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!
The Don of Entertainment