TSR’s Top 20 Albums of 2017

When compiling a year-end albums list, it’s always interesting to see which albums I returned to the most, which albums from earlier in the year held up with repeated listens, and which albums fell off of my radar.

A couple of notes, though:

– I waited until now to post this after Run the Jewels dropped arguable best rap album of the year during the last days of 2016. I just wanted to play it safe.

– Narrowing down a list like this really is like pulling teeth. Albums will need to get left off. That’s why you won’t find any Calvin Harris, Migos or Vince Staples on my list.

– However, there’s also a good chance that I just simply did not listen to certain albums this year. Either I did not have the time to listen to an album (Kehlani’s SweetSexySavage, Paramore’s After Laughter, The National’s Sleep Well Beast, St. Vincent’s Masseducation, Brockhampton’s Saturation trilogy, etc.)…

– …or just didn’t find the album worth my time… (most country albums, Joey Bada$$’s All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, etc.)

– …or thought they were really, really bad. Where do I even begin on that one?

– It’s MY list. After all, you shouldn’t need validation, especially from me, if you think an album was great.

– I listen to mostly hip-hop/rap, so that’s why most of this list features those albums. However, as you will soon find out, I’m open to almost all genres and I definitely enjoyed my fair share of non-rap albums this year.

Speaking of which… let’s start the list with one of those albums, shall we?

20. Flicker – Niall Horan

The former One Direction member took about 18 months to craft his debut album, which has influences from soft rock bands like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. The most fascinating thing about this album, however, is how different it is from anything Niall Horan has ever done with One Direction. Flicker isn’t an album one can picture being played in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, as shown by Horan playing at smaller venues in his Flicker Sessions tour a couple of months ago. The latter setting fits the sound of the album, which reveals a more personal and vulnerable side of Horan.

Favorite Tracks: “Slow Hands” + “Too Much To Ask” + “You And Me”

19. Acoustic Levitation – Devin the Dude

After more than three years, Houston rapper Devin the Dude elevated his listeners with his ninth studio album. Compared to many younger hip-hop contemporaries on this list, Devin the Dude is very different sonically, incorporating aspects of Bootsy Collins and James Taylor into some of his songs. This is an album where one can separate themselves from all responsibilities and feel uplifted for close to an hour. Whether one does that smoking weed in the Southeast Side of Houston, though, is entirely up to them.

Favorite Tracks: “Are You Goin My Way” + “Acoustic Levitation” + “Do You Love Gettin’ High”

18. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz

This is, by far, the best project that Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz has released to date. Sure, it may not contain the comedic value of his breakout album, Based On A T.R.U. Story, but it makes sense that he would dial that persona down. His laid-back delivery and on-point lyrics mesh well with some of the moody trap melodies. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music has depth, as opposed to all three of 2 Chainz’s past projects, and if anything, shows his growth as an artist even at age 40. For all of this success, I hope he does get that song with JAY-Z.

Favorite Tracks: “It’s A Vibe” + “OG Kush Diet” + “Burglar Bars”

17. Boomiverse – Big Boi

One-half of the greatest hip-hop duo of all-time, Atlanta rapper Big Boi is partly responsible for hip-hop’s overall direction over the past two decades. Boomiverse not only took it back to the OutKast days of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, but also sprinkled in elements of electronic and indie music. Like all of his past records, Big Boi touches on a number of subjects, ranging from police brutality to relationships and even women’s rights. But of course, what’s a Big Boi project without Organized Noize as executive producers? Speaking of which, they came out with an excellent EP earlier in the year that I highly recommend checking out.

Favorite Tracks: “Kill Jill” + “All Night” + “Freakanomics”

16. No Dope on Sundays – CyHi the Prynce

Finally! After years of label confusion and industry politics, Georgia rapper CyHi the Prynce dropped his long-awaited debut album under G.O.O.D. Music and Sony Music. No Dope on Sundays is about encouraging men to stay true to themselves, speak for themselves, and live life with more integrity. Raised by strict Baptist parents in Stone Mountain, CyHi the Prynce sheds light on that experience with a lot of biblical references and gospel elements in his songs. He also touches on today’s current climate and offers some advice to those determined to overcome personal demons to become the greatest version of themselves. In short, No Dope on Sundays was well worth the wait.

