Trey and Brandon hopped back in the studio for the first time since February. The don and the consigliere discussed Barbenheimer, the writers/actors strike, the Emmy nominations, the current state of the MCU, Drake's upcoming album For All the Dogs and more.
Trey and Brandon are back with a new OG podcast for the 2023 season. The don and consigliere reviewed Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, predicted Oscar winners, broke down James Gunn's DCU announcements, discussed the GRAMMYs, recapped the Super Bowl and much more.
Trey the don and Brandon the consigliere look back at 2022 and reveal their top-10 lists for songs, albums, TV shows, movies and more from the past year. Do you agree with their lists?
It's our favorite time of the year as podcasters: year-end rankings time! Too Fly Ty Ty, Glovelender Cam and Cade Da Turtle Killa revealed their top TV shows, movies, songs, albums and more from 2022. Trey the don revealed his honorable mentions to keep the surprise for the year-end OG podcast, which is coming soon. How'd the boys do on their lists?
By Trey Alessio
This year was jam-packed with great hip-hop albums. It was honestly difficult to narrow it down to a list of 10 albums and five honorable mentions, but I did my best. Let the annual debate begin!
(Reminder: this is based on what I like to call the “body of work,” meaning I take everything from quality of the music as a whole, storytelling, message, cohesion, production, rap skills, lyricism, streaming performance, chart performance, etc. into account.)
10. Drill Music in Zion - Lupe Fiasco
Lupe Fiasco recorded Drill Music In Zion in the span of 72 hours using nothing but GarageBand and a hundred-dollar microphone, but don’t let this minimalistic approach fool you. Lupe created another beautiful body of work to add to his elite discography with this one. Like the past few Lupe albums, Drill Music In Zion is a masterclass in dense lyricism that requires the use of Google and/or a history book. Starting out with a beautiful spoken-word poem by Ayesha Jaco on “THE LION’S DEN” and ending with the potent, to-the-point “ON FAUX NEM,” Drill Music In Zion is a dissertation on race, culture, wealth and so much more. I’d love to sit down and have a conversation with Lupe because I think he’s brilliant. That brilliance is showcased time and time again on this album. It’s time to give Lupe Fiasco his flowers.
9. Herbert - Ab-Soul
After a six-year hiatus, Ab-Soul has returned with Herbert. Unlike his last effort Do What Thou Wilt., which had a distinct, cohesive theme, Herbert feels more like a collection of solid songs with the perfect mix of vulnerability and fun. What sets Herbert apart is this aura of positivity that surrounds Soulo with this album. He’s been candid about his brush with suicide in interviews and on songs like “Do Better,” but with songs like “Positive Vibes Only,” it feels like Soulo has moved past that and is in a better place. This breath of fresh air comes through in the music. This album also allows Soulo to have fun on songs like “FOMF,” “Bucket” and “Gotta Rap.” The insane wordplay we’ve become accustomed to with Ab-Soul is still there, but the bars, themes and overall songs just feel more mature, which is something I appreciated. My favorite tracks include “Do Better,” “Church On the Move,” “Moonshooter” and “Message In a Bottle.” I’m glad Ab-Soul is in a better place, and I hope it doesn’t take another six years for him to drop new music.
8. Laughing So Hard, It Hurts - MAVI
I say this every year, but there always seems to be an album from a newcomer that sticks with me throughout the year. Laughing So Hard, It Hurts by MAVI is this year’s breakthrough project. Clocking in at 38 minutes across 16 tracks, MAVI pours his heart and soul into this album. His pain and passion seep through on every song with his vivid and honest stories. I also believe there’s an apparent mental health theme throughout this project as well as cyclical concepts about death and rebirth, which I really appreciated. There are a bunch of songs that spoke to me on this album, but I think the highlight comes on “Chinese Finger Trap.” MAVI has the makings to become a staple in hip-hop if he continues on this trajectory and deserves a lot of credit with this powerful body of work.
7. Cheat Codes - Danger Mouse & Black Thought
Soulful samples and bars—there’s not much more to say. The production value on Cheat Codes is nearly flawless, and the lyricism is on another level. This album just has a 90s vibe, and I think the fact that Black Thought, an artist who came up through the 90s, is still on this god-level and showing this kind of longevity really adds to the value of this project. Joey Bada$$, A$AP Rocky, Run the Jewels, Conway the Machine and more round out an A-list cast of features, and MF DOOM even provides a posthumous verse on Cheat Codes. My favorite cuts on this album are “Belize,” “Identical Deaths” and “Violas and Lupitas.” Calling all the old-school hip-hop heads… This one's for you!
