Top 5 Mid-Year Hip-Hop Albums of 2017

Hip-Hop is in a weird place in 2017.

Remember that “new generation” of great MCs that’s been endlessly debated about – you know, all those people Kendrick named in his “Control” verse four years ago? Well, they’re not so new anymore. They’re nearly a decade into their careers now. Meanwhile, the genre’s “new faces” could not be a less cohesive bunch; people seem to like Lil’ Yachty ‘cause he’s weird, 21 Savage ‘cause he’s scary, and XXXTenacion ‘cause, well, he’s a SoundCloud rapper that dissed Drake.

What is the SOUND of Hip-Hop in 2017? I have no earthly idea how to answer that question. It’s everything and it’s nothing. “Mumble rap” may be a common contemporary term that’s thrown around, but there’s too much negative connotation associated with it for the style to have much longevity (see also: “ringtone rap”, circa 2007). And “Trap” may loosely describe the sonic backdrop of much of the genre’s mainstream output, but then how would we explain the popularity of industry darlings like Chance the Rapper, Danny Brown, and Joey Bada$$> Adding more confusion to the situation, we can’t forget that Hip-Hop’s elder statesmen – the Jay-Zs, the Eminems, and Nases of the world – are STILL relevant and still breaking the Internet with new music, much of which eschews the sounds of the young guns.

But Hip-Hop is also in a good place in 2017.

It continues to broaden and expand and reinvent itself and if you ask me, it’s as diverse as it has ever been in its near-forty year history. And in 2017 thus far, as it does every year, the genre has done what it does best; it’s offered us some jaw-dropping greatness, and it’s served up some real shit sandwiches (I’m looking at YOU, Machine Gun Kelly). But in this article, we’re gonna stay positive – we’re taking a look at five Hip-Hop albums from the first half of 2017 that I have loved the shit out of.

As always, keep in mind that all of my music commentary is based solely on personal taste; I’m not trying to tell you that these albums are better than other albums, I’m just trying to tell you that you’re stupid if you don’t like them. Just kidding.

It’s all just one dude listening to music and talking about why he likes it. Simple as that.

And with a list such as this one, also keep in mind that I’ve spent very different amounts of time with each of these albums – some of them I’ve lived with for months, and some of them are still relatively new to my life – so this list (and by proxy, the omissions from it) is subject to change as the year progresses. Hope you enjoy these picks and here’s to another five months of great Hip-Hop!

5. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz

I have never been a 2 Chainz fan. I have never even made it through an entire 2 Chainz project. His over-the-top, in-your-face braggadocio and all-too-familiar song topics have never appealed to me. But, holy shit. I took a chance with this LP, and “pleasantly surprised” is an understatement. This thing is phenomenal. It’s excessive in all the right places (e.g. the completely unnecessary bass boosts on “Riverdale Road”, which make my car feel like a 747), but manages to have a degree of subtlety as well. 2 Chainz is wildly creative with his flows throughout, and manages to make the tracks with the most predictable guest appearances into the album’s shining moments (the contemplative “Realize” with Nicki Minaj, the euphoric “Blue Cheese”, with the Migos). Not to mention, this album contains the most absurd, hilarious line of 2 Chainz’s career thus far; on “Sleep When U Die”, he spits the following gem: “I got a bank account, got anotha bank account, got anotha bank account.” ‘Nuff said.

4. Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

Right up there with 2 Chainz in the “Jesus Christ, I never expected THIS!” department, Ricky Rozay came through with a surprisingly dope project this time around. Who would’ve thought that it’d be this motherfucker’s NINTH album that finally won me over? But on Rather You Than Me, Ross balances his usual bravado-filled tall tales with some genuine vulnerability and emotional depth. To be clear, this is far from 808s and Heartbreak, but when Ross – who, by the way, has quietly developed into an impressive MC over the years– dips into his psyche from time to time, it makes for a much more well-rounded listen. Plus, from a production standpoint, he assembles a murderer’s row of some of the best instrumentals 2017 has to offer; luxurious cuts like “Santorini Greece” and the jazzy “Game Ain’t Based on Sympathy” are sprinkled alongside traditional trap bangers like “Dead Presidents” and “Summer Seventeen”, as well as more minimalistic moments like the Nas-assisted “Powers That B”. It all makes for a fluid, easily enjoyable, and consistently engaging 62 minutes. Don’t worry, I’m as surprised as you are. Here is a full review.

