The past year may have been marred by devastating tragedies and frustrating personality shifts in hip-hop, but it was also distinguished by some of rap’s most emotive, vulnerable, and honest songwriting ever. So while we may have lost a few heroes – whether to violence or their own infuriating intolerance, the music we got this year was top-notch.
Whether it was underground favorites like Denzel Curry and Saba or top-line hitmakers such as Kendrick Lamar and Megan Thee Stallion, rappers dug deep with releases that resembled therapeutic breakthroughs as much as club bangers or street anthems. We got plenty of those, too, though, especially from trap rap stalwarts like Lil Baby and 21 Savage.
It’s hard to pin down how the trends ebbed and flowed throughout the year, mainly because TikTok continued to be a dominating force in music discovery (such as it is when an algorithm is feeding you artists and songs it thinks you’d be inclined to like already). But the breakout artist of the year, no doubt, is GloRilla.
What makes her rise to stardom so impressive is that it began relatively late in the year. “F.N.F. (Let’s Go)” with Hitkidd was released in April but didn’t rise to the Billboard Hot 100 until August. Once it got there, though, everything happened fast for Glo, from signing to her hometown hero’s label to working with the streaming era’s premiere breakout star, Cardi B.
2022, unfortunately, marked yet another year that Cardi punted on releasing a follow-up to her Grammy-winning debut. But, in keeping with the theme of vulnerable honesty, she readily admitted (after plenty of goading from fans on social media, mind you) that she feels understandable anxiety about the potential reception of her sophomore album.
And with similar anxiety seemingly keeping one of the other marquee women in hip-hop, Saweetie, from dropping her debut, there were fewer high-profile releases from women altogether – although, if you scratched the surface, the high tide female rappers reached in prior years hasn’t yet washed back out to sea.
Megan Thee Stallion led the charge with her soul-baring second album, Traumazine, which naturally fit into the span of therapeutic releases this year. But she wasn’t alone; 2022 also saw a number of well-received releases from the likes of Armani Caesar, Latto, Leikeli47, Little Simz, Rico Nasty, and Sampa The Great. So, sure, there was plenty of Cardi/Nicki-related friction, but the rap girlies are doing just fine – kill the narrative that they’re fading away.
Unfortunately, the narrative that might be harder to end is the one in which rap fans have noted what appears to be a marked increase in rap-related homicides. After losing notable names like Nipsey Hussle, Young Dolph, and Drakeo The Ruler in recent years, 2022 saw a slew of deaths rock the hip-hop community, including Lil Keed, who died from kidney failure, PnB Rock, and Takeoff, who were both shot to death, and Coolio, who suffered a heart attack.
Even after losing all those names, though, the more infuriating loss might well be that of Kanye West, who finally went all the way off the deep end. After years of flirting with controversial topics – the red hat, the Donald Trump stanning, the unprompted attacks on everyone from his in-laws to Drake – the man who made The College Dropout decided to go full-on tinfoil hat, sharing his antisemitic conspiracy theories with anyone who’d listen. Unfortunately, it seems that there were a lot of programs more than happy to entertain him, and too many outlets hungry for engagement that indulged the insanity.
To be clear, hip-hop has always had its share of conspiracy theorists and ugly, seemingly ingrained beliefs about certain people. Rap’s far too often violent, misogynistic, and casually dismissive of racial insensitivity. But what Kanye West has done this year is beyond the pale. It sucks that there will be those who’ll think he has a point about being “canceled” or [shudder] even about the content of his disgusting remarks.
But perhaps there was enough good this year to offset his bad. With more and more rappers advocating for the benefits of therapy, perhaps rap listeners will be able to move in more productive directions regarding the above flaws of the genre. After all, with streaming, there’s more opportunity for self-selection – maybe enough fans can finally help tip the scale away from self-destructive themes toward more creative and fulfilling ones.
Even if not, one thing we have learned in 2022 is that there is still so much variety and diversity within this genre, even 50 years out from its inception, that it can still surprise us. It can still excavate new perspectives and epiphanies to both entertain and enlighten its fans. With the highs and lows of 2022 in the rearview, it’s easy to look forward to what 2023 has in store.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.