creating and curating a snapshot of his identity and inspirations, giving each of his various fanbases something to stream into the record books. Not every great album needs a narrative, but every great playlist needs a DJ—and a couple Giggs verses, apparently. —Andy James
14. Vince Staples — Big Fish Theory
Label: Def Jam Recordings
Release Date: June 23, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "745," "Yeah Right," "Samo"
See Also: Vince Staples is the Modern-Day Alfred Hitchcock
Vince Staples is hilarious. Vince Staples is smart. Vince Staples gives great interviews. While all of these things are true, not one of these qualities guaranteed that Staples' sophomore full-length, Big Fish Theory, would be well received. "Big Fish Theory tows the same line of experimental daringness as Yeezus, both adventurous albums that don’t babysit contemporary hip-hop ears," Yoh wrote in his 1-Listen review of the album. Despite employing an assortment of bruising electronic-influenced soundbeds that would overwhelm a lesser artist, Vince manages to capture the listener's attention with his deft, honest, and self-aware rhymes, and in the process, elevate his artistry to a level that should surprise nobody. —Z
13. Wiki — No Mountains In Manhattan
Label: XL Recordings
Release Date: August 25, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Mayor," "Pretty Bull," "Made for This"
See Also: Wiki Is Doing His “Own Shit” & That Shit Sounds Fantastic
"I like the 1 train, bagel with lox, crushin' the mic," spits Wiki on the opener to No Mountains In Manhattan. Held in esteem as NYC's next up since Ratking's breakout, Wiki's XL debut makes good on that promise. The album is a journey through the city—highs, lows, beautiful, ugly—through the eyes of a classically influenced wordsmith with undeniable energy, whose idea of a good day includes shooting the shit with locals on the way to the bodega to cop a bacon, egg and cheeses and a 40 oz. More than just New York City, the album tells us a lot about Wiki himself, who turns out to be equally flawed but fascinating. There are no fucking mountains in Manhattan, but there's Wiki and that's good enough. —Brendan Varan
12. GoldLink — At What Cost
Label: RCA / Squaaash Club
Release Date: March 24, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Meditation,” “Crew,” “Kokamoe Freestyle”
See Also: “I Came Home, I Stayed Home”: The Complete Story Behind GoldLink’s ‘At What Cost’
It was winter―a cold December—when GoldLink first released the infectious “Crew.” The single was so hot that it survived the end of 2016 and brought a necessary fun to the entirety of summer 2017. Some music is just built to last, destined to exist well beyond its release date. GoldLink’s At What Cost first graced ears during the year’s first quarter, but even microwave attention spans haven’t been able to forget the suave lyrics, engrossing concept, and undeniable bounce that gives the album so much life. From winter to summer, spring to fall, there’s more than one reason to revisit At What Cost in its entirety. —Yoh
11. Future — HNDRXX
Label: Epic Records / A1 / Freebandz
Release Date: February 24, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Fresh Air," "Hallucinating," "Solo"
See Also: Too Much Music: How Future’s Two-Album Strategy Has Killed ‘HNDRXX’
After three years and nearly 10 projects soundtracking his anguish in his rise to born-again superstar, HNDRXX finally finds Future in a better place. Released alongside FUTURE, HNDRXX provides a counterpoint to that album's continuation of the Atlanta rapper's street-tailored trap anthems, and once again showcases his skill as a more conventional pop artist. Which is not to say HNDRXX is conventional by normal standards. The 17-track collection is still rooted in the warbled, drugged-out weirdness of its maker, whether dismissing the notion of a lover taking more Percocets than him on “Hallucinating” or comparing the thickness of his girl’s ass to his promethazine syrup on “Neva Missa Lost.” Tracks like “Fresh Air” and “Incredible” prove Future is just as capable crafting bouncy pop jams as he is trap bangers, while “Use Me” and “Sorry” take you in your feelings and refuse to let go. —Brendan Varan
10. Joey Bada$$ — ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
Label: Pro Era / Cinematic Music Group
Release Date: April 14, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “FOR MY PEOPLE,” “LAND OF THE FREE,” “BABYLON”
See Also: The Creation of Joey Bada$$’ ‘AABA,’ as Told By His Producers
