Whether your thing is Hip-Hop, R&B, Pop, or something else, the music world delivered several albums that we found to be worthy of being called the top albums of 2017, or as we like to call them, “97s.” We saw the long-awaited return of several of our favorites, and debut albums from a number of notable new talents, such as SZA, AlanMichael, and Declan McKenna. But, how did they all rank in our list?
Deliberated by our team of writers, we’ve ranked the top albums of 2017 that we loved. If you’re familiar with the way we review songs/albums then you know that “97” is our top score. We love every album on this list, ranked them according to how much and weighed in with a few thoughts about each. Please feel free to comment with your thoughts, as well! We’d love to hear from you and engage in any discussion. Now, without any further ado…
THE 97’s Top Albums of 2017:
The 19 “97” Albums
19. Entrancing, AlanMichael
AlanMichael is an up-and-coming independent artist that you need to know. Our readers might recall his 1997 mix of Beyoncé’s “Pray You Catch Me” with Janet and Mariah. He’s a multi-threat: singer-songwriter-rapper-producer-dancer … and probably more. Entrancing is his first official release after a series of EPs and mixtapes. The set is short, but striking nonetheless — striking enough to stand worthily alongside a list of his big-named, mainstreamed, soon-to-be peers. On Entrancing, AlanMichael showcases his versatility, vanity and vulnerabilities. The album is an introductory journey that takes the listener through this captivating new artist. Not only that, it is also a journey through a multitude of fresh and varied musical landscapes, innovative vocal intricacies and subtleties, and dynamic lyrical themes. However, the Entrancing experience doesn’t stop at your ears: it has a visual component available now on YouTube. Highlights: “Vanity,” “The Lux” and “Is This Where We Are?” -Vincent
18. DROGAS Light, Lupe Fiasco
A mix of new material and refined older recordings, Lupe Fiasco‘s sixth studio album DROGAS Light is a prequel to the coming DROGAS Wave. While not his most profound or innovative work, DROGAS Light is a solid set packed with several bops and that signature Lupe flow. The unique storytelling is there (“Jump”), alongside a heartfelt dedication to his mom (“More Than My Heart”), thought-provoking moments (“NGL”), and even a little romance (“Pick Up the Phone”). One of my favorites, though, is “Promise,” where Lupe cleverly makes a very simple, sing-songy rap track to show, “yeah I could do that too… but I’m above it.” When I first heard the song, I thought it was a guest artist rapping. But it’s Lupe being messy, as per usual. Highlights: “Promise,” “It’s Not Design,” “Wild Child” -Vincent
17. ?VOLVE, Imagine Dragons
16. El Dorado, Shakira
Shakira’s El Dorado is almost like a greatest hits compilation of her year prior to its release. Of the album’s 12 tracks, 5 had been released prior to the album. Three of those were duets with other artists, while the other two were her own promotional singles. It was an interesting but effective strategy. The album’s highlights are in fact its duets, notably the new additions “Chantaje” and “Trap” with Maluma and “Perro Fiel” with Nicky Jam. On El Dorado, the 40-year-old Shakira proved she can still hang with los jovenes and churn out the hits. Highlights: “Chantaje,” “Trap,” “Me Enamoré,” “Perro Fiel” -Vincent
15. What Do You Think About The Car?, Declan McKenna
There was a LOT of hype around Declan McKenna and his debut album. Multiple times, by multiple outlets, he’s been called ‘the voice of his/a generation’. While he may not have proven (or accepted) that title, his debut alum is a solid body of work. He showcases his covers a unique group of topics such as LGBT teen suicide and corruption in FIFA. He accomplishes this over a surprisingly welcoming indie-rock-themed body of work (with some clear inspiration from Bowie and Dylan). Highlights: “Why Do You Feel So Down?”, “Humungous”, “Brazil”, “Paracetamol” -Andrew