6. Melt My Eyez, See Your Future - Denzel Curry
I hate to admit this, but I never pressed play on a Denzel Curry project until I heard the buzz surrounding Melt My Eyez, See Your Future. To my understanding, Denzel Curry took a more introspective approach with this album. Of course, I recall his more trap-heavy song “ULTIMATE” from the dumb water bottle videos that made their way around the internet years ago, so I was impressed when this album provided a completely different sound than what I expected. If you know me, you know lyrical, introspective rap is my jam, so I got a lot of replay value out of Melt My Eyez, See Your Future. I believe there’s also a mental health theme buried within this album, but I haven’t been able to pinpoint it. If I had to guess, I would say “melt my eyes” is a metaphor for pain brought on by the world. Once that pain is endured, one can choose to walk past it (this is what I believe the song “Walkin” represents) or let it be their demise. I fail to see a true cohesive story throughout this album, but this core theme reigns true throughout.
The real highlight of this album is the cohesive sound. It feels like Denzel Curry built a sonic world with Melt My Eyez, See Your Future and we, as the listeners, are navigating it. The transitions from song-to-song are immaculate and add to the previously stated cohesiveness. The production is crisp, the features are top-tier and the showcase of Denzel’s rap abilities is stellar. Come for the song “Walkin,” which is one of my favorite hip-hop songs from 2022, but stay for the entire body of work.
5. It's Almost Dry - Pusha T
Pusha T has made it abundantly clear that coke rap isn’t going away anytime soon. After It’s Almost Dry dropped, somebody on Twitter joked that his fanbase listens to his albums thinking they’re drug kingpins when in reality they all work 9-5 jobs. Push responded and said these are the same fans that listen to his albums in the way they watch Martin Scorsese movies. I love that comparison. It feels like Pusha T has embraced his role in hip-hop. It’s apparent on It’s Almost Dry with the eerie Joker laugh throughout the album, the “cocaine’s Dr. Seuss” moniker and the Scorsese comparison. Push knows his role, sticks to his topic and does it exceptionally well and in ways that keep it fresh. With Kanye West producing half the album and Pharrell producing the other half, the production on It’s Almost Dry alone is enough to earn it a spot on this list. But Push doubles down with songs like “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes,” “Call My Bluff” and “Open Air” that prove he’s got bars for days.
In my opinion, the only song that feels a little out of place on this album is “Scrape It Off” with Don Toliver and Liz Uzi Vert. To me, this song kind of feels like it’s trying to be a part of the new wave of hip-hop whereas the rest of the album stays in its street-level lane. My favorite tracks include “Dreamin Of the Past,” “Just So You Remember,” “Neck & Wrist” and “Diet Coke.” Pusha T seems to finally be getting his flowers with It’s Almost Dry, and it’s about time.
4. Ramona Park Broke My Heart - Vince Staples
On the surface, Ramona Heart Broke My Heart is an album full of trap beats, lyrics about life in the hood and chill vibes, but Vince Staples found a way to go deeper with this album. Ramona Heart Broke My Heart is the perfect juxtaposition. It wants you to think it’s this masculine body of work, but when you peel the layers back, you see the connected emotion throughout the project. Vince paints a vivid picture of growing up in Long Beach, California, but he enters a new realm of storytelling when he allows himself to become vulnerable. That vulnerability is what sets Ramona Heart Broke My Heart apart from his previous albums, which is why I will boldly state that I believe this is his best album. The core theme that I picked up on with this album is the idea of trapping and hustling in the hood becoming the way of life. However, that way of life unfortunately doesn’t allow men in this position to show emotion, which is somehow perceived as weakness. I found this album to be a beautiful exploration of masculinity and vulnerability. I believe this is highlighted on the album’s final track “THE BLUES.” Vince repeats on the chorus, “Money made me numb.” To me, he’s saying all the hustling and paper-chasing made him oblivious to his own emotions and the trauma that comes with this gangster lifestyle. Ramona Heart Broke My Heart is a dark but beautiful story that requires multiple listens all the way through. Run it back, and let the story hit you.
