50 Best Hip-Hop and R&B Albums of 2017, Ranked

By | Posted December 4, 2017
For the final time this year, we'll see you in the comments.
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Photo Credit: Jake Franssen

Ranking the 50 best hip-hop and R&B albums in any one calendar year is no easy task, but it was especially difficult in 2017.

You probably don't care about that, though. As a matter of fact, you likely skipped this entire introduction paragraph and scrolled all the way down to the top 10. Which is just fine. Do you.

For those of you who care, these rankings are based on a weighted voting system by our full-time writing staff. Not surprisingly, half of our selections are independent releases, a number that will likely keep growing in the years to come. As always, we both expect and anticipate dissension among our readers. We look forward to you voicing your complaints in the comment section below!


50. Choker — Peak

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Self-Released 
Release Date: May 12, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Mango," Brown Steel," "El Dorado"
See AlsoIntroducing Choker, a Gloriously Unpolished Frank Ocean Offspring

What makes Choker’s music immediately refreshing is a sense of separation from what’s happening and what’s popular in modern rap music. Peak is an album that can only be made in a bedroom locked away from outside encouragement and thoughts of instant stardom. There are some noticeable attributes that reflect Frank Ocean’s influence but they don't take away from a unique body of work that shines with original ideas and creative sensibility. —Yoh

49. J Hus — Common Sense

Best Albums of 2017

LabelBlack Butter Records
Release Date: May 12, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Bouff Daddy," Did You See," "Like Your Style"

While blog pleas for grime acceptance stateside fall on mostly deaf ears, its J Hus’ (propelled by producer JAE5) unique fusion of global styles and influences that represents UK rap’s best prospect for crossing over. Snappy punchlines and the polished charisma and songwriting of early aughts favorites mix with infectious melodies and the club-ready melting pot of East London sounds—Afrobeat, dancehall, hip-hop, grime—to form a surprisingly honed debut from the 21-year-old. —Brendan

48. Moses Sumney — Aromanticism

Best Albums of 2017

LabelJagjaguwar
Release Date: September 22, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Plastic," "Quarrel," "Doomed"
See AlsoLoneliness, Frustration & My 3.5 Year Wait for Moses Sumney’s Stunning Debut

Debut albums are meant to be a grand introduction; the warm embrace of the artist's world. On Aromanticism, Moses Sumney delivers something ever-so dissimilar, focused squarely on what it means to be maddeningly alone and incapable of connecting. Part eulogy to intimacy and to comfort, the album manages to navigate through isolation as Sumney leaves listeners feeling the furthest from emptiness—and even closer to our own desires. —Donna

47. Lil Uzi Vert — Luv Is Rage 2

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Atlantic Records
Release Date: August 25, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Neon Guts," "How to Talk," "XO TOUR Llif3"
See AlsoHas Lil Uzi Vert Already Peaked? Why His Greatest Strength Might Be His Biggest Weakness

Luv Is Rage 2 is the culmination of Uzi’s flow experimentation over the last two years, showing he’s just as comfortable over fresh production as Maaly Raw slappers. He’s the archetype of the postmodern rapper and, regardless of how you feel about that, you’ll be blasting “XO TOUR Llif3” as we hurl into the void. —Miguel

46. Snoh Aalegra — FEELS

Best Albums of 2017

LabelArtium Recordings
Release Date: October 20, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "You Got Me," "Fool For You," "Nothing Burns Like the Cold"
See AlsoSnoh Aalegra’s Debut Album ‘FEELS’ Bends Space and Time

2017 was the year of the powerhouse R&B debut, with Snoh Aalegra's FEELS firmly cemented on that list. FEELS takes the draw of searching vocals and turns it into the album's thesis. Aalegra wrestles with emotional distance and available aurally, removing herself from the pitfalls of sentiment and taking us on a journey that only requires patience. —Donna

