20 Best Hip-Hop and R&B Albums of 2017 (So Far), Ranked

By | 2 months ago
We look forward to you voicing your complaints.
2017-05-02-best-hip-hop-albums-2017
Photo Credit: Jake Franssen

With one-third of the 2017 calendar year now complete, we decided to take stock of all the incredible hip-hop and R&B albums that have been released over the past four months, ranking them based on a weighted voting system that combined the individual rankings of our core writing team.

While 2016 was an incredible year for hip-hop and R&B thanks to a slew of remarkable albums from Anderson .Paak (Malibu), Beyoncé (Lemonade), Chance The Rapper (Coloring Book), Frank Ocean (Blonde) and ScHoolboy Q (Blank Face), among others, the first 119 days of 2017 have very clearly and loudly said, "Hold my beer."

Below you will find the top 20 hip-hop and R&B albums (so far) of 2017, ranked. We both expect and anticipate dissension among our readers and we look forward to you voicing your complaints in the comment section below!


20. Freddie Gibbs - You Only Live 2wice

Best Albums of 2017

Label: ESGN / Empire
Release Date: March 31, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “20 Karat Jesus,” “Crushed Glass,” “Homesick”

Trials and tribulations are scars on human flesh but they can turn into gold if channeled in a creative manner. Just as his career was smoothly striding toward the peak of his popularity, Freddie Gibbs found himself fighting for his freedom and trying to clear his name in an Austria rape case for which he was eventually found not guilty. Imagine the impact on a man’s psyche from such a circumstance. You don’t simply return as the same person. On his latest album, You Only Live 2wice, the Gary, Indiana native and acclaimed gangster rapper channels one of the worst moments of his life into some of the most sincere, introspective music of his career. The aggressive grit that Gibbs' is known for is apparent—he’s still rhyming with the heart of a giant—but we're also introduced to an artist who is once again finding his footing. Gibbs hasn’t lost a step, though. He's still the same raw and unfiltered emcee. You Only Live 2wice is the beginning of a new chapter for Freddie Cane. Tragedy has a way of breeding great art. — Yoh

19. Raekwon - The Wild

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Ice H20 Recordings / Empire
Release Date: March 24, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “This is What It Comes To,” “M&N,” “Can’t See You”

There’s nothing particularly wild about Raekwon’s seventh solo album The Wild, but it does happen to be the Wu-Tang Clan member’s most complete and compact body of work since 2008’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II. From its stellar production (Xtreme, Dame Grease, RoadsArt, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League) rooted in traditional boom bap to Dan Lish’s incredible comic book-inspired artwork, The Wild never attempts to reinvent the wheel—G-Eazy does make a somewhat awkward guest appearance on “Purple Brick Road” but he enter’s Rae’s world, not the other way around—allowing the focus to remain on The Chef’s intricately-delivered tales of street survivalism. “Raekwon’s recent surge of productivity proves he’s not one of those ‘stuck in the 90s’ cats—he seems to genuinely want to evolve,” wrote Pitchfork contributor Matthew Ruiz in his review of the album. For someone who has been rapping for 23 years, that in it of itself is impressive. — Z

18. Oddisee - The Iceberg

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Mello Music Group
Release Date: February 24, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Things,” “You Grew Up,” “NNGE,” “Want to Be”

Melting icebergs are currently causing sea levels to rise globally, but while most of the world is pointing its collective finger at global warming, it might just be the result of DMV emcee and producer Odissee delivering pure, unadulterated heatrock on The Iceberg, the follow-up to his stellar 2015 album, The Good Fight. Produced solely by the artist himself, the 12-track offering is a fairly easily digestible serving of political commentary and self-reflection, delivered over gorgeous hip-hop production that is infused with funk (“Rights and Wrongs”), soul (“Build By Pictures”) and disco (“Want to Be”). “Critical thinking is the thread that will connect us all and is the driving force behind all 12 tracks on The Iceberg,” penned Cinemasai in his review of the album. Don’t think too hard, though. Just press play and enjoy. — Z

