Things are moving fast this year. At just the halfway point of 2017, it feels like music has been upended, and no genre is more vital and dynamic right now than hip-hop. Seemingly every A-list star this side of the Throne has dropped a magnum opus (or, in Future's case, two), with Jay Z and, possibly, Kanye on the way. A new class of upstarts—some long-heralded, some arriving seemingly out of nowhere—are finally realizing their debut full-lengths to great effects. And outside of hip-hop, music has been just as exciting. There are too many exciting albums from rising R&B acts, like Nick Hakim and 1-O.A.K. We've had some sideways pop greats drop (Khalid's American Teen and Charli XCX's Number One Angel). Meanwhile, the indie rock class of 2009 is apparently having its reunion, and we couldn't be happier (the xx's I See You and Dirty Projectors' Dirty Projectors). If the rest of 2017 continues apace, we're going to have trouble keeping up. These are our picks for the best albums of the year so far.
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We’re six months into 2017, meaning it’s time to sort out the best projects of the year so far. By this time last year, we’d seen major releases from Rihanna, Beyonce, Kanye West, and Chance the Rapper, and all of those ended up in Complex’s top 10 for that year. How many of the 2017 album in the mid-year top 10 will hold onto their spots over the next six months? Let’s take a look at what we’ve got.
Released near the end of February, Thundercat’s Drunk is a long, weird album that gathers up jazz, funk, rap, and even yacht rock to create a project unlike any other that dropped this year. Many of the songs are under three-minutes long, and the goofy but personal lyrics make listening to it feel like browsing in the weirdest corners of the bassist’s brain.
For his most focused project yet, Joey Badass got political. All-Amerikkkan Badass, the Brooklyn MC’s second studio album, is angry yet patriotic. Joey is defiantly a product of America, for better and for worse, and he isn’t afraid to speak his mind about the ills of this country.
Taking a short break from her band, the Internet, Syd released her solo debut in February. It’s a more digital affair, compared to the jammy, analog sound of her group. Fin owes a lot to Timbaland and Aaliyah’s collaboration in the ‘90s, calling to mind One in a Million, and that’s a serious compliment.
Future has released two albums in 2017, and the first is the less surprising project. The self-titled album is a mean collection of trap music that got the Atlanta MC his first top 5 Hot 100 single, with “Mask Off.”
After some lackluster releases, Rick Ross got back in his bag with Rather You Than Me. Featuring cinematic production from Bink, Rozay solidified his legacy as a boss with this project, even going so far as to critique Birdman’s unethical business moves on “Idols Become Rivals.” It was a well-deserved most talked about moment of the year in music.
The long-awaited debut from introspective British R&B singer Sampha did not disappoint. There isn’t a more untraditional or emotional R&B album released this year. Even in summer, it’ll have you in your feelings.
You can’t ever count the Atlanta trio out. Even though Migos have had moments where it looks like they’ve cooled off, they always find a way to come back. Culture is the highpoint of their career, a tight collection of great songs, many of them destined to be classics. You’ll be hearing “Bad and Boujee” and “T-Shirt” for years to come.
Drake really must be tired of hearing complaints about Views, because he made sure to remind the world why he’s rap’s biggest star with More Life. Billed as a playlist instead of an album, it lived up to its description by bringing together all of Drake’s strengths and interests. There’s afrobeats, dancehall, grime, R&B, rap, and it all sounds pristine.
It’s too early to tell if Hndrxx will be Future’s crowning achievement but it sure feels like it right now. His most ambitious album by far, Hndrxx is a breakup album that really makes you feel the highs but especially the lows, of love. It shows that, when he’s focused, Future can do everything he puts his mind to, from rapping to soul baring crooning.
This can’t come as a surprise, right? Kendrick Lamar is arguably the best rapper alive, and Damn feels like an instant classic. After experimenting with jazz and funk, Kendrick returns to the sound of contemporary hip-hop on insane songs like “DNA” and “Love.” It’s the kind of album where your favorite song changes with each listen. That’s how you know it’ll last.
This is just the top 10 for the year, but over at Complex.com you can read about 40 more albums that you need to hear. Be sure to check back in with us in six months to see which projects had real staying power.