If you’re a fan of hip-hop and R&B, 2017 was a year filled with many pleasant surprises and memorable moments in music that kept you glued to your phones, radios, laptops and other listening devices. With music being more accessible than ever and the public’s hunger for it becoming insatiable, supply and demand is no longer an issue, resulting in a plethora of new songs and sounds being introduced to listeners everyday. While the static may be too thick to cut through for some artists, as the old adage goes, the cream always rises to the top. 2017 was no different, with a laundry list of songs gaining traction and piquing the interest of fans of all ages and demographics.
Whether you’re into brooding testimonials from the trap, velvety R&B tunes, vintage boom-bap or monstrous crossover hits, there was something for everyone, manifesting in one of the more culturally diverse years in music in quite some time. But like all good things, 2017 will soon come to an end. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate and look back on the past year in music and the songs that resonated with the public, day-in and day-out.
As this year draws to a close and we prepare for a new one, the VIBE staff compiled a list highlighting 34 of our favorite songs that defined the past 12 months in hip-hop and R&B and will strike a chord with listeners for years to come.
34. Daniel Caesar feat. H.E.R. – “Best Part”
Daniel Caesar teams up with singer-songwriter H.E.R. on “Best Part,” one of the standout offerings from the Canadian’s acclaimed 2017 release, Freudian. Produced by Matthew Burnett and Jordan Evans, the guitar-laden “Best Part” stands as one of the best duets of the past calendar year and a highlight from Caesar’s acclaimed debut.
33. Daniel Caesar – “Blessed”
Daniel Caesar delivers a sparse, piano-driven selection with “Blessed,” a crown jewel from the vocalist’s debut album, Freudian. With instrumentation provided by producers Matthew Burnett and Jordan Evans, Caesar professes his love and adulation for a lover on “Blessed,” a quaint composition on the part of the Canadian crooner.
32. Playboi Carti – “Magnolia”
Atlanta representative Playboi Carti set the streets on fire with the release of his eponymous debut mixtape, which dropped this past spring and peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard 200. Peaking at No. 29 on the Hot 100 and scoring Playboi Carti his first platinum plaque, “Magnolia,” produced by Pi’erre Bourne, would become a runaway hit, with Playboi Carti doing the Milly Rock all over New York City and encouraging the world to do the same.
31. Migos – “Slippery”
Between their individual guest appearances on songs from a who’s who of the industry and their own album, Culture, the Migos were virtually omnipresent throughout the year. One song from their sophomore effort that caught listeners attention was “Slippery,” the Gucci Mane-assisted third single released from Culture and one that completed the trios trifecta of hits.
30. Logic feat. Alessia Cara, Khalid – “1-800-273-8255
Logic calls in Alessia Cara and Khalid to join him on “1-800-273-8255,” the third single from the Def Jam spitters fourth studio album, Everybody. Peaking at No. 3 on the Hot 100, “1-800-273-8255,” which tackles the mental health issues like depression and suicide, would net Logic a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year, making it his most acclaimed and successful record to date.
29. Ed Sheeran – “Shape of You”
Ed Sheeran’s bread and butter may be crossover pop smashes, but the British sensation switched the style up a bit with “Shape of You,” one of the two lead singles from the crooner’s third studio album. Produced by Steve Mac and Sheeran himself, “Shape of You” debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100 upon its release, the first No. 1 song of Sheeran’s career, a position it would hold for 12 consecutive weeks. With a dancehall-tinged backdrop and catchy refrains, “Shape of You” ruled the clubs and is helped familiarize the hip-hop community with the acclaimed triple-threat.
28. Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean, Migos – “Slide”
Frank Ocean, Offset and Quavo collide with Calvin Harris on “Slide,” the lead-single from the British DJ/Producer’s fifth studio album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. A breezy, feel-good offering, “Slide” would help further ingratiate Harris with the urban community and marries his nu-disco tendencies with the slick stylings of hip-hop and R&B, with stellar results.
27. Drake – “Passion Fruit”
Drake assumes the role of crooner on “Passionfruit,” a mellow offering from his 2017 project, More Life. Produced by Nana Rogues, with additional vocals from Zoë Kravitz, “Passionfruit,” the second single released from More Life, would peak at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and serve an another addition to his laundry list of mid-tempo ballads.