17. Stormzy - Gang Signs & Prayer

Best Albums of 2017

Label: #Merky Records
Release Date: February 24, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Big For Your Boots,” “Mr Skeng,” “100 Bags”

Stormzy’s Gang Signs & Prayer album cover, which is like Young Buck’s Straight Outta Cashville meets Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, is intended to send a chill down your spine. It's a metaphor for the kind of fear and suspicion Stormzy, a towering black guy from South London who you’ll often see rocking a full tracksuit, strikes in people on the street—or even in his own apartment building. But like the contrast of gang signs and prayer, Stormzy is a complex character, a gentle giant who’ll merk you on the mic while contemplating his own mortality. Songs like “Big For Your Boots,” “Mr Skeng” and “Shut Up” are supposed to make you shook, but soulful, God-fearing cuts like “Blinded By Your Grace,” “21 Gun Salute” and “100 Bags” showcase not only Stormzy’s surprisingly impressive singing ability, but a gentle, beautiful side to Grime that’s often buried under the bravado. No wonder Gang Sign & Prayer is the first ever Grime album to top the UK charts. — Andy James

16. Migos - C U L T U R E

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Quality Control Music
Release Date: January 27, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "T-Shirt," "Call Casting," "Bad and Boujee"

After the commercial failure of their 2015 debut album Yung Rich Nation, coupled with legal issues that saw the group unfairly profiled and one member jailed for nearly a year, Migos seemed resigned to a fate of watching the flows and lingo they popularized power the success of others as the Atlanta trio descended into relative mainstream obscurity. Refusing to let unfortunate circumstances get the better of them, the group continued to grind and release music until they struck gold with 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 sharpest effort in the group’s discography. CULTURE finds all three members at their 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

15. Jonwayne - Rap Album Two

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Authors Recording Company
Release Date: February 17, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “TED Talk,” “Out of Sight,” "These Words Are Everything"

“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, the long-awaited follow-up to 2013’s Rap Album One. Of course, that’s an understatement. Not only does the 26-year-old emcee from La Habra, California rap, but he raps really well. In his review of Rap Album Two, DJBooth scribe Brent Bradley wrote that the LP, “bridges the gap between [Jon’s] specific struggles and universal themes of artistic duality, addiction, self-loathing and ultimately, self-acceptance.” So, no, he doesn’t “look the part,” but that is also the reason why the brand of rap that Jon is offering his fans a prescription for will continue to be refilled time and time again. Rap Album Two is a strong dose of medicine that the everyman hip-hop fan can relate to—stress, depression, anxiety, fear—and a reminder that we’re all just trying to figure shit out. — Z

14. Thundercat - Drunk

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Brainfeeder
Release Date: February 24, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Show You The Way," "Friend Zone," "Them Changes"

Two years after his previous solo effort and four years after his last true album, Thundercat returned with a sprawling, 23-track trek through the inner workings of the brain of the bassist, producer and singer born Stephen Bruner. Appropriately titled Drunk, the album expertly personifies the stream-of-consciousness, often hilarious brilliance an inebriated mind typically stumbles upon, diving down a rabbit hole of absurdity while guided by rich textures of funk and jazz. With extensive assistance from frequent collaborator Flying Lotus and such disparate musical icons as Kendrick Lamar, Michael McDonald, Pharrell and Kenny Loggins along for the ride, Thundercat seamlessly weaves inspiration from sounds of the past and somber themes of death, loss and loneliness with proudly nerdy nods to anime and video games. Cohesive despite its scattered ideas, Drunk balances ups and downs, joy and sadness, breakneck speed and plodding lethargy, abstract and concrete, remarkable and ordinary—and never spends too much time in one place. It's a lot like a night spent getting hammered and pondering the meaning of life. — Brendan Varan

13. Smino - blkswn

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Zero Fatigue LLC / Downtown Records
Release Date: March 14, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Anita,” “Father Son Holy Smoke,” “Edgar Allen Poe’d Up”

