This year was full of unexpected good music. From the surprise announcement of DAMN. to the return of N.E.R.D, and every random album I miraculously stumbled upon in between. Many highlights of my year are projects I never anticipated listening to or even knowing about. Sometimes I feel I get caught up in one type of music, so it was nice to find a wide range this year. That being said, hip-hop continues to dominate my listening habits just as it did in 2016. The case is the same for my favorite songs as well. But hey, you can’t deny the current musical landscape. Hip-hop is pop, and it’s hard not to get in on the fun, for artists and listeners alike. So let’s dive in and see what made my top albums of 2017.
Favorite Song: Drew Barrymore
It was a calm Friday in June when SZA casually dropped her Ctrl album. I listened once, and I thought it was good enough for a second. I listened again, and I felt the urge for a third. Before I knew it, I had this album on repeat for weeks. SZA’s sultry sound had stolen my heart just as it did to millions of people around the country. Ctrl has become a soundtrack for the millennial generation in 2017, and I simply could not deny it from taking the top spot on my list.
Favorite Song: LUST.
Say what you want about how DAMN. compares to the rest of his discography, but the success of this album speaks for itself. This is (probably) the best rapper alive right now, in his prime, putting together a really solid concept that has a little something for everyone. For me, it’s that accessibility that differentiates DAMN. from Kendrick’s other work. And he did it without sacrificing quality or substance. Kung Fu Kenny himself has said this is his best work, so I’ll take his word for it.
Favorite Song: Sticking To My Guns
Several times this year, I was drawn to an album simply by the artwork, with no prior knowledge of the artist. Thank goodness I was, because two of those albums ended up right here in the Top 5. This grammy-nominated album right here seems to have slipped through the cracks of the general audience. Gumbo presents a sweet fusion of gospel, soul, and hip-hop elements that is pure ear candy. The best part is that I had no idea what to expect, and it exceeded anything I could have imagined from one of the keyboardists of Maroon 5.
Favorite Song: You Should Know
Less than a minute into the first song and you will already know this is something special. Over a captivating foundation of instrumentals, provided largely by 9th Wonder, Rapsody delivers bar after bar, rhyme after rhyme, carrying you through a wonderland of hip-hop and jazz. She’ll have you jumping on the couch on “Power” to crying into a pillow in the fetal position on “Jesus Coming”. While this is not her first LP, the high level performance and critical acclaim of Laila’s Wisdom, not to mention a Grammy nomination, almost makes this feel like an epic debut, and that Rapsody is just getting started as a household name in the rap game.
Favorite Song: You Got Me
The album title really says it all here. In another project I am very grateful to have randomly stumbled upon, Snoh Aalegra hits you smack dab in the feels with a soulful and sultry soundscape (yay alliteration). Each song gently pulls on your emotions and puts you right in touch with her heart and soul. Throw this on during a rainy day and you will be feeling some type of way.
Favorite Song: Sour Mango
This was my first favorite album of 2017, and it held on to a top spot without wavering. On Jardín, Gabriel Garzón-Montano proves his talent and versatility as a songwriter and performer. He spins his classical and soulful influences into an impressively unique display of funk and R&B. If his voice sounds familiar, you may have heard him being sampled on Drake’s “Jungle”.
Favorite Song: Squarepusher Theme
If you ever feel like you need a good slap in the face, crank these tracks from Shobaleader One, the electro-jazz live band spear-headed by accomplished producer and recording artist Squarepusher. Elektrac is a live, off-the-wall whirlwind of insanely-written jams and even more insane performances. At the same time, it manages to stay concise and diverse through all the chaos. I was fortunate enough to see the group perform at Thalia Hall, and they executed every song to perfection.
Favorite Song: 1 Night (ft. Charli XCX)
Mura Masa’s self-titled commercial debut is about as fun as music can get, and it’s produced with a finesse and quality that is one of a kind. His blend of exotic sounds, dancey beats, and just the right features make for a sound that is uniquely his and incredibly contagious. I expect big things from the young producer in the future.
NO ONE EVER REALLY DIES
Favorite Song: Don’t Don’t Do It! (ft. Kendrick Lamar)
It’s weird, it’s demanding; it’s genius. N.E.R.D is back and they nailed it. The Pharrell-powered hip-hop group defies any potential side affects from a 6+ year hiatus and hones their industrial, high-energy sound into one of the best releases of 2017. Throughout No One Ever Really Dies, the features are great, the grooves are hard, and it’s spirit is uncompromising. It’s still pretty fresh and may require a few listens to get into—it certainly did for me—but it is truly a tribute to Pharrell’s uncanny ability to make music and will only garner more attention and appreciation as it ages.