26. Big Sean – “Bounce Back”
Big Sean was responsible for one of the earlier hit songs of 2017 with “Bounce Back,” the lead-single from the rapper’s fourth studio album, I Decided. Produced by Hitmaka and Smash David, with additional production by Metro Boomin and Amaire Johnson, “Bounce Back” peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, earning Big Sean his highest charting single to date, as well as a nomination for Best Rap Performance at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.
25. J. Cole – “Neighbors”
J. Cole spent much of 2017 on his 4 Your Eyez Only World Tour and was relatively silent on the music front following the release of his fourth studio album, 4 Your Eyez Only, in December 2016. However, one song from the album that sustained its buzz well into the new year is “Neighbors,” a song inspired by a an actual raid that occurred at a residence the Dreamville general owned in North Carolina in 2016. Produced by J. Cole himself, “Neighbors” would peak at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and be a reminder of the oft strained relationship between law enforcement and those from hip-hop community.
24. Demi Lovato – “Sorry Not Sorry”
Demi Lovato sends a farewell letter to a neglectful lover on “Sorry Not Sorry,” the lead-single from the singer’s sixth studio album, Tell Me You Love Me. Produced by Oak Felder and co-Written by Lovato, Sean Douglas, Trevor Brown, and William Zaire Simmons, “Sorry Not Sorry” peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, her first entry in the Top 10 since her 2013 single “Heart Attack.”
23. Future – “Mask Off”
Future unleashed the flutes on “Mask Off,” an impressive offering from the Atlanta trap star’s eponymous fifth studio album. Produced by Metro Boomin, “Mask Off,” which inspired a multitude of musicians to pick up their own instruments in the spirit of hip-hop, would peak at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and be certified quadruple-platinum, making it Future’s most successful solo release thus far.
22. Migos – “T-Shirt”
Extending the hot streak they set in 2016 with “Bad & Boujee,” Migos took no days off in 2017, dropping their long-awaited sophomore album, Culture, one of the most explosive LPs of the year. Produced by Nard & B and XL, “T-Shirt,” the second single released from Culture, would become the group’s third Top 20 hit and remind listeners that mama always knows best.
21. Lil Uzi Vert – “XO Tour Llif3″
Scoring his first chart-topping hit alongside Migos on “Bad and Boujee,” Lil Uzi Vert stepped into 2017 with his star brighter than ever, which he capitalized on with the release of his single “XO Tour Llif3″ this past February. Produced by TM88, “XO Tour Llif3″ would peak at No. 7 on the Hot 100 and ramp up the hype for Uzi’s debut studio album, Luv Is Rage 2, which arrived in August. Prompting the whole country to chant “all my friends are dead,” a phrase that would become popular within the pop culture lexicon, Lil Uzi Vert was responsible for one of the defining songs of the year in “XO Tour Llif3,” now a certified anthem.
20. Yo Gotti feat. Nicki Minaj – “Rake It Up”
Having grown his independent operation into a full-blown enterprise, Yo Gotti continued to boss up in a big way this past year. Joining forces with producer Mike Will Made It for the collaborative mixtape, Gotti Made-It, the Memphis hustler scored the song of his career with “Rake It Up,” featuring Nicki Minaj, who laid down one of her more noteworthy performances in recent memory.
19. Bryson Tiller and Jazmine Sullivan – “Insecure”
Bryson Tiller and Jazmine Sullivan create vocal harmony on “Insecure,” the title track second season of the HBO hit show of the same name. Produced by Cool & Dre & KeY Wane, “Insecure” touches on uncertainty that encapsulates the characters’ on the TV show’s love lives and pairs two of R&B’s most vibrant stars on one of the stronger duets of 2017.
18. ASAP Ferg – “Plain Jane”
New York City rap saw a resurgence in 2017 and among those leading the charge was A$AP Ferg. He kept the pedal to the metal with his Still Striving project, which was supported by the Kirk Knight-produced single “Plain Jane.” Peaking at No. 41 on the Hot 100, Ferg’s highest chart-position as a lead artist, “Plain Jane” saw the Harlemite taking a page out of the book of Three 6 Mafia and Juicy J and cooked up one of the year’s biggest party-starters.
