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2022 is coming to a close so it’s time to look back on the year that was. This year we saw the return of King Kendrick Lamar, received a long-awaited Future album and got Pusha T’s self-proclaimed “rap album of the year.” Fans were then 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 – December 31, 2022.
Heroes & Villians – Metro Boomin
Metro Boomin has assembled The Avengers of the Hip Hop universe to help him save the rap world as we know it with his triumphant Heroes & Villians album. Complete with a Marvel and DC Comics-rivaling rollout featuring theatrical video trailers and mock comic book covers that double as guest feature announcements, Metro Boomin has pulled out all of the stops for his first full-length solo release since 2018’s Not All Heroes Wear Capes. Seemingly building on the courageous efforts he and 21 Savage brought forth on their 2020 Savage Mode II collaborative project, Metro Boomin has recruited Young Thug, Gunna, Travis Scott, The Weeknd, Future, A$AP Rocky, Don Toliver, Young Nudy, John Legend and more for assistance on Heroes & Villians.
This Is What I Meant – Stormzy
The title of Stormzy’s latest project is fitting because the UK chart-topper says a lot on the 12-song album. Stormzy’s personal life is inherently tied into the storyline of the album and with minimalist production, his heartfelt lyrical poetry is able to shine through. Songs like “Fire + Water” & “Bad Blood” will leave even the most emotionless listener feeling teary-eyed. But This Is What I Meant isn’t simply an ode to the love of his life; songs like “Holy Spirit” and “I Got My Smile Back” are triumphant self-love anthems. Overall, Stormzy proves with this album that he is following his creative flow wherever it takes him and his artistry will win out over everything else.
King’s Disease 3 – Nas & Hit-Boy
Nas fans love to debate which producer works best with him. He’s collaborated with some of the greatest on the boards in an illustrious 25 year career that spans 15 solo albums. But in the 2020s, maybe Hit-Boy is his best fit for keeping him relevant in a changing rap landscape. Nas and Hit-Boy have compared their creative output to Shaq and Penny and Michael and Quincy, paying homage to duos with undeniable success and chemistry. While the Grammy-winning super producer has synced up with artists before, there’s something special about Hit-Boy modernizing Nas’ sound, heightening his stories with subtle, elegant beats. Continuing where the Grammy-nominated predecessor left off, King’s Disease 3 shows Nas has more to say about career longevity, legal hustling, the Queens borough that raised him, and the wealth he’s accumulated as a rap mogul. The song ideas and themes are coherent, showing Nas is improving as he approaches 50. It keeps Nas in the relevancy conversation because his voice is still impactful, calling to action when some might say he doesn’t need to do this anymore. It’s a lesson in purposeful storytelling and aging with grace.
Only Built For Infinity Links – Quavo & Takeoff
With dynamic production, anthemic hooks, and raps that are as personal as they are agile, Infinity Links delivers most of the exhilarating highs of Migos’ best work while cutting the fat that plagued Culture II and Culture III. Like the best Migos projects, Infinity Links plays out like a stylish joy ride. Featuring production from Buddah Bless, Murda Beatz, Mustard, DJ Durel and more, it’s a soundtrack for a trap spaceship. Over the course of 18 tracks, they lace their triple-time flows over everything from dazed trap (“Hotel Lobby”) to ratchet music courtesy of Mustard (“See Bout It”) as they alternate between flows and structural approaches that keep sounds from getting stale.
$$$ – 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, $$$ affirms Freddie Gibbs’ ascent from underground mainstay to mainstream contender.
2000 – Joey Bada$$
Whether it was fair or not, at one point, the weight of New York was on Joey Bada$$. He’s reached major highs during his career, and low lows, but throughout it all his technical skills on the mic were unquestioned. 2000 reminds listeners what Joey is capable of when expectations are shed from his shoulders. Paying homage to the titular year, Joey and his producers bridge between crate digging dusty jazz samples and the polished sheen of the jiggy era, allowing Joey to work with a plush palette. The beats across 2000 are breezy and opulent, billowing in the space between the smooth marble floors and high ceilings of an expensive penthouse. Pianos and glassy keyboards weave around sweeping string samples, snares diffuse into long tails of reverb. Joey seems right at home in this more silken vibe, gliding effortlessly across each expensive-sounding drum pattern. He’s a joy to listen to — there are few rappers that sound as natural on the mic as Joey Bada$$. He’s not angling to be a momentary King of New York, he’s more interested in building a legacy and — perhaps more than anything – enjoying rap.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.