Name: Kai Miller
Social Media Handle: @TheKaiMiller
1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Reeling back from the unapologetically Black anthems To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar delivered an album that was far more digestible for rap purists and others alike. The amply titled DAMN. finds K. Dot in full stride as he dabbles in all the details of Black love, life, faith, and strife. A classic rap album that was crafted to be played both forward and backward, DAMN. is a moment for the hip-hop history books.
2. Jay-Z – 4:44
By far Jay-Z’s most introspective body of work, 4:44 is where “Song Cry” meets “Soon You’ll Understand.” Urged on by producer No I.D.’s soul-searching palette of Nina Simone to Sister Nancy, 4:44 finds Jay apologetic for his infidelities, blaringly misogynistic past, and most important, serving as a faulty blueprint for a generation impressed by the glitz and gleam. While admonishing his boastful persona is quite habitual at this point, see “There’s Been A Murder,” Jay appears ready to embody a new realm of understanding. 4:44 is the work of an artist who understands that evolving is both a steadfast and stifling process. Leading the way for hip-hop to age gracefully, it’s back to Shawn Carter the hustler ― Jay-Z is dead.
3. SZA – ctrl
With CTRL, SZA invited us to join her on a searing emotional escapade. Her airy vocals blanket tracks like “Love Galore” as she bluntly sings, “Why you bother me when you know you don’t want me?” It’s this same honesty that rings true throughout the introspective project which holds a magnifying glass to all the gray areas between absolutes. SZA’s latest effort is a grizzly reminder that being a “20-something” or experiencing the rebirth following a failed relationship is never easy. But, what’s a better way to declare you’re putting yourself first than going “skkrt skkrt on n*ggas”?
4. Smino – blkswn
Driven by soul-injected harmonies and an interchanging rhyme scheme, blkswn is an ode to Smino’s beloved hometown of St. Louis and the divine feminine. Throughout the 18-track-project, the fair newcomer proves his lyrical dexterity is far ahead of its time as he seamlessly weaves together different genres without sacrificing the depth of one single bar. Smino’s debut is just as inviting as A Seat At The Table but perhaps with plenty more Henny and “hood chakras” to go round.
5. Amine – Good For You
The follow-up to the infectious cadence of “Caroline,” Good For You hinges on love interests old and new underscored by Amine’s playful outlook on life. The 15-track project is a wide-ranging bout with self-actualization as Amine comes in tune with his sonic capabilities. With Good For You, Amine explores the things that would constrain his joy, which proves just how capable he is of more than a hit single or one-dimensional feel-good music.
6. Ty Dolla $ign – Beach House 3
Ty Dolla Sign flexes his lyrical dexterity on his second studio album, Beach House 3, by effortlessly plucking at the chords of each component of today’s R&B. The West Coast crooner also becomes a master of collaboration as Tory Lanez, The-Dream, Lil Wayne, YG, Jeremih, Future, Skrillex, Damian Marley and a host of others aid in his crusade. “Droptop in the Rain” is bedroom-ready, “Love U Better” evokes nostalgia, “Dawsin’s Breek” is a certified turn-up and “So Am I” takes a trek to the Caribbean. Ultimately, Beach House 3 becomes a body of work that includes something for everyone, regardless of your preferences. And that signals a job well done.
7. Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom
Heralded as the “female Kendrick Lamar,” Rhapsody flexes her lyrical muscle on her second studio album proving that she has all the grit to stand on her own as simply an emcee. As the polar opposite to a handful of low-frequency acts that have flourished this year, Rhapsody embraces all the little accents that make her a viable contender in the rap game. It’s heard irrefutably on tracks like “Sassy” and “Chrome” but also the visceral “A Rollercoaster Jam Called Love.” As we move into the new year, it’s time we stop being so inundated with Rhapsody’s gender ― she can clearly rap circles around anyone male or female.