17. Luis Fonza – “Despacito”
Puerto Rican vocalist Luis Fonza exposed the music world to a bit of Latin flavor after teaming up with reggaeton king Daddy Yankee for his single “Despacito,” which would become a global smash. Produced by Andrés Torres and Mauricio Rengifo, “Despacito,” which would be remixed by Justin Beiber, became the first song sung primarily in Spanish to top the Billboard Hot 100 since “Macarena” in 1996, as well as the most-watched YouTube video of all-time, topping at over four billion views. Receiving awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Urban Fusion/Performance, and Best Short Form Music Video at the 18th Annual Latin Grammy Awards, “Despacito” will go down in history as synonymous with 2017 and one of the most successful songs from a Latin artist of all-time.
16. N.E.R.D. feat. Rihanna – “Lemon”
One of the more influential groups of the new millennium, N.E.R.D. sent the music world into a frenzy when it was revealed that Pharrell, Chad, Shad and company were bringing the band back for a new album, titled No One Ever Really Dies. While many fans have been left salivating as they await its arrival, “Lemon,” the first song liberated from the project, pairs N.E.R.D. with Rihanna for a up-tempo number on which the Caribbean beauty trades in the harmonies for bars.
15. Childish Gambino – “Redbone”
Childish Gambino threw listeners a curve-ball with Awaken, My Love!, his third studio album and one that is steeped in funky grooves that border on psychedelic. “Redbone,” the second single from the album, was released in November 2016, but would sustain its buzz well into 2017, due in part to being featured in the Oscar-nominated Jordan Peele flick Get Out. Urging the public to “stay woke,” Childish Gambino won big with “Redbone,” which peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the de facto rallying cry in a year of sociopolitical turmoil.
14. Kendrick Lamar – “Humble”
King Kendrick announced his return this past spring with “Humble,” the lead-single to his highly-anticipated DAMN. album and a song that would confirm his reign as rap royalty. Produced by Mike Will Made It, “Humble” is a trunk-rattling affair that captures Kendrick employing a relentless flow and dropping witty one-liners. Debuting at No. 2 on the Hot 100 and later peaking atop the chart, “Humble” would tip the scales in the Compton natives favor, garnering nominations for Record of the Year, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song, and Best Music Video at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards and triple platinum status.
13. 21 Savage – “Bank Account”
After enjoying a breakout year in 2016 off the strength of Savage Mood EP and a list of standout guest appearances, 21 Savage returned with his major label debut, Issa, this past summer. Scoring his biggest hit as a lead artist to date with “Bank Account,” the first single released from Issa, 21 Savage, who earned a production credit alongside Metro Boomin, flaunts his wealth and sends idle threats over 808 drums and eerie synths. Peaking at No. 12 on the Hot 100 chart, “Bank Account” would be certified double-platinum and continue 21 Savage’s trend of brooding selections geared toward the trap.
12. G-Eazy feat. Cardi B, ASAP Rocky – “No Limit”
Despite spending much of the year prepping his third major label album, The Beautiful & Damned, G-Eazy managed to generate some noise with Step Brothers, his collaborative mixtape with DJ Carnage. However, it would be his single “No Limit” that would turn the most heads. Produced by Boi-1da and Allen Ritter, “No Limit” is an amped up selection that brings G-Eazy to the trap and pairs the Bay Area rep with New Yorker’s A$AP Rocky and Cardi B, with the latter putting forth one of the more fiery guest verses of the year.
11. Bruno Mars – “That’s What I Like”
As far as entertainers go, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that can captivate a crowd like Bruno Mars, who has built a reputation for show-stopping performances and consistently scoring hit singles that transcend genre, making him among the more viable acts in all of music. Rising to the occasion yet again with his third studio album, 24K Magic, Bruno Mars scored yet another smash with “That’s What I Like,” the second single released from the album. Peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, “That’s What I Like” earned three Grammy nominations, including Song of the Year, Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance, helping extend Bruno Mars’ reign as a megastar.
10. Smino feat. T-Pain – “Anita (Remix)”
In a loaded crop of rising talent, one artist that managed to cut through the static in 2017 is Smino, who saw his stock raise immensely after unveiling his debut album, Blkswn after a pair of successful EPs. “Anita,” the second single released from the album, would pique listeners’ interest and cast the spotlight on the St. Louis native. However, it would be “Anita”s T-Pain-assisted remix that truly put Smino on the radar. Produced by Monte Booker, “Anita (Remix)” which was inspired by the 2016 film Hidden Figures, served as a salute and a show of appreciation to black women and will go down among the hottest remixes of 2017.
