15. Swae Lee, Swaecation
This “album” is actually one-third of Rae Sremmurd’s massive triple album, SR3MM. The album is composed of Rae Sremmurd’s third album and each member’s debut solo album. Sawecation is the strongest of the three albums. Somewhere in the haze of alternative R&B, pop, trap, and rap, Swae Lee crafted an album that is not only infinitely easy to listen to, but damn good as well. Whether it’s on uptempos that play around with unique diction like “Guatemala” or moody mea culpas like “Heat of the Moment,” Swae Lee nailed it on his debut solo album.
Best Tracks: “Red Wine,” “Hurt To Look,” “Heartbreak In Encino Hills”
14. Shawn Mendes, Shawn Mendes
Shawn Mendes’ third album received a tepid critic reaction. I believe this was because it never quite reaches the highs of the brilliant, “In My Blood,” which I reviewed here, but it is still chock full of some of his best music yet. The album is definitely less John Mayer and more Justin Timberlake and the sound works on Shawn, he sounds more confident and comfortable than ever before. The album shifts between delicate indie pop and pseudo-stadium rock with mind-blowing ease with his rich and raw voice. The true star of the album is his falsetto, which just might be the strongest male falsetto in pop music right now.
Best Tracks: “Why,” “Queen,” “Where Were You in the Morning?”
13. Jack White, “Boarding House Reach”
No, this record isn’t nearly as excellent as Blunderbuss, but Jack White is still miles ahead of everyone else on this planet, musically and artistically. His guitar-shredding skills are still intact, thankfully, but lyrically, it’s his most intriguing work. “The players and the cynics might be thinking it’s odd / But if you rewind the tape, we’re all copying god.” Boarding House Reach is about love, unity, God, cultural exchange, and questioning our very existence. The album is a difficult conversation wrapped in blood-curdling guitar riffs and backing choirs.
Best Tracks: “Over and Over and Over,” “Ice Station Zebra,” “Connected By Love”
12. Toni Braxton, “Sex & Cigarettes”
This is Toni’s first solo album in close to a decade, and at a crisp 8 tracks, it’s spectacular. Her legendary low notes are stronger than ever before, and the production is almost bare. The album feels cold and almost vacant, just like the lyrical themes: maturity, age, sex, love, and betrayal. What makes this album great is that Toni did not try to hop on any trends or be someone she wasn’t, she understood where she fits it into the current musical landscape and plays her part well.
Best Tracks: “Sex & Cigarettes,” “Foh,” “Coping”
11. Various Artists, Black Panther: The Album
I gave this a more expansive review here. Regardless, before the movie, after the movie, and a little over four months later, this album is still excellent. Expertly shifting between deep house, afrobeats, trap, hip-hop/rap, and R&B, these artists, led by Kendrick Lamar, gave us a musical tour-de-force in reimagined Panafricanism in just 14 tracks.
Best Tracks: “Pray for Me,” “X,” “Paramedic!”
10. J. Cole, KOD
A much-appreciated return to form, KOD finds J. Cole at different phases of his “best.” His storytelling is as acute as ever, his hooks are some of the catchiest they’ve ever been, and the production is understated and doesn’t overshadow his flow and delivery. I’m not saying KOD is Cole’s best album, but it puts up a very strong case.
Best Tracks: “KOD,” “Once an Addict,” “1985”
9. A$AP Rocky, TESTING
This release proves that Rocky is simply incapable of making a bad album. TESTING isn’t as innovative as Rocky teased in his interviews, but it still works great. Sonically, the rap game has changed immensely since his last album in 2015. Rocky inserts himself into the trap wave while still expanding on the psychedelic-rock infused sound his explored on AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP.
Best Tracks: “CALLDROPS,” “OG Beeper,” “Purity”
8. The Weeknd, My Dear Melancholy,
I also reviewed this excellent record here, but one thing I have to add is this: short albums work better for The Weeknd. The real reason his mixtapes were stornger than his studio albums is that ten tracks provided less wiggle room for mediocre songs. At six tracks, every lyric is carefully worded and every vocal inflection is carefully decided, and it pays off.
