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So far 2022 has been off to a hot start with some great Hip Hop Albums. More than halfway through the year, we’ve seen the return of King Kendrick Lamar, received a long-awaited Future album and got Pusha T’s self-proclaimed “rap album of the year.” In July, fans were treated to more returns to form with Joey Bada$$ bringing real rap back on his new album 2000 and Lloyd Banks coming through with the grizzled concrete jungle soundtrack The Course Of The Inevitable 2. The young guns showed out as well with DX Rising Star Flo Milli laying down a surprise debut album that lived up to expectations. HipHopDX will continue narrowing down the endless amount of music released during the course of this year to the essentials, providing readers with a list of the must-listen projects.

Struggling to find a list of the Hip Hop Albums that have been shifting the culture? Take a look at our lists for Rap and R&B to get a complete survey of the projects that are dictating the conversation around Hip Hop culture.

Need some new songs to throw in the rotation but Spotify and user-created playlists are way too long? We kept it simple and added only the best of the best songs from each month to make sure you get the songs you need without a hassle. Peep the lists below.

Looking for some up and coming rappers and underground gems? We’ve done the work for you and highlighted the short EPs, mixtapes and projects to check out if you’re tired of the mainstream album cycle.

Editor’s note: Albums from this list were released between December 2, 2021 – August 31, 2022.

$$$ – Freddie Gibbs

While Freddie Gibbs’ Alchemist-produced Alfredo earned him his first Grammy nomination in 2020, it became clear he isn’t willing to sacrifice his gritty lyrical integrity in the hopes of adding coveted hardware to his trophy cabinet. Two years later, $oul $old $eperately ($$$) — Gangsta Gibbs’ fifth solo album — has real-world implications while also reaching new heights worthy of his own Hip Hop ‘hood Grammy.

Opening with the hard-nosed bars of the Kelly Price-assisted intro “Couldn’t Be Done,” $$$ maneuvers in and out of countless rhythmic rabbit holes with ease. The Indiana native also elevates the caliber of his collaborations by commissioning verses from Pusha T, Rick Ross, Offset and Moneybagg Yo, as well as producers like Boi-1da, DJ Paul and DJ Dahi.

In the same way the cover art for the project personifies his “Big Rabbit” persona, $$$ affirms Freddie Gibbs’ ascent from underground mainstay to mainstream contender.

The Elephant Man’s Bones – Alchemist & Roc Marciano

New York rapper Roc Marciano has been a mythic figure in Hip Hop since his 2010 debut Marcberg and has continued to release grimy, dusty projects such as Marci Beaucoup, Reloaded and now his latest, The Elephant Man’s Bones. Working with longtime collaborator and legend in his own right, superproducer The Alchemist, Marciano’s most recent effort is a testament to consistency, a rap project which finds him spitting at his highest level more than 10 years since he broke onto the scene. Spanning 14-tracks split between two sides, The Elephant Man’s Bones also includes verses and appearances from artists ranging from Action Bronson and Boldy James to Ice-T and Knowledge The Pirate.

2000 – Joey Badass

On 2000, Joey Bada$$’ first album in five years, he seems less concerned with attaining superlatives or teaching lessons. He’s built a loyal fanbase, pivoted to a successful acting career and doesn’t have much left to prove. In his mind, he’s already one of the greats. He says as much within the first minutes of the album, declaring himself one of the “holy trinity” alongside Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. The record that follows is an undeniably fun, engaging and ultimately low-stakes rap album.

The Course Of The Inevitable 2 – Lloyd Banks

To Banks, The Course of the Inevitable means “to go backwards and remember what you’re doing it for.” So, The Course of the Inevitable 2 comes a year later and arrives at a time when the former G-Unit member’s sword is the sharpest. He’s dropped plenty of sequels for his album and mixtape franchises before, but COTI 2 proves that time has only made Banks more productive and consistent. COTI 2 is tighter than the initial installment and made for the same ‘real rap’ heads who listen to Griselda, Roc Marciano, Stone God Cooks, Boldy James, and the like, resulting in an album that leans heavy into documenting street lessons learned and shows that Banks’ main concern is making the music he desires, trends be damned.