3. Few Good Things - Saba
Hot take: Saba’s previous album Care For Me honestly might be one of my favorite hip-hop albums in the last decade, so I had very high expectations for Few Good Things. With that being said, Few Good Things lived up to almost every expectation. Care For Me dealt with the trauma surrounding the loss of Saba’s cousin Walt. He also lost a fellow Pivot Gang member when Squeak was shot in 2021. However, Saba made it clear that he didn’t want to be synonymous with trauma after the tragic-yet-beautiful work of art that was Care For Me. Instead, he said he wanted to create an album that celebrates both the ups and downs of life. Few Good Things does just that. We got Saba’s candid thoughts and feelings about a plethora of topics such as money, fear, friendship, love and a gambit of other themes.
I believe there’s a hidden thesis on this album. On “Free Samples,” Saba raps, “I tried to spend a lil’ less like a minimalist, but then I can confess that this gets harder the bigger you get.” He continues this verse on the title track “Few Good Things” and raps, “The rich’ll get rich; the poor get pissed. That’s just what it is. We seen everything from the gutter to glitz. Adults in the crib tellin’ they kids to cover they ears. Fight with a youngin and watch they older brothers appear. Like two in the front and one in the rear. The fun subsides when you gotta swallow your anger or stomach your fear. All the money a myth; it’s a sunken abyss.” I also want to circle back to the track “An Interlude Called ‘Circus.’” Saba raps, “All the small things about being broke I never got to notice.” I think the overarching theme Saba is trying to get across with Few Good Things is the fact that there’s beauty in the struggle. On the chorus of “2012,” Day Wave sings, “I had everything I needed. Everything.” I think Saba is saying sometimes it may be easy to look at our trauma and pain and not be able to get past it, but if we dig deep, we can embrace the struggle and ultimately count our blessings in order to find happiness. I think it’s a beautiful message for an album that attempts to capture the full human experience.
2. The Forever Story - JID
I’ve been trying to figure out what “forever” means in the context of this album since JID dropped the apparent sequel to his 2017 effort The Never Story. I still haven’t quite figured it out, but if I had to guess I’d probably say JID is telling us he’s found his calling within hip-hop and plans to live his dream forever. I also think there’s a cool symmetry with “forever” being the first word on the opening track “Galaxy” and last word on the final track “2007.” But honestly, I think The Forever Story doesn’t need to be overanalyzed. I think it’s really just an awesome showcase of JID’s top-tier musical abilities, and if there’s no true story to be dissected, A1 rapping over stout production is enough. I believe we, as a hip-hop community, always knew JID had the makings to be one of the greats and ultimately take the torch from the likes of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. JID kept inching closer and closer. His album DiCaprio 2 was kind of his mainstream breakout project. His popularity grew with the Dreamville collaborative effort Revenge of the Dreamers III. He finally cracked a top-40 radio spot with his guest appearance on Imagine Dragons’ song “Enemy.” But JID hadn’t put out a solo project that solidified himself as a potential rap GOAT. With The Forever Story, JID proved he’s going to be a staple in hip-hop for a very long time, if not forever. (See what I did there?).
The stretch on the album from “Kody Blu 31” to “Can’t Make U Change” might be my favorite 4-song run of the year. JID flexes both his vocals as well as his lyricism and storytelling on these tracks. My favorite songs on the album include “Kody Blu 31,” “Dance Now,” “Raydar,” “Sistanem” and “Bruddanem.” I’m also so happy they got the samples cleared and found a way to put “2007” on the album because it really rounds out the story in a beautiful way. (Eight tracks plus eight tracks flipped on its side equals infinity a.k.a. forever as JID pointed out to us.) I can’t wait to see what JID does next!
1. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers - Kendrick Lamar
There’s so much to say about Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar. I wrote my initial thoughts in a previous post, but my love for this album has only continued to grow since it first came out. This is an album I listen to almost every day. I find new things almost every time I listen, and it may sound corny, but I use a lot of the themes from this album to learn and grow in my own life.
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is an album that isn’t for the casual listener. It requires multiple listens all the way through to fully capture the experience. It’s ultimately an album about human nature. It’s about growth and healing. Kendrick sets up the album as an 18-part therapy session. Each song deals with a different emotion or theme or feeling and reveals Kendrick’s candid thoughts about a number of hot-button issues. The core theme that I believe Kendrick wants to convey on this album is “perspective leads to empathy, and empathy leads to healing.”
I will boldly state that Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is my second favorite Kendrick Lamar album behind To Pimp a Butterfly. My favorite songs from this album include “Mirror,” “Savior,” “N95,” “Father Time” and “Crown.” In my opinion, this is Kendrick’s most vulnerable and relatable album to date, and I believe we can all learn so much from this masterpiece of an album.
