Top 5 US Hip-Hop albums of 2017 (so far) – By Jonathan Johnson (@Jjohnson1305)

The streaming market has changed the way we digest music, so is reviewing albums in 2017 now redundant? The drive for hit music that is radio friendly and palatable to the universal ear has reshaped the genre of hip-hop.

That being said, the year so far has presented good quality hip-hop projects that have caught my ear and made me revisit time and time again. This article is what I call the barbershop, or close friends, debate list as everyone has their top five album and will forever defend their decision on why they rate an artist’s body of work. I have comprised this list based on the albums that I have visited multiple times this year whether in the car, office or gym. So here are my top five hip-hop albums and in the words of boxing announcer Michael Buffer ‘LETS GET READY TO RUMBLE’!!

Number 5: Logic – Everybody

I’ve been a Logic fan since his debut album Under Pressure. His classic hip-hop samples, lyrics and flow grabbed me instantly. On the project, ‘Everybody’ he uses his talent to promote his mantra of Peace, Love and Positivity. Tracks like ‘Everybody’ and ‘Take it back’ tackle the social inequalities in America and the need to treat people how they present themselves rather than personal pre-conceptions Other songs like ‘Black Spiderman’, ‘Inkblot’ and ‘Anxiety’ goes into great detail about identifying himself as a black and white mixed race person who looks white, the struggles he faced with anxiety and how he has overcome through encouraging social harmony and an equal society.

Writing this my review sounds like it’s a hippy album, I know, but Logic’s production ensures you receive uplifting messages on memorable beats with punchlines that you could put up against the new hip-hop greats.

Number 4: Rick Ross – Rather You Than Me

Rick Ross’s 9th studio album was a surprising selection for me as traditionally I haven’t been a huge fan of his projects unless he is in collaboration with DJ Khaled, Jay-Z or T-Pain. On this album the Maybach Music Bawse has produced an eclectic body of work that has got me coming back for more. His beat selection for this album is almost flawless with soulful tracks such as ‘Apple of my Eye’ feat Raphael Saadiq, ‘I think she like me’ feat Ty Dolla $ign and ‘Santorini Greece’.

Equally, tracks like ‘Trap, Trap Trap’ feat Wale, ‘Young Thug’, ‘Dead Presidents’ feat Young Jeezy and Yo Gotty and ‘Summer Seventeen’ feed the lovers of down south heavy 808 trap beats and hard lyrics.  In theme with the tracks highlighted, the album contains a range of star features from Meek Mills and Gucci Mane to Chris Rock and Nas. The bragadocious rapper creates an addictive rag to riches soundtrack with stories of his rise to hip hop prominence, the high life and of course the Trap.

Number 3: Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

If you have ever listened or watched a Vince Staple interview, you would have seen a very intelligent, cynical and intriguing artist who is entertaining with his views which attracts you to his music. Big Fish Theory is an unconventional hip-hop album with tunes that you can bump in the car on full blast. Reviewers have coined the album as ‘pop rave rap’ with tracks like Crabs in a Bucket and Big Fish making you want to nod your head and move your feet.

There are also conscious messages sewn into Big Fish Theory with commentary on the prejudices inflicted on black men in the US , a call for more diversity in the white house (good luck) and police brutality. This is a great album for the summer from Staples with great party tracks like ‘Yeah Right’ feat Kendrick Lamar, ‘Party People’ and ‘New Sounds’.

Number 2: Kendrick Lamar – Damn

The album’s title says it all. I have to admit I didn’t get the hype of this album at first but after listening a second time and watching Don Cheadle rap in the DNA video I was convinced that this album has layers that even to date I don’t think I’ve fully unravelled.

Kendrick Lamar’s story-telling puts him up there with the hip-hop greats and this album has demonstrated his ability to create radio friendly tracks such as ‘DNA’, ‘Humble’ and ‘Loyalty’ feat Rihanna whilst showing his lyrical acrobatics on tracks such as ‘Element’, ‘Fear’ and ‘Feel’. I regularly play this album and every time I find one line gems that make me want to listen one more time…Damn!

Number 1: Jay-Z 4:44

Ok, full disclosure I am a huge Jay-Z fan and like many believe that he is the best of all time. For this reason, I was extra critical about whether this was just a ritz cracker disguised as a gourmet meal due to starvation of a Jay-Z album in 4 years. My verdict is that Jay-Z’s (or rather Shawn Carter’s) openness about his infidelity, personal failings and family members has resulted in a masterpiece that promotes personal ambition and self-reflection. His discussions with himself on grass roots hip hop beats shows his importance of his family, the maturity of the hip-hop genre and the need to push the black community forward.

Songs like ‘Kill Jay-Z’, ‘Smile’ and ‘4:44’ gives insight into who Shawn Carter is and how he has faced his personal demons. Equally, the album caters to your personal ambitions in life through inspiring songs like the ‘Story of OJ’, ‘Family Feud’ and ‘Legacy’. Make no mistake that this album is not one for tracks like ‘Change Clothes’, ‘Run this Town’, and ‘Holy Grail’ but its content has slick lyrical messages that make you reflect on your own personal situation whether that be your personal shortcomings, your role in the family and ambitions in life.

Honourable mentions: There are a few albums such as Vic Mensa – The Autobiography, J.I.D – The Never Story and 2 Chainz – Pretty Girls Love Trap Music that didn’t make the cut but are noteworthy.

Here are my top albums, what are yours?

Written by Jonathan Johnson

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