I guess it’s better late than never. While this blog is mainly focused on doing concert reviews (peep my best-of-the-year list here), it’s become a tradition for me to count down my favourite albums of the year and drop some short reviews of my top picks. While 2022 saw a ton of dope new music come out, I found I spent about half the year tuned in to the classics as I was planning my wedding, and may not have spent as much time following the new-school. This feels like the beginning of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint album, as I’m just ranking the albums that I’m feeling at the time, right or wrong. “Just my thoughts, ladies and gentlemen.”
Now that concert tours are starting to roll out again, I’m hoping to see a lot of these artists perform live this year, as most of these new albums have music that has yet to be taken on the road! As always, here are a few honourable mentions before we get into the Top 10:
*Click here to check out my countdown from 2021*
Apathy & Stu Bangas – King of Gods. No Second
Coast Contra – Apt. 505
Dreamville Records – D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
Kool G Rap – Last of a Dying Breed
Lloyd Banks – The Course Of The Inevitable 2
Roc Marciano & The Alchemist – The Elephant Man’s Bones
Snoop Dogg – Back On Death Row
Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, E-40 & Too $hort – Mount Westmore
Vinnie Paz – Tortured in the Name of God’s Unconditional Love
10. Ab-Soul – Herbert
There may be still a lot to unpack with this album since it only just dropped mid-December, but at the very least we can say it’s refreshing to see Ab-Soul back at it after the 6-year gap between this and his last album. Using his birth name for the title of this one, Ab-Soul delivers a well-rounded body of work that gives fans a little bit of everything they know and love him for. You get the confident, braggadocios tracks that display Soulo’s unique brand of lyricism with wordplay-filled verses, and also get the deep-thinking introspective pieces that tug on the emotions. Not to mention Ab-Soul’s flow, cadence, and the overall sound of these songs are delivered in a way that’s easily digestible for fans of traditional Hip-Hop, with no wave-riding whatsoever. It’s good to have him back.
9. Logic – Vinyl Days
With this being his last album to fulfill his contract with Def Jam Records, Logic decided to take it back to the old-school on his way out. Over the years I’ve found that his music has only been as good as the other artists he’s paid tribute to and/or emulated at the time, and with this particular project focused on recreating a classic ’90s sound (think J Dilla, RZA, DJ Premier), this is the version of Logic that I love to hear. The album plays like an old-school mixtape, with DJ Funkmaster Flex hosting throughout the event, and several notable figures including JJ Abrams, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Judge, and even Canada’s own Nardwuar dropping in to make shoutouts. The songs themselves take a traditional approach with the beats made by sampling vinyl records, and Logic and friends just going in with freestyle rap verses. With no real political message or a need to captivate the masses with watered down material, Logic sounds free as he returns to spitting raps for the love of rap.
8. Benny The Butcher – Tana Talk 4
While the whole Griselda family continued to flood the market with quality music throughout 2022, Benny The Butcher dropped a standout with this album. It takes a special kind of emcee to be able to create a sequel to a classic Notorious B.I.G. song that’s both accepted by the fans and has the support from its original producers (Diddy and DJ Premier), and that’s just one example of what makes Benny The Butcher great. This album captures that ’90s New York energy, with a clear influence from Biggie and Jay-Z that Benny is able to channel and add a modern twist to. We get more of those Scarface vibes throughout this album, as Benny delivers underdog hustler tales with his sharp rhymes and trademark cadence over production by The Alchemist, Daringer and Beat Butcha, while continuing to elevate the Griselda brand of Hip-Hop.
7. Freddie Gibbs – $oul $old $eperately
For his next adventure, Freddie Gibbs takes us on a wild Las Vegas night at the fictional $$$ Hotel, with guest appearances from Scarface, Raekwon, Anderson. Paak, Rick Ross, Pusha T and more. With his previous two albums being produced entirely by Madlib and The Alchemist respectively, this one sees Freddie going back to a diversified sound with several producers chipping in, and as always, he skates over these beats with a diverse range of flows. Some highlights include tributes to mid-west and southern Hip-Hop icons as he interpolates a classic Bone Thugs-N-Harmony hook on “Pain & Strife,” and links up with DJ Paul and a Three 6 Mafia sample on “PYS.” Freddie Gibbs is an emcee currently in his prime, as he’s been locked into his zone over his last few projects and stays consistently putting out quality material.
