Staff Picks: Zo's Top 5 Albums of 2017 So Far
Michael "ZO" Gonik, Music Editor
By no means are these the only albums worthy of your ear in 2017. I've lapped DAMN., Drunk, and Process more times than I feel comfortable disclosing publically. And CTRL really is the first post-blond(e)d release in the ever-expanding left (though Frank's own 2017 output has been consistent and fucking stellar.) But I'd be failing if you if this mid-year check-in wasn't devoted to shining some light on projects that stack up to those from all of the marquee names, but may have got lost in the glow. The ones that didn't get the big-budget PR blitz or the star-studded mixed-media campaign.
It could be the case that six months from now this list shifts drastically, that it's virtually unrecognizable in light of what the second half of the year holds. Worse, that 2017 proved to be as front-heavy as the burnt-custard-in-chief. But 2018 is one step closer to 2020, and I'm voting West. These are the five albums that bring me back from the Kung Fu Kenny binges and Thundercat short-circuits. The ones that help the year go down just a little smoother.
1. Matt Martians - Drum Chord Theory
I’d always suspected that most of the elements comprising The Internet that were particularly era-marking -- tones, chords, shamelessly loose vocals -- stemmed from the Jet Age of Tomorrow producer and Odd Future co-founder. As the band's sound surfaced to the forefront of r&b, conjecture flipped to concrete fact. And when the band revealed that its core members would release solo projects throughout 2017, I was mostly expecting a Jet Age of Tomorrow part deux of sorts. Drum Chord Theory, however, is precisely not a sequel to any of Matt Martians' former voyages or monikers. Instead of filling in the gaps with Jet Age loosies or Odd Future outtakes, Martians builds his own little lovelorn world on a bedrock of warm jazzy chords, unrequited lust and a shit-ton of hallucinogens. And it’s a damn-good trip.
2. Jonwayne - Rap Album Two
Even with an imminent record from the pride of Marcy on the horizon, the year's plaque for "Most Thoughtful Comeback" belongs to Jonwayne. After spending a few years in seclusion working on himself, the dynamic rapper and producer returned with a big, tranquil body of work that's as much his own personal catharsis as a step-by-step in how he got his shit together. The vulnerability, transparency and enveloping ambience of Rap Album Two feels like a safe space realized both for the artist and his audience, one where he can shed the weight of bad habits and reclaim his narrative without ever taking to the pulpit.
3. Smino - blkswn
The St. Louis stunner blends well with his Windy City crew, comprising mostly notable Chicago rappers, producers and vocalists like Phoelix, Saba, NoName and, of course, Chance The Rapper. But with his debut, Smino earns more than a spot amongst a growing elite of astute line-smudgers. Between the intoxicating turn-up anthem “Edgar Allen Poe’d Up,” the late-night special “Netflix & Dusse” and perhaps the album’s gushiest treat “Anita,” there’s virtually no moment between you and the subject of your affections that isn’t scored on blkswn. It’s red-eyed r&b and full-melt lyricism with deceptive depth, musically and emotionally. Pairs well with potent weed, brown liquor and any hour after midnight. Oh, and the second half of "Amphetamine" is basically the completion of NoName's "Shadow Man" sequence with just a bit more of that southern slur.
4. Nick Hakim - Green Twins
Deep in the brush of Brooklyn, Nick Hakim honed his haunt and found his soul was best served chilled and shook, never stirred. On his debut album, Hakim finds his beacon and funnels a deep love of soul and the avant-garde into a lush piece, caked with reverb, washed-out six-strings and moody melodies. It's an eternal summer record, tailor-made for rooftop libations, clinking red cups and passing a proper blessing to the left as the sun falls. With Green Twins, Hakim's growth -- as an arranger, as a careful dreamweaver -- is on full display. The debut is mature beyond measure and shatteringly capable of pulling on heart strings you didn't know had frayed.
5. Kingdom - Tears in The Club
Let it be known that well before SZA or Syd turned in their albums, Kingdom brought them to the floor on his own cold, dark and twisted debut. With a pair of features from TDE’s First Lady and Odd Future’s most delicate voice gracing “Nothing,” Tears in The Club builds out from the star power, filling the spaces between with icy trap and house experiments meant for all dance floor configurations, whether mobbed-out or sticking to a corner all by your blissfully drunken self.
Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory
Gabriel Garzon-Montanó - Jardin
Mike Edge (Self-titled)
Jarami - Sketches
PJ Morton - Gumbo
Carl Craig - Versus
Dirty Projectors (Self-titled)
Pond - The Weather
Sango - De Mim, Pra Voce
Freddie Gibbs - You Only Live 2wice
Karriem Riggins - Headnod Suite
DJ Harrison - HazyMoods
Steve Lacy - Steve Lacy's Demo