You Still Here, Ho? – Flo Milli

Flo Milli does what she wants. Upending all marketing plans and conventional rollout energy, the Alabama rapper dropped her debut studio album, You Still Here, Ho?, two days before its release date, maintaining her persona as a disrupter who does as she pleases. Featuring guest appearances from Rico Nasty, BabyFace Ray, and Tiffany “New York” Pollard, You Still Here, Ho? is a self-aware manifesto from the “princess of this rap shit.” Flaunting cockiness and flexing staccato flows the Alabama rapper grows her presence on tracks such as “Conceited” and “Hottie,” remaining true to her mastery of self-empowering mantras. You Still Here, Ho? isn’t shy about only being interested in the hedonism of the early 2000’s. Obsessed with money, sex and having a good time, “Big Steppa” and “PBC” sport an impressive exploration of electronic dance music for Flo Milli; while the punk-esque “Pretty Girls” boasts a lyrical riff of Cyndi Lauper’s, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Despite being creatively based on nostalgia, the pop rap album doesn’t get bogged down by reflection – with deliberate one-liners and experimental instrumentals, Flo Milli always finds a way to talk her shit and keep it moving.

DRILL MUSIC IN ZION – Lupe Fiasco

Four years removed from his previous release Drogas Wave — aside from some loosies and two EPs — Lupe is back with a project he dubbed his Illmatic. While it remains to be seen whether he can match that classic’s cultural influence and inspire a new generation, DRILL MUSIC IN ZION is arguably his most accessible album in years, with Lupe showing himself to be in impeccable lyrical shape. Produced entirely by Soundtrakk — the beatmaker behind highly acclaimed singles such as “Kick, Push” and “Superstar” and his recent Tape Tape EP— and recorded in mere days late last summer, the album has an incredibly cohesive and, at times, jazzy feel, with Lupe staying in his pocket throughout. While unabashed in its sometimes subtle, sometimes heavy-handed criticism of the culture, there’s something so alluring and easy-going about DRILL MUSIC IN ZION. With no filler or fluff, this album is bound to satisfy those who like their bars bountiful and Lupe Fiasco in peak form.

YOU CAN’T KILL ME – 070 Shake

The 24-year-old vocalist has been incrementally impressing the masses since her spotlight-stealing cameo on Kanye West’s “Ghost Town.” It was an earth-shattering coming-out party, one that introduced precision and life into a bloated Kanye vanity project. Then, her critically acclaimed debut Modus Vivendi isolated her talent, fusing her soul-tearing vocals with brash trap production to create a mutant form of R&B that was refreshingly raw. On 070 Shake’s second studio album, You Can’t Kill Me, the budding New Jersey star embarks upon an exercise in restraint. For nearly 49 minutes, her voice oscillates between the foreground and background like she’s constantly trying to decide whether she wants to unleash the full capabilities of her warbling croons. This inconsistency is distracting at times but is often masked by an eclectic mix of production styles that feel invigorating at every turn. Where her voice trails off, a lush array of synth-pop and soul elements mesh to fill the void, creating enough moments of beauty to placate the listener’s interests. You Can’t Kill Me witnesses Shake avoid any accusations of a sophomore slump, illustrating her radio silence for the past couple of years meant she was toiling away in a creative heat. Instead of retracing the keys that made her last project successful, she meticulously stitches together new and old elements, resulting in an invigorating experiment.

CRUNKSTAR – Duke Deuce

Duke Deuce — whose Memphis-centered emergence since 2019 folded in Southern rap tropes like thumping hi-hats and the pitter-patter flow of his 901 predecessors — embodies the second coming of crunk. He’s been carrying the weight of the lost art, utilizing the spirit of Lord Infamous, Project Pat and Gangsta Boo to stand out in a crowded, trap-focused city scene. His latest project, Crunkstar, is an effort to prove he’s not a one-trick pony. The title is the only clue of what’s to come: a verbal conglomeration of the two musical stylings he’s homed in on. Merging the tenets of his upbringing with the core elements of rock music, Deuce expands his sound to incorporate crunk’s affinity for genre-bending chaos. Fusing the pounding percussion with a bevy of electric guitars that harkens back to the days of the Shop Boyz, he succeeds in finding new realms to twist his raps, all while still displaying the boisterous and hilarious personality rap fans find endearing.

