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!
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