2017 was a hell of a year for music. Some of our favorite artists made long-awaited returns, emerging voices broke through the mainstream faster than ever before and some of the best albums were the ones that caught us completely off guard. Music moved so quickly in 2017 that it was nearly impossible to digest it all at once with something new around the corner every day. With the year coming to a close, the C&R team decided to take a step back and take a moment to appreciate some of our personal favorite projects that dropped this year. Take a look and let us know what your own favorites were in the comments. Cheers!
*List is in no particular order.
Perhaps one of R&B’s more intriguing acts, Brent Faiyaz, has made a name for himself this year just being featured. Although “Crew” by GoldLink only features Brent, the brilliance of his hook work is what everyone has got stuck in their heads. From the momentum of “Crew” and his band Sonder’s EP, Into, Faiyaz delivers his debut, Sonder Son. The twelve track album features some of the best R&B storytelling to date with “Burn One (Interlude)” and “Missing Out”. On both, he paints vibrant pictures of situations with women (what’s a R&B album without women?). On “L.A.” Faiyaz even speaks to the allure of trying to make it in Los Angeles. “Yet I’m proud that I’m chasing something”, he breezes over guitar chords. There’s beauty in the struggle and Brent provides testimony to that. The Sonder frontman understands where mainstream R&B is and goes the opposite direction. Avoiding the manufactured party hits, Faiyaz pursues a more authentic approach. – Cameron I.
Is it possible to feel nostalgic listening to an album before it’s even being a year old? That’s how I feel listening to I Decided. Released during my last semester of high school, this was the soundtrack through those last dreamlike and fleeting months. Big Sean’s self-reflection, storytelling, and emphasis on the importance of home were things that really resonated, and his optimism offered creative inspiration in my own endeavors. I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’d ever relistened to a Big Sean album in full, but I Decided. feels like a new chapter in his discography. He builds off of the side of himself that he started to delve into on Dark Sky Paradise, and he’s gotten better at weaving his personal narrative into substantial bars. Balancing conceptualism with songs that are just plain bangers, Sean makes the most of his strengths on I Decided. – Mike D.R.
Over the past four years, I often found myself asking “where is Lorde?” Pure Heroine was one of my favorite albums, and I was anxious to find out how she would follow up such a strong debut. This year, she finally answered the question with Melodrama. With more of the delicate melodies, brooding songwriting and lyrics about teeth she’d built a musical world out of, Lorde crafted the triumphant return fans had been waiting for.
Lorde sets the foundation for Melodrama in heartbreak, but she writes about it with genuine complexity. She encapsulates the ups and downs of her fading love and relates it to her overall place in life, taking a universal theme and putting it into her own terms. She also flexes her songwriting prowess to pen perfect pop tracks like “Homemade Dynamite.” While Lorde may not have landed another #1 hit like “Royals,” I think she accomplished something greater on Melodrama by proving she could put together a cohesive project that’s consistently strong from start to finish. – Mike D.R.
The timing couldn’t be better for Luv Is Rage 2. During the time of its release, the anticipation for Uzi’s debut album was at an all-time high. Looked to as a leader of the new school, everyone was expecting him to deliver. He did. After the loading screen-like intro, “Two®”, Uzi goes on a tear of high-energy, highly addictive, lifestyle flex hits with, “444+222” (devil sus title), “Sauce It Up” and “No Sleep Leak”. It would be surprising if these weren’t his go-to concert songs for near future tours. Uzi even matches the braggadocious hits with heartbreak hits, “The Way Life Goes”, “Feelings Mutual” and “How To Talk”. We know relationships are a big theme for Uzi so it’s no shock he included songs like these on the album. There’s something for everyone on this album, but I can speak for all of us when I say “we love ‘XO TOUR Llif3’”. Any album with that song on it has to be someone’s favorite album this year (and that someone is me). – Cameron I.
When Young Thug has an idea for an album you just have to trust him. So when he announced his new album Beautiful Thugger Girls would be a country album you had to have known it’d be fire. There are three truths on this album. First, Thug over a guitar needs to happen more often.”You Said” is a perfect example of that. The song features Thug talking that freak talk over an acoustic guitar resulting in ear candy. Second, “yee-haw” needs to be an adlib in his rotation as heard in the album’s intro “Family Don’t Matter”. Third, Thug & Future need to do more songs like “Relationship”. The two have an undeniable chemistry and this song serves as testament. As per usual from Thug, the album showcases the unique pockets he finds but this time over instrumentals that bring a breath of fresh air to rap. It wouldn’t be a year without new heat from thugger thugger. – Cameron I.