MONTEGA – French Montana & Harry Fraud

French Montana’s last album, They Must Have Amnesia was a hit-chasing, guest-star-packed slog that was ultimately forgettable. But Montega in many ways is the opposite album, and a worthy testament to the long-sizzling chemistry between Montana and his New York brethren Harry Fraud. Their new-school NY classicism still sounds fresh 10 years later on this focused collection of album cuts, which revisits and updates their sample-based wave music. Montega feels like a calculated loss-leader, like how fashion brands lose money on their runway shows, which they use to showcase their most uncompromising ideas — the ones they want to be known for. Montega is not about the moment, it’s about the movement, the legacy of a sound and a state of mind that Fraud and Montana can create when they want, where openness to emotions and clearing some space out for what really matters takes precedence. A noncommercial soundtrack for navigating life — the greatest wave of all.

REFLEXIONS – Tony Shhnow

Reflexions is a reminder that over the past two years very few rappers, if any, have been as consistently excellent as Shhnow — plugg music’s Curren$y. He was already established as an underground prodigy, but his new output suggests his ceiling is far higher. In an industry ravaged by the desire to make a quick buck at any and all costs, Tony Shhnow is a black sheep, an artist who raps for himself first and everyone else second. There’s nothing cheap about Reflexions: no flashy trends, hit-hungry A&Rs or marketing gimmicks in sight. It’s a project which can be looped and repeated without ever sounding stale. But Shhnow doesn’t care about any of that: he’s already focused on the next one.

MR. MORALE & THE BIG STEPPERS – Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar opens Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers with a brutal confession. “I’ve been going through somethin’,” he mutters on “United in Grief,” the staccato piano chords soundtracking a descent into madness. It’s a simple phrase, curt and concise, that begins to cut through all the intrigue surrounding his artistic disappearance. On Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, Kendrick explains what that “somethin’” was. For 75 minutes on this double-sided album, he parses through every issue that’s plagued his mind during his break from the spotlight. He’s placed under the microscope, using enthralling funk, jazz and soul compositions to fuel the uncomfortable, introspective ramblings that have been churning for half a decade. In doing so, he combines grand moments of musical execution with intense vulnerability, pulling off one of the greatest feats in his career yet.

DEATHFAME – Quelle Chris

Quelle Chris’ latest release DEATHFAME sees the Detroit MC parse out the concept of fame and its effect on a “king of the underground” like himself. For Chris, fame isn’t a monolithic experience: it’s rife with failures and insecurities that are shielded from the public eye. It’s not going to be rousing and celebratory at every turn. Crawling through a mountain of piano jazz production that leans toward melancholy, he raps with an introspective clarity that most artists take their entire career to achieve. Where Chris’s previous release with Keys was a breezy, easygoing meander through life and death, DEATHFAME is devoid of the same airiness. There are long stretches of production marked by murkiness and instrumental cacophony, over which Chris contorts his voice and tempo when needed.

NO FEAR OF TIME – Black Star

Released exclusively on the podcasting platform Luminary, the LP is a different sonic experience than its predecessor. Throughout the nine-song affair, they don’t quite match the energy and earworm appeal of their legendary hit “Definition” or the soul caressing warmth of the Hi-Tek-produced “Respiration.” But for artists as dedicated as Black Star, simply trying to recreate the same feeling would be more than a little corny, especially given their career trajectories. Instead, they’ve enlisted Madlib’s trademark brand of curated chaos, displaying who they are now instead of who they once were. The patchwork of soundscapes fits like a glove as they bend themselves through a variety of themes, from self-worth to white supremacy (with a few sidesteps along the way) that highlight their differing perspectives. The results are strong and delightful, with both MCs sounding weathered but focused.

I NEVER LIKED YOU – Future

I Never Liked You continues Future’s stagnation from High Off Life, settling for comfort rather than experimentation. Despite tired features, Future sounds as crisp as he did when he first sipped dirty Sprite like it was a daily meal supplement. The songs are rehashes he’s done more effectively in the past. His signature consistency is still there; Future doesn’t release downright horrendous projects, making his latest album worth a spin to grab a few tracks for the playlist.