3. Captain California – Murs

Every year, Tech N9ne’s powerhouse indie label Strange Music comes through with at least one absolute gem (and by the way, it’s never from Tech N9ne himself– the guy is superbly talented but his projects are bloated as fuck. But I digress.) Last year, it was Rittz’s third record Top of the Line, which placed high on my year end list and I couldn’t shut the fuck up about. This year, it’s veteran LA spitter Murs, whose sixth studio album Captain California delivers everything I look for in Hip-Hop on a silver platter. Aside from checking all the boxes from a technical rapping standpoint, what impresses me most about Murs is his range. This album will be downright goofy one minute – as with the laugh-out-loud opening cut “Lemon Juice”, a little ditty centered on Murs and his guest Curtiss King competing for one female’s attention – and it’ll be heartfelt the next, as with the aptly titled “God Bless Kanye West”, or the touching love song “1,000 Suns”. This LP is likely to end up in the “fuck all of you, this is so underrated!” column for me, so don’t be one of the idiots who sleeps on it!

2. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

 You can go here for some extended thoughts on this album, but I’ll sum it up this way: we are witnessing Hip-Hop history with this guy. How many Hip-Hop artists can you think of that came right out of the gate with FOUR EXCELLENT RECORDS?? Please, enlighten me. Outkast? Sure. DMX? Perhaps. Eric B. and Rakim? I guess, but it’s debatable. Point made: it’s a short fucking list. While DAMN. might not be as intricate or conceptual as Lamar’s universally-acclaimed previous LP, To Pimp a Butterfly, what I love about this one is how emotionally raw it is. This is as depressed, anxious, and conflicted as Kendrick has ever sounded, and that’s saying a lot since he’s never exactly branded himself as Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky. But this record is so raw and so real, and I relate to Kendrick on a more visceral level this time around. That, and he has continued to push himself as a wholistic MC, upping the ante with his flows, his versatile vocal inflections, and his increasingly complex rhyme structures.

  1. All the Beauty in This Whole Life – Brother Ali

 Aptly titled, this album makes me happy to be alive. Not that it’s a shining beacon of optimism or anything – these songs tackle suicide, pornography addiction, racial inequality, and some of Alis darkest personal struggles – but hearing this man put a Hip-Hop song together is truly remarkable. Brother Ali oozes passion, sincerity and raw emotion out of every last breath of these 61 minutes, and as a listener it’s contagious. You can’t help but be inspired by the uplifting single “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)”, or be moved to tears by the emotional weight of “Dear Black Son” or “Pray For Me”, or be challenged by food-for-thought tracks like “Before They Called you White”. Not to mention, Ant from Atmosphere provides a gorgeous sonic backdrop, and Ali, being simply one of the most gifted rhymers on the planet, knocks all fifteen tracks out of the park. If you haven’t yet, please get the hell off this blog and go listen to this album. Or watch my review. Thank you and have a nice day.

March 2017 Album Round Up!

So, halfway through the month of April, you’re getting my recap of all the music that came out in March. Sick, right?

Though I never try to be particularly timely, this is particularly untimely, and for that I am deeply sorry. Well, I’m not sorry, ‘cause I don’t really care about your feelings, but it does feel like I’m turning in a big paper past its due date or something.

