(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
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
8. Angelic Hoodrat: Supercut - Kenny Mason
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
6. King's Disease II - Nas
5. The House Is Burning - Isaiah Rashad
4. Donda - Kanye West
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."