Choice picks of music released in 2017

Matthew Stranzl, Reporter

Kehlani – SweetSexySavage

I have so much to say about this album I don’t even know where to start.

I was a little embarrassed about my admiration for her at first, but I grew to embrace it, following her on social media, watching her interviews and even spending my hard earned money on a SSS t-shirt.

This album shaped my appreciation for R&B music, which was previously limited to neo-soul artists like Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, people I discovered through their the connection with alternative/conscious hip-hop artists like Common, Black Star and The Roots.

My taste in modern R&B was limited to male singers such as PartyNextDoor, The Weeknd and Bryson Tiller (Trapsoul is dope, as a rap album) who are undeniably talented, but lack substance in their music; coming off contrived, misogynistic and drug-obsessed.

I always felt their work was one-dimensional, lacking the vulnerability and nuance possessed by their predecessors.

My philosophy is that drugs and debauchery have their place in hip-hop, and R&B should focus on heartbreak and romance.

SweetSexySavage changed my whole perspective on modern R&B, incorporating the tried-and-true tropes of the genre while still sounding genuine.

Somber, downtrodden songs like “Everything Is Yours” and “Not Used To It” are perfectly at home next to smashes like the feminist anthem “Too Much” and “CRZY,” a uptempo number that features some above-average rapping.

The project is draped in 90s nostalgia – the title is a reference to TLC, Aaliyah is sampled on “Personal”.

Best songs: Piece of Mind, Undercover, Personal, Everything is Yours


Vic Mensa – The Autobiography

For years, Chicago hip-hop has been defined by two extremes; politically conscious, lyrically complex fare from legends like Common, Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco and rapid-fire gangsta rap pioneered by Twista (who once held the Guinness World Record for the world’s fastest rapper), Do or Die and Crucial Conflict.

In the 2010s, that balance shifted, the spotlight falling on two burgeoning scenes; drill music, Chicago’s answer to trap music that reflected the explosion of violence in the city at the time, and an alternative scene that focused on poetic hip-hop.

Artists who emerged from the alternative scene include Mick Jenkins, Saba, Noname, Chance the Rapper, Joey Purp, Kembe X and Vic Mensa.

2016 was a landmark year for the scene, with everyone except Vic releasing a critically acclaimed project.

Vic Mensa, a signee to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, released his debut album The Autobiography this July.

Having toured with Justin Bieber and protested in Ferguson and Standing Rock, Mensa is a public figure and the album was highly awaited.

He took heavy influence from punk and alternative rock and blended it with his lyrical tenacity, creating an album with high replay value but also a discordant tracklist.

Sonically, he used a variety of cadences and melodies, almost coming off as too ambitious.

However, his heartfelt storytelling and crisp wordplay, plus themes such as infidelity, depression and police brutality permeate the album and make it stand out as a diamond in hip-hop’s materialistic rough.

Best songs: Say I Didn’t, Memories on 47th Street, Gorgeous, We Could Be Free


Mozzy – 1 Up Top Ahk

Sacramento rapper Mozzy (fka Lil’ Tim) has been cooking for over a decade, flooding the market with a blizzard of lowkey mixtapes and collaborative albums.

His projects Mandatory Check, Bladadah and Fake Famous received little attention in mainstream press outlets but garnered him praise as a folk hero, a gangsta rap traditionalist refusing to pander to current trends.

Mozzy rarely raps over trap beats, doesn’t mumble, doesn’t harmonize and doesn’t wear tight pants or have dyed hair.

He’s the polar opposite of a lot of the bubblegum stuff out today, an anachronism loyal to his fanbase.

He’s lyrically dexterous with an insane work ethic, volleying bar after bar of descriptive imagery, (or as he likes to call it “motion pictures”) one after another like it’s nothing.

Mozzy’s songs are characteristically violent and lyrically uncompromising, sonically cohesive thanks to his producer June.

1 Up Top Ahk is the culmination of Mozzy’s previous work, not breaking any new ground but building off his past efforts and fleshing out his sound.

It’s a nuanced album, consistently heartfelt, vividly chronicling his street lifestyle but not glorifying it.

The hyperfrequent tributes to dead homies, tales of gunfights and laments of court cases might be overbearing to some, but if you’re a longtime hip-hop listener looking for a dose of another man’s reality, I’d highly recommend 1 Up Top Ahk.

