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The 20 Best Albums of 2017 So Far

From comeback records from Paramore, Lorde and Shakira to game-changing LPs from Kendrick, Drake and Syd, this is 2017's must-hear music midpoint

20
20 / 20

​Harry Styles, 'Harry Styles'

Harry Styles has proven himself a force to be reckoned with out of all the One Direction members, using classic rock influences to drive the sound on his self-titled album. It was a risk that paid off, even if it meant becoming a meme while filming your debut solo video. From the earnest “Two Ghosts” to the giddiness of “Kiwi,” Styles proved he can diversify his sound enough to satisfy fans young and old. –Brooke Bunce

19
19 / 20

​Shakira, 'El Dorado'

Shakira's last full-length effort was her 2014 self-titled album and while I've been a Shaki fan and supporter since high school (don't do that math), I wasn't super into the album as a whole—which is why falling so deeply in love with El Dorado has been so satisfying. The album feels like a return to form for the Latin-music icon. The album includes a handful of already-released collaborations and hits from the past year or so, but finally they find a home in this cohesive collection. Best of all, the bops still sound fresh with El Dorado seemingly giving them a second life, especially for anyone who hasn't been paying attention. If you haven't gotten your entire life to bops like Shakira and Maluma's "Chantaje," now is your chance. Since crossing over Shakira has always straddled the line of traditional pop-rock and trendy dance and hip-hop sounds, but here it feels like she's found the perfect mix that will soundtrack your summer. Standouts include "Me Enamoré," "Chantaje" and "Trap," both featuring Maluma, "When a Woman," "Comme Moi" with Black M, and "Deja Vu" with Prince RoyceMark Sundstrom

18
18 / 20

​Joey Bada$$, 'All-Amerikkkan Bada$$'

"Sorry white Amerikkka, but I'm about to black out / Got a message for the world and I won't back out," the Brooklyn 22-year-old rhymes in his closer, "Amerikkkan Idol." Not only does he have the message, Joey delivers it in a sonic space that belongs to him and him alone. Swinging hard with both consistency and variety are a small cadre of producers working in sync—DJ Khalil, Statik Selektah, Kirk Knight and 1-900 almost exclusively. It's got plenty of bits channeling early '90s hip-hop (scratches, live-sounding drum sets, that pervasive NYC atmosphere) while sounding immovably modern. It's also smooth as hell while engaging you fully; if you're a DAMN.-head high on tracks like "Fear" and "Pride," this is for you. You'll catch a batch of wicked features—J. ColeSchoolboy Q, Chronixx, Styles P and more—interestingly bunched all together, back to back, on the LP's second half. You've gotta hear Joey out first. Zach Dionne

17
17 / 20

​Taeyeon, 'My Voice'

Queen Taeyeon really can do no wrong. The Girls' Generation leader/main vocalist shines on yet another stellar solo project highlighting her versatility in moving from genre to genre. From the fervent pop-rock lead single "Fine" to the bouncy, breezy "Cover Up" to gentler ballads like "Lonely Night" and "Love in Color," My Voice truly explores Taeyeon's stylistic and vocal growth. The 28-year-old K-pop veteran somehow manages to always tug at your heartstrings with her affinity for swelling choruses and raw lyrics, and My Voice is no exception. Tina Xu

16
16 / 20

​Dua Lipa, 'Dua Lipa'

Too many of you are sleeping on Dua Lipa, and here’s my advice: don’t. The songstress’ nearly flawless discography deserves many, many listens through your earbuds. If her husky vocals aren’t enough to draw you in, consider her funky, flirty duet with Miguel on “Lost In Your Light," her fresh smack talk on “New Rules,” or the smoothness of “Be The One.” Dua Lipa embodies the fearlessness of the pop star’s soul. Brooke Bunce

15
15 / 20

Mary J. Blige, 'Strength of a Woman'

A public and acrimonious split from her husband and longtime manager Kendu Isaacs makes up a majority of inspiration for Strength of a Woman with the R&B diva still discussing her personal life, but sounding better than ever doing it. There's isn't a note missed proving that no where MJB is in her life or what she's going through, she remains a queen. –Jeff Benjamin

14
14 / 20

Zara Larsson, 'So Good'