One of the most impressive debut albums to enter our eardrums in 2017 is Smino’s blkswan. Eclectic and intricate without overwhelming, the album's sonic layers are a treat for hip-hop fans who enjoy lyricism and instrumentation with a broad palette. Execution is what makes blkswan and its St. Louisan author stand out, though. So many ideas are pulled off with the precision of a surgeon doing a heart transplant. Personality fills each and every record―his animated voice, the soulful singing, the infectious melodies―while all the little tweaks and twists make every second captivating. blkswan is also quite pleasant, its warmth creating an atmosphere akin to floating on a cloud while the lyrics add a bit of depth. In an age of too much music, Smino crafted an album that will draw you to return again and again. — Yoh

12. Syd - Fin

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Columbia Records
Release Date: February 3, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Know,” “Got Her Own,” “Insecurities”

2017 is the year The Internet pulled a Wu-Tang, using their breakout album Ego Death as a platform to establish themselves as solo acts (before regrouping for a new LP later this year). Matt Martians released The Drum Chord Theory, Steve Lacy dropped the aptly titled Steve Lacy’s Demo, while bassist Patrick Paige II and drummer Christopher Smith are presumably still planning to release their own projects. But Syd’s Fin is the most intriguing release of the bunch. The album is a clear departure from the soul, funk and R&B grooves of Ego Death, opting instead for more contemporary, Timbaland-esque production. In fact, "Know" could pass for an unreleased Aaliyah joint, the kind of sexy, confident song that seemed far beyond Syd’s capabilities just a few years ago. Even if it's her final solo project, Fin is a testament to Syd's inspiring growth. A few years ago, “Insecurities” might have been a song about her crippling flaws; in 2017, she’s effortlessly rising above them. — Andy James

11. Future - FUTURE

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Epic Records / A1 / Freebandz
Release Date: February 17, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Zoom," "Mask Off," "Feds Did a Sweep"

After putting up a beast mode performance that made us all appreciate what a time it was to be alive in 2015, Future’s 2016 felt like a cooldown—yes, even while dropping four projects. That’s how fucking hard this guy has been going. Somehow, in his brief downtime following the forgettable Gucci Mane collaboration Freebricks 2: Zone 6 Edition, Future plotted his way back to the top by releasing an unprecedented pair of No. 1 projects. Unlike other self-titled albums that are built around autobiography, FUTURE doesn’t let us know more about the tortured artist known as Nayvadius Wilburn than we already do. Sure, “When I Was Broke” turns back the clock to a time before he was blowin’ money real fast like Big Meech crew, but this album is more of a reintroduction to Super Future, the ruthless workaholic who can churn out bangers like “Zoom,” “Draco” and “Mask Off" with his eyes closed. Consumed together, FUTURE feels like the molly to HNDRXX's Percocet. The best advice to just to enjoy the upper while it lasts. — Andy James

10. Future - HNDRXX

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Epic Records / A1 / Freebandz
Release Date: February 24, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Fresh Air," "Hallucinating," "Solo"

Future’s rise to born-again superstar in the wake of a public breakup was largely due to casting aside pop sensibilities in favor of doubling down on his aggressive, street-aimed sound. Going back to his mixtape roots, radio-ready ballads largely went missing, and in their place came a seemingly endless supply of hard-hitting, codeine-fueled confessionals from an artist careening down a spiral of self-medication in the face of emotional trauma. After three years and nearly 10 projects soundtracking this anguish, HNDRXX finally finds Future in a better place. Released alongside FUTURE, the album provides a counterpoint to that album’s continuation of Future'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

9. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 3

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Run The Jewels
Release Date: December 24, 2016 (Digital) / January 10, 2017 (Physical)
3 Standout Selections: “Legend Has It,” “Call Ticketron,” "A Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters"

