Best Of 2017: Under the Radar Hip-Hop and R&B
by Chris Craighead
The breadth of Hip Hop shined bright in 2017 as the genre continues to evolve in height and sound. Hip Hop/R&B dominated listeners' playlists and headphones; having the most streams of any genre for the second year in a row. Kendrick Lamar’s "DAMN," SZA’s "CTRL" and Jay-Z’s "4:44" have been at the top of the year-end's ‘best albums of the year' lists, but I wanted to shed some light on a few lesser-known albums that I had on repeat this year.
J.I.D. – The Never Story
There were few rap albums this year where I was impressed by lyricism and wordplay, but J.I.D’s breathless delivery on "The Never Story" stood out among his contemporaries. Signed by J. Cole’s Dreamville Records and frequent Earthgang collaborator, J.I.D shows a blend of creativity, brashness and humor that embodies East Atlanta.
Smino – Blkswn
After the release of his mixtape "blkjptr" in 2015, Smino and producer Monte Booker coalesced to create an album that highlighted Smino’s unique vocals and church roots. The product is a tightly knit collection of tracks that hone in on Smino’s perspective of the world around him. The record highlights his homage to black women (Anita), his St. Louis upbringing and the Ferguson protests (Long Run), and hedonistic desires (Netflix & Dusse, Silk Pillows). Blkswn takes you on a rambunctious joyride that keeps you wanting more.
Brockhampton – Saturation II
Brockhampton exploded onto the scene in 2017 thanks to the Viceland series American Boyband and their debut album, "Saturation." Their follow-up, "Saturation II," is a well-polished record that has each member postulating ideas about their identity and how the world reacts around them.
Gabriel Garzón-Montana – Jardín
Gabriel Garzón-Montana’s Jardín is a fresh breath of air in a period where dark and moody R&B has become the norm. Almost solely produced by Montana, Jardín balances the soundscapes of funk-pop and downtempo hip hop to create one of the most unique sounding albums of 2017.
Sonder - Into;Brent Faiyaz – Sonder Son
Producers Dpat and Atu teamed up with Brent Faiyaz to form the Trio Sonder in 2016. Their debut EP Into is a soulful dive into love and existence, with production reminiscent of 90’s R&B. Faiyaz would later go on to release his debut solo album; reflecting on his own personal experiences. In Sonder Son, Faiyaz allows the listener to accompany him in his reflection of his dreams and the realizations he has in his pursuit of self-actualization.