25 Best Albums of 2017: The Soundtrack To One Hectic Year

25 Best Albums of 2017: The Soundtrack To One Hectic Year

December 29, 2017 - 1:45pm EST
by
VIBE

2017 was a year filled with turmoil, disappointment and down right disbelief. We would be lying if we said things were all peaches and cream over the last 12 months. With that said, we did have a year filled with exceptional albums and groundbreaking tunes --- thank God for music because without it there's no way we would have made it through this sorry excuse of a year.

Okay, enough of the blues --- pardon --- it's time to look back at the 25 best albums of 2017 (all albums released before Dec. 1 were considered). At first it almost seemed like an impossible task to select just 25 releases from the hundreds of high quality projects that came across our inboxes over the course of the previous 365 days, but we took the painstaking task of combing through LP after LP for your sake. VIBE picked the best iTunes purchases you should have made (or that you forgot to make).

We already know some of you are going to be furious over some of these picks, and salty over the fact that we didn't include your favorite album. But these are the 25 releases that resonated the most with our staff --- and our readers (that's you!).

(In nonsequential order)

Rick Ross, Rather You Than Me

Mastermind, Hood Billionaire and Black Market, Rick Ross’ last three albums on Def Jam, were average at best. The reasons were varied: some suggested that it was due to Ross simply fulfilling his contractual obligations, or fill the void left from Meek Mill while he was incarcerated. Either way, the triplet lacked the flair that its predecessors Deeper Than Rap, Teflon Don and God Forgives, I Don’t had.

That all changed with Rather Me Than You. Rozay’s ninth studio album — and his first following his move to Epic Records — would contain some of his most personal works yet, as he shed some of his “boss” layers to reveal a more personal side of William Roberts, a man afflicted with the loss of friends and loved ones while dealing with some rather serious health issues. All the while, he’s returned to the trademark soulful sound that anchored one of his best albums, Teflon Don: Bink! put his whole entire foot in “Santorini Greece,” and the irony of Black Metaphor using the same sample heard on Jay Z & Beanie Sigel’s “Where Have You Been” — a song in which the two chastise their absentee fathers — for Rick to chastise Wayne’s former father figure Birdman on “Idols Become Rivals” couldn’t be more delectable. Perhaps all he needed was a change of scenery after all. --- Meka Udoh

Stormzy, Gang Signs & Prayer

U.K. rapper Stormzy shouldn't be a name unfamiliar to Grime fans, but 2017 was undoubtedly his biggest year with American listeners. His critically acclaimed album Gang Signs & Prayers was released in February but proved to be a project that will continue to stand the test of time. In today's microwave music climate, the gritty lyricist's LP still sounds fresh as the year comes to a close.

On the project, he gives his day-one fans exactly what they want on tracks like "Bad Boys" with Ghetts and J Hus --- that hardcore London fire power. However, on the mellower side, he touches hearts with "Velvet/Jenny Francis (Interlude)," and then shows his range on his addictive collaboration with Kehlani and Lily Allen, "Cigarettes & Kush." Overall, Stormzy delivered a rough around the edges project with pockets of incredible wordplay, moving records and down right smash hit songs that resonate with fans from all walks of life. --- Mikey Fresh

Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory

Two years after dropping his Summertime ’06 debut, Vince Staples delivered a reinvigorated sophomore LP in Big Fish Theory. Influenced by Detroit’s techno music, the project veers into experimental territory for the Long Beach spitter who’s made a name for himself as a clever, thoughtful, and carefree artist with street knowledge. Through those lush, quickly-shifting beats, Vince supplies thoughtful musings on everything from life and love to death and destruction over the course of 12 genre-bending tracks.

While Big Fish Theory’s sounds are varied, so is the album’s guest list. Kendrick Lamar, Damon Albarn, Ray J, Ty Dolla $ign, and Kilo Kush are among the featured acts, who enhance the LP’s overall experience through well-curated contributions. Meanwhile, Vince provides insightful rhymes with a personal touch throughout.

