Jam-packed with musical releases, 2017 was undoubtedly the undisputed year of the single. With Spotify playing its part in bringing urban music that would’ve otherwise remained in the deep dark pits of SoundCloud (cue “Gucci Gang”) into the light, few artists were able to drive a stake in the ground with their album releases.
Nonetheless, 2017 wasn’t without its haymakers, as follow-up records, noteworthy debuts and legendary returns stopped audiophiles in their tracks.
Without further ado, here are our top 20 albums of 2017, as voted by the extended BB team:
20. MURA MASA – MURA MASA
Initially rising to prominence in 2015 with his first EP ‘Someday Somewhere’ and the timeless hit “Firefly”, in the two years that followed, Mura Masa picked up a number of extremely talented friends that helped him put together one of the best electronic albums of the year. In July, The Guernsey-born producer unleashed his feature-filled self-titled LP and major label debut, and it was well worth the wait.
From the organic percussion and slick bars of A$AP Rocky on “Love$Ick” and the bubblegum pop melodies and infectious hooks of “1Night” with Charli XCX to subtle, slow-burning gems like “Blu” with the prolific Damon Albarn, Masa’s debut project’s strength was found in its many differences, culminating in a record brimming with countless hits and an all-round good time.
– Edmond Wiafe
19. SYD – FIN
Steeped in bizarrely chill expectations (“For me, this is like an in-between thing — maybe get a song on the radio, maybe make some money, have some new shit to perform.” – FADER interview), Syd’s debut record is a velvety groove-driven insight into the former Odd Future member’s skill in her own right as a producer and songwriter.
Time spent in the studio as a co-founder of neo-soul purveyors The Internet is a surefire force behind Syd’s polished beats and golden era RnB vocals, which deliver sensual verses with ease across laid-back percussion and slinky atmospherics. Between the sinewy inflections in “Know” and the brooding hook in 6LACK collab “Over”, Syd is so deep in her element with an inescapable magnetism that draws the listener in from start to finish.
– Mina Kitsos
18. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM – AMERICAN DREAM
On April 2nd, 2011, LCD Soundsystem seemingly closed the book on their illustrious decade-long run with what was billed as their final show ever at Madison Square Garden. Thousands of dewy-eyed fans farewelled a one-of-a-kind outfit that took the rock 'n roll playbook and defiantly threw it over their shoulders, playing a key role in the genre's early to mid 2000s dive into unchartered dance and electronic flavours.
Little did we know that six years later the trailblazing Brooklyn collective would be back in full swing with a number one studio LP and a full-blown touring schedule to boot. For a record that marks a fresh chapter and a triumphant return, LCD Soundsystem's comeback offering 'American Dream' is an album preoccupied with endings. Band mastermind James Murphy – who once again plays the majority of the instruments on the record – went through a divorce around the time they disbanded in 2011 ("Oh Baby" unpacks it all in his signature fashion), but that theme runs deeper – 'American Dream' also acts an obituary for long-gone friendships, classic heroes like Lou Reed and David Bowie, and a golden era of music Murphy feels is slipping away right before his eyes. While it's an experience that sounds very familiar to longtime LCD lovers, 'American Dream' is also a fresh start for a whole new generation of music fans who may have missed the groundbreaking power of moments like "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" or "Dance Yrself Clean".
– Jordan Munns
17. PNAU – CHANGA
For years, PNAU – comprised of Nick Littlemore, Peter Mayes, and most recently Sam Littlemore – have been at the forefront of Australian electronic music. Having been active for over 20 years, they’ve been patient, to say the least. After announcing their triumphant return with “Chameleon”, an anthemic explosion of vibrant, tribal beats, you could just feel that, with their sixth record, something truly special was in the midst of coming to life.
What followed was ‘Changa’, a 12-track electronic LP which fed on the very best of a vast variety of sub-genres to produce a dance floor-ready record featuring countless bangers. Every moment has the listener hanging for more and more, and by the end, an insatiable itch to get up and dance is just way too hard to leave unscratched.
– Edmond Wiafe
16. DRAKE – MORE LIFE
In the era of streaming, artists are constantly having to reinvent not just their sound but their formats to keep their audience attentive — whether that be through releasing remix packages, surprise mixtapes, or in Drake’s case, a “playlist”. His seventh consecutive number one full-length release (yep, you read that correctly), ‘More Life’ makes up for its anticlimactic predecessor ‘Views’ with a dynamic, diverse and surgically-curated cast of features, guest producers, and most importantly, flavours.
Think Jorja Smith’s honeyed vocal cadences over South African DJ Black Coffee’s insatiable house beats on “Get It Together”, Sampha’s spine-tingling falsetto on “4422”, and Quavo exchanging bars with Travis Scott on “Portland” over a fucking flute. That alone should have you sold. Whatever mood you’re in, you can pluck out a track from The OVO Sound Radio-premiered project to soundtrack it. Cheers, Drizzy.
