Top 50 Hip Hop/R&B Songs of 2017
Part 2 for songs 25-1.
See Part 1 here
25. Belly: Lullaby
Producer: Kruger. Katalyst. Boi-1da
Album: Mumble Rap
Label: XO. Roc Nation
There is nothing worst and easier to spot then a contrived “deep” record. You can see it immediately: the artist parrots clichés, there is nothing convincing behind the words, and the “struggle” is generic. If you want to get a manual on how such a record should be performed, look no further than Belly’s Lullaby. Belly grabs you immediately with the opening lines, “Wonder if God heard me pray when I was trying to repent, If He didn’t, I know he heard my mother cry over rent…..”. What follows is close to 4 minutes of honest introspection. Belly comes off like a tortured soul. Lullaby comes around like someone who can’t get past the traumas of their past and what had to be done to get to the success that was obtained. The production resembles Boi-1das work on Pound Cake with a melancholic twist and Belly splits open his veins throughout the entire song. The lyrics are dexterous, layered, and more often than not will slow you in your tracks (“I brought my dream house, but I’ve been having nightmares in it). Truly a masterpiece and a high standard for introspection.
24. Rae Sremmurd: Swang
Producer: P Natzy
Album: SremmLife 2
Label: EarDrummers. Interscope.
Hey, do you remember that time when most of us thought that Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmy collectively known as Rae Sremmurd were one hit wonders? Boy does that feel sooooo long ago. Swang is the new entry into the talent of these two brothers. P-Natzy delivers with the sci-phi 808 heavy beat and Swae Lee picks up and takes it all the way home. Swae Lee is truly a star and honestly Im not comfortable with you if you won’t attempt Swae Lee’s falsetto on Swang when it comes on. You cannot and will not be trusted. Slim Jxmmy delivers a very aggressive and energetic verse seeming like he wanted you to know, that he is by no means just a sidekick. These boys are here to stay, but we already knew that.
23. G Eazy: No Limit feat. Cardi B and Asap Rocky
Producer: Boi-1da. Allen Ritter
Album: The Beautiful and Damned
No Limit burned so fast and so quickly that its spot should be solidified in any list for best songs of 2017. Boi-1da sped up the sample of 3.6 Mafias-Slob On My Knob (hood classic) and ASAP Rocky delivers one of the best hooks of the year. (“If I Hit it 1 Time ima pipe her , If I Hit it 2 times, then I like her….” Such a fun chorus to repeat). G Eazy sticks to his classic nonchalant delivery and shouts out Kaamiyah with a solid verse. Let’s not get it twisted though, Cardi B is the main event on this song. She delivers easily the best verse of her young career. Her cadence, delivery, and flow sounds like that of a veteran. She has several quotables and her charisma shines through and steals the show. There is not a party that you are at that you will not see women rap her verse bar for bar. Juicy J gave his blessings on the remix. Only thing that could have made this song better would have been an Asap Rocky 16, but we can’t all get what we want. French Montanna, Juicy J and Belly lends their services to the remix as seen below.
22. Jhenè Aiko: You are Here.
Producer: The Fisticuffs. Amaire Johnson
Label: ARtium. Def Jam
Jhenè Aiko is a strangely polarizing artist. She doesn’t elicit hate because she is such a pleasant soul, but those that dislike her music really dislike her music, but her fan base swears by her. The same thing that makes her loved is what she gets criticized for, her consistency. You will always know what you are getting with her and she will not veer too far from it. For Jhenè Aiko fans (like us) You Are Here is the quintessential Jhenè Aiko song with the defined pocket that Jhenè Aiko flourishes in. Soft mellow crooning, atmospheric production, strong writing. What you can miss however is the vulnerability in what can be the best song on her 2017 release, Trip. Jhenè sings from the perspective of someone who is in love but is waiting for the other shoe to drop. She’s lamenting to her lover ( can there be a clearer message for Big Sean???) that she prays that he is who he portrays himself to be and that she could not deal with the thought of being proven otherwise. It’s a simple concept, but it’s beautifully executed. You can hear the hope yet the timidity and vulnerability in her vocals. No matter where you fall on Jhenè Aiko, You are Here is beautiful music.
21. Kendrick Lamar: Loyalty feat. Rihanna
Producer: DJ Dahi. Sounwave. Top Dawg. Kuk Harell
Label: Top Dawg. Interscope.
