What a year for hip-hop it has already been. After four years of radio silence from Kendrick Lamar, the Compton poet returned with one of the most vulnerable projects of his career. Another returning veteran was Pusha T, who followed up his fan-favorite 2018 album Daytona with another near-immaculate collection of stripped-down straightforward rap songs about his favorite subject. Plenty of newcomers made their marks while underground favorites took big steps out of their respective boxes. Hip-hop continues to grow in exciting new directions, and if this is what the year has to offer, there could be even greater heights ahead.
42 Dugg x Est Gee — Last Ones Left
42 Dugg and EST Gee are two fast-rising sensations with an impressive slate of collaborations already. They joined forces on the joint project Last Ones Left to fuse Dugg’s signature euphonious vocal tone and Gee’s hardened snarl over 17 tracks. “Ice Talk” is a captivating opener, with the two rapping in syncopation over the thumping Helluva production. Their peers 42 Cheez, Reaper, and Tae Money join one of the long 42 Dugg records for the midtempo posse cut “Whole Gang Buss,” another standout that functions almost like a 4×100 relay race the way each rapper quickly gets in and gets out. EST Gee gets his time to shine alone as well on “Who Hotter Than Gee,” putting a bow on what has been a great last few years for the Louisville lyricist. – Armon Sadler
Babyface Ray — Face
From the moment Face opens with a Timbaland and OneRepublic “Apologize” sample on “My Thoughts 3 / Pop’s Prayer,” it’s clear Babyface Ray had something special in-store. The 20-song project features newer faces in 42 Dugg and Icewear Vezzo, a veteran in G Herbo, and even legacy act appearances from Wiz Khalifa and Pusha T. Vezzo and Ray trade bars effortlessly on “6 Mile Show,” with a notable downtempo beat switch that doesn’t come at the expense of the ferocious rapping. ”Me, Wife & Kids” is the highlight solo outing for Babyface Ray on an overall strong 2022 offering. – Ar.S.
Big KRIT — Digital Roses Don’t Die
One of hip-hop’s most consistent characters, Big KRIT is now on his third independently released album and has yet to show signs that he’s hit a rut, grown bored, or run out of room to grow. That he pulled this feat off while also contributing heavily to the Girl Talk-produced Full Court Press should be all the evidence you need that KRIT deserves even more flowers. Waka Flocka Flame had a point when he called the Mississippi rapper his generation’s most underrated. – Aaron Williams
Buddy — Superghetto
Am I biased putting this one here? Sure, very much so. Am I wrong? Give the catchy “Hoochie Mama” a spin. When you’re still reciting that inescapably catchy hook weeks later, maybe you’ll start to agree. If not, then the Compton rapper’s lively two-step anthem “Wait Too Long” with Blxst will occupy any remaining brain space not taken over by the former. For more serious fare, turn to the powerful heritage pride chant, “Black 2.” Then there’s the psychedelic surf rocker “Bad News.” In short, there’s nothing Buddy can’t do. – A.W.
Coi Leray — Trendsetter
Despite a relatively lukewarm commercial reception, Coi’s debut project did exactly what it set out to do. There’s literally no one out doing what she’s been doing. That can make her slippery delivery somewhat bewildering and give fans few obvious hits to hold onto (the excellent Nicki Minaj collab “”Blick Blick“” notwithstanding) but those who want to put the New Jersey rapper in a box are missing out on what she’s truly capable of. Who else can do an “”Anxiety“” and a “”Twinnem“” on the same album while shifting hip-hop’s conventions into unrecognizable new shapes? – A.W.
Cordae — From A Bird’s Eye View
In the lead-up to Cordae’s second album, I was convinced it’d be one of the year’s best and I wasn’t disappointed. A more muscular version of his 2019 debut, The Lost Boy, FABEV cuts the fat, getting to the foundation of Cordae’s appeal: fiery battle raps, like the ones on “Super” and “Sinister“”; lush, moody vocals, such as on “”Chronicles“; and the vulnerable, relatable autobiography of “Momma’s Hood” and “C Carter.” – A.W.
