By Anjali Nayak
Whether it be the comebacks of hip-hop megastars or the emergence of a new generation of rappers, 2022 represents a turning point for the genre. Artists of all heights of fame provided lyrical masterpieces as well as trap bangers, continuing to stretch the massive and ever versatile genre. Ranked from worst to best (or rather fantastic to perfect), these albums only scratch the surface of one of the best recent years for music.
11. learn 2 swim by redevil
Listening closely to learn 2 swim, I know that redevil has a good taste in music. He has Earl Sweatshirt’s rhythmic wordplay and Tyler, the Creator’s knack for musicality. But redevil is no copycat. learn 2 swim proves that just like his inspirations, he has his own voice and wisdom to share. Completely self produced, the album shines in its chaos, as the 18 year old rapper clashes gospel, funk, and r&b into an eclectic yet refined collection of songs. Standout “pg baby” features a loose and catchy sample, simultaneously the drums underneath provide a tight, slight swing, all of which perfectly compliments redevil’s nimble flow. redevil walks a line between maximalist and subtle, perfectly capturing a mature sense of recklessness.
10. Heroes & Villains by Metro Boomin’
Fans of larger than life MCU films will absolutely adore Heroes and Villains. Featuring music royalty over anthemic instrumentals and beats, Metro Boomin’ flexes his flair for psychedelic trap. The opener “Superhero” includes a cool and casual Future, whose presence feels as if Barry Bonds is playing in a Little League game — it’s just too easy. “Creepin’” is pop perfection. The Weeknd wallows in his usual dramatic melancholy, this time through an interpolation of Mario Winan’s “I Don’t Wanna Know.” To say that the song is catchy would be a massive understatement. The Weeknd’s crooning falsetto is distinct and passionate, not to mention the satisfying 21 Savage verse that follows. Heroes and Villains cements Metro Boomin as a hitmaker, but not without ardent ambition.
9. NO THANK YOU by Lil Simz
Although a tracklist of B sides from 2021’s Sometimes I Might Be An Introvert, Lil Simz’s 2022 release proves that even her throwaways are good. On NO THANK YOU, Lil Simz has an ax to grind, namely with the industry that created her. Standout “Angel,” proves that Lil Simz always has something interesting to say. She raps, “They don’t care if your mental is on the brink of something dark/As long as you’re cutting somebody’s payslip/And sending their kids to private school in a spaceship.” The rapper knows exactly who she is, at the end of her unsparing and tight verse she asks her listener “Did I stutter?” NO THANK YOU follows Lil Simz’s life as a people pleaser, it isn’t until the track “Sideways,” that she learns the importance of setting healthy boundaries and spending time alone. She recounts her realization, “I didn’t know the word no could be so freeing.” Overall, the album is elaborate and mature, leaving listeners excited for what else Lil Simz has in store.
8. Sick! by Earl Sweatshirt
Woozy and intoxicating, Sick! is addicting. Each track features Sweatshirt’s iconic swing rhythm and wearily drawn out thoughts. In typical Sweatshirt fashion, the raps are meaningful and tightly coiled as previous projects. However, Sweatshirt has opted to split the beats evenly between the lo – fi adjacent work he is most known for and the dark side of contemporary track. And it works. The production on Sick! is top notch, whether it is the chopped up soul of “Tabula Rasa” or the hazy depressing sway of “Sick!” Moreover, Sweatshirt’s latest release features his best instrumental to date. The spiraling piano keys and tasteful sample on “Vision” creates an elegant and sophisticated soundscape. Hardly 24 minutes long, Sick! introduces a reimagined and newly assured Earl Sweatshirt.
7. King Disease 3 by Nas
As ever evolving as hip – hop might be, there are some constants in the genre that stay true. One of which is that Nas will always release quality projects no matter how far into his career he might be. King Disease 3 might be one of the best albums he has released post – Illmatic. Overall, the album almost feels like a victory lap for the legendary rapper. On standout “Legit,” Nas looks back at his career and asks his listener, “Huh, who would’ve thought?” The production screams of Madvillainy, as hints of MF Doom peak through every flow and instrumental. King Disease 3 reminds hip – hop of everything that Nas has to offer, adding even more credibility to an already legendary discography.