Years in the making, Zara Larsson's debut U.S. album feels like realistic pages ripped from any teenager's journal. The album is filled with relatable reflections on relationships ("TG4M" is about pining after someone despite feeling inadequate while she doesn't want to be the one that got away on "Don't Let Me Be Yours") and coming into her confidence and power as a woman ("Make That Money Girl" is a new-age feminism anthem chocked with shoutouts to powerful music industry females). It's all the more impressive that the Swedish singer can make some of the most relatable and moving pop music when you consider she's just 19. Jeff Benjamin

13
13 / 20

​Migos, 'Culture'

Migos don't need to be big-picture album guys, but with Culture they decided to be, and they made it sound easy. Singles like "Bad and Boujee" and "T-Shirt" will live forever, but so will deep cuts like "Big on Big" and "Brown Paper Bag" (not coincidentally both produced by piano lord Zaytoven). And if you're only gonna bring four rappers along for the ride, you couldn't do worse in 2017 than 2 ChainzTravis ScottGucci Mane and Lil Uzi Vert.

Culture's only undoing in the 2017 year-end-lists game will be if Culture 2—coming imminently—does it even better. Zach Dionne

12
12 / 20

Lorde, 'Melodrama'

Lorde took the dreaded "sophomore slump” outside and beat its ass. (Or, talked to it reasonably and responsibly if that’s more your vibe). Melodrama is definitely different than Pure Heroine, but for good reason: Lorde is no longer the teen from the New Zealand suburbs that she used to be. She’s moved to New York City, become a single woman and actually does have the millions of dollars she mocked in her debut single “Royals.” Because of that, Melodrama is deeply raw, experimental, fun and risky. Brooke Bunce

11
11 / 20

​Khalid, 'American Teen'

Stepping on to the scene with "Location," the 19-year-old's distinctive voice instantly caught our attention. The 14-track debut album impressively locks you into Khalid's world of coping with love, the complexities of being a teenager and dreams for the future, all while being paired with pop/R&B beats. American Teen serves as a perfect intro to Khalid's life.Amissa Pitter

10
10 / 20

​Sampha, 'Process'

After the Dual EP and years of frequent SBTRKT collaborations, Sampha has invoked his own craft on the long-awaited Process. From the compelling sounds on "Reverse Faults" to the pain on "Piano," Sampha let us into his soul once again, but a little deeper this time with his soothing vocals. Amissa Pitter

9
9 / 20

Major Lazer, 'No Know Better' EP

While most pop fans were anticipating the Camila Cabello–featuring "Know No Better," it would be a major disservice to ignore the rest of this release. Making it all the more necessary to listen all the way through, Major Lazer's latest release feels like a culmination of who's about blow up around the world. Look out for international superstars like Colombia's reggaeton hitmaker J. Balvin (on the standout "Buscando Huellas" with Sean Paul), rising reggae star Machel Montana from Trinidad and Tobago (on the regal club jam "Front of the Line") and Brazilian pop princess Anitta (featuring on "Su Cara" with Brazil's famous drag queen Pabllo Vittar). Jeff Benjamin

8
8 / 20

GoldLink, 'At What Cost’

If you were ever interested in D.C.’s music scene, then look no further than GoldLink’s At What Cost. The 24-year-old rapper’s debut album is an ode to his hometown, which is a lush combination of hip-hop, R&B, go-go, electronic and jazz. Unlike other rappers who find themselves stuck in the mundane, pill-popping trap wave, GoldLink decided to go the complete opposite route and bring actual musicianship. From standout “Crew” to “Herside Story,” the songs are just as smooth as GoldLink’s confident demeanor. Sure, there are bomb drops of expletives here and there. But it sounds way better atop a piano melody. Bianca Gracie

7
7 / 20

​Future, 'HNDRXX'

Hip-hop's No. 1 antihero didn't just make a pop-R&B album, he made one with no advance notice and dropped it a week after his strong, self-titled ode to all things trap. (You can make a mean album by mashing up the two.) Like Future, Hndrxx is a hefty 17 tracks with confidence enough to keep the features limited to two—Rihanna and The Weeknd. Tracks like "Fresh Air," "Incredible," "New Illuminati," "My Collection" are still pure joy-bringers four months later. Zach Dionne

6
6 / 20

​Cashmere Cat, '9'

