It’s that time of year when every Hip-Hop site within arms reach tells you their “album of the year.” What they won’t tell you before you click that link is their list looks just like everyone else’s list. When Nas said “no idea’s original,” he could’ve easily been talking about end-of-year lists; everything is real common. But Still Crew doesn’t do “common.” Most best of lists serve as an olive branch from outlets to acts they want access to in the future. We know the game. We also don’t give a fuck about that game; but what we do give several fucks about is making sure the real, creative shit gets proper attention.
Rap was crowned the most streamed genre on the planet, meaning there’s a lot of music to digest and its easy for a crowded field with countless albums to have a few fall through a crack or two. Especially on a Friday filled with eight other albums that all demand your immediate attention because Twitter practically demands you catch up or else.
With all that in mind, the Still Crew brain trust compiled a list of joints you probably missed this year or may have given one or two spins to before another album came calling. We feel like this will be more helpful, more interesting, and just more fun. Plus, how many times do you need to read that 4:44 was a great album and how many more ways can someone tell you how brilliant DAMN is?
Without further adieu, here is Still Crew’s cure for the common list.
Sean P, Imperius Rex [Listen]
The Skinny: The great thing about music is we never truly lose anyone. And that’s awesome because Hip-Hop would be awful without Sean Price. His posthumous Imperius Rex is the perfect way to say goodbye if it truly is the end. It’s a lean, mean, boom bap machine that probably got lost in the shuffle this year because it doesn’t sound like everything else. But it’s uniqueness is what makes it so damn dope. There’s nothing fancy about a Sean P record. You’re going to get great rhymes, incredible beats, and fun punchlines for however long the album is. Imperius has a bittersweetness to it because we get to hear him with artists for the first and last time. Freeway, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, and the recently departed Prodigy are just a few of the notable cats who supply mean 16s. It makes for the most inclusive album of Ruck’s career and the most celebratory. Everyone involved came together to show their love, respect, and admiration for most underrated MCs of all time and no doubt your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. P! [Marcus Benjamin]
Songs on Repeat: “Imperius Rex,” “The 3 Lyrical Ps,” “Clans and Cliks,” “Refrigerator P,” “Resident Evil”
T.Y.E., 32 — [Listen]
The Skinny: If you only hear one rap album by a classically-trained opera singer from Dallas this year, make it T.Y.E’s 32. There are straight forward rap bangers and six-minute concept tracks with long buildups and multiple movements, but the album is consistently creative and well-executed throughout. He makes perfect use of his operatic chops, incorporating them into intros, choruses and sampling them into his bass-heavy production that switches moods and tempos mid-song, providing a unique soundscape for his raps, a charismatic mix of introspection and braggadocio. I think this was my favorite rap album of 2017. [Trackstar the DJ]
Songs on Repeat: “La La Land,” “Universe,” “Unusual,” “Everyone Loves Me”
Freddie Gibbs, You Only Live 2wice [Listen]
The Skinny: Freddie Gibbs had a tough few years leading up to the release of You Only Live 2wice. An attempt on his life in Brooklyn after a show in late 2014 resulted in two people in his crew getting shot. Less than two years later, Gibbs spent several weeks in an Austrian prison cell after being charged with a sexual assault that was alleged to have taken place in 2015.
