While not everything went as we hoped in 2017… the music surely made up for it. There was an incredible amount of amazing new hip-hop and R&B albums this year from both veterans and newcomers alike. In a year of exciting new sounds and artists, Kendrick Lamar continued to solidify his position at the upper echelon of the genre with his continual evolution as an artist. We saw Jay-Z expand on his legacy as a veteran with one of his best albums in years while newcomers like BROCKHAMPTON, Smino and J.I.D. emerged onto the scene with bold showcases of raw talent.
In 2017 hip-hop thrived, dominating the charts with a versatile array of sounds. Whether you’re into classic hip-hop, soulful R&B or the newer hip-hop sound that was expanded this year, there was something for everyone. The pool of unforgettable albums in 2017 made ranking these projects difficult, but we’re incredibly excited to showcase some of our favorites.
This year a handful of new artists proved themselves to be the future of the genre while others continued to refine their craft in the best way possible. If there’s an artist on the list you aren’t familiar with we highly recommend giving them a listen as we hope you might just find your next favorite. While it was difficult, we ranked our 20 favorite hip-hop and R&B albums based on originality, quality and replay-ability among other traits. Enjoy!
There’s no stopping Kendrick Lamar. After his last LP To Pimp A Butterfly went on to earn 11 Grammy nominations and a platinum plaque, expectations were sky high. Then Kendrick did what he always does, he surprised us. It's no surprise that he once again gave us the best album of the year, but the Compton rapper always keeps us on our toes with what direction he's going to go on any given project.
Good Kid M.A.A.D. City and TPAB were both two of the best rap albums of the past decade, but couldn't have been more different with the former being an ode to classic hip-hop and the latter being a freeform jazz & hip-hop hybrid. Everyone, including us, was left wondering if his next project would be more like GKMC or TPAB. He delivered a project that we couldn’t have imagined as the follow-up to his previous jazz-heavy album and surpassed our expectations once again as he brought things back to a more classic hip-hop sound, but in a way we hadn't heard from him previously.
DAMN. is a 14-track album that hears Kendrick continue to evolve as an artist is the best way possible. In the past, Kendrick’s storytelling has perhaps been his best asset, and here he tells some of his best stories yet. Along with his intricate lyricism comes a side to Kendrick we hadn't fully seen previously as his hooks and melodies are on another level. Kendrick brings a new tool to his repertoire: he sings. On tracks live like “LOVE.” and “PRIDE.” he puts his unhinged vocals on full display like never before… and it’s incredible.
Only Kendrick could deliver an album so thick with social commentary and see this level of commercial success. While we hear some of his most soulful work to date, he also hits us with some of his hardest-hitting tracks as well on tracks like "DNA." and "HUMBLE.", bringing on absolutely amazing production on every track. DAMN. saw Kendrick leave classic hip-hop and jazz-focused production in the past while take on current trends in production style in the best way possible. Once again Kendrick shows he’s the rightful king of hip-hop showcasing his pure greatness while continuing to grow as an artist.
Standout Tracks: All of them - "DNA.", "LOVE.", "HUMBLE."
Years after creating a huge following with his shocking and provocative rap collective Odd Future, Tyler, the Creator released his most mature album yet with 2017’s Flower Boy. Gone are the controversial lyrics and in-your-face, distorted production of the past, replaced by beautiful melodies and keys. The album features a wide array of guest artists, including Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky, Lil Wayne, and Kali Uchis, all of whom have a natural chemistry with the charismatic rapper.
Production on the album is handled entirely by Tyler, the Creator himself, and it is clear that the 26-year-old artist has refined his talent since his first mixtape in 2009. He is able to create “Who Dat Boy” and “I Ain’t Got Time,” two of the hardest hitting rap songs of the year, and then place them next to the slower, contemplative tracks “See You Again” and “Boredom,” while still making the album feel like a cohesive project. It is his most introspective and personal work yet, dropping his image and giving us a look at the real Tyler Okonma – a flawed twenty-something that is just trying to find his place in the world.
Standout Tracks: “911/Mr. Lonely,” “Bored,” “See You Again”
All eyes were on rising hip-hop collective BROCKHAMPTON after their impressive debut album SATURATION dropped in June of this year. They improved on everything that worked on its follow up SATURATION II, which was released less than three months after the first one. The Kevin Abstract led group gave us one of the best surprises all year with SATURATION I which got us hooked, but this second installment blew us away.
It’s no secret that we were huge fans of what this young group of artists put out this year, as we couldn’t get enough of their chemistry that shined through their tracks or their wacky, charismatic videos. Here they've truly refined their craft with this album containing the best music any of them have created in their short but successful career, with hooks that stick with you after one listen and clever punchlines & wordplay. The group shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon, having released SATURATION III in December (which we can’t wait to spend more time with) and embarking on a tour along with a new album to start off 2018.
