Music’s purpose in 2017 posed an impulse of more feeling, more groove and more substance. And boy, did it deliver. From matters of the heart to those politicking on Capitol Hill, this year’s releases have strapped us into a rollercoaster of emotions, praying for another go around. There was no shortage of prompts for song fodder—a sh*tty political storm that just won’t end, the evolution of dating in the age of social media and the ongoing exploration of blackness from the vets and rap’s new elite, all elements that secure its safe place in popular culture.
But substance isn’t all about the richness in heavy social topics. It’s finding those cadences that keep us nodding our heads instead of scrolling the timeline in boredom. As we hit the clean middle of the year, VIBE has looked back on the albums, EPs, mixtapes, and compilations that made a difference. All music between the definitions of the sound and project, essentially matter.
Often forgotten, we also included a handful albums released in the final weeks of 2016 that made a splash throughout winter, spring and summer ‘17. We’ll hold onto some of our faves (Khalid, Syd Tha Kyd, Westside Gunn) for our end-of-year debates. For now, enjoy this list, in addition to the five honorable mentions down under.
Goldlink, 'At What Cost'17 Goldlink, ‘At What Cost’
Goldlink, 'At What Cost'
There’s a relaxing notion that takes over when an album is able to pack in one-of-a-kind musicality, relatable lyrics, and just unfiltered fun under 60 minutes. That’s just a few ways to describe GoldLink’s addictive studio album At What Cost (RCA). Like this 2016 chat with VIBE noted, the rising artist paid homage to his land of Washington, D.C. with reminiscent backyard jams like “Hands On Your Knees” and bringing his partners from the DMV, Brent Faiyaz and Shy Glizzy, to round out the replay-worthy “Crew” single.
The timeless blend of hip-hop and R&B also finds a home on the soundscape, like “Herside Story” featuring the impressive trio Hare Squead, and new vocals from the R&B songstress Mya on “Roll Call.” Some of the instrumentals also give you a boost of confidence thanks to the vibrant tempos that encourage you to find the next house-party. Just hit play on “Meditation” or “Some Girl” to see if I’m lying. Let this spin for the cookouts this season.—Camille Augustin
Logic, 'Everybody'16 Logic, ‘Everybody’
Despite having a brief mix up with Freddie Gibbs over their respective cover arts, Logic still managed to deliver an impressive, though somewhat problematic offering. Everybody’s center unintentionally sounds like Malibu’s Most Wanted, unlike his first two projects that includes more personal storytelling. Despite this, Logic is still able to flourish in excellence.
The album’s very honest, heartfelt, and cathartic themes allow Logic to freely express his truth and perspective as a biracial man in America, even if you may not relate. His struggles with being biracial is still his personal truth which should be appreciated–rather than disputed.
The artist taps into the emotions of the masses with songs like “1-800-273-8255” and “Anziety.” Then there’s the spiritual and political aspect which sees popular astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson portray God. The uplifting nature is felt across songs like the intro “Hallelujah” while a more militant feel glosses over the posse-cut, “America.” And if you don’t feel some kind of way after listening to Mike’s outro on “Confess,” I’m convinced you have no soul. With “Confess” setting being in church, he channels the spirit of black pain and demands God to show himself.
Although “everybody” may not suffer from the aforementioned themes, Logic finds a way to speak from both sides; making it not just a listen, but a lesson for rap enthusiasts.—Mark Braboy
Big Sean, 'I Decided'15 Big Sean, ‘I Decided’
Big Sean, 'I Decided'
Detroit’s son looks inward on I Decided (GOOD Music/Def Jam) and that’s apparent from the “Intro.” A middle-aged man has an out-loud talk with God on reaching the end of this journey called life. It sounds like the unnamed voice (maybe’s Sean’s conscious?) ends his own existence by way of a car crash, which many listeners believe to be true since the next song is the heavenly “Light,” but for the rest of the soundscape Sean Don is born anew, therapeutically spilling his insecurities, ambitions and lines of self-affirmation. Once the album comes to a close thanks to the delicate backing of The Flint Chozen Choir, Sean seems content with his decision to be the sole captain of his life, a message that’ll influence you to do the same. -CA
H.E.R., 'H.E.R. Vol. 2'14 H.E.R., ‘H.E.R. Vol. 2′
H.E.R., 'H.E.R. Vol. 2'
This generation knows how to f**k. Whether the seed is planted in a DM or elsewhere, the kids these days are skilled at “gettin’ it in” literally. However with the release of H.E.R Volume 2, the concealed chanteuse has introduced listeners to the forgotten art of making love, being in love and the ups and downs that come from love.