Favorite Tracks: “No Dope on Sundays” + “Get Yo Money” + “Nu Africa”

15. More Life – Drake

I lied. I actually have one “playlist” on this list.

Canadian rapper and singer Drake created this project to fit the concept of OVO Sound Radio, his record label’s Saturday night Beats 1 radio program that mostly airs newer material. In other words, More Life is basically new songs put together in the format of a radio show. Drake may see it as “the evolution of the mixtape,” but it’s really just new music to keep the ball rolling after Views and keep listeners excited. Mission accomplished.

Favorite Tracks: “Passionfruit” + “Sacrifices” + “Glow”

14. Divide – Ed Sheeran

Unlike Flicker, Divide is an album made for a “Wembley Stadium crowd, 240 thou.” Perhaps English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, the first solo music act to ever headline at Wembley, kept this in mind when crafting this album. This album has beat-driven pop hits, perfect for his signature loop pedal, as well as acoustic stadium anthems that fans will be eager belt out along with him. There’s a strong case for Divide as the most impactful album of 2017. Literally days into the new year, Sheeran released two hit singles that flew to the top of the charts. Since then, he has sold over one million copies in the U.S. alone and even turned one song on the album into a chart-topping duet with Beyoncé. Even as we turn the page to 2018, one can still feel Divide‘s impact on mainstream music today.

Favorite Tracks: “Eraser” + “Shape of You” + “Supermarket Flowers”

13. Fin – Syd

California singer Syd has come a long way from her days in the Los Angeles-based rap crew Odd Future, headlined by artists such Tyler, The Creator and Frank Ocean. Today, Syd is most known for her work as the lead singer of neo-soul side project The Internet. Since the band’s last album in 2015, Syd has ventured out into a solo career and released arguably the lushest and sexiest album of this year. After a few listens, I honestly had to lay down because I felt like I was floating in clouds. In addition, for a gay woman to sing a love song to another woman goes to show how far the music industry, let alone the genre of R&B, has come over the years.

Favorite Tracks: “Got Her Own” + “Dollar Bills” + “Over”

12. Rosecrans – DJ Quik and Problem

It does not get more West Coast then a Compton producer collaborating with a Compton rapper on a project featuring West Coast artists and named after a long California avenue that runs through Compton. DJ Quik honestly has nothing else to prove at this point, and if you don’t believe me, google his production credits. Initially, Rosecrans was an EP that DJ Quik and Problem released back in 2016, but the Compton duo decided to give listeners 58 minutes of West Coast hip-hop at its finest.

Favorite Tracks: “Rosecrans” + “This Is Your Moment” + “Straight to the City”

11. Science Fiction – Brand New

After nearly eight years, Long Island rock band Brand New finally dropped their fifth, and likely last, studio album that expunged all traces of their earlier pop punk and emo persona. The band opted for a more classic rock vibe on Science Fiction that features more apocalyptic string sections. Perhaps the best thing about this album is that it’s not just for Brand New fans – it’s for everyone. The moody guitar tones and convincing lead vocals on the choruses from frontman Jesse Lacey make Science Fiction the best rock album of 2017. Like No Dope on Sundays, this album was well worth the wait.

Favorite Tracks: “Could Never Be Heaven” + “Desert” + “451”

10. HNDRXX – Future

Atlanta rapper Future once said he had six albums and three mixtapes ready to drop at any moment. Even with that in mind, it was still a surprise to see him drop two No. 1 albums in the span of a week. I was not a huge fan of the first project, FUTURE, so I came into HNDRXX with much lower expectations. Not only was I blown away by this project, but at times, I had to ask myself, “Is this really Future?” The Future of the past few years was never this open and personal, and that includes his second studio album titled Honest. There’s a lot of references to his past relationships and children, particularly with R&B singer Ciara and their son. HNDRXX is about Future moving forward and recognizing that he hasn’t been as good of a father as he could have been. It may have taken him a while to come to this realization, but HNDRXX reveals that he’s just not perfect, something that everyone can relate to.

