Top Ten Albums of 2017 by Nelson Espinal

Big Fish Theory — Vince Staples
     In his second studio album, Vince Staples takes a completely different path from the music style he had used in his previous projects Summertime ‘06 and Prima Donna. The beats are electronically influenced and create a very futuristic feeling throughout the album.
     Kilo Kish’s voice on the song “Love can be” helps to really push the sound of the album into another universe.
     At age 23, Vince is already an excellent wordsmith who isn’t afraid of touching on social issues: “Prison system broken, racial war commotion/until the president get ashy, Vincent won’t be votin” or personal struggles: “Swimming upstream while I’m tryna keep my bread/from the sharks make me wanna put the hammer to my head.”
     As smart as Vince is, he still doesn’t know everything and asks questions too: “How I’m supposed to have a good time/When death and destruction is all I see?”
     Staples is also somehow able to seamlessly combine his witty humor and some racially charged words on “BagBak”: “Clap your hands if the police ever profiled.”
     With an amazing verse from Kendrick Lamar and a catchy hook from Juicy J scattered on the album, Vince Staples present a body of work which makes people think, laugh, and have a good time all in 36 minutes.”

Damn — Kendrick Lamar
     Following the success and cultural impact of To Pimp a Butterfly, there was a lot of pressure on Kendrick.
     The result of this pressure was a diamond. Damn, from front to back, demonstrates the ability for Kendrick Lamar to story tell at the highest level. From the beginning, Kendrick is able to get the attention of listeners as he dies in the first song; the transition to “DNA” is simply amazing as it helps wake up the listener to what he is able to say.
     This album isn’t as cohesive as TPAB, but Kung Fu Kenny is able to link all of the songs because they are all life experiences or philosophies that have shaped who he is as a man.
     The song “HUMBLE.” is one of the biggest of 2017 and it shows how Kendrick is able to create a “radio song” without sacrificing content as he is able to shape the song in way that it serves as a reminder to himself that he is a place where he can tell someone to humble themselves as he once did.
     Rihanna and Kendrick duel with each other on Loyalty, creating the image of a realistic back and forth happening between a couple. This album is easily the most re-listenable project Kendrick has released to date.
     There is a mixture of hit songs and important songs on the album that helps the listener get to know more about Kendrick Lamar. “XXX,” a song which touches on important issues like gun control and racial oppression, was one of the most important songs of the year.
     Kendrick is all over the place on this album, but the lack of a central theme means it gives Kendrick more wiggle room and for someone as introspective as him, it is only a good thing.

Flower Boy — Tyler the Creator
     Tyler the Creator marches to the beat of his own drum and doesn’t care what others think about him. The only critic that he truly listens to is himself and on this album he makes that very clear.
     At various points, Tyler questions the point of being so successful when he is truly lonely.
     He has all of the materials he could ever need, but he still hasn’t found someone to share it with: “Five car garage/ full tank of gas/ but that don’t mean nothing nothing nothing without you shotgunning the passenger.”
     The production on this album is really beautiful and it really shows how far Tyler has come as a producer.
     The background vocals from Frank Ocean, Rex Orange County, and Steve Lacy are all amazing and they bring more color to the beat.
     The love song “See you again” provides vivid imagery that helps propel the moods of the song to new heights like “You only exist behind my eyelids, my eyelids” or “I wonder if you look both ways when you cross my mind.”
     Tyler legitimately opens up throughout the album, speaking on experiences of love, heartbreak, triumph, failure, and advice he has received along the way.
     He opens up to a point where he is asking himself questions like “What if I’m too weird to the masses?” From beginning to end,      Tyler delivers amazing sounds and a combination of vulnerable/witty bars that makes this album a true classic.

Process — Sampha
     Sampha is best known for helping artists like Kanye West and Beyonce from the background. On Process, he finally steps into the limelight and delivers a truly magnificent musical masterpiece.
     He doesn’t rely on catchy hooks or bouncy beat, instead he wears on the listener with melodies and soundscapes.
     His greatest skill is maintaining diversity throughout the album by balancing songs where his delivery is assertive or soft spoken. This balance makes the album a great listening experience.
     Process is exactly that, a process that takes time to take in and requires attention. This album isn’t one to play at a party or when someone passes you the aux, but it delivers a great experience for when you have time to process it.