Loyalty is the only song with a feature on Damn and there could not have been a bigger and more anticipated collaboration then Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna. The two superstars are at the peak of commercial and critical success and when the track list for Damn was announced, everyone was curious to see how the pair would sound. No one thought however that Kendrick and Rihanna would be trading melodic verses back and forth. Our minds were blown. See what can happen with these big name collaborations is that it can turn out to be the most generic, formulaic song produced. The rapper raps, the singer does the hook, but one can never doubt the innovative spirit of one Kendrick Lamar. The two were simpatico to each other; weaving in and out of verses 4 bars at a time, weaving out of bridges, combining their voices on the chorus. It was perfect and better than what any of us imagined. Then the video was released and the chemistry was further cemented. Let’s hope this collaboration does not end with loyalty.
20. Tank: When We
When Tank visited the Breakfast Club earlier in 2017, he spoke about being a veteran r&b singer and how to best balance making music that the fans of his era will appreciate and the younger fans can get into. Let me say, that Tank gets it and When We is proof (Sidebar: Can someone please slide that Tank breakfast club to Eminem and can we pray that Eminem learns to understand this concept??? Thank You in advance). The Cardiak produced single is current and sexy as hell. The beat can easily fit into contemporary R&B but the lyrics are def grown folk bidness! Tank floats throughout with playful and aggressive lyrics. One piece of advice fellas, use this song to your advantage.
19. H.E.R.: Say It Again
Producer: H.E.R. DJ Camper
Album: H.E.R. Vol. 2.
H.E.R. is mysterious and that is great. The singer/songwriter from Vallejo, California took a similar approach to the Weeknd in 2011 and held off her identity for as long as possible. But mystery does not work if you’re talent isn’t worth a damn and boy is H.E.R. incredibly talented. H.E.R. has released two self-titled albums (H.E.R. vol 1 and vol 2.) within the past two years and one of our personal favorites is Say It Again from Vol 2. The sexual charged lyrics waste no time and instantly puts you in that place. H.E.R’s lyrics are direct (“You had a lot to say, no more talking you can use that mouth in other ways, cuz I want it now”). Her vocals are airy but confident and composed and the beat lays the foundation for the descriptive, carnal lyrics. H.E.R. is 20 years old, but writes like a seasoned veteran. R&B is in good hands.
18. Jay-Z: 4:44
Producer: No ID
Label: Roc Nation. UMG.
There was always those episodes or those couple of movies where the superheroes look completely human and completely lost. Jay Z’s 4:44 is what Superman looks like being hit by kryptonite and what Batman looks like when the Joker has outsmarted him. Jay-Z is defeated, vulnerable, shamed, and completely lost when he confesses to his dirt. You listen to the lyrics and say, “God damn Jay-Z You really fucked up”. I’m one of the few who, gives a little less credit to Jay-Z’s grown man album only because Nas and Scarface did it just as well in my mind (Nas on Life is Good and Scarface on Deeply Rooted bared their soul in similar fashion) but 4:44 is different in the sense that it’s a Soap Opera played out in public. Its Jay-Z, the biggest figure in Hip Hop history, the always calculated, unshaken mogul completely defeated, completely stripped, begging for repentance. The sharpest portion of the song is when Jay-Z describes how his daughters would see him in a different light when they discover his infidelity. It is so powerful and it continues to remind you, behind all the power and influence these are people who at the core are flawed human beings like all of us.
17. SZA: The Weekend
Label: Top Dawg. RCA
Never has there been a more popular song that is as much misconstrued as SZA’s The Weekend. It has been deemed the “side chick anthem” and although it is in theory about being a side chick, if you look beyond the surface you’ll see that the lyrics delve a little deeper. Just start with the first bars, “You say you got a girl, how you want me? How you want me when you got a girl?” and the first portion of the chorus, “My man is your man heard that it’s her man too”. Both of those lyrics display how infidelity tends to be more complicated than what is on the surface. Very rare to people go out with the intentions of being one of two mates or one of many mates. Often there has been so much invested that once you find out you are not the only one, you remain there and play your part often reluctantly. SZA wrote beautifully from this perspective and showed the temperament of a person that’s involved in such dynamic. In 2017, this song became a lightning rod for debate. Those who felt that she was advocating being a side chick to those who championed the song based on experience. Regardless of how you view the topic, there is no doubt it’s one of the best songs of 2017.
16. Rapsody: Power: feat. Kendrick Lamar & Lance Skiiiwalker
Producer: 9th Wonder
Album: Laila’s Wisdom
Label: Jamla. Roc Nation.