Favorite Tracks: “Lookin Exotic” + “Fresh Air” + “I Thank U”

9. 4:44 – JAY-Z

Like DJ Quik, Brooklyn rapper JAY-Z has nothing else to prove. At this point in his career, if he’s going keep releasing projects, he should make them for him and do it on his terms. That’s exactly what he did on 4:44, the most raw and vulnerable album of his career. Based on some of the lyrics, many believe 4:44 is a direct response to his wife, Beyoncé, and her album, Lemonade, which claimed that he was unfaithful. Though executive producer No I.D. confirmed this wasn’t JAY-Z’s intention, one could tell just by listening to this album that this was about a variety of topics beyond JAY-Z’s family life and relationship with Beyoncé. JAY-Z also touches on ongoing hip-hop culture, stereotypes and racism. These are subjects that JAY-Z has rarely ever talked about in his music, and considering the content on this album, 10 tracks is the perfect length.

Favorite Tracks: “The Story of O.J.” + “4:44” + “Marcy Me”

8. Flower Boy – Tyler, The Creator

Usually known for his witty rhymes, California rapper and Odd Future founder Tyler, the Creator not only abandoned his past humor, but he largely abandoned rapping. Flower Boy features a lot of singing from not just up-and-coming R&B singers, but from Tyler, the Creator himself. Like JAY-Z on 4:44, this is the most vulnerable we’ve ever heard Tyler, the Creator and I think the honesty, combined with the lack of humor, is what made the project such a great listen.

Favorite Tracks: “Who Dat Boy” + “Boredom” + “Glitter”

7. Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

After signing with JAY-Z’s Roc Nation last year, North Carolina rapper Rapsody wasted little time in making a name for herself on her second studio album, named after grandmother who would often use the phrase, “Give me my flowers while I can still smell them.” Laila’s Wisdom explores themes such as preserving knowledge, love, confidence and self-doubt. Of course, the greatest thing about Rapsody is that she can hold her own on the mic against anyone, male or female. In a genre dominated by male trap rappers and auto-tune, Laila’s Wisdom was so refreshing to hear.

Favorite Tracks: “Power” + “Black & Ugly” + “You Should Know”

6. 4Eva Is A Mighty Long Time – Big K.R.I.T.

After being on the outskirts of Def Jam for the better part of six years, Big K.R.I.T. opted to leave the label in search of success equal to that of his former counterparts. After a two-year hiatus, the Mississippi rapper dropped a double album that far surpasses anything Def Jam has released this year. The two sides of the album represent his duality, with one side being “Big K.R.I.T.” and the other “Justin Scott,” his birth name. Instead of opting for the clichéd inner tug-of-war between the two sides, Big K.R.I.T. outlines the good, bad and ugly of both characters. He addresses issues about his past depression as well as faith, love, and the value of self-worth. It really is a masterfully crafted southern hip-hop album.

Favorite Tracks: “Big K.R.I.T.” + “Get Up 2 Come Down” + “Keep The devil Off”

5. Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

I think I speak for everyone when I say that everyone would like obtain riches and/or do big things in life. After all, what’s the point of even looking at yourself in the mirror every morning? I say that to explain why I’ve always been a huge fan and admirer of Florida rapper Rick Ross since he dropped Teflon Don in 2010. Sure, he’s dropped albums, mixtapes, created catchphrases and still possesses an impeccable ear for beats. But the admirable thing about Rozay, a former correctional officer, is that he even reached “Boss” status in the first place. In the context of Rather You Than Me, however, this “Ross the Boss” persona is largely swapped out for a more introspective and thoughtful Rick Ross. Most notably, Rozay pens an open letter to Cash Money founder Birdman, who’s since had falling-outs with close Rozay counterparts Lil Wayne and DJ Khaled. “Ross the Boss” shows up sporadically on this album, but make no mistake – this is truly a Rick Ross album.

