Over the last several years, streaming numbers confirmed what car stereo and club empiricism already told us: In a world where genre is increasingly irrelevant, rap music has become the most relevant genre.
Rappers aren’t rock stars, but they’ve certainly replaced them. There’s a reason Kendrick Lamar headlined the final night of Coachella over Radiohead, and not just because Thom Yorke’s funky emu dance moves were uniquely suited to set the weekend off. For once, this list reflects not just the inherent bias of someone whose bar mitzvah speech contained parables from Dr. Dre and Snoop but also a general barometer of the zeitgeist.
In this ancestral cradle of gangsta rap, a fresh arsenal of artists draped in marine blue and Piru red (plus Freddie Gibbs, a Gary, Indiana, transplant) have remodeled the sounds and slang for a generation that considers Chronic 2001 to be the old school. DJ Quik and Snoop Dogg continue to defy the ravages of time to the point that someone should test them for HGH. And a loosely defined underground continues to expand for those blending absurdist whimsy, contemporary hip-hop aesthetics and dinosaurs (shout-out to Koreatown Oddity).
In the wake of Kamasi Washington’s ability to do what Ryan Gosling in La La Land could only dream of, the jazz scene has continued to flourish. Despite the loss of Pehrspace and the looming move of the Smell, the DIY scene continues to incubate new bands such as Girlpool and includes established alumni like Nite Jewel and Kingdom, who blend experimental roots with coruscating R&B beats and melodies.
In case we’re all incinerated due to an errant tweet before December, let us all be grateful that the dystopian present had such a delightful soundtrack. With that in mind, these are the best L.A. albums of 2017 in haiku form.
10. Chicano Batman, Freedom Is Free (ATO)
Bruce Wayne on the block
Could never get this funky
A free blockbuster
9. Nite Jewel, Real High (Gloriette)
There are no answers
Yet this blissful float comes close
8. Snoop Dogg, Neva Left (Empire/?Doggystyle)
Every bar freestyled?
How can Snoop be so ageless?
What weed does he smoke?
7. Girlpool, Powerplant (Anti-)
Pehrspace grads break through
Softies of post-Tumblr age
Come home as heroes
6. Jonwayne, Rap Album Two (Authors/Order Label)
Words his only thing
But these raps and beats are fire
Give Jon a TED Talk
5. RJ, Mr. L.A. (Empire/400 Summers)
Rodney Brown stays steps ahead
Give him city keys
4. G Perico, All Blue (So Way Out)
In Broadway we trust
The Dodgers could use his game
The color scheme works
3. DJ Quik & Problem, Rosecrans ?(Diamond Lane/Blake Enterprises)
The sound of L.A.
Will always be what Quik makes
One more street classic
2. Thundercat, Drunk (Brainfeeder)
Bass god hits bottle
Transcendent jazz funk ensues
And shows us the way
1. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN. (TDE/Interscope)
Blood, pride, loyalty
Timeless soldier DNA
Duckworth wins again
Freddie Gibbs, You Only Live 2wice; Cameron Graves, Planetary Prince; Afghan Whigs, In Spades; Cherry Glazerr, Apocalypstick; Ty Segall, Ty Segall; Koreatown Oddity, Finna Be Past Tense; Karavan, Karavan; AD and Sorry Jaynari, Last of the ’80s; Nocando, Severed; Adam Turchin, Manifest Destiny; Wavves, You’re Welcome; Ronald Bruner Jr., Triumph; Dot, Retrofuture; Hanni El Khatib, Savage Times; Jonah Levine Collective, Attention Deficit; FrostyDaSnowmann, IceKoldPimp; Kiefer, Kickinit Alone; Kingdom, Tears in the Club; Harriet Brown, Contact; Ill Camille, Heirloom; Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Police Department; Jamie Wyatt, Felony Blues; Sam Outlaw, Tenderheart.
[Correction: An earlier version of this column misspelled one of the artist names in the “honorable mention” section. AD's collaborator on Last of the '80s is Jaynari, not Jaybari. We regret the error.]