Joey Bada$$’s ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ wears its politics on its sleeve (literally). Unlike Ice Cube’s 1990 album that famously put the three K’s in America, though, Joey is more Martin than Malcolm in his fight against Donald Trump, crooked cops and a government that hangs black people on all three of its branches: “Tryna stay alive and just stay peaceful / So hard to survive a world so lethal,” he soothes on the hook to “FOR MY PEOPLE.” Joey’s socio-political turn is nothing new (see: “Like Me”), but making it the beating heart of this album gives the young rapper a greater sense of purpose both in the booth and the world at large. Five years after bursting onto the scene with his DOOM-inspired “Survival Tactics,” Joey Bada$$ has finally found his voice. —Andy James
9. Smino — blkswn
Label: Zero Fatigue LLC / Downtown Records
Release Date: March 14, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Anita,” “Father Son Holy Smoke,” “Edgar Allen Poe’d Up”
See Also: 17 Years After Nelly’s Rise, Smino Is St. Louis’ Next Star
It's been quite a long time—read: 17 years—since St. Louis had a rap star in the making, but this past March, Smino officially arrived with the release of his formal debut, blkswn. With an uncategorizable sound and the ability to perform jaw-dropping vocal acrobatics, the 25-year-old can, as Yoh wrote in his review of the album, "make the ordinary sound like entering a fantasy." Over the warm, pleasant production muscle of fellow Midwest native Monte Booker, who handled 16 of the album's 18 tracks, Smino transforms every song into his vocal playground, often transitioning from rapped bars to airy, soulful singing at the drop of a hat. If Nelly put The Lou on the proverbial map, Smino ripped that motherfucker up and completely redesigned it. —Z
8. Daniel Caesar — Freudian
Label: Golden Child Recordings
Release Date: August 25, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Get You," "We Find Love," "Blessed"
See Also: Daniel Caesar’s Soulful Debut ‘Freudian’ Will Make You Melt
Daniel Caesar’s Freudian is the purest love album of 2017. Exploring the highs and lows of a relationship with both wide-eyed innocence and self-aware maturity, the 22-year-old Toronto crooner falls madly in love on “Get You” and “Best Part” before watching it crumble before his very eyes—partly of his own making—on “Neu Roses” and “Loose.” The final stretch of the album, however, finds Daniel putting that love back together into something’s that sometimes unhealthy but still full of beauty. Because when love sounds this good, who can give it up? —Andy James
7. Milo — Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!
Label: Ruby Yacht / The Order Label
Release Date: August 11, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Landscaping," "Magician (Suture)," "Embroidering Machine"
See Also: “I Have to Make a Living With This”: An Interview with Father-First Rapper milo
A whirlwind of thought-provoking lyricism. Milo is cut from the cloth of rapping wizards who require Genius, a dictionary, and a few literature and philosophy majors to dissect the obscure references and meditative rhymes. Imagine if Earl Sweatshirt was busy reading Jean-Paul Sartre instead of being shipped to Samoa; more art rap, eloquent bars and research-worthy allusions, less shock value. Deeper than his ability to reference Courage the Cowardly Dog and Salazar Slytherin in the same verse is knowing each rhyme is delicately put together; you can hear a dedication to the craft of writing with the intention of reaching someone. One listen is simply not enough; there's too much to be dissected, examined and understood. Milo made an underground rap album for lovers of words, lovers of rhymes, and the thinkers who enjoy having their minds expanded, left with more questions than answers. —Yoh
6. J.I.D — The Never Story
Label: Dreamville / Interscope
Release Date: March 10, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “NEVER,” "D/Vision," “All Bad”
See Also: Kendrick’s ‘DAMN.’ Is Great, But I Can’t Stop Listening to J.I.D’s ‘The Never Story’
The Never Story is like watching a boxer throw immaculate jabs, uppercuts, and haymakers for 12 rounds. This isn’t a novice, but a refined emcee who has awaited the chance to prove his prowess. Each song is a polished showcase of songwriting and lyrical sharpness able to collide with a samurai’s blade without shattering. Most of J.I.D's Dreamville debut is driven by enough bars to house Rikers inmates ("NEVER," "D/Vision"), but two soulful singing records ("Hereditary," "All Bad") give a glimpse of much more up his sleeve. For anyone who doesn’t find the new class of rappers capable of raising the bar, J.I.D is a Red Gyarados in a pool of flailing Magikarp―a rare monster you can’t help but watch in awe. —Yoh
5. Sampha — Process
Label: Young Turks Recordings
Release Date: February 3, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Plastic 100°C,” “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” “Take Me Inside”
See Also: Sampha’s ‘Process’ is a Hauntingly Beautiful Portrait of Human Emotion
