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.

May 2017 Album Round Up!

Just like that, Summer’s upon us again! Pretty crazy to think that exactly a year ago today, I was writing about Drake and DJ Khaled’s new single “For Free”. Feels like a fucking decade ago.

If I recall, “For Free” ended up being one of summer sixteen’s core club bangers, as I totally WENT OUT ON A LIMB to predict. What a courageous music writer I am.

And a year later here I am, still pumping out these monthly round ups for an audience that’s expanding at a not-so-exponential rate. But the rapid growth that IS surprising me is how much I love doing this. It’s amazing to me that I can spend so much time working on something that generates zero income and have more and more fun doing it as the months go by. I guess that’s why they call it a passion. And I guess that’s why my parents always told me to “get a real job”.

May was an interesting month. It was really light on the Metal, and a good chunk of this year’s worst music (see below) was released as well. But as always, I found a lot to latch onto, and I hope you’ll enjoy some of these albums as much as I did!

Ether – B.o.B.

Still standing by his early work, I’m always hoping that our favorite Pop-Rap Flat-Earther is going to deliver something great. He’s certainly got it in him, as showcased once again on standouts from this album like the drugged-out banger “Xantastic” or the politically-charged “Peace Piece”, the former a collaboration with Young Thug, and the latter with Big K.R.I.T. (did I mention B.o.B. was versatile as hell?). Unfortunately though, Ether falls apart in the second half with a series of bland tracks that range from half-assed club attempts (“4 Lit”, “Tweakin’”) to excessive melodrama (“Big Kids”). Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

After Laughter – Paramore

Wow! These rockers – led by the feisty Hayley Willliams – have given me, without a doubt, the most pleasant surprise of 2017! On After Laughter, the band completely abandon their Pop-Punk/Pop-Rock fusion for a throwback to ‘80s pop. Like, seriously, the beginning of “Rose-Colored Boy” sounds straight out of Beverly Hills Cop or something. The beautiful twist, though, is how the super pessimistic lyrics sit in stark contrast with these peppy instrumentals. There is so much pain and suffering behind this album…that’s what makes it so compelling. I love the message of a song like “Idle Worship”, where Hayley Williams shies away from being put up on a pedestal just because she’s a famous musician. And the stripped-down ballad “26”? That shit makes me cry. If there’s ONE ALBUM you check out from this month, it should be this one! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

All the Beauty in This Whole Life – Brother Ali

This legendary indie rapper returned from five years of radio silence with what is easily one of the best Hip-Hop albums of the entire year. I can’t remember the last time a rapper made me feel such strong emotions. Lead single “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)” is the ultimate uplifting anthem, while autobiographical cuts like “Pray for Me” and “Out of Here” – the former dealing with Ali’s social struggles as a child born with albinism, the latter with the suicides of his father and grandfather – are heartbreaking. Meanwhile, racially-charged moments like “Dear Black Son” and “Before They Called You White” really make you think. He does it all while still delivering intricate rhymes, and doing so over a set of wonderful instrumentals courtesy of Ant from Atmosphere. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Tremendum – Hate

Despite being dogged by comparisons to their Polish counterparts Behemoth for their entire career, this Blackened Death Metal outfit has always walked a delicate line between the two genres that make up their sound. That is, until they decided to throw us for a loop with THIS ALBUM and go completely Black Metal! I’m not sure what was more of a surprise to me…that they made this ballsy shift in their sound this late into their career, or that it went over so well! I love Hate as a (mostly) Black Metal band. There’s still the Death Metal production, there’s still the blast beats that have their origins in Florida instead of Norway or Scandinavia, but the music is a lot more atmospheric and a lot less riff-driven. Tunes like “Sea of Rubble” really have that Bathory MARCH to them! Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Everybody – Logic

Despite being a fan of this Maryland rapper’s debut album Under Pressure, I will continue to point out how overrated he is. Even though I love his positive energy, his zeal for the genre, and his dedication to his craft, people big him up WAY too much. When you listen closely, his rhymes are pretty basic – he just speeds them up to make them sound complex. The opening scheme of this album is religion/prison/cracker/blacker. I don’t know why people think this guy is so good. Not to mention, his flows are borrowed from all his contemporaries. And this LP specifically is by far Logic’s worst. It’s incredibly corny. Just listen to those ad-libs on the anti-suicide song “1-800-273-8255” (“WHO CAN RELATE?? WOO!”), or the hook on the title track. Which, let’s be clear, the title track is not about being “inclusive” as much as it’s just Logic whining about being biracial. Oh, and Logic can’t sing either. He shouldn’t do that. I like a lot of 6ix’s beats on here though! NOT RECOMMENDED

