In 2017, I received more music submissions than I ever have before. And I’ll be the first to admit it: last year I didn’t always do the best job of covering all of the amazing albums that landed in my inbox, so much good music dropped that I straight up slept on a handful of amazing projects that I would have written full reviews for if I had the time.
If you’re one of the hundreds of rappers I left on read last year, don’t take it personally, I didn’t even review my roommates’ debut album (my take today: it was hot.) And in making this list, I’m fully aware of the irony that I’m still sleeping on thousands of worthy projects.
In the spirit of shining light on a small
slice of the music you might be missing, here are ten of the best albums from 2017 that I should have given more attention to and given the respect of a full album review. Don’t sleep on these projects like I did.
1. Raekwon – The Wild
Raekwon’s 2017 release The Wild was so good, my boss at DJBooth did something he very rarely does: Z hit up the group chat directly, and called us all out for sleepin on the Chef. That legendary Booth Slack is so packed with debauchery and intrigue but I sadly can’t reveal much, the Illuminati don’t take kindly to that sort of behavior. Z’s message got lost like many things do and I didn’t give The Wild the deep listen it deserved until several months after its release.
Watch your step when you push play on The Wild, if you aren’t careful you’ll trip and fall and wake up somewhere in the early 1990’s in a rainy corner of the Five Burroughs, caught in a low-lit noir-styled comic-book panel straight from the peak of the Reign of the Wu. Describing the 2017 offering of a great like Rae as “vintage form” is beyond played out, and in truth Raekwon hasn’t been hit with the curse many of his friends have and hasn’t ever dropped a skippable album. And the Wu invented this shit. The Wild is Grimy New York City done right; there’s nothing that gets the blood pumping like watching a hall of famer hit a home run deep into the stands, and Raekwon’s latest is 1968 Mickey Mantle.
2. Wiki – No Mountains in Manhattan
One of my favorite music writers ranks Wiki’s talent level somewhere between Pablo Picasso and Jesus Christ, and she’s the same genius who converted me to the church of Brockhampton so I clearly should have been more eager for No Mountains in Manhattan. Take this as a public apology: especially to @DonnaCWrites, fuck, I am genuinely sorry that it took me so long to get on the Wiki train.
When I finally picked up No Mountains in Manhattan, it became a favorite instantly. “Mayor” is so delightfully optimistic in its intricately crescendoing arrangements and simple bouncing rhythms, Wiki so deftly skilled and perfectly at home rapping in his effortless state of natural excellence, the track rings as a victory lap even if this is your first time encountering the piece of shit that is Patrick Morales. Front to back, No Mountains in Manhattan is the kind of polished portrait that made many of us fall in love with hip-hop in the first place. Wiki has been dropping quality music for years, but if you’ve been a casual fan until this point like I have, his 2017 opus should bump Wik to the top of your list of people to pay very close attention to.
3. Sahtyre – Cassidy Howell
I’ve been a fan of Sahtyre for years, he’s been flexing a unique style and subtle LSD soaked genius since long before his early TeamBackPack cyphers. But sometimes life gets fast and our consumption of new music gets slow, I was working on way too many things when Cassidy Howell dropped and despite the fact that I loved every single and had been waiting for this one for a minute, Sahtyre’s latest release sat on my “to listen to” list for a few weeks before I dove in. Dive with me, the waters of Cassidy Howell are so reflective they’re sometimes downright fucking scary, but Saht’s latest is well worth the swim.
Cassidy Howell is at once more focused and more eclectic than any of Sahtyre’s previous work; the songwriting and lyricism throughout are on point as always, and huge melodic and stylistic risks like the Chase Moore produced “Visualize” pay off well for the Los Angeles based rock star in the making. Bar-heavy offerings like the irresistible one-scheme based “Grammy” give listeners plenty of density to return to and dissect, but again it’s Sahtyre’s unique style and energy that make the project can’t-miss California hip-hop.
4. Vantablac Sol – Vbs Tape
Sometimes, when you see an act live rocking their music to a crowd in the right room with the right mix of kush smoke and destiny lingering in the air, the stars just align and something magic happens. I first caught Vantablac Sol in Santa Cruz on tour with The Palmer Squares earlier this year, and I had that “a-ha” moment that turns you into a fan for life. Vantablac’s got the magic, his 2017 Vbs Tape shines like Acid Rap and Nostalgia Ultra, lightning in a bottle with a side of inevitability.
It’s a rare few MCs who are able to capture their whole personality when they hit the booth; on Vbs Tape Vantablac Sol raps with so much cool and restrained charisma, his voice takes on a constantly morphing instrumental quality that perfectly reflects a kaleidoscopic character. “Wait” is a hit with a chorus stickier than spilled apple juice, “Protégé” is equal parts low-key anthem and heartfelt reflection, “Stir The Pot” has more swagger than if 2006 Yeezy was elected Prom King. Chicago is positively overflowing with talent, but on stage and on Vbs Tape, Vantablac Sol carries himself with the presence of a king amongst kings, future Chitown royalty in the making.
5. Chris Rivers – Delorean
I listened to this album dozens of times before interviewing Chris Rivers earlier this year, but I was so invested in thinking about the music in the context of Chris’s story that I never sat down and dissected the plentiful bars in Delorean with the critical and analytic ear I should have. If you’ve heard Chris Rivers‘ music before, you know that I made a huge mistake; not every lyric stands up when picked apart, Delorean is overflowing with lyricism that begs to be looked at under a microscope.
