Despite fighting a culture war nearly three decades old, 2017 became the year Hip-Hop earned the title of America’s biggest genre due to streaming revenues hitting double digit numbers. The culture also collectively held its own alongside any mainstream Pop culture conversation, and that includes politics. A new level of recognizable diversity continues to blur lines between arguments of independent and major. So, it’s a no brainer as to why this Music Industry Quarterly Best Hip-Hop Albums end-of-year list proves just how healthy it is at the top.
Big K.R.I.T. – 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time
One can always measure an artists’ tenacity by how they bounce back following a major label departure. Case in point, Big K.R.I.T., the third-coast representor delivers 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time as a reminder of why he’s one of the most sophisticated emcee/producers from below the Mason Dixon Line. It makes sense as to why the double digital disc explores his Rap alter ego and government name Justin Scott.
Drake – More Life
The 6ix God may call this a playlist for the streaming generation, but everything about this compilation screams full-length album. Regardless, Drake continues to master his grandiose brand of Pop friendly bangers, while exploring contemporary Hip-Hop and the international scene at large. Rather the Quiet Storm of “Passionfruit,” the Afro-Pop feel of “Get It Together” or ATL-strip club banger in “Portland,” there’s a specific vibe that fits the algorithm focus.
Ill Camille – Heirloom
Ill Camille has the type of resumé that many in her peer group would be envious of; considering she’s worked with everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Ty Dolla $ign. The Los Angeles native has clearly been hiding in plain sight. This year, she released her sophomore album, Heirloom, a follow-up to 2012’s Illustrated. Whether Camille was musing about a man she met at the club to Jamiroquai samples, speaking on financial aspirations, preaching about Black womanhood or giving hope to the youth, the 16-track opus could be considered a modern LA alt-Rap classic.
Jay Z – 4:44
No doubt, Jay Z totally understands media and fan expectations for his 13th full-length album 4:44. This included the roll out released exclusively on his own streaming service Tidal. However, linking up with producer legend No I.D., gave him a musical canvas to spit transparent rhymes about everything from generational wealth and racial politics to marital issues. As the opening track “Kill Jay Z” proclaims, 4:44 offers a new level of introspection from Sean Carter.
Kendrick Lamar – Damn
Damn features a fully-realized Kendrick Lamar successfully making some of his most commercial leaning music to date, while retaining the cerebral lyricism he’s been known for. K.Dot’s fourth album is also the most wide reaching Rap album of the year, considering the Compton legend spits on beats as traditional by 9th Wonder (“Duckworth.”) and The Alchemist (“Fear”), to trap standards by Mike WiLL Made It ( “Humble.” and “DNA”).
Migos – Culture
Probably the most controversial trio occupying contemporary Hip-Hop is Atlanta’s own Migos, which earned their biggest hit to date in “Bad and Boujee.” Thankfully, their sophomore album, Culture, was more than a project bearing the load of one successful single. Quavo’s hook game couldn’t have been tighter; Offset’s lyrical ability improved further; and Takeoff’s delivery is in-sync with this futuristic Trap production more than ever.
Oddisee – The Iceberg
Oddisee’s latest full-length project since the much-adorned The Good Fight, released two years ago, puts this activist rapper/producer in pocket more than ever. Taking his artistry to new heights, it’s also his most accessible thanks to a number of surface level dance tunes that bring him closer to his D.C. Go-Go roots, that include the lead single, “Things.” Those looking for more of the Mello Music Group artist’s trademark for thought-provoking storytelling can check out, “You Grew Up.”
Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom
Considering how consistent Rapsody has been since dropping her debut solo mixtape Return of the B-Girl in 2010, the term “female emcee” sounds tired and borderline condescending. Regardless, the Snow Hill rapper continues her storied working relationship with 9th Wonder’s Jamla label while getting an added layer of exposure through Roc Nation. The end result is one masterclass of an album in Laila’s Wisdom. Not only is the project her most musically ambitious project to date, but the Grammy-nominated Rapsody gets even more intricate with her rhymes and flows.
Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy
Using the internet to his advantage, there isn’t anyone in Hip-Hop displaying how youthful angst can evolve into something so insightful and mature like Tyler, The Creator. Between app development, fashion lines, shoe deals and television, Flower Boy is a refreshingly vulnerable Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival in the midst of chaos.
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
A radical departure from his Def Jam debut Summertime 06’, Big Fish Theory leans more to electronic dance music with tracks that include “Love Can Be” and “Party People.” However, there’s still the street level wit that’s made the Long Beach emcee a Twitter legend. That doesn’t mean Staples doesn’t have any top tiered lyrical moments; check out the Kendrick Lamar-assisted, “Yeah Right.”