– Mina Kitsos
15. KELELA – TAKE ME APART
Realistically, your pals or mum saying your mixtape is fire needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But if you’re garnering praise from Björk and Solange (whose album ‘A Seat At The Table’ Kelela would later feature on), you’re probably onto something good. In 2014, Kelela’s debut mixtape ‘Cut 4 Me’ gripped her contemporaries and future-RnB aficionados alike, propelling the D.C.-born, LA-based chanteuse onto 'Ones To Watch' lists worldwide thanks to its fusion of digitised soundscapes with experimental pop and old school RnB.
For her first full-length record ‘Take Me Apart’, Kelela deconstructs the aftermath of a breakup through carnal musings and spacious arrangements that beckon in underwater beats and brooding synths. Her gossamer vocals smooth over sharp rhythms – at times experimental but never venturing into alienating realms – most carved out in the Beyoncé collaborator Boots-produced title track and the LP’s electrifying lead single “LMK”, ultimately setting Kelela a cut above her play-it-safe counterparts.
– Mina Kitsos
14. THE XX – I SEE YOU
The evolution of The xx was impending and essential in order for the band to remain relevant in a time where minimalist indie pop has largely lost its once unrivalled notoriety. Their second record ‘Coexist’ saw the expiry of their sparse, distant sound as fans longed for something more dynamic and tangible. On top of that, Jamie xx’s solo effort shed light on the producer’s talent to produce vibrant, celebratory music brimming with a vitality we'd never heard from his work with the band.
Expectation met face to face with reality, engaged in a warm embrace and handed us ‘I See You’, The xx’s third and most impressive album to date. ‘I See You’ saw the band finally leverage the unique talents of all three members, culminating in rich arrangements and countless genre-bending moments that broke free of the familiar moulds that perhaps would’ve sent them flying into complacency.
– Edmond Wiafe
13. KHALID – AMERICAN TEEN
I’m surprised to still be standing after chewing everyone’s ears off this year with my love for Khalid, the 19-year-old El Paso native who went from graduating high school to selling out stadiums (a gargantuan middle finger to the school bullies he opens up about in his Rolling Stone interview) in the space of a year. It’s almost ironic that his breakthrough single “Location”, a snapshot of courting in the digital age, went viral via Kylie Jenner’s SnapChat, propelling Khalid into collaborations with Calvin Harris, Marshmello and Lorde, and a world tour that saw sold out show after show.
‘American Dream’ is as good as debut records come; Khalid’s gravelly vocals are the centrepiece of disarmingly raw reveries – from the melancholic “Therapy” to the breezy windows-down “8TEEN” – and weave together pearls of teenage-afforded wisdom with diaristic elegance.
– Mina Kitsos
12. KAMASI WASHINGTON – HARMONY OF DIFFERENCE
Kamasi Washington and his spectacular ascent to headline billings with music that is unquestionably jazz is mind-boggling. Turning new heads with his wonderful work on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, Washington more than doubled down on that burgeoning notoriety with the not-so-subtly titled three-hour-long debut record, ‘The Epic’.
While exemplary song structures and devastating sax solos cut through with ease through that magnum opus, there was an earnest approach to universal spirituality that beat its wings beneath each moment of the album – a sentiment ‘Harmony of Difference’ extrapolates with precision. The oxymoronic title lends itself to Elizabethan comparison within comedic play structures – harmony through discord, to be put simply – and humanistic literary beliefs that a dismembered, faceless love is the only true and honest binding force which allows life to exist.
– Alexander Kelly
11. THUNDERCAT – DRUNK
There’s nothing all too conventional about Thundercat or his progressive, experimental style of music. On ‘Drunk’, his third official solo outing, the acclaimed bassist offers up a quirky reminder that he has no intention of having it any other way.
Aptly titled, ‘Drunk’ is a record full of short, sharp, honest tales and musings of a man just simply trying to live his life. Its lyrics are comical at times, but when matched with the many frantic, multi-layered jazz arrangements or uncomplicated RnB backdrops, meaning unfoils and self-reflection closely ensues. From drunken escapades to playful drug abuse, Thundercat makes altering one’s state of mind seem like a harmless human experience in what is his brightest and most personable record to date.
– Edmond Wiafe
10. BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION
A reality TV producer’s (or VICELAND) wet dream, BROCKHAMPTON’s origin story – having met online in 2015 via a Kanye West fan forum – set precedent for the self-proclaimed boy band’s rollercoaster outputs. Masterminded by Texas-raised frontman Kevin Abstract and comprising 15 creatives covering rapping, singing, graphic design, videography and production fronts, the prolific Cali-based collective’s debut album not only reforms hip-hop conventions stylistically, but thematically, flipping stereotypes around masculinity and serving up bars on the trials and tribulations of growing the hell up.