45. 2 Chainz — Pretty Girls Like Trap Music

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Def Jam Recordings
Release Date: June 16, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Good Drank," "It's a Vibe," "OG Kush Diet"
See Also2 Chainz ‘Pretty Girls Like Trap Music’ 1 Listen Album Review

2 Chainz delivers the most lush, lyrically proficient and enjoyable project of his career. This should come as no surprise for one of the most competent and consistent MCs of the past half-decade, yet, for the majority of his solo recording career, his skill set has repeatedly been taken for granted. Well, except for all the pretty girls who like trap music. —Matt

44. G Herbo — Humble Beast

Best Albums of 2017

LabelMachine Entertainment Group
Release Date: September 22, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Malcolm," "Mirror," "No Way Out"
See AlsoWatch G Herbo Spit a Gritty 16 in Episode 2 of DJBooth & TIDAL’s “Bless The Booth”

On his debut studio album, Humble Beast, G Herbo lives up to the title. Blazing his way through blistering trap beats and soulful production reminiscent of the Just Blaze and Heatmakerz era (“Mirror” is another classic Herb-Bibby collaboration which brings Dipset’s “DJ Enuff Freestyle” into 2017), the 22-year-old Chicago rapper paints brutally vivid pictures of the violent life he was born into (“Red Snow,” “Malcolm”) while giving his people a glimpse of life beyond the streets (“Crown,” “No Way Out”). “I’ma stay as humble as possible,” Herb declares two songs into the album. “But in all actuality I just want n*ggas to know: you not fuckin’ with me.” —Andy

43. Playboi Carti — Playboi Carti

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Interscope Records
Release Date: April 14, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Magnolia," "wokeuplikethis*," "No. 9"
See AlsoPlayboi Carti ‘Playboi Carti’ Cheat Code Album Review

“Tats on my neck and my arm” - Playboi Carti (2017) —Brendan

42. BROCKHAMPTON — SATURATION II

Best Albums of 2017

LabelQuestion Everything
Release Date: August 25, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "GUMMY," "TOKYO," "JUNKY"
See AlsoThe Secret to BROCKHAMPTON’s ‘Saturation II’? “MILK”

BROCKHAMPTON is hip-hop's most improved boyband. Behind their charisma and their catchiness, the boys tackle social issues and find pockets to bare their respective souls. SATURATION II takes all the glimmers of promise from the first installation—the Auto-Tune, the brazen writing, the distinct personalities of the members—and gives them new, G-funk-inspired life. —Donna

41. Syd — Fin

Best Albums of 2017

LabelColumbia Records
Release Date: February 3, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Know,” “Got Her Own,” “Insecurities”
See AlsoSyd’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 effortlessly rose above them. —Andy

40. CyHi The Prynce — No Dope on Sundays

Best Albums of 2017

LabelSony Music Entertainment
Release Date: November 17, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Amen (Intro)," "No Dope on Sundays," "Nu Africa"
See AlsoCyHi The Prynce, G.O.O.D. Music’s Sixth Man, Is Finally Off the Bench

Birds of a feather are said to flock together, an ancient saying that defines the magnetism of greatness. CyHi proved this idiom true with the release of his long-awaited debut, living up to the expectations of a Kanye West protegee and G.O.O.D. Music constituent. The album is lyrically striking, musically pleasing, and able to represent and encapsulate why G.O.O.D.'s best-kept secret deserved to finally emerge from the shadows washed over by the spotlight.  —Yoh

39. Rex Orange County — Apricot Princess

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Self-Released
Release Date: April 26, 107
3 Standout Selections: "Apricot Princess," "Sycamore Girl," "Never Enough"
See AlsoRex Orange County, Steve Lacy & Anti-Pop’s Hip-Hop Adjacency

Making music that's both youthful, nuanced, and ever so refined is no easy feat. On Apricot Princess, Rex Orange County captures both the moment before buds become flowers and just after those same flowers wilt away. Rex's sophomore album, a follow-up to 2015's bcos u will never b free, gives young love a flick of mysticism, one capable of soundtracking both an old picture show and a contemplative night alone. —Donna

