MidYear Report: Best Albums (So Far)

blame it on 2DBZ June 16, 2017

Like last year, the first half of 2017 was loaded with big releases from the A-listers (More Life, DAMN.), breakouts from the new jacks (American Teen), under-the-radar gems (The Never Story) and, of course, the Migos. While the trio were quite literally everywhere in the first six months, they weren’t the only ones to make a mark thus far. Now that the country’s officially into cookout season, it’s time that we share our favorite albums at the proverbial All-Star break of the season. Just as a heads up: Big Boi’s Boomiverse and 2 Chainz’s Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, as dope as they are, didn’t make the cut-off date for this list.

Keep scrolling for our favorite albums of 2017 (so far), in order by release date, below. You know the deal: read, critique, slander, and add your own favorites.

A decade from now, we’ll be able to fully grasp and appreciate who had the biggest impact from the 2010s on hip-hop moving forward. Near the top of the list are Quavo, Offset and Takeoff with their varying flows and staccatos taking over mainstream radio. Despite said influence spanning over much of the decade, the impact was never felt commercially, though. CULTURE changed all of that. Led by “Bad And Boujee,” Migos’ impact was finally felt beyond the streets, and it simmered all across America. Though “Bad And Boujee” may wind up as the group’s biggest hit, CULTURE bore songs like “T-Shirt,” “What The Price” and “Brown Paper Bag,” some of the group’s most well-crafted songs yet. — Patrick

With each release, Sampha has inched out of his shell. Always raw and honest, his piano-driven heartbreakers from years past have transformed into full-fledged cinematic productions on Process depicting a man going toe-to-toe with his worries, demons and the loss of his mother. “Kora Sings” — a song that plays even better live — draws in influence from his African roots; fear is nipping at his heels on the energetic “Blood On Me.” The irony of me gushing about these songs is the most pure and emotional point of the album comes on “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano,” where Sampha uses the piano his late mother gave him as a kid to help cope with her loss. — Patrick

The cast of dope boyz were torn on which album we should use to represent Future‘s sizzling first half of 2016. (The one writing this thinks HNDRXX, for what it’s worth.) But whichever you prefer, it’s hard to mention one without also talking about the other. Take a look at the first tracks on both albums to see what you’re getting into. “Rent Money” from FUTURE takes a commanding look at Nayvadius Wilburn’s experience in the streets, but HNDRXX — released a week later — opens with “My Collection,” a song where Future is often at his best: unfiltered and emotional. He directly calls out an ex for her contradicting ways (“She told me she was an angel/She f*cked two rappers and three singers/She got a few athletes on speed dial”), then he revels in the ensuing emotions from varying relationship across the remainder of the album. — Patrick

There’s so much I want to write about this album, and I will eventually. But, for now, I’ll say this: alcoholism is a bitch. One of the most difficult aspects of the disease is accepting you have it, and only then can you begin recovering. Jonwayne‘s life hit rock bottom in 2014 when he woke up alone in a hotel room with vomit dripping all over. He depicts the scene on “Blue Green” from Rap Album Two. Though that wasn’t the day he stopped drinking, it was the first step of acceptance. “I know I need to stop, but if I’m flying, it’s Jameson on the ride,” he rapped, just one of many glimpses from Rap Album Two that sees a man accepting his problem and mustering up the strength to ask for help. The album cuts through the layer of confidence presented on Rap Album One to reveal a man vulnerable from his vices, but willing to get better. — Patrick

If rap was a holiday, then Roc Marciano would be owed multiple Father’s Day cards.

Having been largely silent for the past few years, Roc returned in a major way with Rosebudd’s Revenge. Relying on the gritty, blaxploitation-style sonics that has defined his rejuvenated career as one of underground rap’s most potent products, every track from Rosebudd hit like a syringe finding a vein. From its opening salvo “Move Dope” to its closer “Pig Knuckles,” Roc delivered a 15-track soundtrack to getting yours the ski mask way. — Meka

Sooner or later, people are going to have to stop sleeping on Oddisee. While the conversation regarding the best producer/emcee always revolves around the likes of Kanye West, Diamond D, RZA, Evidence, Q-Tip and Large Professor, the fact of the matter is that the DMV product has consistently released quality projects for our dome pieces. The Iceberg delivers on all accounts where Oddisee’s rhymes have caught up to his production and he demonstrates the progress on bangers like “Things,” “Hold It Back” and “Like Really.” He hasn’t received the cosign he deserves to make an impact on the mainstream but it is absolutely impossible for any hip hop head that says he loves good music to ignore him. — Andreas