Over the past two years I discovered and fell in love with DJ/producer Cashmere Cat's 2015 single "Adore" with Ariana Grande. When his full-length debut album dropped April 28, I took one look at the tracklist and featured artists and streamed the full album at least four times before falling asleep. Each track has Cashmere Cat's signature sputtering, soulful sound, but still manages to maintain an individual vibe. The producer paints pictures with his music, using the featured artist's vocal as another brush stroke, creating a unique texture and layer on every cut. When an artist gets on a Cashmere Cat song, there's magic made—each contribution is elevated by the other's existence and all the parts work together to create a beautiful piece of art. Standout tracks include "Quit" featuring Ariana, "Infinite Stripes" with Ty Dolla $ign, "Trust Nobody" featuring Selena Gomez and Tory Lanez, and "Love Incredible" with Camila Cabello. Mark Sundstrom

5
5 / 20

Drake, 'More Life'

Drake almost lost me as a longtime fan when he released Views last spring, because it lacked the musical growth that I’ve been craving from him. But thankfully he won me back once More Life finally dropped on March 18 after months of delays. The album is the perfect amalgamation of all the facets that Drizzy fans have come to enjoy over the years: the emotional sadboy, the wannabe yardie, the sneak diss master and the introspective rapper. Immediate standouts are the braggadocio “Gyalchester,” “Passionfruit” (which will drift you away to paradise) and the crew-loving “Portland.” More Life is so incredible to the point where you almost forget how reductive Views was, and it proves that Drake will continue to have a firm grasp on the music industry’s strings for years to come. Bianca Gracie

4
4 / 20

​Paramore, 'After Laughter'

The 12-track album is everything we've been waiting four years after Paramore's self-titled album plus an ideal mix of '80s new-wave-meets-pop-rock. Hayley Williams' lyrics over the pop heavy beats give a bouncy vibe. Songs like "Hard Times," "Fake Happy" and "Told You So" builds up the album's momentum, providing a smooth landscape for the pop rock's brightest album thus far.Amissa Pitter

3
3 / 20

​Syd, 'Fin'

From Odd Future's resident audio engineer to the frontwoman of The Internet, Syd tha Kyd has slowly but surely proven her versatility in the studio. Showcasing her signature seductive drawl, Syd's debut solo album Finserves as a sonic testament to her burgeoning independence—understated yet complex, self-assured, and deceptively effortless. The 12-track project boasts the singer-producer's signature ethereal, synth-laced sound with sprinkles of trap and neo-soul. Along with lead single "All About Me," "Nothin to Somethin" and the Aaliyah-esque "Know" serve as the album's standout cuts.Tina Xu

2
2 / 20

​SZA, 'CTRL'

For a short time earlier this year it felt like SZA's full-length debut album CTRL may never come. Despite a handful of unexplained delays, the project's lead singles "Drew Barrymore" and "Love Galore" with Travis Scott held us over and were on loop in my headphones seemingly non-stop. When CTRL finally dropped on June 9, all my expectations were met, and then some. The way SZA uses her voice—how it bends around each syllable, flows through each lyric—her unique delivery is what sells it. She wrote these songs and it's her voice that brings them to life. Standout tracks include the singles, "Prom," "The Weekend," "Garden (Say It Like Dat)," "Broken Clocks," "Normal Girl," and "20 Something." Mark Sundstrom

1
1 / 20

Kendrick Lamar, 'Damn.'

DAMN is the perfect title for Kendrick Lamar’s fourth album, as almost every song hits you with such intensity that you have no choice but to react. There are moments of sheer brilliance on the album, from the rapper interweaving FOX news anchor Geraldo Rivera’s ignorant commentary on “Blood” and “DNA” to the unexpected “24K Magic” sample on “Loyalty” featuring Rihanna and legendary Bronx DJ Kid Capri hosting the album. And the storytelling on “Duckworth,” the final track on DAMN that explains the connection between Lamar’s father and his label boss Top Dawg, is simply maddening! It’s so endearing to see K. Dot continue to bare his soul in such an honest matter when it comes to rapping (and singing at some points) about topics like murders of black man, racism in America and the complications of love. As if you needed any more confirmation, DAMN proves that Kendrick Lamar is the greatest rapper of our generation. Bianca Gracie

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