2017 was a golden year in hip-hop. It almost beats 2013 by the sheer amount of releases from the biggest names in rap – including Future, Rick Ross, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, JAY-Z, and Eminem – doing numbers on the Billboard 200 charts and taking over discussions online. New memes were created to react to this year’s whirlwind news cycle, making particular viral instances especially entertaining to engage with. And while there were good things happening in rap, there were also some saddening moments, losing influential people like Prodigy and Lil Peep, who will forever be memorialized for their contributions to the culture.
2017 was another year for the young rapper movement shifting to dominate the mainstream. When you have Post Malone, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, Lil Yachty, Playboi Carti and many others turning their huge streaming numbers into sold-out tours, it only opens doors for other independent SoundCloud rappers to do the same. And then, rap fans got to witness a female rap revolution take place this year, as Cardi B became #goals for anyone who ever doubted their dreams, collaborating with Nicki Minaj on one of the biggest collabs of the year with “Motorsport” and serving up the NY anthem (and really, life anthem) of the year with “Bodak Yellow.”
With another year in the books, Highsnobiety takes a look at the 10 most viral hip-hop moments of 2017. From Kendrick Lamar and JAY-Z to “thicc” Rihanna and Gucci Mane’s glo-up, here’s what got everybody talking.
Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN.’
Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. has seven nominations at the 2018 Grammy Awards: Record of the year, album of the year, best rap performance, best rap/sung performance, best rap song, best rap album, and best music video. If there was going to be any year that he’ll sweep all his categories, it’ll be this one.
When DAMN. dropped back in April, it showed K. Dot is more than capable of raising the bar for himself and surpassed our expectations. While good kid, M.A.A.D City and To Pimp a Butterfly turned him into a rap superstar, DAMN. explores with exceptional storytelling how he’s navigating America in an era of police brutality and Donald Trump in office. He minimizes the use of funk and jazz for a mellower and jagged sound, exploring his deepest anxieties (“FEAR.”), telling us to be modest (“HUMBLE.”), and revealing a crazy story about his father meeting Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith (“DUCKWORTH.”). He features Rihanna and U2 on arguably the best songs on the album – “LOYALTY.” and “XXX.”—and has random Kid Capri drops that would appease any 90s rap head.
Conspiracy theorists have dissected this album at great depths to understand why this album should maybe be played backwards or what the actual storyline Kendrick is trying to tell us. A collector’s edition with reverse order became an idea realized after high demand. It just goes to show how much of a conversation piece DAMN. is, and with an album that is exceptionally well-crafted, we’ll be talking about it for a while… until K. Dot drops another classic on us.
Cardi B’s Rise and “Bodak Yellow” Going Number One
Cardi B is still making history. This month, Cardi became the first female rapper to land her first three entries on the Billboard Hot 100 in the top 10. Let’s not forget about Cardi’s “Bodak Yellow” going number one, making her the first female rapper to score a solo No. 1 since Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” in 1998.
Cardi’s Cinderella story is far from over, as she’s currently promoting her Atlantic Records debut with “Bardier Bardi” with 21 Savage. It’s hard not to root for Cardi after she’s been boxed in as an Instagram celebrity and Love & Hip Hop sensation, constantly proving haters wrong that she wasn’t a one-hit wonder by supplying more bangers. The Bronx native, who used to dance and now makes money moves, has created new excitement for the current roster of female rappers. At just 25, her ascent is motivational for others who want to follow her path. We can’t wait to see what she accomplishes in 2018.
The Impact of JAY-Z’s ‘4:44’ for Rap’s Elder Statesmen
In a banner year for hip-hop, JAY-Z’s 4:44 was a watershed moment for MCs 40 and up. Hov showed fans that aging in hip-hop doesn’t have to be conforming to trends by dropping his most honest and personal album of his career. Hov uses his platform to educate us on his missteps and financial triumphs, the importance of family, celebrates his mother Gloria Carter’s sexuality, and even admits to infidelity on the apologetic title track. In just over 36 minutes, Hov, with the help of producer No I.D., is open and free, not afraid to speak on rap’s current affairs like his strained relationship with an outspoken Kanye West or call out rappers who still use the money phone. The result is JAY-Z as a man, owning up to his mistakes and uplifting everyone to become better in the process.
Losing Mobb Deep’s Prodigy
Anyone who is a fan of Mobb Deep was deeply hurt by the lost of Prodigy. As initially reported, P was treated at a hospital in Las Vegas for complications of sickle cell anemia. The official cause of his death was accidental choking, but the details weren’t so much the focus. One of New York’s respected MCs is gone, and he received a wave of tributes from the likes of Havoc, Cormega, Kendrick Lamar, Lil Kim, Nas, and Eminem upon his death. Mobb Deep was just one pillar of P’s career, as he went on to have a respective solo run with his H.N.I.C. series and work with The Alchemist. P’s cold-eyed views of the streets of LeFrak City, Queens and unapologetic approach to his music will continue to inspire the MCs of today and tomorrow. Pour one up for P and play “Shook Ones (Part II)” for the legend.
Eminem Dissing President Donald Trump at the BET Hip-Hop Awards
Eminem isn’t a fan of President Donald Trump. “Campaign Speech,” where he references everyone from Trayvon Martin and Colin Kaepernick, he tore down Trump and his supporters, calling him out for running his campaign with his own cash and claimed he was “a fuckin’ loose cannon who’s blunt with his hand on the button.” One year later, Em has kept that same energy in his BET Hip-Hop Awards freestyle, delivering an impassioned string of truths and frustrations that a lot were feeling at the moment for over four minutes. He added a caveat to his fans at the end: “I’m drawing in the sand a line, you’re either for or against / And if you can’t decide who you like more and you’re split / On who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for you with this: Fuck you!”