From the dynamic cypher-driven “GOLD” to the slow-burning beats in “FACE”, the record is punctured by the bold personas of each band member and their respective flows, influences and sonic proclivities, all morphed with cohesion equal parts remarkable and groundbreaking.
– Mina Kitsos
09. GOLDLINK – AT WHAT COST
Easily one of BB’s most beloved breakthrough artists from the last few years, DMV rapper GoldLink has been on an upward trajectory since dropping his critically-acclaimed debut mixtape ‘The God Complex’ back in 2014. The 24-year-old has built on his self-dubbed ‘future bounce’ cross-genre, working with production overlord Rick Rubin to expand his repertoire of house-infused storytelling and rhythmic risks to arrive at his major label debut ‘At What Cost’.
The LP is a striking homage to GoldLink’s hometown; D.C. natives from bigwig Wale to newcomer Ciscero trade verses across cuts underscored by go go funk instrumentation – soundscapes birthed in the city in the ‘60s. iPhone-recorded vocals from The Internet’s Steve Lacy, and Kaytranada’s bounce on a hidden track from ‘99.9%’ are just a couple of cheeky nods to GoldLink’s artistic leverage on this intricately-conceived, confidently-constructed D.C. memoir.
– Mina Kitsos
08. GANG OF YOUTHS – GO FARTHER IN LIGHTNESS
There’s a temptation for cliché adages to describe Gang of Youths’ rise and the jaw-dropping reception to their sophomore record ‘Go Farther In Lightness’, but that would be a disservice. Rather, the music should be directly addressed, because it really does all the talking.
On ‘Go Farther in Lightness’, David Le'aupepe’s influences are more brazen than ever before. “Fear and Trembling” is a perfect example of such, ingratiating itself immediately with a sense of familiarity akin to a personal reverie, helped along with its Springsteen-inspired piano chords and Dave’s warm vocals. The album then unfurls with delicate precision, perfectly expanding and exploring philosophical sentiments with staggering confidence and varied sonic palettes from classical arrangements to punk and brute force. The band succeeds in doing the unimaginable: respite in the face of the crippling anxieties of existence – even if only for a brief moment.– Alexander Kelly
07. VINCE STAPLES – BIG FISH THEORY
At just 24 years old, Vince Staples has already made a monumental mark on hip hop. If you haven’t read or watched an interview with the Long Beach visionary, grab your notebook and do some homework; his insights challenge and confront world views in a way that eloquently and inherently both complements and amplifies his art, ultimately unveiling the authority of his voice and highlighting why we need to pay close attention.
‘Big Fish Theory’ is a genre-transcending sophomore effort with zero filler tracks – each cut is intricately realised and meticulously executed, merging influences from Detroit techno to industrial Berlin beats with Staples’ razor-sharp flow and volcanic wordplay. Whether it’s the vocal sample of Amy Winehouse commenting on the toxicity of media on “Alyssa Interlude”, the explosive bass on “BagBak”, or the combo of Flume’s production fingerprints and Kendrick’s verse on “Yeah Right”, the album is detailed with defibrillating currents that cement Staples as a key player - and, be assured, this is just the start.
– Mina Kitsos
06. DANIEL CAESAR – FREUDIAN
There are no two genres that intertwine more seamlessly than RnB and gospel. We've seen a range of world-class artists tread that often beautiful line for decades now, but the latest to step into the spotlight is Canadian singer-songwriter Daniel Caesar.
We saw a glimpse of pure potential with his 2014 EP 'Praise Break', but his debut album 'Freudian' certifies the soulful crooner's penchant for confessional neo soul moments drenched in sensual guitar lines, slouchy rolling beats and melodies dripping with pure emotion. Breakout hit "Get You" (featuring Kali Ulchis) and the equally as sweet "Best Part" (featuring H.E.R.) crawl under your skin with their earnest expressions of untainted infatuation, while "Blessed" and "Freudian" are sparse, introspective slow burners that place Caesar's rich tone right in the spotlight. 'Freudian''s subtle simplicity is undoubtedly its biggest drawcard, and its undeniable crossover appeal is surely converting new fans months after its arrival.
– Jordan Munns
05. SAMPHA – PROCESS
Although it was grounded in a seemingly universal feeling of disarray, 2017 was also the year that we finally fucking got Sampha’s debut album. Thankfully, ‘Process’ definitely didn’t disappoint. For quite some time, Sampha was the singing equivalent of Big Sean, in that features meant fire. Thankfully, his foray into a spotlight of his own has unshackled him from that restrictive box. Lead singles “Blood on Me” and “Timmy’s Prayer” were already classics well before the record saw the light of day, and their buoyant energy and impassioned melodies revealed the palpable beating heart and masterful production behind 'Process'.
