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We’ve reached that point in the year where the hip-hop community gathers together and compares different releases in effort to establish what the best record of the year is, so far. 2023 has moved at a much slower pace than the previous years in the decade, but if one digs deep, you’ll find that the year has brought us more gems than dregs. The first half of the year drastically lacked a catalyst driven by a major name release, but it seems now that 2023 is beginning to pick up the slack with big names like Lil Uzi Vert and Travis Scott beginning to roll out their projects.

In typical Mic Cheque fashion, we’re here to sort through the year’s various hits and misses in effort to build our case for the best offerings of 2023.

After hearing the two perfectly mesh on an album cut, the hip-hop world began anxiously anticipating a full-fledged collaborative project between Larry June & The Alchemist. It took a while but the combined effort between the two most dedicated names in music felt just as advertised – a relaxing cruise while staring down the oceanside. The two fed off of each other’s energy perfectly, pushing one another outside of their individual domains to nurture a new extension of the underground sound, even getting Al to rap for the first time since the Step Brothers days with Evidence. Larry and Al hit it out of the park with The Great Escape, forming a new dynamic duo in the process of the record’s creation.

Best tracks: “Porsches in Spain”, “60 Days”, “Ocean Sounds”

Skyzoo started the year off strong, releasing a unique take on the blockbuster Hulu series, Snowfall. Being the super fan of the show that he is, Sky dedicated a project in which he told the story of the show through the perspective of the main character, Franklin Saint. With all production handled by beat-making duo, The Other Guys, the two parties did a phenomenal job of attaching a distinct sound to the show’s atmosphere, causing the record to feel like a continuation of the series itself. Sky elevated his lyricism to another level as he tackles the storytelling aspect from a completely different point of view while sprinkling in some of the character’s connections to his own life. It was a bold idea to take on but if there was any rapper that could nail this concept, none could do it better than Sky.

Best tracks: “Straight Drop”, “The Balancing Act”, “Brick by Brick”

Following his controversial release from prison, Gunna wasted no time addressing the elephant in the room on his latest project. The Atlanta phenom is in prime form on a Gift & a Curse, prevailing through the city’s moral battle that stunted his freedom over a slew of phenomenal trap beats. A tale of lies, love and loyalty, Gunna spilled his soul into the creation of the record, filling the void that he had left after his sudden absence. In a weird way, it feels like Gunna never really left – musically speaking, of course – as he slides back into the scene and fits just like a glove. Sure his contemporaries have shared their thoughts on the situation, but at the end of the day, the music is good enough to take your mind off the situation during its hourly run time.

Best tracks: “rodeo dr”, “back to the moon”, “paybach”

An unlikely pairing between two contrasting styles effortless collides into one of the better underground offerings from the year. Jay Worthy is the type of rapper that can fit himself into any soundscape your insert him in. In this case, however, his producing partner for this record, Roc Marci, entered his world. The clash between East and West Coast sounds has never sounded better, allowing the two to excel in completely contradictory mediums. This is one of those project that makes you appreciate the evolution of the genre since the cut-throat days of the nineties because a project of this caliber and stature wouldn’t be able to be created during the days of the East/West Coast beef.

Best tracks: “Underground Legends”, “Nothing Bigger Than the Program”, “Simple Man”

The highly anticipated debut album from the East London heavy hitter breaks free from the mixtape mold and elevates his game to new heights. It was clear from day uno that Potter strived to deliver a complete product with a deeper purpose than barring up his peers – he flipped the mirror looking out from the stoop into the depths of his soul. This was the most honest we’ve heard Potter on record as he digs deep and sorts through real life accounts and unheralded emotions. The UK has seen a lot more notable releases than the States, but Potter Payer’s Real Back in Style is a major hit in both scenes.

Best tracks: “Track Flocaine”, “Toy Story 2”, “Multifaceted”

What started off as an album cut intended to pay homage to a legend quickly turned into a strong bridge from the old-school to the new generation. One thing about Curren$y is he’s going to give the legends the flowers they deserve – and his attempt to show JD his praise transformed into a new collaborative opportunity. The Southern musical legend put together an impeccable composition of beats, hooks and adlibs together for the New Orleans hot spitter, unlocking a new style that helps brings the nineties-era fun to a modern scheme. It was a perfect mesh of amusement and artistry, helping the world start the summer off right.

Best tracks: “Never Enough”, “Off the Lot”, “Fortune 500”

Oddisee has been at it for the better portion of the past decade and a half. The Mello Music Group pioneer helped pilgrim an unorthodox sound that set the tone for the modern day underground scene, straying away from mainstream tread and fads in exchange for meaningful music. With To What End, we see Oddisee continue to push the boundaries further, playing with melodic tones and sounds that don’t typically align with traditional hip-hop styles. To the record’s core, however, To What End sounds exactly like what a hip-hop project from an new-found vet should sound like, quality wise. This record is easily a sleeper pick for the esteemed ‘album of the year’ title.

Best tracks: “Many Hats”, “Try Again”, “Choices”

The Lloyd Banks renaissance has been one of the most thrilling plotlines to follow in the modern-day hip-hop scene, following the evolution of a legend who still wields the lyrical skill to excel among the genre’s best warriors. Banks completes the trilogy of his life, continuing the discussions of pressure, pain and paranoia from the perspective of a street rapper turned family man. There is no doubt that family means the most to Banks, but it’s something special about hearing the seasoned vet voice his ambitions to further stabilize his family life that makes this record special. Of course we still have minor doses of Blue Hefner taking over the mic, but for the most part, the COTI series finishes the trilogy off in an epic fashion.

Best tracks: “Daddy’s Little Girl”, “101 Razors”, “Onyx AMG”

Years of Run The Jewels obligations derailed the solo careers of both El-P and Killer Mike, but if there’s anything this minor hiatus has shown, it’s the pair continue to make amazing art as solo acts. Killer Mike’s first solo offering since 2012 has done it’s part in occupying yearly conversations with its brutal honesty and sheer tenacity concerning current world affair as well as the landscape of the culture. Though it proves to act somewhat of a memoir, MICHAEL simultaneously balances hindsight with a dash of modernity in sound and references, allowing the record to be well-received among all sectors of the genre’s terrain. The last-minute entry from Killer Mike was just too good to resist a placement on a list of this caliber.


The Houston Honcho’s highly anticipated Utopia is the blockbuster everyone expected. Over 19 tracks, Travis Scott grants yet another out-worldly soundscape, loaded with surprise guest appearances, slick beat switches, and some of the daring songs of the year. It’s the chaotic lovechild of Donda and Yeezus, a full-circle moment for Scott’s early production days (back when he had the dollar sign in his name—remember that?) Scott’s rapping also takes centre-stage, throwing the flows back to his early cult mixtapes. When it comes to rap explosions, nothing else in 2023 will come close to the combustion of Utopia.