The 20 best hip-hop albums of 2022
There was no shortage of phenomenal hip-hop records released in 2022. But the year has been an incredibly mixed bag—from the highs of the Super Bowl Halftime Show to the tragic deaths of beloved artists like Coolio, PnB Rock, Takeoff and Pat Stay. Let’s stay hopeful as we approach the new year.
The best records the hip-hop community has to offer include obvious releases by Nas, Megan Thee Stallion and Kendrick Lamar (thee Kendrick Lamar), as well as some records that surprised us and had nothing to do with Kendrick Lamar. Special shoutout also to Saul Williams, who appeared on multiple albums this year.
20. Czarface – Czarmageddon!
Esoteric, 7L and Inspectah Deck are back with more musical marvels offering tales of terror and suspense! With a guest appearance from Kool Keith, you can easily picture a crossover album with Dr. Octagon.
Favorite Line: “Fools rushing in, USSR/ Yeah the ship’s coming in, USS CZAR/ Sorta clever, For Showbiz I’m a Lord Finesser/ More respect for dummies? Well hook up the mic like Jordan Klepper”— “Czarv Wolfman”
19. Token – Pink Is Better
Pink Is Better is a layered album examining the dynamic between Token’s lowest lows and highest highs. Newly signed to Atlantic and partnering with artists like Benny the Butcher, JID and Rico Nasty, Token is certainly riding high right now.
Favorite Line: “Yeah, I hope you working on yourself instead of someone new/ That’s what I said that I’m-a do, but I lied to you/ Few shots, I thought of you, two stops ’til rendezvous”— “Sip”
18. Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart
Long Beach, Calif. neighborhood Ramona Park holds a special place in Vince Staples’ heart. It’s his home turf and he has been through some of his highest highs and lows with it. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is an examination of his love for the community and its lasting impact on his life and career.
Favorite Line: “Hate to see her beg, she don’t want me dead/ Posted on the block, when it’s war, ain’t no warning shots/ Bullet hit his top, all his homies ran, his body dropped/ You can’t have my heart but I promise you’ll be in my thoughts” — “ROSE STREET”
17. Megan Thee Stallion – Traumazine
Sometimes, people have more than their fill of bad luck and cruelty thrown their way, and it can bring them to the breaking point. Megan Thee Stallion has had more than her fair share of problems, and she airs out all her rage with Traumazine. Whether it’s the two-faced nature of her peers refusing to acknowledge Megan Thee Stallion, or grieving the passing of her mother, she has every right to feel hurt.
Favorite Line: “Still can’t believe I used to trust you/ The only accolade you ever made is that I fucked you/ You a bitch, if you get the chance, I bet you snitch/ You’ll never get a chance to tell me come and pack my shit” — “Plan B,” Megan Thee Stallion.
16. Earl Sweatshirt – Sick!
Earl Sweatshirt reminds me of Charlie Brown in that his persistent malaise colors all of his work. Sick! is the product of an isolated man going through increasingly isolated times—particularly in how it relates to the pandemic. Earl grapples with feelings of hopelessness amid destruction, while also trying to work on himself.
Favorite Line: “Quit the frat, double back, I need a percent/ Blast and laugh, karma, facts, that’s a messy bitch/ Can’t go out sad, can’t go outside no more, ’cause —— sick, ayy/ Fuck a second chance, I won’t let the devil in” — “Sick!”
15. Black Star – No Fear of Time
It’s been a long 24-year wait for Talib Kweli’s and Yaslin Bey’s Black Star album. Both artists are still offering thoughtful observations and powerful political statements. With production handled exclusively by Madlib, this is a record older heads won’t want to miss.
Favorite Line: “They think I’m arguing, I’m not talking to ’em, I talk through ‘em/ Way too many garbage humans, they raw sewage/ Ashes to ashes and dust to dust/ We gon’ bash us some fascists and fuck them up” — “o.G.”
14. Open Mike Eagle – Component System With the Auto Reverse
Open Mike Eagle is still moving through the fog of depression and anxiety following personal troubles on 2020’s Anime, Trauma & Divorce. Now it’s compounded with pandemic fallout. He expresses increased feelings of paranoia toward others, contemplates retirement and mourns the passing of his idol MF DOOM. Yet Mike continues to persevere and still effortlessly delivers quality tracks.
Favorite Line: “The whole nation is stress filming/ That old faces of death feeling/ I’m daydreaming of the golden ages/ I’m day drinking out in Copenhagen” — “CD Only Bonus Track”
13. Homeboy Sandman – Still Champion
Homeboy Sandman has always been pensive both on wax and off. Still Champion follows Sandman taking on a more observational and thankful outlook. He tries to maintain a positive perspective on the things we often take for granted. With how heavy it’s been the last few years, it’s nice to have something uplifting to listen to.
