20 of the Biggest Hip-Hop Achievements in 2017
What a year hip-hop has had in 2017. There have been seismic album releases both surprise and anticipated, hit songs that captivated the public and emerging artists who helped the genre continue to grow and evolve.
In addition to all of the incredible music released and consumed in 2017, artists made waves for moves outside of the booth as well. Record sales and high chart position may be the numbers that drive the music industry, but artists locked down monumental business ventures, pushed charitable and philanthropic initiatives and even completed pursuits of higher education—achievements that further the hip-hop community as a whole.
After showcasing 50 of the best hip-hop projects, best songs and best videos of 2017, XXL looks back on the great triumphs by hip-hop artists including Chance The Rapper, Cardi B and JAY-Z in 2017 and highlights 20 of the year's most notable achievements.
In February, Chance The Rapper put his name next to a short list of rappers when the Chicagoan won the award for Best New Artist at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, becoming just the fourth rapper to receive the honor.
In addition to being active on the musical front, Chance has been one of the more outspoken MCs when it comes to matters pertaining to his community, resulting in the rapper being honored with the Humanitarian Award at the 2017 BET Awards. Presented by Walmart, the Humanitarian Award highlights those who have lent their voice and platform to affect change within the Black community and beyond, with past recipients including Muhammad Ali, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Quincy Jones, and Al Sharpton. From helping spearhead the My Brother's Keeper Challenge with former President Barack Obama to his pledged to donate $1 million to Chicago public schools, Chance The Rapper put on for his hometown throughout 2017, as well as the hip-hop community as whole.
Future shocked the music world earlier this year with a pair of chart-topping album releases, continuing his trend of quick-strike album releases and backing up his status as the most prolific artist in mainstream music. However, the fact that those two albums, FUTURE and HNDRXX, were released just one week apart from one another, making him the first rapper to release two chart-topping albums in consecutive weeks, put Future in a class of his own. Making the impossible look par for the course, Future fully capitalized on his blinding star power and popularity and etched his name in the record books in the process.
Nicki Minaj has been one of music's most successful artists and most consistent hit-makers of the past decade, dominating Billboard charts with a succession of solo smashes, collaborations and guest spots. Her hard work paid off in March, when the rapper reached a major milestone by breaking the record for the most songs to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 by a female artist, previously held by Aretha Franklin. With "No Frauds," featuring Drake and Lil Wayne (No. 14), "Regret in Your Tears" (No. 61) and "Changed It," featuring Lil Wayne (No. 71) all debuting on the Hot 100 chart dated for April 1, Minaj brought her tally of Hot 100 appearances to 76, surpassing Franklin's record of 73 songs. The record had lasted for 40 years before being broken by Nicki.
Eminem may have ended 2017 with the release of Revival, his ninth studio album, but it was another body of work from the rapper's catalog that would set a precedent that would set him apart from the pack. This past March, Curtain Call: The Hits, a compilation of Em's most popular songs, became the longest charting rap album in history after spending 350 weeks on the Billboard 200. Released December 2006, Curtain Call: The Hits debuted at No. 1 in 2005, and has been certified 7X-platinum, making it one of the most successful greatest hits compilations by a rapper to date.
After beginning the year with the release of his fourth studio album, I Decided, Big Sean made more headlines after being awarded the key to the city of Detroit in early April.
Honored for his contributions through his Sean Anderson Foundation, as well as his Mogul Prep program, the hometown hero posted a message on Instagram showing his gratitude for the accolade.
"Today I got one of the highest honors a person can receive, the key to the City Of Detroit," Big Sean wrote. "The mayor said he's given it to 3 people... Stevie Wonder, Berry Gordy, and Me. I'm the youngest person to receive this in the history of the city!"
Big Sean, who has stayed active in his community, would also be honored by Project Knapsack after 20,000 knapsacks filled with school supplies were donated to children in need in his foundation's name, another example of the platinum rapper's charitable nature.
2017 proved to be yet another monstrous year for Drake, with the rapper unleashing his More Life project, which yielded the Canadian another platinum plaque and multiple crossover singles, a reminder of his dominance and sheer star power. The OVO boss also broke a few records, among them being most wins at the Billboard Music Awards, shattering Adele's previous record of 12 after winning 13 at this year's ceremony in May. Earning 22 nominations total, Drake would take home hardware for a list of awards that include Top Artist, Top Male Artist and Top Billboard 200 album (Views).