MR. CRAWFORD – NoCap

Alabama-bred artist NoCap has already started off the year with a bang. Having already been stamped by the likes of DaBaby and NBA YoungBoy off the strength of hits such as 2021’s “Vaccine,” the 23-year-old rapper exploded into 2022 with his popular “Fortune Teller” single in January. Now, NoCap continues his ascent into the rafters of the rap game with his 21-track Mr. Crawford album, which serves as the follow-up to 2020’s Steel Human. His detailed song writing about the struggles of mental health and recovering from trauma serves as compelling pain rap, but NoCap’s vocal range and knack for painting pictures sets him apart. His modern day blues tales show off the ugly side of being on the come up, complete with the skeletons of the past that linger long after the first check hits the bank.

IT’S ALMOST DRY – Pusha T

It’s Almost Dry is the result of a paranoid new dad and quarantining from COVID-19. “I wasn’t going anywhere,” Pusha T told Charlamagne Tha God in a recent interview with a twinge of anxiety in his voice. He went on to explain he tapped into his creativity to elevate his pen game. Push’s writing has only sharpened after 20 years. The storytelling has become more meticulous and wit behind the bars heightened. The way Push flips different terms and definitions surrounding cocaine is almost mastery of the English language. Even though it lacks the bite of past releases, It’s Almost Dry is a good rap record that delivers a few hard hitting tracks, some great production and bar-for-bar excellence by one of the best rappers in the game.

LEARN 2 SWIM – redveil

PG County, Maryland rapper redveil isn’t yet old enough to legally drink, but he has collaborated with the likes of Fly Anakin, KA$HDAMI, AG Club, Wakai and more. His latest offering, learn 2 swim, was birthed from the sounds of Boom Bap, jazz and big band music, reimagined by a young mind with an eclectic taste. Despite the wide range of sounds, veil stands front and center throughout the tracklist. There’s a few features from the likes of Anakin and Sam Truth, but most of the songs are handled solo, giving veil plenty of space to explore themes of maturity, resilience and independence through music and life. What’s most impressive, though, is veil’s confidence in himself. Whether he’s baring his vulnerabilities for all to see, or celebrating his hard-earned successes, redveil raps with conviction. Learn 2 swim is a definitive statement from redveil, positioning him to become a key leader of rap’s next generation. It’s unequivocally one of the best Hip Hop albums of the year so far.

RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART – Vince Staples

On Ramona Park Broke My Heart, Vince Staples transports the listener to the sunny and colorful locales of California to understand the realities of hearing bullets fly in the air around you. This album’s predecessor, his self-titled 2021 release, was just as introspective but with a much darker production tone from Kenny Beats, enveloping the listener in a wave of melancholy. Here, Staples creates a foil, musing with exhaustion about becoming disillusioned with his hometown over G-Funk-era production and DJ Mustard beats. Staples delivers each bar with clarity and weathered experience, resulting in his most salient showing of introspection yet.

LAST ONES LEFT – EST Gee & 42 Dugg

CMG stars 42 Dugg and EST Gee make the most of their proximity-based partnership, producing natural chemistry and avoiding the pitfalls of cheap collaborative albums on their team-up project Last Ones Left. It’s clear Dugg and EST Gee didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel. Their respective strengths, which hinge on Dugg’s high-pitched quips and EST Gee’s snarling threats, creates enough moments that bring satisfaction, setting the standard for what one-off duos should aim for in the future.

FOREVER – Phife Dawg

Phife Dawg was only 45 when he transitioned on March 22, 2016 from diabetes complications. But despite his premature passing, the Tribe Called Quest MC left behind an indelible legacy thanks to classic Hip Hop albums such as Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. On the sixth anniversary of the Five-Foot Assassin’s death, the Phife Dawg Estate released his first posthumous solo album, Forever, a 13-track celebration of Phife’s innate lyrical talent. From the New York boom bap of “Nutshell 2” featuring Busta Rhymes and Redman to “Dear Dilla (Reprise)” with his fellow Tribe luminary Q-Tip, the project swells with an undeniable ‘90s nostalgia, harkening back to an era where rhymes were dense and the beats were refreshingly simple. Although it’s an emotional listen, Forever cements Phife Dawg’s invaluable contributions to Hip Hop… forever.