Favorite Line: “When I walk around my hood, I see the brightest and the best/ And cars with speakers in the back enough to give you cardiac arrest” — “Satellite”
12. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
There was no shortage of controversy surrounding this highly anticipated release from Kendrick Lamar. Divisive tracks “Aunties Diaries,” “Silent Hill” and “We Can Try Together” are highlights. For what it’s worth, the ability of Kendrick Lamar to grapple with grim subject matter and still come out of it all with a positive message speaks volumes to his character. What else made this album album special? Kendrick Lamar didn’t appear on any features by other artists in 2022. You had to come to his album to hear him in 2022.
Favorite Line: “The world in a panic, the women is stranded, the men on a run/ The prophets abandoned, the law take advantage, the market is crashin’, the industry wants” — “N95,” Kendrick Lamar.
11. Your Old Droog – The Yodfather
Elusive Ukrainian-born New Yorker Your Old Droog is on this list for a second consecutive year. He’s become a staple of underground hip-hop since he first stepped on the scene in 2013. The Yodfather examines the legacy of Droog’s career and his ongoing dedication to improving and honing his craft.
Favorite Line: “Listen, I go to war every day, this shit is dangerous/ Anybody can get it, these missiles is miscellaneous” — “Zubin Mehta / Munches Freestyle”
10. Mount Westmore – Snoop Cube 40 $hort
Hip-hop icons from the Bay Area and Los Angeles united for the most significant West Coast hip-hop group since Odd Future or Hieroglyphics. Mount Westmore’s debut release signifies the staying power Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, E-40 and Too $hort—and together they delivered a beast of an album. Snoop Cube 40 $hort embraces the sounds of the eras in which they came up and is a symphonic symbiosis of G-funk and hyphy. Old heads rejoice, as the Golden State is still holding it down.
Favorite Line: “Facebook, Snapchat, Triller or TikTok?/ Instagrams, that’s why your n— got popped/ Hear no evil, see no evil, keep it discreet/ And keep your business up out the street” — “On Camera”
9. Locksmith – The Lock Sessions V3
The Bay Area legend cultivated a passionate following through his gritty, convicted delivery and hard-hitting conscious lyrics. The Lock Sessions V3 is built up with banger after banger thanks to phenomenal production and Locksmith’s aggressive flow and sharp wit. The album covers issues like abortion and systemic racism while also examining his status as an underground icon who seldom gets the roses he deserves. There are few MCs who push themselves as hard as Lock does, which is why he remains among the best in the Bay.
Favorite Line: “Let it breathe like the breeze off the slave ship/ Overthrow the captain and beat his ass with the same whip/ Navigate this vessel to settle a different colony/ We’ll build it with the natives and nature to live in harmony” — “Lemme Breathe”
8. Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future
Denzel Curry decided to go in a new direction on Melt My Eyez See Your Future. He dropped his alter egos for more heartfelt messages, and harsher instrumentals for reserved production. It’s an emotional and introspective record. He examines his feelings about the society’s decay, the political machinations fueling the fires and his personal struggles with friends and partners. Still, Denzel Curry maintains hope for a better future and remains dedicated to seeing things through.
Favorite Line: “I’m feelin’ hasty, yet I’m movin’ hesitant/ The air, the water, rent, the food we eat is filled with pestilence/ Accompanied by famine and death, it’s no choice/ But to stay at home, examine yourself, there’s low voices” — “Worst Comes to Worst”
7. Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry
It’s only appropriate that we get to enjoy some snow at the end of the year, and Pusha T has everyone covered with the freshest powder on It’s Almost Dry. This highly anticipated followup to Daytona sees Pusha T continue to embrace the cocaine kingpin persona. He takes shots at his former manager and Drake, his rise from getting cuts from selling coke, to cutting record deals. Pusha T loves where he’s at and it’s hard not to want to celebrate the success with him.
Favorite Line: “Flew your bitch to Cuba for the thrill of it/ But I ain’t go, to show you what you shoulda did/ Tennis chains to hide all my blemishes/ My joker smile, you know who the villain is” — “Just So You Remember”
6. Bob Vylan – Bob Vylan Presents the Price of Life
As Jean-Jaques Rousseau proclaimed in the French Revolution, “When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.” Bob Vylan Presents the Price of Life is a remarkable work of hardcore leftist punk-rap. Each song emphasizes the desperation of suffering caused by an onslaught of neoliberal and fascist politics that have wrought havoc on the working class. Bob Vylan examines the mechanisms of poverty and resistance, encouraging us to take care of ourselves in the context of a dissenting and subversive political perspective.
Favorite Line: “Dog eat dog world, but the dogs have gone mad/ Trees bear no fruit and the veg has gone bad/ Underwater movements, I’m not talking Krusty Krab/ I’m Spongebob at the bank, put the money in the bag” — “Wicked & Bad”
5. Freddie Gibbs – $oul $old $eparately
Many rappers wax poetic about the superficiality of getting rich, but Freddie Gibbs managed to examine this dynamic from a fresh perspective. Freddie Gibbs explores the costs of fame and how expensive the toll becomes on the soul as you climb to the top. People get stepped on, betrayed and abandoned along the way. It’s hard to enjoy a fortune built on suffering and exploitation. At the end of the day, you have to find the will to live with yourself. Calling this record introspective doesn’t do it justice. Gibbs is critical of himself and the mechanisms that incentivize people to make terrible decisions.
