Below is a list of 2021 hip-hop albums that I’ve enjoyed. As usual, the list is unranked. I don’t make any pretense towards being authoritative, and it’s likely I missed out on a handful of major titles. The listening doesn’t stop here.
I’ve noticed that an increasing number of outlets are offering best-of lists without ranking them…and that the trend has elicited pushback. The good thing about ranked lists is that they offer clear views of what their compilers think are the most important releases. They can look cowardly by opting for a faux-plebeian sensibility. However, what usually happens with ranked lists is that the best-selling/universally acclaimed titles sit at the top, and the weird/interesting/controversial titles land at the bottom. Our eyes inevitably gravitate towards the bottom because the chart toppers are overexposed. Structurally, ranked lists seem like an imperfect solution for highlighting the best music each year; the same can be argued for unranked lists as well.
In 2021, only Tyler, the Creator’s Call Me When You Get Lost seemed to appear on everyone’s lists. Hip-hop in year two of the pandemic was deeply unsettled and chaotic. Trends were better summarized in industrial phenomena (NFTs! Colored vinyl!) instead of artistic styles like “new golden era” and “melodic rap” that have waxed and waned for several years. The top of the market was dictated by a handful of cynical, corporate backed chieftains (see Drake and Kanye West) whose presence invited anguish and creative boredom instead of energizing debate. Perhaps that’s why everyone has retreated to their respective corners, whether it’s golden era OGs who overrate Nas or blog-era OGs who overrate Chief Keef.
As oppressive as the 2010s may have felt with its collective emphasis on Pulitzer-level arena fare by Kendrick Lamar et al; the past two years have proven that rap can flounder when aesthetically vital artists who dictate the culture and serve as targets to rebel against are nowhere to be found. Whether those kinds of thought leaders can flourish in our current COVID-stricken environment remains to be seen.
For now, good hip-hop music still exists.
- Akai Solo & Navy Blue, True Sky
- Armand Hammer & The Alchemist, Haram
- Benny Butcher & Harry Fraud, The Plugs I Met 2
- Boldy James & The Alchemist, Bo Jackson
- Bruiser Wolf, Dope Game Stupid
- Injury Reserve, By the Time I Get to Phoenix
- Isaiah Rashad, The House Is Burning
- KA, A Martyr’s Reward
- L’Orange, The World Is Still Chaos, But I Feel Better
- Little Simz, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
- Maassai, With the Shifts
- Mach-Hommy, Pray for Haiti
- Mach-Hommy, Balens Cho
- Madlib, Sound Ancestors
- Mavi, End of the Earth
- MIKE, Disco!
- Moor Mother, Black Encyclopedia of the Air
- Mother Nature, SZNZ
- Nappy Nina & JWords, Double Down
- Nas, King’s Disease II
- Navy Blue, Navy’s Reprise
- Pooh Shiesty, Shiesty Season
- R.A.P. Ferreira, Bob’s Son
- R.A.P. Ferreira, The Light Emitting Diamond Cutter Scriptures
- Rod Wave, Soulfly
- Shortie No Mass, Here Goes Nothing
- Spectacular Diagnostics, Ancient Methods
- Topaz Jones, Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Mama
- Tyler, the Creator, Call Me If You Get Lost
- Wiki, Half God
- Your Old Droog & Tha God Fahim, Tha YOD Fahim