By: Alex Bloom and Neil MacAlister
Best album of 2017: DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
Crowning Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. as album of the year feels almost too easy. With every project, Lamar has proved, consistently, to be the greatest rapper of his generation. His albums have topped year-end lists with ease. DAMN. is certainly Lamar’s strangest album to date, incorporating a variety of musical styles and branching away from the classic gangsta rap or experimental jazz/funk fusion of his past work. Instead it takes the listener through a sprawling yet coherent journey that branches from the hard-knocking, braggadocious “DNA.” to the cautiously optimistic “GOD.”.
The album follows a complex narrative that looks both inward and outward at the black American experience. Lamar tackles — with lyrical deftness — nationwide police brutality, the role of Christianity in African-American culture, and Lamar’s own experiences of fear, confusion, and aggression that trace a line from his childhood to his current life of fame and notoriety. It’s an album that’s as much about Lamar as it is about America itself. Its ambitiousness is matched by the artist’s undeniably phenomenal abilities. – NM
Honourable mention: The Chief by Jidenna
The rising star rapper, famous for his impeccable taste in clothing and his swaggering sense of style, had released several hit singles — but never a full album. That changed in 2017. With only a few repeats from past releases, The Chief was Jidenna’s first full-length LP. The album develops Jidenna’s character, the Chief, and weaves an interconnected storyline that continues through each track. He touches on the death of his father, the subsequent visit to his relatives in Nigeria for the funeral, and his personal identity.
The Chief is political, heartfelt, and masterfully crafted. The album is a great addition to the discography of one of the most talented emerging rappers in the US, and a solid contender for best album of 2017. If you’re a fan of Jidenna’s previous work, such as “Classic Man,” then I suggest you come back for a little more. – AB
Bonus review: Dedication 6 by Lil Wayne
For years now, legal battles with his label have kept Lil Wayne from releasing studio albums, but nothing can stop him from releasing free mixtapes. This past Christmas brought rap fans a very special present: the sixth instalment in Lil Wayne’s notorious Dedication mixtape series.
The Dedication projects stretch back to 2005, at the height of Wayne’s domination of the rap game. On these Gangsta Grillz-assisted mixtapes, Wayne demolished the beats of his contemporaries: almost always surpassing the originals, and thus, justifying his claims of being the “best rapper alive.” While Dedication 4 and Dedication 5 were dropped during a low point in Wayne’s career, Dedication 6 might just be the comeback he needs and deserves. The lyrical assault he delivers over 21 Savage’s “Bank Account” beat has all the excellent charisma of classic mixtape Wayne. His flips of YFN Lucci’s “Everyday We Lit,” and Rich the Kid’s “New Freezer” immediately overshadow the originals. Beats from Kendrick Lamar, Lil Uzi Vert, and 6LACK also receive the type of Wayne remix that crowned him king of the game years ago. – NM