38. Roc Marciano — Rosebudd’s Revenge

Best Albums of 2017

LabelMarci Enterprises
Release Date: February 21, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Better Know," "Burkina Faso," "Marksmen"
See AlsoRoc Marciano ‘Rosebudd’s Revenge’ Cheat Code Album Review

The glitzy grime and humor of New York rap have always coursed through the veins of Roc Marciano. On Rosebudd’s Revenge, he spins Koch-era fables over rumbling beats that rival the MTA. His skills further polished since 2014’s Marci Beaucoup, Roc’s moving through old streets with new vigor. —Dylan

37. 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”
See AlsoIf Skepta Didn’t Break Through in the US, Does Stormzy Have a Chance?

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. —Andy

36. King Krule — The OOZ

Best Albums of 2017

LabelTrue Panther Sounds
Release Date: October 13, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Biscuit Town," "Dum Surfer," "Czech One"

Opener “Biscuit Town” unlocks the door to a dark and murky underbelly. Archy Marshall’s second release as King Krule pulls you along as it wades through the muck, enveloping you in the smoldering cigarette smoke of a subterranean search for meaning. Down here, genres muddle, pace swings from careening (“Emergency Blimp”) to congealed (“A Slide In”), and desperation is romanticized. —Brendan

35. BROCKHAMPTON — SATURATION

Best Albums of 2017

LabelQuestion Everything
Release Date: June 9, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "HEAT," "GOLD," "MILK"
See AlsoBROCKHAMPTON 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”). —Andy

34. Garren Sean — GARREN, LP

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Self-Released
Release Date: July 28, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "There She Go," "Finer Things," "Fly High"
See AlsoMeet Garren Sean, the New Bay Area Talent With a Timeless Sound

You might not yet be familiar with Garren Sean, but based on the strength of his nearly self-titled debut, you need to properly acquaint yourself. With manipulated vocals and distorted sonics sure to draw comparisons to reclusive genius Jai Paul, Sean is a Bay Area singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist that does it all. GARREN, LP has the feel of a pop virtuoso working out the kinks of shedding his influences into a style of his own, producing a timeless set of irresistible funk in the process. Even if not every idea feels fully-formed, the project is as promising a display of raw talent we've heard this year. —Brendan

33. Majid Jordan — The Space Between

Best Albums of 2017

Label: OVO Sound / Warner Bros. Records
Release Date: October 27, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Gave Your Love Away," "Body Talk," "Asleep"

There’s a simplicity to the way Majid Al Maskati writes lyrics that lulls you into a false sense of security. As you bounce along to the rhythms of Jordan Ullman’s ‘80s-inspired backdrops, appreciating what it would be like if the Stranger Things OST was more danceable, the earnestness of Majid’s evocative crooning eventually disarms you and unexpectedly resonates on a deeper emotional level. The Space Between is an apt title for a body of work that effortlessly straddles the line between R&B, pop, and dance music. —Hershal

32. Knox Fortune — Paradise

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Self-Released
Release Date: September 22, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Lil Thing," "Help Myself," "Stun"
See AlsoMeet Knox Fortune, Your Favorite Chicago Rapper’s Favorite Collaborator

A behind-the-scenes hero from several acclaimed Chicago releases over the last few years takes firm hold of the spotlight for himself. Knox Fortune’s aptly-named Paradise unfolds like the hazy half-recollections of an adolescent late-summer fling, so effortlessly breezy it sounds like it floated in from a passing blunt ride. A sun-kissed Polaroid of youthful exuberance. —Brendan

31. Aminé — Good For You

Best Albums of 2017

LabelCLBN LLC / Republic Records
Release Date: July 28, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Yellow," "Caroline," "Wedding Crashers"
See AlsoAminé’s ‘Good For You’ is as Bright & Eccentric as the Rapper Himself

