2017 was a year packed with new music from new artists, and youthful or upcoming artists shined brighter than they have before. This list was compiled by our writers, for our readers. Each writer was tasked with picking their objective favorite project of year, not the “best”. Without further ado, Apex Hip Hop’s Favorite Projects of 2017:
J.I.D – The Never Story
In the midst of a year stacked with project after project of trap, repetitive and viral internet rap, triplet flows, and Cole Bennett videos, Dreamville‘s come up J.I.D released one of the best projects of the year; and it sounds nothing like the competition. J.I.D‘s Never Story is a unique, well polished, lyrically focused introduction to his life and experience growing up in ATL, one of the biggest hip hop cities in America. This is his GKMC -esque introductory opus. And I don’t use Kendrick comparisons lightly. J.I.D‘s bars on The Never Story are the kind you don’t hear anymore except when rappers snap on freestyles.
The Never Story sounds like a deep mixture of northern NY-ish boom-bap lyricism and bars with the swagger and slapping production of the trap-centric south. And it melds those both together in a unique way. The production is hard as fuck, while maintaining a sort of unpredictable element, like nothing you’ve heard before. From bangers like “Never” to the almost happy ballads like “Somebody”, there’s always some odd sample or strange pitching or beat arrangement that sets it apart heavily. And J.I.D shines on this odd production like no other. His high pitched, sort of tinny voice, and twist-turning complex delivery sounds alot like he’s a long lost member of his fellow Dreamville duo EarthGang. But the diversity in his writing proves he can fit almost anywhere. He’s got witty and clever one-liners (What you call a chick that don’t suck dick?/ You don’t), self aware tongue twisters (Southern lyricists don’t exist like my flow is a myth), self reflective and introspective verses, more R&B style songwriting, bars about relationships, trapping, struggle, growing up,— J.I.D can do it all. And it all sounds uniquely his. As well, his flow and grasp of the beats he’s rapping over is evident from the first track. Throughout beat switches and the odd production, J.I.D flexes, throwing in flow switch after switch, changing his pacing, veritably dancing on the beat. His penmanship and rap chops really show his potential as a staple artist in the genre.
The features on this album all fit to a T, though no one really ever outshines J.I.D. The whole thing fits together beautifully. While the static-y transitions and beat switches can be a bit jarring at times, and he sometimes struggles with putting deep substance in his verses, this album is a phenomenally polished introduction to an intensely talented artist who isn’t going anywhere—except the top.
By Daniel Pearson
Mir Fontane – Camden
This year, Mir Fontane proved he is here to stay. Camden was released by 300 Entertainment during a summer that was jam-packed with good projects. Mir Fontane stayed true to his sound and his city with the generally upbeat 12-track record. He showed off his distinct sound while reminding listeners that his versatility is not to be overlooked.
On tracks like “Down By The River,” Mir showed his ability to be vulnerable, authentic, and relatable. The single “Frank Ocean” saw him flex his singing skills while dissecting how some friends won’t always show the support they claim to. With “Frank Ocean” he proved he can make a hit with introspective content. His subject matter on Camden was almost as versatile as the sounds. “Ain’t Afraid” was, to put it bluntly, a banger. On “$hort $tory,” his storytelling was put on display when he told the tale of a Camden shooting. The project in its entirety is versatile but sticks to Mir‘s raw, gritty, style. The bars are hard, real, and always unapologetically true to Camden, New Jersey. Camden wasn’t Mir Fontane‘s entrance into hip hop, it was his proof that he is here to stay. The talented emcee should only be getting better as he continues to put out more music.
By Jack Steindorf
Smino – blkswn
2017 was filled with new, innovative sounds from a variety of artists using elements of trap, jazz or electronic music in their own unique hip-hop. Kendrick Lamar, J.I.D, and Vince Staples all dropped incredible, innovative projects this year worthy of being in the conversation for album of the year. However it was the St. Louis rapper, Smino who stole the spotlight this year with his album Blkswn. The 18-track album is a musical experience curated by Smino and the superbly talented Monte Booker, who produced most of the tracks on the album. The project is filled with jazzy and electronic samples Flying Lotus would be proud of. Blkswn, for me, was the album of the year. It was a glimpse into the insane talent and unique sound that Smino possesses. Blkswn proved his songwriting and rapping skills are both impeccable and that he is on his way to the top.
By Alexander Arenas
Trippie Redd – A Love Letter To You 2
Trippie Redd made a big jump in 2017. From dropping his A Love Letter To You 2 mixtape to scoring a feature from Travis Scott, Trippie Redd has found a cult following. His “emo-rap” style resembles that most of Lil Uzi Vert, but his background and roots are what set him apart. The 18-year-old Camden, Ohio native describes navigating the “hellish” environment of his upbringing on my favorite track from the tape, “Hellboy”. He describes the struggles of his hometown, Camden, which has one of the highest rates of violent crimes in the country, and takes you through a journey of what it’s like to live in his shoes. Trippie also recounts many these ordeals in a song with an incredibly catchy hook titled “Dangerous”. The song also includes a verse from Rocket Da Goon, who has worked with Trippie before. The two work very well together, and bring out something in each other that elevates the song making it much more cohesive. However, Trippie Redd also shows a much warmer side. Using bright production elements on the song, “Back of My Mind” and a great feature from Cydnee with a C. “Back of My Mind” is a perfect example of a more sophisticated construction in a song, previously unseen from Trippie Redd but one of the prime reasons why I think this mixtape is so good.
A Love Letter To You 2 is filled with ups and downs, humble brags, and even self-reflection. It’s sure to take you on a roller coaster of what goes on inside the mind of Trippie Redd while you bang your head and dance around. And starting the tape off right with the single, “Bust Down” was a great move. You won’t want to skip a single track and be careful, because once you start listening, you won’t want to stop!
By Sachin Kumar