2017 has revived my confidence of having strong bodies of work in hip-hop. This year also marks the strong emergence of UK hip-hop and grime music, which has certainly come to my attention this year more than before. From my previous Top 5 US Hip-Hop Albums (so far) article, I have a given a full breakdown of albums that would mark what I have been listening to this year, and the growth of UK hip-hop. Soooo here is my hip-hop breakdown of 2017!
10. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz
This album just missed my Top 5 Hip-Hop albums article. For me, this is 2 Chainz’s most cohesive album to date. With known bangers as ‘Good Drank (ft Gucci Mane and Quavo)’, and ‘It’s a Vibe (ft Travis Scott)’, the ATL star shows his lyrical ability in songs like ‘Riverdale Rd’ and ‘OG Kush diet’. It is arguable that the Migos’ album ‘Culture’ was the ATL album of the year, but for me: ‘Pretty Girls Like Trap Music’ is the grown man’s down south album.
9. Everybody – Logic
Logic’s popularity has risen in 2017 with his contribution to Suicide Squad’s anthem ‘Sucker for Pain’ and his dedication to the core fan base who have rated the Maryland lyricist so highly. The album just seeps positivity and reminds you that hip-hop is not always about the bounce, and there are dark demons that push the inspiration of hip-hop artists. Songs like ‘Inkblot’ and ‘Anxiety’ go into detail of the struggles he faced with anxiety and how he has overcome this through encouraging positive thought, social harmony and an equal society. Logic’s hit single 1-800-273-8255 with Khalid and Alessia Cara has sent him to a new level of stardom whilst maintaining his socially-conscious mantra.
8. Rather you than me – Rick Ross
The Bawse released a heavy-hitting album this year, with many soul-sampled songs such as ‘Santorini Greece’, and ‘Apple of my Eye’ (feat Raphael Saadiq). Equally, the album contains strong street bangers such as ‘Trap Trap’ (feat Young Thug and Wale) and a sprinkle of hip-hop beef on ‘Idols Become Rivals’ with Birdman (Cash Money Records). It has been an empire-building year for the Miami native, but not necessarily in the music industry. With huge endorsements in food franchises such as Checkers and Wing-Stop, it’s amazing how Rick Ross has produced such an impressive 9th studio album.
7. Friday on Elm Street – Fabolous & Jadakiss
Since Jay-Z and Kanye West’s ‘Watch the Throne’, hip-hop collaborative albums have been a strong trend. There have been many collaborative projects within the last couple of years such as Metro Boomin, OffSet and 21 Savage, Drake and Future, Run the Jewels (aka Killa Mike and El-P) to name a few. Jadakiss and Fabulous continue this trend with a Freddy vs Jason themed hip-hop album.
‘Friday on Elm Street’ is a lyrical feast for fans of the New York Sound, with hard punchlines. Lyrics like “Any problems, mask and the gloves/Jason and Freddy basically ready/I’m like Masika and Alexis how I’m chasing the Fetti” reflects the hunger and skills these hip-hop veterans still have after being in the game for nearly 20 years. Songs like ‘Stand Up (feat. Future)’ give the project a contemporary feel, assisted by a number of New York boom bap sounding tracks like ‘Soul Food’ and ‘Ice Pick’. The album also includes political and personal messages of insecurity, with songs like ‘Can we talk (feat. Teyana Taylor’ and ‘I Pray (feat. Swizz Beatz)’. Overall this is an enjoyable album with hard beats ladled with street, and braggadocios lyrics from two of the best in New York.
6. 7 Days and 7 Nights – Krept and Konan
Due to my streaming subscription, this has been one of my most consistent years where I have listened to a number of UK rap/grime albums. I remember being recommended this mixtape project by a friend and remarking that this is a decent grime album. My friend replied that Krept and Konan are not totally grime! Either way, I can recognise a good body of work with something for everybody.
This project is an ideal introduction to show those unfamiliar to UK rap music a mix of hard sounds, UK lyrics and party melodies. There’s something comforting about cleverly-produced lyrics that you know only people from the UK will understand. The double album themed as ‘7 Days’ (the grime/rap segment) and ‘7 Nights’ (R&B/rap), has great tracks such as ‘Wo Wo Wo’, ‘Ask Flipz (feat. Stormzy)’, followed by more sultry tracks such as ‘For Me’ and ‘Wrongs (feat. Jhene Aiko)’ really displays this duo’s creative talent within and outside of grime. Features from Skepta, J Hus, and Stormzy further solidify Krept and Konan as leaders of international UK hip-hop.
