2017 has been an incredible year for music, which also makes it the most frustrating in terms of creating end of year lists. There’s going to be 20 selections. 10 albums released from January to June, 10 albums released from July to December. These selections are based on the impact they have had on me, as well as how often I would return to listen to them. There will be honourable mentions, of course as well as a Spotify Playlist containing tracks from every project. Also to mention, this list is unranked, because ranking music is pointless.
So without further ado, here are my favourite projects of 2017!
Thundercat – Drunk
Bassist extraordinaire Thundercat comes through with his third studio album titled Drunk, released on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label. He dedicates songs on this album to his cats, his love for anime as well as video games. The compositions are experimental, quirky, yet absolutely masterful. This is a groovy, fun and animated album full of highlights and memorable features, including Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa and Pharrell. This neo-funk album is an ambassador for the futuristic sound coming out of LA, and I embrace that and endorse it to the fullest.
Quelle Chris – Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often
I mean, the title says it all really. Detroit legend Quelle Chris comes through with an album full of character, sarcasm, hilarity, but more importantly introspection, incredible lyricism and diverse production. Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often is a complete body of work. 17 tracks long, it dives in to the futuristic, psychedelic mind of a genius, and with a vast and rich feature list, enhances the whole experience to a new level. Released on Mello Music Group.
Charlotte Dos Santos – Cleo
Charlotte Dos Santos’ new album Cleo (released on Fresh Selects), may be my favourite neo-soul album of the year. Charlotte is able to create a vibe instantly reminiscent of a mix between Erykah Badu’s Mamma’s Gun (especially on a song such as ‘Watching You’) and a bit of Deniece Williams on This is Niecy (1976) through her sheer effortless power and range of her voice. A beautiful soul who shares her heart with the world over beautiful, layered production as well. Read my review of Cleo here.
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
This is a bit of a weird one, because to me, Kendrick Lamar’s new album DAMN. is easily his worst album to date. It’s sonically inconsistent, and to me includes simultaneously some of his best and worst tracks yet. ‘YAH.’ is lazy by Kendrick’s standards, ‘LOYALTY.’ with Rihanna is ok at best, ‘XXX.’ to me, contrary to popular belief, sounds like a rushed demo with no clear direction or organisation and ‘GOD.’ sonically is a bland attempt at a pop song. However, in the midst of all this is a work of genius. ‘FEAR.’ to me is a top 5 Kendrick track, ‘DUCKWORTH.’ is one of the greatest pieces of storytelling in hip-hop for a long time, the production and concept of ‘LUST.’ is just perfect, and the energy of ‘DNA.’ is unrivalled. This is the album that cemented Kendrick as a hip-hop great. Furthermore, I have returned to this album more times than any other project this year, so for that reason it is impossible to ignore.
Jonwayne – Rap Album Two
Jonwayne has had a difficult couple of years. He makes crystal clear on his new revelatory and heartfelt new project Rap Album Two. The shock of his near-death experience back in 2014 is one of the most emotionally poignant themes of this body of work, especially on the first verse on ‘Blue Green’. ‘Afraid of Us’ with Zeroh is one of my favourite songs of the year, an beautiful, devastating and enlightening autobiographical account of someone who lacks self-awareness and and is lost in the midst of the company of his friends. It’s his devastating honesty that makes Rap Album Two one of the strongest statements of the year.
lojii & Swarvy – Due Rent
Taken from my review of the project: ‘Released on Fresh Selects earlier this year, rapper lojii and producer Swarvy crafted one of the rawest hip-hop projects this year. Due Rent is a tape about being broke in America. lojji’s introspective lyrics and dope flows are accompanied by Swarvy’s dark, hypnotic and abstract production. I’m often weary of using comparisons between artists, but the chemistry between lojji and Swarvy is reminiscent of something Madlib and DOOM would achieve. Having anticipated full-length lojji album, this project definitely exceeds all expectations. A big shoutout to the features on this tape as well: Nikko Gray, Versis and Zeroh.’
Moonchild – Voyager
Taken from my review of the album: ‘Moonchild have been for years establishing themselves as one of the best neo-soul groups around. On their third album Voyager the LA band have sharpened their craft, brought more harp and string players to provide a denser sound with tighter song structure, ethereal vocal performances and Flying Lotus-esque electronic arrangements as well. The LA jazz scene just gets better and better, and this new addition just strengthens LA’s musical influence and legacy.’
Bastien Keb – 22.02.85
Probably the album I was most pleasantly surprised by, UK- based musician Bastien Keb released a brilliant cinematic, colourful album titled 22.02.85. I met him briefly last year at a First Word Records takeover show at the Total Refreshment Centre in London for a Boiler Room session, and didn’t expect a project like this from the guy, for some reason. Heavily inspired by the likes of Jai Paul, the synth heavy, drowned-out vocals and brilliant compositions make for an engaging and heartwarming listen.
Nubya Garcia – Nubya’s 5ive
If someone were to ask me for recommendations for musicians who best represent the jazz scene in London, I would mention Nubya Garcia in a heartbeat. The talented artist has been a dominating force for jazz in this city, and Nubya’s 5ive is a perfect example of that power. The vibes of this project are everything you would want in a jazz project – energetic, diverse in tempo, mood and atmosphere it creates throughout, with a spiritual tone that keeps you stuck to your headphones or speakers. This project is a true work of art, and I couldn’t be happier for Nubya, to witness her grow from strength to strength with every performance and release. Read my short article on the project here.
jitwam. – ज़ितम सिहँ
Read my review of the album here: jitwam.’s new release ज़ितम सिहँ is an incredibly futuristic take on LA style beatmaking, a tribal and eerie tone, which reminds me of some of Gonjasufi’s earlier work, and an ambience which makes it a relaxing and spiritual listen. I recommend it to anyone who likes dreamy, eerie landscapes which is at core, an experimental beat tape.