Denzel Curry — Melt My Eyez See Your Future
Denzel Curry had a mission with Melt My Eyez See Your Future: be himself and give himself fully to listeners. It is the most intimate offering of the South Florida rapper’s career, with a lot of soft and mellow sounds accompanying his more calculated flows. These elements combined, along with the presence of acts like T-Pain, 6LACK, Slowthai, and Robert Glasper, to make what could very well be Curry’s best project to date. “Walkin,” “Angelz,” and “X-Wing” pretty much force you to press that “Repeat 1” button and let the music transport you into the artist’s multi-faceted mind. Thus, the album is aptly named. – Ar.S
Dreamville — D-Day
Aside from their undeniable music talents, Dreamville’s in-house chemistry is one of the best aspects of the label. It comes alive through one-off collaborations between individual members and full-blown compilation projects like their D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape. Its 15 songs brought forth the wisdom of J. Cole and Omen, the impressive lyricism from the likes of Cozz and Lute, the soulful spirit of Ari Lennox, and the impenetrable confidence of Bas, Earthgang, and JID. Altogether, D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape helps to extend the undeniable legacy that Dreamville has built over the last decade. – Wongo Okon
Earl Sweatshirt — Sick!
Earl Sweatshirt came out of hiding this year with the 10-song offering Sick!, and the bars were aplenty. “2010” and the title track highlight how Earl is in a much clearer state of mind despite all he has endured over the years. He trades his usual in-depth, analysis-requiring raps for a more direct approach and it lands. The former Odd Future member is always a welcome listen as he brings something fresh into the space, and Armand Hammer and Zelooperz add their unique flair to make this a memorable early 2022 project that warrants mid-year and, likely, end-of-year discussion. – Ar.S.
Earthgang — Ghetto Gods
Earthgang’s versatility is something to absolutely take note of as it’s what makes the Atlanta duo so special. The first ample serving of it arrived in 2019 with Mirrorland, but after a few years of work and just experiencing the world, Earthgang checked back in with their second album Ghetto Gods. Boisterous raps and soulful records are the foundation of Earthgang’s latest body of work, and through it all, Earthgang excellently displays their absolute certainty about the world around them, both its good and bad sides. – W.O.
Fly Anakin — Frank
Fly Anakin and his Mutant Academy affiliates have been underground rap mainstays for some time, but on his latest, he strips away some of the many layers of mystery to finally get at the heart of who he really is. On Frank — titled for his real name — he expands on his autobiography while still ripping killer rhymes over a sumptuous gumbo of distorted, genre-twisting beats. It’s backpack rap on next-generation hallucinogens, custom-designed to bring the boom-bap set into the 2020s. – A.W.
Future — I Never Liked You
Everything you love about Future, he gives on his ninth studio album I Never Liked You. He holds down his thrown as the “Toxic King” and even embraces his position in the video for his No. 1 hit song “Wait For You” featuring Drake and Tems. Within Few’s assortment of melodic raps, live pockets of sweetness are cut with bitter rhymes, which help convey the ebb and flow of Future’s romantic relationships. “Love You Better” is a way-too-short R&B song about letting go of someone who is seeming falling out of love with him (maybe they took too long to text back?), abruptly preceded by the next track, “Massaging Me,” as if the rapper suddenly remembered that he is FUTURE. “We turn to Miami to Sky-ami” he belts out within the first seconds, coupled with a chorus that sounds like he’s saying “misogyny” not “massaging me.” Future’s I Never Liked You gives exactly what you came for. – Cherise Johnson
Girl Talk, Wiz Khalifa, Big KRIT, Smoke DZA — Full Court Press
There’s a lot to be said for simplicity and surprise. Here’s an album with both in spades. Girl Talk, who had an impressive production run in the 2000s and has popped up sporadically throughout the 2010s as the beatmaker on a handful of rappers’ projects, returned with an unexpected cast of collaborators and some impressive, sample-based tracks that made the most of their contributions. That they have plenty of chemistry with each other is icing on the cake. – A.W.
