Every year around this time, the music world gathers at the Annual Grammy Awards to highlight the most talented acts in music, making it one of the biggest dates on the calendar for your favorite artists and musicians. This year, the Grammys will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York City and is sure to be a memorable night for all in attendance — and viewing at home — as this year’s ceremony comes after one of the more eventful years in music.
Filled with numerous debuts, comebacks, and blockbuster releases, 2017’s rap releases had storylines aplenty that kept listeners on their toes, especially in hip-hop. For one JAY-Z returned from a hiatus to release 4:44, one of the year’s most significant bodies of work and one that is in contention for the coveted Album of the Year award — his first nomination in the category. Kendrick Lamar, who many consider to be the current king of rap, also earned an Album of the Year nomination, for DAMN. — his fourth studio album.
Other big names from the hip-hop community that will be up for awards this coming Sunday (Jan 28) are Logic, Big Sean, Cardi B and GoldLink, but the one category that had rap fans talking is Best Rap Album, which includes one of the more formidable lineup of nominees in recent memory. While JAY-Z (4:44), Kendrick Lamar (DAMN.), Migos (Culture), Rapsody (Laila’s Wisdom) and Tyler, the Creator (Flower Boy) are all deserving in their own right, we’d be remiss to say that their weren’t a slew of other rap albums this year that were worthy of strong consideration and could’ve very well been included in the list of nominees.
Wit this in mind, Vibe highlights 20 rap albums released during the year of eligibility (October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017) that got the infamous Grammy snub, but were among the best rap albums.
1. J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only
After spending two years off the radar following the release of his third studio album, 2014 Forest Hill Drive, J. Cole returned at the tail-end of 2016 with 4 Your Eyez Only, a body of work which may be Cole’s most personal to date. Inspired by the death of a childhood friend, as well as his experiences of becoming a father, 4 Your Eyez Only was one of the more thoughtful albums of the past few years, with brilliant compositions like its title-track making it more than worthy of Grammy consideration.
2. Rick Ross – Rather You Than Me
Few rappers have been as consistent as Rick Ross has over the past decade, putting together a discography that is stocked with classic material and being an omnipresent figure in hip-hop. In March 2017, The Bawse dropped Rather You Than Me, his ninth studio album and one that reminds listeners of the MMG leader’s prowess as an elite emcee. “Santorini Greece,” “Game Ain’t Based On Sympathy” and “Scientology,” are just a handful of the gems on this high-powered long player.
3. Future – HNDRXX
The hardest working man in hip-hop this side of 2Pac and Lil Wayne, Future, has spent the past few years lapping the field with a steady stream of album releases, collaborative projects and mixtapes, and 2017 was no different. The Atlanta native made history as the first artist to debut at No. 1 with albums in consecutive weeks after releasing FUTURE and HNDRXX this in February 2017, with the latter of the two going on to be a critical and commercial success. Future delivers a collection of rap ballads with HNDRXX, a sonically rich affair with instant replay-value.
4. Logic – Everybody
Logic has emerged as one of the more promising young talents in rap and 2017 was the Maryland native’s coming-out party. The rapper’s third studio album, Everybody, would be his first to debut atop the Billboard charts, indicative of his growing fan base and reputation for releasing strong material. From blockbuster singles like the Alessia Cara and khalid assisted “1-800-273-8255,” which earned the rapper a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year, to riveting deep cuts like “Confess” and “Anziety,” Everybody had something for literally everyone and was one of the feel-good projects of 2017
5. Brother Ali – All the Beauty in This Whole Life
To deem Brother Ali underrated would be a bit an under-statement, as he’s arguably been one of the more brilliant and cerebral scribes in all of hip-hop for quite some time now. After taking a lengthy hiatus, Brother Ali blessed fans with his latest long player, All the Beauty in This Whole Life, a body of work that runs the gamut of sociopolitical issues from various angles and vantage points. “Own Light (What Hearts Are For),” “Dear Black Son” and “Before They Called You White” are among the standout selections from All the Beauty in This Whole Life that makes it a noteworthy body of work.
6. Drake – More Life
After a monstrous 2016, Drake was relatively quiet throughout 2017, but did make major news with the release of his playlist project, More Life. Collaborating with and showcasing a slew of talent, Drake did what he does best, which is make hits, with cuts like “Passionfruit,” “Portland” and “Fake Love” all finding their way into heavy rotation throughout the year.
7. GoldLink – At What Cost
One of the more pleasant surprises in rap this year was Washington D.C. native GoldLink’s debut album, At What Cost, which was hailed a slice of life in the DMV in sonic form. In addition to the addictive hit single “Crew,” At What Cost includes a number of album cuts that are steeped in the vibe of D.C., with GoldLink staying true to his surroundings throughout, from Go-Go inspired cuts to numerous references to the cities most cherished landmarks and locales.
8. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here
A noticeable snub rap fans took note of when looking at this year’s Grammy nominations was that of A Tribe Called Quest’s swan song We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, the group’s first album in nearly 20 years. Introducing their socially conscious brand of rap to a new generation while rekindling the connection between them and their core base, A Tribe Called Quest delivered with We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, an album that closes the book on one of rap’s legacy acts.
