2017 Favorites: Rap

Every year, rap albums seem to go through a test: “…but is it a classic?” Fans insist rap records need to stand the test of time in order for them to be truly considered great, yet no genre has been so relevant to the present than rap. Who knows how “Bodak Yellow” will fare a year from now? Will the impact behind Jay-Z’s confessions in 4:44 still hold the same weight?

Or really, how will Playboi Carti’s self-titled album sound as 2017 slowly recedes? Can his series of ad libs rile up a crowd by then? Even if it does, will the people Milly Rock in response? Will P’ierre Bourne’s producer tag still reign supreme? But these questions seem superfluous to an album with a key single like “wokeuplikethis”: it’s barely thinking about the buzz felt from the seconds before. With his every song resembling a Vine loop, Carti had no business thinking beyond how he will entertain the present moment.

Should Carti consider a little about what’s next? Probably, but after spending my 2017 like a big loop, I’m not the one to tell him that.

Below is a list of rap songs that informed my 2017. One song per artist. And here is a Spotify playlist of the selections. Happy listening!

“Bank Account”

21 Savage

21 Savage provides a hook easy to re-purpose to fit the most banal purchases, though it’s only appropriate for him to follow it with a hellish, bloodthirsty twist — both of which he delivers with the straightest face.

“Gummy”

Brockhampton

“Gummy” embodies the intersection of Los Angeles, 2017: a G-funk whine summoned by GarageBand; a mixed crew of freewheeling freethinkers and outsiders selective of whom to let in.

“Trying Not to Swear”

Chief Keef

What a year in Chief Keef: he fell in and out of love, sang-rap some sticky flows out of that impenetrable mumble, and turned any word within reach as a hook. This one has stuck around with me since January.

“Funny How N*ggas Gon Change Things”

DJ Quik & Problem (ft. MC Eiht & Suga Free)

The finale to the extended version of the collaboration between old and new L.A. calls for expensive, retro G-funk and a chorus singing what’s to come.

“Unforgettable”

French Montana (ft. Swae Lee)

French Montana’s name might hang as main billing, but this record belongs to Swae Lee. It’s somewhat Wizkid’s as well. Even if his own voice doesn’t grace the single, there’s always the afrobeats swing.

“Feds Did a Sweep”

Future

Flutes brought the best out of Future in 2017 — and also the worst: the twinkling sounds provide the tune for the rapper to exorcise his trauma like a hungover version of his “March Madness.”

“Crew”

Goldlink (ft. Brent Faiyaz & Shy Glizzy)

Baltimore’s Brent Fiyaz ties together this year’s D.C. anthem by two of the city’s finest. Celebratory as it may be, the track doesn’t announce itself. Instead, it crept to the top.

“Did You See”

J Hus

With only clicks and clanks, the minimal thump truly sets the base for the modest standing of J Hus, whose brash mumble speaks an endearing bewilderment of his sudden rise in cash flow.

“XO Tour Llif3”

Lil Uzi Vert

TM88’s purple beat exorcises Lil Uzi Vert, who screams upon the sight of his deranged reflection with an even more exaggerated croak. The year’s best hook turns out to be the one devastating cry for help.

“T-Shirt”

Migos

Metro Boomin’ may have sent Migos to virality, though the three’s impeccable staccato sounded more natural over the elastic, lurching bounce of Nard & B, who subconsciously channels “White Tee.”

“Perfect Pint”

Mike Will Made-It (ft. Kendrick Lamar, Rae Sremmurd, Gucci Mane)

The Sremmurds both may sing it as if it isn’t so, but Mike Will assembles the year’s headliners of rap for the loneliest drinking anthem.

“Gangland”

Mozzy & Gunplay (ft. E Mozzy)

Mozzy and Gunplay: each rep opposite coasts, but the blunt gangsta-rap realism knuckled down by both make them honorable peers. Hooks aren’t worth much in their terrain, but having one like this helps.

“Like Really”

Oddisee

The titular hook tacks on emphasis on top of emphases, but Oddisee knows tripling up on reminders still often won’t get the message fully across. And really, bless him for continuing to try anyway.

“Brick Body Complex”

Open Mike Eagle

Over radio static and a pop flow, Open Mike Eagle humanizes a neighborhood, literally. One has to sometimes take it to such measures to bring the issue that, yes, it’s not just bricks but actual human lives being demolished.

“Put Me on Something”

P-Lo (ft. E-40)

From the thick bass to his syllabus of Hyphy 101, and really, that E-40 feature, every part of this builds around P-Lo’s public service announcement: “last year, they didn’t even like the Bay.”

“Magnolia”

Playboi Carti

Playboi Carti doesn’t craft much of a solid song in “Magnolia” as much as he compiles a series of stray thoughts interrupted by impulsive yelps that refuse to move the needle forward, sticking Carti forever in a loop.

“Buddies”

Quelle Chris

Quelle Chris spreads a two-bar punchline into an entire song with a legit chorus to boot. It initially seems like a charming joke, but his comfortable humor soon translates into a warm meditation on self-love.

“Lane Changing”

SOB x RBE

Knucklehead verses atop slapdash ’80s samples: if that isn’t SOB x RBE. And the crew crashes a party playing rough bits of a Rufus & Chaka Khan record, less a sample than a slapped-on loop.

“Yeah 5x”

Starlito & Don Trip

Starlito and Don Trip do wonders on a set topic, but the brotherly duo give their best when they can just rap whatever on a 16-bar space. And out goes asides on sex with Stacy Dash in between family struggles.

“Love Scars”

Trippie Redd

Trippie Redd spills an immense heartbreak over Elliott Trent’s bruised, groggy beat. He fills in the details through a bobbing verse, but his painful stretches of sing-song rhymes already tell enough.

“911/Lonely”

Tyler, the Creator (ft. Frank Ocean, Steve Lacy, Anna of the North)

The split between soft, sweet funk and rough, downcast rap defines the head space of Flower Boy, the most grown expression born from Tyler’s loneliness.

“100 Shots”

Young Dolph

Dolph takes the hook-less album intro template by Meek Mill for his Bulletproof album. The song may be ironic in retrospect but still true. From consistency to actual gun wounds, he could not be stopped.

“Do U Love Me”

Young Thug

Thugger sang his way through the year. Though this may be a more tame experiment from a year where he went full-on acoustic, this wet, slippery, horny chorus is all classic Young Thug.

“Graffiti”

Youngboy Never Broke Again

Youngboy Never Broke Again worked his way to the top this year like no other, but his reflection echoes paranoid as it does humble. Yatta Beats’s moody, regal pianos then lays the rapper’s inner fire bare.

Bonus—New Old Rap Albums I Enjoyed This Year:

  • LL Cool J: Radio (1985)
  • Whodini: Back in Black (1986)
  • Scarface: Mr. Scarface Is Back (1991)
  • UGK: Super Tight (1994)
  • Luniz: Operation Stackola (1995)
  • Do or Die: Picture This (1996)
  • Capone-N-Noreaga: The War Report (1997)
  • Master P: Ghetto D (1997)
  • Big Tymers: How You Luv That, Vol. 2 (1997)
  • Mobb Deep: Murda Muzik (1999)
  • Project Pat: Ghetty Green (1999)
  • Mystikal: Let’s Get Ready (2000)
  • T.I.: I’m Serious (2001)
  • Keak da Sneak: Deified (2006)
  • Dej Loaf: #AndSeeThat’stheThing EP (2015)
  • 21 Savage & Metro Boomin’: Savage Mode (2016)

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