Music has the power to transcend all barriers and connect your heart with the sentiments of the artists. The albums this year did just that for us. With reflections, introspection and pure artistry, each album on this list was a well thought out, well executed masterpiece which reminded us why musicians are called artists. Here’s our list of the best and brightest artists of 2017, in alphabetical order.
4:44 – Jay Z
Released: June 30, 2017
Tracks we love: “Bam”, “Family Feud”, “4:44”, “The Story of OJ”
Raw, emotive and vulnerable, Jay Z’s 13th studio album finds him reflecting on past transgressions & righting his wrongs; it’s the maturing of a man, which isn’t always brought to the forefront in society.
D: I am one of those girls who have come to never expect an apology from a man. Over and over, I’ve seen men hurt women close to me who they claim to love and cherish. It’s nearly ingrained in women to not expect an apology or any bit of healing from those who hurt us. This album felt like a sincere apology I’ve never known. It was refreshing to hear from from the origin of the pain about the destruction they caused and the subsequent attempt to heal both themselves and the victim. I may never get closure from the source of my pain but this Jay album felt close enough.
Aromanticism – Moses Sumney
Released: September 22, 2017
Tracks we love: “Make Out in My Car”, “Indulge Me”, “Quarrel”, “Doomed”
S: An amazing album with sweeping vocals and melodies that make you want to sway but also cry (maybe simultaneously?). On Aromanticism, Sumney sings about the nuances of romance or, as the title of the album implies, a possible lack thereof. I saw Sumney perform at Afropunk this year, something I anticipated after missing most of his opening set for James Blake in 2016. On stage, Sumney is just as captivating as his studio work. Expansive tracks like “Make Out in My Car” and “Doomed” completely fill the room and the listener with emotion.
At What Cost – Goldlink
Released: March 22, 2017
Tracks we love: “Crew”, “Meditation”, “Summatime”, “Herside Story”, “Pray Everyday”, “Roll Call”
D: First album of the year that made me go, this is a masterpiece. Also Myaaaaa!
S: This is a well curated album, like hello, the features! I recall hearing the standout hit “Crew” earlier this year, after my former radio co-host played it on our show. I slept on it for a bit, then came back around before the summer started with the thought that it would be
the my song of the summer. Fast forward to near summer’s end, I was proven right after Gucci dropped a verse for the remix…the song was on radios everywhere!
blkswn – Smino
Released: March 14, 2017
Tracks we love: “Anita”, “Glass Flows feat. Ravyn Lenae”, “Netflix & Dusse”, “blkswn”, “Amphetamine”
S: I am enamored with Smino’s blend of funk, R&B, and hip-hop. blkswn, the artist’s debut, is full of smooth songs that you want to cruise to and upbeat tunes that make you feel good. The artist’s wordplay on “Anita” will make you smile; you know this girl…she’s of the same universe as André 3000’s “Prototype.” Also, I always appreciate an ensemble song, which is how I’d describe the album’s closing track “Amphetamine.” It features Bari, Jean Deaux, and Noname…a winning collaboration in my book.
Cleo – Charlotte Dos Santos
Released: June 21, 2017
Tracks we love: “Red Clay”, “Take It Slow”, “Move On”, “Cleo”, “Good Sign” (safe to say all)
S: Cleo is an empowering album about a woman trying to find her way in the realms of self and love. After hearing the singles and Instagram teasers, I had been waiting on this full project. I have been smitten with Charlotte Dos Santos’s music for some time now. She has the loveliest voice and quite a way with words. The singer’s flip of Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” is lush poetry.
“You were just like mud in my way, you wanted me to form you just red clay but I know what to throw away and what to keep my hands on.”
On the title track, Dos Santos’ urges the protagonist to keep the tears at bay, leave behind her past, and chase her dreams. Relevant AF!! The singer’s sound is simultaneously retro and modern; I could listen to her sing all day!