Whether taking on complacency (“How I'm supposed to have a good time when death and destruction’s all I see?”), fatherhood (“Never finna weekend-raise my seed”) or race and politics (“Prison system broken, racial war commotion / Until the president get ashy, Vincent won't be votin' / We need Tamikas and Shaniquas in that Oval Office / Obama ain't enough for me, we only getting started”), Vince once proves yet again why he’s an important voice in music. --- Andres Tardio

GoldLink, At What Cost

After honing his “future bounce” sound on his first two projects — 2014’s The God Complex and 2015’s And After That, We Didn’t Talk — GoldLink opted for a more minimal sound inspired by his native D.C.’s Go-Go heritage on this year’s At What Cost. The album’s loyalty to his city runs deeper than just the beats, though,

From the interludes and skits to local slang and geographical references to the DMV-heavy supporting cast (Wale, Shy Glizzy, Brent Faiyaz, Mya, Kokayi), At What Cost captures the vibrant nature and underlying violence of GoldLink’s hometown in as much color as the cover itself. “Have You Seen That Girl?” reveals neighborhood tensions behind romantic adventures while “Meditation” is a groovy ode to the one that got away. At What Cost’s real gem, though, is the platinum-certified “Crew,” one of the defining anthems of 2017.

In an era that’s dictated by the sounds of Atlanta and driven by companies in L.A. and NYC, At What Cost is a nod to the nuanced beauty of regional rap. Like Compton king Kendrick Lamar and North Carolina native J. Cole, D.C. is where GoldLink’s heart and hustle lies. “I went back home, like where I was born and raised,” he told DJBooth earlier this year. “Being in them trenches and understanding myself through all these people, through this city, it made me realize who I am.” --- Andy Bustard

Smino, Blkswn

Smino is St. Louis’ most exciting export since Nelly. While the pair share the same pride in their home city and passion for country grammar, that’s where the comparisons end. Because Smino exists entirely on his own planet.

With a flow that’s looser than three shots of Henny and a crooning voice that was born to swoon, the 26-year-old’s debut album blkswn brings a vibrant new sound to Midwestern hip-hop. It’s no coincidence that “Wild Irish Roses” and “Netflix & Dusse” are named after wine and cognac, because they’re guaranteed to leave you drunk on Smino’s intoxicating melodies. The equally sprightly yet soulful production of Monte Booker only enhances the sensation of entering the atmosphere of a faraway planet—black Jupiter, perhaps.

On blkswn’s closing song, “Amphetamine,” Smino reveals uncertainty in an otherwise confident performance: “I don’t know where I’m headed / Don’t know where I’m headed,” he croons in a sedated drawl. Achieving the level of mainstream success as Nelly probably isn’t written in the stars for Smino. But on his nascent journey of musical exploration, Smino is destined to land among them. ---Rae Witte

Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

There’s a reason why Kendrick Lamar is considered the best rapper of his generation, and there’s a reason why DAMN. is considered to be one of the best albums of 2017.

Following the unapologetically Afrocentric, experimentally jazz-drenched, G-Funkian experience that was To Pimp A Butterfly, DAMN. was as loud and abrasive as it was emotionally resonant. Be it the organized chaos of “HUMBLE” and “DNA,” the paranoic themes of “FEAR” and “FEEL,” or devotion “LOYALTY” and “LOVE,” Kung Fu Kenny’s fourth album found the all-world rapper finding and addressing his spirituality while battling the challenges of being virtuous while surviving in a world designed to to bury him. However, when it was played in reverse — from “DUCKWORTH” to “BLOOD” — the album’s hidden depths were revealed.