King's Disease III - Nas
Can we talk about the run Nas has been on with his last four albums? If you don’t have Nas in your all-time top-10, what else does he have to do? The man exudes lyrical longevity, and King’s Disease III proves that he can still hang with the best of them. I also don’t want to forget about Hit-Boy, the main producer for the King’s Disease album series. This duo has been such a pleasant surprise in the past few years. The only reason King’s Disease III didn’t crack my top-10 list is because I didn’t find myself constantly going back to press play, but that doesn’t deny its greatness.
$oul $old $eparately - Freddie Gibbs
Freddie Gibbs had some fun with his major-label debut and flexed his connections with all the features and skits on this album. Unfortunately, $oul $old $eparately didn’t hit me quite like his previous couple albums did, but $$$ still has a good mixture of bars, coke raps and crisp production. To me, this album kind of felt like Freddie was throwing everything on the wall to see what would stick. In some cases, that method works. But I think Freddie has more in the tank, which is why this album didn’t quite make my top-10 list.
From a Bird's Eye View - Cordae
Coming off the success of his debut album The Lost Boy, I had high expectations for Cordae’s sophomore album From a Bird’s Eye View. While Cordae did his thing, this album came out way back in January and unfortunately didn’t have the legs to translate into replay value for me. Don’t get me wrong, Cordae has the potential to be in the same conversation as JID to eventually sit upon hip-hop’s throne, but I wanted more of a cohesive story with this album. My favorite songs include “C Carter,” “Momma’s Hood,” “Sinister” and “Westlake High.” I hope Cordae goes more introspective with his next album.
Luv 4 Rent - Smino
I love how unique Smino’s music is. Is he a rapper? Is he a singer? I think he does such a great job of blending the two. Luv 4 Rent is the embodiment of this cool rap-R&B blend. The clear-cut highlight on this album is “90 Proof” with J. Cole, but I also really enjoyed how one song bleeds into the next on this project. I don’t think we’ve seen peak Smino, but I’m excited to watch him grow as an artist and push the boundaries for hip-hop.
Learn 2 Swim - Redveil
I hadn’t heard any of Redveil’s music before Learn 2 Swim, but I’m really glad I decided to press play. He has this distinct, underground sound, but his lyricism and production choices really make him stand out from the pack of Soundcloud rappers. Learn 2 Swim is a powerful body of work. My favorites include “together,” “diving board” and “pg baby.” Don’t sleep on Redveil!
Ya'll thought we canceled the Scrubs podcast, didn't you? Nope. We're back! Trey the don, Too Fly Ty Ty, Glovelender Cam and Cade Da Turtle Killa are back to discuss Kendrick Lamar's album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, the NCAA conference realignment, the future of the MCU, Drake's album Honestly, Nevermind and much more.
May the 4th be with you! Trey the don and Brandon the consigliere are back with a new OG R | U | NTRTND podcast. The boys preview Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness, review Moon Knight, break down the Obi-Wan Kenobi trailer, review The Batman, preview Kendrick Lamar's upcoming album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, recap the NBA Playoffs and much more.
Trey Alessio and Brandon Ogden are back with a new episode of the OG R | U | NTRTND podcast. The boys preview The Batman, break down the Marvel shows going from Netflix to Disney+, discuss the Doctor Strange Into the Multiverse of Madness trailer, Bas' Instagram posts, Punch's tweets, the Super Bowl and much more.
By Trey Alessio
People can debate whether or not 2021 was slightly better than 2020, but I think we can all agree the year brought us some great music. Some of the heavy hitters in hip-hop came to play along with some dope newcomers. Let's celebrate 2021 with my top-10 list of hip-hop albums and pray we get a Kendrick Lamar album in 2022!
(Reminder: this is based on what I like to call the “body of work,” meaning I take everything from quality of the music as a whole, storytelling, message, cohesion, production, rap skills, lyricism, streaming performance, chart performance, etc. into account.)
10. USEE4YOURSELF - IDK
Remember back in the BC (before Corona) times when IDK dropped his album ISHEREAL? It was my no. 10 album of 2019. I really enjoyed that album and believe it would’ve been higher on my list if IDK landed the plane because it ended on quite the cliffhanger. Well, take the last letter from all of the tracks on ISHEREAL? and you get USEE4YOURSELF, the definitive sequel to his 2019 effort. Much like its predecessor, USEE4YOURSELF tackles some heavy topics such as religion and sex. Over 44 minutes and 17 songs, IDK lands the plane.