CTRL – SZA
Released: June 9, 2017
Tracks we love: “Supermodel”, “The Weekend”, “Go Gina”, “Garden (Say It Like Dat)”
D: The media (and the misogynists– although they might be one in the same) decried this album as unladylike. But the truth is, this album is probably the rawest and most honest about modern romantic encounters from a normal girl (or in her eyes, a wannabe normal girl). It echoes the thoughts of the young women dating in this current crop of men. Built on lessons learned from lopsided romantic encounters that just didn’t work, this album recounted all the forceful growing up women in their twenties still have to do, still calling mothers and grandmothers when lost in the sauce. It’s the musings of 20 year old wisdom, the growth through mistakes, the lessons just learnt but also simultaneously broadcasted to the world. And it’s glorious to hear.
S: This album fills me with a sense of calm. It’s so ethereal…well SZA herself is, so the album must be by default. I had an early favorite in “The Weekend,” a sultry stunner that was initially misunderstood by most (she’s not the side chick; it’s 3 girls who all think they are the main!). With repeated listens, I fell more in love with it all, really vibing with SZA’s playful storytelling and homegirl honesty on “Go Gina” and “Garden (Say It Like Dat)”. Usually, I play coy and say I don’t have a singular favorite track but “Supermodel” is clearly it…it’s one of my most-listened songs of the year.
DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
Released: April 12, 2017
Tracks we love: “BLOOD.” “PRIDE.” “LUST.” “LOYALTY.”
S: One of my top 4 of the year…I’m copping out and saying they are all tied for #1*. As much as I have loved all of Kendrick Lamar’s previous work, I didn’t know I needed DAMN. until I found myself listening to it on every single commute and not getting tired. I was overjoyed to hear Anna Wise and Lamar reconnect on “PRIDE.,” this time assisted by another personal favorite Steve Lacy. This song has one of the realest lines: “I can’t fake humble because your ass is insecure.” Wow. I found myself saying “wow” a lot listening to this throughout the spring and summer…here’s a list of more highlights (or else we’d be here all day.)
- the production on “LUST.”
- the Rick James sample on “DNA.”
- the duality (this is a super Gemini album!!)
- the fact that two songs (“PRIDE.” and “FEAR.” sampled another song of Lamar’s that I enjoyed this year: “The Heart Part 4”
- Bēkon’s voice, especially on tracks “BLOOD.” and “PRIDE.”
Drunk – Thundercat
Released: February 24, 2017
Tracks we love: “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song II)”, “Uh Uh”, “Show You The Way”, “3 AM”
Once a Thundercat fan, always a superfan. I find myself still playing this all the way through on a weekly basis. With Drunk, Thundercat (né Stephen Bruner) gives us his signature blend of R&B, funk, and avant-garde jazz. As much as I enjoy the singer’s falsetto, I’m always here for the mostly instrumental tracks like “Uh Uh” where his bass-playing really shines. One of my instant favorites from Drunk was “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song II)” in which the singer muses about how easy the lives of cats must be (meows included).
Flower Boy – Tyler, the Creator
Released: July 21, 2017
Tracks we love: “911/Mr. Lonely”, “Boredom”, “Who Dat Boy”
S: For years, Tyler, the Creator has soundtracked my summer and he did it again with Flower Boy. Between the singles to the features to the visually striking cover, the artist’s fourth studio album is solid. As soon as I heard “911/Mr. Lonely,” I felt at home with the superb production. This is a strength of Tyler’s that only gets better and better with time. Also, the flip of “Outstanding” by the Gap Band?? Wow. Speaking of the production, one will find that Tyler does more of that than rap per his previous work. This gave way to some beautiful singing features by Steve Lacy, Anna of the North, Frank Ocean and more. This album makes me feel light and airy, just like the summer days I enjoyed listening to this.