DAMN. was as critically acclaimed as it is commercially, topping the Billboard 200 for several weeks and garnering multiple GRAMMY nominations, while its accompanying tour packed out arenas from Los Angeles to London. The throne belongs to a kid from Compton, and it isn’t even close. --- Meka Udoh

Lil Uzi Vert, Luv Is Rage 2

Lil Uzi Vert's inner rockstar exploded over the past 12 months as the Philly bred artist conquered festival after festival with his electrifying performances. With a number of random projects under his belt as 2017 comes to a halt, his stand out release came in the form of Luv Is Rage 2. We're honestly not even sure if it's an official album or mixtape, but tracks like the Pharrell-assisted "Neon Guts," "The Way Life Goes" (feat. Oh Wonder), "Unfazed" (feat. The Weeknd) proved Uzi can make hits with little effort.

At a whopping 20-tracks, release may come off as a bit long for the 30-plus club, but his teenage fanbase just can't get enough of the kid. Uzi sing raps his way to a different realm on arguably his biggest track to date "XO Tour Llif3," which reigned as one of the summer's most played songs. If there is one release that best showcases all the finest qualities in his artistry it's Luv Is Rage 2. --- Mikey Fresh

JAY-Z, 4:44

4:44 was billed as JAY-Z’s “13th studio album,” a simple slogan that reflects the understated brilliance of the music inside. But what 4:44 really is is JAY-Z’s moment of clarity.

From shooting his brother and stabbing Lance "Un" Rivera to “egging on” Solange in that elevator and abusing the love and loyalty of his wife, Beyoncé, Hov owns up to all his misdeeds as if the the booth was his therapist’s office. What's more, he delves deeper than anyone would’ve expected into his notoriously private family life to reveal that his mother, after spending decades in the shadow of fear, is gay. And it’s the most beautiful moment on the entire album.

It’s through this truth that Hov finds freedom, forgiveness and hope for the future. “Kill Jay Z” finds him burying his ego and all the toxic behavior that came with it, “The Story of O.J.” and “Family Feud” are crucial sermons on black ownership and cultural unity, while “4:44” finds Mr. Carter on his knees apologizing to the love of his life for his infidelity. As the man himself said, “you can’t heal what you can’t reveal.”

For decades, JAY-Z has embodied the unflappable aura of hip-hop success. But in 2017, softened up by fatherhood and opened up by therapy after almost destroying his marriage, Shawn Carter shed the layers of his soul, embraced his often-ugly truths and crafted arguably the best album of his career (according to the GRAMMYs, at least). Enhanced by the harmonious production of fellow veteran No I.D., 4:44 is the blueprint for ageing gracefully in hip-hop. --- Andy Bustard

JID, The Never Story

Dreamville recruited a new MVP in 2017 with the addition of Atlanta rapper J.I.D. Packing an extensive vocabulary, an ear for beats that drip with soul and story-telling abilities that made Mos Def say whoa, he quickly became one of the most talked about members in the crew. After catching the attention of J. Cole, he released The Never Story, which serves as an artistic journey through the winding thoughts that flow from the wordsmith's mouth like a broken faucet.

His debut with the label came at us fast, but was welcomed by fans from all across the hip-hop spectrum. Over 10 tracks, J.I.D takes listeners through emotional highs and lows while giving a clear view on his moral compass --- and strong beliefs in higher powers. The slick tongued spitta has little time for shiny cars, strip club excursions and use-less adlibs. The Never Story is for those seeking more in rap music.

Kelela, Take Me Apart

You know the “When (insert artist) said (insert lyric), I felt that shit” meme? The better part of the lyrics on Take Me Apart and Kelela could be inserted into that format on Twitter and go viral every time. In the opening track, “Frontline,” which debuted on HBO’s Insecure in September, she says, “If it ain’t your life, I don’t know how to live, and I’m almost drowned.”