The reason this album didn’t make it higher on my list is because the real theme gets diluted with songs like “PradadaBang” with Young Thug and “Shoot My Shot” with Offset that felt like blatant reaches for the radio with big-name rap juggernauts. I understand IDK is flexing his connections and blending his R&B skills with his rap skills, but it kind of made the album feel a little bloated.
The real theme lies within songs like “1995,” “Hey Auntie,” “Cry in Church” and “Closure," which is where the album shines. On ISHEREAL?, we learn IDK’s mother died from AIDS, which, in my opinion, led to his ideologies on sex and women. On USEE4YOURSELF, we learn that IDK was molested by his aunt, which he seemed to reveal on “Hey Auntie” with Slick Rick. That moment was probably the true moment where his ideologies on sex and women stem from.
On “1995,” IDK raps, “Stepfather ain’t comin’ home, he gettin’ head. Claimin’ he busy, he on a business trip. When really, he with a trick, she suckin’___. ‘Cause when them days came, it affected the way I see men. I had to let that sink in. ‘Cause when my mama cried, it affected the way I see revenge. And I ain’t know it but, everything I did was results of how I was growin’ up.”
On “Closure,” IDK speaks to his late mother and says, “I think that before you understand religion, we should all focus on understanding something that most of us can agree on. And that’s the want for love. I wish you would’ve put the same amount of emphasis you put in religion and learning that and following God, with the love you gave me. You know, I think, with that, maybe I would’ve treated women a little bit better. Maybe I would have a little bit more trust for other people. Maybe I wouldn’t feel the need to use my success as armor.” He ends the spoken-word track by forgiving his mom, and the album wraps in a beautiful way. I think it’s a classic “child is punished by the sins of the parent” theme, and with that, I think IDK is open to religion and God, but also questions all the things that have happened to him along the way. It’s very relatable and poetic. IDK is an outstanding artist, and I believe IDK has a classic album in him that has yet to come. Hopefully he can hone in on the conceptual parts of the album and filter out the songs that don’t fit the theme in the future.
9. Vince Staples - Vince Staples
Is it possible for an album to simultaneously go super hard while also being super chill? Vince Staples’ self-titled album is the epitome of that. Catchy bars, authentic lyrics, hard beats, chill flows and quality over quantity. This is Vince Staples, and it’s executed almost flawlessly in 10 songs over 22 minutes. This album comes with a cool confidence like Vince knows he’s great but lets the music do the talking. There wasn’t a huge rollout for this project; just the music. My favorite tracks include, “Are You With That?,” “Law of Averages” and “Taking Trips.” Vince knows his lane, and this album proves that.
8. Angelic Hoodrat: Supercut - Kenny Mason
To be honest, I don’t know whether this album is technically a deluxe version of Kenny Mason’s 2020 effort Angelic Hoodrat or if he considers Supercut a whole new album because this one includes 12 brand new songs. Either way, I’m going to consider Supercut an album because it’s awesome and showcases Kenny Mason’s unique talent.
I said this on my list last year, and I’ll say it again this year: Kenny Mason has the potential to be a superstar in hip-hop. With his hardcore raps and genre-blending style of punk-rock and trap-rap, expect Kenny Mason to keep moving up the ranks within hip-hop. Supercut only adds to the solid foundation he built with Angelic Hoodrat. My favorites songs are “Much Money” with Freddie Gibbs, “A+” with Denzel Curry, “Play Ball” and “Fasho.” This is just a dope, fun album that needs to be listened to by the masses, so tell a friend to tell a friend.
7. Gold Mouf - Lute
I knew about the Dreamville rapper Lute before the Revenge of the Dreamers III sessions in 2019, but he quickly became a standout in my eyes after the release of that collab album. Lute took his time with this album, releasing three singles long before the actual release of this album, but the quality has never wavered. Lute is a lyricist through and through. He has such an authentic, vulnerable style of storytelling that really allows him to open up within his music, which ultimately makes the music more relatable. Gold Mouf isn’t really a cohesive story, but it showcases Lute’s stellar rapping abilities. I appreciated the Gold Mouf skits sprinkled throughout the album, and if I had to pick a theme, it would be "braggadocio leads to confidence." This is just a fun album that lays a solid foundation for Lute moving forward.
