Hip-hop in 2023 was largely a game of hard left turns and stylistic leaps of faith. From Doja Cat’s bridge-burning fourth album Scarlet to Lil Uzi Vert’s wildly experimental Pink Tape, hip-hop artists went out of their way to subvert expectations and push the boundaries of the genre — and their fans. Don’t get it twisted, though; none of this was provocation for provocation’s sake. Instead, it was these artists’ way of paying homage to hip-hop’s roots in its 50th year — the true foundation of sonic experimentation and musical play, not just mean-mugging and tough-guy posturing.
So, no, our list this year (which includes a few projects released after last year’s cutoff) doesn’t feature too much gangsta rap or elitist encyclopedia rap. But we feel that it captures the true breadth of hip-hop’s contemporary landscape, from rappers who sound more like rockers to the most popular radio mainstays and the future stars bubbling just under the radar. Here are the best hip-hop albums of 2023.
Aminé and Kaytranada – Kaytraminé
The term “album of the summer” gets tossed around quite a lot lately, but this joint effort from the Portland rapper and Canadian dance producer earns it with 11 breezy-yet-diverse approaches to the seasonal sound and its related topics. From the glitzy, mellow “Rebuke” to the funk-tinged Pharrell feature “4Eva,” the lively spirit of the warmest months of the year comes through in ways both unexpected and comfortingly familiar. – Aaron Williams
Blxst & Bino Rideaux – Sixtape 3
Blxst and Bino Rideaux stumbled upon their secret sauce with “Savage” from Sixtape in 2019, and the third installment, Sixtape 3, is the LA rappers’ most complementary offering yet. “Shaq and Kobe, it’s only right if we three-peat,” Blxst poses in “Road Runnin.” Blxst and Bino trade alley-oops, lyrically and thematically. The provocatively lustful “ Doin Yo Stuff” is balanced out by the romantic, slow jam-adjacent “Get Away,” and the groovy “Baccseat” brings the opposing emotions under one roof. The empathic dunk is “Blueprint,” where Blxst and Bino cleverly flex “boss sh*t.” No lies were told. – Megan Armstrong
Chika – Samson
Chika’s mental health struggles have been heartbreaking to witness. Instead of retiring from rap, with the guidance of trained professionals, her album, Samson reveals the kinks in her armor. Through the project, listeners learn that Chika is a mystery that even she herself is still figuring out. The unabashed biblical references sprinkled on Samson stress that both Chika’s bars and professional footsteps have been ordered by a higher calling. Samson is Chika emerging from the belly of the beast, ready to stake her claim in the rap scene. – Flisadam Pointer
Doja Cat – Scarlet
While Doja Cat and her antics have proven polarizing over the past few months, her ability to make hits is undeniable. On Scarlet, Doja prioritized lyrics and her hip-hop craft overall, showcasing her abilities on the confident and assured “Go Off” and the horrorcore-influenced “Demons.” Though she’s previously denounced her past pop hits, old habits die hard, notably with the infectious “Paint The Town Red.” – Alex Gonzalez
El Michels Affair & Black Thought – Glorious Game
Listen, you can go ahead and call me a stodgy old crank for continuing to value technically superior exercises in formalism in 2023. That’s fine. Black Thought remains the (read: THEE) finest bar-for-bar, straight-up rapper in hip-hop to this day and it’s worth honoring that — especially when he possesses the awareness to pair his prodigious talents with production worthy of the finest funk-soul excursions into ’70s Classicism this side of Adrian Younge’s Luke Cage soundtrack. – A.W.
Gunna – A Gift And A Curse
If I told you a year ago that Gunna, after the success of chart-topping success DS4EVER, would be releasing a “comeback” album in 2023, you’d probably call me crazy. However, that was the case for the Atlanta rapper this year. Gunna was one of many indicted in the ongoing YSL RICO, and his image with the public took a turn for the worse when he accepted a plea deal for a release 10 months after his imprisonment. Gunna was called everything from a snitch to a traitor, and while the facts proved otherwise, his fourth album A Gift & A Curse also proved that he wouldn’t let them hinder his career. So with it, Gunna delivered one that silenced his critics, set forth a summer hit with “F*kumean,” and etched itself into the conversation for album of the year. – Wongo Okon
J Hus – Beautiful And Brutal Yard
When most folks think of UK rap (at least here in the US), they primarily think of grime or drill, two categories that are great representations of Black diaspora culture in the island nation. However, that’s also a woefully incomplete and reductive understanding. Fortunately, more people are bound to get hip to J Hus’ unique fusion of Afropop and dancehall sensibilities with hip-hop swagger and flows, thanks in large part to the Drake co-sign he receives on “Who Told You.” But there’s also the cheeky takedown of phony tough guys on “Masculine,” the sly come-ons of “Nice Body” with Jorja Smith, and the overall counter geographical tropical vibe to recommend J Hus’ latest. – A.W.