14. More Life, Drake
Many people probably don’t really consider this a Drake album, but why not? It has all the elements that make a Drake album: the mellow R&B-ish undertones, the ear to the streets to know what’s hot and the tropical bops. And speaking of bops, More Life gave us a couple of Pop crossovers that rank up there with the likes of “Hotling Bling” and “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” Drake is maybe still trying to find a balance between the street cred and the Pop superstar life, and he may get a little repetitive, but since this isn’t really an album, maybe he will explore new ground on the next chapter. Hopefully. Highlights: “Passionfruit,” “Blem,” “Glow.” -Mario
13. Double Dutchess, Fergie
12. The Autobiography (As Told By), Vic Mensa
I saw Vic Mensa live twice this year. First, at the Tidal charity concert, and most recently at Jay-Z’s 4:44 Tour. His live performances left me so impressed that I decided to listen to his album. I was even more impressed. The set is aptly titled. Autobiography plays like a confessional. Mensa is no-holds-barred in his honesty and emotional delivery. He cascades subject matters, ranging from relationships to race in America. It’s not perfect, but its imperfections add to its character. He is a raw, unfiltered artist whose voice and artistry are only going to become more refined and defining. Highlights: “Say I Didn’t,” “Homewrecker,” “We Could Be Free” -Vincent
11. Ctrl, SZA
The plight of black women and the pursuit of love and happiness is something that I’ve written about extensively, and the narrative is often one of despair and heartache. In Ctrl, SZA not only changes that narrative, she completely turns it on its head, leaving little to the imagination, and changes the conventions entirely. In songs like “Supermodel”, “Love Galore”, the Kendrick Lamar assisted track “Doves in the Wind”, and most notably, “The Weekend”, SZA frankly discusses her need for unattached, no strings, relationships, matters of the heart, and one’s almost self-destructive need for sex.
There have been people I’ve discussed album’s subject matter in great detail, and some find her messages unappealing, for it is “unladylike” for a woman to speak so candidly about sex in such a “vulgar” manner. However, SZA does nothing more than speaking to the same things that have been the status quo for men for centuries. Feminist teas for the win! In reality, the album’s content is what for the most part, represents our generation’s attitude towards love and sex, and truthfully, unabashedly takes full ownership of that attitude. Highlights: “The Weekend” “Love Galore” “Doves in the Wind” “Go Gina” “20 Something” -Jordan
10. CollXtion II, Allie X
Allie X affected me this year. This album captivated me from the very first listen. Allie already demonstrated her songwriting abilities contributing to Troye Sivan‘s stellar Blue Neighbourhood. Now she showcases the full picture on her debut LP. CollXtion II combines dark, synth-driven pop with clever lyrics, catchy melodies with Allie’s haunting vocals. At times it’s dreamy and effervescent. Other times it’s nightmarish and downtrodden. One thing’s for sure: This isn’t the picture-perfect love created in a Disney cartoon. Highlights: “Old Habits Die Hard”, “Casanova”, “True Love Is Violent”, “Vintage” – Andrew
9. Bluebird of Happiness, Tamar Braxton
On her fourth album, Tamar Braxton decided that she was not going to highlight the cons of a relationship, but instead, she focused primarily on what made her feel happy. This was probably just an effort to mask the difficulties and the struggle she was going through while making this record: just after the release of the album she and Vince decided to announce their separation. Nonetheless, Bluebird of Happiness showcases Tamar’s qualities as an R&B songstress and her ability to put emotions on wax-like very few can do in the current music landscape. Highlights: “Wanna Love You Boy,” “The Makings of You” “Pick Me Up.” -Mario
8. Evolution, Anastacia
