Exclaim!'s Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums

Best of 2017

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Dec 5, 2017

Last week, we began the annual rollout of our genre-specific album lists for the Best of 2017, including the Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, our Top 10 Soul and R&B Albums and the Top 10 Metal and Hardcore Albums of the Year, and we're back at it this week. Yesterday (December 4), we tackled the Top 10 Folk and Country Albums of 2017; today, we're counting down the best hip-hop albums of the year. Find our list below.
Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2017:
10. Stormzy
Gang Signs and Prayer
(#Merky / ADA / Warner)

The proper studio debut from Stormzy — the unusually tall South London MC known for his blistering YouTube freestyle and enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn — might well be the perfect grime crossover record. If you fell in love with Stormzy based on his rapid-fire flaying of lesser MCs, there's plenty of that here; fans of Stormzy's early work won't be disappointed with Gang Signs and Prayer, either.
That said, there's also a ton of material that solidifies Stormzy as a bona fide pop star. He sings — quite well, actually. And with feeling. Most singing rappers should be jealous of him. If "Cigarettes & Kush" — yeah, that's a ballad — doesn't make you cry, you're a feelingless monster.
Stormzy is well on his way to being grime's first global superstar, and frankly, he deserves it.
Chris Dart
9. Big K.R.I.T.
4eva Is a Mighty Long Time

Few artists these days make songs as distinctive, timeless and heart wrenching as "Keep the Devil Off," the brightest of numerous highlights on Big K.R.I.T.'s latest album, 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time. Elsewhere, that raw, lo-fi spiritual track is juxtaposed by lusher numbers like the DJ Khalil-helmed "Aux Cord," the opulent, jazzy "The Light" and bangers galore: the T.I.-assisted "Big Bank," for example, and "Ride Wit Me," a collaboration with Bun B that also features a posthumous Pimp C verse, among others.
Such a wide variation is to be expected on a 22-track double album, yet there's nary any filler to be found here. 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time is an ambitious LP that not only justifies its runtime, but stands among 2017's best. 
Kyle Mullin
8. Joey Bada$$
All-Amerikkkan Bada$$
(Cinematic Music Group / Pro Era)

Is it possible to simultaneously be out of step with the times while totally embodying them? Joey Bada$$ makes a strong case with his sophomore album. Though his production is still deeply indebted to golden age hip-hop, lyrically Bada$$ plants himself firmly in the present moment.
Hope has turned to toxic nostalgia in America, but it's the former that takes the spotlight here. With no heroes in sight, it's up to Bada$$ to take the mic and speak truth to power, and his words offer a glimmer of light in otherwise dark times.
Ian Gormely
7. Migos
(Quality Control / 300)

Love them or hate them (or problematically fave them), Migos firmly planted a flag in 2017. They perfectly synthesized their triplet flow and minor chords formula into a collection of songs from which nearly all could work as singles. With C U L T U R E came a complete album of greater consistency than their previous slew of mixtapes and one-off songs.
The album title itself is a righteous proclamation of their work being just as intrinsic to the fabric of hip-hop as any boom-bap archetype. While the core lyrics and subject matter are easy critical targets, there is a technical and humorous proficiency in how they are presented that needs to be acknowledged. "Bad and Boujee" was of course C U L T U R E's landmark song, but "T-Shirt," "Slippery" and others rang out too. This north Atlanta trio very much owned the sound of 2017.
Michael J. Warren
6. Tyler, the Creator
Flower Boy

Tyler, the Creator has always displayed ambition and ingenuity, but there's always been a thread of childishness in his work that made it easy to underestimate him. On Flower Boy, he asserts himself as a grown man and reveals all that's been lurking behind his cheeky exterior.    
It's Tyler at his most mature and vulnerable; a frank self-analysis. But rather than aim for the clichéd melancholy that marks most coming-of-age albums, he juxtaposes heavy themes like fear, loneliness and the politics of sexuality with fresh, buoyant production that keeps the project from sounding bleak. It's a tight, cohesive project on which he masters the art of adulting.
A. Harmony

5. Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels 3

Hip-hop's most dynamic duo were a gift to begin with, but with their third Run the Jewels record in almost as many years, fans got to experience something rare in superstar unions: artistic evolution. Dropped on Christmas Eve, as their fellow citizens were still accepting a depressing presidential election, Run the Jewels 3 felt like a prescient mix of outrage, empathy, jokes, celebration and compelling musicality.
Production props aren't enough for El-P, a formidable rapper who elevates his game here (check out his crazed flow and rhymes on "Call Ticketron"), while Killer Mike, who stumped for Senator Bernie Sanders and made the cable news rounds, sounds wiser, woke and revolutionary.
Vish Khanna
4. Drake
More Life
(OVO Sound / Young Money / Cash Money / Republic)

In contrast to his divisive VIEWS, Drake's approach to both music and mood on More Life results in a more impactful listen. His feelings are filtered through an adventurous palette of production that ventures further into dancehall, Afrobeat and even house music.
More Life shines even when Drake's out of the picture: Jorja Smith and Sampha turn in solo stunners "Get it Together" and "4422," respectively, while Skepta flexes on an interlude all his own. Why should he mind 2 Chainz and Young Thug besting him on "Sacrifices" when it's in the name of another hit for his ever-broadening catalogue?
Calum Slingerland
3. JAY-Z
(Roc Nation / Universal Music Canada)

Since his last album release in 2013, JAY-Z has seen life through a new lens; the father of three, whose infamous straying inspired Beyoncé's Lemonade, had to put himself under the microscope and redefine. The best parts of him remain: he's a doting husband, a businessman and a socio-political activist. 
4:44 is an album that embodies all those facets of his being and channels them through the one that was once the only way we knew him: as the musical visionary behind 1996's Reasonable Doubt, 2001's The Blueprint and more. Now older and wiser, and with a focus on the Black community — specifically, generational wealth, relationships and confidence — Shawn Carter goes beyond rap on 4:44, offering up a collection of life lessons from one generation to the next.
Erin Lowers
2. Vince Staples
Big Fish Theory
(ARTium / Def Jam)

Rapper Vince Staples has never been one to hold his tongue, not obey genre conventions. Where 2016's Prima Donna EP had a sound that playfully dipped its feet in alt-rock, Big Fish Theory was an even more ambitious departure.
Here, Staples laments about life in the inner circle of the hip-hop game and racism in America amid a lush electronic soundscape that could easily find itself at home on EDM festival stages. With notable appearances from the likes of Kendrick Lamar on the Flume-produced "Yeah Right," Staples' big new sound positioned him as a worthy alternative to the rest of his class, and makes Big Fish Theory on of 2017's best.
Riley Wallace
1. Kendrick Lamar
(Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope)

Angrier, harder-hitting and more thrillingly direct than 2015's sprawling To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar's third major studio opus invites more repeat listens than its predecessor without sacrificing his lyrical gymnastics or vigorous musical twists. Kung fu Kenny proves that indelible hooks ("Loyalty," "Love") and instant classic singles ("DNA," "Humble") do not have to come at the expense of artistic merit or respect from your peers and critics. The Compton wordsmith's mighty pen stabs the perfect balance between songwriting and MC demolishing as he dissects all of his often-paradoxical emotions with surgical precision.
Power, poison, pain, joy... DAMN. brings it all, and in candid heaps. A hot knife slicing through our collective cadaver, Lamar can weave a narrative, rage out and draw back to self-examine, sometimes all within the space of a few bars, casting A-listers Rihanna and Bono into tiny support cameos. The year's best album by the rap game's reigning champ is unrelenting in its polished rawness. Kendrick Lamar remains the king.
Luke Fox

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