Although Kelela displays a variety of circumstances and emotions throughout, from exhaustively wishing a potential partner could just communicate and keep things casual on “LMK” to dropping her guard and opening up to something deeper on “Blue Light,” the underlying security she sings with is apparent from start to finish. From her vocals to her words and even after including a few new people like L.A.-based producer Mocky to long-time collaborators Arca, Jam City, Kingdom, Kelela’s third project is one of this year’s best whether or not the mainstream ever catches up. --- Rae Witte

Migos, C U L T U R E

Following the success of their 2013 breakout hit, “Versace,” Migos managed to place just three songs on the Billboard charts, while their debut studio album, Yung Rich Nation, sold an underwhelming 14,000 copies in its first week. That tough spell came to an end in late 2016, though, when Migos released “Bad and Boujee,” a lottery-winning ticket of a hit song that thrust them back into the nucleus of the proverbial culture. This is the group who popularized the dab, after all.

While C U L T U R E owes much of its platinum-certified popularity to the chart-topping, meme-powered, Donald Glover-approved success of “Bad and Boujee,” the rest of the album only cements Migos as the most important — and entertaining — group in hip-hop right now. “T-Shirt,” “Call Casting,” “Slippery” and “Kelly Price” all cracked the Billboard Hot 100 while “What the Price” showcases their ability to craft fully fleshed songs. With trap stars like Metro Boomin, Zaytoven and Cardo cooking up behind the boards, Migos didn’t need to sell out to go No. 1 — they brought the suburbs to the bando.

As their latest single, “MotorSport,” makes noise like a Lambo racing down I-285, and with their follow-up album C U L T U R E 2 on the horizon, all signs point to Quavo, Offset and Takeoff strengthening their clutch on the culture in 2018 — one ad-lib-punctuated flex at a time. --- Andy Bustard

French Montana, Jungle Rules

Arguably the most slept on album of the year after that Grammys snub, French Montana’s Jungle Rules dropped three months after four times platinum single “Unforgettable” featuring Swae Lee released in April. Not for nothing, this track alone had it all. You could easily call it song of the summer. Montana’s biggest record to date, the video was the end product and a life-changing moment in the rapper’s life which he in turn into changed the lives of many others.

After a last minute decision to go to Uganda to film the video for “Unforgettable”, Montana ending up partnering with the Mama Hope Foundation to build a hospital and he featured the Ugandan dance group known as the Triplets Ghetto Kids in the video and on his entire tour.

Now, unbeknownst to anyone that didn’t give this project it’s deserved listening Jungle Rules has Pharrell’s best rap verse in years on “Bring Dem Things”. Solo track, "Trippin’" is far from a staple French club banger, and final single “Famous” has a dual meaning, where listeners may think he is singing to a shorty, he’s really rapping to himself.

Granted, it’s been four years since Excuse My French, but Jungle Rules proves French Montana is capable of delivering more than a poppin’ feature verse and put together a project comprised of more than strip club bangers or the soundtrack to Miami’s LIV on Sunday. --- Rae Witte

Drake, More Life

Let’s face it: More Life was billed as a “playlist” by Drake not to cater to streaming audiences, but to ease the pressure of following up his monster 2016 album Views. That doesn’t really matter, though, because More Life managed to achieve both of those things without breaking a sweat.

A snapshot of his musical heritage and inspirations from across the African diaspora, More Life merges trap, grime, dancehall, afrobeat and R&B into Drake’s most diverse and liberated body of work yet. He's even happy to give up three tracks to UK homies Jorja Smith, Sampha and Skepta — four, if you count Giggs’ show-stealing verse on “KMT” (*cue an entire arena rapping the Batman theme song*). The navel gazing and trust issues are still there (“Fake Love,” “Can’t Have Everything”), but on More Life, Drake actually savors the view (no pun intended) from the top of the CN Tower.

Having racked up over a billion streams in a month and smashed Spotify’s single-day streams record (a shade over 61.3 million spins), More Life was proof that even when he's in-between albums, Drake remains an ever-present, record-breaking force. Just how much life is left in his historic run? --- Andy Bustard

Big K.R.I.T., 4eva is a Mighty Long Time

Big K.R.I.T. was always at his best when he was at his most sovereign. While his tenure at Def Jam provided brief moments on Live from the Underground and Cadillactica, they lacked the panache of his mixtapes K.R.I.T. Wuz Here and Return of 4Eva. With 4eva is a Mighty Long Time, however, the Mississippi native revisited his earlier years with an ambitiously dichotomous double-album.

