Another year has come and gone, and I hope it has been all that you hoped for and more! Even if 2017 wasn’t the best for you, a new year always brings a fresh start, and so here’s to 2018 being that fresh start you need. Moreover, if you crushed it in 2017, long may your winning streak continue into 2018 and beyond!
The end of the year in music terms always means one thing for us – our ‘Albums of the Year’ list is here for you to enjoy, dissect and ponder upon, and of course, add to your music library! We’re proud to say that this is our sixth annual list in a row, and although this particular list was a slug to put together, we got there in the end!
I know I always give a little year-in-music perspective or round-up before we dive into our 50 best albums of the year, so here goes… Adele swept the Grammys with her third album 25, and Chance The Rapper became the first unsigned artist to win a Grammy Award. Haim returned with a new album, and so did Jay-Z, Incubus, Kesha, Fergie and The Shins among others.
In the US, Hip-Hop/R&B finally surpassed rock music as the most consumed genre in music, and officially became the most popular musical genre for the first time ever in the states! On the other side of the pond, AfroWave (or whatever you want to call it) firmly took over, with J Hus, Kojo Funds, Afro B, Not3s and Yxng Bane flying the flag – 2018 should be a rather defining year for this burgeoning sound which has firmly taken the place of the now near-non-existent ‘UK Afrobeats’ scene.
Rest in peace to Prodigy of Mobb Deep, Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, Chuck Berry, Al Jarreau, Charles Bradley, Joni Sledge and every great musician we lost this year. Love and light to their families and we pray God strengthens and comforts them.
Thanks to Immy Hequet, Martina Di Gregorio and Qurat-ul-anne Sikander, who have taken time out of their Christmas schedule to join me Ayo Adepoju, in curating our list of the best albums of the year. The first part of our ‘Albums of 2017’ list highlights the best albums of the year, from #50 to #11 – check them out here – we continue our countdown from #10 to #1 below.
10. Jay-Z – 4:44
Legendary American rapper Jay-Z returned with a personal and intimate album in 4:44, almost a response to Beyonce’s Lemonade, but the record is much more than that. This is album number 13 for the rapper, and it is one of the most mature and honest projects he has ever released.
The songs on 4:44 are as personal as we have ever heard from Jay-Z, with apologies to his wife for cheating on the title track and all over the record, while on “Kill Jay Z“, he addresses his friendship with Kanye West, and how it has been ruined and destroyed under the spotlight, but the record also features wider themes around black empowerment and racism in America, among other heavy issues.
Produced solely by No I.D, The album has some grungy feels sonically, which match the themes on the album perfectly. Through the lyrics, Jay-Z admits his wrongs, thinks about capitalism and makes history with a vulnerability that has never been seen before by the rapper. 4:44 is no Lemonade, neither is it a Blueprint, but it is not too far behind.
9. Tyler The Creator – Flower Boy
The fact that Tyler The Creator is already on his fourth studio album is a feat in and of itself, but taking it leaps and bounds further, Flower Boy is one of, if not, his best album to date. The themes of anxiety, angst and loneliness persist, but happiness runs through, and this is Tyler at his most honest, balanced right with just enough abrasiveness and aggression. The lyricism is far better, and his flow is much improved than we’ve heard on previous projects.
Produced entirely by Tyler, this is a sonically exquisite, cohesive, and probably his most appealing body of work, filled with dreamy synths, lush melodies and heavenly arrangements, running the gamut from Hip Hop to R&B to Jazz, and back. For his efforts, Tyler has been nominated for his first solo ‘Best Rap Album’ Grammy Award, and here’s to many more successes for Flower Boy – it is a great record.
8. Halsey – Hopeless Fountain Kingdom
On this synth-heavy pop record, she sings of her life as a pop star, breaking hearts and consolidating all the thing that made her first album Badlands a hit. “Bad At Love” for example, shows her rapping skills, as she describes her inability to be in a healthy relationship and keep a partner happy.