Wyclef Jean has enjoyed success within and outside the world of music, first as a Fugees member and solo artist and later as a politician and humanitarian. In addition to returning to the music scene with a pair of albums, J'ouvert and Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee, Wyclef Jean was also inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in celebration of his illustrious career and being one of the Garden State's favorite sons. Wyclef would be inducted alongside fellow decorated New Jersey natives like Kelly Ripa, Connie Chung, and Ray Liotta, putting him in legendary company.
Tupac Shakur continues to be celebrated more than 20 years after his death. His latest achievement is his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which came in April. The ceremony, which was held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, included an acceptance speech from Snoop Dogg on behalf of his deceased comrade, of whom he spoke glowingly.
"While many remember him now as some kind of thugged-out superhero, 2Pac knew that he was only human," he said. "To be human is to be many things at once, strong and vulnerable, hardheaded and intellectual, courageous and afraid, revolutionary and—oh yeah, don’t get it fucked up—gangsta."
After delivering the speech, Snoop was joined onstage by Alicia Keys, YG, Treach of Naughty by Nature and T.I. to perform a medley of 'Pac classics that included "I Ain't Mad at Cha," Ambitionz As a Ridah," "Changes," "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted," "Hail Mary" and "Keep Ya Head Up." The first solo rap act to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2Pac joined a list of members that includes seminal rap groups the Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and N.W.A.
JAY-Z made history yet again this past June when the rapper/mogul was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, becoming the first rap artist ever to be voted in. Although Hov wasn't in attendance to accept the award, former president and good friend Barack Obama inducted him in via a video congratulating the Brooklyn native on his continued success, while Warner Chappell Music CEO Jon Platt gave a speech on the rapper's behalf. However, JAY-Z did take the time to thank the fans, as well as other artists that have inspired him over the years, hopping on Twitter to show love to a list of pioneers, peers and current rap stars. Among those named were Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, Chuck D, Ice Cube, Eminem, André 3000, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, and leaders of the new school like Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper, Nicki Minaj, Drake, Meek Mill and Future. Despite being perched atop the game, Hov is still in touch with the culture.
More than a quarter-century removed from his first movie role as Doughboy in the 1991 film Boyz n the Hood, Ice Cube was enshrined on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as a salute to the decorated actor/director.
"You know, you don't get here by yourself and when you're coming up doing music, movies, just trying to be creative, you never figure you'll be on the Hollywood Walk of Fame one day," Cube said during his acceptance speech. "So today is not really about Ice Cube, it's about all the people who helped me get here."
Joined by his N.W.A. group members Dr. Dre. MC Ren and DJ Yella, Ice Cube became among the first wave of rap artists to receive the honor and continues to be a trailblazer in hip-hop.
The culture of hip-hop was initially thought to be a fad, with many naysayers predicting that rap would not sustain its popularity and eventually die out, but exactly the opposite has happened, with rap music becoming the most influential and dominant musical genre among the youth. Earlier this year, it was announced that Hip-Hop/R&B had usurped Rock to become the most popular music genre in the U.S. for the first time in history, further evidence of rap and urban culture takeover over the mainstream. According to a mid-year report by Nielsen Music, R&B and hip-hop are now responsible for 25.1% of all music consumption in the U.S., while rock claims 23%, figures that are largely the result of streaming and the continuous decline of physical sales. Rock claims 40% of all album sales in the country, however, the total number of records actually purchased decreases annually, while streaming numbers continue to rise, metrics that indicate that rap's stronghold on pop culture and America as a whole won't end anytime soon.
As one of rap's most respected elders and one-half of the legendary duo UGK, Bun B has the type of influence and cache that gets things done. So when the Port Arthur native teamed up with Scooter Braun to spearhead the Hand in Hand telethon to raise money for hurricane relief efforts, the outpouring of support was overwhelming.
Airing on CBS, the telethon—which featured Beyoncé, Drake, and many more—generated upwards of $44 million in donations, exceeding Bun B's own projections by a wide margin. "My original goal was, I thought if we could get $20 million that would be a major effort and touch the people the way that we wanted to," Bun said. "But it just went above and beyond. The outpouring of emotion from the average person, the common man seeing this call for humanity and answering it."
When Cardi B decided to leave the Love & Hip Hop: New York cast to concentrate on music, there were more than a few scoffs from naysayers who doubted her ability to sustain a viable rap career. However, "Bodak Yellow," Cardi B's major label debut single, would defy the odds, eventually rising to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, making her the first female rap to top the chart with a solo song since Lauryn Hill with "Doo Wop (That Thing)" in 1998. It's proof that Cardi is 2017's breakout star.