To say Sampha has the voice of an angel would, firstly, be clichéd and secondly, be incorrect; his voice carries far too much human emotion to be from heaven. On his debut album, Process, the soft-spoken South London singer pours out the pain of losing his mother to cancer—and fear over his own fate in life—into every decibel of his delicate voice, which will tug at strings in your heart you didn’t even know were there. If “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” doesn’t make you tear up every single time, realizing that Sampha’s mother wasn’t around to see him lift that Mercury Prize definitely will. —Andy James
4. Tyler, The Creator — Flower Boy
Label: Columbia Records
Release Date: July 21, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "See You Again," "Boredom," "911/Mr. Lonely"
See Also: Tyler, The Creator Is Lonely as Fuck
From Goblin’s “Analog” to Cherry Bomb’s “Find Your Wings,” Tyler, The Creator has always shown flashes of the kind of magical, mature music he could make; on Flower Boy, he fully blossoms into the artist he’s been striving to be. Sonically, the album washes over you like the Southern California sun, but sitting restlessly above the warm, soulful grooves is something of a quarter-life crisis: despite all the things he’s achieved and acquired, Tyler can no longer numb the aching of his lonely heart (“911/Mr. Lonely”), neither can he hide what—or who—his heart truly desires (“Garden Shed”). Flower Boy missed out on the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 by a mere 1,000 equivalent album units, but in Tyler’s discography, it stands like a tall sunflower above the rest. —Andy James
3. SZA — Ctrl
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment / RCA Records
Release Date: June 9, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Doves In the Wind," "The Weekend," "Go Gina"
See Also: “I Don’t See Myself”: How SZA Helped Me Face My Buried Insecurities
Ctrl’s journey from studio to streaming services wasn’t exactly smooth—at one point, SZA threatened to quit music altogether—but in the end, our patience was rewarded handsomely. Wrestling with insecurities, infidelity, and isolation, SZA paints a painfully honest (just ask her Vegas-partying ex) portrait of a young 20-something yearning to find love in a world where good love is frustratingly hard to come by—or, indeed, control. While the mental and emotional stress on songs like “Drew Barrymore” might leave you wondering why humans crave companionship as much as we do, hearing SZA’s incredible voice over such fantastic production, which ranges from dreamy electropop (“Prom”) to Dilla-sampling boom bap (“Doves In the Wind”), makes the pursuit of happiness worth the pain. —Andy James
2. JAY-Z — 4:44
Label: Roc Nation
Release Date: June 30, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "The Story of O.J.," "4:44," "Legacy"
See Also: Ego Death: How JAY-Z Found His Most Vulnerable Voice on ‘4:44’
A notoriously guarded figure who for decades has embodied the definition of hip-hop success, JAY-Z lays it all out on 4:44: his ego (“Kill Jay Z”), his infidelity (“4:44”) and his trauma (“Legacy”). In the same way his mother was able to finally come to terms with her own truth (“Smile”), it’s in this very vulnerability that Hov finds peace, clarity and his best album since The Blueprint. Complemented by No I.D.’s classy, cohesive production—the way he splices in those Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and Hannah Williams samples is the work of a director, let alone a producer—4:44 is the sound of a 47-year-old rapper aging more gracefully than any rapper over 40 ever has; if you cannot take offense at the money phone line, there’s enough game in here for you to follow suit. 4:44 is JAY-Z’s 13th studio album, but more importantly, it’s Shawn Carter’s first album. —Andy James
1. Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment / Interscope Records
Release Date: April 14, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “DNA.,” “FEAR.,” “DUCKWORTH.”
See Also: Kendrick Lamar Responded to Our Article About His Fear of God
There’s an intensity about the year 2017 that can be felt whenever air is inhaled. It’s always there, quiet as a serpent’s hiss, but an inescapable weight upon shoulders. After a gunshot brings the opening track to a close, Kendrick begins DAMN. with piercing ferocity. It's the first explosion of many. Even when Kendrick’s roar is more of a kitten's whisper, there’s a heaviness about DAMN. soaked into every song. You feel the gravity of his words, especially when the symbolism reflects our reality in the same disturbing way as a season of Black Mirror. Kendrick’s third studio album may focus on a black man’s fear of God and the suffocating struggle with pending damnation in America, but what makes these nuances feel universal is how much emotion erupts from the album's pores. DAMN. is the best offering from 2017, one that makes you feel as if Kendrick Lamar is living through these intense, trying times alongside us; not above or below, but standing shoulder to shoulder as the illusion of paradise burns. Damn. —Yoh