9. Dram – Big Baby DRAM
Since debuting in 2015 with the hit single “Cha Cha” and earning his first Top 5 Billboard hit with his Lil Yachty-assisted track “Broccoli,” Virginia native DRAM has continued to make a name for himself as one of the more feel-good acts in rap. In 2016, DRAM liberated his debut album, Big Baby DRAM, which housed the standout cuts “Cute,” “WiFi” featuring Erykah Badu, and “Monticello Ave,” helping push the album to gold certification and critics to laud the Atlantic Records signee’s talent and potential for greatness.
10. Meek Mill – DC4
With his back to the wall in the aftermath of his lyrical dust-up with Drake, Meek Mill had a lot to prove to those who counted him out and one of the first big steps he took towards repairing his image was his 2016 mixtape DC4. The tape would feature some of Meek Mill’s more introspective songs to date (“Shine” and “Blue Notes”), as well as the standard offerings for the turn-up (“Litty” and “Offended) resulting in a balanced effort that shifted the momentum back in his favor.
11. Kid Cudi – Passion, Pain & Demon Slaying
Kid Cudi bounced back from a bout with depression in 2016 to end the year on a high note with the release of Passion, Pain & Demon Slaying, his sixth studio album. Released as a double disc album, Passion, Pain & Demon Slaying is steeped in Cudi’s emotive overtones, with guest stars like Pharrell Williams, Andre 3000, Travis Scott, and Willow Smith all contributing to the proceedings, resulting in another conceptual masterpiece on the part of the Man on the Moon.
12. Roc Marciano – Rosebudd’s Revenge
Venerable New York rhyme pugilist Roc Marciano returned after a three year absence with Rosebudd’s Revenge, which showcases his knack for painting visceral pictures over dusty, sample-based production. Keeping the guests to a minimum and going for dolo over 13 of the album’s 15 tracks, Roc Marciano tackles the brunt of the duties on Rosebudd’s Revenge, one of the premier indie rap releases of the past year.
13. Jidenna – The Chief
Some may have underestimated him in the wake of his 2015 smash single “Classic Man” losing steam, but Jidenna silenced all naysayers when he rose to the occasion with his debut album, The Chief, this past February. Pairing rollicking offerings like the lead-single “Long Live The Chief” with more serene compositions like “Bambi” and “Adaora,” Jidenna wields his versatility in spades on The Chief, an unsung release that exceeds expectations.
14. Joey Badass – All-Amerikkan Badass
Brooklyn phenom Joey Bada$$ has grown from a being touted as a teenage prodigy to a highly respected figure in hip-hop and among the more bankable acts in hip-hop due to a rabid fan base. In 2017, Joey Bada$$ took yet another leap with his sophomore album, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, an album that took the country to task in light of the racism, bigotry and inequality that have become constant theme in recent times.
15. Vic Mensa – The Autobiography
In 2017, Chicago native and Roc Nation rapper Vic Mensa released The Autobiography, his long-awaited debut album and one that put the focus on the talented upstarts artistry. With an eclectic cast of costars and key solo cuts like “Didn’t I (Say I Didn’t),” “Memories on 47th St.” and “The Fire Next Time, for new fans, The Autobiography serves as a fitting introduction into the mind of Mensa, while pleasing loyal disciples alike.
16. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
With his popularity at a fever pitch and regarded as a media darling, it was only right that west coaster Vince Staples took the next step in his career as an artist with an album that creates as much conversation as his hot takes. And that’s exactly what he did with the release of his sophomore studio album, Big Fish Theory, a body of work that ranges from boisterous (“Big Fish” and “BagBak”) to trippy (“Love Can Be…” and “Yeah Right”) and thrusts the youngster even closer to superstardom.
17. Brockhampton – Self Titled
Collectives appear to be making a strong resurgence in rap as of late and one of the more promising crews to come to prominence in the past year is Cali-based group Brockhampton, who made a big splash with their Saturation trilogy. Of the three tapes in the series, it would be the second installment that would garner the most buzz and fanfare, with key selections like “Gummy” and “Queer” striking a chord with listeners and making them one of the more trendy acts of 2017.
18. XXXTentacion – 17
Controversy has plagued his career thus far, but in spite of his polarizing personality, XXXTentacion has proven to be the real deal. While allegations stemming from him being charged with false imprisonment, witness tampering and aggravated battery of a pregnant woman have given both critics and fans cause to pause, musically, he’s been nothing but money, with his debut album, 17, being one of the more impressive projects of 2017.
19. Young Thug – Beautiful Thugger Girls
One rapper that was particularly active in 2017 was Young Thug, who unleashed a trio of projects and sustained his rep as one of the more entertaining and unpredictable artists in rap. Beautiful Thugger Girls, the rapper’s only solo release this past year, was one of the more musically progressive albums of 2017, with Thugger laying down impassioned vocals over acoustic guitars and other live instrumentation.
20. Amine – Good for You
One rookie that caught a major buzz over the past year is Portland rep Amine, who scored a crossover hit with his single “Caroline,” a quirky ditty that dominated radio throughout 2017. Dispelling any notions that he was a one-hit wonder, Amine unveiled his debut album, Good for You, this past July, impressing listeners with his tales of life as an average Joe striving for success while coping with matters of the heart.