It’s baffling to know that Trump hasn’t publicly responded to this freestyle yet. And it might be satisfying to know Em is bothered by this because he has more lines for Trump’s rebuttal ready to go. Slim Shady for president.
Migos vs. Joe Budden
It’s unfortunate to hear that Joe Budden won’t be returning to Season 2 of Everyday Struggle as Complex announced his departure after failing to reach a contract agreement. Budden, DJ Akademiks, and the show’s host Nadeska Alexis had a good chemistry going in the eight months since its launch, creating some of the best memes and internet moments. The most famous one goes to Budden and Migos confrontation at the red carpet of the BET Awards. For a history of their beef, you can read more here, but the funny thing is both these camps are still feuding.
Months after the gifs and reaction memes have died down, Migos promoted Quality Control’s Control the Streets, Vol. 1 with “Ice Tray” that contains the line “If a ni**a hatin’, call him Joe Budden (p***y).” The accompanied video parodies Everyday Struggle and straight up trolls Budden with a lookalike who visibly gets upset that they aren’t for the culture, and later gets “frozen” from being too close to Quavo and Yachty’s jewelry. This is the beef that keeps on giving.
Breaking the Internet with “Minaj à Trois”
Throughout her career, Nicki Minaj has established a wealth of alter egos and rap personas: Nicki Lewinski, Roman Zolanski, The Harajuku Barbie, and The Female Weezy are just a few that have come to life on her songs. Paper magazine wanted to put three versions of Minaj on a NSFW cover, continuing their streak of breaking the internet. Cheekily titled “Minaj à Trois,” it’s provocative and fun, a sexual fantasy you never knew you wanted. Kim Kardashian famously went viral for going completely naked on a 2014 cover of Paper, but Nicki takes the cake for flawlessly slaying three different looks.
“I have always loved all of the looks that Nicki has done (and she has done them all). Her style (typically anchored by her off-the-charts hair choices) matches her musical talent perfectly. Break the Internet is all about the big idea, the word, the image. It came to me one day that ‘Minaj à trois’ had never been done. HOW? We have seen different versions of Nicki, from high fashion to seductive to in-your-face and eye-catching all at the same time. But we had never seen all of these together — and now we have the chance,” the magazine’s Drew Elliott wrote. Kudos to Paper for the execution.
The Death of Lil Peep
Lil Peep, the 21-year-old raised in Long Beach, New York, was destined to be a rockstar. Gustav Åhr’s music dealt with depression, drug use, past relationships, and suicidal thoughts – all subjects that categorize him in the emo revolution of hip-hop. Åhr grew to thrive in punk spaces for his grunge influences and lo-fi, gloomy style of production. It was shocking to learn that an artist with so much potential suddenly took his life away by a fentanyl and Xanax overdose in November, sparking a needed conversation on mental health and the opioid epidemic in America.
Peep died young, but his impact is still being felt today. At Rolling Loud SoCal in San Bernardino, California, rappers and friends paid tribute with a powerful set of his catalogue. The release of pink balloons was for honoring Peep in heaven while the message in skywriting (#LilPeep4Ever) is one that will carry on his legacy. Peep has been described as the “modern day Kurt Cobain,” but it’s more accurate to say Peep is one of a kind and will be sorely missed.
“Thicc” Rihanna in All Her Glory
Not even a Barstools Sports blogger, who tried and failed to body shame Rihanna, can kill her vibe. “Thicc” Rihanna is goals that you should be living your best life, no matter how you look. There have been many instances were the internet lost their minds over RiRi’s new physique: Crop Over photos at Grand Kadooment in Barbados, movie premieres, or when she just steps out and the paparazzi catch her off guard. These moments should not be dissected, but celebrated that RiRi is out here breaking stereotypes for plus-size women. We can all agree that her appearances in DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Loyalty” were glorious, showing off all her curves and not giving a fuck.
Gucci Mane’s Glo Up
Ever since Gucci Mane was released from prison on May 26, 2016, he hasn’t stopped putting out positive vibes to the world. His 2016 consisted of catching up on Game of Thrones, releasing a lot of new music (three albums; collaborative tapes with Lil Uzi Vert and Future), and most importantly, proposed to his longtime girlfriend Keyshia Ka’ior on kiss cam at an Atlanta Hawks game. On a personal level, he worked on maintaining his weight loss with regular exercise and a new diet by going vegan, completely changing his lifestyle to be healthier.
Guwop’s 2017 was filled with more wins. On the one-year anniversary of being a free man, he dropped Droptopwop, a collaborative mixtape with producer-of-the-moment, Metro Boomin. He then became a New York Times bestselling author with The Autobiography of Gucci Mane that was co-written by music journalist Neil Martinez-Belkin. After that, he finally threw his extravagant wedding on October 17, dubbed “The Mane Event,” at The Miami Four Seasons, a reported $1.7 million affair that had an all-star guest list of Puff Daddy, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Big Sean, Jhene Aiko, Karrueche Tran, Lil Yachty, and more. The best part, though? The couple’s 10-foot wedding cake, which not only cost $75,000 to make, but they had to cut it with a sword. That’s lavish and baller.
And just when you think Gucci’s year couldn’t get any better, he’s releasing another album just in time for the holidays called El Gato the Human Glacier. And the man still finds time to tweet daily motivations – you can’t help but salute him.
Be sure to check out last year’s round up here.
- Words: Eric Diep
- Cover Image: Dia Dipasupil / Getty Images