Jack Harlow – Jackman
Jack Harlow heard the complaints about his last album, Come Home The Kids Miss You, and responded in kind with a 10-song salvo of tracks that saw the Louisville rapper revert to the hungry, intensely-focused artist he was as he freestyled and battle-rapped his way to the top. The highlights: “They Don’t Love It,” “Gang Gang Gang,” and “Blame On Me,” which saw his talent for conceptual songwriting flexed to a degree fans hadn’t seen for nearly two years. – A.W.
Killer Mike – Michael
Killer Mike has put out six solo albums and four as a member of Run The Jewels over the past 20 years, yet Michael could very well be his debut album. It’s certainly his most biographical; on songs like “Down By Law,” “Motherless,” and “High & Holy,” he introduces us, for what feels like the first time, to an adolescent Michael Render, detailing the trials, tribulations, and temptations that gave us the controversial, outspoken figure Killer Mike has become. With a Southern Baptist soundscape and show-stealing turns from André 3000, Fabo, Young Thug, and more, Michael gives us our clearest picture of the rapper yet. – A.W.
Lady London – S.O.U.L.
For the past few years, the Bronx, New Yorked-based rapper has been raising her profile with a stream of impressive freestyles, endearing herself to the internet’s community of hardcore hip-hop traditionalists. With S.O.U.L. (Signs of Universal Love, she finally delivers on their investment, offering a collection of songs that show she can stick to a concept and execute it at a high level. With samples of the classic hip-hop that influenced her style and guest appearances from some of R&B’s most vibrant presences, like Jeremih, Tink, and Capella Grey, S.O.U.L. solidifies London’s place as one of boom-bap rap’s strongest torchbearers. – A.W.
Larry June & The Alchemist – The Great Escape
The Great Escape is a portal to idyllic, immaculate bliss. It’s like the musical version of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations — taste-testing beats and flows — as Larry and Al traveled together while recording. The likes of Action Bronson (“Solid Plan”) and Ty Dolla Sign (“Summer Reign”) sweeten the pot, but the substance is found in June’s straightforward lyricism complementing The Alchemist’s trippy soundscapes. “I get impulsive, if I want it then I go and cop it,” June raps on the hazy “ 60 Days,” unintentionally causing an unshakable impulse for a fresh Larry June and The Alchemist joint album every summer. – M.A.
Lil Uzi Vert – Pink Tape
After almost two years of delays, Lil Uzi Vert’s sprawling Pink Tape finally arrived in July with a disarming array of styles and sounds to choose from, displaying the full range of dimensions the protean Philly rapper has always offered but rarely unleashed all at once. Paring down a list of 1,500 song ideas to the 26 represented here should be considered an accomplishment in itself, but for those songs to also represent such a diverse spectrum of musical influences from alternative and metal to something I can only call techno-rap is an exciting distillation of how much more territory hip-hop can explore. – A.W.
Lil Yachty – Let’s Start Here
Is Lil Yachty’s experiment in psychedelia technically hip-hop? I think the point he makes with Let’s Start Here is: who cares? (We’re including him here because of how Yachty got his start, the mode of the music he primarily makes, and the fact that he spends as much of this rock-inspired effort rapping as he does singing.) Yachty’s always bristled at the thought that he could be limited to just one genre. Here’s the strongest argument in his favor. – A.W.
Luh Tyler – My Vision
Luh Tyler is like the perfect synthesis of predecessors such as Kodak Black and Lil Tecca, with the carefree confidence of pre-graduation youth and the poised, deceptively clever pen game of the frequently incarcerated gangster rapper. By combining his natural gifts with an easygoing, unpracticed charisma and subject matter centered more around teenage fantasies of luxury lifestyles than drug game-produced shootouts, Luh Tyler cleans up the typical Florida approach to hip-hop without losing his cool. – A.W.
Metro Boomin – Heroes & Villains
Arguably the most dominant producer of the streaming era, Metro Boomin comes close to creating his magnum opus with this late 2022 compilation (which is after Uproxx’s cutoff for Best of 2022 consideration). His full curatorial superpowers go on display in Heroes & Villians as he assembles his own Avengers of rap titans — or a Legion of Doom if you want to see it another way. 21 Savage, Future, Migos, Travis Scott, and more help fill out the roster, but the star here is always his production, skillfully tying them all together. – A.W.
Noname – Sundial
Noname isn’t in rap to make friends but to platform important causes. On her latest album, Sundial, Noname uses the project’s brief run time to have an intense communal conversation, as she’s so militantly pointed out during her triumphant NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Nothing and no one is off limits. Sundial is sharply witted banter about politics, classism, racism, and more. Whoever said rap was in its flop era clearly hasn’t listened to Noname’s Sundial because the project is a lyrical masterclass and a brilliant display of what craftsmanship sounds like. – F.P.