Freudian – Daniel Caesar
Released: August 18, 2017
Tracks we love: “Get You”, “Best Part feat. H.E.R.”, “Blessed”, “Neu Roses” “Hold Me Down” (fair to say ALL)
As listeners, we have been bombarded with ill placed vulgarities in music that should remind us of love. Freudian defies the current music scene as a breath of fresh air in a world full of gritty Trap Soul renditions. It’s passionate and sensual, tender and soft, mindful and introspective. In short, singer Daniel Caesar’s freshman effort Freudian is exactly what R&B should feel like. The single “Get You” was an instant classic, timeless. As featured singer Kali Uchis croons, “This feels like summer.” And it does. Filled with gospel and psychological references, the entire album feels like tan skin, white linen and the coolest summer breeze. With Freudian, there was an instantaneous familiarity… You think you could have heard it before but know you haven’t. Still, you wish you had sooner. While this album may echo themes of making choices based on the unknown (hence the name), we can say with certainty that Freudian is not falling out of our rotation anytime soon.
Green Twins – Nick Hakim
Released: May 19, 2017
Tracks we love: “Cuffed”, “Roller Skates”, “Needy Bees”, “Green Twins”
S: I was anticipating this one and when I finally saw him perform it live, he didn’t disappoint. So much raw emotion and honesty in his work, all while keeping it trippy; just how I like my R&B. The first single “Bet She Looks Like You” is a stunning track with an equally stunning video featuring the singer’s girlfriend. Hakim professes his belief that God is a black woman, while singing to his love:
“If there’s a God, I wonder what she looks like. I bet she looks like you.”
Another single, “Roller Skates” is the auditory equivalent of a summer day with a refreshing glass of lemonade. Really hadn’t considered until this point how much I love albums that make you feel like you’re sitting in on a jam session. My favorite track from Green Twins would have to be “Cuffed”: sultry, sensual, honest. I look forward to more work by Hakim.
SATURATION I/II/III – Brockhampton
Released: June 9/August 25/December 15
Tracks we love: “FACE”, “TRIP”, “SWAMP”, “JELLO”, “BUMP”, “SUMMER”, “JOHNNY”, “BLEACH”
Three albums in one year!! I’m still discovering favorites on all of these projects; I was listening to “SUMMER” while working on this post and was nearly in tears at how good it is. What I love about the “American Boyband” is their eclectic catalog is and how perfectly it all fits. One of my early Brockhampton favorites was “TRIP,” I was instantly hooked on the production. Ballads like “FACE” and “BLEACH” feel familiar, almost nostalgic. I listen to “SWAMP” and “TRIP” for quick mood enhancers. How could you not feel like a boss with lyrics like “f’n commas up from the outside” and “today imma be whoever I wanna be”?
Steve Lacy’s Demo
Released: February 24, 2017
Tracks we love: “Some”, “Dark Red”, “Ryd”
S: Steve Lacy was everywhere this year and I thoroughly enjoyed it (I’ve mentioned him at least three other times in the post). We received this demo early in the year, and it really set the tone of the soundscape I would enjoy for the rest of 2017. Groovy, funky, hella guitar. I really enjoyed learning that Lacy, the youngest member of The Internet, produced this album on an iPhone. This type of innovation & creativity has led to Lacy’s production credits & features for Syd, Kendrick Lamar, Jonti and more. Clocking in at only 14 minutes, every track on this demo is a star.
