Music

The Best Hip-Hop of 2017

The hip-hop story is more exciting to follow than a lot of primetime TV as it changes and adapts, telling stories of so-called "minorities". These are the ten albums that we think tell the biggest stories of 2017's hip-hop scene.

It's not a stretch to say that hip-hop is one of the fastest moving genres currently, if not the fastest. It never slows down, never stops reaching for the future, but also never forgets its journey. This year saw Atlanta rise to the top of the game with Migos flooding the market, Future dropping back-to-back number one albums, and Young Thug, Gucci Mane, 21 Savage, and 2 Chainz (to name a few) all dropping hit records. Although trap is still the name of the game, the underground is still experimenting, a boy band is trying to take over the West Coast, and legends return to remind the new class what greatness is by reinventing themselves. The hip-hop story is more exciting to follow than a lot of primetime TV as it changes and adapts, telling stories of so-called "minorities". In a genre that's so incredibly productive, these are the ten albums that we think tell the biggest stories of 2017's hip-hop scene. - Chris Thiessen


10. Young Thug: Beautiful Thugger Girls (300)

Not since the unimpeachable Black Portland has Young Thug been as vocally experimental as he is on this year's Beautiful Thugger Girls. He begins the album with a twang and ends it with a slurred whine, running the gamut of intonations heard on the radio and then some existing in the universe where only Young Thug songs are played for good measure. Slick production backs the self-examining ("I must've taught myself a million things") and lighthearted ("Give the password – psych!") alike, with neither giving a higher billing than the other. Even with its expected uniqueness, the creator of such avant-garde templates as "Florida Water" and "OMG" gives the album its most radical feature: it's his most tightly-focused yet. - Brian Duricy


9. Tyler, the Creator: Flower Boy (Columbia)

Odd Future's Tyler, the Creator has had an interesting career. His previous efforts have been spotty, controversial, even offensive -- but always ambitious. Flower Boy finally sees that ambition come to true fruition…or flowering. From the beautiful piano coda on "Where This Flower Blooms" to the shrill Jaws/Psycho-esque intro on "Who Dat Boy", Tyler's production and arrangement chops are in peak form. In stark contrast to his past sarcasm and machismo is the raw emotion shared throughout this album. Tyler allows his loneliness, depression, and most notably, sexual orientation to be expressed so honestly on this album that it completely changes how one evaluates his entire back catalog of lyricism. Whether Flower Boy is viewed as a "coming out" album or just a bunch of expertly crafted bangers and ballads, it warrants multiple listens. - Chris Thiessen


8. Migos - Culture (Quality Control / 300)

In a year when Atlanta-based hip-hop rose to even greater national prominence, several artists released albums ranking among their best work – 2 Chainz's Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, Future's HNDRXX, Young Thug's Beautiful Thugger Girls, Playboi Carti's self-titled debut, Gucci Mane's Mr. Davis and so on. Migos' Culture is definitely, defiantly their most full-color, sophisticated album. They've taken their wordy, frenetic style of trap-rap and built it into larger-than-life anthems that wield their potent tools of trade –descriptive yet code-like language, a palette of sounds – like a blazing axeman on the biggest of rock stages. Front-loaded with some of the biggest hip-hop singles of the year, Culture gets hazier and deeper as it goes, even when the surface-level subject-matter concentrates on live-for-the-moment fatalism. – Dave Heaton


7. Open Mike Eagle - Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (Mello Music)

"I promise you, I will never fit in your descriptions" Open Mike Eagle says in his hook on "Brick Body Complex." OME is an atypical rapper making atypical music. More whimsical than aggressive, more clever than stylish, more high mids than low bass, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is no exception. In fact, it's one of the more laid back and introspective album's he's ever made. But the themes on the album are firmly within the overarching narrative of hip hop. Brick Body Kids is about the Robert Taylor housing projects in Chicago and the times that Mike spent there with his aunt and cousins. It's about the hard facades people often wear, about the systems of power in America and especially in cities like Chicago, and about coming to terms with loss and devastation that turns one's world upside down. Open Mike Eagle delivers heartfelt, humorous, and thought-provoking weirdo rap that continues to defy description. - Dan Kok



6. Jay-Z - 4:44 (Roc Nation)

A dozen or so albums into his career, with multiple retirements and comebacks along the way, Jay-Z came through in 2017 with the type of album it would have been hard to predict from him at this point. As much as he's built his career around his own mythology, especially the story of his pre-music years, he's been a generally cagey figure – not wearing his heart on his sleeve. 4:44 is an overt attempt to deviate from that and challenge himself, opening with the self-eviscerating "Kill Jay Z" and on other tracks responding to specific allegations and stories about him. Produced nearly entirely by No I.D. (an artistically rewarding approach, as demonstrated on Vince Staples' Summertime '06 and Common's The Dreamer/The Believer and Nobody's Smiling), the album utilizes a sample-heavy, classic soul-based sound that heightens the feeling of vulnerability and emotional depth, and accentuates the extent to which Jay-Z's more introspective raps reflect on community concerns, not just on his own persona. – Dave Heaton

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