You want a best of list? There are HUNDREDS of them. From Pitchfork to Complex to smaller publications, everyone got their own list and most of them are quite different from each other in 2017. Unlike last year, where a lot of publications agreed on a few of their top 10, this year seems to be all over the place with very few in common, but most agreed that Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN was on top. However, as I was reading through some of these lists looking for albums that I may have skipped over, I found myself realizing that a lot of great projects were snubbed from a ton of lists. This is written specifically for those albums, the ones that went underappreciated, under the radar, or just plain deserved more love than what I’ve seen in other publications.
These are TMG’s most underrated albums of 2017.
Sean Price – Imperius Rex
Boom bap doesn’t get a ton of love mainstream wise but the Duck Down team did a fantastic job with Sean P’s swan song. The artist, formerly known as Ruck, was working on this album two years ago at the time of his untimely death. Many feared the album may not be released, or even worse, a half-assed project would drop. Instead we are treated to an album that gives the best that Sean P was, and album that ranks among his best and one of the hardest projects of 2017. Imperius Rex is less of a solo album and more of a team project. According to his wife, Bernadette Price, Sean was only 4 songs into the making of this album. It was through her guidance, and that of Dru Ha with the entire Duck Down family, that this album was completed.
A well arranged audible beat-down is handled by a lot of P’s previous collaborators such as Alchemist, Nottz, Harry Fraud, among others. They give Imperius Rex the boom bap foundation that Sean P shines over with punishing verses. Lyrically, P’s wordplay remains untouchable and as always he has moments that are equally hard body and humorous. On the album’s eponymous opener, P spits “Ruckus rule shit, get down when the tool click/Tool spit back, impact is like a mule kick/P nice and funky fire/I will fuck you up, He cypher monkey cypher/Medicated, dedicated bastard/Level elevated, tame the educated rapper”. Ridiculous lyrics such as this fuels the album and epitomizes one of the many reasons why Sean P was an underground super hero to rap fans.
Posthumous albums have rarely been anything more than a cash grab, but not this one. Bernadette and the Duck Down team managed to release a project that would make Sean P more than proud. Easily one of his best albums from any stand point. Imperius Rex is a bittersweet gift to rap fans, one of the best albums of the year from an artist who is no longer with us. R.I. P!
Stand Out Tracks: Dead Or Alive, Refrigerator P!, Rap Professor.
Benjamin Booker – Witness
Benjamin Booker’s self titled debut album established as one of the most talented up and coming acts in the blues rock scene. Four years later, Booker’s Witness shows his growth as an artist in both music and lyrics. Booker said he wrote the some songs while on a trip to Mexico where he observed the events that unfolded with the Black Lives Matter movement from an outsider’s perspective. These events lyrically inspired the album’s gospel influenced title track, Witness, which features Mavis Staple and is a testament to the injustice and protests that are currently happening.
If you’re looking for the hype type of tracks that were found on his debut, they are definitely still here such as the opener, Right On You. However, his best songs on Witness are the ones where everything slows down and allows Booker to truly work his vulnerability and songwriting which leads to beautifully written pieces like Motivation and Believe. Witness takes a softer approach when compared to his debut. Instead of the high energy punk/rockabilly/garage blues he became known for, Booker switched gears a bit to release an album which is more soul-centric while retaining the same rawness that gave him praise. His growth is clear and a true testament to his artistry.
Stand Out Tracks: Motivation, Witness, Believe
Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile To The Sun
I’ll start off with the most obvious reason I love A Black Mile To The Sun, the production is pretty fucking flawless. From the opening number, The Maze, we are greeted by Andy Hull’s soulful vocals and a gospel like chorus drowned in reverb that bleeds right into his own. The instrumentation through out in brilliantly mixed, such as the way the hook explodes on Lead, SD.
One of the most standout features in this album is how effortlessly tracks transition from one into the next. The sound design in the transition which features static and background chatter smooths out the listening experience tenfold and creates a truly enjoyable listening experience. Combine all this with beautifully written lyrics and grandiose production through out every track and you have an album that doesn’t deserve to be picked apart into individual songs but explored as a whole. A Black Mile To The Surface is a phenomenal album and truly deserves more credit and praise than it’s received.
Stand Out Tracks: The Moth, Lead, SD, The Alien
Big K.R.I.T. – 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time
Big KRIT has been one of, if not the, most consistent artists in hip hop today. KRIT had not released an official LP since Cadillactica in 2014 when he was signed to Def Jam, which he left in 2016. 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time is his first fully independent album and also his first double album. Let’s say this outright, this double album has better material than 95% of other hip hop albums released this year. The two discs symbolize both aspects of KRIT’s personality, the Big KRIT disc full of southern player anthems and trunk rattlers such as Big Bank and Layup. While the second disc, titled after his real name Justin Scott, speaks on more introspective personal matters. KRIT’s verses are as strong as they’ve ever been, and he sets the album off with ferocity with his eponymous titled track.
Although he’s also known for putting in work behind the boards and producing a majority of his tracks, this album marks the first time that KRIT steps away from production duties for over half the album. These guest producers were not brought into change his signature sound, rather they expand it. The main guest producer is WLPWR, who joins talents with KRIT for some co-production and is responsible for some of the album’s best tracks. Mannie Fresh provides production on two tracks and DJ Khalil on three tracks including the mellow banger and album single Aux Cord. CeeLo Green, Sleepy Brown and Organized Noize brings some Dungeon Family love on Get Up 2 Come Down and Ride Wit Me, a collaboration with UGK. However, look no further than the first track on the second disc, Justin Scott, for one of KRIT’s most ear pleasing productions to date. The soulful instrumental is far from a hip hop beat, as KRIT invokes his inner Quincy Jones on a heavenly composition. At this point, Big KRIT should be considered the reigning new school king of the south because there is no one that can get close to the quality of his vast catalogue in the past decade.
Stand Out Tracks: Big K.R.I.T, Get Away, Justin Scott
White Reaper – The World’s Best American Band
There is no album that I’ve played more this year than White Reaper’s sophomore release. Yet I haven’t seen this album mentioned ONCE in any list, and that is straight up disrespectful. Hands down, the most slept-on and underappreciated album of 2017. First off, let’s call a spade a spade, this album is fun as fuck. Plain and simple. White Reaper’s 2nd LP, The World’s Best American Band, takes them on a more polished route and lets them shine. If you were a fan of their lo-fi debut, you may be put off by it’s new cleaner sound but the Kansas rockers sound better than ever. They’ve taken all the elements that made them a must hear garage rock band, and amplified that ten fold with better songwriting and catchier melodies.
Right off the rip they let you know what they’re about with the album’s title track. The bass line instantly hooks you and it’s chant worthy chorus starts the album on a high note that never lets off. Other tracks such as Eagle Beach, Little Silver Cross and Daisies are equally as infectious, not only vocally but with great riffs that will definitely get your head nodding. Even though the album is only slightly over 30 minutes long, the replayability of it is so high that the whole album is guaranteed to be on repeat on a constant basis. This album isn’t reinventing the wheel but it’s easily one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve had the pleasure of listening to this year. After this release, there is no argument, White Reaper really is one of the world’s best American bands.
Stand out tracks: Eagle Beach, Little Silver Cross, Daisies