As highlighted by our mid-year list, it has been a fantastic year for rap so far. A brand-new, unconventional self-starter seems to blow up every other day (have you heard of YBN Nahmir yet?), established acts like Kendrick Lamar and 2 Chainz keep upping their game, and certified GOATs appear to be revitalized a la Jay-Z and Gucci Mane. The social media era has proven that one of the best ways to distinguish yourself amongst the stiff competition is consistent output (and, obviously, consistent quality as well). One drawback of these rapid-fire releases, however, is that it can be hard for listeners to keep up with everything.
With this list, we aim to highlight a few artists who barely missed the cut for our mid-year ranking, but have put out multiple stellar projects in 2017 nonetheless (also included are a couple artists included on our previous list who have continued to put out great music in the latter half of 2017). Now, this has nothing—we repeat, nothing—to do with commercial success, hit-making, or popularity. This list takes into consideration quantity and the quality therein—that’s it.
A rising star out of Chicago, Warhol.SS has garnered an impressive SoundCloud following over the past year or so. He has roots in Atlanta and Minneapolis in addition to Chicago, and the eclectic influences show through his cartoonish, high-energy raps. Beyond his current clout, he’s dropped three projects this year: Best of 2016 (a compilation of his 2016 work), 3200 EP and Where’s Warhol? The last of the three proves to be his best work thus far, showcasing his technical skills beyond the more superficial swag he possess. If he continues at this pace, he’s set to be the next breakout star from his SoundCloud class.
8. Young Nudy
21 Savage affiliate Young Nudy is bringing nonchalant grit back to Atlanta street rap. After the success of last year’s Slimeball, which featured elusive, freestyled anthems largely over hypnotic Pi’erre Bourne beats (before Pi’erre became the Pi’erre we know in 2017), Nudy hasn’t missed a step. He’s yet to land his breakout hit, but Slimeball 2 from earlier this year, and the recent Nudy Land both inch him towards stardom. Nudy’s authenticity, inimitable delivery and A1-beat selection is sure to carry him far in the next 12 months.
Of all the artists on this list, BROCKHAMPTON is perhaps the group that most took advantage of consistent album drops. Virtually unheard of in the mainstream prior to Saturation (Kevin Abstract aside), they used their rising success and name recognition to release Saturation II just two months later—though considering the name of the album series is “saturation,” perhaps this was the plan all along. Saturation II is a natural progression from the original Saturation, sonically picking up exactly where the first one left off (probably because the Saturation and Saturation II sessions are one and the same). With Saturation III on the way, the group may be on their way to a threepeat if it drops by the end of the year.
6. YoungBoy Never Broke Again
Despite being arrested late last year after being accused of involvement in a drive-by shooting, YoungBoy Never Broke Again (or NBA YoungBoy, as he was formerly known) has kept a steady output. While still incarcerated back in April, he released Mind of a Menace 3 Reloaded, a reissue of his 2016 mixtape that boasted a different, resequenced, and overall more concise track list that revamped the mixtape the better. After being released from prison in May, YoungBoy hunkered down for the summer, releasing his best work to date, A.I. YoungBoy, just three months later. YoungBoy is what you would get if you took Boosie’s streetwise storytelling and sung them in a drawl similar to Kevin Gates. The comparisons between YoungBoy and the two Baton Rouge veterans may seem like a given, but it’s clear they’re heavy influences beyond pure regionalism (“Left Hand Right Hand” is a prime example of his Gatesian croon). At just 17 years old, YoungBoy has the same ear for melody that shot Gates from a regional hero to earning a double-platinum plaque for “Two Phones,” and A.I. YoungBoy is proof of pop-potential as much as it is talent for producing street anthems.
There is no denying that Future set this year off with a bang. With Future & HNDRXX, the Atlantan wizard was able to methodically showcase a staggering amount of range. While Future has always shown this kind of versatility (a lot of times even within just one song), he decided to make it easier for consumers by dividing his split-personality into two specific and specialized projects to showcase his diverse skill set. Unfortunately, before HNDRXX could get any legs or the more low-key cuts on FUTURE could get their shine (“Might as Well” should’ve been a hit), “Mask Off” took a life of its own and overshadowed what the seasoned artist was able to accomplish here. If he manages to deliver another project on the level of these two (perhaps the rumored collaboration with Young Thug, or the long-awaited Ape Shit! tape with Mike WiLL Made It), he’ll definitely jump to top three, if not number one on our list.
4. Hoodrich Pablo Juan
Hoodrich Pablo Juan seems eternally underrated. Definitely not new to the game but still shy of that breakthrough moment, he seems to be in a commercial limbo of sorts. Perhaps his recent signing to Gucci Mane’s 1017 Records will be the spark to set it all off, but in the meantime, Hoodrich Pablo Juan continues to drop one great project after another, pushing forward toward that breakthrough. Enlisting forward-thinking producers Danny Wolf and Kenny Beats to build dark, energetic soundscapes for his clever, imaginative rhyming, HoodWolf and South Dark are two of the best rap projects this year, period. With the star-studded Designer Drugs 3 dropping October 13th, it’s likely the Atlantan underdog will continue to impress.
A streetwise bard, Mozzy may be the hardest working rapper in the industry. Since the top of 2015, he’s dropped over a dozen solo and joint albums, each one filled with gripping narratives and piercing flows. He’s a gritty writer focused on hyper-realism, always opting to painstakingly detail a given scene (almost like a reporter) rather than shamelessly manipulate emotional cues to win over his listeners. Earlier this year, Can’t Fake the Real (with Blac Youngsta) and Dreadlocks & Headshots (with Gunplay), both highlighted his ability to step out of his comfort zone and play off some of the more animated voices in the rap game. August’s 1 Up Top Ahk finally brought everything full circle, playing like the pleas of a desperate man seeking to earn a well deserved, if brief, respite from the hardships of his life thus far.
2. Kodak Black
Kodak Black has been on an undeniable streak since his release from prison earlier this year. Painting Pictures is a bluesy album filled with countless catchy hooks, but Project Baby 2 is the dark, brooding and introspective Kodak that fans were initially drawn to. On top of these comprehensive projects, Kodak continues to utilize this time on house arrest to drop multiple loosies on his YouTube—the most recent of which is a sequel to his breakout smash-hit, “No Flockin.” These freestyled joints, as well as many of the tracks on these past couple projects, show him attempting to find a balance between his typically more lyrical style and his developing sense of melody and songwriting.
1. Chief Keef
At 22 years old, Chief Keef seems to be far removed from the turbulent times he saw as a rising teen star. Seemingly rejuvenated and reinvested in his future, Keef is quietly having the best year of his career since 2012, when he brought drill to the mainstream with breakout hits like “I Don’t Like” and “Love Sosa” and dropped his excellent debut album, Finally Rich. Two Zero One Seven is a masterclass in rapping, Thot Breakers puts his underrated songwriting front and center and The W feels like a well-deserved victory lap. With his Apple Music documentary and a rumored two more albums on the way this year (including The Dedication, hosted by DJ Holiday, which he first teased last March), it’s hard to imagine anyone out-delivering the Chiraq veteran in 2017.