Favorite Song: SWAMP
All the potential that BROCKHAMPTON demonstrated on SATURATION I came to a powerful fruition on volume two of their three-part 2017 takeover. SATURATION II has everything that makes “the best boy band since One Direction” so approachable, replayable, and just plain fun. This eclectic group of performers have an incredible chemistry and a refreshing sound that any hip-hop head can appreciate.
Metro Boomin, 21 Savage, Offset
Favorite Song: Nightmare
On the surface, this may come off as just another big ticket collaboration that fits the mold of a currently over-saturated genre. But give it your full attention and you will hear what makes Without Warning stand out from it’s contemporaries. Metro Boomin continues to exude the finesse and creativity that makes him one of the best producers in the game (somebody get this dude a grammy), while 21 Savage and Offset go above and beyond what you’d typically expect from the seemingly ubiquitous rappers. It is clear they both put 110% into this project, and the pay off is a commanding and down-right sinister collection of tracks. It does lose a bit of steam towards the end, but I think it’s safe to say this could the best work from any three of them in 2017. Props to Offset for stepping it up this year in quantity and quality and cementing himself as a competent and prolific solo artist.
Sacred Hearts Club
Foster The People
Favorite Song: Lotus Eater
I never quite got on the Foster The People train in the “Pumped Up Kicks” era, but I’ve quickly come to regret that after hearing this album right here. On Sacred Hearts Club, their song-writing skills are impeccable, and their longevity is undeniable. They also capitalized on stretching their sound into different genres in a way that many other bands of this decade have failed. Combine this with their epic performance at Lolla and you’ve got an avid fan in me.
Favorite Song: Métropole
This is what happens when a classically trained pianist gets a hold of modern production software. Metrópole by Anomalie is a truly beautiful composition of electronic beats that feels like an eight-part concerto. You can hear Anomalie’s immense music knowledge and training pouring out of every song. His craftsmanship delivers a sound that makes you groove as hard as it makes you think. Have an egotistical musician friend that’s been shoving their new beats down your throat? Play this album for them and put their overblown sense of talent into perspective.
Ocean & Montana EP
Favorite Song: Find Me
I’m calling it now: 2018 is Buddy’s year. If you haven’t heard of him yet, I think it’s only a matter of time. A Compton native, Buddy is a rapper/singer with a knack for catchy hooks and an ear for tasty beats. The Ocean & Montana EP is particularly exempliary of this, thanks in part to that dude Kaytranada. His massive potential is only elevated by his membership on Pharrell’s label iamOTHER. Lend your ear to his Magnolia EP as well, and you’ll hear why you should be on the lookout for Buddy making waves in the near future.
Favorite Song: Saggy Denim (ft. Wiki)
I ALMOST slept on this one. Fortunately, this album found its way to my ears just before the year was up. This album deserves every ounce of recognition it’s earned so far. Princess Nokia strikes a delightful balance between being funny and just making really good songs. She delivers a raw and energetic performance 16 tracks straight. “Saggy Denim”, “Green Line”, and “ABCs of New York” make for one of the strongest three-songs-in-a-row™ from any artist this year. Princess Nokia’s sound is both nostalgic and original, making her one of the most interesting up and coming rappers in the game.
Favorite Song: Wake Up (ft. Bipolar Sunshine, Cautious Clay)
Once more, I find myself striking gold while aimlessly browsing new music. This album from French DJ and producer Petit Biscuit is nothing short of gorgeous. You can hear the 18 year-old’s expertise in every nook and cranny. He navigates a myriad of electronic music styles with grace and artistry. Some very thoughtful features sew the varying threads of this album into one beautiful, sonic aesthetic.
Thee Oh Sees
Favorite Song: Keys to the Castle
For awhile now, I’ve struggled to get into anything musically that wasn’t at least somewhat related to hip-hop. My hunt for some new rock music I actually enjoy came to a satisfying end when I found this album by Thee Oh Sees. Orc is a grungy, punchy, noisy composition that turned out to be just what the doctor ordered to cure my rock deficiency. Catch them with us at the Music Frozen Dancing Block Party on February 19th. Their psychedelic, punky jams will be sure to keep you warm even on what will likely be a very cold day.
