Pinning down the best albums of 2017 is no easy task and is bound to be met with contention –– especially if your list only consists of 10 bodies of work.
Hip-hop and R&B saw their own respective peaks this year, as Jay-Z proved he could still hold our attention, Kendrick Lamar further cemented his future G.O.A.T. status, SZA earned her rightful place in the conversation, and Migos continued to lead the new school. Off the top of one’s head, 10 great albums in 2017 could easily be named. But who could have made the list, but didn’t? And how do you rank them in comparison to each other? There can only be 10. Not 11, and not 20. Imagine the challenge.
But once again, we did it, so you don’t have to. Here are the top 10 albums of 2017. You’re welcome.
In the Trump era, where bigotry and hatred is encouraged, it’s somewhat remarkable that a queer R&B songstress found such success singing about same-sex love (among other topics). Syd released her debut album, Fin, at the top of 2017, just when Trump was sinking his claws into the nation, but her project was able to turn a deaf ear to the noise and create something that was soothing and nostalgic. Her ballads (“Know”) often sparked memories of the '90s R&B singers that came before her, but Syd’s confidence as a musician in her own right, shined on her more punchy and rhythmic tracks (“All About Me).”
As a member of the electronica, hip-hop soul band, The Internet, Syd never went unnoticed, but her venturing out on her own, showcased a just a slither of what she is capable of. Syd previously told The Fader back in 2016, that her solo project was a “descent into the depth I want [The Internet] to get to.” While fans haven’t given up hope concerning a new collective album, Fin definitely leaves us with the hopes that her own separate musical journey continues. – Jessica McKinney
In a world fraught by the toxicity of hypermasculinity, Daniel Caesar succeeds at reminding us that men do indeed have hearts. Freudian is tender above all of its other noteworthy attributes, and that tenderness is not static — it reverberates past the upsides of love and through its downsides too. “Get You,” the track that ushered Caesar into the hearts of young lovers, takes a backseat, albeit temporary to other standout tracks. “Best Part” enlists the help of fellow R&B newcomer H.E.R. for a gorgeous duet. “Neu Roses (Transgressor’s Song) places all-encompassing harmonies on full display. “We Find Love” is an anthem for love unrequited.
Freudian is an audible sweet-spot in a time when sweet spots are hard to find. We should all be grateful. – Iyana Robertson
Nineteen-year-old Khalid isn’t your average R&B singer, and his debut album, American Teen, is far from your run of the mill R&B record. His sweet vocals set him apart from his crooning counterparts who opt for more '90s-inspired sounds. And his transparent and thoughtful penmanship encapsulates the life of a kid who is both toying with carefree adolescence and the challenges of adulthood.
In the genre as we see it now, the talk of love is very rarely lacking, but the way in which Khalid sings about love (and loss) conveys a sense of purity, innocence, and endearment that we haven’t seen in a while and that make us long for our youth. On tracks like “Location,” “Saved” and “Winter,” the El Paso-bred singer perfectly walks fans through the emotions of craving affection and communication in a digital era. His musical content, along with the invigorating medley of guitar strings, piano keys (“Therapy”), and indie instrumentals (“Another Sad Love Song”), make American Teen a well-rounded project and a beautiful intro to a young star’s budding career. – Jessica McKinney
The debate on the current generation’s boundless sound shift in hip-hop and those responsible for it has its ups and downs. DMV’s recluse rap rarity, Goldlink, gives hope to those who wish to see that change endure with At What Cost. As his debut studio undertaking in the bar-eat-bar rap world, Goldlink came correct. He reaches to music’s most tokened sounds and vocals like KAYTRANADA and Jazmine Sullivan for the album’s R&B aroma. And after reminding everyone with Baltimore’s Brent Faiyaz and D.C.’s Shy Glizzy that home is where the hits are on the platinum-certified “Crew” breakout single, the 24-year-old glorifies homegrown talent with other industry neighbors who call the DMV home, such as Mya and Wale. Such musical resourcefulness makes At What Cost not only a melting pot of moods, but an on-wax talent show for Goldlink. Storytelling comes easy with “Herside Story” and “The Parable of the Rich Man,” while “Kokamoe Freestyle” lines him up well with rap’s greatest off-the-dome spitters.
