Whether you’re a fan of mumble rap or Golden Era hip hop, there was something for everyone in 2017. I found personal favorites in both genres, as well as artists who blended classic lyricism with contemporary sounds. A new generation of R&B talent found their voice, led by SZA and bolstered by emerging talents like Khalid and Ravyn Lenae. Political themes took center stage for artists in all genres, from the anthem “FDT” to Chicano Batman crooning about police brutality. Several of my favorite artists didn’t release new albums, but I discovered several new favorites.
A few disclaimers about my list: Yes, I mostly listen to Hip Hop. No, I didn’t listen to every single album that came out in 2017. No, I’m not attuned enough to the youth to put Lil Pump on this list.
With that said, read on and be prepared to yell at me!
1. “CTRL” by SZA
SZA took her songwriting to a new level with her sophmore album. Ctrl’s subject matter kept the internet talking for months and led to one of the more iconic television soundtrack moments on HBO’s Insecure.
2. “DAMN” by Kendrick Lamar
Showing his range from “HUMBLE” to “Element” to “Loyalty”, Kendrick continues to pave the way forward for Hip Hop with lyricism and style.
#3. “All Amerikkkan Bada$$” by Joey Bada$$
Joey’s most polished project to date found his always sharp rhymes elevated from his casual cypher style to legitimate hits. Strong guest appearances and stellar production secured All Amerikkan Badass’s spot as the only other rap album to go toe to toe with DAMN.
4. “4:44” by Jay Z
After several superficial albums, rap’s godfather pushes himself to go deep on this brave album. Jay Z embraces his maturity and delivers a gem for long-time and new fans.
5. “H. E. R.” by H. E. R.
H.E.R. is one of the pre-eminent torch bearers in R&B’s explosion of new talent over the past couple years. Combining songs from two EP’s, her debut album is an endless parade of clever lyrics and subtle melodies.
6. “We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” by A Tribe Called Quest
A perfectly-executed old school rap album will never age. A Tribe Called Quest went out gracefully with an album as current as it is timeless.
7. “Big Fish Theory” by Vince Staples
Vince continues to be one of the most consistent lyricists today. More importantly, he consistently evolves his sound. Big Fish Theorypays homage to the house music his mom listened to at home during his childhood. Vince’s fearless exploration of different musical styles makes him one of the most exciting musicians today.
8. “Freudian” by Daniel Caesar
Daniel Caesar stole the end of the summer with this gosepl-inspired ode to love. It’s one of the only R&B albums that lovebirds can actually feel good about, given the rest of the year’s class focused on infidelity and breakups. Caesar’s voice and soaring arrangements carve a new lane out from under the Weeknd’s powerful influence on today’s R&B.
9. “Laila’s Wisdom” by Rapsody
Excellent beat selection and well-rounded rapping skills, along with a talent for storytelling, make this one of the year’s best performances for pure MC-ship.
10. “Everybody” by Logic
Logic has some of the most unique subject matter and little filler on this fantastic album. Co-signs from Black Thought and Chuck D certify his spot as an elite voice.
11. “12” by ASAP Twelvyy
This was probably the most distinctly “New York” rap album of the year. While A$AP Mob came to fame by blending regional styles, Twelvyy went back to the crew’s roots for his debut album. “Eastside Ghosts” was one of my top 5 most played songs of the year.
12. “Easy Breezy Beautiful Thugger Girls” by Young Thug
Young Thug has to be one of the most creative forces in music today. He calls this a country album, and he makes 808s and steel string guitars sound real good.
13. “Scum Fuck Flower Boy” by Tyler the Creator
Tyler the Creator has always demonstrated genius with production, but on his latest album he matured past the hateful lyrics of his early career and settled on a new level of intimate subject matter.
14. “Girl Disrupted” by Sevyn Streeter
Sevyn Streeter joined a chorus of artists talking about mental health this year. Underneath her catchy choruses is a strong pen game.
15. “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music” by 2Chainz
Long underrated by casual rap fans, 2Chainz enlists many of the top names in the game to deliver his most polished album to date.
16. “Fin” by Syd
In her first solo project, Syd defines a new sound with edgy production and smart lyrics.
17. “Primary” by Kari Faux
Kari Faux pulls no punches at the fuck bois on this funky romp through her too-cool-for-school world.
18. “More Life” by Drake
Even when Drake goes easy, it’s still a Drake album. The high points are always high, but the amount of filler is pretty disrespectful. If he wants to be considered anywhere near the top of the rap game, though, he needs to seriously bear down and get back to his mid-career form.
19. “Morning After” by DVSN
DVSN delivers another project packed with addictive melodies. The only weakness holding this back from being one of the top projects of the year is the relatively weak songwriting.
20. “Heavn” by Jamila Woods
Jamila Woods is the voice behind Chance the Rapper’s gospel sound, and on this album her vocals take center stage over a background of organs and jazzy percussion.
21. “Process” by Sampha
After contributing vocals for big name pop artists, Sampha breaks out the gate with peppy tempos and his characteristic soaring runs.