Split between his two personalities — “Big K.R.I.T.” and “Justin Scott” — 4eva is an exploration into division. The rapper deftly strikes a delicate balance between his personalities, balancing introspection on gems like “Aux Cord,” the politically conscious “Drinking Sessions,” and the religiously fervent “Keep The Devil Off” with braggadocio on bangers like the bass-shattering “Subenstein (My Sub IV),” the opulent “Big Bank” and the smooth “1999.” Like a certain Compton bomber, K.R.I.T. delivered an album that was as welcomed as it was a return to greatness. --- Meka Udoh

Daniel Caesar, Freudian

Crazy how Daniel Caesar and Kali Uchis invented love in an otherwise loveless 2017. Following the most beautiful note of the year, when Caesar sweetly sings, “Who would’ve thought I’d get you?” do you not question whether or not you’ve even ever felt what love is?

Without having a groundbreaking new sound, Freudian manages to be considerably different than elements in trendy radio hits, avoids the too-easy, go-to fulfillment of the desire for ‘90s R&B nostalgia or use of popular recognizable sample, and not once does he discuss stealing someone’s girl, a blessing in itself.

“Get You” may have put Toronto’s Caesar on the map in late 2016, but an impressive debut album will keep him there. Now Grammy-nominated, Freudian, is 10 songs you have no business playing for anybody but the person you’re thinking about spending the rest of your life with. The debut project cements Caesar in a place among artists that can authentically appeal to most humans that have ever experienced love. --- Rae Witte

Rapsody, Laila’s Wisdom

Rapsody tapped into her maternal grandmother’s wise words on Laila’s Wisdom, her first release through Jamla’s new Roc Nation partnership. The 14-song album allowed the North Carolina native to deliver those teachings over soulful production from the likes of Khrysis, Nottz, and mentor 9th Wonder, who executive produced the LP with JAY-Z’s longtime engineer Young Guru and Terrace Martin. Stars like Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Black Thought, BJ The Chicago Kid, Musiq Soulchild, and Busta Rhymes lent their voices, only to accentuate Rapsody’s often-introspective concepts.

While the artist born Marlanna Evans has often been praised for her technical gifts as an MC, Laila’s Wisdom found her evolving and opening up more than ever. She gets personal on songs like “Black & Ugly,” exploring self-love and identity. “Black and ugly as ever and still nobody fine as me,” she raps. “No one been as kind as me / Only one kind of me.” She dissects the ups and downs of romance on tracks like “U Used 2 Love Me” and “A Rollercoaster Jam Called Love.” Through all of these personal rumination, her skillful pen is intact, with witty punchlines at every corner. In the end, Rapsody provides a well-deserved Grammy-nominated project filled with Laila’s Wisdom and plenty of Marlanna’s wise rhymes, too. --- Andres Tardio

Calvin Harris, Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1

The DJ/producer's nearly flawless release was one of the most played projects in our offices since its release in June. Genius collaborations like the unforgettable single "Slide" with Frank Ocean and Migos and the Young Thug, Pharrell and Ariana Grande-assisted cut "Heatstroke" added to Funk Wav Bounces' Vol. 1 exceptional playback value. It was the project you wanted to give a break, but just couldn't stop listening to the same damn songs on repeat.