Gibbs would be fully exonerated and released from prison last fall, but no one knew what toll that a series of harrowing, life-altering, events that preceded the EP’s release would take on his art. He answered the doubters with a gun butt thwack to the face in You Only Live 2wice, a short but potent EP that ranks among the best releases in his catalog. At a brief eight songs, and competing with sprawling concept albums and star-studded collaborations, it still ranks among the best performances of 2017. The album is dark, somber, confident, and triumphant all at once. It is GZA’s “half short and twice strong” corollary set to urgent beats. [Greg Whitt]
Songs on Repeat: “20 Karat Jesus,” “Alexys,” “Andrea”
Big Boi, Boomiverse [Listen]
The Skinny: Boomiverse is another exhibit in already existing piles of evidence that Big Boi is one of the most consistent artists out. With Andre, without Andre — Big Boi makes great music. On Def Jam, on Epic — Big Boi makes great music. Throw sliders, curveballs, and fastballs at him, and he’ll still continue to hit it out of the park. Boomiverse works so well because he doesn’t take himself too seriously and just has fun. There’s a joy to listening to it because it sounds like Big Boi had a great time creating it. Lots of collaboration take most of the burden off of his shoulders and gives the listener a diverse experience. But the biggest highlight of Boomiverse is the chemistry between Big Boi and Killer Mike. The latter is featured on three separate songs and Killer crushes all of them. They still work so well with each other after decades of making music together. These two absolutely need to make a full project — or EP, I suppose-together pronto. [Raj Anand]
Songs on Repeat: “In The South,” “Made Men,” “Follow Deez”
Stormzy, Gang Signs and Prayers [Listen]
The Skinny: British Hip-Hop hasn’t had much success crossing over into the U.S. but on the global scale, nobody made a bigger dent around the map than Stormzy. His debut album, Gang Signs and Prayers, was full of thunderous boasts, vivid street tales, and just enough features to get his name chatted up in the ivory towers across LA and NY. If you’re reading this from outside of the USA, the chances are pretty high that you already know how powerful this tsunami is from the energetic live show that left your local concert hall in shambles. If not, just wait until he announces his major label deal and watch him bring his wave to both sides of the Atlantic. [Aspektz]
Songs on Repeat: “Cold”, “Cigarettes and Cush”
Benny, Butcher on Steroids [Listen]
The Skinny: Griselda Records is no longer a best kept secret. The label experienced a surge in popularity this year. boosted by the Shady Records signing. It’s absolutely cool as long as it means the camp will finally get more recognition for releasing music like Butcher on Steroids. Everything about the project represents NYC rap of yesteryear structured around a kaleidoscope of sound beds, vivid lyricism and wordplay delivered with pinpoint accuracy. Need a sample before diving in? Start with “Whole Thing” and “Benny Vs. Carlito” and just know there’s more audio dope where that came from. [Gotty]
Songs on Repeat: “Whole Thing,” Benny Vs. Carlito”
Alchemist and Budgie, The Good Book Vol. 2 [Listen]
The Skinny: Imagine a world where we went from KRS-One and Mobb Deep straight into the Gen-Lil’ and “Sound of da Police” was followed up by “Gucci Gang” on the radio. Thankfully, we have super-producer pioneers like Alchemist and Budgie bridging the gap and keeping the new class in touch with their roots. Besides the fact that Al has been crafting all-time classics for almost two decades and besides the fact that even the interludes on this project sound better than 95% of the trash out there, you might ask yourself why you should spend over an hour and a half soaking this in? The experience is nutritious, delicious and ambitious in covering ground so before you get anywhere near a Pro Tools rig, burn through this one absorbing all of the goodness. [Aspektz]
Songs on Repeat: “Stuck in the Box,” “Recess,” “By My Side”
Big K.R.I.T., 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time [Listen]
We have a tendency to write off artists who don’t meet our expectations of stardom. After leaving Def Jam and experiencing a quiet spell, Big K.R.I.T. almost looked like he was ready to fade to black. Until he released his latest 4eva opus. What happened was a turn of events that could’ve only come from the Crooked Letter representer’s new freedom to make the music he wanted without having to conform to label standards and expectations. The project was split between the slab ridin’, backseat bumpin’ tracks and the pensive, thought-driven slowed down soul that earned Krizzle so many diehard fans. For what it’s worth, “Price of Fame” may have been one of my most played songs this year, which is saying something considering how late the album arrived. But leave it to K.R.I.T. to defy the expectations once again. [Gotty]
Songs on Repeat: “Price of Fame,” “Drinking Sessions,” “Keep the Devil Off”
Brent Faiyaz, Sonder Son [Listen]
The Skinny: In a year where America took continuous Ls, Brent Faiyaz had one win after another. In addition to singing the hook of the year on Goldlink’s “Crew,” he also linked up with Soulection producers Atu and Dpat to drop their beautiful EP Into as the collective Sonder. If those two early victories weren’t enough, his über successful 2017 climaxed in the fourth quarter with his impressive solo debut Sonder Son. Where Into introduced the ‘90s R&B-inspired sound that proved to be Faiyaz’s wheelhouse, Sonder Son made it personal. Tales of lonely L.A. nights and formative years in the DMV sung in Faiyaz’s wistfully beautiful tenor made for some of the best R&B music of a year dominated by great releases in the genre. [Greg Whitt]
Songs on Repeat: “Gang Over Luv,” “L.A.,” “First World Problemz/Nobody Carez”
Thundercat, DRUNK [Listen]
The Skinny: Stephen Bruner, a.k.a. Thundercat, has always had a classic album in him. The Brainfeeder artist dropped two good — but not quite great — LPs that were just a bit too weird to make their way into the layman’s iTunes downloads. But enter Drunk, which finally fused Bruner’s mellowed out, jazzy funk with maple-glazed, thickly cut, and poppy basslines that even your basic spouse would love. Sure, jams like “Show You the Way” with soft-rock OGs Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins are cheesy and feel like “dad jokes” in audio form, but “Them Changes,” “Captain Stupido,” “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II),” and “Tokyo” are legit bangers. And “Drink Dat” resurrects a Kush & OJ-era Wiz Khalifa to help round out the record’s second half. There’s lots to love here, and when it comes to a Thundercat album it’s finally the whole damn thing. [Ryan J.]