6. Melt My Eyez See Your Future by Denzel Curry
Opting for futuristic production and rhythmic flows rather than the deranged trap of past albums, Denzel Curry provides his most mature work to date. In the best way possible, the album reminds me of KIDS SEE GHOSTS, as Curry creates spacey soundscapes and ultramodern instrumentation. Melt My Eyez See Your Future is thoughtful and introspective, being centered around social commentary. After crawling out of a pit of despair and suicidal idealization, Curry understands the uselessness of running on a hamster wheel of self validation. “Mental” showcases Curry’s newfound clarity – it’s all about perspective. A combination of the chaos and self realization Curry has faced, “Zatoichi” includes a tribute to Curry’s journey so far. Melt My Eyez See Your Future represents a turning point for Denzel Curry, as the rapper expands on the hints of maturity spread throughout past projects.
5. Luv 4 Rent by Smino
Luv 4 Rent is irresistible and likable. Smino takes on the role as hip-hop’s newest class clown, as every verse and instrumental oozes in charisma. Developed through funkified instrumentals and clever wordplay, Smino begins to admit his endless search for love. But Luv 4 Rent is more complicated than the typical Soundcloud lover boy. Smino understands his failure as a hopeless romantic and invites them wholeheartedly. He shrugs off his worries and moves onto the next ambition — whether it be an album, a relationship or peace of mind. For fans of Mac Miller’s The Divine Feminine, Smino provides similar rapid – fire punchlines and dense moments of vulnerability. “No L’s,” invites the listener to understand Smino’s embrace of delusion – not the best for the long run, but it definitely gets the job done. The song jumps and jives, reveling in a comedic understanding of his own self destruction. In “90 Proof,” Smino warns his lover of his shortcomings, but charmingly begs her to stay. “Pro Freak,” is practically a tribute to the West Coast funk of the 90s, featuring an ear worm of a verse from Doechii. A cross combination of Mac Miller’s “Skin” and Tyler, The Creator’s “Wilshire,” Smino describes his effortless tendency of falling in love in “Modennaminute.” Luv 4 Rent is infectious and alluring, playing directly into Smino’s strengths, with bare remnants of possible fallbacks.
4. It’s Almost Dry by Pusha T
An album produced by Pharell and Kanye West? It would be more surprising if it wasn’t good. Pusha T’s 2022 release picks up where Daytona left off, It’s Almost Dry features the veteran strutting into experimental hip-hop. Naturally, he thrives in the new territory. The tracklist ranges from sinisterly eerie to frivolous flexing, making for a varied but cohesive listen. Lyrically, Pusha T has been rapping about the same thing for the past decade – cocaine. But there is a reason all of hip-hop awaits his releases. Bouncing from measure to measure, his delivery is as snarly and melodious as ever. One of the best songs of the year, “Neck & Wrist” is thunderous without being overwhelming. The song is perfect, from Pharell’s catchy yet laid back hook to Pusha T’s casual lilting flow. Jay-Z’s verse specifically makes listeners wonder, “Hey, when was the last time Jay dropped an album?” On “Rock N Roll,” Pusha T and Kid Cudi trade sections of the song, allowing for unlikely yet effortless chemistry between the two. “Open Air” is a traditional Pusha T cut, but in the context of the album the song is almost refreshing. The closing track “I Pray For You” sounds as if Pusha T missed the deadline for the Euphoria soundtrack, Labrinth feature and all. It’s Almost Dry is a win for Pusha T and both producers involved.
3. God Don’t Make Mistakes by Conway The Machine
In efforts to come to terms with his close call with death, Conway The Machine puts out the most revealing album of 2022. While Conway has made a name for himself in the underground through tough talk and impactful rhymes, God Don’t Make Mistakes sees the rapper outlining his past, present, and future. He recounts a fundamental memory in each song, giving it its own flavor and flair. Conway The Machine understands how far he has come, but not without a range of previous vices and pitfalls. Throughout the album, Conway assures his listeners that no matter what might have happened in the past, everything happens for a reason. The title of the album says it all. The Alchemist’s painfully chilling production only enhances Conway’s sensitive and vulnerable verses. Opening track “Lock Load” is an ode to paranoia, as Conway The Machine explains his troubling and disheartening relationship with reality. “New Chapters” features a blossoming chorus and ominous instrumentation, as Conway The Machine opens up about the death of his son.