6. King's Disease II - Nas
Nas seems to keep getting better and better with age, and with Hit-Boy being his new-found, go-to producer, King’s Disease II felt like a moment for this duo to power-up. KDII comes with a different type of vibe for everyone: hardcore storytelling, fun bars, immaculate flows, banging beats as well as smooth beats. Nas did his thing with the raps, and Hit-Boy did his thing with the beats. Together, the two made a great album with KDII, my personal preference over the original. My favorites include, “Death Row East,” “Rare,” “Nobody” featuring Ms. Lauryn Hill and “Brunch on Sundays” featuring Blxst, not to mention an unexpected collaboration with Eminem on “EPMD 2.” Nas just keeps proving he deserves to be in hip-hop’s Mount Rushmore conversation.
5. The House Is Burning - Isaiah Rashad
Isaiah Rashad is back after a 5-year hiatus, and he brought the vibes with him. Zay’s style is the perfect blend of trap/mumble rap and lyricism, and he does it with ease on The House Is Burning. Zay put on for TDE in 2021 with THIB being the only album from the label this year, and five years after The Sun’s Tirade, Zay proved to everyone that he’s still got it. The album is laced with a fun cast of features from Lil Uzi Vert to Smino to labelmate Jay Rock and SZA and more, which added to the excitement. For me, the highlight is “Headshots (4r Da Locals),” which Zay previewed on IG Live months ahead of the album’s release. I’m so glad that song made the cut because I loved the song ever since I heard the snippet that made its way to Twitter. I think that song embodies all of what Zay can do–mesh the smooth with the hard, meaning he can go hard with the rappity-raps and be smooth like butter at the same time. The catchy hooks, the beat selection and the delivery are all top-notch. If I had to reach for a story within this album, I’d argue The House Is Burning is a metaphor for Isaiah Rashad’s life because one of the reasons for the 5-year break was to clean up some of his substance abuse issues. Maybe the house or the world is burning around him, and after facing all the vices and things life throws his way, Zay is able to step out and be a human being, which is highlighted on the last track, “HB2U.” Maybe I’m stretching, or maybe Zay is clever and subconsciously planted those seeds within the album. Either way, THIB is a great body of work.
4. Donda - Kanye West
After three listening sessions streamed on Apple Music and another sloppy album rollout, Kanye’s long-awaited album Donda finally made its way to streaming services for everyone to enjoy. Do I still remember Kanye wearing the red hat? Yes. Do I still remember Kanye running for president and attempting to throw a kink in the biggest presidential election of our lifetime? Yes. Do I still remember Kanye spazzing in the news about Kim and all the other drama? Yes. But I’m doing my best to separate the person from the music, which is sometimes very hard. The music, by itself, is a beautiful work of art, in my humble opinion.
You can argue the features outdid Kanye on every song. You can argue the album is bloated. You can argue some of the album is repetitive. But, to me, Donda somehow rises above all of that. This feels like an event more than an album–something you need to fully embrace and experience to truly enjoy. Maybe the live listening sessions skewed my perspective, but I think those three sessions made me enjoy this body of work even more. When the album finally hit streaming services, it already felt lived-in and familiar. Plus, when taken in as a whole, this album just feels like a special tribute to Kanye’s late mom.
If you know me, you know I love an album with a cohesive theme or story. On the original streaming version of Donda, the songs with darker vibes (“Off the Grid,” “Hurricane,” “Praise God,” etc.) come at the beginning of the album while the songs with lighter, more angelic vibes (“Lord I Need You,” “Come to Life,” “No Child Left Behind,” etc.) come toward the end of the album. It’s a beautiful arc that lends itself to a “sinner to saved” theme.
Yes, this album is a little bloated, but that seems like an unfortunate trend in the streaming era. With 27 songs on the original and 32 songs on the deluxe version, in my opinion, there weren’t a ton of misses. I think that’s a pretty impressive feat to accomplish, and Kanye did that. Is Donda Kanye’s best album? No. But I do think this is his best album since his overall best album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010.
3. I Died For This!? - Grip
I feel like I say this every year, but there always seems to be one album that comes from a breakthrough artist and sticks with me throughout the entire year. Grip, Shady Records latest signee, caught my attention with his 2019 effort Snubnose, which also made my top-10 list that year. So, I was very excited when I heard Grip signed to Eminem’s label and announced his major-label debut. I Died For This!? is a conceptual album about an artist giving his life to his art and seeing both the pros and cons of that. For me, a screenwriter and filmmaker, that theme really resonated.
