It’s the end of the year, and for those of us who are still in school, it’s also the end of another semester. You know what that means- final grades. Before I have to experience the appalled disapproval of my parents after they find out the results of my own semi-adequate report card, I’ll take out some stress by dishing my own grades out to all the major rappers and hip-hoppers of 2017. Grades for some are high; others could use a bit more schooling.
After 2016 gave us releases from heavyweights Kanye, Kendrick, Drake, and J. Cole, there may have been worry that 2017 would be a down year for the genre. Nope- hip-hop is on as fire as it ever was, evidenced by ridiculous streaming numbers and #1 hits by random artists from Post Malone to Cardi B. (In the near future, Spotify’s RapCaviar playlist might just become the Billboard Hot 100). There were also event-worthy album releases this year from transcendent trap stars (Migos, Future), established icons (Drake, Jay-Z, Lil Pump, just kidding), and the Lord and Savior himself (Kendrick Lamar). Let’s get into some report card grades…
“DETROIT LOSING TO EVERYBODY” DIVISION
Big Sean: C+
There’s pretty much nothing at this point that could damage 45-year-old Eminem’s legacy as a rap legend, but his latest trainwreck Revival certainly tries its best to. I didn’t know what running a marathon felt like until I attempted to listen to Revival from start to finish; I think it was after the 11th straight phoned-in pop chorus over a cornball stadium-rock beat that I had to cover my ears and scream, “MAKE IT STOOOP!” Let’s have an emergency listen to some Slim Shady circa 1999 and try to pretend Eminem retired.
Fellow Detroit native Big Sean fared better this year, but neither his faux-inspirational I Decided nor his uninspired Metro Boomin collab Double Or Nothing could do much to change his reputation as the ramen noodles of rap. You know, that guy you go to as a last resort when there’s nothing else to consume.
“Shit, I’m starved, is there any new music coming out soon? I guess we do have this Big Sean tape, that can hold us over for the time being…”
One’s tolerance for Big Sean is basically a question of how hungry they are. At least Detroit can claim Tee Grizzley.
“CLASS OF 2016 REVISITED” DIVISION
Lil Uzi Vert: A-
21 Savage: B+
Kodak Black: B
Clear room for me in the back of the bandwagon, I’m hopping on! After worrying last year about this out-there bunch marking a demise in my enjoyment of rap, my mind was put more at ease after this trio’s enjoyably productive 2017. The leader of the new school right now is the comically delirious Uzi, whose endlessly replayable “XO Tour Llif3” has pretty much crossed the line into “iconic” territory. Once you get used to his shouty voice, pretty much every song on Luv Is Rage 2 is a feel-good anthem. It all makes sense now!
On the other end, 21’s dead-eyed trap growls and Kodak’s marble-mouthed flows are harder to sit through over the course of a full-length project, but “Bank Account” and “Tunnel Vision” among other songs were surefire hits for good reason. I’ll give 21 the slight edge just because of his glorious decision to actually title his official debut Issa Album. Oh, and because I’ll never get tired of this video.
Lil Yachty’s still ass though.
“INDIE RAP” DIVISION
Tyler, the Creator: B
Vince Staples: B
You kinda either love or don’t give a crap about these two guys with no in-between. For the people that are big fans, I’m sure Flower Boy and Big Fish Theory are up there with their favorite albums of the year. For the people that don’t give a crap, I’m sure they’re bewildered that Flower Boy and Big Fish Theory could be up there with some people’s favorite albums of the year. Personally, I respect more than admire these guys’ music; let’s just all compromise on a half-assed B grade.
Gucci Mane: A-
Young Thug: B
2 Chainz: B
In case you weren’t aware, pretty much all of the fun, bombastic, 808-booming trap music in hip-hop comes from artists originated from the city of Atlanta, Georgia. Just check out the ridiculous hit-making histories of ATL-born producers Metro Boomin and Mike WiLL Made-It. 2017 was a banner year for the rap mecca of a city; if you add the native 21 Savage to the list of names above, there were at least a combined 12 projects from this prolific group. Future split himself into two different entities and both of them released a dope-ass album one week apart. The Immortal Gucc kept passing out new projects like they were candy on Halloween. Young Thug kept making delightfully weird shit. 2 Chainz did 2 Chainz things.
Still, it was the three a’Migos that triplet-flowed and ad-libbed their way into America’s hearts this year. Everything these guys touched turned to gold; Quavo established himself as a hot feature on popular hits, and then Offset broke out and murdered every rap guest verse that he was offered. Takeoff is equally as vital to the crew; nothing quite puts a smile on my face like him yelling out a good old “MAMA!” or “COOKIE!” in the background of a beat. Culture 2 can’t come soon enough.
“POUND CAKE” DIVISION
Sometime in June, Drake released the smooth, dancehall-y “Signs” and the Metro-produced banger “No Complaints” with Offset. These two songs didn’t blow up on the radio or anything and probably wouldn’t even crack the top fifty most notable Drake songs, but they were both addictive and sure enough, ended up on my list of 100 most-played songs of the year. They served as yet another example of why Drake’s been such a consistent musical presence over the years- his unique stylistic versatility and a keen sense of how to keep up with current trends. This year he had an incredible 430-week run of having a song on the Billboard Hot 100 (as lead or feature artist) come to an end. 430 weeks- that goes back to 2009! He dubbed the laid-back More Life a “playlist,” but it was still one of the most enjoyable projects of the year. People can say what they want, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Drizzy era.
As for Jay-Z, he managed to make a mature, old man’s rap album that still sounded musically fantastic. You think he can teach his pal Kanye a lesson? You’re right, dumb idea.
“POTENTIAL G.O.A.T.” DIVISION
Oops, wrong pic.
Kendrick Lamar: A
Drake deployed a stylistically all-over-the-map “playlist” approach for More Life, but Kendrick proved emphatically with DAMN. that a cohesive, meaningfully sequenced album is still the best way to make a statement. Nothing on DAMN. is unnecessary or out of place- the one-word, all-caps song titles tell you all you need to know. Most special editions of albums come with B-sides and extra tracks; the recent collector’s edition of DAMN. just comes with the original tracklist in reverse order. It’s not a gimmick to shuffle the songs around. It’s so one can experience the project’s expert storytelling and compelling narrative from a whole new perspective. Such is the mastery of Kendrick, who’s shown over the years that nobody in hip-hop, and possibly all of music in general, can put together an impactful album like he can. And lucky for us this time around, the final product included him spazzing over Mike Will beats and rapping alongside Rihanna. There were some albums and projects that were overall more enjoyable to listen to in 2017, but DAMN. is like that movie that collects all the awards at the end of the year; it’s just a supreme work of art.
In conclusion, my personal top ten rap projects of the year are listed below. Thanks for reading- now, onto 2018!
1.) Kendrick- DAMN.
2.) Migos- Culture
3.) Drake- More Life
4.) Future- FUTURE
5.) Future- HNDRXX
6.) Jay-Z- 4:44
7.) Lil Uzi Vert- Luv Is Rage 2
8.) 2 Chainz- Pretty Girls Like Trap Music
9.) Travis Scott/Quavo- Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho
10.) Young Thug- Beautiful Thugger Girls