Gabi Wilson, the curly hair singer-songwriter behind one of 2017’s most sensual albums, understands we live in society where the eyes have it, and as a means of prolonging the attention span simply presented the music, a strategy that’s proven fruitful. Her velvety voice with a pinch of alto dims the lights if you will and sets a romantic mood. Whether she’s professing her need to love her partner fully, or confessing that she only gets naughty with just him, H.E.R. is grown and sings of grown woman behavior not heard on popular radio.
This does not mean her second installment boasts sunshine and roses. Wilson sings of pullin’ up on her beloved who’s two busy 2K, or trying to convince a guy who’s into her that she just not into him. H.E.R. runs the gamut of emotions which is refreshing against a musical landscape promoting the notion that humans don’t have emotions.
H.E.R. resides in a musical lane that promotes vulnerability and the in-between feelings that often occur when you’re in love. On behalf of everyone who still believes in love, thank you.—Shenequa Golding
Rick Ross, 'Rather You Than Me'13 Rick Ross, ‘Rather You Than Me’
Rick Ross, 'Rather You Than Me'
Let’s be honest here. Rick Ross untouchable Maybach Music empire may have expanded with his numerous business ventures and new signees, but he knew he had to make up for the shortcomings of his last two studio albums Hood Billionaire (2014) and Black Market (2015). Instead of rushing another LP, Rozay took his time to carefully create his ninth studio album Rather You Than Me, and successfully earned his place back at the top. Unlike his previous releases, Ross constructed every bar to reflect his thoughts on the world around him from his stance on Donald Trump in “Apple Of My Eye” to how he really feels about Birdman & Lil Wayne’s everlasting beef on “Idols Become Rivals.”
Speaking of beef, Ross proves MMG’s inner family feud between Meek Mill and Wale is dead and buried by bringing them back for distinctive songs like the Meek-assisted “Lamborghini Doors” featuring Anthony Hamilton and his prominent street single “Trap Trap Trap” with Wale and Young Thug. The MMG family grows closer with their newest rising star Scrilla’s verse on the most inspirational record “Triple Platinum.” Not only is Rather You Than Me one of the best albums of 2017, but one of the best albums of Rick Ross’ career. —Tony Centeno
Joey Bada$$, 'All Amerikkkan Bada$$'12 Joey Bada$$, ‘All Amerikkkan Bada$$’
Joey Bada$$, 'All Amerikkkan Bada$$'
Sounding off a war cry from the youth, while waving a white flagged-truce calling for peace, Joey Bada$$ presents a collection of soulful and melodic rhymes to help any urbanite get through the trying times of modern-day Amerikka. Young and restless, feeling undeserving of the systemic treatment that is innately born to impoverished black and brown communities, the Badmon sends a plea for better days to God. And just as smooth as the transition from “Good Morning Amerikkka” to “For My People,” a “Super Predator” grenade silently sounds off and the answers to Jozif’s pleas spark the remainder of his sophomore studio album.
Bada$$ majestically turns his pain and strife into fuel to kickstart his race to a destiny society claims is not for him. Welcoming the likes of ScHoolboy Q, J. Cole, Styles P, and Chronixx while recruiting fellow Pro Era affiliates Nyck Caution and Kirk Knight, along with Flatbush Zombies’ Meechy Darko, Joey proves that an Amerikkkan system set against us only makes us stronger. —Ashley Pickens
Migos, 'Culture'11 Migos, ‘Culture’
From the moment Donald Glover famously shouted out Migos standout hit “Bad and Boujee” at the 2017 Golden Globes, their star has only grown that much brighter. And lot of it as to do with their game changing album, Culture.
Their Billboard chart-topping hits “Bad and Boujee” and “T-Shirt” serve as prime examples of their nimble dexterity to craft jams for every demo. Plus, its production is lit AF. The chemistry between Nard & B, Zaytoven, not only amplifies their each of their infectious melodies, but it allows the album to be an explosive guilty pleasure to ride out the rest of the year with (until Culture 2 drops of course).