In October, Uncle Luke, one of the most significant architects of Miami's hip-hop scene, was awarded with the I Am Hip Hop Icon award at the 2017 BET Awards in his hometown as nod to his legacy as a pioneer and a trailblazer for freedom of speech and the fight against censorship in rap.
"Thirty years in this business, and ain't nobody ever honor me for shit," Luke remarked during his acceptance speech, a reference to him and his 2 Live Crew group-mates being unsung in comparison to other legendary rap acts. "We got kicked off stage because they said we did booty music. Said we wasn't hip-hop. With the conventions, they told us that the South would not be what it is today. I said fuck y'all."
The award win served as a bright spot in a dark year for the 2 Live Crew family, which lost group member Fresh Kid Ice after the rapper succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver in June at age 53.
At this year's REVOLT Music Conference, Queen Latifah was given the REVOLT Icon Award, which goes to industry leaders who have had a lasting impact and unique influence on music. The rapper and actress became the first woman to win the award, with past recipients including Nas, Antonio "L.A." Reid, and Jimmy Iovine.
The Bad Boy Reunion Tour saw Diddy and former Bad Boy Records artists and affiliates perform their greatest hits in front of sold-out crowds across the country. But for those who missed the live dates, Puff bottled up that experience and documented the reunion—and his label's history—in Can't Stop Won't Stop: A Bad Boy Story. The Daniel Kaufman-directed documentary, produced by Diddy and Heather Parry, was a Live Nation and Apple Music joint venture. For it, Puff was awarded the "Hollywood Documentary Award" at the 21st Annual Hollywood Film Awards. The award, presented by actress Kate Beckinsale, would be the latest win for Diddy in a year that also saw him named music's top-earning entertainer, proving that he can't and won't be stopping anytime soon.
Going from the school of hard knocks to the Ivy League is no easy feat. But Swizz Beatz did just that after enrolling in Harvard's Owner/President Management Program, which the Bronx native completed in November. The course—designed for CEOs, COOs, Presidents, Managing Directors and Executive directors with at least 10 years of work experience—focuses on corporate growth, financial success and leadership expertise. In celebration of the occasion, Swizz posted video clips of himself on Instagram extolling the virtues of higher education and revealing that he would continue to attend even more classes in the future, stating, "just because you wanna get your education, that don't mean you can't still be cool, can't still have fun... Whoever tell you that you don't need to be educated, they must not be educated themselves."
Lil Uzi Vert has become somewhat of a phenomenon over the past two years, charming listeners and critics with his nifty shimmy, carefree attitude and infectious wails over booming production. The Philly native, who unleashed his debut album, Luv Is Rage 2, earlier this year has been nominated for Best New Artist at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, set to take place January 28, 2018, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Although pitted against stiff comp that includes SZA, Alessia Cara and Khalid, Lil Uzi Vert's first Grammy nomination is a career highlight that will be attached to his name forever and one of the more noteworthy achievements for a young rap artist this year.
Kendrick Lamar became the first artist to win Variety's Hitmaker of the Year award at the inaugural Hitmakers event in November. The ceremony, which took place at the Sunset Tower Hotel in Hollywood, included an acceptance speech from the TDE franchise player, who topped the charts for the fourth consecutive time with his DAMN. LP, which housed hits like "DNA," "Loyalty," and the chart-topping lead-single "Humble."
“To own and hone in the title of a hitmaker means a lot because we put a lot of time and a lot of effort [in the studio]," Kendrick told the crowd. “I thank each and every one of you for allowing me to evolve and let me make these weird ass songs that y’all like. These songs represent me and who I am. I want to continue to push that envelope and hopefully I continue to have y’all ears to do so.”
In December, LL Cool J added to his long list of accolades by earning the Kennedy Center Honor, an award that recognizes artists with a lifetime of contributions to American culture. The first rapper to earn the honor, LL shared the news via Instagram, posting a picture of himself at the Kennedy Center with a caption dedicating the win to the hip-hop community as whole:
"This one is for those who came before me and those who followed me. We were sent to this planet to love and inspire one another. Manifest our dreams and make them a reality. I hope you’re inspired by me because I’m absolutely Inspired by you."
The ceremony, which took place at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., also honored singer/songwriter Gloria Estefan, writer/producer Norman Lear, and singer/songwriter Lionel Richie, and comes on the heels of LL's nomination for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.