There was no shortage of bangers in 2017. From Kendrick Lamar and JAY-Z to Cardi B and SZA, the year was filled with smashes that ranged from emotional, introspective, and socially conscious to braggadocios, bling-heavy, and booming.
It was another banner year for Kendrick Lamar, who managed to elevate the bar with his third major-label album DAMN. Songs like “HUMBLE.” and “LOVE.” showcased the versatility and creativity that have made him one of this generation’s most touted artists. Meanwhile, one of his influences, JAY-Z, re-emerged as an elite star with 4:44, his most vulnerable effort to date, featuring lauded songs like “The Story of O.J.”
Here are Rap-Up’s 20 best songs of 2017.
1. “HUMBLE.” – Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar’s left stroke truly went viral with “HUMBLE.” Complete with a stunning video directed by the little homies and Dave Meyers, the Mike WiLL Made-It-produced banger was the lead single from DAMN. and it set the tone for what would be an explosive third album from the Compton spitter. “HUMBLE.” helped introduce many of the album’s themes like the question of “wicked or weakness,” while balancing infectious flows, thoughtful bars, and bangin’ production. It was Kung Fu Kenny’s soul speaking through arena-ready drums, making the fire-filled visual all the more appropriate.
2. “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” – Cardi B
After being written off as a reality television star with mere musical aspirations, Cardi B woke her doubters up with a bang on “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves),” a history-making chart-topper that embodied her bold, confident, and colorful personality. Inspired by Kodak Black’s “No Flockin,” the track went on to become one of the year’s biggest smashes in any genre, but it made her the first unaccompanied female rapper to top the coveted Billboard 200 since Lauryn Hill. Stepping on all naysayers in bloody shoes, Bardi proved that she is a force to be reckoned with in music.
3. “Slide” – Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean & Migos
From the glistening piano keys to Frank Ocean’s sped-up Pablo Picasso tribute, “Slide” opens up as more than just a catchy pop song. Once Calvin Harris’ bass line kicks in and the drums start to hit, it’s clear that it’s funky, wavy, and full of bounce to match those compelling qualities on Harris’ Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. Migos’ addition adds hip-hop flavor to Frank’s soulful air and together, the unlikely team of stars created one of the year’s most memorable, feel-good tracks, perfect for every summer to come.
4. Lil Uzi Vert – “XO TOUR Llif3”
Thirty-five years after Ed “Duke Bootee” Fletcher said, “Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge” on the seminal Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five single “The Message,” Lil Uzi Vert had the exact opposite request. “All my friends are dead,” he rhymed on the 2017 standout. “Push me to the edge.” Originally created as part of The Weeknd’s “Starboy: Legend of the Fall Tour” (hence the song’s XO-inspired title), the TM88-produced platinum slapper took on a life of its own and resulted in Uzi’s first Billboard Hot 100 top 10 as a lead artist.
5. “Love Galore” – SZA feat. Travis Scott
In what became SZA’s breakout year with Ctrl, Solana Rowe linked up with La Flame for “Love Galore,” the stellar standout collaboration that led fans into her major-label debut. Produced by Carter Lang and ThankGod4Cody, the captivating cut acted as the perfect backdrop for the TDE songstress’ thoughts on loyalty, love, and necessity, while skrt-skrting on the industry with a statement-making 2017.
6. “Magnolia” – Playboi Carti
Introduced by a random “Jamie Foxx Show” soundbite to promote Pi’erre Bourne’s hypnotic and quirky beat (“Yo, Pierre, you wanna come out here?”), “Magnolia” quickly turns into a party starter. It’s hard not to dance to the beat, while Young Carti’s flow bounces all over the track, which would explain the viral craze that followed. Thanks to all of this, the song became one of the year’s most infectious, inspiring fans to milly rock from New York to Magnolia and beyond.
7. “Mask Off (Remix)” – Future feat. Kendrick Lamar
Platinum, platinum, platinum. Pluto took his “Mask Off” in 2017, delivering the one-two punch of Future and Hndrxx, but it was the Kendrick Lamar-assisted remix to “Mask Off” that stood out as his most potent. Metro Boomin’s stirring, flute-filled instrumental worked masterfully with Feutch’s flow and Kung Fu Kenny’s Midas touch. All together, it was one of the most explosive collaborations of the year, calling for fans to get up and “be inspired.”
8. “Unforgettable” – French Montana feat. Swae Lee
Haaan! French Montana initially released “Unforgettable” as “Unforgivable” back in November of 2016 in honor of his birthday. But the loose single disappeared from the net, only to reappear in April as “Unforgettable,” the official Swae Lee-assisted single off Jungle Rules. Coming back with a focused fury, the Jaegen and 1Mind-produced track became a summer anthem, viral dance craze, and Montana’s biggest single to date, all before his next birthday.
9. “LOVE.” – Kendrick Lamar feat. Zacari
Livin’ lovely! Kendrick Lamar’s critically-heralded album DAMN. showcased a wide range of topics, including “FEAR.,” “LUST.,” and “LOYALTY.” While many of those songs could have also landed on this list — and “HUMBLE.” does — “LOVE.” stood out as one of the LP’s most irresistible and tender songs. Produced by Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, Greg Kurstin, Sounwave, and Teddy Walton, and featuring Zacari’s melodic harmonies, the stellar cut allowed K-Dot to share some tales of his often-private romantic life with masterful songwriting. Lovely, indeed.