2. The Forever Story by JID
In The Forever Story, JID comes into his own and finally capitalizes off of the potential he has been acclaimed for throughout the past five years. The Forever Story screams of a young Kendrick Lamar, which might be the best compliment any aspiring artist can get. A literary and thematic sequel to his previous project The Never Story, the 2022 release better contextualizes the prominent figures in JID’s Atlanta upbringing. We hear about him and his six siblings fighting a small army outside a New Orleans bar on “Crack Sandwich,” and the dissection of the way his success strains his relationship with one of his sisters on “Sistanem.” The fast paced rhythm and driving bass line on “Can’t Punk Me,” is fun but intricate. The song’s chorus is brash and confident, making for a great listen. “Surround Sound” makes a nod to Mos Def, the song is smooth and catchy, including an intense and thoughtful 21 Savage verse. The Forever Story proves that JID never stays stagnant, as he continues to switch up flows, beats, and instrumentation no matter the song. Even the slow burners like “Bruddanem,” “Can’t Make You Change,” and “Stars,” stay engaging and interesting. Honestly, there isn’t a single bad track on this album. The Forever Story alerts music listeners to make way for the new generation – and JID is leading the pack.
1. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar loves a character. Throughout his past four albums, he has packed his music with perspectives, personifying his many characters and muses with distinct voices, cadences, and beat switches that bring them to life. Such virtuosic tics have cemented him as one of rap’s most celebrated storytellers and stylists; he is the first and only rapper to have won a Pulitzer Prize. Lamar spends Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers gleefully immolating his cherished reputation, switching between caustic taunts and plaintive confessions over slick funk and soul production. While in the past, Kendrick has broken down characters such as capitalism, the American dream, and institutionalized racism, he takes on his most elusive characters: himself. Lamar opens the record framing his frank honesty as dangerous, the first of many disclosures to come. “I been goin’ through somethin’/ Be afraid,” he says, a warning that is followed by frantic double – time verses that slink around oblique piano stabs and brisk drums. His rapping jerks and lurches as he reveals he’s going to therapy and wracked by grief and shame, feelings that he copes with through luxury purchases and infidelity. The first half of Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers goes over his efforts to distract himself from the churning insecurity and self loathing inside. It’s not until the second half that Lamar completely disconnects himself from the facade. But not without an underlying fear of being defined by trauma and shame. On standout, “Father Time,” Lamar deconstructs toxic masculinity and his relationship with his father, saying “Lookin’ for, ‘I love you,’ rarely empathizin’ for my relief.” He sees his father’s self destructiveness in his actions, and it scares him. After a smoky Sampha chorus and a vulnerable second verse, he invites his listeners to break the butterfly effect. Lamar states, “‘Till then, let’s give the women a break, grown men with daddy issues.” The penultimate track, “Mother I Sober” is a punch to the gut. Kendrick confines to his listener the lurid details he has been bottled up instead of processed. Portishead’s Beth Gibbons murmurs “I wish I was somebody/Anybody but myself,” her ghostly timbre capturing the violence of disassociation. While full of sensitive moments and blatant self deprecation, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers still has its fair share of radio ready easy listening. In “Die Hard,” Lamar charmingly asks his wife for reassurance over addictive vocal samples and grooving drums. He begs, “I hope it’s not too late/To set my demons straight.” “N95” is the closest thing Mr. Morale has to a “HUMBLE,” and it doesn’t disappoint. Strong pulses of synth wave and trap hi-hats make for a tactful banger. But Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers cannot be praised without the mention of “The Heart Pt. 5.” Lamar insightfully criticizes the public view’s tendency to move from crisis to crisis without providing helpful answers or solutions to the open wounds in society. Through aggrieved poses and statements, astonishing rapping, and the fastidious attention to detail, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is a modern classic.