Anastacia is a veteran in the industry, with hits under her belt, in Europe that is. In her native USA though, she’s fairly unknown beyond “I’m Outta Love”. This year’s Evolution was her 7th studio effort, and one of her best to date. More than a decade after she discovered her Sprock (soul-pop-rock) sound, she grows beyond it to a unique mix of pop and rock. She’s not chasing trends here, nor is she going retro. Despite a tragic lack of push from her label, Evolution sounds fresh, expansive, and contemporary. Highlights: “Redlight”, “Before”, “Higher Livin'” -Andrew
7. Grateful, DJ Khaled
I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of DJ Khaled. While I’ve always respected his hustle, some of his productions never really caught my eye. Amidst his massively popular social media presence and his involvement with one of last summer’s anthems, “All The Way Up”, Khaled absolutely won with this year’s LP, Grateful. Enlisting the help of Drake, Rihanna, Migos, Alicia Keys, Nicki Minaj, and of course, Beyoncé and JAY-Z, Khaled really crafted a work that full of simple good vibes. Not every album needs to evoke deep thought; sometimes, especially in this day and age, it helps to just bop. His inclusion of his son Asahd on the final track “Asahd Talk (Thank You Asahd), as well as on the album cover, is icing on the cake. Highlights: “I’m The One”, “Shining”, “Wild Thoughts”, “Billy Ocean” -Jordan
6. Beautiful Trauma, P!NK
It’s been five long years since P!NK released her last solo effort, The Truth About Love, and she returned this fall with Beautiful Trauma. A pensive collection of reflections, the album is an emotional rollercoaster that plays like the lyrics might have just fallen out of P!NK, in a stream-of-consciousness style. Never one to hold back, she once again does not disappoint in that regard. Whether it’s by delivering a subtle political message (“What About Us”), an honest take on her relationship (“Beautiful Trauma”), vindictive hurling of insults (“Revenge”), or a battle with her own insecurities (“Better Life”) she always takes it there.
There are more touching moments, too, such as the nostalgic ballad “Barbies,” emotionally and vocally raw “You Get My Love,” and the anthemic “I Am Here.” The title perfectly encapsulates the album, indeed it is beautiful, yet slightly traumatic. Highlights: “Secret,” “But We Lost It,” “Barbies,” “I Am Here” -Vincent
5. Strength of a Woman, Mary J. Blige
The Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul‘s 13th studio album comes at a time in her life when she’s facing the struggle of a failed marriage. The name of the record, however, shows that Mary’s not about to let this drama sink her heart. Instead, she’s taking the opportunity to remind us that she’s a survivor. Strength of a Woman is the work of a scorned woman who’s found her inner light to shine, an artist who’s adding one more block to an already solidified legacy. This album is ultimately also a reminder that Mary’s ability to bare her soul to us is something that’s always set her apart. Highlights: “U + Me (Love Lesson),” “Set Me Free,” “Love Yourself.” -Mario
4. Meaning of Life, Kelly Clarkson
I have wanted Kelly Clarkson to release an R&B album since I heard her half-baked, directionless debut set. From there, as we all know, she rebelled with pop-rock via Breakaway, My December and other solid, but predictably pop cuts. Along the way, there were hints of soul, such as “What’s Up Lonely” from Thankful, “Why Don’t You Try?” from Stronger, and “Bad Reputation” from Piece By Piece. However, on Meaning of Life, Clarkson went full-throttle. Sure, the album still has pop sensibilities, but there’s no rock flair or country twang on any of these songs. There’s slinky R&B (“A Minute”), supersonic throwback soul moments (“Love So Soft”), and even some clear Mariah inspiration (“Medicine”). Then, of course, there is “Whole Lotta Woman,” on which Kelly must’ve been channeling Beyoncé’s role as Foxxy Cleopatra as she announces: “You ain’t know!? Texas women do it bigger!”