The reason this month’s Round Up is a bit late is because my band spent a week in the studio laying down our debut singles with Joe Cocchi from Within the Ruins. We had such a fucking blast, and I’m beyond psyched to share them with the world in the coming months! I’m so proud of the work we did, and I’m so grateful to Joe being every a band can ask for in a producer. But at the same time, it’s nice to get back to being a “listener”, ya know? As I write this, Kendrick Lamar AND John Mayer have just dropped new albums, and Gorillaz, All That Remains, and more are on their way, so it’s safe to say there will be no shortage of content for my April Round Up! But hey, March wasn’t too shabby either. Here are my thoughts on some of last month’s releases:

Divide – Ed Sheeran

This is gonna sound fucking weird, but bare with me. The only thing Divide has going for it is (ahem) cuteness. No, not Mr. Hipster Ron Weasley himself (though I’m a straight male so how would I know?), but the songs themselves. The only moments I enjoyed on this otherwise pretty bland LP were the charming, cheeky ones, like on “New Man” when Sheeran neurotically jokes about Instagram creeping (“trying not to double tap/I know that’s where the trouble’s at”), or on “Eraser”, where he, I guess, “raps”. There’s also “Galway Girl”, which uses actual Irish instrumentation to a below-deck-Titanic-scene effect. These are the only times I felt truly engaged. Otherwise I’m kind of indifferent. NOT RECOMMENDED

Number 1 Angel – Charli XCX

 Though she has been featured on two of the most annoying chart-toppers in the history of music (Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”), Charli XCX makes fucking outstanding Pop music as a solo artist. Her latest mixtape is my favorite Pop project of 2017 thus far. It DOES occasionally cater to some industry trends – the opening one-two punch is a trap-heavy banger (“Dreamer”) followed by a dancehall-informed number (“3 AM”) – but Charli maintains a spunky swagger that is all her own. The EDM-dominated “Roll With Me” is likely to be a party favorite, while the ballad “Emotional” is lucky to get stuck in your head for days at a time. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Godless Prophets & the Migrant Flora – Darkest Hour

The unsung heroes of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal returned this month with their crowdfunded ninth album, an unquestionable return-to-form following 2014’s polarizing self-titled release, which was a little too “Warped Tour” for the Metalcore quintet’s diehard fans. Prophets sizzles with quintessential Darkest Hour fury, though its strongest cuts (“None of This is the Truth”, “Enter Oblivion”) are the dynamic ones that are able to balance the aggression with quieter passages. Though I didn’t love every track, my longstanding Metal heroes delivered. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Obsidian Arc – Pillorian

Likely to be one of my top Metal albums of the entire year, ex-Agalloch frontman John Haughm’s first release since his legendary band’s breakup is nothing short of extraordinary. Imagine if Agalloch made a record that fused some of their moody, acoustic passages with a straight up, quintessential Black Metal sound. It’s as fucking amazing as you pictured it. Obsidian Arc manages to bring some of Agalloch’s signature strengths to the table while effortlessly capturing every single mood that’s ever been associated with Black Metal: rage, despair, terror, agony, depression, and everything in between – they’re all on this record. I could go on forever about this fucking thing on here, so here is a full review instead. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

More Life – Drake

Aside from the entrancing nightclub melancholy of “Passionfruit”, which was one of my favorite songs of the year so far, and the rousing Kanye collab “Glow”, I don’t have much to say about Drake’s Views follow-up that isn’t “meh”. The guy just hasn’t wowed me in a long time. His musical continues to veer into wallpaper territory, and his petty personality continues to rub me wrong. But just like all of his past projects, the shining moments on More Life give me reason to continue to root for the guy in the hopes that he wows me again. NOT RECOMMENDED

Heartworms – The Shins

On the band’s sixth LP, The Shins continue to be a definitive band for the Alternative genre. But they manage to do it while weaving together a track list that’s anything but one-dimensional. Two of my favorite songs on here are the synth-peppered “Cherry Hearts” and the Alt-heavy, acoustic-driven title track, both of which couldn’t be more different from one another. James Mercer’s ability to stir ingredients from several different corners of Alternative music into one delicious recipe continues to impress me. This is one of his best works. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