Aminé’s debut album, an often funny, dark, assholish, and clever project, captures a level of self-awareness that most newcomers in hip-hop can only dream of. Above all else, Aminé explores the notion that not all of our young adult experiences are completely humorous, regretful, or dark, but rather that they are all of those emotions rolled into something more complex, and ultimately, more beautiful. —Matt

30. Young Thug — BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS

Best Albums of 2017

Label: 300 Entertainment / Atlantic Records
Release Date: June 16, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Family Don't Matter," "Relationship," "Me or Us"
See AlsoYoung Thug ‘Beautiful Thugger Girls’ 1 Listen Album Review

From the acoustic guitar-tinged production and country-style duet with breakout British singer Millie Go Lightly, it was obvious within the first few seconds that BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS was a little bit different, even by Young Thug’s standards. On his Drake-executive produced “singing album,” the ATLien flirts with country, dancehall, R&B and trap sounds while basking bare-naked in the intense beauty of love and lust. Featuring some of his most brilliant—and bizarre—vocal performances, BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS only cements Young Thug as one of the most inventive and eccentric artists in music right now. —Andy

29. Thundercat — Drunk

Best Albums of 2017

LabelBrainfeeder
Release Date: February 24, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Show You The Way," "Friend Zone," "Them Changes"
See AlsoThundercat ‘Drunk’ Cheat Code Album Review

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. 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

28. Future — FUTURE

Best Albums of 2017

LabelEpic Records / A1 / Freebandz
Release Date: February 17, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Zoom," "Mask Off," "Feds Did a Sweep"
See Also: Drake, Future & The Inverse Relationship Between Album Length & Critical Acclaim

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

27. Drake — More Life

Best Albums of 2017

LabelYoung Money Entertainment / Cash Money Records
Release Date:  March 18, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Blem," "Sacrifices," "Do Not Disturb"
See AlsoRap 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. —Andy

26. Run The Jewels — Run The Jewels 3

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Self-Released
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"
See AlsoHow Killer Mike’s ‘R.A.P. Music’ Created The Blueprint For Run The Jewels

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, Killer Mike and El-P’s latest charged up opus deserved the nod. “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. This is true. Though RTJ3 doesn’t quite measure up to the brilliance of the two previous installments in the RTJ trilogy, its release, on the eve of Donald Trump entering the White House, couldn’t have come at a better time. —Z

25. Rick Ross — Rather You Than Me

Best Albums of 2017

LabelMaybach Music Group / Epic Records
Release Date: March 17, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Apple Of My Eye,” “Santorini Greece,” “Idols Become Rivals”
See AlsoIt Took 11 Years & 9 Albums, But the Real Rick Ross Finally Stood Up

On Rather You Than Me, the ninth studio album of his decade-plus career, Rick Ross 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. 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

24. Oddisee — The Iceberg

Best Albums of 2017

LabelMello Music Group
Release Date: February 24, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Things,” “NNGE,” “Want to Be”
See AlsoOddisee ‘The Iceberg’ Cheat Code Album Review

Produced solely by the artist himself, The Iceberg is a fairly easily digestible 12-track 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,” CineMasai wrote in his review of the album. Don’t think too hard, though. Just press play and enjoy. —Z

23. Jonwayne — Rap Album Two

Best Albums of 2017

LabelAuthors Recording Company
Release Date: February 17, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “TED Talk,” “Out of Sight,” "These Words Are Everything"
See AlsoJonwayne’s Sobriety is a Powerful Testament to Music As Therapy

Rap Album Two is a prescription to treat life's everyday bumps in the road—stress, depression, anxiety, fear—and by bridging the gap between his struggles and the universal themes of artistic duality, addiction, self-loathing and self-acceptance, Jonwayne serves up a friendly, real reminder that everyone—artists are people, too—is just trying to figure shit out. —Z

22. Brent Faiyaz — Sonder Son

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Lost Kids
Release Date: October 13, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Gang Over Luv," "First World Problemz / Nobody Carez," "Talk 2 U"
See AlsoBrent Faiyaz Boldly Marks His Arrival With Excellent Debut ‘Sonder Son’