Songs on Repeat: “Them Changes,” “Captain Stupido,” “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II),” “Show You the Way”
Joey Bada$$, ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ [Listen]
The Skinny: Joey Badass’ All Amerikkkan BadA$$ was the album we needed in the wake all of our political turmoil this year. It’s a rare optimistic take on the Trump presidency and specifically on how we can heal and get stronger going forward. The album is an artistic step forward for Joey, as he takes risks, tries different sounds, and ultimately hammers in his stake as one of the best young voices Hip-Hop has to offer. The popular judgment on Joey Bada$$ is that he raps like rappers years older than him, but his maturity on AABA shows his wisdom is comparable to those years older than him too. [Raj Anand]
Songs on Repeat: “Devastated,” “Legendary,” “Rockabye Baby”
CyHi The Prynce, No Dope on Sundays [Listen]
The Skinny: Let’s just go ahead and admit CyHi’s latest isn’t exactly a sleeper. First of all, he’s on G.O.O.D. Music, which is as recognizable a vanity label as any out, regardless of genre. He’s had a big press run and gotten love from fans and critics alike. Still, I find myself having to convince people to listen to No Dope on Sundays because no one expected Cy to drop a phenomenal body of work, a fact even he acknowledges. But the project was arguably one of the best constructed releases of the year as Cy created a story, stuck to it and delivered on an insider’s tale of a criminal with convictions. [Gotty]
Songs on Repeat: “No Dope on Sundays,” “Movin’ Around,” “Don’t Know Why,” “Trick Me”
Fabolous and Jadakiss, Friday on Elm Street [Listen]
The Skinny: This may be a tad controversial and no doubt there’s a group of people ready to cry foul. But Friday on Elm Street, while inconsistent, does a lot more right than it does wrong. Fab and Jada can pretty much be in cruise control in the booth at this point in their careers but neither of them hit the snooze button on this collaborative effort. In fact, if the album does anything, it simply serves as a reminder of just how dope Fabolous is and how far he’s come from the days of having Lil’ Mo on his lead singles. The extra level that he’s on enhances the album throughout, and makes joints like “Theme Music” and “Soul Food” feel more than just standard rap shit. Yes, the album could’ve and should’ve been a whole lot better. We get shades of it on the very first song, as Fab as the two New Yorkers dive headfirst into the Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees personas they wanted to craft for the album. More of that and less “Talk About It,” “Stand Up,” — and its remix — or “Principles.” Friday on Elm Street showcases the achilles heel both of these dudes have had throughout their careers and that’s their unwillingness to take creative risks and bringing the audience to them rather than actively seeking the audience. But those missteps shouldn’t get in the way of the true gems that are on here, which is exactly why its on this list. The album overall may not be slept on but you’ll be hard pressed to find better standouts this year. [Marcus Benjamin]
Songs on Repeat: “F vs J Intro,” “Theme Music,” “Nightmares Ain’t As Bad”
Skyzoo, Peddler Themes [Listen]
The Skinny: Skyzoo is nothing if not consistent. Every year, he releases a new project and it jams from top to bottom. Peddler Themes is no different. The eight-song EP clocks in just under 30 minutes, perfect for a short stay on the treadmill or the work commute. Skyzoo’s trademark lyricism and beat selection is on full display, as he continues to weave stories in homage to his hometown of Brooklyn. With only eight songs, Sky doesn’t have a lot of time to waste. Once the beat kicks in for “Short Money” the album demands your full attention and doesn’t relinquish it until the horns fade out on “Long Money.” Peddler Themes works double duty as it will satiate long time fans until the February release of his next full-length LP, In Celebration of Us. For new listeners, the music is accessible enough to create new fans who will hopefully come to see what I’ve been trying to tell everyone for years: Skyzoo is one of the best writers in rap. [G. Hylton]
Songs on Repeat: “Short Money,” “Bamboo,” “For Real(er)”
Ty Dolla $ign, Beach House 3 [Listen]