Tyler, The Creator
Favorite Song: 911/Mr. Lonely
Everyone’s favorite goofball came through with a well crafted, heartfelt album that’s as gentle as it is intense, and likely his best work to date. Far from the dark and twisted Goblin days, Flower Boy shows Tyler’s growth as an artist and how he’s refined his skills as a writer and producer. The handful of features are appropriate and precise, and Tyler performs with a conviction and vulnerability that gives the album a consistent emotional depth that he’s rarely reached before.
Favorite Song: ROCKABYE BABY (ft. ScHoolboy Q)
The current political landscape has certainly inspired a lot of artists to speak out through their music. On ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$, Joey Bada$$ takes this inspiration and packages it into an articulate and heart-felt album that showcases his lyrical talent as well as some fantastic production. Some A+ features from ScHoolboy Q, Meechy Darko, and J. Cole, to name a few, are the icing on an in-your-face cake made with love and baked to the perfection.
Favorite Song: Run Away
This album at first appeared almost too clean and too polished to keep me coming back. That is until I saw them play live at Chop Shop in Chicago and realized that they’re actually just that good. The execution on stage was impeccable, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for the smooth hip-hop and jazz that’s made Moonchild a must-hear in the genre. Between Voyager and some strong contributions to Rapsody’s grammy-nominated album, I’d say the group had a pretty great 2017.
At What Cost
Favorite Song: Summatime (ft. Wale, Radiant Children)
The best hip-hop album you’ve never heard of? Thanks to the hit single “Crew” and a remix from Gucci Mane, Goldlink is finally receiving some well-earned mainstream recognition. But At What Cost is so much more than the stand out club bangers. Sure, the significant contributions from Kaytranada are a prominent highlight, but it’s the moments when Goldlink steps out of his comfort zone and takes some risks that really take this album and his career to new heights. “Summertime”, “Pray Everyday (Survivor’s Guilt)”, and “Some Girl” with Steve Lacy are just some of the hidden gems worth mentioning. Don’t sleep on this energetic and diverse project that is some of Goldlink’s best.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Favorite Song: The Reckoning
On Ruler Rebel, Christian Scott’s trumpet mastery is sifted through a backdrop of dreamy drum and bass for a cocktail with the smoke of a mezcal and as smooth a juice. A great album for work that will have you day-dreaming about 5 o’clock.
Favorite Song: Trouble in the Streets (ft. Carly Rae Jepsen)
When I saw our girls Charli XCX and Carly Rae Jepsen on the credits of this short but sweet project, I knew we were in for a treat. The guys behind BC Unidos have quite the resumes on their own, and their combined talent shows some serious potential. The 2017 mainstream seems to value quantity over quality, but this little EP shows exactly why that should never be the case. Every song here is good. Like, really good. In fact, you should probably just listen to it right now and see for yourself. Thank us on Twitter @track-switch, if you feel so inclined.
Favorite Song: Maybe (ft. Japanese Breakfast)
Giraffage’s Too Real is a funky, bubbly, dreamy tracklist thats as tasty as a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But as you reach the bottom of the sugary milky goodness left in your bowl, you find the toy from the cereal box. Not an unfortunate circumstance by any means, but an unexpected twist that’s intriguing enough for a second helping.
Favorite Song: Summer Girl
My familiarity with Jamiroquai almost exclusively stemmed from the use of “Canned Heat” in the greatest scene of one the greatest movies of all time. It was suprising to find myself not only listening, but very much enjoying music from them in 2017. Jamiroquai has been a master of dance-fueled funk jams for decades. The Daft Punk of disco? Maybe. Regardless, put on your dancing shoes and don’t plan on sitting down for the duration of Automaton.
Favorite Song: Miracle (ft. Sam Trump)
Benny Ramos is an up and coming Chicago producer who in the past has teased his fans with some incredible remixes of Justin Timberlake and Disclosure, amongst others. Now that he’s taken the time to put together an official release, it is clear that he has some massive potential. Feels covers a variety of styles and showcases the talented mind of Benny and the musicians he works with. While it’s only four tracks, I found it simply too impressive to not give some recognition here. Here’s to hopefully a lot more work from Benny in the near future.
Favorite Song: Nayhoo (ft. Masego, Lophiile)
On Homey, Chon achieves a charming sound aesthetic with convictive writing and a perfect amount of thoughtful collaborations. The use of electronic elements delivers a soothing soundscape and some catchy melodies while still allowing their raw musical talent to shine through. If you’re a guitar-nerd or just looking for some interesting instrumentals to kick-back to, this album deserves a listen.
