2017 was a great year for music, which made compiling this list of its 10 best songs extremely difficult. It had breakout stars like SZA and Jorja Smith, return to form for Icons like Jay Z, and culture shifting tunes from the Migos. Every year will have its abundance of hit songs, but the ambitious work of the previously mentioned artists (and that of so much more) contributed to a particularly memorable year. This list is completely subjective, but in the interests of accuracy I’ve tried to consider factors such as longevity, popular appeal, and innovativeness within the genre. These are the 10 best.
J Hus – Did You See
This infectious track from the King of Afro-Swing tops the list. This song had everything going for it, a catchy hook, clever lines like “I’d be a genius If I didn’t think with my penis”, and a melody which is pretty much impossible to get out of your head. J Hus’ voice is probably the best weapon in his arsenal, and the way he manipulates it to rap/sing snappy hooks and verses has the hallmarks of a vintage Ja Rule. Yet, he’s a British-Gambian artist heavily influenced by Dancehall and Afrobeats. To put it shortly, this track, much like Hus himself, is a musical anomaly. This song is iconic and will be a landmark in the history of British music for years to come.
Davido – If
This smash hit for Afrobeats Artist Davido, ironically released just after Valentine’s day, was the biggest hit in the genre for years since Wiz Kid’s Ojuelegba in 2014. Produced by fellow Afrobeats superstar Tekno, ‘If’ represents the best of the archetypical African love song, in a genre that is rich with them. It’s a return to form for an artist who has been accused by some of his fans for following a trend to ‘Americanise’ his sound. ‘If’ is unapologetically African, yet achieved crossover appeal because of it’s melodic instrumental and simple writing. This was a great song in 2017, and I predict it will be a precursor to Afrobeats songs which will dominate the charts in 2018.
Lil Uzi Vert – XO Tour Life
Lil Uzi Vert, Hip Hop’s self-proclaimed Rockstar, produced a truly incredible emo rap song whose lyrics betray the booming, energetic beat he performs the song over. Similar to Future’s best work on Dirty Sprite 2, and the Weeknd’s material pre-Beauty Before The Madness, Uzi’s work heavily features themes of dulled senses due to drug use as a backdrop to blunt discussions of life’s issues. XO Tour Life saw Uzi croon about a tough breakup with his ex girlfriend, and his subsequent issues with substance abuse, explaining that he takes drugs, namely Xanax, to “make it [pain] go away”. Without sounding sad, Uzi transmits his personal misery that we all screamed along and participated in moshpits to. This may sound sacrilegious to some, but XO Tour Life in retrospect may be viewed as our generation’s ‘Smells Like Teenage Spirit’.
Future – Mask Off remix ft. Kendrick Lamar
Now, I could have easily written only about the original version of this song without the Kendrick Lamar feature, but in the words of P Diddy, ‘You know we had to do the remix right?”. This track was excellently produced, with the juxtaposition of an eerie jazz-flute instrumental and Future rapping about the most materialistic of things, such as his “Rick James chains” and Molly Percocets. Kendrick Lamar’s incredible remix verse makes a mockery of the artificial divide between conscious rap and “mumble” rap, rhetorically asking “How y’all let a conscious nigga go commercial While only makin’ conscious albums?’, and even bragging that with his “hair down, Prince lives through [him]”. It’s the biggest song of Future’s career so far, and has made the flute hip hop’s most popular instrument, its influence on the genre cements it’s place at no.4.
Ed Sheeran – Shape of You
This song is another example of an artist stepping outside of his comfort zone but still retaining their authenticity. Shape of You is in many ways an evolution of his 2014 single ‘Sing’, where Ed moved away from his signature soft rock/folk sound, into the poppy R&B hybrid associated with Justin Timberlake and Pharrell. Fast forward to 2017, Shape Of You was originally written for Rihanna, after her success with the dancehall inspired ‘Work’ from 2016. The rhythm of the bridge “Boy, let’s not talk too much/Grab on my waist and put that body on me”, borrows from TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’, and all these elements combine for a hit song, clearly influenced by dancehall and contemporary R&B but sang in a way only Ed Sheeran could deliver.
Jorja Smith – On My Mind
Despite her young age of 19, Jorja Smith’s collaboration with the legendary Preditah bring back memories of the UK’s garage golden era. Her sultry, soulful voice is more often heard on R&B ballads, such as her eponymously titled interlude on Drake’s More Life playlist. But this is an up tempo track, radio friendly and has contributed to her rising stardom. She details her breaking away from an unworthy partner “Now I’m growing wise to your sugar-coated lies/Nothing sweet about my misery”, in a way reminiscent of songs from her earlier material, but to production that everyone else can dance to. Her solo album will be one of the most anticipated releases of 2018.
Stormzy – Blinded By Your Grace Part 2 ft MENK
This sounds nothing like the artist who made grime anthems such as ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Too Big For Your Boots’ in recent years, instead, Stormzy made a moving gospel song, an example of the emotional depth he showcased on his entire album. He wanted MNEK’s guest vocals to make everyone go “flipping heck”, a goal that was accomplished, providing the platform for Stormzy to wax lyrical about “what God’s done” in his young life so far. Stormzy has succeeded in making a hit gospel song in a country where many consider the genre to be something seen on Songs of Praise, and nowhere else. For that alone, he is worthy of a place on this list.
Kendrick Lamar– Loyalty ft. Rihanna
This collaboration between ‘Kung Fu Kenny’ and ‘Bad Girl Riri’ was a song destined for radio success the moment it reached the public, featuring a chopped-up sample of Bruno Mars’ ‘24K Magic’ that somehow ended up sounding like Tupac’s California Love. The main highlight is hearing two of the biggest stars in music trade verses on a “secret society” and the importance it places on trust and loyalty. It’s not DAMN’s most lyrically captivating content by any means, but hearing Kendrick and Rihanna desparately ask “Is it anybody that you would lie for? Anybody you would slide for? Anybody you would die for?” shows they manage to insert some meaningful content in this smooth song.
Calvin Harris – Slide ft. Frank Ocean & Migos
Calvin Harris is no stranger to summer hits, and has made some of the best songs of recent years, ranging from ‘Dance Wiv Me’ to ‘We Found love’. But ‘Slide’ saw him at his best, in a collaboration between three artists who really couldn’t be any different. Frank Ocean’s deadpan vocal delivery blends well with the song’s bouncy bassline, and Offset and Quav’s melodic rap-singing help the song flow together perfectly. It still sounds fresh 10 months later, and is probably the most creative song on the list.
Cardi B – Bodak Yellow
Originally a cover of Kodak Black’s No Flockin, this song made Cardi B only the second female rapper since the legendary Lauryn Hill in 1998 to top the Billboard Hot 100. Though this sounds absolutely nothing like Ms Hill’s Doo Wop’ (That Thing), Cardi B has made her own mark in Hip Hop history in her own way, and should be celebrated for it. Bodak Yellow is aggressive, brash, catchy, and undeniably brilliant. Lines such as “these expensive, these is red bottoms, these is bloody shoes”, made it a female hip hop anthem, but it’s popularity amongst different demographics is testament to how great of a tune it is.
SZA – Love Galore
Rihanna, Bryson, DJ Khaled – Wild Thoughts
Mahalia – Sober
Giggs & Drake – KMT