Standout Tracks: “GUMMY,” “SWEET,” “JUNKY”
Smino is undeniably one of our favorite breakout artists this year as he quickly one of our favorite newcomers. His 18-track debut album blkswn is one of the best offerings of 2017, effortlessly injecting hip-hop with soul in a unique way we haven’t heard before. There are quite a few artists right now who are walking the line between singing and rapping, but Smino has refined the craft in a way few others have done putting his own spin on music from artists like Chance The Rapper.
Smino has a vocal dexterity that continually blows our mind. His ability to skip and bounce atop instrumentals will never cease to amaze us as he seems to surprise everytime he switches his flow or cadence. He somehow finds a way to bounce back and forth between singing and rap across the same line, often going from 0 to 60 without hesitation. The production on this project is mostly handled by Soulection-affiliated Monte Booker and contains extra chill forward-thinking instrumentals making use of pillowy, atmospheric sound design. Blkswn puts Smino’s silky vocals at the forefront of the project allowing his infectious hooks and irresistible melodies to shine throughout alongside his acrobatic, rapid-fire raps.
Standout Tracks: "Anita", "Netflix & Dusse", "Father Son Holy Smoke"
The city of Atlanta has had a massive 2017, with Future and Migos putting out platinum albums while up-and-comers like 21 Savage had breakout radio hits. Away from the ATL trap sound that dominated the charts this year is newcomer J.I.D., who sounds like no one else in the city right now and was deservingly signed by J. Cole.
On his debut album The Never Story he draws you in with his unique high-pitched voice and keeps your attention with his impeccable flows and cadences. Some of the songs will have you immediately hitting repeat to make sure you hear every word he says – and make no mistake, he can rap fast. His delivery on album highlight “NEVER” is unmatched in hip-hop outside of the upper echelon and the way he adapts to the beat switch sounds like early OutKast. J. Cole signed the 27 year-old rapper to his Dreamville label this year and it’s clear why; this breakout artist already shows potential to be a huge star this early in his career.
Standout Tracks: “NEVER,” “Hereditary,” “D/vision”
What a year for SZA. The TDE songstress deservingly broke out this year as her incredible major label debut CTRL is not only one of the best projects this year but put her at the forefront of R&B. SZA really has the voice of an angel and she is not shy about it, showing her far-reaching range on CTRL. Along with her own vocals shining, she brings the best out of every feature including Travis Scott and Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates Kendrick Lamar & Isaiah Rashad.
On her latest, the 27-year-old singer is unapologetically honest. CTRL is dreamy and proves that SZA is a force to be reckoned with for years to come with her hybrid style incorporating influences of hip-hop in a way that's truly her own. The production is just what you'd expect from any TDE release and allows her vocals to be highlighted in the best way possible. Although this is called her “debut” album, be sure to go back and listen to previous projects S and Z as you will will not be disappointed. While her past projects were great, this debut album saw SZA evolve a lot as an artist delivering one of our favorite albums of the year.
Standout Tracks: "The Weekend", "Doves In The Wind", "Go Gina"
Vince Staples is consistently surprising us. Between his hilariously clever personality, unpredictable antics and his forward-thinking music, the man is always keep us on our toes. His ear for non-conventionality is front and center on Big Fish Theory as he exceeded our expectations.
Not many rappers would be able to pull off getting Kendrick Lamar to go in on a wild, experimental Flume production and hold his own against the current king of hip-hop, but that's exactly what Staples does. The eclectic project brings different sounds throughout as he goes from flowing over frantic, hard-hitting beats to more melodic, all while maintaining a cohesive sound. Vince is a chameleon and shows he can truly rap over anything you throw at him, and absolutely kill it over unconventional production. This album is a step forward for an artist who always seems to be ahead of the curve.
Standout Tracks: "Yeah Right", "Big Fish", "Rain Come Down"
UK singer/songwriter Sampha finally released his debut album this year, and the beautiful record Process showcases his production skills, songwriting abilities, and amazing range. He is best known for his collaborations with artists like SBTRKT, Drake, Kanye West, and Jessie Ware, but this project shows that he has a huge career ahead of him as a solo artist. The critically-acclaimed album won the highly coveted Mercury Prize this year, an annual award given to the best album from the UK and Ireland, and it is well-deserved.