I have never been a fan of Rick Ross. Though he’s had a banger or two on almost every record, I’ve never been able to enjoy his fabricated lyrical narratives and by-the-numbers mainstream Rap sound. So it came as a complete and utter shock when Rather You Than Me was fucking awesome! I still can’t believe how much I’m enjoying this. The production is outstanding, whether it’s the lavish, luxurious sound of tracks like “Santorini Greece” and the saxophone-driven “Game Ain’t Based on Sympathy”, or it’s trap bangers like “Dead Presidents and “Summer Seventeen”, or it’s the more stripped-down, simplistic sounds of the Birdman diss “Idols Become Rivals” or the Nas collab “Powers that Be”. As for the features? They’re out of this world. The aforementioned “Dead Presidents” has possibly the best Future verse I’ve heard since 2011. And Nas, Scrilla, Yo Gotti, Jeezy, Young Thug, and many more ALL add a ton of character to this tracklist. And on some of these songs, Ross even sounds a bit more – hold your breath – HONEST. Like he’s not making everything up this time around. But even if he is, he’s made an excellent record. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Conformicide – Havok

The fourth LP from these Colorado thrashers is nothing short of astonishing. Though the band’s musical foundation is built on the Megadeths and Death Angels of the world, Conformicide spends as much time pushing boundaries as it does worshipping its heroes. It takes Thrash in some proggy territory, some political territory, and punishes listeners with more twisted, mean riffs than they even know what to do with. Not to mention bass wizard Nick Schendzielos, who provides some of the best and most inventive bass playing I’ve ever heard on a Thrash record on highlights like “F.P.C”. See, ann album like Conformicide is precisely why I’ve given (unpopular) mixed reviews of recent efforts from the likes of Metallica, Testament and Overkill – look at how a band like Havok is pushing Thrash as a whole! Younger Thrash bands like Havok and Vektor continue to set the bar for the genre. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Eternity, In Your Arms – Creeper 

Unfortunately, ya boy doesn’t buy into the hype. Creeper’s highly anticipated debut was supposed to turn Pop Punk on its head, but all it did for me was give me a few super catchy emo-tinged jams (namely “Black Rain” and “Hiding With Boys”) and spent the rest of its runtime underwhelming me. But there are definitely times, like on standout track “Poison Pens” where these guys feel like they COULD be worthy successors to AFI. Or, you know, maybe I should stop trying to like music like this. I don’t know. NOT RECOMMENDED

Bloodlust – Body Count

Not only was this fucking thing my Record of the Month, but it was the most pleasant surprise of 2017 so far. Ice-T and Co made a crushing M-E-T-A-L record that I had no idea they were capable of! While still proudly Hip-Hop influenced, Bloodlust is legitimately crushing, especially on the Randy Blythe-assisted “Walk With Me…”, the vengeful “This Is Why We Ride”, the irresistible title track, and the politically-charged “No Lives Matter”. I just can’t believe how good this is…Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

 

LIKE:

Woe to the Vanquished – Warbringer

Captain California – Murs

Hot Thoughts – Spoon

At What Cost – Goldlink

Obituary – Obituary (full review here)

Emperor of Sand – Mastodon

DON’T LIKE:

Look at Yourself – Emmure

Black and White Rainbows – Bush

The Wild – Raekwon

For the Fallen – Memoriam (full review here)

The Great Collapse – Fit For An Autopsy

Tremaine The Album – Trey Songz

 

 

Ten Albums I’m Anticipating in 2017

Annnd here we are! Another new year, another 365 days of people moping about how awful it is. To be fair, 2016 did give 2017 quite the head start in that category, but I always prefer to be optimistic. Being a whiney whore on social media is too easy. I like a challenge.

Musically, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a bit of a drop off in 2017, ‘cause, let’s face it, who DIDN’T come out with an awesome new album in the past two years?? 2015 and 2016 were overwhelming, in the best way imaginable.