Stony Hill – Damian “Jr Gong” Marley
Released: July 21, 2017
Tracks we love: “Caution”, “Living It Up”, “ROAR”, “Nail Pon Cross”, “Grown & Sexy”, “Medication”
D: There is a very distinct sound associated with what the world has come to know as reggae music. It’s the guitar, the rocking rhythm, the softness of the acoustics matched with a raspy singing voice. Dancehall, by contrast, is known for its booming beats, harder rhythms and hip hop influence. Damian Marley’s Stony Hill gives us the best of both worlds (like his feature on Jay Z’s “Bam”). Stony Hill exemplifies the modern reggae sound with earthiness reminiscent of the reggae of his father’s era perfectly merged with the hard hitting beats of the modern era, perhaps more refined and well blended than even on 2005’s Welcome to JamRock. It touches on all thoughts and worries of the modern Jamaican (and of course, Rastafarian) with observations of the current state of society on “ROAR”, “Caution” and “Time Travel”; marijuana advocacy on “Medication”; and gratefulness on “Living It Up”. Not to mention, “Grown and Sexy” (btw, never heard a song named Grown and Sexy that was bad) gives me tropical villa with natural fruit tree vibes. To me, the album sounds like the perfect modern Jamaican soundtrack which doesn’t sacrifice sound quality or integrity of the genre. In short, Stony Hill continues the legacy of the great musical Marleys but on Junior Gong’s terf and terms.
Sonder Son – Brent Faiyaz
Released: October 13, 2017
Tracks we love: “Gang Over Luv”, “Missin Out”, “First World Problemz/ Nobody Cares”, “Talk 2 You”
With a voice reminiscent of a different era, Brent Faiyaz’s Sonder Son could be described as a journey of a young boy growing into his fame. Sonder Son is a coming of age album, where Brent journals stepping into his adulthood and subsequent fame. The album is refreshing in its honesty and bluntness. Throughout each song, the singer reveals another step of his transition into stardom, weaving melancholy and hints of Spanish guitar through each song. Between his solo work and the project SONDER, this artist is here to stay with a clear story and a powerful voice.
Take Me Apart – Kelela
Released: October 6, 2017
Tracks we love: “Altadena”, “LMK”, “SOS”, “Bluff”, “Frontline”
S: I’m convinced Kelela is a literal angel. When I went to her sold out Atlanta show, the singer glowed…and it doesn’t hurt that she looks amazing in all white. I also imagine angels to have the range she does. I rely on Kelela’s music to keep it real at all times; “Bluff”, “LMK”, “SOS” and “Frontline” all let lovers know that they better come correct or be dismissed. The overall sound of the album is 90s revival done right! Take Me Apart closes with one of my favorite ballads of the year, “Altadena.”
“Nothing to be said or done, there’s a place for everyone. Let me remind you.”
This track gives me the same goosebumps I got in 2013 from the closer on Kelela’s debut mixtape Cut 4 Me. Both have the slow-building passion that she does so well.
The Drum Chord Theory – Matt Martians
Released: January 14, 2017
Tracks we love: “Spend the Night/If You Were My GF”, “Dent Jusay”, “What Love Is”, “Alotta Women/Useless”
Founding member of supergroup The Internet, Matt Martians is no stranger to keeping it groovy. On The Drum Chord Theory, the Atlanta native provides us with the elements that The Internet fans will recognize as signatures: trippy guitar, two part songs, lyrics about psychedelic ventures. Songs like “Alotta Women/Useless” and “What Love Is” make me want to two-step down the Soul Train line. This album, from the opener “Spend the Night/If You Were My GF” to the swanky “Callin on Me” is all about adventures and misadventures in love. If you vibe to this, check out The Jet Age of Tomorrow’s God’s Poop or Clouds – 2017 also marked the resurgence of this Matt Martians and Pyramid Vritra outfit!
Here are other notable projects from the year that we think deserve your attention:AfterHours by Mack Wilds, An Open Letter by Nicotine’s Famous Honey, Crawl Space by Tei Shi, Fin by Syd, Good For You by Aminé, Process by Sampha, Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe by The Cool Kids , SYRE by Jaden Smith, NIGHTSHADE by a l l i e
Additional standout singles: “Chanel” by Frank Ocean, “The Heart Part IV” by Kendrick Lamar, “Slide” by Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean & Migos, “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B, “RedMercedes” by Aminé, “Wikipedia” by Jean Deaux
*Shanté’s top 4: CTRL, DAMN., Drunk, Green Twins
What were your favorites this year? Anything we overlooked? Let us know on Twitter @fleurish1994!