 Bloom – Machine Gun Kelly

This is the worst piece of shit I have heard all year. “Heard” as in taken semi-seriously – I’m sure there are worse albums out there that I wouldn’t ever bother with. Here were my thoughts on the singles….and it got even worse from there. Listening to this white-washed Pop-Rap garbage is something I will regret until my dying day. I couldn’t even muster up the energy to give it a full review on YouTube. I just wanted it out of my life. I guess I’ll leave you with one somewhat constructive criticism: if there’s one hole that REALLY sinks this ship, it’s MGK’s unnecessary forays into singing on tracks like “Go For Broke”, “At My Best”, “Let You Go”, and the horrific country attempt “Rehab”. NOT RECOMMENDED

Poison the Parish – Seether

Believe it or not, this album actually has some pretty cool moments! The mopey Butt Rock thing doesn’t always sit well with me – the beginning of “Against the Wall”, for example makes me cringe…”I WAS BOOORNNN TO FLLLYYY AWAYYY” – but I think Seether nails down their demographic exceptionally well on here. Tracks like “Betray and Degrade” and “Saviours” have a razor sharp hooks, and are great for a semi-mindless listen while you’re driving. Even though I’m not a “fan” per se, having seen this band and gone through their discography, I’d like to say this is a crowning achievement for them. So maybe give it a listen out of curiosity! RECOMMENDED

 From a Room: Volume 1 – Chris Stapleton

In addition to the new offering from the Zac Brown Band, this was another Country album that I dug this month! This is Stapleton’s follow-up to his hugely acclaimed 2015 solo debut Traveller, and I’ve found his music really easy to get into as, well, not exactly a Country aficionado. Highlights include the bluesy “Them Stems”, the outlaw-tinged “Up to No Good Livin’” (LOVE the slide guitar in that one!), and the spare, intimate ballad “Either Way”. RECOMMENDED

One More Light – Linkin Park

God help us. I tried to be open-minded, I swear. Since I’m not a Linkin Park fan at ALL anymore – even their old stuff hasn’t aged well for me – I actually found it quite easy to go into this Pop crossover attempt with an open mind. But as I explain here (to the tune of over 600 views right now, which is a lot for me!), I found most of this material to be incredibly lightweight, surface level, and trend-hopping all over the place. LP took an L with this one. NOT RECOMMENDED

In a World of Fear – Scale the Summit

One of the most popular instrumental Prog Metal acts on the planet, Scale the Summit have continued to flourish since I saw them open up for Between the Buried and Me back in 2010. I’m so pleasantly surprised that things are working out for them, ‘cause I really wasn’t sure if there was a viable market for what they do. But guitar geeks are a passionate bunch, and they’ll likely eat this album up with all of its stop-start, odd-time rhythms, and impossibly intricate interplay. Unfortunately though, I’m not the right audience for it. A song like “Astral Kids”, despite having so much inventive, virtuosic guitar playing, just sounds like a Berklee School of Music jam room to me. Which isn’t inherently a bad thing! It’s just not what I personally gravitate towards (even as a guitar nerd myself). I still need “hooks” of some kind – and Scale the Summit DID have hooks on early favorites like “The Great Plains” – but there’s just not enough memorable parts on this album to keep me coming back to it for more than the “wow, they can play their asses off!” factor. NOT RECOMMENDED

The World Ablaze – God Dethroned

In a month where Metal felt as scarce as STD-free pussy in a whorehouse, these Dutch veterans delivered a solid slab of no-frills Extreme Metal. This records boasts some pretty memorable riffs (exhibit A: the demonic intro to Thrash/Death Metal hybrid “Annihilation Crusade”), it doesn’t try to be too fancy or experimental, and best of all, its production retains a slightly raw but powerful sound. Modern Death Metal has gotten so fucking pristine and robotic sounding that it drives me nuts , so it was refreshing to hear an LP that was still beautifully mixed but had a little humanness, a little UMPH behind it. RECOMMENDED

T-Wayne – T-Pain & Lil’ Wayne

When T-Pain tweeted – completely out of the blue – that he was releasing a bunch of shelved T-Pain/Lil’ Wayne collabos from 2009, the Internet rightfully lost their shit. “These are lost gems from when the two of them were in their prime!” we all said to ourselves. And whether these eight songs would’ve been ill in 2009, we’ll never know, but in 2017, I’m not into it at all. The first unpleasant surprise is that T-Pain raps a bunch on here – his flow on the Willy Wonka-sampling “Listen to Me” is clunky as hell. The second unpleasant surprise is that the wackest bar of Lil’ Wayne’s career was actually recorded in 2009, during his supposed prime. Who knew? But the line “She was like Damn Damn Damn ‘cause I hit her with the wham wham wham” is certainly something special. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

You’re Welcome – Wavves

Neva Left – Snoop Dogg

This Old Dog – Mac DeMarco

Welcome Home – Zac Brown Band

DON’T LIKE:

Crooked Teeth – Papa Roach

Louder Harder Faster – Warrant

Revelation – Oceano