The album is laid out as a non-linear story that begins with “And the Eulogy Read!?,” which presents itself as Grip rapping his own eulogy. So, right off the bat, we realize Grip gave his life for his art. From there, we’re launched into individual stories from Grip’s life that highlights his struggles, sacrifices and grind for his rap career. “JDDTTINT!?” is a warning for Grip to do his own thing but “just don’t die this time.” That track transitions into “A Soldier’s Story?” (my favorite song) that begins with the line, “My hunger to be regarded as the best is what’s starvin’ me to death. / Partially depressed and harborin’ regrets, targetin’ success. / Barterin’ bars, bargaining for checks…” Grip is giving everything for his rap career but not yet reaping the rewards. In fact, giving his all for hip-hop is killing him. At the end of this song, Grip contemplates quitting rap altogether until Eminem hears his music and is impressed. This transitions into “Walkthrough!” featuring Eminem, which makes this story all-the-more cohesive. On Eminem’s verse, he tells Grip, “You don’t get your flowers ‘til you’re pushin’ up daisies, and that’s about all your ashes earn,” which feels like a warning not to give your entire life to hip-hop–on-par with the story’s theme. On “Enem3?,” the chorus says, “You’d set yourself on fire for a lonely view. That’s why the enemy is you.” On “ConMon?,” Grip is apologizing to his mom and significant other because he’s finally realizing the dark side of killing himself through his art. On “Patterns?,” Grip raps, “You took your first steps today, and I was nowhere to be found. Busy keepin’ my head above water until my feet could find the ground.” He gave up experiencing an important life moment–watching his child take their first steps–for his rap career. It seems like Grip finally understands the severity of what he’s giving up for his art. On the final track “Pennies… Exit Stage Left!?,” Grip raps, “Trade pennies for my pain, are you not entertained? Sweat, tears, bloodstains, are you not entertained?” Grip essentially gives up his life for our entertainment, and he barely gets anything in return. It’s something that a lot of artists can relate to, and Grip paints a dark, vivid picture along the way. Don’t sleep on this album!
2. The Off-Season - J. Cole
This album was a moment for me. I remember being on vacation in Texas, celebrating my sister’s college graduation. I was laying in bed with my headphones on, the lights turned off, and I pressed play on the first big album of 2021. Hearing J. Cole go so hard and being surprised with every unlisted feature was such a great feeling.
In a different era, I truly believe The Off-Season would’ve been a free mixtape–not because this project doesn’t feel like album-quality, but more so because it feels like a prelude to something bigger. J. Cole has been teasing The Fall Off for a long time, and The Off-Season feels like an appetizer to the eventual entree. Ever since Cole found that slightly auto-tuned flow on “Middle Child,” he’s been in his bag. He doubled down on that vibe with The Off-Season. This album doesn’t have a cohesive theme or story, but it simply showcases J. Cole rapping his ass off. At the very least, when a rapper at the top of their game can accomplish that on a project, it’s something the whole hip-hop community can appreciate. If The Off-Season has any storyline, I think it would be something like, “If you put in the work in the off-season, you’ll see the results during the regular season.” That’s why I think we’re in for something special with The Fall Off. But this album was dope enough on its own. My favorite tracks include, “95 south,” “amari,” “100 mil’,” “let go my hand” and “hunger on hillside.”
1. Call Me If You Get Lost - Tyler, the Creator
In my opinion, Call Me If You Get Lost by Tyler, the Creator is the most complete rap album of 2021. From the DJ Drama ad-libs that brought that classic hip-hop nostalgia to the cool cast of features including Lil Wayne, Daisy World, Lil Uzi Vert, Pharrell and more to the underlying message embedded through the album to the vulnerability shown on songs like “WILSHIRE,” CMIYGL was nearly flawless. Tyler, the Creator’s artistic trajectory is something we can all marvel at. From his introduction to the world with the dark, underground vibe that was “Younkers” to his critically-acclaimed breakthrough album Flower Boy to switching gears while at the top of his game with his pop album IGOR to CMIYGL, it’s been fun to witness Tyler’s greatness.
This probably sounds super cheesy, but this album made me want to travel. On the “BLESSED” skit, Tyler says, “Come get lost with me. Come see the world.” I felt that. On “MASSA,” Tyler says, “Whatever your shit is, man, do it. Whatever bring you that immense joy–do that. That’s your luxury.” I felt that. All of that really translates to “squeeze the most out of life; chase your dreams; see the world; be a wanderer.” I think that’s a powerful message, and I plan to take that to heart in 2022. Don’t get me wrong, the music is incredible, but an album that can have an impact like that is just special. My favorite songs include, “CORSO,” “WUSYANAME,” “HOT WIND BLOWS,” “MASSA,” “SWEET” and “RISE!” I can’t wait to see what Tyler, the Creator does next!