While Culture can be repetitive at times, the album is their finest work, continuing to set 2017 ablaze. —MB
Smino, 'blkswn'10 Smino, ‘blkswn’
The debut studio album from this St Louis spitta’ did not disappoint. Black boy joy spread thick across a soundscape of musical experimentation and R&B vibes, this rapper’s unique style has left a lasting impression on our hearts and ears. Aside from sonics, each song is tightly packed with clever wordplay and messages about love, life and social justice that elevate the lyricism and force listeners to replay for proper digestion.
Smino may be the only new kid on the block to grace this list, but his potential for greatness is undeniably evident in the versatility of his tracklist; songs for various moods all coexist in harmony. The production of the Ravyn Lenae assisted “Glass Flows” carries an otherworldly aura that captivates the ear. In “Netflix and Dusse,” the soft shifting of maracas and the fluidity with which his bars navigate the chorus is enough to encourage fans to grab their bae and sway to the beat. The title track “blkswn” is a wavy, trap-R&B mash-up that brings the turn-up vibes to any function. The seamless transitions allow fans to go with the flow and give this record a full revolution every time. —Luria Freeman
Drake, 'More Life'9 Drake, ‘More Life’
Drake, 'More Life'
Drake decided to experiment on More Life. At first listen, I was befuddled by the concoction of beats, rhythms, styles and lyrical tones he mixed together to create one single body of work. Tracks like “Portland” and “Sacrifices” seemed out of place—trap music Future and Quavo greatness and all. And while giving British grime prime real estate with having Skepta on his own interlude might have been daring; it felt awkward.
Amid his diverse taste there’s no denying the Toronto native’s penchant for making a hit single. “Blem” makes for an excellent choice, and sounds like it could’ve been the song of the summer.Familiar to Drake’s style, he also infuses small vignettes of vulnerability. In “Teenage Fever” he classically has an Aubrey moment, and samples Jennifer Lopez’s 1999 hit “If You Had My Love.” And on “Can’t Have Everything,” he humbly reminisces on the past: “We evolved, used to think vacation meant Niagara Falls/Swear to God, shout to Buffalo, never duckin; low/I don’t stop,man, I’m stuck on go, always hug the road.” The refreshing thing about how sprawling this body of work sounds, are the many moments that feel authentic to Drake’s style. “Passion Fruit” sounds like the here-and- there scenarios that take place in a long distance relationship: “Passionate from miles away/Passive with the things you say/Passing up on my old ways.”
It’s soothing sound, however, makes it feel like you’re reminiscing about an old flame while driving under a dozen lines of California palm trees sipping on a fruity cocktail. It’s almost as if pondering about problems of the heart, somehow feel mellow and therapeutic—that’s the Drakean effect.
Whether or not, his choice in variety garners praise or losses, within the music Drake doesn’t get lost. His presence is still there even if it’s over Caribbean, trap, grime, techno or straight rap. To get you in your feelings is always the motive.—Richy Rosario
Jidenna, 'The Chief'8 Jidenna, ‘The Chief’
Jidenna, 'The Chief'
Nearly two years after breaking through the mold with his hit single “Classic Man,” Jidenna finally stepped outside of his “gentleman” persona with tunes like “Knickers” and “Extraordinare” in 2016. For some reason, it didn’t seem to be enough. It wasn’t until the release of his debut album The Chief, we were treated to the man behind the silk threads and confident manner.
Rich production from his Fear & Fancy tribe, Hit Boy and Sonny Digital allow Jidenna to jump across genres, quickly killing any preconceived notions a listener may have had. Tracks like the fiery “Long Live The Chief,” college-channeling “The Let Out” and the gentle doo-wop vibe of “Bambi” bring cinematic elements to his artistry. But the scholar also tests his lyrical limits on “The Bull’s Tale,” “Two Points” and much-needed “White N***as.” With rappers being placed in the conscious or mainstream towers, Jidenna manages to find residency in both. It may leave the average listener overwhelmed, but if anything, it’s a test to the ears and the mind. The Chief is not only an introduction to the man, but it’s a peek into his Nigerian culture, as well as the resurgence of Afrobeat. Message to the masses–don’t let this man fly under the radar for much longer. —Desire Thompson
Childish Gambino, 'Awaken, My Love!*'7 Childish Gambino, ‘Awaken, My Love!*’
Childish Gambino, 'Awaken, My Love!*'
Thirty years from now when we’re off teleporting and digesting knowledge in the form of vitamins, our throwback playlists will feature many cuts from Childish Gambino’s daring Awaken, My Love!. Released in December 2016, the strong funk vibes brought the artist to new heights while complementing the sounds of yesteryear. It wasn’t until Jordan Peele placed the soothing “Redbone” in Get Out a month later that people started to tap into the album.