Favorite Line: “Gun fights and sleepless nights, you see the pain all in my face/ Package smell like gasoline, we got them things off in the tank/ Big VL and I’m the big boss mafioso, I got rank/ Don’t need my son to be no doctor, he can always take my place” — “Space Rabbit”
4. Danger Mouse & Black Thought – Cheat Codes
Black Thought kicks off Cheat Codes bragging that he “threw the rhyme book in the fire,” illustrating just how effortless it is for him to craft incredibly complex verses. He and Danger Mouse have made some of their best music, including what they’ve done away from each other. Black Thought consistently delivers thoughtful and smart lyrics, exploring ideas from the function of evolution to the practical value of knowledge as a tool for survival. There are guest verses from Raekwon, MF DOOM, Run The Jewels, A$AP Rocky and Conway the Machine, with each bringing his A-game.
Favorite Line: “The morning star Tariq, I was born to be a teachеr/ Whether scorpion or the frog, the nature of the creature/ Is to evolve, though it’s the savage beast we truly are/ My words should be studied up in Berklee and Juilliard” — “Aquamarine”
3. Nas – King’s Disease III
Nas’ entire King’s Disease trilogy has made it into RIFF’s top 20 hip-hop lists. King’s Disease III is arguably the strongest entry to date with its robust production and Nas’ phenomenal rapping. The album touches on the naivety of youth, his rise to superstardom and the philosophical musings bouncing around in his head. The album feels timeless, both in its production (focused on boom-bap instrumentals) and subject matter. Nas has never stopped being relevant, despite the nags who say he peaked with Illmatic. Nas has displayed a level of ongoing consistency and sustained quality very few artists can maintain—perhaps that’s the true essence of “king’s disease.”
Favorite Line: “Like John Fitzgerald with his girl in a drop/ If he can get hit, then anybody can get got/ And you a easy target, see you never know who watchin’/ Cold hearted monsters, whole city going bonkers” — “Recession Proof”
2. Ho99o9 – SKIN
Ho99o9 continues to create provocative hardcore rap anthems with abrasive breakneck instrumentals, courtesy of theOGM, Eaddy and newest member Brandon Pertzborn (Black Flag). SKIN explores the music industry’s contentious mechanisms, the potential dangers of rogue artificial intelligence, police brutality, racism and violence—all transposed against themes of the occult. It’s a cacophony of utter chaos. Art reflects the world around us, so it’s fitting when we’re constantly bombarded with atrocities and tragedies. The album maintains a solid foot in both punk and hip-hop, including features from Jasiah and Bun B as well as Slipknot’s Corey Taylor. SKIN is exceptional for its ambitious scope, concept, and masterful execution.
Favorite Line: “Psycho with a badge, family staring at my hearse/ Six feet deep in the dirt, don’t cry or hurt/ Welcome to the afterlife where everything is upside down/ In the name of suffering, run my bones into the ground” — “DEAD OR ASLEEP?”
1. Lupe Fiasco – Drill Music in Zion
Drill Music In Zion is the best hip-hop album on its complexity alone. Lupe Fiasco crafted an intricate and layered examination of contrasts in only three days. The album maintains the signatures he’s included in his records over the years, such as sociopolitical analysis, drawing connections between seemingly unrelated topics, narratives with profound subtext; and emotional complexity.
There are many gems like “MS. MURAL,” “PRECIOUS THINGS,” “GHOTI” and my personal favorite, “KIOSK.” The sophistication with which Lupe Fiasco imbues his music always astounds me. He encourages critical thought. His ability to find a perfect balance of complex topics in an accessible way encapsulates what makes him so special as an MC.
Favorite Line: “Diamonds only worth what you are willing to pay/ A deceptive game you are killing to play/ Now I have diamonds, it’s odd feeling this way/ But when they start to sparkle that star-glittering glaze/ It sways, takes your mind off todays” — “KIOSK”
20: Czarface. 19: Token. 18: Vince Staples. 17: Megan Thee Stallion. 16: Earl Sweatshirt. 15: Black Star. 14: Open Mike Eagle. 13: Homeboy Sandman. 12: Kendrick Lamar. 11: Your Old Droog. 10: Mount Westmore. 9: Locksmith. 8: Denzel Curry. 7: Pusha T. 6: Bob Vylan. 5: Freddie Gibbs. 4: Danger Mouse & Black Thought. 3: Nas. 2: Ho99o9. 1: Lupe Fiasco.
Follow hip-hop critic Tim Hoffman at Twitter.com/hipsterp0tamus.