9. SZA – “The Weekend”
TDE’s First Lady made a big splash with her major label debut, Ctrl, which has been hailed as an instant classic and positioned SZA as R&B’s’ current “It” girl. One song from the album that quickly became a fan-favorite was “The Weekend,” a song written by SZA and Cody Fayne that finds her taking on the role of a part-time lover over production by ThankGod4Cody. Built around a sample of Justin Timberlake’s “Set the Mood (Prelude)/Until the End of Time,” “The Weekend” would become an anthem for wifeys and side-chicks alike, riding its popularity to a platinum plaque and confirming SZA’s arrival as a bonafide star.
8. GoldLink feat. Brent Faiyaz, Shy Glizzy – “Crew”
Gaining traction with his 2015 mixtape And After That, We Didn’t Talk, GoldLink took his grind national after inking a major label deal with RCA Records, releasing his debut album, At What Cost, this past March. The Washington, D.C. native would score a sleeper of a hit in “Crew,” the album’s lead single featuring fellow DMV reps Brent Faiyaz and Shy Glizzy. Produced by Teddy Walton, who contributes a hypnotic sonic groove, over which the trio blend impassioned vocals and cocksure couplets, “Crew” would net GoldLink his first platinum plaque, as well as a Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Performance, making it one of the more acclaimed singles of 2017 by critics and fans alike.
7. French Montana feat. Swae Lee – “Unforgettable”
In 2017, French Montana made a big splash with “Unforgettable,” the lead-single from his sophomore studio album, Jungle Rules, and the song that would coincide with his ascent in terms of star power. Initially making his name off high-powered club bangers and collaborations prior to its release, French Montana scored his biggest hit as a lead-artist with “Unforgettable,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100 and was certified 4x platinum by the RIAA. Featuring a guest appearance by Rae Sremmurd member Swae Lee and boasting a dancehall-centric backdrop courtesy of Jaegen and 1Mind, “Unforgettable” dominated various radio formats and burned down dance-floors worldwide.
6. Kendrick Lamar – “DNA”
Anticipation for Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. may have been at a fever pitch upon its release, but was shrouded in mystery, with listeners unsure of what to expect upon pressing play on the album. However, when eardrums were assaulted with the pounding bass and Kendrick’s thunderous vocals on “DNA,” the tone for what was to come was instantly set. Produced by Mike WiLL Made-It, “DNA” captures the current King of Rap running roughshod with minimal regard for song structure, instead levying a barrage of abrasively defiant bars and giving listeners a slice of his day-to-day life post-stardom. Peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 despite not being serviced as a single, “DNA” was another testament to Kendrick’s ability to move the pop culture needle at will without sacrificing his artistry.
5. Kehlani – “Distraction”
Regarded as one of R&B’s rising stars, Kehlani has spent the past few years finding her footing within a congested musical landscape and establishing herself as a vocalist, but made her foray into the mainstream with her debut album, SexySweetSavage, released in January 2017. One of the more acclaimed R&B albums of the year, SSS produced a hit single in “Distraction,” an infectious selection that showcases the Bay Area beauty’s promise and potential to become one of the leading ladies of the genre. Achieving Gold-certification and earning a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Performance, “Distraction” balances masterful songwriting and arrangement with glossy production, resulting in a composition that positions Kehlani as one of 2017’s biggest winners in the genre.
4. DJ Khaled feat. Rihanna, Bryson Tiller – “Wild Thoughts”
Connecting the dots that lead to seismic collaborations is a skill that DJ Khaled has mastered over the past decade and has helped make him one of the more influential figures in hip-hop and R&B today. Reaching his apex as a superstar, Khaled released his tenth studio album, Grateful, which was led by the single “Wild Thoughts,” pairing R&B heartthrobs Rihanna and Bryson Tiller for an epic duet. Built around samples of Carlos Santana’s 1999 hit single “Maria Maria,” “Wild Thoughts” finds Rih Rih and Bryson trading sexual innuendo amid ad-libs from DJ Khaled and rollicking guitar riffs. Peaking at No. 3 on the Hot 100 and a strong contender for Song of the Summer, “Wild Thoughts” was not only one of the hottest tracks of the hottest of the seasons, but the year as whole.
