This year was great for the culture of hip-hop via rap music. We witnessed the emergence of women who rap, an increase in social commentary and an all-out assault on depression with an emphasis on living your best life. The five projects that made the top 5 best rap album list for 2017 encompass all of that and more. Check out the list. Let me know what you think.
1. Jay-Z – 4:44
Jay-Z continues to hold the torch and consistently moves into space where it can be argued that he is the best to ever do this rap thing. 4:44 is viewed by many as Jay’s response to his wife Beyoncé’s telling release Lemonade. Jay mentioned in an interview with Elliot Wilson on Tidal that they were working on both projects at the same time and Beyoncé’s took precedent. Regardless of how it happened, 4:44, in this writer’s humble opinion, is Jay-Z’s best work. He speaks clearly to his peers. He challenges his own sensibilities and is as vulnerable as a bragging rapper can be. The production provided by Chicago native NO ID provides a bed of lush samples and rhythms that pull the listener into the insightful bars. The most ingenious aspect of the project was the rollout. Every week a new visual was attached to one of the songs on the album tackling racism “The Story of Oj” and Black men’s mental health witnessed in the title track “4:44.”
2. Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom
Rapsody is nobody’s female rapper. She an emcee’s emcee and her project Laila’s Wisdom forces you to take notice. The 9th Wonder produced project is a Golden Age nod with a millennial vision. Her project has been nominated for “Best Rap Album Of The Year” at the 2018 Grammys and she has a legitimate chance at winning. Rapsody does everything right. She can be miss rappity rap, give you a love song and a complete story filled with irony and metaphors. Her song “Ridin” featuring GQ feels like a ride through your nearest hood on a beautiful day. As the song rides along, Busta Rhymes comes out of nowhere to continue with the feel-good vibe. The Jamla artist has been prevalent in recent years on many of her peers’ releases and she always represents solidly. Her wordplay and the way she can stretch out a metaphor is uncanny.
3. Tyler The Creator – Flower Boy
Odd Future impresario Tyler the Creator delivered a project in Flower Boy that is sonically above his peers and musically continues to stretch the boundaries. This is not new to Tyler; however, this project feels like a culmination into what could possibly be his magnum opus. The gritty song “Pothole” featuring Jaden Smith on the chorus harkens back to the original odd futuresque style that is irreverent and bold. The song “Boredom” that was featured on Issa Rae’s hit show Insecure opened a door into Tyler’s production skill. The track takes its time and allows Tyler’s gravely deep voice to live between the sounds. The song itself is inspirational in that it compels the listener to get off their ass and get busy doing something. Live your life.
4. Kendrick Lamar – Damn
Kendrick followed up his undeniable revolutionary classic with an introspective, honest and highly personal release in Damn. He has firmly held his ground as the thought leader of his generation. He boldly tells his peers to be humble and gives insight into his deepest thoughts when it comes to religion and love. “Element” stands out as a song where he just let’s loose and makes it clear who he is and where he comes from. “DUCKWORTH” is the most telling song on the project, as it basically tells the story of Kendrick’s life before his conception. It speaks to how life can conspire in your favor when you pay attention.
5. Big Sean – I Decided
Big Sean has been able to deliver witty bars since his emergence in rap. His project I Decided is a spiritual experience. The album starts off with an elderly man lamenting on his life and feeling like he should have taken another direction in his life. Big Sean open on “The Light” saying, “I spent my whole life trying to find the light at the end of the tunnel / I should have realized that it was inside.” Chicago crooner Jeremih fills up the space of the sparse track with a falsetto soul reminding all that no one can stop your shine. Out of all the projects that made this list, this is probably the one (with the exception of 4:44) that spoke to me the most. The Metro Boomin produced “Bounce Back” is a reminder to keep pushing even after taking a loss. Big Sean is about shining that light and spreading that positivity, and that’s what’s up.
That’s my list. It’s dope, right? What are your top 5 for 2017? Share in the comments.