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.

5. Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory (Def Jam)

"If your song played, would they know that?" questioned Vince Staples on the metallic, Kendrick Lamar-featuring "Yeah Right", a song which sounds like a hip-hop album's requisite banger on the surface, but with an intense complexity usually reserved for baroque beats and not a hellscape provided, in this instance, by Flume and Sophie. He spends the entirety of his exceptional 2017 effort Big Fish Theory dismantling an album of faithfully warped Detroit techno that extends the lineage of Danny Brown's Atrocity Exhibition and Kanye West's Yeezus with a flow that imparts the striking directness he's been perfecting since the breakthrough Shyne Coldchain, Vol. 2. We've ranked some rap albums higher this year, but it's definite that his singular release has the most affirmative answer to his question. - Brian Duricy

4. BROCKHAMPTON - Saturation & Saturation II (Question Everything Inc. / Empire Distribution)

Brockhampton is not just a rap group (or boy band as they like to be called). They're a force. At least 15 strong and one of 2017's hottest new acts, Brockhampton exploded with not one, but two fresh and robust albums, and another on the way already! These guys know how to have fun, churning out songs like "STAR" which crams as many pop culture references into three minutes as you possibly can. And if you're a sucker for catchy hooks, check out "SWEET", "SWAMP", "GOLD", and "BOYS" for starters. The group's members don't shy away from real issues either. Ameer Vann especially brings hard bars about the realities of being black in America, while Kevin Abstract's motivation is that "not enough niggas rap and be gay." This diverse collection of voices and stories shared over two albums in 2017 is one of the best outputs of today, and they show no plans of slowing. - Chris Thiessen

3. Joey Bada$ - ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$ (Pro Era / Cinematic Music)

Brooklyn's Joey Bada$ is a traditionalist in a lot of ways. He takes clear inspiration from New York's legendary hip-hoppers, he gravitates toward simple beats with lots of soul and jazz vibes, and he incorporates a lot of his Caribbean heritage into his sound. But with ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$, Joey directly attacks and dismantles the ideas of traditionalism and fundamentalism in America. The album finds Joey grappling with his participation and membership in a nation that actively refuses and denies his equality. He discusses not just the damage done by traditional views of race, but also of the way we think about success, failure, incarceration, religion, sexuality, and on and on. ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$ feels like important, powerful music that will live on and continue to grow alongside the movements it is informed by. - Dan Kok

2. Rapsody - Laila's Wisdom (Jamla / Roc Nation)

2017's hip-hop landscape isn't only populated by ostentatious macho men. The North Carolina-based rapper Rapsody has been showing her skills for the entirety of this decade, including mixtapes, an album (2012's The Idea of Beautiful) and appearances on albums by Talib Kweli, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson.Paak and others. The latter two return the favor as guests on her illuminating second album Laila's Wisdom, along with BJ the Chicago Kid, Busta Rhymes, Black Thought and other luminaries. They all play supporting roles in an album built around Rapsody's frankness and pure hip-hop lyricism. With a title referencing her grandmother by name, the album gets deep into notions of self-identity, individualism and community. Unafraid of baring her soul and tackling big questions, she at the same time raps in a self-assured and at times dazzling way. Laila's Wisdom is more than just a showcase of skills; it's rich and rewarding. – Dave Heaton

1. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN. (Top Dawg Entertainment)

Very few people in today's music are as talked about, dissected, and mythicized as Kendrick Lamar. good Kid, M.A.A.D City and To Pimp A Butterfly were masterful concept albums that required countless listens and created endless fan theories and interpretations. His music is basically treated like a Stanley Kubrick movie. But can an artist at the same time strive to be Stanley Kubrick and James Cameron? What I mean is, the task Kendrick Lamar undertook on 2017's DAMN. was to continue delivering honest, truly artful outputs that require careful consideration to understand, but in a format more commercial and accessible sonically. The execution was flawless. Kendrick rose to the top of the charts with "HUMBLE." and captured that commercial accessibility elsewhere on "GOD." and "LOVE." But those efforts in no way handicapped his ability to express his emotions, like on the hard-hitting "FEEL." From the cryptic opening skit to the running theme that "ain't nobody praying for" Kendrick to cousin Carl's thoughts on African-Americans being cursed to the beautiful storytelling on the closing "DUCKWORTH.", DAMN. deserves more than just a few listens. In 2017, Kendrick continues his winning streak, even if we never did get that theorized second album. - Chris Thiessen

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