Celestial and soulful vibes aside, Gambino tests his vocals and lyrics in ways his other albums haven’t. “Zombies” and “Boogieman” aren’t about the fictional terrors, but those that expose racial bias towards African-Americans and how oppressors (in any form) thrive by clenching on to the skin of the successful. Hopeful to pass on the lessons he’s learned to his son Legend, “Baby Boy” and “Stand Tall” are sweet lullabies that serve as a gentle reminders on the importance of generational knowledge. In thirty years when we’re woke and enjoying those yummy textbook vitamins, we’ll be grateful Donald Glover reminded us to “stay woke.” —DT
J. Cole, '4 Your Eyez Only*'6 J. Cole, ‘4 Your Eyez Only*’
J. Cole, '4 Your Eyez Only*'
Jermaine Lamarr Cole’s projects have a way with giving his fans an inch of his life, and making them yearn for a mile. Coming off of the heels of his autobiographical 2014 Forest Hills Drive, the 32 year-old emcee delivered 4 Your Eyez Only at the hands of a fallen friend affected by a system of mass incarceration. Upon first listen, many thought the album reflected the platinum-selling artist’s own life, until the final, title track plays out a conversation he and Cole had.
But, the parallel between Cole’s life and his childhood friend’s was utterly similar. We could see Cole in the middle of the party belting out the hook to “Deja Vu” and battling to escape a la “Ville Mentality.” Carefully building a story that was an antemortem collection of lessons for his friend’s daughter, while tying in aspects of his life with “Neighbors” and “She’s Mine Pt. I/II,” Cole gifted his fourth studio album with much anticipation and just the right air of mystery. With a theatrical and classical influence, J. Cole orchestrated a sophisticated and honest project to match his career maturation. - A.P.
Kehlani, 'SweetSexySavage'5 Kehlani, ‘SweetSexySavage’
By intently tuning in the Bay Area beauty’s debut LP, you unlock a woman who knows who she is and knows what she wants when it comes to life and love.
At just 22, Kehlani is able to convey a reliability factor by being multifaceted through thematics. Age ain’t nothin’ but a number, and to her, labels ain’t nothin’ but words. She’s broken, vulnerable and a little messed up, but she’s also strong, bold and intense. Aren’t we all a little bit of everything, anyway?
This versatility Kehlani offers on SweetSexySavage also applies musically. Where the new, bass-heavy stylings of songs like ‘CRZY’ fit the vibe of her album, 90s-tinged tracks like “Too Much” and “Distraction” gel as well. The raw, unapologetic lyricism, coupled with a flavor driven by “old-school” influence proves that she proves Kehlani is an R&B force to be reckoned with. —J’na Jefferson
SZA, 'Ctrl'4 SZA, ‘Ctrl’
There’s a hidden magic in those 20-somethings—those tender, thrilling, stress-riddled beginnings of real adulthood—and not having all the answers as you navigate them. Stumbling, falling, soaring, learning and going through the full range of emotions as the age timeline advances. SZA’s eagerly-awaited debut album, Ctrl, permits us to sink into her state of mind while she sifts through the manila folders of her mind, reminiscing on bittersweet memories and tossing the mistakes not worth another breath. With noticeably strengthened vocals bobbing through rich melodies and nostalgic trimmings of 90s-inspired production, the TDE songbird “dusts off these n***as,” reclaims the sensual powers of womanhood and allows the matriarchs of her life to debunk the myth of having control. Ctrl—a barbless product of release—is the ideal soundscape to reevaluate one’s place in uncertainty, find comfort in it, grow from it, and free the spirit after mastering the art of letting it go. —Stacy-Ann Ellis
Bruno Mars, '24K Magic*'3 Bruno Mars, ’24K Magic*’
Bruno Mars, '24K Magic*'
For the past seven years, Peter Hernandez and his hooligans have consistently given the people reason to dance. Not look cool, not stunt for the ‘gram or post up on the wall, but actually dance, and depending on which song from his catalogue is playing, sweat your weave out as well. At the final trek of 2016, the 5’5 silky-hair stunna released his third-studio album 24K Magic.
