Ah, it’s that time of year again. For those of us in the Northeast, we can see our breath as we exhale. It’s almost 2018, which means it’s time for our year-end music list!
Last year, we based our best of 2016 list on material released between Thanksgiving 2015 and Thanksgiving 2016. This year, however, we’re basing our list off of work eligible to be nominated for the 2018 Grammys (released between October 1, 2016 and September 30, 2017).
Let’s start things off with our list of 2017’s best songs!
Note: We will not be repeating any songs from last year’s list.
2017 was a very good year for hip-hop and R&B, which officially became the most popular forms of American music. Joey Bada$$ & Kendrick Lamar dropped back-to-back classics a week apart from each other; JAY-Z finally confessed to cheating on Beyoncé; and SZA showed the world that she’s a force to be reckoned with. That being said, my tastes this year have been a mixture of songs that have had stellar production and vocals, great use of metaphor, or have general resonance — either personally or politically.
“Bambi” — Jidenna (The Chief)
The “Classic Man” came back in his feelings. Jidenna sings about his grandfather’s polygamy — something with which he disagrees — and how it could have affected “the one that got away.” While it seems cliché thematically, “Bambi” uses an extended metaphor that shines throughout the vocally and sonically strong track.
“The Story of O.J.” — JAY-Z (4:44)
Uncle Hov came through with an instant classic on this one. Filled with actual financial advice and JAY’s increased focus on Black economic independence, “The Story of O.J.” is a track that Simpson himself will likely listen to with intense curiosity now that he’s out of jail. Plus, that Instagram line was way more vicious than it let on.
“XXX.” — Kendrick Lamar Featuring U2 (DAMN)
If you read my review back in April, you know that this was my favorite song off the Compton MC’s latest LP. With three different beat transitions and Bono’s slick voice, “XXX.” shows the pain of loss, the anger of revenge, and the frustration with the recent political climate. Kendrick’s last verse is probably my favorite of the year, expressing the anxieties of the Trump Administration after the Reagan, Nixon, and Clinton ones — among others — previously devastated Black Americans.
“Late Nights & Heartbreak ” — Hannah Williams & The Affirmations (Late Nights & Heartbreak)
Hannah Williams is incredible. “I know that I’m not good,” she sings. “I’m never gonna treat you like I should.” Admittedly, I didn’t find this gem until I heard the JAY-Z sample on “4:44.” However, I became obsessed with the original version of the song, eventually giving the full album many spins. The vocals and production on this song are superb, with the instrumental crescendos and decrescendos perfectly matching Williams’ as she laments being a “part-time lover”.
“Redbone” — Childish Gambino (“Awaken! My Love”)
Donald Glover has had one hell of a hot streak, such as being cast in three Disney properties and edging one step closer to an EGOT after his Emmy and Golden Globe victories for his work on FX’s Atlanta. With “Redbone,” the entertainment genius seems to be sealing the deal, having released one of the most important songs of the last year. “Stay woke,” y’all. “Stay woke.”
“LAND OF THE FREE” — Joey Bada$$ (All-Amerikkkan Bada$$)
Joey Bada$$ came out swinging this year, and I couldn’t be happier. Unapologetic, confident, defiant, his raw passion is articulated in every line. “LAND OF THE FREE” was the lead single from his third LP, and it showed a continued musical evolution for the former mixtape wunderkind.
“Pretty Little Birds” — SZA Featuring Isaiah Rashad (Ctrl)
This track mesmerized the hell out of me if I’m being perfectly honest. I love how both SZA and Isaiah Rashad sound on it, along with the slow, laid back production. “Pretty Little Birds” will be a mainstay for many years to come.
“Location” — Khalid (American Teen)
This kid. This kid. Khalid came out of left field for me, and I’m happy he got on my radar. The kid can sing, and the slick production from Smash David, Tunji Ige, and Syk Sense set the perfect tone for his voice to shine. And yet, “Location” is not a strong single for its complex production, but rather for its ingenious simplicity — perfectly encapsulating the challenges of emotional vulnerability in the social media era.
“Wrote My Way Out” — Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Aloe Blacc (The Hamilton Mixtape)
Let the record show that Lin-Manuel Miranda almost single-handedly united the hip-hop, R&B, and Broadway fan bases with his hit musical Hamilton. As a victory lap, he decided to make a mixtape, including this original gem where he holds his own on the track with God MC Nas!
“Heatstroke” — Calvin Harris Featuring Young Thug, Pharrell Williams, & Ariana Grande (Funky Wav Bounces Vol. 1)
This was hard, y’all. I love Frank Ocean, and “Slide” was one of my go-to jams for the longest time. But “Heatstroke” edged it out for two reasons: 1) Ariana Grande’s voice on the chorus hit me hard, and 2) I COULD UNDERSTAND YOUNG THUG!