3. SZA feat. Travis Scott – “Love Galore”
Artistic frustration manifests itself in many forms and can prove destructive, but can also be used as the fuel to achieve greatness. SZA learned this while crafting her long-awaited debut album, Ctrl. One song from the album that resonated with listeners is “Love Galore,” the Travis Scott-assisted single that pairs the TDE songstress’ vocal yearns with a sublime soundscape crafted by producers Carter Lang and ThankGod4Cody. Featuring a clutch guest appearance on the part of Travis Scott and helping introduce SZA to an audience beyond her grassroots fanbase, “Love Galore” was one of the more pivotal selections to make an impact in 2017 and marked the birth of a budding superstar.
2. JAY-Z – “The Story of O.J.”
When one of the greatest songwriters to have ever walked the earth announces an album release, pandemonium is sure to ensure, which is exactly what occurred when word got out that JAY-Z was unleashing 4:44, an album that would define yet another phase in the evolution of Shawn Carter. While the album’s title-track and admissions of infidelity may have got the brunt of the attention initially, the most lasting message from 4:44 came courtesy of the track “Story of O.J.,” on which the Brooklyn bred hustler-turned-tycoon preaches financial literacy and independence in between a few well-placed boasts. Not only a hot song, “Story of O.J.” would inspire dialogue about race, economics and gentrification, among other talking points, and a worthy addition to the canon of Hov.
1. Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow”
Parlaying her popularity on social media into recurring appearances on the sixth and seventh seasons of VH1’s Love & Hip Hop: New York franchise, Cardi B’s unbridled personality and air of independence made her a reality-TV star. However, her decision to quit the show to pursue a career in music was met with skepticism. With many questioning her ability to establish herself as anything more than a novelty act, Cardi B silenced all critics with “Bodak Yellow,” her debut single after inking a record deal with Atlantic Records in 2017. Produced by J. White, “Bodak Yellow” would become an unlikely anthem of empowerment for women and a breakaway hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, making Cardi B the first female rapper to top the charts with a solo effort since Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” in 1998. Embraced by the mainstream and championed on the streets, Cardi B proved herself to be The People’s Choice in 2017 with “Bodak Yellow” and one of the year’s biggest cultural phenomenons.
Amine feat. Kehlani – “Heebiejeebies” Fellow West Coast exports Amine and Kehlani create magic with “Heebiejeebies,” a collaborative effort from Amine’s debut album, Good for You. Produced by Jahaan Sweet and driven by jittery percussion and syrupy keys, “Heebiejeebies” is a continuation of the love-lorn tendencies displayed on “Caroline” and one of unsung gems of the year.
*JAY-Z – “Smile”
On one of the more revealing songs from JAY-Z’s most revealing album yet, the Brooklyn Don gets candid, touching on his mother’s sexuality while kicking rewind-worthy stanzas that bring to mind the wizardry witnessed during his prime. Complimented by a sample of Stevie Wonder “Love’s in Need of Love Today” and additional commentary by Gloria Carter herself, “Smile” was a bold statement on the part of JAY-Z and a reminder of his sustained excellence as an emcee.
*6lack – “Free”
Rising crooner 6LACK became the latest R&B artist to captivate tastemakers off the strength of his debut studio album, Free 6lack, which includes the Singawd & Soundsbynova-produced burner “Free.” Extricating himself from a strained relationship with a lover, the Grammy-nominated newcomer celebrates his liberation over a murky soundscape on one of the more popular album selections from his debut long player.
*J Balvin and the Willie Dude – “Mi Gente”
Colombian crooner J Balvin was responsible for one of the most festive tunes of the year in “Mi Gente,” a track which finds him remixing producer Willy Williams’ “Voodoo Song.” Peaking at No. 19 on the Hot 100 and achieving double-platinum certification, “Mi Gente” made a resounding impact globally, topping a number of international charts and spawning remixes by the likes of Beyonce.
*Big Sean – “Moves”
One of the more cocksure spitters in all of rap, Big Sean exudes his cool on “Moves,” the second single released from his fourth studio album, I Decided. Produced by Fuse and Tre Pounds, with additional production by Amaire Johnson, “Moves” peaked at No. 38 on the Hot 100 and was certified platinum, further indication of Sean Don’s standing as one of rap’s more consistent hitmakers today.
*Drake – “Madiba Riddim”
Drake delivers a breezy, island-tinged ditty with the Frank Dukes & Nineteen85-produced More Life cut, “Madida Riddim.” Conveying his distrust and trepidation in matters of the heart, Drizzy shines on “Madiba Riddim,” one of the most enticing deep cuts on the OVO overlord’s most recent body of work.