I stressed over choosing the albums for this list. 2017 brought another year of great music, and another year of hip-hop being on top. The year saw releases from various established rock acts, such as Arcade Fire and Queens of the Stone Age, but they couldn’t compete with the boundary-pushing projects released by hip-hop artists. Regardless, 2017 will go down as one of the decade's greatest years in music.
Disclaimer: Awaken, My Love is technically a late 2016 album, but I'm including it in my list. If the Grammy's can include a 2016 album, so can I.
5. Awaken, My Love, Childish Gambino
Admittedly, I haven’t been a fan of Childish Gambino’s rap career. I’ve never felt Donald Glover, the multi-talented writer/comedian/musician also known as “Childish Gambino,” did enough to stand out in the hip-hop crowd. Thankfully, on Awaken, My Love, he doesn’t need to. Awaken, My Love is a soul album, through and through. The style is vintage, but Glover updates it for modern listeners. The album seethes with paranoia and rage, with luscious instrumentation to boot. Once you get into the groove of Awaken, My Love, it’s hard to get out.
4. Damn, Kendrick Lamar
Does Kendrick Lamar need an introduction? The Compton native’s been on top of the rap game for years, and 2017 is no different. While there were hip-hop albums I liked more than Damn this year, I can’t deny that Kendrick is still the best rapper alive. Damn is a return to form for Kendrick. After dabbling in jazzier, warmer sounds on his last two albums, To Pimp a Butterfly and Untitled Unmastered, Kendrick provides scathing, electronic rap manifestos on Damn. If To Pimp a Butterfly, was Kendrick reaching the top of the mountain, Damn is him burning it down.
3. Saturation & Saturation II, Brockhampton
Brockhampton is the surprise hit of the year. The rap collective, who label themselves a “boy band,” rose from relative obscurity to release two of the most explosive hip-hop albums of 2017. Saturation and Saturation II are different albums, but they were released only a couple months apart, and feel like two parts of a whole, rather than two separate entities. The songs range from hard-hitting bangers (as seen below), to introspective ballads. Imagine Run the Jewels adding Frank Ocean as a third member. Somehow, the California collective will release Saturation III this December. If they manage to maintain the quality of their past two albums, the Saturation trilogy could become one of the most interesting milestones in hip-hop history.
2. All-Amerikkkan Badass, Joey Badass
All-Amerikkkan Badass is Joey Badass finding his voice. While his past projects have all been exceptional, Badass often fell victim to wearing his inspirations on his sleeve. He’s a New York native, with a decisively New York sound, and it’s very obvious to pinpoint his inspirations: Nas, Biggie, Wu-Tang, etc. However, the recent political upheaval in America seems to have inspired Joey to strike out a path of his own. Badass speaks with an infectious confidence on topics such as police brutality, economic stagnation, and the disproportionate arrests of black men. Many songs on All-Amerikkkan Badass are burning, passionate, and tear-jerking, making it the protest album 2017 needed.
1. Pure Comedy, Father John Misty
Life; death; the apocalypse; choking on candy in a JCPenney’s: these are just a few of the preoccupations Josh Tillman, aka “Father John Misty,” explores on Pure Comedy. Rather than focus on these topics with brooding doom and gloom, Tillman, the former drummer of alt-folk band Fleet Foxes, writes with biting humor. With all of the political and social turmoil the United States experienced in 2017, it’s refreshing to have an album that finds laughter in the absurdity.
This video details my album research process, following it from inception to publication.
(Below is a version of the video's transcript. This version has been adapted to better service a blog format.)
1. The first step of my process is figuring out which album I want to analyze. To do this, I’ll usually go through all my favorite albums, before picking one that seems like it would fit my blog. Let’s use Born in the U.S.A. as an example.
2. After choosing the album, I find a reputable source for the lyrics. My go-to source is Genius.com, but if I own the album I’m analyzing, I’ll look through the lyrics that come in the packaging.
3. Next, I begin writing down every single noun, verb, and adjective. I’ll include pronouns if they seem important. I place x's next to words to signify repetition. The more x's there are, the more that word has been repeated. I place question marks next to words I want to revisit later, in case they fit in with a theme.
4. After writing all the lyrics down, it’s time to compile them according to their themes. For example, some of the themes in Born in the U.S.A. were Decline, Time, and Travel.
5. Once the themes are neat and organized, I’ll add some of my own thoughts beneath them, in the form of a “note.”
6. After everything else is done, I write my final thoughts about the album and my analysis.
7. Finally, after a long and potentially unnecessary process, it’s time to end my suffering and hit publish.
Here is my finished analysis of Born in the U.S.A.
As a life-long music fan, I've always been interested in the intersection of music and lyrics. This blog will explore that space by analyzing classic albums and singles through the repetition of their words, themes, and connected motifs. By examining music in this way, I hope to provide new perspectives on the artists and their work.