Run The Jewels technically released RTJ3, their third album since June 2013, last December, but since the album’s physical release wasn’t until January 10, 2017, coupled with the fact their surprise Christmas Eve drop caused them to miss out on being mentioned on every Best Of 2016 list, we felt it was necessary for Killer Mike and El-P’s latest charged up opus to get the nod. From beginning to end, the RTJ3 listening experience is a relentless jolt of energy; like receiving a shot of adrenaline while polishing off a case of Red Bull. “If you don’t feel compelled to at least flip over a table, then you aren’t getting the full experience,” wrote Yoh in his 1-Listen review of the album. While RTJ3 and its two middle fingers raised to the sky doesn’t quite measure up to the brilliance of the two previous installments in the RTJ trilogy—which, really, is like saying that the ‘98 championship Bulls squad wasn’t as good as the ‘96 or ‘97 iterations—its release, on the eve of Donald Trump entering the White House, couldn’t have come at a better time. — Z

8. GoldLink - At What Cost

Best Albums of 2017

Label: RCA / Squaaash Club
Release Date: March 24, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Crew,” “Pray Everyday,” “Kokamoe Freestyle”

The beauty of regional rap is how an artist's identity can be molded and inspired by their backyard. Home is where the heart is, but it's also been one of the most influential muses in hip-hop. The internet has played a big role in exposing more of the world, breaking the barriers of separation and allowing artists to draw from sources outside of their hometown. GoldLink’s RCA full-length debut At What Cost is an album created as an homage to the city of DC, a place that hasn’t had the biggest representation in rap. Each song is specially crafted in a way that replicates the city’s heartbeat as listeners are plunged into the place that Link calls home. Musically, the album is full of gorgeous production and swift melodic rhyme schemes. It's music that will inspire dancing and a yearning to know more about DC, go-go music, and the mysterious GoldLink. At What Cost is a love letter to DC written by one of the city’s most promising sons. — Yoh

7. Rick Ross - Rather You Than Me

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Maybach Music Group / Epic Records
Release Date: March 17, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Apple Of My Eye,” “Santorini Greece,” “Idols Become Rivals”

A majority of the images that appear when googling the name Rick Ross are photos of a man wearing shades. Fittingly, the sunglasses are a great metaphor for the man himself, as there has always been a sense of separation between the real Rick Ross and the one we've heard for the past decade. Rather You Than Me, Rozay’s ninth studio album, feels as if he finally decided to allow the world to truly see the man who is behind the shades. There's a refreshing honesty to his lyricism, which is carefully mixed in with all the luxury boasts and mafioso imagery that is usually rooted in anything but self-reflection. After nine albums, the Ross formula hasn’t changed much, but he has found a new way of repackaging all his strengths to create a project embodying all the qualities that have made his career longlasting. Rather You Than Me is the best beginning-to-end album Ross has created since Teflon Don. — Yoh

6. Khalid - American Teen

Best Albums of 2017

Label: RCA Records
Release Date: March 3, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Young Dumb & Broke,” “Location,” “Let’s Go”

American Teen couldn't be a more perfect title for 19-year-old Khalid’s debut album. Filled with graceful vocal performances and equally 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 not only celebrates youth on American Teen but questions its flaws—like how technology is killing intimacy (“Location”). When dealing with an “it’s complicated” relationship himself, the heartache only highlights his incredibly mature songwriting: “I’ll keep your number saved / ’Cause I hope one day you’ll get the sense to call me,” he sings on “Saved,” before adding, “I’ll keep your number saved / ’Cause I hope one day I’ll get the pride to call you.” 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

5. J.I.D - The Never Story

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Dreamville / Interscope
Release Date: March 10, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “LAUDER,” “NEVER,” “All Bad”

East Atlanta emcee J.I.D, named a DJBooth Top Prospect last August, might not be a stranger around these parts, but up until J. Cole announced his signing with Dreamville in February, the Spillage Village member wasn’t exactly a household name outside his own backyard. That all changed, however, when the 26-year-old released his major label debut, The Never Story, on March 10. From start to finish, the 12-track effort is a no-skips affair, featuring J.I.D’s engaging and playful demeanor, a charismatic delivery and sharp pen game. “Dreamville didn’t sign the next pop star, but a rapper who will make you appreciate lyricism, metaphors, punchlines and style,” wrote Yoh in his review of the album. One of the more impressive debut albums in recent memory, The Never Story is an exciting first chapter in J.I.D’s promising career. — Z