Brent Faiyaz' voice is so soothing that it could calm a mother bear robbed of her baby cub, a ravenous lion on the hunt for flesh, or a boiling Joe Budden raging against DJ Akademiks. On Sonder Son, he uses this magical voice to tell his tale—by far the most personal music the budding star has released to date. The combination of his voice and engrossing songwriting will keep Sonder Son in rotation beyond the calendar year, ensuring your soul remains in a state of blissful tranquility. —Yoh 

21. Open Mike Eagle — Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Mello Music Group
Release Date: September 15, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Legendary Iron Hood," "Brick Body Complex," "My Auntie's Building"
See AlsoOpen Mike Eagle, milo & How Urgency is Empowering Rap Writing

His motherfucking name is Michael Eagle, he's sovereign, and Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is his magnum opus. The album, which is quietly visceral and heart-wrenching, is anchored around the feeling of stumbling upon a crying hero who believes that they're all alone. BBKSD is not strictly about gentrification and superheroes, though. It's about destruction, loss, and the coping mechanisms invented out of the dust by America's most resilient. —Donna

20. IDK — IWASVERYBAD

Best Albums of 2017

LabelHXLY, LLC / Commission Music
Release Date: October 13, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Pizza Shop Extended," "17 Wit a 38," "Black Sheep, White Dove"
See AlsoIDK Dropped “Jay,” But ‘IWASVERYBAD’ Is the Gripping Story of Jason Mills

By looking within, DMV MC IDK was able to use his mastery of storytelling to manifest a personal masterwork. On IWASVERYBAD, the problematic son who could do no right made an album inspired by an arduous past. Adult Swim is a fitting distributor for a project that could seamlessly translate into a stellar season of television. —Yoh

19. Migos — CULTURE

Best Albums of 2017

LabelQuality Control Music
Release Date: January 27, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "T-Shirt," "Call Casting," "Bad and Boujee"
See AlsoIs Migos Holding Quavo Back From Becoming a Breakout Solo Star?

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

18. Khalid — American Teen

Best Albums of 2017

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

17. Vince Staples — Big Fish Theory

Best Albums of 2017

LabelDef Jam Recordings
Release Date: June 23, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "745," "Yeah Right," "Samo"
See AlsoVince Staples is the Modern-Day Alfred Hitchcock

"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 our attention with deft, honest, and self-aware rhymes, and in the process, elevate his artistry to a level that should surprise nobody. —Z

16. Kelela — Take Me Apart

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Warp Records
Release Date: October 6, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Frontline," "Waitin," "LMK" 

Take Me Apart is an album characterized by catharsis. Thematically tracking Kelela’s emotional journey after a breakup, the album is flush with satisfying moments of sonic build-up and gorgeous release and offers a salve to fans who have waited patiently for her debut album since the release of her stunning 2013 mixtape, Cut 4 Me. It demonstrates a cerebral approach to R&B, where every pulsating synth and empowering word-choice is deliberate, invoking lazy comparisons to past artists like Aaliyah and Janet Jackson, but wholly futuristic in its execution. —Hershal

15. GoldLink — At What Cost

Best Albums of 2017

LabelSquaaash Club / RCA Records
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’

GoldLink’s At What Cost first graced our 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

14. Wiki — No Mountains In Manhattan

Best Albums of 2017

LabelXL Recordings
Release Date: August 25, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Mayor," "Pretty Bull," "Made for This"
See AlsoWiki Is Doing His “Own Shit” & That Shit Sounds Fantastic

No Mountains In Manhattan 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 cheese 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

13. Joey Bada$$ — ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$

Best Albums of 2017

LabelPro Era / Cinematic Music Group
Release Date: April 14, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “FOR MY PEOPLE,” “LAND OF THE FREE,” “BABYLON”
See AlsoThe 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. Five years after bursting onto the scene with his DOOM-inspired “Survival Tactics,” Joey Bada$$ has finally found his voice. —Andy