The Skinny: Mixtape, schmixstape. While debates over how artists should release music raged in 2017, Ty Dolla decided to take the latest iteration of his revered Beach House series and turn the release into an all out album. When the project is lined with more smashes than a junkyard, formalities can be adjusted, right? Although the feature-filled tracklist tends to push the seams a bit, the repeat-ready release is filled with jams for every mood and tons of fun, in general. [BEWARE]
Songs On Repeat: “Ex,” “Don’t Judge Me,” “Droptop In The Rain,” “Lil Favorite,” “All The Time,” “Side Effect
9th Wonder, Zion II [Listen]
The Skinny: Sometimes I don’t want to hear MCs bog down neck-snapping beats with battle raps about imaginary rappers and haters who live rent-free in their heads. Thankfully, 9th Wonder understood our plight and set a gang of instrumentals free from his archives onto Zion II.
It’s rare to anticipate hearing 40+ tracks off of any project as I prefer albums on the short and sweet side. However, its brand of chopped up, slow-cooked soul provides a welcome exception to the rule. Listening to so much 9th isn’t just a throwback to the days of searching for his beats on Soulseek. It’s a palette cleanser featuring standout instrumentals used by Anderson Paak, Rapsody and Phonte to name a few. There’s also plenty of new heat for those who need their drums to swing a tad off the grid. [Sam Cadet]
Songs on Repeat: “MellowSmoove!!!,” “Ahhman!!!,” “SheChoseMe!!!,” “CommunionJuice!!!,” “INeverKnew!!!,” “AndNeedYou!!!”
Young Thug, Beautiful Thugger Girls [Listen]
The Skinny: Why did people call Young Thug’s magnificent follow-up to Jeffery his country album? Because he’s playing a guitar on the cover? First of all, the guitar is upside down. Second, this isn’t a country album at all — it’s simply Thugger leaving traditional trap behind for one full project. You’ll live. The result is an eclectic hodgepodge of sonically diverse songs that show love for everything from family and friends to weed and women. He’s already so melodic, the album’s musical progression comes across naturally and stand-out songs sound polished as ever. BTG might be more pop than rap, but it’s definitely not country. [BEWARE]
Songs on Repeat: “Tomorrow Till Infinity,” “Do U Love Me,” “Relationship,” “For Ya’ll,” “Take Care”
Royce 5’9, Bar Exam 4 [Listen]
The Skinny: Royce’s long-running Bar Exam series is something of a relic in 2017. Before the line between mixtapes and albums blurred, with mixtapes essentially becoming “free albums” with original production, artists used mixtapes as an excuse to craft new rhymes on other people’s beats. Royce’s series has been just that and his latest release might be the crown jewel of the series. Bar Exam 4 features beats from Rick Ross’ “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit,” Playboi Carti’s “Magnolia,” Lupe’s “Mural,” and more. What it also features is the Detroit native doing things on beats that seem to be completely out of this world. The sheer amount of verbal acrobatics is enough to give Simone Biles a run for her money. Royce’s bars punch with the sort of force that sent Ronda Rousey to retirement. To be clear, the Slaughterhouse member isn’t just rapping on these beats; he’s conducting an orchestra of lyrical murder and racking up bodies like John Wick. This isn’t hyperbole. There’s a better than 97% chance listeners won’t hear more, or better, bars from any release in the entirety of 2017. [G. Hylton]
Songs on Repeat: “Magnolia Freestyle,” “Beats Keep Calling,” “Chopping Block,” “Stay Down”
YoungBoy NBA, Ain’t Too Long [Listen]
The Skinny: There’s something in the water in Baton Rouge that produces a certain caliber of artists and YoungBoy NBA is part of that pedigree. His age masks how in tune he is with the world surrounding him. The darkness and desperation captured in his lines are delivered with a sense of soul that almost tricks the senses into thinking the music is a celebration. It isn’t. But, it sounds damn good nonetheless [Gotty]
Songs on Repeat: “Confidential,” “War with Us,” “Pour One”
Conway The Machine, G.O.A.T. [Listen]
The Skinny: Griselda Records release schedule was on steroids this year. Besides the fact that they signed a deal with Shady Records, multiple tapes from Westside Gunn and Conway as well as debuts by Benny the Butcher and El Camino, have established the Buffalo, N.Y. crew as one to watch in 2018. However, the most anticipated release of all was Conway’s G.O.A.T.