Drenched in drums and horns, some paying homage to the late James Brown others showing a nod of respect to the original bad boy of R&B Bobby Brown, Bruno gave fans nine solid tracks all exploring topics of love, sex, life’s finer things, and staying together despite it being easier to walk away. Bruno did this all the while making you move and making you feel that the moment was more important than whoever slid in your mentions.
At some point musically having fun became taboo. Yes, we turn up and yes we get wild, crazy and reach that level of drunkenness where texting with one eye open helps reduce typos, but enjoyment sans looking cool and collected has become so 30 minutes ago. Bruno and his two-steppin’ band has never abided by that theory and fans of his–whether rocking with him since Doo-Wop & Hooligans or more recently–have joined him on the proverbial dance floor because they’re done trying to look cool too.
Just hours shy of his first-ever BET Awards performance, the 31-year-old began trending because someone attempted to call him an appropriator of black music, to which I say to that opinion: die in a fire. Mr. Hernandez, a musician of color, has consistently produced music that made you get up on your feet, and he’s done so by honoring and acknowledging that most music if not all has its roots in Africa. Bruno an appropriator? Like Miley, Kendall and Kylie? I think not.
24K Magic makes you forget you were left on read, that the rent is due, or that you have to return to work Monday morning. For 33 minutes and 28 seconds, Bruno and his band make you feel alright, and ain’t nothing wrong with that. —SG
JAY-Z, '4:44'2 JAY-Z, ‘4:44′
Enlightenment. Awakening. That’s what the various Googles seem to settle on as the definition for the quad-triple set. Yet, Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter once again takes a known entity and makes it his own. Just breathing on the 10 tracks of soul production gold by No I.D has JAY-Z sounding like 24K magic on his 13th studio album. Where most of the fly by night and casual Bey/Jay lovers wanted answers from the rap titan pertaining Beyonce’s Lemonade queries, the hardcore Jigga fans wanted strictly bars of fire from the Roc Nation boss. We can now say all factions got what they craved–and more.
What’s in it for Jay to rap now a days? It’s certainly not the money boasts many know him for spewing over tracks by Timbaland, Pharrell, Swizz Beatz and Kanye. This time around, Jay came to lay some heavy handed smackdowns on the youngins running around with bad credit and fake draco’s, while chastising the older heads for being in other relationships while in relationships…himself seemingly included. While this Big Homie talk also comes with black empowerment sentiment, Jay questions his own emotional quotient and realizes his younger self was devoid of the love train speed needed to keep up with Beyonce’s polished monorail.
Speaking of his flaws and calling out the ones we all have (close friends included), Jay finds himself at his most vulnerable and most powerful at the same time. Thus, proving a 47-year-old rapper can be the best in the game, remorseful and adding to his legacy, all while laughing to the bank. Enlightenment indeed. —Datwon Thomas
Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.'1 Kendrick Lamar, ‘DAMN.’
Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.'
Kendrick Lamar said it first, and we would have to agree; DAMN. is by far his most brilliant album yet. From the first single, “Humble” to its final track, “Duckworth,” K. Dot’s latest studio album is an exceptional compilation of forward-thinking and timeless music. Kendrick may not make what others consider “fun” music, but he’s created purposeful tunes that appropriately deep dive into the multi-dimensions of spirituality, African-American culture, and the current social climate.
Countless rappers have claimed to transcend the rap game into its new generation, but Kendrick may be one of very few who actually talks the talk. With a sound, sonic palette and impeccable production, the Compton rapper takes a brave pilgrimage through the jazz, funk, and vintage echoes of music’s past and lands comfortably in a category of its own. And his next-level penmanship and flow blaze a trail unrivaled by his colleagues.