The concise ten-track album covers lots of ground and never stays in one place for too long, while still maintaining a unique style that isn’t seen in many of today’s R&B artists. The opening track “Plastic 100°C” sets the tone for the album with its dark, haunting melodies and complex instrumentation. He is able to pick up the tempo with songs like lead single “Blood on Me,” and can create a beautiful song by stripping everything away except for vocals and keys on “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano.” Shampha's angelic voice is what earned him most of his recognition up until this point, but here he shows his production is equally as amazing. Process is an incredible way for Sampha to begin his solo career, and easily takes one of the top spots on our top albums of 2017.
Standout Tracks: “Blood on Me,” “Timmy’s Prayer,” “Reverse Faults”
Earlier this year we advised you to not sleep on THEY. When we spoke to them back in February, it was clear they had a vision in mind, and a burning desire to bring it to fruition. We had already fallen in love with their work at the time, but then the LA-based duo proceeded to drop their debut album Nü Religion: HYENA, and it was everything we could've hope for.
Although the album clearly falls within the realm of hip-hop and R&B, it’s also so much more than that. The styles and influences range from electronic all the way to rock ‘n’ roll. Nearly everything about this album is simply on point: the vocals, the songwriting, the production, the instrumentation, the range. It’s hard to find something that isn’t executed perfectly. Nü Religion: HYENA may be their first ever full body of work, but it sounds like a project that was made by superstars.
Standout Tracks: "U-RITE", "Motley Crew", "Silence"
So this rapper is no new face to TSIS, he's been someone we've been covering since day one. We premiered Logic's three breakout mixtapes and have been a fan ever since. Everybody was his most ambitious challenge to date as he got more personal than ever, yet delivered a project that's still able to connect in a big way.
Logic has no fear of holding back touching on topics ranging from suicide, God, race and other sensitive subjects that most in the spotlight are afraid to speak on. His lyriciscm and flow is as impressive and lethal as you would expect blowing us away on tracks like "Everybody" and "Killing Spree". He even pushes himself as an artists singing on tracks like "1-800-272-825," which is one of his most important songs to date. Everybody is some of Logic's most self-aware work to date as he uses his platform to speak on topics that are important to him, going out of his way to ensure each of his listeners feels important no matter their background.
Standout Tracks: "Everybody", "1-800-273-8255", "Killing Spree"
With all that’s going on around him in today’s hip-hop world, Joey Bada$$ will always stay true to hip-hop’s purest form: bars. Joey’s consistency in his lyricism has put him on the board as one of the best rappers in recent years. It’s the one thing he’s able to do without hesitation, rap his heart out about anything he wants. So before even listening, we knew ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ would have Joey’s powerful wordplay. What we weren’t expecting, however, was his evolution into a even more of a well-rounded artist.
On tracks like “DEVASTATED”, Joey really belts out a powerful chorus. As the first song we heard off the project, this single showed a new side from the New York rapper we hadn't been exposed to before and was a natural progression. Joey Bada$$ also begins to stray away from his usual classic New York hip-hop sound to create a not-so-modest banger like “ROCKABYE BABY”. Along with experimenting with new sounds, he hits you with tracks like “RING THE ALARM” to show he's continued to refine his classic style. From the samples, to the guest features, to the flow, this is clean-cut New York, East Coast, hip-hop heat.
Standout Tracks: "Devastated", "Land Of The Free", "Rockabye Baby"
In a bold move, Future decided to drop joint albums FUTURE and HNDRXX in back-to-back weeks and became the first artist to achieve Number 1 albums on Billboard in back-to-back weeks. Future shared that HNDRXX is the album he always wanted to make as he steps away from the Atlanta hip-hop sound we’ve known from him for years.
HNDRXX is unlike any project Future has out out in the past as he taps into his melodic side putting his melodic sensibilities on full display. Future showcases an incredible ear for songwriting and melody on HNDRXX as he delivers his catchiest work to date while still holding his edge and delivering bars in the process. Future makes the most out of the top-notch production with some of his most well-written hooks to date. This moody LP is one that saw the biggest growth we’ve heard from Future as an artist and we're curious what direction he goes from here.
Standout Tracks: "Incredible", "Damage", "Fresh Air"
Toronto duo Majid Jordan made it into our list of top hip-hop / R&B albums for their amazing debut, self titled album last year and now they’ve only improved from there. The OVO artists really impressed us last time, and this new one titled The Space Between is even better as they somehow stepped up both their impressive production and dreamy vocals.
Majid Jordan blend 80's influences with modern R&B in the best way possible. The production is crisp and fluid while the vocals float buoyantly throughout. Each and every song on the 13 track album has been stuck in my head at one point or another, and I keep finding myself coming back for more. They find a way of harnessing a chill vibe while also including tracks ready for the dance floor on the same album. Majid Jordan’s vocals are always silky smooth are at the forefront of The Space Between with their insanely catchy vocals are delivered in the best way possible.