Best Tracks: “I Was Never There,” Wasted Times,” “Try Me”
7. Pusha-T, Daytona
Yes, that infamous and polemic beef with Drake gave Pusha more relevance than he’s had since the height of G.O.O.D. Music, but Daytona is another jewel in his discography. Push recounts more tales of his drug-dealing past and ruminates on the state of hip-hop over hard-hitting beats with a knowing ease to his flow. Daytona is a killer record, even if it’s only seven tracks long. He still isn’t forgiven for that heartless album cover, by the way.
Best Tracks: “Infrared,” “If You Know You Know,” “What Would Meek Do?”
6. Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Imagine an ordinary man sitting alone and going insane; he slowly creates a world entirely his own in the walls of his mind. This is Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. On their first record in half a decade, Arctic Monkeys swap the guitars in favor barreling drums and a haunting piano. With a glam rock sheen and Bowi-esque, science fiction inspired lyricism, this may be their best work.
Best Tracks: “Four Out of Five,” “One Point Perspective,” “She Looks Like Fun”
5. KIDS SEE GHOSTS, KIDS SEE GHOSTS
I reviewed this album here, but let me say it again: this is the product of perfect collaboration. KIDS SEE GHOSTS is manic, exciting, honest, relentless, and forgiving. The album marks a new turn for hip-hop in its production and lyricism, it’s veracity is unique to Kanye and Cudi and that uniqueness makes it even greater.
Best Tracks: “Feel the Love,” “Reborn,” “Freeee”
4. Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy
I gave this album a review earlier this year, but it still bangs. Every track is relentlessly fun and the new artistic shades that Cardi allows us to hear from her are intriguing and rewarding. Whether she’s airing out her relationship worries on “Thru Your Phone” or celebrating her success on “Best Life,” Cardi kills it.
Best Tracks: “I Do,” “Get Up 10,” “Best Life”
3. Chloe x Halle, The Kids Are Alright
I also reviewed this record here, and my point still stands: Chloe x Halle are making some of the best music right now. Their harmonies are otherworldly and their self-produced records show a vast musical knowledge and a pointed deftness for personal success.
Best Tracks: “Down,” “Cool People,” “Happy Without Me”
2. Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour
Kacey Musgraves has been consistently producing beautiful records and each one is different and better than the last. Her latest record, Golden Hour, features her sharpest lyricism, most delicate vocal performance, and tightest production. Kacey incorporates traditional country, folk, Americana, and even disco while still stitching together a cohesive album. Kacey covers themes of motherhood, marriage, love with a mystical whimsy and beauty,
Best Tracks: “Space Cowboy,” “Happy & Sad,” “Love Is a Wild Thing”
1. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer
Here we have it, the best record of the year thus far. Janelle Monáe’s beautiful new record is a masterclass in the history of R&B through the lens of inclusive black sexuality in the context of her overarching ArchAndroid concept. From the absolutely stunning intro “Dirty Computer,” to the anthemic “Pynk” and “Crazy, Classic, Life,” and the hopeful and forward-looking “Americans,” Janelle has created a soundscape where she feels at home and is willing to share with us. The album doesn’t get bogged down by its politics. Rather, the record embraces its politics and folds it into its glee and hope. With elements of disco, alternative R&B, trap, hip-hop, and soul, Dirty Computer is expansive and excellent. Dirty Computer, also, retains its ability to remain personal in the face of the universality of its themes. Lyrically, Janelle uses anecdotal segments in tandem with conceptual interludes to finally relate Janelle the artist to her ArchAndroid character. On the production front, Janelle, Nate Wonder, Chuck Lightning, and Diddy worked together to create a sonic world that thumps with bass and has a sky that holds the twinkles of strings and pianos. Take a listen to Dirty Computer and Janelle’s entire discography as well, you won’t regret it.
Best Tracks: “Dirty Computer,” “Screwed,” “Americans”