DAMN. not only marks the trajectory of Kendrick’s career that others seek to emulate, but also introduces an elevated sense of swagger we haven’t necessarily seen. Kung Fu Kenny’s smoothness extends past his rhymes and leaks into his cutting-edge videos and his prophetic image. If To Pimp A Butterfly signified his graduation from the master class, DAMN. is the PhD equivalent. As time progresses, we only expected to continue to level up, solidifying his position as a teacher of the new school and a respected influencer within the hip hop community. —Jessica McKinney
Future, 'FUTURE' (Honorable Mention)HM Future, ‘FUTURE’ (Honorable Mention)
Future, 'FUTURE' (Honorable Mention)
On FUTURE, Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn takes you on a trip inside the trappings of the dope game while taking a few shortcuts to explain his own techniques and the grim world he inhabits. Through this morally incorrect message, you’ll tend to find comfort in the Atlanta rapper’s penchant for nihilistic recreational activities.
There’s glorification of pure MDMA, and commandments to getting money on the infectious “Mask Off,” impressively produced by Southside and Metro Boomin. Within his drug-infested lyrics, there are ounces of vulnerability that make refreshing cameos. On “Might as Well,” he remembers his amateur days as a hustler, but before he puts an end to the tale, he offers some personal trials and tribulations of fatherhood: “Child support gettin’ heavy/It’s hard not to get offended,” he spits.
Though Future has grown since his Dirty Sprite days, stylistically, his music still feels the same. But it’s not the kind of circular motion that feels monotonous. If anything, it’s just proven his prowess within the genre. Future is to Rae Sremmurd; Migos; Desiigner; and Lil Yachty—is what Madonna is to Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. There’s no denying the sonic influence and style is present.
Amid hearing his syrupy hazy drawl spewing out verses about his fascination with drugs and women— there’s great social commentary hidden in between the lines. There’s an excellent skit at the end on “Flip,” where a faux internet radio host talks to a thirsty Instagram model who tries to place a classified on air for wealthy men dubbed “ballers.” It’s interesting how the man who claims he’s swimming with the sharks, can tell some of the stories me and you see everyday just a scroll away on social media. You know, “percocet, molly, percocet.”—RR
Calvin Harris, 'Funk Wave Bounces Vol. 1' (Honorable Mention)HM Calvin Harris, ‘Funk Wave Bounces Vol. 1′ (Honorable Mention)
Calvin Harris, 'Funk Wave Bounces Vol. 1' (Honorable Mention)
There’s an intentional energy Calvin Harris created on his Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1. Whether that be akin to the cute bartender not charging you for all six mimosas you drank, or the shorty with the thick thighs giving you rhythm at the function, Brother Harris wanted Saturday morning feels oozing all over his 10-track opus, and he successfully did just that.
Harris-unlike your alleged favorite-doesn’t littler the album with unnecessary ad libs or branded drops. Secure in the work and that certain je ne sais quoi each artist brings, the 33-year-old 6’6 producer allows the music to do what it’s supposed to do and confidently plays the back. Taking a cue out of Suge Knight’s book, Harris isn’t trying to be “all up in the videos.”
Calling on everyone from Navidiyus to John Legend, Kehlani to Skateboard P, Kahlid to a lyrically understandable Young Thug, Funk Wav Bounces: Vol 1 is the glare bouncing off a pool at about three in the afternoon, and the pink and red Starbursts that paint the sky at sunset. Listeners can almost smell the burgers cooking on the grill and hear a friendship proving its weight in books being collected at the never ending Spades game.
Funk Wav Bounces: Vol 1 is hopeful, It’s flirty, it’s the “let’s share this Uberpool back to my house.” The album is the kind of summer fun you’d really have if rent weren’t due at the first of every f**king month.
