Honorable Mentions (no particular order):
La Maquina – Conway the Machine
The Plugs I Met 2 – Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud
Hitler Wears Hermes 8 – Westside Gunn
The Griselda crew’s great efforts of the year deserve recognition, and have been grouped together in no particular order at this point in the list.
22. Gumbo – Pink Siifu
Pink Siifu’s noisy, but smooth ode to and take on Southern Hip-hop is fun and deep all at once. Featuring some Baltimore based production as well, Siifu knows his stuff when it comes to soundcrafting and vibe curation.
Favorite Tracks: Roscoe’!, BACK’!
21. The Off Season – J Cole
One of the hip-hop veteran’s best efforts in years comes in the form of his victory lap. Throwing away his no feature streak for something bigger, Cole shows he’s always know exactly what he’s been doing with this music, even if he’s lost in himself at times personally. It serves as a look inward and winner’s speech outward.
Favorite Tracks: a m a r i, p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l feat. Lil Baby
20. By the Time I Get to Phoenix – Injury Reserve
Injury Reserve, as unfortunate as the circumstances were, still managed to come out with an excellent album, both in sound and content. It serves as a posthumous release for member Stepa J. Groggs and a perhaps a loving eulogy from the remaining two. The soundcraft is as excellent as it always has been, though we’ve traded our bangers for even more of the intricate manipulations of audio that Injury Reserve have been toying with for years.
Favorite Tracks: Top Picks For You, Knees
19. King’s Disease 2 – Nas
The sequel to Nas’ King’s Disease does the unlikely and tops the original with better beats from Hit Boy, and better raps from Nas. There’s plenty to dive into in this release, but what makes it great is obvious on first listen.
Favorite Tracks: EPMD 2 feat. EPMD & Eminem, Nobody feat. Ms. Lauryn Hill
18. Judas and the Black Messiah Soundtrack – Various Artists
The best thing a film studio can do for it’s soundtrack inspired by the film it seems, is to just hand it off whole cloth to the best artists of this and previous generations and let them take care of it from there. A great example is this album, inspired by the early 2021 film, featuring amazing contributions from all over the hip-hop spectrum and beyond.
Favorite Tracks: Welcome to America (Black Thought, C.S. Armstrong, Angela Hunte), What It Feels Like (Nipsey Hussle & Jay-Z)
17. Call Me If You Get Lost – Tyler the Creator
Tyler the Creator has been on an incredible creative streak, and this is not a diversion. Full of both bangers and incredible storytelling, the album, hosted by DJ Drama, is an incredible experience. Tyler is on another level of bragging and introspection on this one, and will give you a varied tracklist adding up to a great project altogether.
Favorite Tracks: LUMBERJACK, JUGGERNAUT feat. Lil Uzi Vert & Pharrell
16. Vince Staples – Vince Staples
Vince’s most lowkey album yet shows a different side of Staples. No less sharp in flow and content, Vince’s versatility is awesome to behold. A short listen, it’s worth a front to back try to get the experience of where Vince’s head was at for 2021.
Favorite Tracks: THE SHINING, MHM
15. Super What? – Czarface & MF DOOM
The group of 7L, Esoteric, Inspectah Deck and the late MF DOOM came together for another fantastic effort before DOOM’s untimely passing. Released after we heard about the unfortunate death of the underground king, it shows he was just as sharp as ever, even up to his demise. That’s not to throw dirt on the rest of the crew, whose raps and productions match the quality and vibe of DOOM’s for an incredible meld of comic book references and boom-bap.
Favorite Tracks: Czarwyn’s Theory of People Getting Loose, Jason & the Czargonauts
14. Half-God – Wiki
Perhaps the most unabashedly New York album on this or perhaps any list, Wiki takes us right to his city with the help from Navy Blue production on every track here. There’s plenty of great beats, flows and stories on this project that anyone can enjoy, no matter where they are from.
Favorite Tracks: The Business, Home
13. The Melodic Blue – Baby Keem
An album that may require a few listens to truly appreciate, Baby Keem’s debut effort shows that he’s not just some nepotistic industry plant, but an artist who deserves recognition in their own right. With an incredible ear for beats and earworms, Keem manages to nearly knock it out the park on the first pitch.
Favorite Tracks: trademark usa, range brothers feat. Kendrick Lamar
12. Angelic Hoodrat: Supercut – Kenny Mason
A product of incredible aesthetic creativity and influences from the best parts of hip-hop today, Kenny Mason is doing stuff no one else is trying in his lane. What is happening on this record means that truly only a listen can bring enlightenment on why Kenny Mason is something special.
Favorite Tracks: Rih, PUP
11. Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine – Brockhampton
Another emotional effort from the boy band, Roadrunner hits straight to the core of what fans love about Brockhampton, even throwing in a couple bangers for the stingy ones who miss the energetic mentality that the Saturation series seemed to encourage. Deep and broad in scope, the boys kill it as usual.
