365 days on the internet is a lifetime’s worth of content when you work in music journalism. There are no days off from releases, news, and noteworthy moments. Every artist is in a constant state of forward motion, and keeping up with each is a feat in and of itself. Trying to knight a hip-hop MVP is like trying to pick the most valuable X-Men throughout the Stan Lee-created comic series. Too many to choose from.
To say Post Malone is a worthy candidate for hip-hop’s 2017 MVP would be a sound suggestion—despite consistently making headlines for idiotic statements and unmoving apologies, his popularity continued to skyrocket this year as he dominated the streaming world and topped the charts with “rockstar.” His guest on that hit, 21 Savage, also made a strong case for acknowledgment, dominating the conversation with hit singles, two albums, and a high-profile relationship with Amber Rose. If it’s driving the conversation that matters, SoundCloud rap secured the attention of the culture on a weekly basis in 2017. The largely Florida-based uprising of popular artists from the platform were successful, controversial, and integral in the forward motion of the genre.
I could go name after name on why countless artists deserve to be considered this year’s MVP. There are only a few who are truly worthy, though, encompassing a year of progression and prominence.
Here are our five candidates for 2017’s hip-hop MVP and the clear-cut winner.
Crayola has yet to create a crayon the shade of white that is seen every time Gucci Mane flashes a smile. His flawless teeth are the color of snowflakes and angel feathers, a pure and untainted white. I’ve seen the smile many times this year, a joyous expression that has constantly reminded me how the man born Radric Davis is living his best life. Judge a man not only by his hell but how well he walks through the fire, and from the furnace that was his last incarceration, Gucci has continued to remaster the man he once was.
Over the past 11 months, Gucci became an author who achieved the celebrated feat of becoming a New York Times Bestseller, an accomplishment unforeseeable when he was an East Atlanta newcomer pushing his “So Icey” single. In October, he wed longtime girlfriend Keyshia Ka’Oir, an event that will be remembered as royal and majestic―the hip-hop precursor to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I was more captivated by the man than the music in 2017, but Gucci still gifted fans two new albums―Droptopwop and Mr. Davis―along with a flurry of features. He hit the coveted No. 1 song in the country with Rae Sremmurd for “Black Beatles,” a landmark cultural event of the year that went beyond just music, and hit the highest placement of his career as a solo act when his Migos-featured “I Get The Bag” reached No. 11 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
Lingo, phrases, flows, even the dab―everything Migos says and how they say it is just cooler than other practitioners of melodic trap. It began with a flow, one the Migos didn’t originate or own, but welded as if the triplet was a Southern sword pulled from a Versace stone. Style is what Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff brought an abundance of, and it’s what they continue to produce―the secret to their longevity. “Bad and Boujee” was Migos’ taking control of popular culture, and Culture, their sophomore album, solidified their gift for creating infectious and popular rap music. Song after song became hit after hit―providers of sauce for the entire year.
Katy Perry sought the sauce. Calvin Harris sought the sauce. Migos became pop stars, and feverish demand escalated to mania levels. Even though together they are at their strongest, separate performances were received with applause. Offset went on an all-star-caliber streak of guest verses, released an album with Metro Boomin and 21 Savage, and produced the solo “Ric Flair Drip,” a gift from the bop Gods. Quavo popped up everywhere from Drake’s playlist to Major Lazer’s EP to DJ Khaled’s No. 1 single alongside Justin Bieber, his Auto-Tune dripping Egyptian gold. Takeoff, consistently the member left out of the conversation, made sure Culture was filled with mind-changing performances. 2017 was the year where there is no room to deny Migos, as a group or solo entities.
“Motor Sport” united Nicki Minaj and Cardi B amidst rumored beef while getting us ready for Culture 2. Music is theirs to govern, and 2017 is the year hip-hop’s new kings were given crowns and castles.
Authenticity is often touted in hip-hop. It’s a word depreciating with every new artist promoting their realness with overzealous marketing. The real is recognized, not suggested.