Approach Delorean as a whole, without going full rap-nerd on every stanza of every track, and Chris Rivers’ 2017 album represents a lot more than the sum of its parts. For an undeniably talented young artist who has been rapping circles around his peers since he was a teen, Delorean showcases Rivers’ melodic soul driven songwriting (“Chris Time Zone,””Fear of my Crown.”) For an underground king who has already conquered every cypher and received love from countless legends, Delorean demonstrates Rivers’ acute awareness of what it takes to make music that can land with a young and widespread audience (“Delorean,” “Bag.”) It’s a matter of when Rivers cements his name in the history books at this point, not if, sleep on Delorean and you’re snoozing on a slice of future hip-hop heritage.
6. J.Lately – Be Fucking Happy
J.Lately is no newcomer to the DIY rapper grind, but 2017 saw years of hard work paying off in whole new ways for the Bay Area native. National touring and a handful of hot singles helped J.Lately cement his place as one of the preeminent indie voices in the Bay scene, and the California rapper’s easy-going laid-back storytelling driven music evolved to groovy new heights with the release of Be Fucking Happy. Named by Bandcamp as one of the “Five Artists Who Are Keeping Bay Area Hip-Hop Strong,” J.Lately’s strong year is thanks first and foremost to a strong album.
Be Fucking Happy is a contradiction-laden phrase we’ve probably all uttered to ourselves at some point, frustrated by anxieties or caught with the blues when a moment calls for celebration. Throughout his 2017 album, J.Lately extrapolates on these types of simple and profound moments and feelings we can all relate to, crafting a unique narrative fabric that’s as familiar as it is singular to Lately’s perspective.
7. Caleborate – Real Person
By the time my roommate asked me “have you heard this new album from this kid Caleborate yet?” I’d been seeing the Bay Area artist’s name everywhere for weeks. Usually when I skip a link it’s because I’m nervous there’s trash music waiting on the other side of that click, after seeing so many cosigns from people I trust I knew I’d love Real Person as soon as I had time for it, but for whatever reason it took me way to long to give Caleborate his due.
Contemporary music from the Bay is known for its varied sound, with so many artists in so many lanes asserting their artistic vision that there’s no real unified front. But even with all of that history of experimentation in the region, Caleborate touches on something completely new and fresh on his 2017 release Real Person. He’s undoubtedly going to reach new heights in the new year, and indie artists are all going to pick apart Caleborate’s business moves and try to discern the formula. But there’s no secrets about the most important ingredient in the mix, that factor that makes Real Person a beautiful album and Caleborate a future star is artistic authenticity and a commitment to genuine expression.
8. Trippie Redd – A Love Letter To You
I thought I knew what Trippie Redd would sound like before spinning his 2017 releases, but unlike the salty “mumble-rap” bashing traditionalists who might overlook the Ohio born artist due to his association with the bubbling xanax-fueled rockstar aesthetic, I actually love Uzi and 21 Savage and plenty of the “new wave” that people shit on. I just wasn’t ready for another artist in that vein, and put off Trippie Redd as a result of over-saturation from what many consider his peers. I made the same mistake with Travis Scott; Trippie Redd’s sound is so much more evolved than I expected and more refined to his vision than just about anyone making similar music. Leaving him on the shelf because your sick of Uzi or Quavo is a rookie mistake.
I felt the same emotion and dark intensity from Trippie Redd’s A Love Letter To You that washed over me when I first heard The Weeknd’s original tapes. That same raw pain and brazen vulnerability that made Abel a star will serve Trippie Redd well in the future, and it’ll be fascinating to watch the evolution that occurred between A Love Letter To You and A Love Letter To You 2 continue as this young genius sets his sights on domination.
9. UnLearn The World – iSaint iSinner iSelf
There are very few people I cheer for louder than UnLearn The World; the Bay Area god demands enthusiasm from any audience as soon as he touches a mic. But again, life got in the way, and I didn’t ever write a full review of UnLearn’s 2017 album iSaint iSinner iSelf. UnLearn scares every MC in every room he sets foot in, so some part of my hip-hop psyche may have just been straight-up intimidated by the caliber of the rapping on display here, my pen running dry at the thought of the immense task of writing something good enough to show respect to one of the most important artists of my 2017.
iSaint iSinner iSelf speaks on UnLearn The World better than I ever could, with enough potent lyricism and head-knocking hip-hop to convert any doubters. The San Francisco based rapper’s sound is heavily influenced by New York City, but iSaint iSinner iSelf pays tribute to time over place, tapping into the traditional soul and power of hip-hop music that’s been watered down in our current commercialized music culture. If you’ve ever found yourself missing the warmth and strength you could find so much more readily in hip-hop’s Golden Age, iSaint iSinner iSelf will bring you back to your happy place.
10. Sareem Poems & Tarem – A Pond Apart
No matter how tapped in you think you are and how much you think you know about the modern underground scene, there’s always going to be that one artist who has always been around that you stumble on for the first time who makes you wonder if you really know anything about anything. Sareem Poems was that rapper for me in 2017, when I first heard his collaborative album “A Pond Apart” with producer Tarem I just about threw my laptop in the sink and gave up on my calling to know all of the best music currently being made in the world.
Sareem Poems brings such a flawless A-Game throughout “A Pond Apart” that in any other era he would have been lighting up score boards; if rap were a meritocracy this album would have earned it’s spot on tons of Year End lists and Illect Records would be charting next to the Drakes and Rihiannas of the world. But in our over-saturated digital landscape, even an album as powerful as this one can fly under the radar. In doing so, “A Pond Apart” illustrates everything that’s invaluable and worth our time in the underground: this project is hip-hop of the highest caliber, sleep on “A Pond Apart” like I initially did and you might be missing out on a future favorite just because a white guy in a nice suit in a corporate office somewhere decided what you should listen to based on a profit margin and you went along for the ride. Don’t let them win that easy, hit play on each of these albums and join me in trying harder not to sleep on great music in 2018.
What are some great pieces I’m still sleeping on? Send me your albums and mix-tape recommendations via email