22. “blkswn” by Smino
Smino has found his own lane as a hip hop offshoot of the SZA-inspired stoner neo-soul sound.
23. “Gang Signs & Prayer” by Stormzy
Stormzy combines grime’s relentless wordplay with varied beats and flows that may help him appeal to an international audience.
24. “True to Self” by Bryson Tiller
Bryson Tiller’s highly anticipated sophmore album doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but that still leaves plenty of room for a great R&B release.
25. “Humanz” by Gorillaz
Maybe I’m biased because I saw the magic of Pusha T performing live with the band at Outside Lands. Gorillaz are unparalleled at creating a world around each new release.
26. “Culture” by Migos
Migos have ridden their refinement of a unique Atlanta sound to superstardom, makin them arguably the most influntial hip hop act since Drake.
27. “Take Me Apart” by Kelela
Kelela brings the funk over pared down production and a variety of beats.
28. “American Teen” by Khalid
Khalid’s clean vocals and bittersweet ballads offer a fresh take on coming of age angst.
29. “Wins & Losses” by Meek Mill
One thing you can never fault is Meek Mill’s energy. Standout tracks with The Dream and Yo Gotti along with the typically strong Meek intro make this one of the year’s stronger pure hip hop releases.
30. “Grateful” by DJ Khaled
DJ Khaled continues to put together the best collaborations in music right now. He has a way of getting the best out of artists, like Bryson Tiller on “Wild Thoughts” and Future on “The Lamborghini Come with Steps”.
31. “War & Leisure” by Miguel
Miguel is back to form, slipping in a few political statements between his priceless sexual metaphors.
32. “Midnight Moonlight” by Ravyn Lenae
My favorite act from the SZA generation of neo-soul, Ravyn Lenae’s whimsical sound is absolutely true to her “moon” catalog theme.
33. “Black Ken” by Lil B
Lil B’s genre-hopping music defies description, but dang it sounds good.
34. “Still Striving” by ASAP Ferg
In light of ASAP Rocky’s absence, Ferg may be making the best case for the Mr. New York title. His unbridled creativity and NYC roots produce records with infectious energy.
35. “Ransom 2” by Mikewillmadeit
When he’s not producing your favorite songs on albums like DAMN and Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, Mikewillmadeit put together an excellent collection of original songs from his collaborators. Highlights are “Perfect Pint” with Kendrick Lamar and “Razzle Dazzle” with Future.
36. “Freedom Is Free” by Chicano Batman
Chicano Batman epitomize the phrase “lush guitars” — like Belle and Sebastian, if they sang about police brutality.
37. “About Time” by Sabrina Claudio
Sabrina Claudio isn’t afraid to slow down her echoing melodies to create some major mood music.
38. “Issa Album” by 21 Savage
There’s a clear line in the sand between those who live the lifestyle they rap about and pure storytellers. 21 Savage is the most prolific rapper today who can claim to actually have experienced the events in his rhymes.
39. “Perfect Luv 2” by Lil Uzi Vert
“XO Tour Life” is my song of the year. A few additional highlights make this highly anticipated album a solid showing from the poster boy for rap’s youngest generation.
40. “SweetSexySaveage” by Kehlani
Kehlani’s brand of pop with an edge ranges the emotional spectrum from sexy to mournful.
41. “4eva Is a Mighty Long Time” by Big K.R.I.T.
As the rest of hip hop gravitates to a uniform sound, K.R.I.T.’s instrumental production and enunciated Southern drawl sounds more and more unique.
42. “Magnolia” by Buddy
With a list of co-signs and collaborations far ahead of his years, Buddy’s agile rapping over unique electronic beats has made a splash this year.
43. “Godfather” by Wiley
An OG of the Grime movement sticks to his bread and butter on this relentless lyrical performance.
44. “Playboi Carti” by Playboi Carti
The SoundCloud darling with a hyper-loyal following held outsized influence partially thanks to an ASAP Rocky cosign. With his major label debut, he secures his footing among the new generation of rappers.
45. “Genesis” by The Dream
The Dream brings a surprisingly dark sound to his ballads. He’s more than earned his own time in the spotlight after delivering hits for multiple artists this year.
46. “All Blue” by G. Perico
With his jheri curls, all blue wardrobe, and harsh nasal voice, G Perico is one of the younger voices carrying on LA’s gangster rap legacy.
47. “Mumble Rap” by Belly
Belly’s dedication to lyricism and appreciation for hip hop history will earn him a following among classic hip hop fans. His contemporary beats and versatile flow will keep him at home alongside the rest of the XO stable.
48. “I Still Am” by Yo Gotti
Yo Gotti’s Memphis accent allows him to string together rhymes and ride beats in a unique way — and he does both well on this mixtape.
49. “Jungle Rules” by French Montana
French Montana knows when to let his guests shine. While he hasn’t advanced into the next tier of MCs, the man knows how to put together a dope song — which he does many times over on this project.
50. What the hell, ASAP Rocky?
ASAP Rocky promised us an album before Christmas, and here we are…