Overlooked and not talked about nearly enough is the second installment in the trilogy that new Dreamville Records signees unleashed this year. The duo consisting of Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot make up EARTHGANG. Their EP, Robots is only a six-song project but a strong six-song project nonetheless. Actually, this project has more fixings in it than most albums do. From skits to hits, EARTHGANG covers it all. Skits usually aren’t valued on projects as much anymore but on this project, they add flavor and hilarious commentary. Then there are the hits. Undoubtedly the one that’ll be looked at most, “Artificial”, is why the game needs them. At first listen, this could be seen as any other hit from any artist but the message behind the song speaks volumes. On “So Many Feelings,” EARTHGANG kick witty verses that your favorite rapper would envy. They’re a special tandem so pay attention to what EARTHGANG has in store for 2018. – Cameron I.
Although not reviewed well by most, Jaden Smith’s SYRE is an excellent debut and should be classified with some of the best drops of the year. Jaden appears to be another artist that is an off-shoot of Kanye and Cudi which has included artists like Travis Scott, Raury and Super Duper Kyle. The album is chaotic but chaotic isn’t always a bad thing. Frequently changing styles throughout, Jaden expresses what we may be getting from the young artist throughout his career. It also gives off something for everybody. Jaden seems to have adopted the mentality of his mentor Kid Cudi in that he believes he is coming to save the rap game, he states this frequently during the album while also attacking the rap game as a whole. This goes so far as to even shouting out Cudi twice in the song “Icon” and the closing track “Syre”. The track “Falcon” has one of the most euphoric features of the year when the beat slows down and the strings of the guitar play as Raury sings, it sounds simply magical. The album can best be reviewed in Jaden’s own words which he states on the closing track. Jaden narrates: “Syre, a beautiful confusion.” – Carson B.
American Teen is the debut album from Khalid, the nineteen-year-old R&B singer who burst onto the scene with his wildly popular song “Location” Not to be labeled a one-hit-wonder, Khalid releases a top-tier album in “American Teen”. On this album, Khalid gets dark singing about high school parties, drugs, love and ultimately heartbreak. The track “Coaster” is extremely deep as you can almost feel Khalid’s sorrow and heartbreak throughout the whole song. Quickly into the song he sings “Maybe you weren’t the one for me. But deep down I wanted you to be,” a heartbreaking lyric that creates so many memories. Everyone has had the girl they felt like was the one, only for it to crumble abruptly into a break-up. Throughout the album, Khalid seems to go back to this one relationship, the girl he saved his first love for. – Carson B.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent is the highlight of what was an excellent year for Cult Rap creator Deniro Farrar. For this EP, Deniro sacrifices length for quality and focus. The six songs continue the themes of his 2016 release Red Book. Only this time, he cranks the notch up, creating a very dark album on social injustice and his past gang life. The project starts off with “Can’t Touch Me,” a murderous track speaking on his resentment for police. Throughout the album, you find the story of a young man trying to make ends meet in a world fighting against him. Never is this stated heavier than on the track “Dreams”, a song about someone just trying to find a way to make money but has to get involved in crime just to survive. The production is full of dark-trap beats just intensifying Deniro’s lyrical content. – Carson B.
Lust For Life was supposed to be a change of emotions for Lana, and this is clear from the artwork. For the first time, Lana is smiling, whereas in the past, her facial expressions ranged from seductive to depressed. From her first project Born to Die to her previous project, Honeymoon, Lana has always produced music on the toils of relationships, her experiences being in love with the wrong men and heartbreak. On Lust for Life, however, Lana looked to change this but upon listening, it sounds like more of the same. But more of the same isn’t bad when you’re an excellent artist like Lana. Lust For Life offers breathtaking songs from the front to back. The opening sequence from “Love” to “Groupie Love” is one of the best six-track sequences in music with features from The Weeknd, A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti. The title track “Lust For Life” with The Weeknd shows off the true chemistry the two have formed over the years. To wrap up the album, Lana uses “Change,” a beautiful closer about how she’s ready to move on from her past. Throughout the record, you get the usual themes presented by Lana but as usual, she presents them spectacularly. – Carson B.
XXXTentacion’s album “17” could be described in a lot of words: it’s raw, daring, dark, emotional, fearless and depressing. But at its core, it’s the deepest look into XXX’s mind we may ever get. So deep and personal, X thought it would be best to add a warning at the beginning of the album, so listeners know what they’re getting themselves into. Every track dives deeper into the madness and torment inside the young MC’s mind. Dark, depressing but somehow comforting, allowing listeners to feel like there’s someone else who understands what they’re going through. Almost every song is under two minutes long and while this creates a feeling of being cheated on your favorite songs, it also adds focus and clarity that wouldn’t have been there with tracks that drone on. – Carson B.