The vocals are glorious. The album is full of life. I don’t know that I know the Meaning of Life after hearing it (I don’t) but Ms. Clarkson certainly solidified her status among the New School of Divas and gave me my whole life in the process. Highlights: “Whole Lotta Woman,” “Would You Call That Love,” “Cruel,” “Medicine” -Vincent
3. DAMN., Kendrick Lamar
The mumble-rap sub-genre continues to dominate mainstream culture. However, Kendrick Lamar compiled his third solid body of work in a row, relying on strong lyrics backed by strong beats. Kendrick isn’t afraid to take risks, speak his mind, and do so in a manner that’s digestible and prophetic to the masses. DAMN. was a cultural phenomenon: the album cover meme, its ubiquitous lead single, and the viral moments that followed with “DNA.” and “LOYALTY.” Highlights: “DNA.,” “PRIDE.,” “FEAR.” -Andrew
2. War & Leisure, Miguel
Highlights: “Pineapple Skies”, “Banana Clip” “Told You So”, “Anointed”, “Come Through and Chill”
Of all the albums on our countdown, this one is among the newest. After a shaky third album, Miguel came back this year with War & Leisure and dare we say it, it’s a return to form. It’s not like Wildheart was a bad effort, but it was at points too daring and too much – and sometimes less is more.
In his fourth studio effort, Miguel created what is in my opinion, the most consistent work of his catalog, as he really strove to mix the sounds that he is most well known for, as well as those more aligned with his Mexican heritage, which all blend to create a really full-bodied album. With this album, Miguel was able to capture the essence of what we’ve come to expect from him as an artist: the writing is great, the melodies are punching and the productions are stellar.
What can be found across all of Miguel’s albums is his endless adoration of love. The album’s content is as carefree, (“Pineapple Skies”) as it is lovestruck, (“Banana Clip”), and seductive (“Come Through and Chill”). The work’s instrumentation is at a lot of points very reminiscent of some of Prince’s mid-1990’s catalog, and with some appearances from Rick Ross, J. Cole, Travis Scott, and Kali Uchis, the result is an extremely solid, albeit quirky album. He’s once again managed to create an atmosphere with his music that just wraps your ears and never lets you go until the music’s over.
Finally, Miguel is perhaps the voice of our generation that we didn’t know we needed, and might not even realize that we have. With the embodiment of the millennial penchant for Netflix and Chill (because we can’t afford to go out), the self-love party anthem that is “Pineapple Skies,” the culture melding Spanglish of “Caramelo Duro,” or his critical letter-in-song to the “CEO of the Free World” on “Now,” Miguel speaks for our generation whether we asked him to or not – whether he realized it or not. -Jordan, Mario & Vincent
1. 4:44, Jay-Z
Highlights: “The Story of OJ”, “Smile,” “Caught Their Eyes,” “4:44,” “Family Feud,” “Moonlight”
Ohhhhhhhhh Jay. We was waitin’ on you at da doe! You found a magical way to make your epic fuck up a learning moment. The world waited in utter anticipation for a response to all of the allegations of his supposed infidelities, and those were all but confirmed in the track of the same name. 4:44 references the time he wrote the title track. “4:44” is about doing the unthinkable: cheating on Beyoncé. But to merely write this work off as a response to LEMONADE would not only discredit this album but Bey’s as well.
4:44 is our album of the year this year, and LEMONADE was just that for 2016. The two are companions not just for their marriage-related subject matter, but for much more. Jay-Z’s 4:44 is for Black men what LEMONADE was for Black women. Both delve into subject matters related to the Black experience in America and try to make sense of it all. In the case of 4:44, Jay explores why and how he got to where he is today in many facets. And all of it is glorious.
The album is probably the most socially conscious of Hov’s career, as it touches on a wealth of topics, such as embracing his mother’s homosexuality (a rarity in the hip hop community), capitalism, greed, race relations, and of course, fidelity. In a long and storied career that at times has fixated on the superficial and materialistic, it’s really dope to see the full breadth of Jay’s creativity in full force.
What is equally important, is the actual musicality it the album. The production value is insane, as Chicago’s very own No I.D. skillfully samples varied artists such as the pioneering Nina Simone, (“The Story of O.J.”), Stevie Wonder (“Smile”), and Hannah Willams & The Affirmations (“4:44”). Then, of course, there is the epic freestyle from Miss Blue Ivy Carter herself. -Jordan, Vincent & Andrew.