Rapsody is the people’s champ and in 2017 we got to see the people’s champ win the championship. Rapsody has been a staple amongst underground rap fans and amongst all her peers. In 2017, it all came together with the release of Laila’s Wisdom, easily one of the best rap albums of the year. Track 2 on Laila’s Wisdom features Rapsody and Kendrick Lamar trading bars about how they view power and influence and how it affects those around you. Lance Skiiiwalker delivers a stimulating chorus and we saw two of the best MCs deliver on an exceptional concept. Championship champagne feels so good word to Rapsody!
15. Sabrina Claudio: Belong To You
Album: About Time
Label: SC Entertainment. Artist Partner Group. Atlantic
Sabrina Claudio has been bubbling along time and many of us began to notice (check out our piece on Confidently Lost), so when she names her mixtape/project, “About Time” we completely understand. The lead single for about time displays an artist that is in full confidence of who she is, where she is going, and what her sound should be. Belong to You is a sensual, beautiful ode to that special someone who you reserve everything for. Sabrina Claudio floats effortlessly with her airy vocals over incredibly descriptive well written lyrics. The time is definitely now for Sabrina Claudio.
14. Vince Staples: Big Fish
Producer: Christian Rish
Album: Big Fish Theory
Label: Blacksmith. ARTium. Def Jam
It’s not just the fact that Vince Staples is one of the most talented rappers rapping today but the most intriguing parts with him is that you seldom can determine which direction he is headed. For an album as unique as the Big Fish Theory, its lead single-Big Fish- was a common single but as common as a Vince Staple single can be. Christian Rish beat has a pure West Coast aesthetic and a bounce that you can’t help to bop to. Vince Staples weaves in and out lyrically and even when he is rapping on a beat that can be deemed fairly common to contemporary rap, his raps still carries an edge. “Another Story of a young black man trying to make it up out that jam, God damn…” Big Fish is an incredibly fun record that still contains in depth lyrics from one of rap’s young visionaries.
13. Freddie Gibbs: Crushed Glass
Producer: Teddy Walton. Aaron Bow. Speakerbomb.
Album: You Only Live 2wice
Label: ESGN. Empire.
Freddie Gibbs is traumatized by life. In 2016, the rapper was locked up in France for a sexual assault charge and was eventually acquitted of all charges. He spent months behind bars in Austria initially with no prospect of when he will attain his freedom. He was eventually acquitted of all charges and released several months later. Crushed Glass is the story of where Freddie Gibbs was mentally and you feel every inch of doubt, pain, anger, and paranoia throughout the song. Over the classic Sade Fear sample (Mobb Deep has used this sample beautifully as well), Gibbs details his frustrations with being locked up in a city he didn’t know, in a place where he knew no one. Lines like, “….Sittin in a cell missing show dates. Commissary late im posting pictures with the two face, barely eat the food, stress a make a nigga lose weight. Enter the mental of a nigga that wish he knew his fate”, displays someone who almost had their will broke. It was a painful view into his experience. Freddie Gibbs also raps about clarity and his dim view of the modern world (“Donald Trump gon chain us up and turn us back to slaves nigga, got the recipe for dope my reparations paid nigga”). It’s good to see Gibbs free but the mental battle is one he may be fighting for a while.
12. G Herbo: Malcolm
Producer: DJ L
Album: Humble Beast
Label: Machine. 150 Dream Team. Cinematic. RED.
Storytelling rap records is almost a lost art in modern day Hip Hop. It is not attempted enough and usually if it is attempted, it is done by veteran rappers who have continuously done it before. G Herbo tries his hand at the storied practice on his debut album, Humble Beast. The result is one of the top songs of the year. Malcolm tells the story of a kid growing up in the violence and gang banging and his encounter with an attempt made on his life. He survives the attempt and retaliates, but like many stories in underdeveloped communities, the story does not end well for anyone involved. G Herbo lyrics are so descriptive, nuanced, and heartbreaking that it feels like he was meant for storytelling. Malcom is masterful and quite frankly is possibly one of the best storytelling songs of the past 10 years. G Herbo spits the story with conviction and confidence of someone who saw plenty of Malcom’s in his young life. You find yourself enjoying the story only for G Herbo to remind you for many these are real stories that they may never recover from.
11. Jhenè Aiko: When we’re Young
Label: ARtium. Def Jam
When we’re Young is a beautifully written and performed love song. The lead single for Trip, Jhenè Aiko describes that feeling of new love when all you want to do is be with that person at all times of the day. Earlier this year in an interview with NPR’s Rodney Carmichael, Jhenè says of the song, "While We're Young' is my ideal love situation. It's also the feeling of a new love, when you're kind of naïve and first falling in love with someone and super optimistic about everything. That starts the love story in the album." When we’re young is asking yourself if she or he is the one in audio form and truly brings out the feeling of hopeful love.