SZA has been the songbird for young women across the country in 2017. Her diverse songwriting coupled with her brutal, sometimes aching honesty gives R&B a fresh direction. R&B has long been about the victim, the pain that the narrator has taken. SZA has taken this stigma and totally flung it out the window. On this record, she sings from the perspective of the perpetrator and the victim. Not to ignore the other personal issues she tackles and coats with her solid vocals throughout the album; like emotional and physical insecurity. This album was made for our time period. The album’s rebellious and resistant feminine attitude is perfect for our generation. The record feels almost like a diary, where Solana tells us things she would only pen down in the early hours of the morning when her guilt and emotions eat at her most. – Alex Z.
On Halloween, one usually expects ghouls and goblins of a supernatural nature. Yet, Without Warning provides the soundtrack to the nightmares going on in the streets of Atlanta every year. 21’s cold and heartless aura mixed with Offset’s infectious hunger creates a perfect monster that more people should pay attention to. The album is short, only giving us 33 minutes of material. Within that half an hour, though, the unlikely duo gives us a rush of adrenaline, from the first track going full speed ahead. Even the solo tracks on this project are solid, showcasing the best of each artist. Metro Boomin provides these two with a scary and blood-curling canvas, making sure that the sonic landscape of this album is just as telling as the lyrics. Short, cohesive, and never overstaying at any part, a perfectly executed body of work in its own way. – Alex Z.
The Toronto music scene is one that has been the most flourishing for nearly a decade. It seems like every other month we get new artists associated with OVO Sound or the XO camp. Daniel Caesar gives us a new take on Toronto’s R&B sound. Freudian gives a more soulful and pure sound to the trap influenced sonic landscape in Toronto at the moment. While there are still some more vulgar moments it doesn’t take away from the minimal, beautiful sound of the record. Caesar’s gospel sound is evident throughout the album and it’s interesting to see how he plays with the idea of explicit material within the pure sounds of the instrumentals. His willingness to do this makes his sound that much better. He’s able to use both sides of the fence, crooning like a sinner while walking through the Garden of Eden. – Alex Z.
I thought Flower Boy was a summer album, but as the seasons have changed and I’ve continued to listen to it, I’m starting to realize that it’s really an all-the-time album. Four studio albums into his discography, Tyler, The Creator has mastered how to communicate his thoughts with rare clarity and vulnerability while maintaining his weird brand of Tyler-ness. The album plays like one prolonged daydream, blurring real feelings with fantasy ones. I’d never listened to Tyler that much on my own accord, but Flower Boy showed me that was a grave mistake. Somehow, Tyler became more mature and more innocent at the same time, and in the process, he shone the light on an entire side of him I’d missed out on. – Mike D.R.
It’s not often that you could include 3 projects by the same artist on an end of the year list, so for the sake of conciseness, I’ll just be picking my favorite of the Saturation series. To say Brockhampton had a huge year would be an understatement at this point. If Saturation I was them pleading to be let in the door, Saturation II was them claiming their rightful spot. They defined their name by fusing their individual stories and sounds into a beautiful mess.
My favorite Brockhampton tracks are the ones that maximize each member’s potential, and I think they learned to calibrate that formula for success on Saturation II. There are tracks like “Tokyo” where Joba opens up with a haunting melody only to lead into Ameer’s and Dom’s magnetic flows with Kevin holding things down on the hook. Or “Sweet,” with Matt’s mumbly, laidback delivery contrasting Merlyn’s uncontainable energy. These instances demonstrate that Brockhampton is greater than the sum of its parts, and these memorable moments are in abundance throughout the album. – Mike D.R.
With an overflow of new RnB projects making waves this year, Kehlani’s presence is what made SweetSexySavage stand out to me. She delivers soulful melodies with poise and infuses them with lyrics that tell a fresh narrative that balances vulnerability with toughness. She flips the traditional love-song script on tracks like ”Keep On,” admitting her missteps in a relationship and relishing in forgiveness. As she’s crafted love songs with substance, she’s also made an album that you could play from front to back without any skips. My favorite tracks on the album change every time I listen to it as I get lost in the endless layers of harmonies and intoxicating choruses. On “SweetSexySavage,” Kehlani offers listeners a piece of her mind that’s beautifully flawed and refreshingly addictive. – Mike D.R.
If you haven’t heard this album, the best rap album to release this year, you probably don’t listen to rap. Kendrick bodied this album start to finish. No matter what order you play the album in, it sounds like a musical memoir. Individual tracks can stand up on their own, no fillers. So if it wasn’t clear before it should be now, Kendrick is top two and he’s not two. You’d be hard-pressed not to find this album on another year-end list but in the off chance you don’t, this was a DAMN good album. – Cameron I.