Certified Lover Boy - Drake
When CLB first dropped, I really enjoyed it. But as the year went on and more music came out, the less I revisited this Drake album. Drake is one of the greatest artists of our generation, so I'm going to hold him to a higher standard, especially when he delayed this project multiple times, giving him plenty of time to create something special. I expected greatness with this album but instead got a mediocre body of work. If I'm being honest, CLB might be Drake's most forgettable album since More Life. It just feels like Drake has accomplished all of his goals, made all the money in the world and said all he needs to say, so instead of putting out something the entire hip-hop community can get behind, he puts out something where the most popular song is a literal meme.
Now, with all that being said, even a sub-par Drake album is better than a lot of albums out there. Drake can still rap. Drake can still sing. Drake can still make good music. Again, I just hold him to a higher standard and want more from him. The songs from CLB I found myself going back to the most include, "Champagne Poetry," "Papi's Home," "TSU," "No Friends In the Industry," "7am On Bridle Path" and "You Only Live Twice."
The Melodic Blue - Baby Keem
The Melodic Blue by Baby Keem is a very unique album. It has my favorite song of year in "family ties" with Kendrick Lamar, and it has one of the most outlandish, fun songs of the year in "range brothers" also with Kendrick Lamar. I truly do think 2-phone Baby Keem is very talented, but I ask myself the unfortunate question: would I be interested if Kendrick wasn't involved? And I honestly don't know if I would be. Take away "family ties" and "range brothers" and I just think this is a mid-level hip-hop album.
To give Baby Keem credit, I do appreciate and respect him for switching up flows in a time where a lot of new-wave rappers seem to be copy-cats of one another. The production on this album was great, and it's a fun vibe to turn up to. I'm intrigued to see where Baby Keem goes from here.
Magic - Nas
Two solid Nas albums in one year? What a time to be alive! Magic, another album with Nas' go-to producer Hit-Boy, came out on Christmas Eve, so I don't feel like I got to sit with it enough to fully evaluate the album. If I had more time with it, I truly think Magic might've cracked my top-10 list. I get very similar vibes on this album to 4:44 by Jay-Z. Both of them just feel like hip-hop albums for grown-ups.
After only a couple of listens, I, personally, liked King's Disease II a little better than Magic, but this is still a nice album. My favorite tracks include "Speechless," 40-16 Building" and "Wave Gods" with A$AP Rocky (who provided an all-time verse) and DJ Premier.
Fire in Little Africa - Fire in Little Africa
Fire In Little Africa is an album a buddy of mine put me on to in 2021. This 21-track body of work was created by a bunch of Tulsa artists to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I learned about this moment in history through the HBO limited series Watchmen, which I highly recommend. To my understanding and without getting in to all the details, Tulsa was the home to what was called "Black Wall Street," a prosperous community where everything was black-owned and operated. During the race massacre, a bunch of KKK members ravaged Black Wall Street and ran them out of town, causing not only destruction but also preventing generational wealth for black people in the area and beyond. It's something that wasn't taught to me in school, which I think highlights a larger systematic problem. But after seeing Watchmen and learning about this album, I was compelled to press play.
This album covers some dark, heavy, dense topics, but if you have the stamina and are willing to be partially educated through the art of music, this is an album you should definitely check out. Fire In Little Africa, unfortunately, didn't make the cut for my top-10 simply because I didn't find myself going back to the album very much after the first couple listens. However, it's a powerful body of work that deserves its recognition. My favorite tracks include, "Descendants," "Drowning," "Our World," "Creme of the Crop," "Reparations" and "The Rain."
Don't Go Tellin' Your Momma - Topaz Jones
Don't Go Tellin' Your Momma by Topaz Jones is another incredible album that I, unfortunately, didn't find myself revisiting too much after the first few listens. But this album is a fun, jazzy vibe with heavy Childish Gambino comparisons. The clear-cut favorite for me is "Herringbone." I may have to go back to this album in 2022 to give it its proper due. Don't sleep!
Do you agree with Trey's list? Let us know!
Trey and Brandon reveal their top-10 lists on this episode of the OG podcast. Find out their favorite TV shows, movies, songs, albums, sports moments and more from 2021. The boys also look ahead to 2022 with their anticipated lists.
The Don of Entertainment