MELT MY EYEZ SEE YOUR FUTURE – Denzel Curry

Denzel Curry is the brilliant, brooding anti hero that rap deserves. The 27 year old South Florida native’s fifth studio album Melt My Eyez See Your Future finds him shirking the characters and disguises from his past LPs and stepping into the limelight as a fully formed artist. Although its his most introspective and vulnerable project, it’s not a 45 minute therapy session, but it is the quietest Curry album we have, and the most inward facing. He’s still effortlessly clever, and occasionally furious, but the somber moments here are competitive with his trademark machine gun delivery at its best. Apart from the commanding lead, the beats are diverse and excellent throughout, and the few features he allows are universally well picked and well delivered. Melt My Eyez See Your Future is a landmark in an already spectacular career.

TANA TALK 4 – Benny The Butcher

In the three years since, Benny — and Griselda as a whole — have more than come into their own, gaining widespread recognition. There’ve been a lot of projects in between, but there’s something special about Tana Talk, the 2004 series that started it all (although the original installment remains lost to collectors). This is a more than worthy follow-up to its predecessor — further solidifying his status as pound for pound, one of the better MCs breathing. The album fits snugly into the Griselda Music Universe and makes it more challenging than ever to deny Benny The Butcher of his roses.

FRANK – Fly Anakin

Mutant Academy mainstay Fly Anakin’s price went up last year with the Pink Siifu-assisted $mokebreak, but it’s on his debut solo album Frank where he fully realized his vision for sample-heavy Neo-Boom Bap. A young rapper with a deep reverence for the genre’s classics, Fly Anakin is an old soul at heart. He approaches Hip Hop with the mindset of a purist but without the fear of progress. The tone of his voice is rich and textured with a record-popping quality, and the beats he raps on feature samples chopped in a ’90s fashion. But he’s not about sentimentality for a golden age; he’s about looking at rap’s legends for inspiration on pushing the sound into untethered territory. Frank is near bulletproof with something for the rap purists, underground aficionados and casual listeners alike, making for Anakin’s most compelling work to date.

BACK ON DEATH ROW – Snoop Dogg

It was a full-circle moment when news broke that legendary West Coast rapper purchased the equally legendary Death Row Records. To celebrate the achievement, Snoop dropped BODR (Back On Death Row) which bolsters his already lengthy discography. Though the album will also be released as an exclusive NFT, fans will be happy to hear it’s available on major DSPs.

GOD DON’T MAKE MISTAKES – Conway The Machine

After many false promises and projects in the meantime, we’re finally getting what best be described as an opus. 12-songs in length, the LP features a lot of what fans expect: a family collaboration with Westside and Benny (“John Woo Flick”) Daringer beats and one or two outstanding features from legends. With his Detox finally in the world, and his contractual obligations to both Shady and (more surprisingly) Griselda met, it feels like a new beginning. God Don’t Make Mistakes makes it harder to argue that Conway isn’t one of the best lyricists in hip-hop today.

2 ALIVE – Yeat

2 Alivë, the follow-up to Yeat’s breakout project, arrived to a sea of hype and high expectations. Though he didn’t expand beyond the sounds of his previous work, Yeat’s latest is a master class in precision and knowing what the audience craves. Excellent rap need not always be grand in scope: 2 Alivë proves success can come just as easily through zooming in. Good artists make hits. Great artists make moments. Although 2 Alivë doesn’t feel like a game-changing album, it will have a large impact on bringing rage music to the mainstream, already tracking to takeover the Billboard charts. Yeat may take inspiration from the Trap and SoundCloud icons who came before him, but his irreverent anthems have placed him in a particularly unique space, not just a part of the movement forward, but helming the charge.

FEW GOOD THINGS – Saba

Few Good Things shatters the thematic and sonic expectations set by its predecessor. It incorporates a dizzying mix of production styles including neo-soul, funk, and various Hip Hop subgenres with production responsibilities from daedaePIVOT and Daoud. Saba provides a transparent and comprehensive look at his life experiences. He allows room for both vaunted celebration and rueful mourning, exemplifying the duality of the human condition with measured balance. Both captivating and endearing, his reflective raps register as powerful and poignant at every turn, showcasing a storyteller at the peak of his abilities.

