Things are moving fast this year. At just the halfway point of 2017, it feels like music has been upended, and no genre is more vital and dynamic right now than hip-hop. Seemingly every A-list star this side of the Throne has dropped a magnum opus (or, in Future’s case, two), with Jay Z and, possibly, Kanye on the way. A new class of upstarts—some long-heralded, some arriving seemingly out of nowhere—are finally realizing their debut full-lengths to great effects. And outside of hip-hop, music has been just as exciting. There are too many exciting albums from rising R&B acts, like Nick Hakim and 1-O.A.K. We’ve had some sideways pop greats drop (Khalid’s American Teen and Charli XCX’s Number One Angel). Meanwhile, the indie rock class of 2009 is apparently having its reunion, and we couldn’t be happier (the xx’s I See You and Dirty Projectors’ Dirty Projectors). If the rest of 2017 continues apace, we’re going to have trouble keeping up. These are our picks for the best albums of the year so far.
50. Nav, ‘Nav’
Image via Island Records
Label: XO, Republic
Released: February 24
Nav, the latest mysterious Canadian singer-producer to pop up, doesn’t have much music to his name (though he’s courted controversy for using the n-word, despite not being black). His self-titled debut, then, is the best introduction to the latest addition to the XO stable. Tracks like “Myself” and “Nav” show off his abilities, with a steady mix of bars and drug-addled tales. In content, it’s not very much removed from what made the XO head honcho famous. The standout track, “Some Way,” features Abel himself, with the two shredding back and forth for three minutes. With a new project entirely produced by Metro Boomin on the way, we’re about to see way more from Nav in the very near future. —Zach Frydenlund
49. Bryson Tiller, ‘True to Self’
Image via Trapsoul/RCA Records
Label: Trapsoul, RCA
Released: May 26
I did not enjoy Bryson Tiller’s Trapsoul when it dropped in 2015. However, it was undeniable that the Louisville R&B singer was carving out a lane for himself—even if I couldn’t appreciate it. The platinum-album status and huge singles and sold-out shows proved that. Fans were waiting for his sophomore effort while I stayed hating.
Of course, I still listened to Bryson’s True to Self as soon as it dropped. Like him or not, he’s someone you have to keep up with now—the mark of a star. And the results are solid. Coming from an admitted hater, that means something. I like the confrontational energy on “Blowing Smoke” and “Self-Made” is groovy. Still, the album is too long and when you listen front to back, it starts to sound like one really long song. That’s a problem, but not one that’s big enough to count out the strongest moments. —Zach Frydenlund