4. Joey Bada$$ - ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Pro Era / Cinematic
Release Date: April 14, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “FOR MY PEOPLE,” “LAND OF THE FREE,” “BABYLON”

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, 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 in this fucked up world. Throw in gorgeous, soulful production from the likes of Statik Selektah, Kirk Knight and 1-900, and AABA is Joey Bada$$ finally finding his voice five years after bursting onto the scene. With greatness on his mind, he's only getting started. — Andy James

3. Drake - More Life

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Young Money Entertainment / Cash Money Records
Release Date:  March 18, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Passionfruit," "Blem" "Do Not Disturb"

After delivering an overblown, overhyped album in Views that was better suited for inclusion in various playlists than as an actual front-to-back album listen, the world’s biggest pop star decided to ditch the traditional format altogether—in name, at least. In calling his latest project a “playlist,” Drake may have thrown away sales from those unsure if it would be a true Drizzy affair, but lowered expectations worked to his advantage in the case of another lengthy listen. It helps that the music was great, too. More Life is another sonic buffet showcasing all the various current-day Drakes, packed with warm island flavor (“Passionfruit,” “Madiba Riddim”), sunny summertime trap (“Portland,” “Ice Melts), adrenaline-fueled bangers (“Free Smoke,” “KMT”) and conflicted retrospectives (“Lose You,” “Do Not Disturb”), to name only a few. It’s not the OVO compilation many expected when the “playlist” was announced, but with polished, all-star production, a more carefree attitude that doesn’t take itself too seriously and a host of standout selections, the project is a clear step up from Drake’s prior effort. A few missteps aside (“Glow,” Giggs) and despite the fact it’s a Drake album in all but name, More Life thrives as a project built for the playlist era. — Brendan Varan

2. Sampha - Process

Best Albums of 2017

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”

After spending the last half-decade lending his one-of-a-kind voice to industry heavy-hitters like Drake, Kanye West, Solange and Frank Ocean, Sampha placed the spotlight firmly upon himself with the release of his debut solo album, Process. The album is a hauntingly beautiful display of human emotion, one that makes stunningly clear his talents as a producer, songwriter and vocalist, and cements him as one of today’s brightest musical talents. At times achieving a vastness in sound (“Plastic 100°C,” “Reverse Faults”) without ever sacrificing the intimacy of one man sitting alone at his piano (“No One Knows,” “Take Me Inside”), the album is Sampha processing grief—be it the loss of his beloved mother or the remembrance of past love—and searching for answers. Process is intensely sad and overwhelmingly moving, yet lush and engrossing enough to demand repeat listens; a stark reminder of our shared humanity and a modern-day masterpiece from an artist previously best-known for contributing to the works of others. — Brendan Varan

1. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Top Dawg Entertainment / Interscope Records
Release Date: April 14, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “DNA.,” “FEAR.,” “DUCKWORTH.”

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. is 55 minutes of thrilling, exhilarating and absolutely stunning artistry. On his third major label release, Kendrick is at his most honest, introspective and creatively unpredictable. Each song is a world of its own, and yet can be woven together to create an exquisite portrait of a man fighting against vices and virtues, searching for God and faith in a world burning to the ground. DAMN. shows an awareness of the times and employs a modern sound that is brilliantly executed, turning something that is timely into something timeless. Dot can move to the sounds of his contemporaries, but others can not reciprocate the dexterity that’s displayed when Lamar is behind the microphone. Listening to Kendrick is like watching clips of Michael Jordan, a ballplayer who could make almost any other player on the court appear novice and amateurish. Jordan was poetry in motion, a walking highlight reel, and that’s the Kendrick you hear on DAMN.―a rhyming reel of exceptionalism that will make you feel as if you’re witnessing the brilliant glow of greatness. — Yoh

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