Gunna — DS4EVER
Gunna took his mixtape series Drip Season to the mainstream with his third studio album DS4Ever. The selection of 20 songs reinforces Gunna’s ability to offer an album with a lot of songs — mostly good — just as he did with Wunna. Sure, “Too Easy” and “Livin Wild” were the chosen singles, but when the people heard “Pushin P,” the attraction drove the song to viral paradise and the Hot 100 chart. “Poochie Gown,” “Thought I Was Playing” featuring 21 Savage, “South To West,” plus many more have the potential to be sleeper hits. Though Gunna is locked up and facing RICO charges, the cultural impact he presented with DS4Ever off “Pushing P” alone will forever be remembered. Mission accomplished. – C.J.
IDK — Simple
DMV-bred artist IDK has released a project a year since 2014, but in recent years, he’s really spread his wings. In contrast to his last few rap-oriented projects, Simple takes a hard left turn. Embracing the sounds of funk and jazz-influenced dance music, IDK and producer Kaytranada craft a project that truly stands out amid the glut of new hip-hop in the streaming era. Whether trading bars with Denzel Curry on “Dog Food” or preaching meditation on “Breathe,” IDK’s latest is an impressive example of what rap can be when you commit to ignoring the rules and doing your own thing. – A.W.
Jack Harlow — Come Home The Kids Miss You
Jack Harlow embraces the good side and bad side of fame on his sophomore album, Come Home The Kids Miss You. He’s still curious why he is slept on after multiple No. 1’s and Grammy nominations, but his curiosity doesn’t supersede his confidence. He opens the Drake collaboration “Churchill Downs” with the affirmation, “Sometimes when I sit back and really let it register / I did everything I said I would and said it first / I mean the world’s in denial but they all know what I’m headed for.” Though he obviously gets outperformed by The Boy on this soul sample-laden song, there’s a clear improvement from his previous effort, That’s What They All Say, in terms of flows and production. Legends Lil Wayne, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell join the mix for a record full of standard Jack punchlines and simping. – Ar.S.
Kali — Toxic Chocolate
Don’t call her the female Future. The Atlanta-bred newcomer turns the tables on hip-hop’s current climate of toxicity, throwing back that energy every bit as powerfully as it’s received. In the process, she also flips classic ’90s R&B, gives a masterclass on setting boundaries, and reminds listeners that it takes two to tango. The best part? This is just her debut EP; if it’s this good, just imagine what her first full-length album will accomplish. – A.W.
Kendrick Lamar — Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
When you wait an extended amount of time to receive something, the expectation is that said item will be worth the wait. However, on Kendrick Lamar’s fifth long-awaited album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, the Compton rapper couldn’t care less if you like him or his latest body of work. He pushes boundaries in ways we never expected him (see: “Worldwide Steppers,” “Savior,” and his collaborations with Kodak Black). While some of us may disagree with some of his points, it’s quite admirable that Kendrick goes out of his way to destroy the facade placed on him against his will, and he does it on yet another intricate and impressively built body of work. – W.O.
Larry June & Jay Worthy — 2 P’z In A Pod
Hailing from Compton and San Francisco, respectively, Jay Worthy and Larry June are two congruent originals that finally linked up for a full-blown album in 2 P’z In A Pod. Produced entirely by Sean House — the other half of LNDN DRGS with Worthy — tracks like “Maybe The Next Time” and the supreme “Leave It Up To Me” are instant drop-top classics. This is throwback SoCal G-Funk vibes meet Bay Area Hennessey-soaked sideshow rap. The album is loaded with scenes of the two West Coast storytellers relishing in their moment together in the sun, but with zero f*cks given. – Adrian Spinelli
Latto — 777
Latto hit the jackpot with 777, rapping with authority, showing off her singing pipes, and providing several empowering anthems for women in a world that still can’t seem to figure out how to respect them. Though “Big Energy” is the major hit here, songs “Like A Thug” featuring Lil Durk and “It’s Givin” possess a similar formula for greatness by employing popular colloquial phrases. Though the album only features dudes (Lil Wayne, Childish Gambino, 21 Savage, Kodak Black, Nardo Wick) that may typically be the nucleus of these kinds of records, Latto does a great job asserting herself both as a woman and rapper. – Ar.S.