12. Future — HNDRXX

Best Albums of 2017

LabelEpic Records / A1 / Freebandz
Release Date: February 24, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Fresh Air," "Hallucinating," "Solo"
See AlsoToo Much Music: How Future’s Two-Album Strategy Has Killed ‘HNDRXX’

Released alongside FUTUREHNDRXX 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.” —Brendan

11. Smino — blkswn

Best Albums of 2017

LabelZero Fatigue LLC / Downtown Records
Release Date: March 14, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Anita,” “Father Son Holy Smoke,” “Edgar Allen Poe’d Up”
See Also17 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." If Nelly put The Lou on the proverbial map, Smino ripped that motherfucker up and completely redesigned it. —Z

10. milo — Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!

Best Albums of 2017

LabelRuby 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. 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

9. J.I.D — The Never Story

Best Albums of 2017

LabelDreamville / Interscope
Release Date: March 10, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “NEVER,” "D/Vision," “All Bad”
See AlsoKendrick’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. 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

8. Tyler, The Creator — Flower Boy

Best Albums of 2017

LabelColumbia Records
Release Date: July 21, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "See You Again," "Boredom," "911/Mr. Lonely"
See AlsoTyler, 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”). —Andy

7. JAY-Z — 4:44

Best Albums of 2017

LabelRoc Nation
Release Date: June 30, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "The Story of O.J.," "4:44," "Legacy"
See AlsoEgo Death: How JAY-Z Found His Most Vulnerable Voice on ‘4:44’

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. —Andy

6. Daniel Caesar — Freudian

Best Albums of 2017

LabelGolden Child Recordings
Release Date: August 25, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Get You," "We Find Love," "Blessed"
See AlsoDaniel 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

5. Rapsody — Laila’s Wisdom

Best Albums of 2017

Label: Jamla Records / Roc Nation
Release Date: September 22, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Laila's Wisdom," "Power," "Nobody"
See AlsoRapsody’s ‘Laila’s Wisdom’ is a Gorgeous Panorama of the Modern-Day Black Woman

Laila's Wisdom is an unfiltered look into the experiences of Black women in America. "If Rapsody’s pen is more like a dagger, these are the kind of raps that puncture," Yoh wrote in his review of the album. In just 14 tracks, Rapsody crafted an album that a generation of music lovers will grow with and carry into 2018 and beyond. Give Rapsody her flowers at all times, but at the very least, when "Jesus Coming" hits your eardrums. —Donna

4. Big K.R.I.T. — 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time

Best Albums of 2017

LabelMulti Alumni, LLC / BMG
Release Date: October 27, 2017
3 Standout Selections: "Price of Fame," "Drinking Sessions," "The Light"
See AlsoBig K.R.I.T. ‘4eva Is a Mighty Long Time’ 1 Listen Album Review

K.R.I.T. challenged the microwave mind in 2017. With his third studio album, and his first independent release since departing Def Jam, the Mississippi MC-producer crafted a stellar one hour and 25-minute double disc musical opus. Homage is paid to the old South, the nostalgia brought by a student of yesteryear. Southern rap tunes aren’t the sole perspective, though, as the album boasts beautiful soul capable of filling listeners with unforgettable joy. K.R.I.T. is confident and charismatic, deeply personal and transparent; the many layers of his spirit dance before our ears. It’s a fulfilling listen, raw with emotion, introspection, and a welcomed honesty. 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time is many things, but, without question, it is one of the best bodies of work you will hear all year. —Yoh

3. SZA — Ctrl

Best Albums of 2017

LabelTop 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

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, Ctrl. 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 

2. Sampha — Process

Best Albums of 2017

LabelYoung Turks Recordings
Release Date: February 3, 2017
3 Standout Selections: “Plastic 100°C,” "Blood On Me," “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,”
See AlsoSampha’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

1. Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.

Best Albums of 2017

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

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