After a 2016 slate that included inspired albums by Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, A Tribe Called Quest, and more, hip-hop seemed destined for a quiet year in 2017. Instead, A-listers from Drake and Future to Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar dominated the charts with a batch of projects that rival the genre’s output last year. Read on for 10 of the best.
10. Drake, More Life
Sure, the Canadian superstar’s bafflingly titled “playlist” didn’t spawn hit singles in the way last year’s Views did, but it’s still a clear rebound from that turgid LP. Across 81 minutes, Drake throws genres at his canvas like a hip-hop Jackson Pollack, seeing what’ll stick. That approach doesn’t always work — and better editing could’ve yielded a superior
album playlist — but More Life‘s highlights make for some of Drizzy’s most compelling and diverse work yet, from smooth dancehall (“Passionfruit”) to weightless trap (“Sacrifices,” assisted by 2 Chainz and Young Thug).
9. Rapsody, Lalia’s Wisdom
The North Carolina MC earned accolades and grew her following after high-profile guest spots with Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak. Her second studio album features her densest and best rhymes yet, and Lamar, .Paak, Busta Rhymes, and the Roots’ Black Thought come along for the ride. Deservedly so, the project garnered surprise Grammy nominations for Best Rap Song (for “Sassy”) and Best Rap Album.
8. Joey Bada$$, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$
You can practically smell the egg-and-cheese bodega sandwiches and mounds of garbage bags on the prodigious Brooklynite’s second studio album. Booming drums and slithering guitars pay homage to MCs who defined the region’s sound while Joey was an infant — but lyrically, the project goes far beyond the Big Apple. “Leave us dead in the street to be their organ donors,” he rhymes on “Land of the Free,” All-Amerikkkan Bada$$‘s sobering centerpiece. “They disorganized my people, made us all loners / still got the last names of our slave owners.”
7. Gucci Mane, Droptopwop
The prolific trap visionary has been on a tear since his release from prison in May 2016, releasing five full-length projects — with a sixth out this Friday — and a smattering of EPs. Even so, Droptopwop towers above the competition. At 37 minutes, it’s Guwop’s shortest post-incarceration album or mixtape. And with the only guest spots coming from Migos’ Offset, 2 Chainz, Rich Ross, and Young Dolph, it’s also comparatively light of features. While Droptopwop‘s a tight showcase for the gifted rapper, what sets it apart is production from Metro Boomin, the brilliant 23-year-old beatsmith behind hits including Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” and Future’s “Mask Off.”
6. Tyler, the Creator, Flower Boy
The 26-year-old Angeleno amassed a cult following nearly a decade ago with queasy rhymes about topics including drug abuse and sexual violence. His gravelly tenor’s intact on Flower Boy, but little else about his best full-length recalls the foul-mouthed dispatches of his adolescence. Aided by artists from Frank Ocean and Lil Wayne to Jaden Smith and Estelle, Tyler finally achieves the Pharrell-indebted fusion of hip-hop, electro, and R&B to which he’s long aspired, using the sounds to underscore tender rhymes about love (“See You Again”) and what seems like queer identity (“Garden Shed”).
5. Open Mike Eagle, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
The indie rapper’s concept album about Chicago’s demolished Robert Taylor Homes, where he grew up, is the headiest — and most heartfelt — release of the year. Soul sounds and electronic grooves clash on instrumentals that evoke the collision of humanity and artificiality that defines city living. And Mike’s dexterous verses are alternatingly entrancing and amusing, from the woozy apocalypse of “Happy Wasteland Day” to the verbal cascades of “Tldr (Smithing),” where he quips, “My supervillain name would be Ultra Hater / I’d act really cool then insult you later.”
4. Future, HNDRXX
The prolific Atlanta trap star’s best and most successful song of 2017 didn’t even appear on this album: That’d be “Mask Off,” from his self-titled effort, released a week prior. But HNDRXX helped Future make history — he’s the first artist to ever notch back-to-back No. 1 debuts in successive weeks — and it’s his most cohesive, consistent work yet. Frequent producer Metro Boomin stops by for sleazy opener “My Collection,” but Future then ventures out sonically, trying out silky, domesticated soul (“Fresh Air”) and euphoric synth-pop (“Incredible”). Bonus: The Weeknd delivers an earworm of a hook on the woozy “Comin Out Strong” for his best guest spot since Lemonade.
3. JAY-Z, 4:44
It turns out that all the hip-hop icon needed to jolt him for a years-long creative slump was Beyoncé sharing his marital infidelities with the entire world. 4:44 is Jay’s most realized record in more than a decade, a lean tour de force that tackles issues of race writ large (“The Story of O.J.,” “Moonlight”) but still gets deeply personal: The rapper atones to Beyoncé on the title track and invites his mom to discuss her coming out on “Smile.” And while the album’s scant on guests — just Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, and Damian Marley — the voices of Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, and more drift through the album thanks to producer No I.D.’s dusty soul instrumentals.
2. Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory
The gifted 23-year-old MC joked on Twitter that his second album should compete with electronic artists at the Grammys — and it’s true that, with assists from the likes of Flume (“Yeah Right”) and Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn (“Love Can Be…”), the bracing set only needed 36 minutes to push hip-hop’s sonic boundaries more than any other 2017 release. As synths skronk and drums clatter, Staples glides above the din, with lyrical missives that urgently indict fame (“Party People”) and fortune (the one-percent challenging “BagBak”).
1. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
Like the president who eventually praised it, Lamar’s jazzy 2015 opus To Pimp a Butterfly was an unflinching but optimistic force of hope. His knotty, conflicted follow-up is anything but: With tracks that address topics as lofty as America (“XXX.”) and the divine (“GOD.”), Lamar deploys his once-in-a-generation lyrical gift in a search for answers to 2017’s pervasive chaos. But while his dazzling verbal flows prove he’s still hip-hop’s best, Lamar enlisted proven chart-toppers like Mike Will Made-It, Greg Kurstin, and Rihanna to also make DAMN. his most musically mainstream project yet.