Standout Tracks: “One I Want”, “Phases”, “Not Ashamed”
It’s a shame that Jay-Z chose to release his new album 4:44 exclusively on his streaming service Tidal, because this was an amazing album that should be heard by any hip-hop fan. For his deeply personal thirteenth album he chose to have all the beats made by No I.D., a past collaborator and a legendary producer in the rap world. No I.D. stepped up the the challenge, with his smooth production bring a highlight across 4:44, bringing the best out of Jay-Z. Where some of their past songs together were chart-topping singles (“Death of Auto-Tune,” “Run This Town”), the new album is filled with ten soulful, sample-heavy tracks that sound unlike anything else in Jay-Z’s discography.
After Beyonce touched upon the topic of marriage infidelity on her latest album Lemonade, it was expected that her husband Jay-Z would have a response on his next album. No one predicted how introspective he would really get on this album though, dropping his usual bravado and opening up like never before. Instead his usual topics of being rich and dealing drugs, we hear Jay-Z discuss his family life and what it’s like to be a mogul in this industry for decades. This makes for an incredibly welcome late-career album from Hov and is a return to form after a string of underwhelming albums. 48 years old and he’s still able to surprise us.
Standout Tracks: “The Story Of O.J.,” “4:44,” “Marcy Me”
Unfortunately this album is a Tidal exclusive so there's no stream for us to include here...
In the world of commercial, mainstream hip-hop, no one did it better this year than Migos. After years of releases, the trio found their stride on Culture and put out their best work to date, by far. The album makes excellent us of minimal features from Travis Scott, Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz and Lil Uzi Vert while staying cohesive to their vision, although no one needs DJ Khaled yelling his name over their intro track.
Quavo was previously the star of the group, always at forefront of media and getting his fair share of features. However, Culture was the beginning of Offset coming into his own showing he's one to be taken seriously. These guys found a formula that works for them, and fine-tuned it to a science alongside superstar hip-hop producers like Metro Boomin, Murda Beatz and Zaytoven. Migos have an insane level of chemistry together as they trade verses, skipping and hoping atop the instrumentals side-by-side while further positioning themselves as the kings of ad-libs. Few hip-hop groups are able to seamlessly rap back and forth with this high level of execution combined with Quavo's irresistible knack for hooks makes Culture one of the year's best rap albums.
Standout Tracks: "T-Shirt", "Bad and Boujee", "Kelly Price"
It’s no secret we’re big fans of GoldLink. He’s impressed us time and time again with his eclectic rapping abilities shining over just about any instrumental thrown at him whether it’s a classic hip-hop beat or an experimental electronic production. This year he delivered his most complete piece of work to date with his debut studio album At What Cost, and did not disappoint us.
While he's previously showcased his ability to rap over electronic production, he's abandoned this to shine over classic hip-hop beats taking a more defined direction than we've heard in the past. GoldLink unleashed his single “Crew” ahead of the project, launching the DMV rapper to new heights and created high expectations for the 14-track album. His flows are unique to himself as he displays his intricate rapping abilities that have him flipping and bouncing atop each instrumental. GoldLink makes great use of both relaxing and danceable production showcasing his keen ear for melodies on each track. It's also always a plus when you get some Kaytranada production, which he capitalized on in a big way.
Standout Tracks: "Crew", "Meditation", "Herside Story"
Wow does Khalid have a good voice. The teenager from El Paso reached international stardom in an insanely short amount of time with his debut album American Dream as he seemingly popped up out of nowhere. He goes the concept route for the 15-track album with each song touching on different situations relatable to anyone who’s been a teenager in America. It's crazy to see an artist see this level of sucess this early in his career.
With mellow and warm production throughout, American Dream brings just the right dreamy vibe for Khalid’s limitless vocals to soar atop. At 19 years old, the young artist quickly burst onto the scene with standout singles like “Location” and “Let’s Go” earning himself a loyal fanbase ahead of the full project that only further solidified his place as one of the fastest rising stars right now. The project does an excellent job blending organic instrumentation with electronic production and a hint of hip-hop influences coming together in a unique way. While the album takes a theme of being a teen in America, the production and infectious vocals makes it be a project that listenable by all audiences.
Standout Tracks: "Let's Go", "Location", "Saved"
Russ can really do it all. He puts his versatile skill set on full display across the 20 tracks on his debut album There’s Really A Wolf and did not disappoint. While he’s released a ton of projects over the years, this one takes the title of his “debut album” and stands out among the pack. The talented DIY young artist not only shines with his raps, but is just as impressive with his singing and production, which he handled all himself along with taking engineering, mixing and mastering duties into his own hands.