CONTINUANCE – Curren$y/Alchemist

Curren$y and The Alchemist haven’t linked up for a full-length tape together since The Carrollton Heist in 2016, but on their new offering Continuance, the pair reunite with such natural ease it feels like no time has passed at all. Aided by ALC’s smokey and dizzying textures, Spitta Andretti continues to exemplify an uncanny proficiency in woozy, nonchalant narratives as he melds to the producer’s hypnotic loopings. The New Orleans MC rarely deviates from the subjects he knows best, (Cars, weed, fame and more cars), but it doesn’t matter much when he still raps with such unshakable authenticity after nearly two decades in the game. A few noteworthy friends, such as Babyface Ray and Boldy James, join along for the ride, but their presence rarely shakes up the undulating energy of the tape, which meanders along so breezily it’s impossible not to get lost in.

DS4EVER – Gunna

DS4EVER is new territory for Gunna. The album features key moments of vulnerability paired with the usual bravado that hint at Gunna’s evolution as a person and artist. The drip is highlighted, but he doesn’t shy away from lamenting over the times when life’s tidal waves nearly drowned him. Gunna has expanded his repertoire in six years to include in-depth storytelling and grown comfortable in acknowledging his humanity. It seems he won’t allow stardom to make him complacent, balancing improvements in song topics and technical skill.

SICK! – Earl Sweatshirt

On Earl Sweatshirt’s latest album SICK!, he’s clairvoyant; aware of himself and his surroundings. Now a father, he’s responsible for a life other than his own. Aside from newfound fatherhood, Thebe Kgositsile is watching a world burn from the ground up due to police killing Black people, riots and COVID-19 placing society under quarantine for the last two years. The world has changed and he’s changed along with it, but neither will ever be the same. For the first time, he’s stepping out of the darkness that’s kept him hidden throughout his career. The Odd Future alum closes the door on nearly a decade’s worth of guilt, using his new album as a vessel for acceptance.

COLORS – NBA YoungBoy

One of the most divisive and fascinating characters in all of Hip Hop, YoungBoy Never Broke Again kicked off 2022 with the sprawling and menacing Colors. In many ways Colors is a typical offering from the YoungBoy oeuvre: it contains ballistic raps, bluesy crooning and plenty of threats. But Colors also hints at a less-explored, vulnerable side of the Baton Rouge MC. Songs such as “Emo Love,” “How You Been” and “I Got This,” YB is stripped of the bravado he usually boasts and lets the listener into the depths of his mind. But don’t get it twisted: Colors is still loaded with aggressive anthems ranging from the explosive “Fish Scale” to the emphatic “Bring It On.”

FACE – Babyface Ray

Detroit owes a lot to Babyface Ray. The state of Michigan had been teeming with talent for decades, but alongside the likes of Rio Da Yung Og, Sada Baby and many others, Babyface Ray helped lead the scene into the mainstream. FACE, the latest album from the ice-cold rapper showcases Ray’s love for wordplay and his lilting flow. Across songs such as the Icewear Vezzo-assisted “6 Mile Show” to the smooth tones of “Sincerely Face,” Ray raps masterfully about street escapades and the spoils his success has brought him. Catching off-kilter flows while gliding across production which ranges from Plugg to muted Drill, Ray proves he’s one of the Midwest’s best.

WITH OR WITHOUT YOU – Dro Kenji

Internet Money’s Dro Kenji follows the lineage of the SoundCloud rappers who came before him such as Juice WRLD and Trippie Redd, but the 20-year-old rapper continues to blaze his own path on his latest album WITH OR WITHOUT YOU. Led by singles such as “FINDERS KEEPERS” featuring Scorey, Kenji’s quickly making a name for himself as one of the scene’s most exciting artists. With grand melodies and playful production, WITH OR WITHOUT YOU is worth a listen.

It can be really tough to keep track of all the great music from 2021. Luckily we’ve narrowed down the list to only the essentials!

Editor’s Note: Songs from this list were released between July 1, 2021 – December 31, 2021.

