Staff Picks: Dimas Sanfiorenzo's Top 5 Albums of 2017 So Far
The trickiest aspect of constructing any kind of “album of the year” list is deciding what parameters to use: will your list be based on conventional wisdom or personal taste? It’s real easy to do the former, but what fun is it if everyone’s list looked the same and was some form of Kendrick, Syd, Drake, Sampha, and Thundercat?
So whenever I’m making one of these lists, I tend to lean on my personal taste more than anything. Meaning, my lists are what albums I played a bunch, rather than what are the albums deemed important. And with all due respect to Thundercat, Migos, Lorde, Gorillaz, and the hundreds of artists who made phenomenal music this year, here are my five albums of the year so far.
1. Future - Hndrxx
In 2015, Future released three classic albums — Beast Mode, 56 Nights and DS2. The three projects, while different sonically, shared the same narrative: a self-destructive madman responds to the failures of the previous year. (In 2014 Future's "breakout" record Honest bricked and his engagement with Ciara fizzled.) But then Future got fat, or lazy. And the projects after that — What a Time to Be Alive, Evol and his self-titled album — sounded like stale retreads of DS2. Which is why HNDRXX is so gratifying. It's a reminder of how multidimensional Future can be; he's not just this dour dude. He can be reflective and emphatic and, yes, romantic.
2. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album, To Pimp a Butterfly, is one of the most critically acclaimed albums ever. And yet, you can hear whispers of criticism, mostly about the lack of accessibility and the pretentious rollout. DAMN. feels like a response to some of that criticism. K.Dot's third solo album is a swift and blunt reminder that, yes, Kendrick is still very much about that rap life. In DAMN. Kendrick uses a bunch of classic hip-hop stables as a crutch: he raps over a dusty sounding sample on "FEAR.;" he uses an anaphora technique on "FEEL.;" he attacks punching bag Fox News on "YAH.;" and he ends the album with "DUCKWORTH.," a storytelling track with a surprise ending. The fact that these things don't feel stale is mostly a testimony to how incredible Kendrick is as an MC.
3. Payroll Giovanni - Payface
Dopeboy rap gets a bum reputation for being one-dimensional. I find most good street rap to be more nuanced than the coverage it receives. Enter Detroit's Payroll Giovanni, who’s been as consistent as any rapper over the last five years. His latest tape is a collaboration with Helluva, the producer behind Tee Grizzley's “First Day Out,” and it's some of the best street rap to come out this year. Yes, Giovanni raps almost exclusively about selling cocaine, but it's rarely as someone who's actively participating.The raps are almost always in the past tense; and his perspective is mostly as someone who can't believe he made it out.
4. Kehlani - SweetSexySavage
Over the years I've gotten tired of how pointlessly dreary modern R&B has become. I think that's one of the main reasons why I love Kehlani's nostalgic yet fresh debut SweetSexySavage. It's been comfort food for me, especially during these times where it seems like the outside world is going to shit. The album is a little long at 19 tracks (streaming era) but the first half of the album, which is overflowing with optimism, is undefeated.
5. Chief Keef - Thot Breaker
Last week, Young Thug dropped his "pop album" Beautiful Thugger Girls to much critical acclaim. And while I enjoy that project, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Chief Keef's Thot Breaker, an album that does some of the same things Thugga is trying to do but much better. Keef has been one of the most experimental rappers of the last five years, sometimes to his determent. So I enjoyed how accessible and fun this record is. (Seriously, it's probably his most approachable album since his only major label LP, Finally Rich.)
Prodigy - Hegellan Dialectic
SOB X RBE - SOB X RBE
Quelle Chris - Being you is Great, I Wish I could be you More Often
Sampha - Process
DJ Quik & Problem - Rosecrans