Calvin Harris' ability to pull the best qualities from multiple artists on a single song rivals DJ Khaled. Yeah, I said it. He may never has the same social media status, but this project is a clear example of his uncanny superpower for bringing the biggest and best in rap and R&B together. --- Mikey Fresh

Lana Del Rey, Lust For Life

Steady maintaining her sound on her fourth studio album as the most romantic cross section of glam and gloom, Lana Del Rey’s Lust for Life is actually her most optimistic project with the most varied subject matter. Where earlier work from Del Rey is much more introspective, Lust For Life comes after several projects of self-reflection and while she obviously still discusses her experiences on the project, she also touches on political topics, a first for her in her music. And, the title and cover art are the most glass half full over any of her releases or visuals with tend to skew towards pulling back the wholesome curtain of America in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Lust For Life also marks the first time Lana has collaborations on an album, and each and every one of them are nothing short of major. In addition to two tracks with longtime friend A$AP Rocky, the title track features The Weeknd, and she has features from Playboi Carti, Stevie Nicks, and Sean Ono Lennon (yes, John and Yoko’s son). --- Rae Witte

Tyler, the Creator, Flower Boy

Six years after breaking out as an ornery rebel on his shock-filled Goblin debut, Tyler, the Creator unleashed what could be considered his best and most honest effort to date in Flower Boy. The 14-song album built upon Tyler’s flourishing musicality with a refreshingly personal approach. The end result was an apparent coming out for the controversial MC, who’s often been criticized as homophobic.

“I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004,” he rapped frankly on the album’s “I Ain’t Got Time!” In the past, such revelations from Tyler were seen as jokes from a provocateur, but this time, it felt sincere, particularly when paired with songs like “Who Dat Boy,” where he says he’s “currently lookin’ for ’95 Leo,” or “Garden Shed,” where he rhymes about hiding. “Truth is, since a youth kid, thought it was a phase,” he raps on the track. “Thought it'd be like the phrase / ‘Poof,’ gone / But, it's still goin' on.”

Flower Boy has been accurately called Tyler’s most mature album and his most commercially successful, but it’s also his most efficient. The Creator attributes that to a vital editing process. “I kinda didn’t want to rap a lot on it,” he explained on “The Late Show” back in July. “Everything I said, I made sure it was really, ridiculously important. I think that’s what people kinda like about it this time because there’s like nothing funny on it.” Trading jokes for sincerity, the Odd Future star managed to provide context, candor, and reach the pinnacle of his career thus far. --- Andres Tardio

Sampha, Process

Sampha is one of the few artists out that can still make you cry off a single note. His voice is like a volcanic eruption every time he opens his mouth with his words serving as the vehicles carrying his gut-wrenching poems. He released Process in February and it introduced us to timeless treasures like "No One Knows (Like the Piano)" and "Timmy's Prayer."

Process is the crooner's blurry depiction of a man who feels like he's been pulled in a million different directions by love, his own demons and the mental affliction he deals with. The unique crooner makes the listening experience feel like the pages in his personal diary are being drilled into your head by a fiery alien being of unknown origins. --- Mikey Fresh

J Balvin, Energía Lado B

Long before tapping Beyoncé for the hypnotic “Mi Gente” remix with Willy William, J Balvin made his name as one of Medellin, Colombia’s brightest reggaeton stars. In 2016, he dropped his latest album Energía Lado B and this year, he re-upped with Energía Lado B, a 16-song deluxe edition, which added “Fiesta” to the mix.

Although “Mi Gente” is not on the album, Energía Lado B provided a slew of other dance-ready bangers, including smashes like the infectious “Ginza” and the Pharrell Williams, BIA, and Sky-assisted “Safari.” The project also served up Balvin’s bread and butter reggaeton on cuts like “Pierde Los Modales” with Daddy Yankee and “Acércate” featuring Yandel. Plus, it added mellow standouts (“No Hay Titulo”) and signs of things to come from his growing trap influence (check “Snapchat” for that).

Balvin opens the album with a daring declaration on “Veneno,” which translates to, “You do what you can, I do what I want.” So far, that’s precisely what he’s done, bending genres and making hits while emerging as a leader in the current Latin music explosion. This past year, he’s collaborated with artists like French Montana, Wale, Pitbull, Camila Cabello, and Queen Bey. So while Energía allowed him to continue his global pop impact, it also opened doors for the boom that appears imminent. --- Andres Tardio

2 Chainz, Pretty Girls Love Trap Music

2 Chainz's Pretty Girls Love Trap Music was one of the more underrated projects from the Atlanta trap scene this year. He actually turned this album roll out into an actual movement that had women from every corner of the earth showing their undying love for hardcore rap music.