Thundercat, quite literally, made an album about what one goes through when they are absolutely ripped off liquor, and did a fantastic job in the process. With the always-reliable Flying Lotus by his side, Drunk is a funk-filled and psychedelic tour of intoxication. “Them Changes,” which was originally on his 2015 EP The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam, returns, but does not feel out-of-place or dated when next to fantastic collaborations with Pharrell (“The Turn Down”) and Kendrick Lamar (“Walk On By”). However, the left-field track with Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, “Show You the Way,” is easily one of the best songs of 2017’s half-year by leaps and bounds. — Meka

No matter how many times you heard someone sing “send me your location,” there was a simple relatability to what Khalid was saying. The teenage El Paso, Texas, native introduced himself to the world with “Location,” a song about trying to clear up what stage a relationship is at. And that’s what Khalid’s debut album, American Teen, boils down to: a kid searching through his feelings while growing up. “Young, Dumb & Broke” is an anthemic excuse for summer nights you stay out too late, and “Saved” provides a look into Khalid sorting out his thoughts once he gets home from spending said late night with someone. The album can sometimes be tediously innocent, but there’s a true soul and honesty in Khalid’s vocals that make him both a forgivable figure and gripping listen. — Patrick

J.I.D has been doing his thing for years as part of the Spillage Village crew, but it wasn’t until J. Cole caught notice and signed him to Dreamville that the talented ATLien was truly able to captivate a larger audience with his exceptional rhyming skills. It didn’t take long, either. Three weeks after the deal was announced, J.I.D released The Never Story, and it didn’t disappoint. Between trading rhymes with EarthGang on the J. Cole-laced “D/Vision,” delivering raw introspective raps on “General” and “Lauder” (another J. Cole production), and touching on love (or lack thereof) on “Hereditary” and “All Bad,” the East Atlanta native showed off a variety of his talents, only confirming Cole made the right move in adding him to the team. Oh, and the switch up on “Never” is just straight filth. — Shake

We’re listening to music in a time where it’s as hard as ever to describe new artists’ sounds with one genre, which isn’t a complaint at all. R&B and hip-hop are as intertwined as they’ve ever been, with nearly every artist nowadays following in the footsteps of Phonte and those before him, weaving in and out of singing and rapping. While some struggle to find a balance, someone like Smino cracked the code. Dabbling in his relationships with women, drugs and his city, the songs on Blkswn range from narrative and stern (“Father Son Holy Smoke“) to bubbly and melodic (“Spitshine,” “Edgar Allan Poe’d Up”) as the St. Louis native comes out of the other side of his debut album a more well-rounded person and musician after digging into the self for answers on the world around him. — Patrick

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 trying to fulfill his contractual obligations at Def Jam, or fill the void left from Meek Mill while he was incarcerated. The most telltale sign, however, was that the album lacked L.A. Reid, as he oversaw many of Rozay’s earlier albums when he departed to Epic Records.

That changed with Rather Me Than You, as Rozay switched labels and reunited with Reid at Epic. His ninth studio album would be 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 his (arguably) best album, 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 delicious. Whether this Ross remains, well, remains to be seen as L.A. Reid would leave Epic Records shortly after the album’s release (amid a host of allegations), but until then we’re here for this. — Meka

The last year and change has been taxing, to say the least, on Freddie Gibbs. Accused and arrested for rape in June of 2016, Gibbs faced 10 years if found guilty. Thankfully, after spending a few months locked up in Austria, he was acquitted of all charges and released. Once a free man, Freddie wasted no time getting into the studio and recording all the things he wrote down while locked up. The result, You Only Live 2wice, a quickstrike release that found him battling past demons and aiming for a fearless future. He touches on being locked up abroad (“Crushed Glass”), being stabbed in the back by friends, living for his newborn daughter (“Homesick”), and, of course, talking that talk about his time in the trenches. At eight tracks, the project seems more like a ‘moment in time’ or transition piece for Gibbs as he gears up to release his next full-length (and, hopefully, a follow-up to Piñata with Madlib), but the aggression, passion and consistency are still present. — Shake

The Pro Era emcee showcased a maturity beyond his age with All AmeriKKKan Bada$$. No longer just a teenage emcee with bars, the New Yorker layered his album with social consciousness to go along with his ability to rhyme. Anchored by “Land of the Free,” “For My People,” the rowdy “Ring the Alarm” and the J. Cole assisted “Legendary,” Mr. A$$ demonstrates an evolution in his sound that is coupled with revolutionary thoughts from a young progressive mind. — Andreas