Goldlink has a little something for all sides of the music lover in you, from jazz and funk to neo-soul to straight rap rhythm and encompasses the diverse millennial sound with obvious homage to those that came before him. Legends like Andre 3000, who recently closed the hip-hop industry chapter of his life and tore a page out for a Goldlink collaboration, play a prominent role in that, too. But most important, as an attentive first-year student coached by music’s expertised, At What Cost proves that Goldlink’s musical mind is not only a beacon of hope, but wise beyond its years. – Diamond Alexis
Driven by soul-injected harmonies and an interchanging rhyme scheme, blkswn is an ode to Smino’s beloved hometown of St. Louis and the divine feminine. Throughout the 18-track-project, the fairly newcomer proves his lyrical dexterity is far ahead of its time as he seamlessly weaves together different genres without sacrificing the depth of one single bar. Arriving during a time where there was an influx of identity politics at play, following the 2016 presidential election, blkswn is loud and unapologetically Black. From the sexually charged pundits of “Spitshine” to the album’s lead single, “Anita,” a groovy salute to Black women everywhere, the indulging in one’s Blackness is key to the project’s vibrancy. Smino’s debut is just as inviting as A Seat At The Table but perhaps with plenty more Henny and “hood chakras” to go round. – Kai Miller
Along with hip-hop, R&B is nestled in one of its most varied eras in recent times. There are singers who still place vocals at the top of the agenda. There are skilled songwriters who insist on telling a good story. There are singers who’d rather carry a vibe than hold a note. There are songs about love, lust and everything in between. Luckily for us all, Ty Dolla $ign has the dexterity to tote across all of those fine lines. Enter Beach House 3.
The Los Angeles crooner flexes his multifariousness on his second studio album, hitting each component of today’s R&B on the head with each track skip. Ty also becomes a master of collaboration as Tory Lanez, The-Dream, Lil Wayne, YG, Jeremih, Future, Skrillex, Damian Marley and a host of others aid in his crusade. “Droptop in the Rain” is bedroom-ready, “Love U Better” evokes nostalgia, “Dawsin’s Breek” is a certified turn-up and “So Am I” takes a trek to the Caribbean. Ultimately, Beach House 3 becomes a body of work that includes something for everyone, regardless of your preferences. And that signals a job well done. – Iyana Robertson
Migos’ Culture tape blessed 2017 with “Bad and Boujee.” And in that case, the rest of the album couldn’t go wrong. The trap trio has a knack for creating infectious tunes that if nothing else, get you out of your seat. The beats boomed at every volume notch and their start-and-stop flows kept heads bobbing with every other word. Their features, including Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz, and Travis Scott, only helped solidify their place in the trap game.
Culture, in many ways, demonstrates the group’s growth from their debut album, Yung Rich Nation. The album is jam-packed with contagious singles. There’s a reason why Donald Glover shouted them out during his acceptance speech at the 2017 Golden Globes. - Jessica McKinney
By far Jay-Z’s most introspective body of work, 4:44 is where “Song Cry” meets “Soon You’ll Understand.” After irrefutably damaging his marriage to Beyonce and putting his burgeoning family on the line, Hov exchanged his trademark hubris for some much-needed humility. In laying his larger-than-life ego to rest, Shawn Carter’s on-wax confessional is vulnerability at its finest ― to the point where you can almost tune in to the quiet anxieties whispering inside his head.