But this damn industry always finds a way. And since New Year’s, I’ve been steadily adding to my 2017 release date calendar, salivating at the chance to review and talk about these mysterious LPs that, at the moment, are nothing but titles on a word doc.

So here are ten of those records, all of which are CONFIRMED to come out this year. Being speculative is a waste of time. Sure, Tool MIGHT drop an album before 2017 is over, but I’d rather focus my attention on the “sure things”. Like going to a bar and only talking to girls with tramp stamps.

And one more quick clarification: these albums aren’t necessarily “anticipated” ‘cause I think they’re gonna be good – some I’m just curious to hear! Big difference there!

Can hardly contain my excitement for this new Kreator LP Gods of Violence, which drops in a couple weeks (January 27th). This might be THE major Metal release of January for me. I haven’t kept up with every Kreator album (which they crank out like clockwork), but I’ve never been disappointed by what I’ve heard, so high hopes for this one!

The following week, Big Sean is dropping an album called I Decided. According to him, it’s his “most ambitious one yet” or some other PR nonsense. I always have a morbid curiosity with new Big Sean music, ‘cause there’s a small part of me that thinks the guy’s genuinely talented and wants to see him pull through with a dope project. But it never happens. We’ll have to see…

Hip-Hop’s most pretentious (alleged) Jew hater, Lupe Fiasco, will be dropping Drogas Light on February 10th, following up 2015’s excellent Tetsuo & Youth. Growing up, I worshipped this man. Nowadays, his bars make me feel like I’m being talked down to. But Tetsuo was undeniably great so I can’t wait to hear its successor.

After that T Swift covers album got him heaps more (deserved) recognition, I’m looking forward to what singer/songwriter Ryan Adams has in store for his new LP Prisoner. Check out Love is Hell if you haven’t yet. The guy is unreal.

Everyone has that criminally underrated band from their childhood that they’ll never stop yelling about. For me, that’s Darkest Hour, the unsung heroes of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal who quietly put out two classics (2003’s Undoing Ruin and 2005’s Deliver Us) while Trivium and Lamb of God hogged the spotlight. Though I did get a little vindication when “District Divided”, one of my favorite songs, got 30 seconds of screen time in The Big Short. But I digress

This upcoming record Godless Prophets and the Migrant Flora is the result of a crowd-funding campaign and after Sumerian Records ruined their last album, I’ve got my fingers crossed for a return to form. The title is certainly epic.

Since I’m a HUGE proponent of Metal and Hip-Hop intermingling (even at the cost of Limp Bizkit existing), Ice-T’s Metal band Body Count is always on my radar. Their sixth LP Bloodlust is on its way this St. Patty’s Day. Given that “Pop Bubble”, featuring Hatebreed frontman Jamey Jasta, was far and away the standout track on 2014’s Manslaughter, it’s gonna be Jasta Collab or Bust. Just kidding.

My tears still haven’t quite dried up from the break up of legendary Black Metal band Agalloch last year, but frontman John Haughm is back! His new band is called Pillorian and the record – out March 10th – is called Obsidian Arc. Let us pray to the Black Metal Gods for some continued quality from Mr. Haughm. I can only listen to The Mantle and Marrow of the Spirit so many hundreds of times.

Oh, and Mastodon have confirmed a seventh full-length for 2017! It doesn’t have a title yet, but as far as this obnoxious blogger goes, it sure as shit has an audience! I can’t fucking wait – 2014’s Once More ‘Round the Sun might’ve been my favorite of the band’s six records.

The ever-elusive Wintersun is – I kid you not – ACTUALLY dropping an album. The band’s third in a 13-year career….but, I swear it’s happening. Take a look hereThe Forest Seasons is a title that’s floating around out there, but who knows. Here’s what I DO know: this will be one of the most talked about Metal albums of 2017.

And, last but not least, John Mayer is returning to the limelight with The Search for Everything. And an interesting release strategy , I might add. A Mayer fanboy from early on in life, I’ll be there every step of the way.