Our definitive list of the albums we’ve had on rotation.
As technology continues to progress at an extremely fast pace, this year saw more streaming media coming straight to our mobile phones. A few years ago, it was a farfetched dream to have cable and live T.V. streaming directly onto your phone. With this technology came an increase of companies vying for a piece of the music industry. The pioneers of music streaming companies such as Pandora, Spotify, and Apple are now rivals with other similar applications like Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, SoundCloud, and Tidal. No matter how you listened to music this year, the one constant is its ability to connect communities and diverse individuals. A favorite song and album will always offer a temporary escape from the problems that currently plague our little blue planet. So put your headphones on and open your music apps, it’s time to relive some of the best albums we listened to this year.
5. N*E*R*D – No One Ever Really Dies
Released: December 15, 2017
Standout tracks: Kites, Deep Down Body Thurst, Lemon
The alternative hip-hop trio made their highly-anticipated return after being silent for the past 5 years. When their first single “Lemon” was released to the masses, it was apparent that the trio had another generation of listeners added to their fanbase. An impressive lineup of guest features included Kendrick Lamar, André 3000, Rihanna, Gucci Mane, M.I.A., Ed Sheeran, and Wale. But this alone wasn’t the reason why we kept the album on repeat, it was their masterfully engineered and signature sound. This album embraced the same high-energy feeling from their past two albums Seeing Sounds and Nothing. You can easily put their whole catalog on shuffle and you’ll still hear and feel that fusion of hip-hop, rock, and pop, truly a unique experience that can only be crafted by N*E*R*D.
4. Jay-Z – 4:44
Released: June 30, 2017
Standout tracks: Bam, Moonlight, The Story of O.J.
Despite Jay-Z’s 13th album initially being exclusive to his streaming platform Tidal, it quickly reached the top of the Billboard charts and is now in the running to become a Grammy-winning album. After listening to 4:44 from beginning to end, it became clear that this album was a way for the NYC rapper to express his frustrations, his stories, his emotional state, and his creative extent. Through subtle metaphors and current political/social predicaments, 4:44 exemplified Jay-Z’s legendary talent in storytelling. In “Kill Jay Z,” he recounts issues from his past as a way get rid of the ego, he also takes the opportunity to offer his take on Kanye’s stage rant.
“But you got hurt because you did cool by ‘Ye
You gave him 20 million without blinkin’
He gave you 20 minutes on stage, fuck was he thinkin’?
‘Fuck wrong with everybody?’ is what you sayin’
But if everybody’s crazy, you’re the one that’s insane”
Other examples of similar expressions are heard throughout the album, issues that the entrepreneur rapper clearly wanted to air out. In a way, this was his opportunity to dispel any rumors and permanently close any books left open by media-fueled gossip.
3. Drake – More Life
Released: March 18, 2017
Standout tracks: Passionfruit, Portland, Fake Love
Not quite a mixtape, not quite a playlist, but definitely considered a contender for one of Drake’s most successful albums. With an extensive list of featured guests, it’s easy to see why the Canadian rapper/singer would release it a playlist. More Life draws influences from his native Toronto music scene, London rap artists, Caribbean island sounds, and alternative R&B vibes. Drake also does his best to prove that he can write his own bars, but he may never shake off the rumors of using ghostwriters. Regardless, you can’t deny the impressive production in tracks like “Gyalchester” and “Do Not Disturb” where the 6 God relied heavily on his rap skills next to the beat in the background. In more commercially, radio-friendly tracks like “Passionfruit” and “Portland,” he uses a more rhythmic approach to capture the audience’s attention. Initially thought to be released in 2016, its official release this past March was met with the kind of hype you would see for rare Jordans. And although it was also met with internet trolls criticizing his new island accent and writing skills, it was ultimately a great album that would garner additional playbacks even months after its release.
2. SZA – Ctrl
Released: June 9, 2017
Standout tracks: The Weekend, Doves In The Wind, Garden (Say It Like Dat)
Ctrl is currently playing in the background as I’m writing this. I usually hit the shuffle button real quick and let it play out. However, this time I played the first song “Supermodel” and let the whole album continue track by track in its original intended order. Needless to say, what an amazing body of work from the Top Dawg Entertainment-signed R&B artist. Much like Frank Ocean’s Blonde, Ctrl takes on a different emotional feeling when played from beginning to end. You also have to be in the correct mindset when listening to it. In the hot Summer months when this was released, my initial review of the album was that while it was sonically easy to vibe to- I found myself only listening to “Love Galore” and “Doves In The Wind” before finding another artist to shuffle. Months later, different season, different situation, in a new state of mind, Ctrl became the first music I would play in the morning. “Broken Clocks” was a track I used to skip when it came up, but now I’m finding it to be one of best on the album. SZA poured her heart and soul into this project and we are feeling every bit of it in the beats, lyrics, and visuals. While many young R&B singers have tried to be a commercial success and still share their personal story, SZA has successfully achieved both as it masterfully resonates with a diverse range of audience.
1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Released: April 14, 2017
Standout tracks: DNA., ELEMENT., HUMBLE.
Much like the punctuation mark at the end of the album title, DAMN. is hands down the best album this year, period. The Compton rapper has continually delivered some of hip-hop’s best tracks in recent years. His past two albums good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp A Butterfly helped to make Lamar an artist that will keep you guessing. In softer toned tracks like “LOVE.” and “LOYALTY.,” the Top Dawg Entertainment-signed rapper laments on relationships. While on “HUMBLE.” and “DNA.,” the tone is set to Lamar firing verbal shots. Other tracks like “FEAR.” is a true example of Lamar’s ability to turn his bars into emotion. The storytelling on that track is easily one of his greatest work.
“At 27 years old, my biggest fear was bein’ judged
How they look at me reflect on myself, my family, my city
What they say ’bout me reveal if my reputation would miss me
What they see from me would trickle down generations in time
What they hear from me would make ’em highlight my simplest lines”
As we close 2017 and start a new year, we often look back and reminisce the good times and maybe even a bad time. We take in the bad days, hoping for the next day to be better. We find solace in the relationships we’ve created around us and look for answers in mainstream media. As 2018 rolls in to offer new music, we’ll be more than ready to hear the good, and hopefully none of the bad.
GoldLink – At What Cost
Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom
[ Album covers via iTunes/Apple Music ]
[ Cover image via Rolling Stone / Sage ]
[ Videos via YouTube.com ]
[ Lyrics via Genius.com ]