Russ is someone who put in years of work to blow up quick and didn’t change in the process. He takes pride is his genuine nature and his music stay true to this with his thoughtful subject matter. While Russ’ lyrical raps are what initially drew us to him, tracks like “Cherry Hill” and “Don’t Lie” where he takes a more melodic, R&B direction are a refreshing addition to his arsenal. Russ has bars. He showcases a keen ability to float atop his smooth production with rolling flows and insightful lyrics. Russ is someone who has built a huge independent fanbase, and There's Really A Wolf is a great starting point for someone to dive into.
Standout Tracks: "Cherry Hill", "What They Want", "Pull The Trigger"
LA native Sydney Bennett already had an impressive and influential career before dropping her debut album, Fin, earlier this year under the name Syd. She was one of the founding members of rap collective Odd Future with Tyler, the Creator, then went on to be the lead vocalist for the critically-acclaimed modern soul group The Internet and has worked with some of our favorite artists including Kaytranada.
For her first solo album, she draws on influences from all of her previous work and combines them to create a new R&B/neo-soul hybrid with an emphasis on hip-hop. Several of the tracks are self-produced, and it’s clear she knows how to create the perfect setting to back her vocals. It’s great to see her take the lead on all of these songs where she exerts confidence like we haven’t previously seen from her. There are guest features from 6LACK and The Internet's Steve Lacy that match Syd’s style and don’t sound out of place or take away her spotlight. She already followed this album up with another stellar EP, showing that this is one artist to keep an eye on in 2018.
Standout Tracks: “All About Me,” “Over,” “Body”
Daniel Caesar wraps up our list of best hip-hop and R&B albums this year with the most soulful album on the list, Freudian. The 22-year-old Toronto artist caught the attention of many with his performance alongside Chance The Rapper on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert shortly after the release of his debut album, and the paring couldn’t have been more perfect.
Caesar strays away from the typical sound you think of when you think of Toronto R&B. He takes a very chill, soulful and poetic route to his music letting his unique voice shine with moments of impressive falsetto and dreamy harmonies. Freudian makes use of relaxing instrumentals placing emphasis on the acoustic instrumentation perfectly capturing a lush, atmospheric vibe to compliment his somber songwriting. He effortlessly blends different genres such as R&B, soul and indie as he even incorporates backing choir vocals. The laidback project will surely have a calming effect on any listener.
Standout Tracks: "Get You", "Take Me Away", "Best Part"
Lil Peep - Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 1
Rest in peace Lil Peep. Before the young artist’s tragic death this fall, he put out the first part of his Come Over When You’re Sober project, and it’s amazing. This album solidified Peep at the forefront of a new wave combining elements of emo rock and hip-hop executed better than we’d ever heard before. While Peep is unfortunately not with us anymore, he left one hell of a legacy blending the genre lines like we couldn’t have imagined.
BROCKHAMPTON - SATURATION I & III
BROCKHAMPTON actually put out not one, but three amazing albums this year as part of a series. SATURATION I set the bar high for the eclectic hip-hop collective as they immediately became a favorite of ours. Their versatility, chemistry and endless charisma was put on full display as one of the most exciting rising groups right now. While the second album in the series stood out as our favorite, SATURATION I and the freshly released SATRUATION III are both must listens and we can’t wait to spend more time with their latest.
Choker - Peak
With one of the more versatile projects of the year, newcomer artist Choker delivered a very strong debut album Peak. The 10-track project displays his raw talent and admirable songwriting sensibilities. He blends everything from indie to rap to R&B and everything in between on this project that sounds like something that could be a lost Frank Ocean album.
Lou The Human - Humaniac
In a year that included a disappointing return from Eminem, a newcomer rapper Lou The Human stepped up to the plate. His 10-track debut project Humaniac, he delivered a well executed concept album of a scatter-brained maniac. Lou’s lyrics and flows shined throughout as he could somehow shock you and make you laugh in the same line. He showed similarities to classic Slim Shady in the best way possible.
Barclay Crenshaw - Barclay Crenshaw
Many of you may already be familiar with Dirtybird head honcho Claude VonStroke, but you've never heard him like this before. Stepping away from his typical techno & house sound, he launched this new project under his birth name to release music under another genre that means a lot to him, hip-hop. With features from The Underachievers, The Cool Kids and Mr. Carmack, Barclay's debut release under this moniker applied his refined sound design and production skills to hip-hop in a refreshing way that has us excited to see where the veteran goes from here.
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