Favorite Song: Amendine Insensible
Sevdaliza’s Ison is a droning thunderstorm that is dark, dreary, and intoxicating. The rhythms and melodies are creative but minimal, forging a momentum that is both heavy and brisk. The lengthy tracklist may have you reaching for the light at the end of the tunnel and simultaneously being content right where you are.
For Those Who Know Pt. 1
Favorite Song: When You Say That
Brasstracks sound pretty much how you’d expect a group with such a name, and it sounds oh so good. Their mixing of jazz, hip-hop, and electronic elements is recognizable on everything they touch, including Chance the Rapper’s smash hit “No Problem”. The duo stretches their jazz chops a bit further on this EP, with some help from none other than iconic pianist Robert Glasper. The grooves are so hard that they’ll be over before you know it, leaving you no choice but to run it back again and again until a Pt. 2 comes along.
Sonic Mania Remixed
Tiny Waves (Various Artists)
Favorite Song: Save Select Screen (from “Sonic Mania”)
Coming in at the wildest entry here is this compilation of Sonic Mania remixes. Sure did not see that coming, but the insanity and creativity here is remarkable. The EDM bubble may seem to have popped, but these producers have given it new life by epically remixing the soundtrack to your favorite childhood hedgehog.
Favorite Song: Friend Zone
It’s a fact: Thundercat is the man. Wickedly talented and frankly, adorable, his bass-guitar wizardry never fails to win me over. His live shows are some of the best around, and the musical company he keeps illustrates just how sought after his talent is. Contrary to his absolute shredding on stage, Thundercat takes a more laid-back and thoughtful approach on Drunk, delivering a smooth, tasteful, and humorous dive into his peculiar genius. Dude’s got Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins on the same track. How neat is that? Special shoutout to his brother, Ronald, an equally talented drummer who released an impressive solo debut as well this year with his album Triumph.
The Never Story
Favorite Song: Somebody
As one of Dreamville’s newest members, J.I.D demonstrates why he earned a spot on J. Cole’s roster with the label’s best release of the year. The Never Story is an eccentric and groovy journey into one of the more unique rappers I’ve heard in awhile. His nasally voice and capable lyricism is supported by a tasteful palette of creative beats. I can only expect to hear more good things from this artist as the new year progresses.
Mr. Finish Line
Favorite Song: Baby I Don’t Know Oh Oh (ft. Charles Jones)
Vulfpeck has an addictive charm that never fails to grab my attention, and Mr. Finish Line is no exception. While it may not feel as cohesive an album as last year’s The Beautiful Game, this album has all the usual funk and silliness that makes their music so enchanting. When you combine that with the group’s handful of very talented friends, you get a collection of tracks that will put a smile on your face every time you listen.
Pretty Girls Like Trap Music
Favorite Song: Blue Cheese (ft. Migos)
I definitely did not expect to be talking about this one, but I think the fact that I can enjoy at least five songs from this album, or any album for that matter, warrants an honorable mention. It’s a very refined 2 Chainz with some excellent features and creative production. The man’s a television host now too. Let’s hear it for 2 Chainz – you deserve it.
Gang Signs & Prayer
Favorite Song: Bad Boys (ft. Ghetts, J HUS)
Stormzy’s debut album didn’t quite hit the mark as much I hoped it would, but it’s commercial success was more than significant, earning the top spot on the UK charts, which is a huge win for grime. Gang Signs & Prayer wears it’s American influences of it’s sleeve, but the execution and message is deliberate and tactful, making Stormzy a force to be reckoned with in the grime scene and beyond.
Good For You
Favorite Song: Yellow (ft. Nelly)
I’m rooting for Aminé. Good For You is a really solid debut that takes some risks and explores the unique artist that he can become. Featuring the viral hit “Caroline”, this album showcases Aminé’s raw talent and real potential, contrary to some of his contemporaries with whom he shared this year’s XXL Freshman Class.
Favorite Song: Saturnz Barz (ft. Popcaan)
I found this album a little too bloated to earn a rank on this list, but the first four singles that were released still remain some of my favorite tracks of the year. Vince Staples killed it on “Ascension”, DRAM put a lovely touch on “Andromeda”, and Saturnz Barz featuring Popcaan was accompanied by one the coolest music videos of the year.
Favorite Song: In The World
Hailing from the Windy City, Isaiah Sharkey is one of the best guitarists around, spending a lot of his time jamming with Chris “Daddy” Dave or touring with D’Angelo or John Mayer. This made it really exciting to find out he had released a new album of his own. LOVE.LIFE.LIVE is full of contagious grooves and moving melodies that anyone can grab on to.