MAGIC – Nas & Hit-Boy

Most people have Nas in their top 10 all time list, but the NY legend continues to rap like he has something to prove. It’s rare in any field that someone 30 years into their career is competing at the highest level, but in 2021 Nas seems hungrier than ever. Hit-Boy and Nas have become one of Hip Hop’s most prolific duos, dropping three projects since 2020 and still have one on the way! MAGIC is 9-tracks of non stop bars over beats that seem to fit each flow perfectly. Nas’ perspective on the current state of the game is always interesting as he shouts out the New York drill movement and co-signs K. Dot, Cole and Drizzy as the next generation’s goats.

Fighting Demons – Juice WRLD

It’s difficult to talk about a new Juice WRLD album without discussing the perils of posthumous releases. In an interview with Complex, Juice WRLD’s manager Lil Bibby said he and Juice’s team sifted through over 2,000 songs to compile the final 18 tracks for his second posthumous release, Fighting Demons, all while fans trolled him with opinions about what Juice would’ve wanted. Admittedly, Fighting Demons sounds like it was handled with care, but the album itself is an emotionally taxing affair. While Goodbye & Good Riddance (“All Girls Are The Same”) and Death Race For Love (“Empty”) playfully toyed with Juice WRLD’s angst and heartache, Fighting Demons is consumed by it and, in turn, contains some of the rapper’s most vulnerable songwriting.

Who Is Nardo Wick? – Nardo Wick

Brutal, unyielding and somehow shockingly nonchalant, Wick’s first full-length project is a proper introduction to one of the most promising voices in Florida Hip Hop, a genre ripe with potential and set to explode in the coming year. Like many of his Jacksonville peers, Wick’s bars are hazy and off-kilter, running just ahead of the beat on the ballistic intro “Wickman,” sparring with Donnie Katana’s swirling strings. But while so many Florida MCs will sway towards Hip Hop’s more melodic side, Wick’s voice rarely strays from a cool, menacing whisper. That’s not to suggest he falls into repetitive sounds on Who Is Nardo Wick?. Despite sticking to the formula, Wick builds on his sound, taking advantage of the success of “Who Wants Smoke??” without letting it dictate his entire brand.

Balens Cho – Mach-Hommy

Mach-Hommy’s new album, Balens Cho (Hot Candles) works as a spiritual successor to Pray for Haiti but he trades venom for enlightenment. It’s clear that Mach has seen enough to live over several lifetimes. His stories are exuberant, vibrant, and his words materialize characters, plot and effortlessly. He’s a master storyteller that only improves with age. Balens Cho sees Mach-Hommy reflecting cause and effect; lessons from his youth that have become pillars for adulthood.

The Yellow Tape 2 – Key Glock

Last year’s Yellow Tape was a harsh trap record with little reprieve. It was devoid of any potential radio hits, and completely entrenched listeners in the stifling world Key Glock grew up in. But Glock possessed a talent for writing lyrics sprinkled with earnest brevity, and in turn, Yellow Tape was a surprise hit that peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard 200. On the sequel, Yellow Tape 2, Glock flexes his success and financial independence with exuberance. The tape embodies southern rap of the past and present.

Hypernova – KA$HDAMI

If he isn’t already, 16-year-old Las Vegas-born rapper KA$HDAMI should be on your radar. The “Reparations!” rapper has been stacking up wins all 2021 and released several notable collaborations in the process, including his fan-favorite “Cabo” single featuring DX 2021 Rising Star DDG and Bankroll Hayden. Having made Republic Records his home, KA$HDAMI gets comfortable in his new deal with the release of his 11-track Hypernova album, home to his “Head$hot!” collaboration with Trippie Redd.

Punk – Young Thug

Young Thug has gone through many eras in his decade-long rap career. He’s passed through the trap phases of projects such as I Came From Nothing 2 and Barter 6. He cruised through the abstract masterpiece of JEFFERY, the rambunctious summer sounds of So Much Fun and now, he’s arrived with Punk, a pop-laden album that rivals some of Thugger’s strongest offerings of all time. From the Juice WRLD-assisted, Pi’erre Bourne-produced “Rich N-gga Shit” to the soft groove of “Faces,” Punk is an elite project from one of rap’s best.