10. Kendrick Lamar: DNA
Producer: Mike Will Made It
Label: Top Dawg. Interscope
DNA kicks off Damn and what a way to kick off an album. DNA begins right after an excerpt is sampled at the end of BLOOD (the album’s intro) of Geraldo Rivera and other Fox anchors discussing Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the 2015 BET Awards. “Uh please…ugh I don’t like it”, a fox anchor can be heard saying. What makes this so important is that not only Mike Will Made It’s drums hit you like a ton of bricks after that quote, Kendrick Lamar goes into DNA telling you what he is and what he is not and how he will be defined. It’s the perfect retort to those outside of Hip Hop that will never understand where our aggressiveness comes from and why we address things the way we do. Close to the two minute mark, Kendrick uses another sample during the same segment of Geraldo Rivera saying that Hip Hop has done more damage than racism in the recent years (really one of the most ridiculous statements made on national tv), and Mike Will Made ushers in another beat. The beat is merciless and are a myriad of drums and 808s and Kendrick Lamar spits with a double time flow that matches the beats relentless. Kendrick Lamar will not be defined by Fox News or anyone else for that matter.
9. Tyler the Creator: See You Again feat. Kali Uchis
Producer: Tyler the Creator
Album: Flower Boy
See You Again is Tyler the Creator like I’ve never heard him before. The production shows that the N.E.R.D./Neptunes influence fully taking shape as the beat sounds exactly like something Pharell would produce. The lyrics are very heartfelt and tender. Kali Uchis lends her voice to the chorus and makes the hook angelic and affectionate. See You Again sparked much speculation to Tyler’s sexual identity mainly because of the skit before it, “sometimes”. In the skit, a radio host answers a call for someone making a request. The listener, clearly male, ask him to play “the song about me”. Obviously it’s a fair assumption to make that Tyler may be attracted to the same sex based on that excerpt, but the beauty of See You Again is that it is an incredible love song no matter who your lover is. Excellent work Tyler.
8. Che Ecru: 2am
Producer: Che Ecru
Label: Soul Section
Che Ecru released one of the best projects and easily one of the best songs of 2017 that very few will know. Good for you, we pride ourselves on Putting You On and championing young artist. 2am is hypnotic and addictive. Its fun, has an incredible bounce, unique production by Che Ecru himself, overall an incredible song. You won’t be able to hear it once, without replaying. Keep your eyes for young Che Ecru in 2018.
7. Jay-Z: Marcy Me
Producer: No I.D.
Label: Roc Nation. UMG.
Marcy Me is possibly the best song on 4:44. It is simple yet beautiful. Its easily Jay-Z’s best lyrical performance in years and it has a beautiful aesthetic. It oozes with nostalgia as Jay-Z talks about the past with descriptive lyrics and how Marcy projects in Brooklyn, NY will always be a part of him. It’s a love letter to Brooklyn, New York, and Hip Hop in the most indirect way. The fact that Jay-Z still finds a way to be this masterful with a simple concept is astounding in itself.
6. Future: Hallicunating
Producer: Dre Moon
Label: A1. Freebandz. Epic.
Vulnerable Future is much better than trap future and nowhere is it more apparent than the differences of quality between his two albums released in 2017, FUTURE and HNDRXX. Hallucinating combines the best of both sides of Future, into 3 minutes of bliss. Dre Moon’s production is flawless and Future skates through the record not missing a beat. The beat and hook is incredibly melodic and Future does Future things (“That bitch was getting on my nerves man I had to send her to St. Tropez” is quintessential Future). Hallucinating is a mesmerizing record, perfect to ride to on a beautiful sunny day and shows why an artist like Future will always have an important lane for Rap and R&B.
5. Daniel Ceaser: Get You feat. Kali Uchis
Producer: Jordan Evans. Mathew Burnett
Label: Golden Child
As you read this, I want you to think back to when the last time you heard a young, up and coming, male r&b act tailor their breakout single as a traditional throwback r&b song. Even better, think back to the last time an artist did this with amazing vocal range. Enter Daniel Ceasar feat. Kali Uchis: Get You. Daniel Ceasar dropped easily the sexiest R&B song of the year (technically released in 2016 but did not get burn until 2017). Its beyond sensual, the lyrics are clear and direct, the groove and instrumental is simple and effective, and the vocals are smooth all the way through. There is literally no weakness to the song. Talk about a change of pace, Kali Uchis builds on the melody for the bridge beautifully. It’s a triumph of a moment. So make room for the newest R&B superstar, because Freudian proves that Daneil Ceasar will be there sooner than later.