Favorite Tracks: CHAIN ON feat. JPEGMAFIA, THE LIGHT PT. 2
10. Montero – Lil Nas X
Though not fully a hip-hop album, the production and rapping all over the project launch it into a solid placement on this list anyway. Lil Nas X’s unapologetic album makes for a great attitude to come at a project. The songwriting sensibilities on this debut are sharp and undeniable. Only the most stuck up of snobs should be turned away by this artistic feat.
Favorite Tracks: MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name), INDUSTRY BABY feat. Jack Harlow
9. Believe in Me Who Believes in You – Aries
Perhaps the least hip-hop album on this list is still indebted to the genre aesthetically, even if it is more of an electronic, singer-songwriter type project. However, the songs on this are too damn good to go unrecognized this year. Not one track fails to deliver on a great beat, chorus and melodies all throughout.
Favorite Tracks: FOOL’S GOLD, RIDING
8. Donda – Kanye West
The weirdest roll out of the year actually ended up a solid project at the end of it all, though it was changed after initial release. Perhaps not deeply spiritual in the most obvious way, the album, in simplest terms, presents good music. Many of the plethora of songs on this album feature fantastic beats, great features and solid performances from Kanye, that make this one of the best releases of the year, even with Kanye in whatever state he is in.
Favorite Tracks: Off the Grid feat. Playboi Carti, Fivio Foreign, Hurricane feat. The Weeknd, Lil Baby
7. TYRON – slowthai
An album in two halves, the Brit’s effort this year marks another incredible project under his belt. The first half full of hard-hitters and head knocking beats, the second half lets up into an introspective and emotional set of songs. Both halves feature some of slowthai’s best verses and beats, but, be prepared, the second half will leave you with some real feelings to deal with.
Favorite Tracks: VEX, nhs
6. LP! (Offline) – JPEGMAFIA
Another visit to the top ten of our lists, Baltimore rapper JPEGMAFIA once again treats us to a batch of great songs. Another step in the continual evolution of Peggy’s style, this sees him mixing the pop stylings he played with on Cornballs and his recent EPs, and honing them into some great singing and rapping overtop of, of course, some of the most incredible production heard this year, decade, etc.
Favorite Tracks: HAZARD DUTY PAY!, REBOUND! feat. DATPIFFMAFIA
5. Haram – Armand Hammer & The Alchemist
The chemistry between emcees Billy Woods and ELUCID has long been established, but when The Alchemist joined the duo for a full project this year, he showed his incredible ability to morph into nearly any style and compliment it in a way that only The Alchemist could. The whole project is an excellent ride through Armand Hammer’s bleak world that we all live in, curated by excellent Alchemist production throughout.
Favorite Tracks: Indian Summer, Chicharonnes feat. Quelle Chris
4. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert – Little Simz
One of the most extravagant efforts of the year comes from UK artist Little Simz, who has been releasing excellent material for a while, but outdoes herself with this one. Running almost like a musical with its spoken interludes and choruses of fairy like creatures throughout, the whole thing reads as an incredible artistic statement throughout its long run time.
Favorite Tracks: Speed, Fear No Man
3. Brass – Moor Mother & Billy Woods
Unsurprisingly, these two artists coming together resulted in a dark, thick and atmospheric effort full of dense flows and lyrics that could require several listens to truly understand and appreciate. Moor Mother and Woods are an amazing duo we never knew but should have always wanted. Any abstract, underground hip-hop fan needs to experience this project. Though it was technically released in late 2020, it just missed out on being considered for last year’s list, and therefore finds itself near the top of this one.
Favorite Tracks: Arkeology, Blak Forrest
2. I Lie Here Buried with My Rings and My Dresses – Backxwash
The artist of last year’s number one spot slides down only one slot with her subsequent, and similarly lengthily titled album. Her unique perspective and approach to hip-hop and industrial music brings yet another excellent effort. There’s still plenty of religious references, heavy metal inspired beats, and catchy flows to be found all over. Backxwash continues to be one of the best out there, and the only one in her lane at the moment, truly.
Favorite Tracks: IN MY HOLY NAME feat. Lauren Bousfield, BLOOD IN THE WATER
1. Smiling with No Teeth – Genesis Owusu
Top spot this year goes to newcomer Genesis Owusu from Australia. There’s a few too many genres being fused on this project to call it strictly a hip-hop project, but often the best projects come this way. The music on this album is enough to earn it a favorable rating, but then the concept running throughout the project launches it even higher. Just imagining that this is a debut project, and wondering where Owusu will be taking his career from here is exciting to say the least.
Favorite Tracks: Smiling with No Teeth, No Looking Back