Urged on by producer No I.D.’s soul-searching palette of Nina Simone to Sister Nancy, 4:44 finds Jay apologetic for his infidelities, blaringly misogynistic past, and most important, serving as a faulty blueprint for a generation impressed by the glitz and gleam. While admonishing his boastful persona is quite habitual at this point, see “There’s Been A Murder,” Jay appears ready to embody a new realm of understanding. Throughout the cohesive soundscape, the Brooklyn-born lyricist shares his unabashed opinions on the importance of owning one’s true identity (“Smile”), Black economic empowerment (“Family Feud), and the underlying subtleties of race and wealth in America (“Story of O.J.”). 4:44 is the work of an artist who understands that evolving is both a steadfast and stifling process. Leading the way for hip-hop to age gracefully, it’s back to Shawn Carter the hustler ― Jay-Z is dead. – Kai Miller
“That is my greatest fear... that if, if I lost control, or did not have control, things would just, you know... I would be… fatal,” is both delicate and disturbing as the unsung first line of SZA’s debut studio album, CTRL: a breakup and a love letter to the ruptured heart and being of a 20-something woman. Using the wise testaments of her mother and grandmother to introduce and conclude the four-time Grammy-nominated project, SZA stripped her conscious, vulnerability and transparency down to the rawest, sorest bone.
CTRL gives its listeners everything but, allowing heartbreak, fantasy, suffering, insecurity, rage, sanity and lust to run amok and spin stability completely out of control from the top of the tracklist to the bottom. SZA’s most sought-after tracks embody this mayhem. After bleeding her insecurities on “Super Model,” she reclaims her right to choose on the lead single and Travis Scott-featured “Love Galore,” screams the power of the p***y on the Kendrick Lamar-assisted “Doves in the Wind,” lusts through her lover’s schedule for “The Weekend,” and begs for some sense of normalcy in her chaos with “Normal Girl.”
Beautifully, CTRL is where pain thrives in the same place as healing, a dichotomous sensation that SZA sings and rhymes deep into the cracks and crannies of womanhood. It’s an emotional wreck. It is a gratifying meltdown. And ironically, it forces you to admit that, like SZA, we only have the most control when we’re completely out of it. – Diamond Alexis
Just when we all thought Kendrick Lamar couldn’t outdo himself, he drops an album amply titled DAMN. Featuring his ever-present introspection at center stage, K. Dot turns the dial up on digestibility following the release of revered projects To Pimp A Butterfly and untitled unmastered. The embodiment of hitting one’s stride, Kendrick’s fourth studio album finds the, arguably, greatest rapper of this generation settling into his duality. While still giving listeners a dose of the raw realities of Black life, faith, love and the like, the TDE star succeeds like never before at making it all suitable for the layman – but not too suitable.
Beneath the impressive flows, potent storytelling, rich production and sheer lyrical quality, the Compton native hid the easter egg that will no-doubt help point to his G.O.A.T. status one day: Kendrick Lamar made a classic rap album that is meant to be played both forward and backward. Continuing to level up on his competition, Kung Fu Kenny made two bodies of work in one.
DAMN. is a moment for the hip-hop history books. – Iyana Robertson
Aminé- Good For You
The follow-up to the infectious cadence of “Caroline,” Good For You hinges on love interests old and new underscored by Amine’s playful outlook on life. The 15-track project is a wide-ranging bout with self actualization as Amine comes in tune with his sonic capabilities. Coupling his love for glossy melodies with rhymes that flirtatiously tread the line between pop and rap, the 23-year-old makes it a point to indulge in the lightheartedness of songs like “Spice Girl” and “Dakota” while also acknowledging the need to take a more serious stance. On the percussive “Money,” he critiques the validity of material obsessions whereas on standout tracks like “Sundays” he allows the reality of his pain to win. With Good For You, Amine explores the things that would constrain his joy, which proves just how capable he is of more than a hit single or one-dimensional feel-good music. – Kai Miller
(Photo from left: Neil Lupin/Redferns via Getty Images, John Parra/Getty Images for Revolt Music Conference, Rick Kern/Getty Images for Samsung)