4. Vince Stapes: Yeah Right feat. Kendrick Lamar & Kucka
Producer: Sophie. Flume.
Album: Big Fish Theory
Label: ARtium. Def Jam.
I feel very strongly about this, Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar collaborating is a moment that we did not appreciate enough. Believe it or not, they are really two of the best rappers of this generation. The two linking together did not disappoint. Vince Stapes first two verses kicks off the song. Vince Staples discusses the world we live in where people compromise themselves and lie on themselves for likes and status. First verse touches on the male ego, (“Is your house big? Is your car nice? Is your girl fine? Fuck her all night?), 2nd verse touches on the shallow women who is insecure with herself (“pretty women want to slit her wrist, pretty women wanna be a rich man’s bitch”). Each chorus, (“boy yeah right yeah right yeah right”) is a skeptical retort to these misrepresentations and it is brilliant. After Kucka’s bridge, Kendrick Lamar waste no time and flexes his lyrical prowess with one of the most blistering verses of the years. The contrast between the two styles of verses make for an all-time great song. This is Kevin Durant and Lebron James here, appreciate it before it’s too late.
3. Rick Ross: Santorini Greece
Album: Rather You Than Me
Label: Maybach Music. Epic.
Rick Ross’ Santorini Greece was easily one of the best musical moments of the year even though it came out of the start of the year. (Rather You Than Me was released in January) First off, I cannot stress how incredible the beat is. Bink is legendary but this is another level. Bink samples Judy Bailey Quartet-Colours of My Dreams by looping a high note, amongst other parts, and it hits you immediately. “Sometimes I be wanting to say fuck the world…” Rick Ross barks as the sample takes a hold of you. It is incredible. In Rick Ross part, he raps masterfully throughout, charging through topics of success (“the bank account done caught the holy ghost”), race (“when you black lips chapped cuz the game cold”, longevity (diabetes rampant through my bloodline that’s why fat boy be happy to see the sunshine”), and just plain stunting (“only fat nigga jogging on the beach, Versace underwear but see the ass crack”). Rick Ross and Bink collaborated on several songs the helped define the sound of Rather You Than Me, but Santorini Greece is clearly the highlight of their collaboration.
2. GoldLink: Crew feat. Brent Faiyaz and Shy Glizzy
Producer: Teddy Walton
Album: At What Cost
It hard to explain how perfect of a song Crew by Goldlink is truly is. Everyone plays their part, there is not any part lacking in the song. As he explained to Genius on Verified, Teddy Walton lays the groundwork re-using a beat he used before and slowing down the tempo compared to the previous effort that was made. He adds a stronger 808 and highlights the samples used. Brent Faiyaz destroys the chorus and I mean that sincerely. It is one of the most quotable hooks that I can remember. Performed beautifully by Faiyaz vocally. GoldLink kills his patented sing gong double time flow with an electrifying verse and Shy Glizzy delivers an energetic bouncy verse which is a club favorite. (If you are at an event and Crew comes on, look around when Shy Glizzy kicks off his verse with, “Hey Nice to meet, Im young Jeffe who you be.”) It’s a perfect storm for a perfect song and that is evidenced by how much burn Crew got through all mediums.
1. SZA: Love Galore feat. Travis Scott
Producer: Carter Lange. Cody Fayne. Tyran Donaldson
Label: Top Dawg. RCA
What a year for SZA. Ctrl was one of the best albums of the year if not the best and Love Galore was the best r&b/hip hop song of the year. The accolades, award nominations, and success is not a mistake. These songs are wonderfully crafted. Love Galore displays the vulnerability of a young women at a moment of uncertainty during her relationship with someone she does not know sees her the same. “Loooooove as long as we got….” Everything should be okay? “Why are you bothering me when you know you got a woman?” How can you love me and be with someone else? The vulnerability oozes throughout the record and SZA performs beautifully vocally. In a way, Love Galore acts as a clear representation of what Ctrl is as a single should. It has small parts of the message carried out throughout the album and it signals an artist fully in control of her messaging and Travis Scott does great too. Cheers to SZA, for making a classic record and giving us a song we were able to listen to throughout the year.