In the past year, I still have an ear for infectious beats and lyrics that can stick in your head, but I found myself using the variety of Apple Music playlists suggested for me and the ones that I seek out to cultivate my listening habits. As well, with music being more and more global, both in the dissemination and how different genres influence many artists, I’ve been trying to keep a better ear towards what’s coming from different pockets of the world.
“On My Mind” — Jorja Smith & Preditah (N/A)
Jorja Smith reminds me a little of Amy Winehouse, except without the same pain. That’s probably a good thing (no shade). The Walsall native has one of those voice you just hear and remember. On My Mind is a fantastic example, with a beat that allows her to do the heavy lifting, which sounds like light work for the youngin. I expect more from her soon. So should you.
“Bodak Yellow” — Cardi B (N/A)
There’s like 9000 pieces on Cardi. I get it — she’s major. She does what she wants. She’s more genuine than Taylor, but raps like Nicki Minaj. She’s the Trap Selena. This is where it starts for her, and I’d be surprised if she ever forgets it. In the same song, where she is mimicking the flow of Kodak Black, she reminds you she knows how to get and spend a check, on herself.
“Did You See” — J Hus (Common Sense)
Play this anywhere and I’ll dance. The East London native, of Gambian background, knows where he’s from but also allows for outside influences to culture his taste. See his full debut, Common Sense, to get a better picture. Did You See is a clear standout not only for its ability to get you out of your seat but its wit and charm when doing it.
“Blem” — Drake (More Life)
Dancehall Drake is better than Grime Drake, but no one beats 2011 Drake. Facts. That all said, Mr. OVO himself clearly has an affinity for the Jamrock island modern music vibe and “Blem” is a clear effort in that direction. The song is kind of effortless in its moves, making sure it can move smoothly between liming and partying.
“Sorry Not Sorry” — Demi Lovato (Tell Me You Love Me)
Demi Lovato does not have time for bullshit any more. She’s got real shit to deal with, like getting money, helping people, and staying sober.
“1–800–273–8255” — Logic (Everybody)
I honestly only listened to Logic in passing and every time, I thought highly of him, but nothing genuinely registered for me. Really talented, but nothing stuck. “1–800–273–8255” is different. Maybe it’s because suicide has touched my life in the past. Maybe it’s because the guy has a genuine attitude when talking about everything from mental health and addiction to his own marriage and what makes him happy.
“Slide” — Calvin Harris featuring Frank Ocean and Migos (Funky Wav Bounces Vol. 1)
Song of the summer, that came too early. I don’t have a better explanation, since I’ve already shouted out this standout track off of Harris’ recent effort, which is probably his best in years. Still holds up as we come to the end of 2017, though.
“Bad and Boujee” — Migos Featuring Lil Uzi Vert (Culture)
If I were Takeoff, I’d be mad I was off this song too, only for Lil Uzi Vert to have a role in it. Seriously, that’s the song’s only flaw. Other than having one of the most meme-able opening lyrics in some time, the Migos banger was a crescendo on a steady come-back from the old heights the Atlanta-based boys reached with “Versace”. Now, they’re a little more nuanced and have finer taste, but still hang in the trap. Of course, the women they hang with are akin in that respect (See Cardi B). Also, this song, amongst others has started the necessary debate — is Quavo the best rapper or the most commercially viable one in the group?
“Leave Me Alone” — Calypso Rose Featuring Machel Montano (N/A)
Feminist Calypso, with Montano to make it popular. Even then, it doesn’t need Soca’s reigning king to make it well known. Calypso Rose has been around since the 60s, so she knows her way around. The 77 year old Tobago native & NYC dweller has a vibrant hit, that basically calls for women to not only stand for themselves and dance where they want, but also for men to back the fuck up. Women can, and will, do as they want, so act right.
“Wild Thoughts” — DJ Khaled Featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller (Grateful)
Rihanna Part — This song is officially so hot that if it isn’t in a wedding playlist territory, you’ve played yourself. I will call your ass out, unless you’re family. If you’re family, my cousin Sharrone will have already demanded it 7 times and will be wondering why the fuck you ain’t play that, but we’ve heard Ignition (remix) twice. Facts are facts.
Bryson Tiller Part — No one makes it this far in their listening, so I’m just proud of Tiller for getting on a song that’s paying for his daughter to go to college, one day.
Check the RYM next week for our year-end album list! For a collection of the songs discussed, check out our playlists below!