Gaining an almost mythical quality after being mentioned in several of Conway’s blistering verses as being “on the way,” fans have hovered around Conway’s Instagram comments and Twitter mentions for a solid year. They’ve been begging, bargaining with, and nearly threatening the man for G.O.A.T.’s release on a daily basis since it was first announced. Finally, the album dropped just in time to make our list, and The Machine didn’t disappoint. Conway is as sharp as a prison shank over some of the darkest, dankest, production Daringer has ever done — he produced the album almost exclusively, with one notable exception from The Alchemist. Enemies pay the ultimate price, young boys hop off the porch and become shooters as adolescents, and money is made in the dark shadows of night in Conway’s world. On G.O.A.T., he describes that world with poetic flair and photorealistic detail. [Greg Whitt]
Songs on Repeat: “Xxxtras,” “Arabian Sam’s,” “Bullet Klub”
Rick Ross, Rather You Than Me [Listen]
The Skinny: Rick Ross’ image is his everything. He’s a boss, and the facade never drops, not in interviews, not on stage, and certainly not on an album. that is, until we heard Rather You Than Me. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely those boisterous records that we’ve come to know and love Rozay for, but the real gems on this album come when he sheds the image and has thoughtful, introspective conversations with the listener.
The collaboration levels are high on Rather You Than Me and that helps Rick Ross take some of the rapping burden off, and give room to diversify his sound. Every ‘deep’ track is complemented with a banger, like “Dead Presidents.” On “Idols Become Rivals,” he also shows a different side of him by showing solidarity with Lil’ Wayne and noting his issues with Birdman on record. Oh, and this entry wouldn’t be shit if we didn’t acknowledge that Young Thug ripped off his best verse of the year on “Trap Trap Trap” from this album. [Raj Anand]
Songs on Repeat: “Santorini Greece,” “I Think She Like Me (Feat. Ty $ Sign),” “Powers That Be (Feat. Nas)”
Mozzy, 1 Up Top Ahk [Listen]
The Skinny: Mozzy’s energy is just something else. First and foremost, he’s hungry. He knows what it’s like to lose everything and he’s determined to do whatever it takes to not go back to that place. His stock has risen over the last couple years and some of Hip-Hop’s best, like Boosie Badazz, Jay Rock, and Dave East, lend their voices here to build a cohesive, well constructed album. The Sacramento emcee is also an open book. Nothing is a secret and he openly shares everything he’s been through and all of his aspirations for his future. The brutal honesty on 1 Up Top Ahk may rub some the wrong way, but it’s a refreshing change in an industry full of pretenses and appearances. [Raj Anand]
Songs on Repeat: “Momma We Made It (feat. Jay Rock),” “Tomorrow Ain’t Promised (Feat. Boosie Badazz & Rexx Life Raj)”
Let us know some of your favorite sleepers from this year. Sound off in the comments section below. And please be sure to recommend the article if you enjoyed it.
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, username WeAreStillCrew.