She might have become a star quickly, but Halsey knows how to put her life in music. “Sorry” strips down all the synths, as a piano is played as she sings her apologises for being incapable of loving and hurting, her fragility coming through with vocals full of emotions, but also showing her talent. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is a power album that proves Halsey’s talent and flexibility in both vocal abilities and sound. This young artist has a lot more to show us.
Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is a rather impressive piece of work, as it seemed almost impossible to improve on the previous album. However, despite that, Halsey manages quite well. Her range on this album is rather grand, allowing her to experiment with several different styles in quick succession.
“Sorry” and “Don’t Play” are two such examples, where one is softer and slower, while the latter is fast-paced and is an anthem full of anger. Both songs, however, talk about relationships and the problems that can, and will, arise from them. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is a stronger album than Badlands, as it can appeal to a wider range of audience.
7. Sampha – Process
After spending over five years collaborating with an array of world class talent like Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Beyoncé, and Drake, offering his sensational vocals on their tracks, 2017 is finally the year of Sampha himself as he finally releases his long-awaited beautiful debut album Process.
Whilst we were reminded of his unique vocals over the years as he popped up here and there on his own EPs released in 2010 and another in 2013, and on other artists tracks as mentioned, Sampha was otherwise occupied away from music caring for his sick mother who fell unwell not long after his collaboration with Beyoncé and sadly passed away during the process of writing this album.
Having already lost his father as a young child, it is hard to ignore the raw emotion and passion projecting throughout the album that is relating to his family and the loss of his parents, which makes it all the more intense and emotional.
His effortless vocals and precise production really has created one of the most sensational and unique albums released in a long time. His ability to reveal himself in attempt of dealing with his grief is inspirational, and what a way to do it, by using his talent as a way of producing a beautiful and raw recollection of his feelings.
6. Paramore – After Laughter
In direct contrast to the eponymous previous album from Paramore, After Laughter is about the hardships of life. Where Hayley Williams sang about recovering from an ordeal on Paramore, she has filled After Laughter with anthems of depression and the turmoils one goes through with that.
The album starts off with “Hard Times”, and leads the listener to a more melancholic “Tell Me How”. It is an extremely cathartic album. It is also the band’s best album to date. The music and the artwork are both colourful and ready to meet the eye, which is in direct contrast to the context and lyrics present in the album.
This allows for a rather impressive effect, where the listener feels both elated and, in a way, as if the band had given the opportunity to vent out their troubles.
It took four years since their self-titled album, and after losing Jeremy Davis and gaining Zac Farro, this album perfectly describes the change that has occurred between the band, and the singer Hayley Williams. With bangers like “Rose-Coloured Boy”, and the single “Hard Times”, After Laughter is heavily inspired by 80’s sound and artists such as Blondie, a step away from the punk/pop-rock sound that they have explored in their past albums.
After Laughter encapsulates the hurt and grief that comes from losing people and yourself, over an upbeat musical backdrop. This album deserves a mention in our top albums of 2017, a year that has been hard on a lot of people and on Paramore, and their growth is tangible and worth honouring.
5. SZA – Ctrl
SZA’s sound is refreshing and resonant of her predecessors, such as Marsha Ambrosius and Erykah Badu, and 2017 was the year she finally came into her own with the release of her long awaited debut album Ctrl. Her sultry vocals and pensive lyricism are bound to draw anyone into her sound. From the beginning to the end of this album, you will be left in awe at the simplistic yet artistic elements of the beat construction to her vocal delivery.
CTRL explores elements of sex, relationships and typical female insecurities in a relationship. Not as obviously as one would assume, however. This is where the creative elements of this project are highlighted. Even down to the choice of name for her album SZA states; “I have lacked control my whole life and have always tried to arrive at it but now I am not trying to anymore. I am just happy to be present”.
CTRL clearly demonstrates her growth and confidence in her sound and vocal prowess. SZA has not only strategically told her story through her lyricism, but has perfectly structured it on this album, so even listening to it from beginning to end, you are smoothly yet vividly transported from song to song.
At least we know that the years of missing out on good music from Za has not completely been in vain. CTRL is a piece of lyrical art. With so many subliminal messages, SZA has very clearly painted a picture that all avid collectors will want for a lifetime, or maybe that’s just us. Nonetheless, CTRL is worth the listen, and quite possibly, the best R&B record of 2017.
4. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Vince Staples entered the game as one of the most talented and forward thinking rappers, and his sophomore album Big Fish Theory solidifies that claim. The production on this record is as gleaming and experimental as you would have heard in rap in 2017, but it works perfectly, and Vince obliges with some of his best and most incisive lyrical showings – his natural flow is a bit challenged on this, but that only adds to the ingenuity of Big Fish Theory, and the wordplay here is sharp and immaculate.
As far as innovation in Hip Hop music this year, Vince Staples is right at the top with Big Fish Theory, which moonlights as a club record even, and running at just 36 minutes, the Long Beach native is never wasteful on his sophomore offering. The songs are precisely structured, with a sense of urgency that is present all the way through all twelve tracks. What you get is social commentary and poignant introspection as you will expect from Vince, but this is at such a transcending level.
3. St. Vincent – Masseduction
There’s not much to fault in St. Vincent’s latest album Masseduction. Annie Clark has been making pleasing records for a decade now, consisting of her whimsical wordplay against whatever outrageous instrumentation takes her fancy.
There is a delicate balance between challenging your listeners, and managing to still retain them, and Clark seems to be a master of this. As a result she has managed to ascend to a cult figure, the comical and wildly unusual female Bowie replacement, as the tabloids coined it.
It’s a slightly reductionist branding, but Clark’s consistently gorgeous voice prevailing over a diverse soundscape and broad stylistic spectrum of tracks is certainly Bowie-esque in that regard.
Masseduction is an intimate album, a nice example of this being the heartbreak of “Los Ageless“, or Clark’s desire to avoid “finger-wagging” tracks – even “Pills” is a story of personal experiences with sleeping pills. Regardless of whether Clark’s mildly insane identity in St. Vincent is to your taste, this album features some wonderful musical moments.
St. Vincent has always been known for her innovative style with music, and Masseduction certainly proves that. Her fifth studio album, it became her first album to peak in the top ten. From the poppy tune of “Los Ageless” to a more solemn “New York”, St. Vincent seems to have covered all the bases.
2. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar made his comeback after the critically acclaimed To Pimp A Butterfly with DAMN. The record shows the toll that Lamar had to take after all the publicity as he raps “Last LP I tried to lift the black artists” on “Element“, one of the many songs that show his scars after To Pimp A Butterfly.
In a post-Obama America, it would be redundant to hone in on the same political message that To Pimp A Butterfly presented.Considering the political climate, it was more effective to appeal emotively than politically to listeners. What this album has done is explore the sentiments that come as a by-product of social injustice as opposed to preaching said injustices.
DAMN. highlights Lamar as a traditional rapper, with lyrics and rhymes that still show his undiscussable talent. His lyrics are raw, pure and fast paced, with songs like “Humble” and “DNA” taking the throne for best songs on Damn.
This album is the perfect mash of the old and the new, showing a new way for rap and making Kendrick Lamar number one once again, not only because of his talent but because these songs are timeless. DAMN. is not just a defining album for Kendrick Lamar as an artist, but also a defining album for hip hop as a whole.
1. Lorde – Melodrama
Lorde’s debut album, Pure Heroine, has been a crowd favourite since its release in 2013. It was certainly believed she would never be able to make a better album, but the singer appears to have proved everyone wrong with its follow up, Melodrama. Here almost four years later, the new record proves the singer’s status as “the future of music”, as David Bowie prophetically described.
This album is a lot more mellow than its predecessor, but it is still every inch a Lorde album. The musical content on this album is phenomenal, allowing the user to experience a separate sense of catharsis to the lyrics. In other words, Melodrama is the kind of album that would not require lyrics to be enjoyed.
Thankfully, however, it does include lyrical content, and songs such as “Green Light” prove that Lorde is an absolute genius with her work. If Pure Heroine was a plea for youth to be taken seriously for more than social media abilities and general foolishness, Melodrama is a full on post-break up, broken-hearted party – this is growing up: it’s fun and it hurts.
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2017!