5. The Wild – Raekwon
The legendary Wu-Tang MC Raekwon hasn’t really missed a step when it comes to his studio albums and in 2017 ‘The Chef’ shows his relevance in modern hip-hop. The album is strong with classic hip-hop samples from songs such as ‘This is what it comes from’ and ‘Nothing’. Raekwon also displays his creative story-telling. In the song ‘Marvin’, he rhymes a biography of the great Marvin Gaye and enlists the soulful sounds of Cee Lo Green to paint a picture of the soul legend’s struggles and musical genius. He also collaborates with Lil Wayne, G –Eazy and Andra Day to create a solid album for the hip-hop purists.
4. Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples
This album was the biggest surprise for me this year. I was not a huge fan of Vince Staples’ debut album ‘Summertime 06’ and this wasn’t really on my must-listen list. However, after a few recommendations, it really has kept its status as one of my favourite albums this year. Songs like ‘Big Fish’, ‘Yeah Right (feat. Kendrick Lamar)’ and ‘Bag Bak’ deliver a modern west coast album, whilst there are strong party songs such as ‘Crabs in a Bucket’ and ‘Party People’.
3. Gang Signs and Prayer – Stormzy
I admit, being from South London I got caught up in the hype of Stormzy’s rise as a grime artist. I was curious of what his album would sound like for someone who was not necessarily into grime, but appreciated good lyrics, which he has displayed in previous singles. ‘Gang Signs and Prayer’ (GSAP) gave me a good introduction of not just the grime scene, but also Stormzy as a person. It would be unfair to call GSAP a grime album as there are so many styles, from RnB tracks like ‘Cigarettes and Kush’, to the gospel hit ‘Blinded by your Grace (feat. MNEK)’.
There is definitely something for everyone on this album, having grime fans gravitate towards the chart-topping ‘Big for your Boots’ and ‘Bad Boys (feat. Ghetts and J Hus)’, equally more hip-hop influenced songs like ‘First things First’ and ‘Mr Skeng’ will certainly interest those looking for a good flow and direct lyrics. Altogether, GSAP pushes a universal UK hip-hop/grime agenda into today’s mainstream and Stormzy along with the likes of Skepta, Giggs and Wiley is a pioneer of this creative art through sincerity and originality.
2. Laila’s wisdom – Rapsody
I know what you’re thinking, Who the hell is Rapsody and where the hell is Kendrick Lamar?!!! Well if you don’t know, get to know!! The US North Carolina MC broke through under legendary hip-hop producer 9th Wonder in 2012. Best known for a guest verse on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Complexion’, Rapsody is one of the most talented lyricists who rhymes on soulful and hard hip-hop beats.
‘Laila’s Wisdom’ is a fun melodic album, which is very reminiscent of the classic late 90s/2000 albums with a mix of lyrical content on funky 9th Wonder soul-sampled melodies. Songs like “Oooweee (feat. Anderson Paak)’, ‘Chrome’ and ‘Nobody (feat Black Thought and Anderson Paak)’ shows a talented rapper with rhymes like “Don’t never say my name, cuz it might end yours, I never been lazy but I [eye] seen a plenty Forest Whitaker, the wit of her, good Lord Ain’t got keys like Khaled but I still open doors.”
The hit single ‘Power (feat. Kendrick Lamar and Lance Skii Walker)’ demonstrates the talent of Rapsody and her ability to go toe-to-toe with the best. Oh, didn’t I mention that Rapsody was female? It shouldn’t be an issue in today’s society, but – in a testosterone-filled industry – it must be remarked how ‘Laila’s Wisdom’ stands up with some of the best albums this year.
1. 4:44 – Jay-Z / Damn – Kendrick Lamar
I’m sorry I just couldn’t choose between the two, but in my view these are timeless classic albums that will be played beyond 2017. This is reflected in the almost identical Grammy nominations both projects have been awarded this year.
Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Damn’ is an engaging and a lighter-focused project compared to his previous albums. Hits such as ‘Humble’, ‘Loyalty (feat. Rihanna)’ and ‘DNA’ have rumbled the radio waves for most of 2017. Other album tracks like ‘Element’, ‘LUST’ and ‘FEEL’ show once again Kendrick’s versatility lyrically and his ability to create a project that isn’t over-political and layered with a million meanings. This is a masterpiece and provides new invigoration to hip-hop.
As for 4:44, this 10-track album is the most intricate and revealing album of Jay-Z’s career outlining his own insecurities, US societal injustices and – of course – his infidelity. In the same way Usher created a classic R&B ballad-heavy album with ‘Confessions’, Jay-Z has created a definitive body of work that may not have party bangers, but displays the maturity of both hip-hop and himself. The well-produced songs like ‘Kill Jay-Z’, ‘Story of OJ’ and ‘Smile’ provide the perfect stage for Hov to share his personal struggles and views on Kanye West, his family struggles and his vision of Black Unity. Overall 4:44 is a much more focused project, which takes Jay-Z into a vulnerable place and as a result, produces one of his best works to date.
By Jonathan Johnson