Favorite Tracks: “Idols Become Rivals” + “I Think She Like Me” + “Maybach Music V”

4. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

Coming into this album, I kept thinking to myself, “There’s no way Kendrick can follow-up To Pimp A Butterfly, the greatest rap album of this decade.” In other words, I was expecting a slight step back on this next project, and I think was correct for the most part. I don’t think DAMN. is on par with To Pimp A Butterfly, but it was still the best hip-hop album of 2017, which speaks volumes about the Compton rapper. While his last album focused on the idea of changing the world, DAMN. makes it clear that to change the world, one must change who they are as a person. That’s clear by the number of tracks on this album named after human emotions. It’s almost like Kendrick Lamar is looking at himself in the mirror and coming to grips with the good and evil of these emotions. DAMN. is another brilliant addition to the already renowned discography of Kendrick Lamar.

Favorite Tracks: “DNA.” + “LOVE.” + “FEAR.”

3. Melodrama – Lorde

It’s easy to forget that New Zeland singer-songwriter Lorde was just 16-years-old when she dropped her debut single and smash hit “Royals.” Since then, she’s performed concerts all around the world, she’s befriended Taylor Swift, helped inducted Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and paid tribute to David Bowie, who proclaimed her as “the future of music.” Melodrama all but confirmed Bowie’s sentiment and saw Lorde transform from teenage songwriter into millennial icon. She recounts her relatively recent experiences with fame, particularly through her friends and their interactions. Much like a house party, Melodrama goes through intoxicating highs and sinking lows, perfectly encapsulating the intense and wild energy of her generation. What’s even more impressive, however, is a 20-year-old implementing songwriting elements of 70’s and 80’s singers such as Paul Simon, Phil Collins and Don Henley. In other words, Lorde didn’t entirely concede to that mainstream dance pop or rock sound, especially on some of the slower tracks. If Lorde can continue to write like this and mature as an artist, the sky is the limit.

Favorite Tracks: “Green Light” + “Liability” + “Supercut”

2. Ctrl – SZA

New Jersey singer SZA was stealing beats off the internet and recording music in her friend’s closet before signing with Kendrick Lamar’s Top Dawg Entertainment label in 2013. After an EP in 2014 and many delays for the release of her debut album, she dropped one of the best albums of 2017, something that seemed impossible just a few years earlier. SZA had to watch three of her boyfriends die and also overcame suicidal depression, all of which led her to re-gain and build a form of self-acceptance that led to Ctrl. The chill and moody production is a stark contrast to its edgy lyrics and SZA’s charismatic, fierce tone. Even in songs about vaginas and being a side chick, SZA exemplifies swagger and finally finds a sense of “ctrl,” a concept that she has craved, yet lacked her entire life.

Favorite Tracks: “Love Galore” + “Doves in the Wind” + “20 Something”

1. Tuxedo II – Tuxedo

I mentioned in my last post about my love for this album, so allow me to now explain why this album is so brilliant. First off, funk and R&B are my favorite genres, despite the heavy hip-hop slant of this entire list. Unfortunately, the number of funk/R&B acts has dwindled tremendously over the years. As a result, I’ve often found myself returning to 70’s and 80’s funk acts like the Gap Band and Zapp, in addition to g-funk legends like Dr. Dre, the previously aforementioned DJ Quik, and Nate Dogg. Tuxedo, composed of soul singer Mayer Hawthorne and hip-hop producer Jake One, do a tremendous job of melding these two eras of funk together on Tuxedo II. Not only did they get former Zapp drummer Lester Troutman to help produce the album, but they also got g-funk legend Snoop Dogg to appear on the album’s opener. It’s almost like Tuxedo were sent to the future to remind everyone about the importance of getting down and the impact of funk music. Tuxedo II is just brilliant.

Favorite Tracks: “Rotational” + “Shine” + “July”

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