Now listen, Harris isn’t cleansing his soul or using the album to spark dialogue about the current political or social climate. This isn’t an editorial think piece in melodic form. No, beloved this ain’t that. Funk Wav Bounces Vol: 1 is an energy, a wave, and it’s actually (truth be told) the most major of keys. Come gather these vibes, loved one. Summer, like life, is short. Enjoy it while you can.—SG
Cardi B, 'Gangsta B***h Music Vol 2' (Honorable Mention)HM Cardi B, ‘Gangsta B***h Music Vol 2′ (Honorable Mention)
Cardi B, 'Gangsta B***h Music Vol 2' (Honorable Mention)
Cardi B has a potty mouth. Brash. Unfiltered. Raw. Disgusting. But through her dangerous tongue, she’s spitting out a series of hood style vignettes that describe what the Dominican-Trini has seen and been through. The Bronx native has something to prove, and on Gangsta B***h Vol. 2, she’s unapologetically doing so. On the project’s opening, “Bronx Season,” she aims to defy any type of expectations, while acknowledging the opportunist that have emerged since her ascension. But as she’s putting up serious a fight, she still finds time for some mischief, as heard on “Hectic.” Yet as her personal soundtrack keeps playing, her movie seemingly becomes more argumentative. The track names read like a list to an action plan to win a street fight. There’s the fist pumping “Pull Up” and the combative “Leave That B***h Alone,” where she warns her man if he continues to be unfaithful.
The mixtape’s beats sound like they’ve been created out of mélange of crime-ridden streets in the Bronx, paired with even more dangerous lyrics. Sonically, Cardi reminds you of a young Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. Vulgarities aside, there’s a full lesson in Feminism 101. She’s the girl that decides whether you can penetrate, and warns other girls that don’t support her to keep it moving or else. Inside the drama, there’s also a message of inclusion. Like Kim, Foxy and Nicki, Cardi B is a woman not afraid to put her sexuality (and sometimes her vagina) in your face. It’s rough, but in the state of our politics, necessary and timely. Through tiring nights going down a pole in a strip club and spewing clever hilarious one-liners on Love & Hip Hop New York, Cardi B, the artist, has finally arrived.—RR
David Banner, 'The God Box' (Honorable Mention)HM David Banner, ‘The God Box’ (Honorable Mention)
David Banner, 'The God Box' (Honorable Mention)
If you’ve followed Banner’s albums since his Mississippi: The Album (or Them Firewater Boyz Vol. 1 for all you Jack-Town Ju’s out there), then it’s hard not to notice his gradual maturation as both a man and lyricist as well as his artistic, spiritual growth. The God Box is no exception as Banner comes full circle while fighting in the name of black liberation.
Banner channels parallels of music in songs like “Marry Me”, “Judy Blair”, “My Uzi”, and “Burning Thumbs.” Lyrically, he gives us his heavy handed messages straight with no chaser with plenty of war ready bars such as the ones on “Who Want It” with Black Thought and “Watch The Duck,” leaving no stone unturned when it comes to challenging the oppressors.
The essence of The God Box lies just as much in its soundscape as it does with his lyricism. In the past, we’ve seen albums play with one or more genre besides hip-hop (Lil Wayne’s Rebirth, Nelly’s Suit), with either solid or piss poor results. However, what makes The God Box very different is it all sounds organic and well done at virtuoso levels. Because of songs like “Judy Blair” and “Burning Thumbs” it would make perfect sense if Banner decided to make a rock or country album.
He not only shows why he’s one of modern hip-hop greatest treasures from the South, but has given us a timeless soundtrack for the revolution.—MB
J.I.D, 'The Never Story' (Honorable Mention)HM J.I.D, ‘The Never Story’ (Honorable Mention)
J.I.D, 'The Never Story' (Honorable Mention)
Although he lives in the birthplace of trap music, J.I.D’s album addresses life outside of the hustle– unlike his mumbling competitors. The Atlanta rhymer delivers in-depth stories about his former life as a college football player on “General” and how he went from nothing to something in “NEVER.” In true Dreamville fashion, J.I.D doesn’t overload his debut album with a slew of features from popular artists, yet singer Mereba, “Prblms” rapper 6lack and his EARTHGANG crew make memorable contributions.
J.I.D acknowledges the South’s veteran hit makers in songs like “8701,” in which his fellow ATLien 6Lack salutes Usher. However, as a product of the ‘90s, you can tell where his real influences stem from in unique tracks like “EdEddnEddy.” J.I.D flips Cartoon Network’s beloved series into a heartfelt coming of a age tale paired with a sample of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario.” Other remarkable tracks like “Hoodbooger,” which originally appeared on his debut EP DiCaprio as “LeHoodBooger,” is resurrected to remind old fans of his authentic and raw form, and introduce new fans to his day-one swag. Overall, The Never Story sets the bar high for J.I.D, and Dreamville as a whole. —TC
(*) = 2016 Release
HM = Honorable Mention