6. Black Star – No Fear Of Time
It took 24 years, but Yasiin Bey & Talib Kweli have finally released a follow-up to their classic 1998 album, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star. While nothing will quite recreate that special moment that was underground Hip-Hop in the ’90s, No Fear Of Time is still a solid project that maintains the core values the duo originally came into the game with. With no regard for mainstream appeal, fame or hit-making, Yasiin Bey & Talib Kweli put the art first as always, sounding rejuvenated as they simply go in over these Madlib beats. It may be one of the least accessible albums released in recent years, with it only being available via the podcast platform, Luminary, but it’s still satisfying to see Yasiin Bey & Talib Kweli reunited after all these years, doing what they do best without any wave-riding. If/when they expand the release to other platforms, the fans should be here for it.
5. Westside Gunn – 10
Celebrating a decade since he first started his Hitler Wears Hermes series of mixtapes, Westside Gunn went all-out for the tenth volume of the series. Joined as usual by the whole Griselda family, including what may be the illest posse cut of the year with “Red Death,” Westside Gunn also got notable features from Black Star, Run The Jewels, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Busta Rhymes, A$AP Rocky, and many others to make this an action-packed event from start to finish. It’s also a nice touch getting DJ Drama to host it as a Gangsta Grillz tape, as he’s been on an incredible run having his hand in recent albums/mixtapes by Tyler, The Creator and Dreamville Records. This album is that usual grimy Griselda sound with several great emcees getting to join in on the action.
4. Black Thought & Danger Mouse – Cheat Codes
While The Roots have been tied up in other ventures, now approaching a decade since their last album was released, Black Thought has been filling the void by building up a solo discography, hooking up with different producers for entire albums at a time. Now on his fourth solo release, Black Thought has linked up with acclaimed producer Danger Mouse for yet another quality project, marking DM’s most significant dive into Hip-Hop beats since his 2005 album with the late MF DOOM, The Mouse & The Mask. The collaboration brings out the best from both parties, as Danger Mouse’s beats sound fresh and Black Thought’s rapping is as sharp as ever, the competitive aspect even bringing out top notch performances by guests like Run The Jewels, A$AP Rocky, and Conway The Machine, among others. With Black Thought being one of the sharpest emcees to ever rap, you know it’s always going to be dope when he drops a new project, and he extends his streak of consistency with this one.
3. J.I.D – The Forever Story
J.I.D is shaping up to be one of the sharpest emcees out of this new generation, with an ever recognizable cadence and a diverse range of flows. Now on his third album since signing to Dreamville Records, The Forever Story may be his best project yet, as he comes with fire verses as he’s known to do while also telling his life story from before he became a rapper. He becomes more relatable as he tells his story of growing up in a large family in Atlanta and navigating between chasing a career in football or music. The environment he grew up in combined with his hunger to prove himself as an emcee gives him a lot to say, and he says it with style throughout the album. There are plenty of high-energy raps over trunk-rattling beats as expected, but one of the standout moments has to be “Kody Blu 31,” where J.I.D shows off his ever improving singing voice and lays down one of the most addicting hooks of the year.
J.I.D is already on the Luv Is 4Ever Tour to promote this album, with two shows in Toronto March 13th and 15th! Tickets can be found at luvis4ever.com!
2. Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry
This was an early contender for Album of the Year when it first dropped in April, and it’s stood the test of time to remain near the top of this list. Even with over 20 years in the music business, Pusha T is still finding ways to remain fresh, diversifying his flows and cadences to put a new spin on the cocaine raps he’s known for. Earning Push his second Best Rap Album Grammy nomination, this is easily one of the best produced albums of the year, with half the songs done by Kanye West and half done by Pharrell, both of whom have an incredible track record when collaborating with Push. Between the certified head-nodder “Let The Smokers Shine The Coupes,” the rare and focused collaboration with Jay-Z on “Neck & Wrist,” the tip-of-the-hat to Slick Rick’s iconic cadence on “Call My Bluff,” and so many more special moments throughout the album, this has to be Pusha T’s best solo project to date.
1. Nas – King’s Disease III
What’s better than seeing an artist with 20 years in the game still evolving? A legend with 30 years still showing the same growth. Nas has been locked into his zone since he released the first King’s Disease album in 2020, and he’s continued to improve over each of his 3 albums released since then, this third KD installment easily being my favourite in the trilogy. When listening to most of Nas’ albums released after the year 2000, I expect to be bored for at least a couple songs due to his beat selection, but KDIII breaks that norm as Hit-Boy steps up his production and keeps the listener engaged throughout the entire project. Nas of course maintains his reputation as one of Hip-Hop’s all-time great lyricists, showing growth through his subject matter and lyricism, which is reflected in the widely circulated stat on social media showing how he’s added hundreds of new words to his vocabulary within this album. With no guest features, it’s incredible to see Nas carry an entire album by himself this deep into his career, and to do it at this level of excellence.
What were some great albums from last year that I may have missed out on? Let me know in the comments or on the social media links below!
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