Che Noir – Food For Thought
Buffalo, NY rapper and producer Che Noir has spent the past handful of years earning a solid fanbase through projects like her Thrill of The Hunt series or Apollo Brown assisted As God Intended. There’s something about Food For Thought that balances phenomenal beats with lyricism that balances street gospel with intricate rhyming. This album should give much hope to traditionalists looking for hookless lyrical extravaganzas like on “Split The Bread” and the all-women posse cut, “Ladies Brunch” or even the inward-looking “Gold Cutlery.”
Conway The Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes
The second full-length album from Griselda Records emcee Conway The Machine avoids the sophomore slump by simply delivering more of the same but better than ever. Production from the likes of HitBoy, The Alchamist, and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League are matched by Conway’s hardened lyrical abilities. Meanwhile, the guest-list featuring Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Jill Scott, T.I. and others elevates the superstar appeal even more.
Earl Sweatshirt – Sick
The ever elusive and quiet Earl Sweatshirt has spent his entire career letting the music truly speak for him. His first project since 2019’s Feet of Clay, Sick, is the emcee getting even deeper into his thoughts. Recording during the pandemic and following the birth of his son, Sweatshirt technically released the most mainstream-sounding project of his catalog with singles like “Titanic” and “Visions,” featuring Zelooperz.
The House, YGTUT & $hoey – The House Presents: The Set
$hoey Russle has spent a while giving Chattanooga, Tennessee rappers from Isaiah Rashad to YGTUT serious platforms through the collective, The House. 2017’s Four, Two, Three project with YGTUT was a special project that gave a voice to one of the least known areas in Southern Hip-Hop’s lexicon. The follow-up project The House Presents: The Set is a more refined collection of dope tracks that shows off the collectives’ individual strengths.
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Moral & The Big Steppers
A five year wait between Kendrick Lamar’s fourth full-length studio album Damn led to a lot of soul-searching splits between deep introspection and therapy. The end result is Mr. Moral & The Big Steppers, an album that not only serves as his final project release on Top Dawg Entertainment but one of the most dense albums to release this year. When K. Dot isn’t challenging his bubbling God complex on “Savior” or looking deep into Black transphobia on “Auntie Diaries,” he’s trying to understand daddy issues on “Father Time” and that’s only scratching the surface on the year’s most debated album.
Leikeli47 – Shape Up
Despite constantly concealing her face, Leikeli47 manages to make her presence known through being one of the most creative emcees regardless of gender. As the cover of her latest release Shape Up shows, what may possibly be part of Leikeli47’s face, this is her most personal and most experimental project yet. Taking bass-heavy braggadocio rhymes to the max on “Secret Service,” she’s taking listeners to the New York ballroom with America’s Next Top Model host Miss J Alexander on “Jay Walk.” The amount of audio colors on this project is fantastically vivid.
Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry
Pusha T has arguably been able to maintain his audience past The Clipse by simply giving fans what they want. 2018’s Daytona was a true fulfillment of the Scorsese-level attention given to lyrical detail during the Kanye West-era’s Wyoming Sessions. It’s Almost Dry has Pusha splitting production duties between Ye and Pharrell, who handled a majority of The Clipse’s production for classic albums like Lord Willin’ alongside Hell Hath No Fury. Despite the dual production styles, it all fits cohesively for tracks ranging from the Jay Z and Pharrell-assisted “Neck & Wrist” to “Diet Coke.”
Redveil – Learn 2 Swim
Maryland emcee Redveil released one of the best rap debuts of the pandemic era with 2020’s Niagara. Two years later, the follow-up, Learn 2 Swim further refines the artist as someone with a bright future ahead of him thanks to his great ear for beats and some of the slickest rhymes one may hear all year.
Six Sev – Give Thanks
Leimert Park emcee Six Sev has spent a handful of years being a pillar in the community. On the entrepreneurial side, his designs were used in Nipsey Hussle’s Marathon store. In addition, he’s managed to release some pretty ear-catching music. This year’s Give Thanks proves Sev can balance aspirational verses dedicated to his community while providing a young carefree swag.
Vince Staples // Ramona Park Broke My Heart
If last year’s self-titled fourth album from Vince Staples was a Kenny Beats-produced left hook that leaned more into classic G-Funk, Ramona Park Broke My Heart is the emotional right hook that adds even more to the Long Beach emcee’s overwhelmingly impressive catalog. Tracks like “Magic” and “East Point Prayer,” featuring Lil’ Baby, prove that Staples can mix thought-provoking yet slickly comedic lyrics.