If you’re tired of the typical best hip-hop of the year list and want better than the usual mainstream mainstays, look no further than this rundown of the finest rap projects of 2017.
10. Catastrophic Event Specialists – Ces Cru (February 10 / Strange Music, Inc.)
Although Ces Cru rappers Godemis and Ubiquitous have perfected traditional quick-paced lyricism and delivered it in all their projects, each LP is unique, especially in the case of their sixth, Catastrophic Event Specialists. Stockpiled with fresh material, from commentary on the art of rap and corrupt politics to the common good and non-material valuables, the third CES album on Strange Music, Inc. is a series of thematic time bombs that the group set off and control, set off and then control again and again. After all, they’re catastrophic event specialists. And with fantastic camaraderie between all the Strange and non-Strange guests, it’s a rally for a worthy cause by heroes who wouldn’t harm a fly.
9. Hip Hop Hooray – Dan Bull (January 13 / self-released)
English rapper, gamer and internet comedian Dan Bull released his twelfth Generation Gaming album less than six months after Hip Hop Hooray (his fourth stand-alone LP) came out in January 2017, proof of the momentum he received from the triple H project. The light whimsical Bull continues his legacy by making fun of himself, by sorting out some social incongruences and by placing family- and home-health high on his list of values. True to his methods, Hip Hop Hooray comes straight out of Dan’s web-based cottage industry and serves up rich sweet layers of homemade beats and lyrics—a treat that’s instantly enjoyable and impossible to forget.
8. Olive Branch – Locksmith (March 31 / Landmark Entertainment)
Locksmith, from The Frontline, specializes in moral principles and character development and naturally, he is on no major label. His solo albums go back to 2014 but the Olive Branch LP sees him in his greatest form yet. In 2016, he dropped a huge hint of coming grandeur via The Lock Sessions mixtape, the preview to Olive Branch. Here, the upper echelon of flowing skills, messages and production treats listeners in a spirit of coming together in goodwill. Locked and loaded with immense rhyme power and heart, Locksmith serves as a standup role model and excellent example for rappers new and old.
7. Otis King: Return of the G – Otis Reed (August 18 / Palmtree Entertainment)
Fresno guardian angel Otis Reed in his fourth studio album, Otis King: Return of the G, is as powerful as he is playful, a shining speaker of real talk from the hood. A guidance counselor of sorts, Reed focuses on issues affecting families in downgraded communities, the degradation of the family unit and that of relationships of every kind. Outside of the home, Reed turns his attention to stereotypes and other common struggles. A wallop of material yes but the production is the spoonful of sugar to this medicine. Smooth soulful vibes get us through the hardest parts with ease. King Otis Reed returns as the best type of G imaginable.
6. Into The Further – Wrekonize (May 5 / Strange Music, Inc.)
As hip-hop enters the future, few in the mainstream are taking it to new artistic territory, especially since many “rappers” aren’t even emceeing anymore. Of the ones that still do, about half or less add genuine wisdom to their bars. Put Wrekonize (of Mayday! and Strange Music) in that last group. Into The Further, his third solo LP, works double duty at being both cool and enlightening. Wrekonize supports gratitude, love and consideration of others, and he axes extreme conformism and denial of the truth. Textured musicality and choruses give it great feeling and staying power. To absorb the album is to rediscover the beauty in people and to bring humanity back to the public.
5. Crooked – Propaganda (June 30 / Humble Beast Records)
Spiritual LAlien Propaganda (Jason Petty) transfers deep knowledge and intricate wordplay (including spoken word) onto his tracks. The Tunnel Rats member and fortitudinous solo artist released his fourth album last year but has maintained a smart hearty style since the beginning. With his mind on the pain and darkness of adversity, Propaganda encourages us to reject hate and hypocrisy, and for all the vocal shocks, a steady diversity of music balances the payload. Not only does Propaganda have technical skill but also compassion for the marginalized and suffering.
4. A Time And Place – Anoyd (April 25 / Pace Music Group LLC)
A bit new to releasing albums but no spring chick at his craft and hardworking as well, independent Connecticut emcee Anoyd (Dashorn Whitehead) has already released four studio albums in the last two years, all on Pace Music Group. A Time And Place is Anoyd’s finest to date. The talented, socially conscious wordsmith and melodic romantic in the man guarantee a blend of intelligent poetry and powerful love songs. Activist pronouncements flourish in the income gap study of “Cardboard Box” and in the mixed bag that is “Phony Habits.” A fine example of maturity, wisdom and love in the field, Anoyd motivates all creatives with like integrity.
3. Kairos, Pt. 1 – Kristoff Krane (July 11 / F I X)
The journey of Kristoff Krane (Christopher Keller) from Minneapolis has so far yielded six albums (five solo and one collaboration). They’ve all come either self-released or on indies. Unlike the name of his former label (Crushkill Recordings), the highly lyrical Krane is the opposite of a crushing killer in personality, maybe in ambition, but not in character. His newest album, the Graham O’Brien-produced Kairos Part 1, an experimental smorgasbord from two artists with a great conception of art rap, visits just about every dimension of human emotion and intelligence, with symbolism of animals, animal eyes and more. O’Brien’s electronically proactive beats twist and turn in parallel with Krane’s fluctuating vocals and vice versa. Kairos 1 neatly layers raw thought, leading to open interpretation and limitless imagination.
2. Lazarus – Sha Stimuli (September 25 / 10 Minutes Late Records LLC)
Not only is the Lazarus LP a comeback for Brooklyn emcee Sha Stimuli but it’s also an amazing one. The well-rounded lyricist is a tough cookie with a gentle soul. Though he criticizes the system, he also comments on the faults of those targeted by the system with searing condemnation of alcoholism, infidelity, domestic violence and fatherlessness. Elsewhere, he shows loads of appreciation for life. His wholesome influence proves rap can offer much more than kicks and giggles to the people.
1. Destined: The [R]Evolution – SkyBlew & SublimeCloud (June 25 / self-released)
You don’t get as far as someone like SkyBlew (Mario Farrow) without ambition and brimming positivity, and no matter what he has experienced—from collaborations and tours to features and awards—they have never been nor will they ever be the ultimate goal for him. He is intent on affecting progressive change in the world through music. In 2017, SkyBlew collaborated on two projects, first Dreams, Toonami and Jazzier Days with producer Pabzzz and then Destined: The [R]Evolution with producer SublimeCloud. For its cool lovely soundtrack and wonderful character, The [R]Evolution, which is the sequel to Destined: The Rebirth, stands atop last year’s best rap albums. SkyBlew is a brilliant beacon for the truest path in life, and his partner SublimeCloud is a masterful selector of folk rock, pop and smooth jazz. Get inspired by wisdom and soul from this North Carolina duo nonpareil.
Microphone Jackson – Rise Rashid
Watch What I Do – Sam Shoemaker
Fay Grim – Likwuid & 2 Hungry Bros
Dreams, Toonami & Jazzier Days – SkyBlew & Pabzzz
The Potential LP – C4 The Explosive
The World Is Mind – KRS-One
$cribble – Esham
Resolution – Mr. Lif & Akrobatik
The Golden Age 2 – Dizzy Wright
Darwin’s Frankenstein – Esh
Extra Credit – Mega Ran
The Deeper They Dig The Blacker The Planet Gets – Millenium Falcon
Writing HERstory – Jazzmyn Red
Welcome To My Dreams – Manuel
Hip-Hop* – MC Bravado
All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ – Joey Bada$$
Game Of Death – Gensu Dean & Wise Intelligent