Weight Of The World – Maxo Kream

It seems ridiculous now, but there was a time where Maxo Kream was considered a SoundCloud rapper. Yet, like many of those artists, he was overlooked by the media and not given his proper due, despite writing classic songs such as “Grannies.” But in 2019, after signing to Roc Nation and releasing Brandon Banks, an album that delves deeply into his complicated relationship with his father, the discussion around Maxo flipped.

Folarin II – Wale

Wale’s legacy is secure. The DC rapper helped bring light to an entire region, becoming a leading force, along with Shy Glizzy and Fat Trel, in spearheading DC Hip Hop, which served as the blueprint for DMV’s current lively music scene. His latest album, Folarin II, a sequel to his popular 2012 mixtape, has DC’s finest reminding people about his impact on the game. Mixing a blend of trunk-rattling bangers, smooth R&B joints and hosting a cast of some of the best rappers of the past and present, Folarin II is a project that reminds listeners to give flowers when they’re deserved, and in Wale’s case: it’s overdue.

WORD? – Atmosphere

Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Side B – Westside Gunn

When the dust settles and the smoke clears, Westside Gunn’s Hitler Wears Hermes 8 is the end of an era. The Griselda Kingpin has spent the last decade bringing high art and fashion to the streets of Buffalo. On the artwork for Side B, he dons a ski mask designed by Celine, making the statement that Hitler Wears Hermes is more than a mixtape series, it’s the elevation of Hip Hop culture. Griselda mates Benny The Butcher, Armani Cesar, Conway The Machine and Mach Hommy all make appearances. Like Lil Wayne on Side A, Tyler, The Creator spits a verse on, “The Fly Who Couldn’t Fly Straight” that’s cold enough to freeze time. If there’s one takeaway from Hitler Wears Hermes 8, it’s that Westside Gunn and his friends can curate one hell of a project. 

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert – Little Simz

Little Simz’s introspective opus spans just over an hour and grants access to her constant battle between achieving stardom and retaining aspects of the self that remain private. She embarks upon piercing soliloquies over rousing orchestral arrangements, elevating the importance of every single measure of every track. Simz is adept at immersing the listener in the mental war that rages within her, with each lyric resonating at a spiritual and emotional level. 

Bo Jackson – Boldy James & Alchemist

Boldy James and The Alchemist have ascended up the ranks of best rapper-producer combination in rap history with their second full-length collaboration. If their previous album, The Price Of Tea In China, was an announcement of Boldy’s prowess and the duo’s untapped potential for greatness, Bo Jackson is their coronation. It’s an entrenchment of the very formula that endeared them to rap fans on the first installment. The Alchemist’s soul-stirring, nostalgia-fueled sample loops exist as a perfect background for Boldy’s deadpan delivery, one that forces the lyrics to become the star of each song, avoiding gimmicky inflections and ad-libs completely. Boldy is a rapper’s rapper, bouncing in and out of tightly woven pockets in Alchemist’s production with expert precision. Each word is enunciated fully, where his stories of street life and redemption refuse to get lost in the flow of the album. 

Contributing writers: Trent Clark, David Brake, Ben Brutocao, Kyle Eustice, Jeremy Hecht, Devon Jefferson, Dana Scott, Anthony Malone, Mackenzie Cummings-Grady, Ben Brutocao, Matthew Ritchie & Josh Svetz.

OTHER FAVORITE HIP HOP ALBUMS FROM DECEMBER 2021

  • Untamed – Dusty Locane
  • YO!88 – Pi’erre Bourne & TM88
  • 4NEM – Chief Keef

OTHER FAVORITE HIP HOP ALBUMS FROM NOVEMBER 2021

  • Make Drunk Driving Cool Again – RXK Nephew
  • No Sample Snitching – Chris Crack

OTHER FAVORITE HIP HOP ALBUMS FROM OCTOBER 2021

  • Half God – Wiki
  • Do It For Demon – Sahbabii

OTHER FAVORITE HIP HOP ALBUMS FROM SEPTEMBER 2021

  • The Melodic Blue – Baby Keem
  • DONDA – Kanye West

OTHER FAVORITE ALBUMS FROM AUGUST 2021

  • America’s Sweetheart 2 – Bear1Boss
  • DONDA – Kanye West

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