Leikeli47 — Shape Up
The long-awaited follow-up to Leikeli’s 2018 album Acrylic did not disappoint. The masked rapper fully embraced her eclecticism and versatility on her third album, going from booming techno-rap on “Chitty Bang” to thumping house on “BITM” to full-on yearning R&B on “Hold My Hand.” It’s also Leikeli’s most personal project to date. She recounts a love at first sight encounter on the stripped-down “LL Cool J” while detailing a messy breakup on “Free To Love.” Showing off her tender storytelling, rugged battle raps, and engaging party rhymes across Shape Up‘s 14 tracks, Leikeli proves she is one of rap’s most fascinating artists today. – A.W.
Lil Durk — 7220
Lil Durk has been reveling in a seismic career shift since 2020, and 7220 continued that momentum. While one could say he doesn’t deviate much from his usual repertoire, there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken as “The Voice” has multiple pitches. “Petty Too” featuring Future and “What Happened To Virgil” featuring Gunna serve as the project’s two-headed monster with precise, melodic rap hybrid flows. “Difference Is” with Summer Walker successfully follows up their collaboration “Toxic” from her 2021 album Still Over It, and is arguably better. Durk has no issue getting heartfelt, whether it’s towards women or reflecting on his fallen friend King Von. – Ar.S.
Pusha T — It’s Almost Dry
Pusha T’s It’s Almost Dry is the coke album that everybody can enjoy. The production is updated, his flows are updated (snapped on “Call My Bluff”), his lyricism is there, and King Push’s resilient energy is present throughout the 12 song project. Push even has something for the kids, too. “Scrape It Off The Top” with Lil Uzi Vert and Don Toliver doesn’t sound too forced, but it does sound right on time. Then, the flip to “Neck & Wrist” with hip-hop vets JAY-Z and Pharrell sees inspiration from that same new generation of artists. The synergy is immaculate. It’s Almost Dry proves that Pusha T can make palatable coke raps and modernize his flow, while also staying true to his roots with songs like “Diet Coke” and “Open Air.” – C.J.
Saba — Few Good Things
Let’s face it; the last couple of years have been absolutely terrible for many of us. But for a lot of us, they were just more bad news on top of what was already a daily struggle. Saba’s new album, intended to be a dramatic shift from the somber fan-favorite Care For Me, acknowledges the hardships that come with being Black in America while also dealing with a global pandemic, then tells us to find those moments of joy that make it worth going through. – A.W.
Snot — Ethereal
Snot’s a real punk — not in the bad way, but in the way that he is deadset on doing his own thing no matter what. If that involves annoying one of the hottest stars today? Sorry, Doja — you’re fair game. Oh, a band with the same name is mad at him for sharing the stage with one of the bands they came up alongside? Too bad. Snot packs his latest with plenty of the rebellious energy he’s known for, then rebels against his own reputation. Ain’t nothing more punk than that. – A.W.
Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart
While you weren’t looking, Vince Staples dropped his best record to date. Sharing poignant anecdotes of his childhood in Long Beach, while tying in contemporary issues, Ramona Park Broke My Heart allows for the listener to better understand Staples as he recounts his tumultuous upbringing and opens up about his mental health. The low bass and often downtempo production within the tracks allow for a West Coast feel throughout the record. – Alex Gonzalez
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.