What does it even take to be considered the artist that was most representative of, most relatable to, and most successful during the course of an entire year? The truth of the matter is that music is too large an entity for any one artist or group to entirely encompass all that it means to be a musician in 2017. Instead of wholesome representation, it’s more realistic to look towards those who produced creative projects that were influential, relevant, and varied enough to appease a large share of the music market while also abstaining from decision-making that would hinder themselves or their art. Essentially, an artist has to be willing to take the risks without making any mistakes. An artist has to be able to see where music is headed, apply the strength of their talents to its course, and throw it off for the better.
In 2012, Kendrick Lamar released good kid m.A.A.d city and subsequently released hip-hop from the archaic, rusty chains of a dying era. With the album, Lamar ushered in a new school of hip-hop and paved the way for a plethora of future artists to break down the foundations and tear up the roots of a sound defined by acts like Lil Wayne and T-Pain in order to rebuild and replant a much needed new take on hip-hop constructed of the broken remnants of its past. Lamar’s 2012 role as catalyst for a music revolution is the kind of influence it takes to be considered an artist the most representative of an entire year.
In 2012, Disclosure was already a breakout act on the global electronic scene thanks to the immense popularity of their mega-single Latch. But their true reign began in 2013 with the release of their debut full-length project Settle. The album would come to define the electronic explosion of the mid 2010’s and provide the sound striven for and built upon by all producers of the era. Disclosure’s ability to encapsulate the vibes of the 2013 music scene and lay the framework for the future is the kind of relevancy required to be considered an artist the most relatable to an entire year.
In 2014, fresh on the heels of his monumental 2013 single Take Me to Church, Hozier rocked the world of music once again with an EP and a full-length self-titled debut album. The album and the single earned him nine high-caliber nominations across the international award scene, and made him one of the most recognizable artists in all of rock and a household name worldwide almost overnight. Three years after such a massive output, Hozier’s fan base continues to grow and anxiously await the release of his next project. His ability to explode onto the scene and reach such a wide audience is the kind of accomplishment necessary to be considered an artist the most successful during an entire year.
Year to year, the artists that prove themselves the most influential, relevant, and accomplished do so by taking risks and swaying the direction of music with their particular talents and sound. And yearly, as the currents of music shift and adjust, these artists vary greatly in genre, style, and audience.
In 2017, the currents of music have seemed to pull a particular amount of attention towards to the hip-hop, electronic, and R&B genres. With libraries of output produced by an innumerable amount of artists across all three genres and the vast grey areas between them, it seems only fitting that one of the artists who employs techniques and styling from all of these spectrums proved themself of a particular quality and influence superior to all others in 2017.
If I told you that one artist in particular kicked off the year by releasing a project as the lead vocalist of an experimental electronic fusion trio, followed it up with the release of a critically acclaimed debut R&B album, and stamped the exclamation point upon 2017 by earning a Grammy nomination for best rap/sung performance, how could you blame me for bestowing upon him the honor of artist of the year? Well, the artist in question is Brent Faiyaz and to be frank, no one did more to deserve the title. As surprising as it may be for an artist with such an impressive résumé to be in only their third year of active work on the music scene, the picture becomes a little clearer but also a touch more bizarre when you find out that Brent Faiyaz is only 22 years old. He has the vocal prowess of a 90’s R&B legend, an honest and humble lyricism increasingly rare across the three genres that he effortlessly transcends, a particular knack for evoking emotion through his music which itself is boiling over with it, and the calm, quiet demeanor of a master of meditation.
Though Faiyaz released his debut single in January 2015, he didn’t follow it up with a proper project until his debut EP more than a year and a half later. Since that September 2016 release, titled A.M. Paradox, he has been working as hard as any other artist in music. By the following month, he had formed an experimental group under the name Sonder with respected producers, friends, and collaborators Dpat and Atu. Like many artists of the mid 2010’s electronic music bubble, both artists have been searching for a new way to salvage their relevancy and separate themselves from the saturated market of creative producers in an ever-changing, forgetful, and unforgiving electronic scene. Dpat had not released an album since the acclaimed 2013 In Bloom and Atu’s beautiful sole project, Pictures on Silence, was released the same year. Though both projects are phenomenal works of electronic genius and remain highly influential staples to the dreamwave era, four years is a long time to keep any audience in waiting. Thankfully, but not surprisingly, the talent and collaborative efforts of both producers in combination with the budding stardom and dreamy vocals of Brent Faiyaz was enough to (re)launch the careers of all three as a trio. As 2016 turned to winter, Sonder released a series of extended-length, dreamy compositions that caught large-scale attention among electronic and R&B circles. And in January 2017, Sonder, with Dpat and Atu on production, and Brent Faiyaz at microphone’s helm, released their debut album, Into. Dialing back the length of the tracks and finding a more favorable sound in the process, Into is one of the most relatable projects – equal parts electronic and R&B – to ever be released, and stands as a blueprint for future works not just by Sonder, but by all artists across both genres.
By the time Into was gaining momentum and receiving wide-spread recognition as one of the best projects of early 2017, Brent Faiyaz was probably too busy to even notice. He released his debut solo album, Sonder Son, on October 13. In a year marked and defined by a plethora of albums from R&B’s new class – SiR with the unmistakably West Coast and star studded Her Too, DVSN with the sultry, sexy, and smooth Morning After, and Daniel Caesar with the perfection that was Freudian – Brent Faiyaz and Sonder Son in many ways were overlooked. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine that an artist could ever stand out against such impressive company, but one listen is all it takes to understand that Brent Faiyaz is every bit as integral to the future of R&B, and Sonder Son is every bit as impressive a project as Her Too, Morning After, and Freudian. Faiyaz stands on a pedestal with the others but separates himself with uniquely imperfect vocals that provide an effervescence of relatable struggle, lyrics that bleed honesty and truth, and a bold, more acoustic and homegrown approach to R&B in general. Sonder Son gives its listener exactly what the R&B audience begs for: an album versatile enough to provide the soundtrack for a good cry, a good fuck, and everything in between.
But if the soundtrack for a good party happens to be what you’re looking for, you’ve probably already included one of Brent Faiyez’s other contributions to the playlist. Though technically released in December of 2016, Crew was one of the biggest songs of 2017. Included as he masthead banger to GoldLink’s March 24 album, At What Cost, Crew’s notoriety earned a Grammy nod. Many thanks go to Brent Faiyaz and his contribution to the song’s catchy-as-hell hook and his equally unforgettable role in the music video. If nothing else, Faiyaz displayed his ability to seamlessly collaborate into a hip-hop track – a necessary attribute for a true R&B artist.
2017 was a year particularly impressive in the electronic, R&B, and hip-hop spectrums, and Brent Faiyaz – a young, new, and largely unheard of artist – left his successful mark on all three. Releasing two full-length, critically acclaimed albums in two different genres, and providing the vocals to one of the most popular releases in a third, Brent Faiyaz not only proved himself unequivocally versatile, explicitly influential, and the very definition of relevant, but most importantly proved himself as the artist of the year.