Freudian — Daniel Caesar
     Freudian creates a feeling of invasion of privacy as each song sounds like an intimate conversation between two partners.
Caesar is writing songs from a very vulnerable state of mind and definitely targeted at someone. The combination of either piano or a guitar with the soft voice of Daniel Caesar is spectacular.
     They seamlessly go together. “Get You” featuring H.E.R is an extremely vulnerable and one specific line hits home: “If life is a movie, then you’re the best part.” A great play on words and delivered with amazing vocals.
     It isn’t all perfect in his love life as he has been through both infidelities and other bad relationships that he regrets. Caesar combines love, lust, nostalgia, and sadness to deliver a brilliant work of art.

dont smile at me — Billie Eilish
     Few people know who Billie Eilish is, but she quietly delivered a great debut LP. At fifteen years of age, it is quite crazy to see such a young artist make music at a high level.
     There is a lot of Lana Del Rey and Lorde in her music, but Billie separates herself by having more off the wall lyrics, and that allows for her music to avoid sounding stale.
     Her song “COPYCAT” features an absurdly random line: “Why so sad bunny/Can’t have mine.” This is a part of the hook and upon first listen, it certainly takes the listener aback. As a teenager, she has already had her fair share of heartbreak.
     On “idontwannabeyouanymore” she sings: “If ‘I love you’ was a promise/
     Would you break it? / If you’re honest.” Ms. Eilish is able to express both her insecurities and desires through the narration of her experiences and thought process.
     The instrumentals are as erratic as her state of mind with switches of pace, but most of them maintain a melancholic undertone that lies within her lyrics as well.
     She is an amazing talent at only the age of fifteen, her vocal performance on this album is versatile as she may be singing her lungs out on one song, then have a soft-spoken voiceover and ukulele.
     The song “&burn” receives a great Vince Staples feature in which he is someone who got his heartbroken by Billie. Her emergence has given alternative music some life and her debut is likely the start of a great career.

Ctrl — SZA
     SZA is so much more than a beautiful voice. After releasing a couple minor projects, SZA’s debut album Ctrl has made her into a superstar. She wrote about themes and experiences that people rarely even tell their own best friend from heartbreak, love, lust, and even her desire to have control and knowing when she doesn’t need control over a man.
     Her voice is a tool that is used in multiple ways: singing, rapping, and speaking. The hooks on her songs “Love Galore” and “Doves in the Wind” are beautifully delivered and sung. Both songs have features from Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar respectively. Even with these two great rappers on these songs, SZA shines with her verse.
     Songs like “The Weekend” display the confusion that SZA has sometimes as she doesn’t have a real relationship and that allows for her to move around freely without commitment.
     SZA is an artist through and through, expressing her experience navigating through life and the mistakes she has made.
     Although her insecurities have caused some issues in past relationships, they make her album great as her perfectionist mentality made the project go to another level.

American Teen — Khalid
     Khalid was a breakout star in 2017 by having two great songs go into the mainstream. Unless you have been living under a rock, you must have heard either “Location” or “Young, Dumb, Broke.”
     Both of them are sung beautifully, but they work for two different reasons. “Location” features a laid back delivery that is very smooth; on the other hand, “Young, Dumb, Broke” relies on the hook and lyrics that a lot of teenagers can relate to.
     Khalid’s voice relays both his confidence, yet self-awareness of his weaknesses. American Teen is very direct about who its audience is and as a nineteen year old, the sky is the limit for Khalid.

Culture — Migos
     As far as mainstream music goes, the Migos dominated the year. They were featured plenty on the top charts with their own songs or features they provided others. It was their album that really set the tone for their great year.
     Due to their experience together, the Migos have built amazing chemistry and it has led to some very catchy songs that carry a surprising amount of substance.
     Songs like “Bad and Boujee,” “T-Shirt,” and “Slippery” featuring Gucci Mane have great hooks and catchy verses that are very memorable and songs that I often went back to.
     The production was consistently good, but the development of Offset and Takeoff help make the group a true triple threat with Quavo delivering great hooks consistently.

Saturation III — Brockhampton
     Brockhampton is a boyband. They are a collection of rappers and producers that want to be the best boyband in the world. In 2017, they released 3 albums. This is something that has very rarely been done.
     Their intent is to saturate the market (hence the name) with music to the point where eventually they start to be recognized. From album to album, they improved their chemistry and the final installment of the trilogy is the best.
     The production is very innovative and experimental. They take risks, and those definitely pay off. Kevin Abstract delivers some very catchy hooks like “Boys wanna play with my cellphone, but I don’t want nobody to see what’s in it” or “Riding on the rooftop with a dollar sign attach to my head.”
     Joba, a member who wasn’t featured very often in the two previous albums, delivers very personal verses on the album.
     Other members like Ameer Van and Matt Champion produce some amazing bars that reflect on their time doing drugs and receiving criticism.
     Dom McLennon, my favorite member, also contributes witty and reflective lyrics. There is no persistent theme in the album; it is just these guys talking about their experiences, both good and bad.
     The end result of all these creative minds working together is one of the best albums of the year, which is something you can say about the other Saturation albums as well. If you haven’t listened to their music yet, Saturation III is a great introduction.

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