If 2017 felt confusing, sometimes infuriating, sometimes triumphant, and generally emotionally sporadic on your timelines, that same perplexity was reflected in the music it produced. I’m not mad at the art 2017 delivered but I don’t think I was expecting most of it. Aside from two hip-hop legends meeting impossible expectations and even surpassing their potential, the albums that impressed me the most this year came as pleasant surprises. I’m trying really hard not to echo the “we needed ___ more than ever” sentiment The Ringer called out in a piece Lainey linked to the other day but truthfully, some of these albums are a perfect representation of the times. Some of them are just dope sh-t. The albums I picked are a mix of stunning protest, feel-good escapism, mindless pop hits, underrated anthems and yes, urgent masterpieces. These are the albums I couldn’t stop playing, the ones that made me think or sob or dance around my kitchen – or all three. These are the albums that will be replaying in my brain under the great and not so great memories of a year filled with equal amounts of both. Here are my Top 5 Albums of 2017, in a very specific order.
In music history, Jay-Z’s 4:44 will probably be remembered as Jay’s most sonically ambitious and artistically mature album – or the one where he admitted to cheating on our Queen Beyoncé. To me, it will go down as Jay’s first work as a post-therapy proper adult and the album of 2017 that gut-punched me the hardest. I have been talking about/dissecting the themes and confessions in 4:44 since the day it dropped this summer. The importance of a black man with Jay’s gravitas and social standing showing vulnerability and remorse and taking accountability for his actions will be this album’s legacy. Jay-Z redefined black masculinity for himself and hopefully, for a generation. Plus, along with giving us essential, beautiful music for the hip-hop history books, 4:44 gave us SO MUCH CONTENT. Shout out to Beyoncé for being responsible for the seminal album of the year two years in a row.
Revisit my reaction piece to 4:44 here.
Whew. What a work. I was careful not to call 4:44 the BEST album of 2017 because, of course, that title has to go to Kendrick Lamar. DAMN. is perfect. It’s an instant classic. It’s an album that, as a hip-hop fan, you just feel fortunate to be in its presence, to devour in every sitting. I listen to this album in full almost weekly. WHAT. A. WORK. Not only is every word smart AF (are we retiring “AF” in 2018?), it’s got bangers. When I first wrote about DAMN., I called its second single DNA. “our Eye of The Tiger.” Basically, it makes me want to punch walls and start revolutions. Kendrick Lamar is called the Artist of His Generation so often the title is starting to feel trite but he continually rises to meet expectations most artists would crumble under. Long may King Kenny reign.
Meaning of Life
So far, Kelly Clarkson has not made any of the Best Albums of 2017 lists I’ve seen. The music snobs at Pitchfork would probably laugh in my face that I included Meaning of Life in my top 5 of 2017 but I give less than a single f-ck. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, DO NOT SLEEP ON THIS ALBUM. I am not a pop culture snob. I love Game of Thrones and Handmaids Tale like the rest of the media elite but I also I spent a lot of my year writing about The Bachelorette and Riverdale. I’d rather watch A Christmas Prince over Dunkirk any day of the week. My point: Kelly Clarkson’s Meaning of Life may not be a critically acclaimed body of work but it IS her masterpiece. It’s the album Kelly has always wanted to do and you can hear the freedom in her voice. Meaning of Life was the shot of pure, unadulterated joy I needed in 2017. Read my full review here.
I didn’t want to like Drake’s More Life. In fact, I tried really hard NOT to like More Life. After Views, I was decidedly over Drake. Then, I heard the opening of Passionfruit. Holy sh-t, Passionfruit is a good song. More Life is so stacked with great songs, it’s annoying. Drake finally got out of his own way and threw a hell of a party with this album. Drake silenced his critics (including me) who were calling for him to take a stand politically through his music by just putting out great work that was fun and a nice distraction. I can’t be mad at this. And after all my initial hesitations, I can definitely say that I danced to More Life more than any other album (remember when Drake tried to make calling albums “playlists” happen?) this year. Full review here.
SZA’s debut studio album was 2017’s A Seat at the Table. A Seat at the Table was more political where CTRL is simply introspective and sexy but to me, they exist in the same space. They’re both stunning, smooth R&B, dreamlike masterworks from black female artists who found their voices and some overdue respect. We’ve mentioned SZA a couple times on the site but for some reason, I have yet to yell at all of you about how great SZA is. Some of you already know. To those of you who don’t, now seems like an opportune time to start yelling. SZA IS GREAT. LISTEN TO CTRL. I recommend it in the bathtub with a bottle of wine. Whatever is plaguing you, this will cure it. Promise.
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Migos – Culture
Haim – Something to Tell You
Daniel Caesar – Freudian
Kesha – Rainbow
Solid albums I only felt compelled to listen to once
Lorde – Melodrama, I know, I know, I should probably give it another shot (Lainey: you really should. It’s on my Top 5)
Pink – Beautiful Trauma
Future - HNDRXX
Album Everyone Liked That I Was “Meh” About
Harry Styles – Harry Styles (sorry, handsome)
Taylor Swift – reputation
Katy Perry – Witness
Miley Cyrus – Younger Now