The pop ballad sensibility brimming from “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano” is an outlier amongst this largely electronic collection, and here Sampha’s vocals are too incandescent to ignore. Coupled with gut-wrenching lyricism, this sonic elegy immortalises his mother and collectively canonises her for every listener and repeat visit.– Alexander Kelly
04. LORDE – MELODRAMA
It's difficult to imagine just how heavily the weight of expectation weighed on Lorde's shoulders, considering she was propelled into global stardom on the back of her game-changing debut 'Pure Heroine'. How do you follow up a record you wrote and recorded in your mid-teens that made you a worldwide chart-topper and bona fide Grammy winner at such a ferocious speed?
Incredibly, the New Zealand native leapt straight over the dreaded pitfall of the sophomore slump and delivered a follow-up that built on everything she'd established with 'Pure Heroine'. 'Melodrama' takes everything we all loved about Lorde and turns it up a notch: nuanced, progressive production that bends the rules of pop music? Check ("The Louvre", "Sober"). Poetic songwriting that feels both painfully vulnerable but never cheesy – even with a title like 'Melodrama'? You bet ("Liability", "Hard Feelings/Loveless"). Soaring signature moments that solidify her as a more diverse, multi-faceted pop juggernaut? Yep ("Supercut", "Perfect Places"). With every new listen, 'Melodrama' reveals itself as a classic pop record that confirms what we all suspected with 'Pure Heroine': Lorde is the only popstar on the circuit right now that authentically captures the euphoric highs and heartwrenching lows of young adulthood.
– Jordan Munns
03. KENDRICK LAMAR – DAMN.
Look, it sure can’t be easy being Kendrick Lamar.
Even for one of most influential rappers – if not the most - in the game, trying to top off releases and hip hop staples like ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’, ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ and more recently ‘untitled unmastered.’ requires consistently unmatched innovation.
Released on Good Friday, K. Dot’s fourth LP ‘DAMN.’ arrived in the shadow of expectation and the world’s collective bated breath. Both thematically and technically, the TDE rapper asserts his seat at the throne, slicing through vignettes of political examination and self-reflection. Was releasing bonus-track-less ‘DAMN. COLLECTORS EDITION.’ on the date of the Immaculate Conception (much to the delight of album conspiracists) complete with a reversed tracklist and cover art to show - according to his interview with MTV - “the duality and the contrast of the intricate Kendrick Lamar” really necessary? Probably not, as his work already speaks for itself, sans PR glitz. But a Kendrick Lamar album is a Kendrick Lamar album nonetheless.– Mina Kitsos
02. TYLER, THE CREATOR – FLOWER BOY
Featuring an all-star cast of collaborators from Frank Ocean to Norwegian electro-pop powerhouse Anna of the North, and triple threat Jaden Smith, the Grammy-nominated LP still spotlights Tyler so that he shines brightest. Expansive arrangements, patient builds, bubblegum melodies and ferocious bars collide for one the best and boldest releases of the year, and arguably the Cali local's most noteworthy record to date.
– Edmond Wiafe
01. SZA – CTRL
"That is my greatest fear: that if, if I lost control, or did not have control, things would just, you know, I would be… fatal."
'Ctrl' opens with that one candid confession from SZA's mother that sets the tone for one of the most raw, painfully honest and deeply affecting RnB records of the year – if not the decade. From the daring first verse of "Supermodel" (“Let me tell you a secret / I been secretly banging your homeboy / Why you in Vegas all up on Valentine's Day?”) to the no-holds-barred soul-bearing of closer "20 Something", Solána Imani Rowe takes us all on a tour through everything she's seen, heard, felt and learnt while traversing the wicked game of lust, love and everything in between – all in the hopes of grasping the ultimately futile concept of 'control'.
On tracks like "Drew Barrymore" and "Prom", SZA unpacks her struggles with insecurity and low self-esteem in a way that stops you in its tracks, forcing you to look inwards and empathise with such universally relatable thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, special moments like "The Weekend" or "Doves In The Wind" – a song she's "dedicated completely to vaginas" – SZA flaunts her power as a modern woman, rubbishing the idea of a man at the centre of her world and celebrating female autonomy fearlessly with tongue firmly in cheek. SZA has spoken at length about her desire to write about all "the grimy shit" and tell the full truth and nothing but the truth, and when paired with the world-class production and melodies across each and every track, that unabashed candour makes for a world class album that deserves to go down in history as a modern RnB classic.
– Jordan Munns