10. “The Story of O.J.” – JAY-Z
Right from the jump, haunting piano keys and Nina Simone’s soul-stirring vocals set the scene for JAY-Z’s motivational quotes on “The Story of O.J.,” the lead single off his 13th album, 4:44. Inspired by O.J. Simpson, race relations, and generational wealth, Hov detailed his take on hustling, credit, real estate, and Black Excellence in America. Over No I.D.’s inventive use of Simone’s “Four Women” classic, Jigga proved that he hasn’t lost a single step as one of the greatest voices the genre has ever heard.
11. “Wild Thoughts” – DJ Khaled feat. Rihanna & Bryson Tiller
Wild, wild, wild! DJ Khaled’s star-studded album Grateful was jam-packed with smashes, including “I’m the One” and “Shining,” but it was the Carlos Santana-inspired “Wild Thoughts” that landed on this list, thanks in large part to Rihanna’s seductive appearance and Bryson Tiller’s soulful showing. Pulling influence from Santana’s “Maria Maria,” the track has a familiar bounce, but Bad Gal and Pen Griffey added a 2017 twist to have fans dancing like Khaled and Asahd did whenever the song came on.
12. “Passionfruit” – Drake
Drake continued to showcase his versatility in 2017, bouncing from rapping to singing with ease on the More Life “playlist.” While the project proved that Drizzy was heavily inspired by U.K. grime and Atlanta’s trap sound, it also allowed the 6 God to share the more mellow vibes of “Passionfruit.” Produced by Nana Rogues, the song eventually became a long distance romance anthem for the last call at every bar, lounge, and club around the world.
13. “Sky Walker” – Miguel feat. Travis Scott
Splish! Miguel was quick to dead the bull like a matador, thanks to the release of his latest album, War & Leisure. The project featured outstanding melodies and harmonies that fans have come to expect from the soulful crooner. But the Los Angeles star caught his biggest wave on “Sky Walker,” a Travis Scott-assisted smash that provided smooth yet funky rhythms, calling on listeners to smile through the hate and just “enjoy the moment.”
14. “Chanel” – Frank Ocean feat. A$AP Rocky
After dropping two albums in 2016, Frank Ocean opted for loose singles throughout 2017. One of those hyped tracks was “Chanel,” a charming cut that fused hip-hop and R&B with clever wordplay on the chorus. “I see on both sides like Chanel,” he sings on the track, which finds him flexing his rap skills, as well. Featuring A$AP Rocky, the alternate version delivered another angle to a spectacular showing. And he’s not done yet — expect even more music from Ocean in 2018.
15. “Butterfly Effect” – Travis Scott
Straight up! Although he didn’t release AstroWorld last year, Travis Scott did spread his solo wings with “Butterfly Effect,” a spellbinding drive through Hidden Hills that was sweet like candy cane. Produced by Felix Leone and Murda Beatz, the song played over and over in heads long after its release. Now that Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho is finally out, Scott may very well get back in that “Butterfly Effect” bag for AstroWorld’s 2018 release.
16. “rockstar” – Post Malone feat. 21 Savage
All eyes were on Post Malone following his success with “White Iverson” and “Congratulations.” Could he keep the streak alive? Could he deliver another smash? Over a hypnotic beat by Louis Bell and Tank God, Posty tapped 21 and surpassed all of those expectations with “rockstar,” an ode to living in the fast life, smokin’ like a rockstar, and “makin’ that thing go rata-ta-ta.” The song topped the charts for eight consecutive weeks and set the stage for 2018’s Beerbongs & Bentleys.
17. “Crew” – GoldLink feat. Shy Glizzy & Brent Faiyaz
What a time, what a year! Equipped with a “sick ass mouth and a slick ass flow,” GoldLink delivered a mellow yet unforgettable smash with “Crew.” Featuring Shy Glizzy’s awesome flow and Brent Faiyaz’s moving crooning over Teddy Walton’s smooth production, “Crew” offered good vibes all year long.
18. Chris Brown – “Privacy”
Boom shakalaka, boom shakalaka! A focused Chris Brown supplied his most prolific year to date with the release of a 45-track album, Heartbreak on a Full Moon, and its 57-song deluxe edition. On top of that, he released a slew of buzz singles, but it was his bedroom banger “Privacy” that rose to the top of the heap with Breezy’s trademark vocals and raunchy lyrics combining for his most infectious release of the year.
19. “While We’re Young” – Jhené Aiko
Jhené Aiko took fans on quite a Trip in 2017. She released a new album, short film, and poetry book, all detailing her journey to find herself after the 2012 death of her brother Miyagi. In the midst of the artful year, “While We’re Young” shined as one of her best, thanks to its soothing vocals and melodies. The song’s 50 First Dates-inspired video only added to its memorable showing.
20. “Bank Account” – 21 Savage
After teaming up for hits like “No Heart” and “X” on their collaborative Savage Mode project, Metro Boomin and 21 Savage joined forces again on Issa Album’s “Bank Account.” Kicking off with a stirring sample from Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s 1974 song “Flashbulbs,” the platinum banger builds up momentum through Savage’s fiercely direct lyrics about money, power, and respect. The haunting track quickly moved up the charts, peaking at No. 12, and becoming Savage’s highest-charting single as a lead artist.