It was her raw banter and unapologetic personality that made Cardi B more than just another star stuck in the reality fame vortex alongside pop culture favorites Joseline and Snooki. She was a person of interest, even before the music began taking off. Her fans saw in her someone to believe in, someone to root for, and music became the product to support.
It took the belief of many to ascend “Bodak Yellow” to the highest peak upon Billboard’s mountaintop, dethroning Taylor Swift in the process. I know they call her triumph a Cinderella Story, but I believe Cinderella had it much easier going from rags to Prince Charming. Even David, who defeated Goliath, would acknowledge the unlikeliness of Cardi’s underdog success. It truly is an astounding journey for those who have followed her story from Bronx-born Belcalis Almanzar to history-making Cardi B. In just 12 months, without an album, Cardi B has grabbed a career’s worth of trophies. Her breakout summer will forever be remembered for overcoming the odds.
Reality television guarantees notoriety, but it doesn’t promise stardom. 2017 is the year Cardi B became a star.
Tyler, The Creator
When looking back on the music video for “Yonkers,” it’s hard to believe the same Tyler, The Creator who imitated the act of eating a cockroach is now making music that sounds like butterflies making their wings first flap. Flower Boy―his fourth, biggest, and best studio album―is a complete departure from the radical ‘kill people, burn shit, fuck school’ ethos attached to the Odd Future banner during their most disturbing phase of shock rap. There’s a comfort in his own skin―to speak, rap, and sing with no intentions of shocking.
For the first time in his career, Tyler has been accepted, embraced, and celebrated by a mainstream audience as an artist who awes with his talent and not his rebelliousness. The GRAMMYs acknowledged him by nominating Flower Boy for Best Rap Album, a full-circle honor for the kid who desired a trophy case full of golden gramophones. Music-making wasn’t his only medium of success, either. The yearly Camp Flog Gnaw festival saw its biggest turnout. Tyler was able to air Nuts + Bolts, a reality docu-series starring the young artist on Viceland, and The Jellies, an adult animated series that went from airing on the Golf Media app to television screens via Adult Swim. If that wasn’t enough, the Converse One Star collaboration has been a success―the first shoe collab since his partnership with Vans ended. A new Golf Wang clothing store launch is just sprinkles on the flawless sundae that is Tyler’s year of success.
The boy is becoming a man. 2017 is the year the legacy of Tyler, The Creator rebuilt itself upon a foundation of refreshing maturity.
Kendrick Lamar (Winner)
Popularity is the gauge of mass likeness, nothing more. The biggest doesn’t mean best, and it never will. Yet, this year, Kendrick Lamar was able to intersect these two distinct points―towing the tightropes between biggest and best.
Kendrick has had good years, his fame isn’t newfound, but there’s never been a time where he was undisputedly the biggest giant in the world of music—well, until 2017. I’ll never forget watching as the internet discussed and dissected “HUMBLE.” until it went from viral sensationalism to king of the Billboard charts. And “HUMBLE.” was just the precursor to the domination of DAMN., the most commercially successful album of Kendrick’s career.
Biggest is a million album units sold in the third week and double Platinum before the year could end. Biggest is each of DAMN.’s three singles―”HUMBLE.,” “LOYALTY.” and “LOVE.”―being radio tyrants, rulers of the airwaves. Even a non-single like “DNA.” received enough fanfare to soar up the charts.
Best is how he managed to balance conceptual, commercial, and lyrical, a trifecta rarely accomplished when an artist begins to stretch ambitions. Best are his music videos, breathtaking visual components to a breathtaking album. Best is each time he graced the stage, he inspired the thought that no one was better; the Coachella performance and a massively successful stadium tour received stellar reviews in every city.
The critical acclaim and commercial conquests of his third consecutive “classic” mean that Kendrick has found the magical intersection between creative genius and the most popular hitmaker. To live in 2017 was to speak of Kendrick. There was no avoiding a presence extending beyond the internet and rap blogs; he provided an inescapable body of work.
2017 is the year that Kendrick Lamar solidified he will die a legend. Not just in hip-hop, but in the world of music. Our 2017 MVP.
By Yoh, aka YohVP, aka @Yoh31