Oddisee – To What End
Oddisee, one of the most consistent voices operating in the rap world for the past decade or so, has reached an impasse with himself about why he does what he does. And, in the spirit of true talent, he winds up using that as inspiration on this, his 10th studio album, which questions the nature of aspiration. To What End finds Oddisee wrestling with not just his goals and ambitions but what they might cost and whether it’s all really worth it. For us the listeners, it is. – A.W.
Offset – Set It Off
“I could’ve kept it to myself / They can’t be too upset,” Offset raps on “Blame It On Set.” We can’t blame him for letting three-plus years elapse between his 2019 debut solo album, Father Of 4, and October’s Set It Off after listening to the latter — a conceptual LP soaked in meticulous artistry. Not even tasteful Michael Jackson cosplay on the album’s cover overshadows Offset’s authenticity. He’s at total ease — equal parts playful (“Jealousy” featuring Cardi B) and vulnerable (“Say My Grace” featuring Travis Scott). Be thankful he didn’t keep these bars to himself any longer. – M.A.
Quavo – Rocket Power
It wasn’t the Migos reunion we wanted, but Quavo’s first solo album since 2018’s Quavo Huncho gave us something else we needed: An album of emotional growth from one of rap’s most stoic hitmakers. It’s his most adult music yet, expanding on the emotional fallout from the loss of Takeoff, yes, but also detailing how Quavo became Quavo — and how Migos became Migos. There’s a vulnerability in tracks like “Hold Me” and “Greatness” that deepens his usual boasts and gives dimension to the sharp-sighted trap bangers that have come to define Quavo’s career. – A.W.
Sexyy Red – Hood Hottest Princess
In this business, one of the dangers of getting too invested in what looks to be a promising young talent based on one compelling single is having that investment bust out when a full project lacks the magnetism of the song that got you invested in the first place. Fortunately, that didn’t happen with Sexyy Red, the sassy St. Louisan who captivated us with the delightfully disaffected “Born By The River,” followed up with the relatable ratchetry of “Pound Town,” and paid off our interest by not retreating a single step on Hood Hottest Princess, which turned out to be every bit as uproariously lascivious as her breakout singles. – A.W.
Skyzoo x The Other Guys – The Mind Of A Saint
A masterfully executed concept album inspired by the characters and events of the drug-game epic Snowfall, The Mind Of A Saint finds Skyzoo putting his feet in the shoes of the show’s principal criminal mastermind. Sky writes through the perspective of an older, wiser Franklin Saint who turned to the pen instead of the bottle — after all, he did finish the project before the final season had aired — but even with two layers of functionalization, the words and themes ring true. – A.W.
Teezo Touchdown – How Do You Sleep at Night?
“Maybe they were gonna be a painter until somebody said they couldn’t paint / Maybe thought they was the next Jean-Michel ‘til somebody yelled, ‘No, you ain’t,’” Teezo Touchdown sings on the unorthodox alt-rap “Impossible.” The other 13 tracks on his fiercely authentic and genre-defiant debut album, How Do You Sleep At Night?, confirm (at least) two things: Teezo didn’t listen to anyone who might have told him he couldn’t, and he’s not interested in becoming the “next” anything — unless it pertains to his entrancing individual evolution. – M.A.
That Mexican OT – Lonestar Luchador
Aside from having one of hip-hop’s most luxurious pseudonyms, Texas native That Mexican OT also had one of its most outstanding projects of the year. Although his native Bay City is an hour away from Houston proper, he fits right in alongside its continuum of throaty, laid-back rap stars (which also includes, in some circles, Bun B, despite his hailing from Port Arthur, similarly removed from the city itself). On Lonestar Luchador, the gravely baritone with which OT spits first catches you off-guard, then lures you in with its smoky texture, like the state’s best barbecue. The standout is “Johnny Dang,” but “Cowboy In New York,” “Barrio,” and “Groovin” are all well worth the spin. – A.W.
Travis Scott – Utopia
Five years removed from his last album and returning to the spotlight after a two-year absence, Travis Scott offers a view of Utopia that may run counter to our expectations but certainly illuminates exactly where the Houston rapper sees himself. While he goes back to what’s worked for him on tracks like “Hyaena” and “I Know?” he also blasts his way forward with the fan-favorite “Fe!n” and recaptures his and Drake’s charming chemistry on “Meltdown.” If Utopia doesn’t set the standard for the rap world around it as Astroworld did in 2018, it feeds Travis’ base, laying a sturdy foundation for the future. – A.W.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.