Guests include likeminded street rappers YFN Lucci, Dave East and Lil Durk as well as veterans Lil Boosie and The Jacka, the Yay Area icon who was tragically gunned down in 2015.

Best songs: Sleep Walkin, Don’t You, MIP Jacka, Prayed For This



Mass collectives used to be the wave in hip hop music, but in recent years it seems like the importance of a clique has receded.

Groups like the Screwed Up Click, the Native Tongues Posse, the Dungeon Family and the No Limit Soldiers dominated airwaves during the 90s. More recently groups like Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang and the Beast Coast movement garnered much attention only to focus on one star member, as did the A$AP Mob, whose efforts revolve around two members with star power while the rest play the background role.

BROCKHAMPTON, a group that originally met online via a Kanye West fan forum, turns that concept on its head and gives every member the same amplitude,

Their music is youthful, brimming with energy that clamors for ears.

While weighty topics are addressed, Saturation II never comes off too serious, a callback to the aesthetic of earlier hip-hop groups like the Wu-Tang Clan, Run-DMC, A Tribe Called Quest and Southernplayalistic-era OutKast.

Saturation II arrives in a bang, the top half of the album consisting mainly of energetic cuts, while the latter half relies more on singing and intimate storytelling.

Some of the instrumentals appear out of place and are definite mishaps, but Saturation II is an enjoyable affair throughout.

Highlights from the project include “SUMMER”, a sentimental ballad, and three jaw-dropping bangers named “GUMMY”, “SWAMP”, and “TOKYO”.


Syd – Fin

A member of the rowdy musical collective Odd Future, Sydney Bennett’s R&B group The Internet released two albums in 2011 and 2013, both of which were overshadowed by the antics and musical output of their OF counterparts Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator.

Their third album, Ego Death, propelled the group into newfound territory, earning radio play, widespread critical acclaim and even a Grammy nomination.

The Internet’s sound was hailed as alternative R&B, warm and hazy with real instruments.

The instrumentation provided by the other members perfectly complemented Syd’s vocals, who vividly discussed anxiety issues in interviews but come across effortless.

Heavily influenced and reminiscent of Aaliyah, she never leaves her register or belts it out but still glides over jittery drums with sophistication.

Her debut solo album Fin changed the formula slightly, instead of live instrumentation her beats were more contemporary and relied on the trap equivalent of Timbaland production.

Fin’s much more pop-sounding, but doesn’t resonate as a sell-out, just the exploration of a new horizon.

Standout songs include “Insecurities”, a rumination on a one-sided relation, “Dollar Bills”, a strip club anthem that features her Internet bandmate Steve Lacy, “Know”, and ode to infidelity that rivals John Legend’s staple “You Don’t Have to Know”, and “Got Her Own”, a celebration of independent women who have an affinity for the finer things.




SZA’s debut album CTRL is like Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance in musical form.

A comprehensive R&B record, it covers every base of her romantic life; the highs, the lows, the lust, the infidelity, the distance brought about by internet communication and the nagging self-doubt caused by all this.

While some of her contemporaries are high superficial, CTRL is personal throughout. SZA has the guts to challenge gender stereotypes and air out her ex-boyfriends dirty laundry, plus the magical voice to match.

The album hasn’t any anthems or transcendent moments, but makes up for it’s lack of smashes with constant introspection and lush soundscapes.

Guest features come from Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar and Isaiah Rashad, three of my favorite rappers who each leave a lasting impression.


Best songs: Broken Clocks, Pretty Little Birds, The Weekend, Supermodel


Honorable Mentions

Joey Bada$$ – All-Amerikkkan Bada$$

Oddisee – The Iceberg

Khalid – American Teen


J. Stalin & DJ Fresh – The Tonite Show

Rick Ross – Rather You Than Me

2 Chainz – Pretty Girls Like Trap Music

Migos – Culture

Lexi Alijaj –  Growing Pains

Raekwon – The Wild

Lil Uzi Vert – Luv is Rage II


Sabrina Claudio – About Time

Big K.R.I.T. – 4Eva is a Mighty Long Time

Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1

GoldLink – At What Cost

Nef the Pharaoh – The Chang Project


2017 album reviews to be continued next issue…