The artist formally known as K Dot wasn’t lying when he asked “How y’all let a conscious nigga go commercial while only making conscious albums?” on Future’s “Mask Off (Remix).” Nobody knew what to expect when his third major label effort seemingly dropped with very little advance. But while GKMC was his biography and TPAB was him traversing the landscape of being black in America, DAMN was Kendrick Lamar addressing his spirituality and the challenges of being righteous in a world that is destined to ruin you. What made the listening experience significant was the amount of depth the songs had when played together. But the true density of Kendrick’s message came when you played the album in reverse and really got a grip of K Dot’s narrative that started with the phenomenal “Duckworth” and ended with the magnificent “DNA.” He did it again. And what made this such a success is that it was absolutely different from anything that he’s done prior to that. Now, everybody else sit down and be humble. — Andreas

A year after appearing on our 2016 MidYear Report, DJ Quik and Problem are on it again with a full-length version of Rosecrans. Double the length (adding six tracks), the updated version of the West Coast duo’s EP includes bonus features from Boosie, Bad Lucc and Dom Kennedy (“Bad Azz”), Suga Free, and MC Eiht — who appears on not one, but two tracks alongside Quik, putting an end to their long-standing beef. — Shake

With Sh*t Don’t Stop still bangin’ in the speakers, G Perico went back in the kitchen and cooked up a proper follow-up in the form of his debut album, All Blue. “In my city, it can go from a nice sunny blue day to a life changing event in the blink of an eye,” the South Central native says in the opening of his “All Blue” video before taking viewers through a day in the life of a Cali resident with ties to the Broadway Gangsta Crips. At 13 tracks, the album doesn’t even reach the 40 minute mark, but it’s all Perico needs to deliver another modern day G-Funk experience with cinematic street tales and an honest depiction of the struggle he’s went through to be able to celebrate his current (rising) status. — Shake

After taking a five year hiatus to discover more about himself and the world around him, Brother Ali returned in amazing fashion with the release of All The Beauty In This Whole Life. From the moment the album starts, Ali grabs listeners by the throat with “Pen To Pad,” before taking it down a notch to speak openly about racism (“Dear Black Son”), his torturous childhood (“Pray For Me”), being labeled a terrorist (“Uncle Usi Taught Me”), and the tragic suicides of both his father and grandfather (“Out Of Here”). The album also finds Ali reuniting with ANT, who provides the perfect canvas for the MPLS emcee to work his magic. — Shake

Verse Of The Month: Brother Ali, “Dear Black Son”

The only negative about Simmie Sims and Kay’s collaborative effort is that it is Too. Damb. Short. Because, man, this EP perfectly encapsulates what a perfect day in Los Angeles feels like. More Kendrick than YG, Buddy’s unique dichotomy of coming up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Southern California and not succumbing to the violence or despair is central to Ocean & Montana’s sound, and with Kaytranada providing some absolutely radiant instrumentals he does it with a smile on his face the entire time. From the introspective “Find Me” to the World On Wheels-ready “World Of Wonders,” I only have one question: could this at least have had five more tracks? Come on guys. – Meka

Hanging around YG, owner of the most socially conscious gangsta rap album in 20 years, has done wonders for 400 Summers signee RJ. Already a fixture in Los Angeles’ rejuvenated hip hop scene, the South Central emcee formally introduced himself to the masses with his debut album Mr. LA. The Nightwing to YG’s Batman (get it?), RJ stands on his own and stands out with his own unique brand of hood-rich speaker knockers. Getting it “Brackin’” throughout the project, Mr. LA deserves to and should only be blasted out a fully equipped vintage low-rider at ignorant levels (especially the walk-ready “Hennebeeto” with ScHoolboy Q, especially.). All RJ wants to do is party and bullsh*t, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that. — Meka

”Let me tell you a secret: I been secretly banging your homeboy/
While you in Vegas all up on Valentine’s Day”

Within the first 90 seconds of Solána Rowe’s major-label debut, she firmly established that she wasn’t with the sh*ts anymore (perhaps, spending time with and writing for the likes of Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé would do that to you). She’s confident, vulnerable, petty and strong simultaneously, unabashedly peeling off the layers she wore like an oversized hoodie in her previous works. CTRL is SZA’s Waiting To Exhale, but instead of simply breathing out she blew the whole roof off and dropped her most cohesive project to date. “Love Galore” with Travi$ Scott gave her her first radio-ready single, while “The Weekend” is shaping up to be the side chick anthem for years to come. Fellas, just a heads up: if your lady wants to have a talk and is playing “Doves in the Wind” while starting off with “I find it funny when…,” run immediately. — Meka

Written by Meka Udoh, Patrick Glynn, Shake & Andreas Hale | ArtByShake