Lead by the monster singles "Good Drank" (feat. Gucci Mane & Quavo) and "4 AM" (feat. Travi$ Scott), 2 Chainz breezed by the competition while keeping his double cup filled to the brim and his enemies clockin' all his sauce with the project. I often wonder if Tit will ever receive the proper accolades for his superior rhyme schemes and down right vicious punchlines. On this album, he showed the world once again that you can make people turn up while keep your rhymes razor sharp.

SZA, CTRL

Within the first 90 seconds of Solána Rowe’s major-label debut she firmly established that the album wasn’t going to be loaded with saccharine-sweet, poppy anthems (perhaps, spending time with and writing for the likes of Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé would influence that). She’s confident, vulnerable, petty and strong simultaneously, unabashedly peeling off the layers she wore like an oversized hoodie found throughout her earlier, independent projects. CTRL is SZA’s Waiting To Exhale, but instead of simply breathing out she tore the whole roof off and dropped her most cohesive project to date.

As the title would suggest, the album is all about control and SZA shows it on every track. At times, that turns into a powerful woman’s dismissal. “Done with these niggas / I don't love these niggas / I dust off these niggas / Do it for fun, don't take it personal,” she sings on “Love Galore.” At other times, it sounds like heartbreak. “Let me tell you a secret, I been secretly banging your homeboy,” she adds on “Supermodel.” But often, that control comes from brutal honesty and vulnerability. “You know I'm sensitive about havin' no booty / Havin' nobody,” she sings on “Garden (Say It Like Dat).” “Lie to me and say my booty gettin' bigger, even if it ain’t.”

“I think pretending to not be insecure was hurting me more than just accepting these are things I feel weird about,” SZA told Vulture before the album dropped. By delving into those insecurities, the TDE songstress made one of the year’s most refreshing and relatable albums. Not only did she find personal and artistic control through her work, she also empowered others find their own versions of Ctrl in the process. --- Meka Udoh & Andres Tardio

Brent Faiyaz, Sonder Son

Grammy Nominated singer Brent Faiyaz is a pure R&B powerhouse on all fronts. He can hit fans in the gut with deep cutting ballads and give the same folks something to move to in the club. He capitulated his way onto the music industry's radar earlier this year thanks to his work on Goldlink's infectious single, "Crew," but his Sonder Son solo album was his real gift to the world.

Brent packs everything from lovelorn tales about his past to emotion stuffed compositions of pure pain --- and sometimes joy. Tracks like "First World Problemz/Nobody Carez" show his depth as a songwriter while songs like "Talk 2 U" serve as testaments to his love for a style of R&B that all know we miss dearly. --- Mikey Fresh

A$AP Ferg, Still Striving

While A$AP Rocky continued his ascension into fashion’s premier muses, A$AP Ferg kept the Mob’s musical flag waving high with the release of his second mixtape Still Striving. While the album continued pushing the Harlem rapper’s limits of what New York hip hop is supposed to sound like, he kept things distinctively Uptown throughout the guest-heavy affair. “East Coast,” which originally featured Remy Ma, was expanded into a cross-country event, with Rocky, Dave East, French Montana, Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg and an rejuvenated Busta Rhymes trading bars on one of the best remixes of the year. The Cam’ron-guested “Rubber Band Man” was the perfect combination of when two eras collide, marking the first time the A$AP Mob had collaborated with their DipSet predecessors.

Of course, the crowning achievement was the instantly catchy “Plain Jane,” which not only gave Ferg his highest-charting single to date but also introduced a legion of new ears to the ignorant brilliance that is the Tear Da Club Up Thugs. --- Meka Udoh