Hartley’s 10 Favorite Albums of 2021

2021 has been a massive year for music. Not only for the industry itself but in my own personal life, music has always surrounded my everyday life. It played a massive role in earning my lifeguard certification since I was absolutely nervous as hell before the test. It was also massive during every final, interview, or extensive assignment I had to take this calendar year. With that, here’s a list of some of my favorite albums of the 2021 year.

Honorable mentions:
The Killers- Pressure Machine

The War on Drugs- I Don’t Live Here Anymore

black midi- Cavalcade

Nas- King’s Disease II

Injury Reserve- By The Time I Get To Phoenix

Baby Keem- The Melodic Blue

Baby Keem blew away my expectations he had for his studio debut with Columbia Records. It was awesome to see Keem already establish his own sound that includes a lot of different instrumentals and beat switches. That can be immediately seen on the track “trademark usa”. His voice compliments this sound well, as he also shows a ton of versatility with as well throughout the entire album. And of course, his work with his cousin, Kendrick Lamar, is great. but Keem deserves a lot of credit for being able to stand as his own as an artist. I’m extremely excited to see what Keem has stored for fans in the future as this was one of the better albums in 2021.

Westside Gunn- Hitler Wears Hermes 8

Griselda’s own Westside Gunn might be one of my new favorite artists with the kind of music he’s been putting out over the last two years. Pray for Paris was one of my favorite albums of 2020. The grimy and dark production is a real ego booster and gives a refreshing taste to rap music as a whole. Both side A and B of these albums are phenomenal.  “Mariota”, “Draymond”, “Bash Money”, and “Claires Back” are some of the best tracks on Sincerely Adolf. Side B follows up just as strongly with “Hell on Earth Pt. 2”, “Celine Dion”, “Eddie Kingston”, and “Forest Lawn.” These two albums are filled with some of the best production in 2021. And I’ll still be begging that Westside Gunn deserves as much credit as some other mainstream artists who continue to put out average-quality music.


JPEGMAFIA is easily one of the most underrated artists on the planet. Sure, he might be right there at the mainstream threshold but it still seems as if he’s earning less attention than he deserves. That continues to be proven again with LP!, one of the best experimental albums of the year. It doesn’t seem to matter what challenge is thrown at Peggy, he’s going to take it and knock it out of the park. The sampling and production are off the charts. Peggy has one of the best discographies of recent memory. He deserves more recognition without a doubt from the mainstream artists. This is one of the best albums in general and should be nominated for more national awards.

Jeff Rosenstock- SKA DREAM

I would like to thank Anthony Fantano for introducing me to Jeff Rosenstock and the work he does. He gave a strong review for this album and I gave it an open listen as I was trying to expand my taste. SKA DREAM is an amazing album that brings a ton of energy from front to back. It’s a great summertime album and one I would recommend to anyone. What I found most interesting is that SKA is actually an entire genre where rock albums are scaled up to bring much more volume and energy than the original copy. Sort of like rock on crack, as a simple way to describe the sub-genre.

Conway the Machine- La Maquina

Conway the Machine is another artist who continues to fly under the radar despite making some of the best music every year. From King to a God was also one of the better projects of 2020 and he did a great job continuing that same energy in 2021. This album is filled with strong and clean production. Conway never fails with his incredible and slick flows s that only continue on La Maquina. I enjoyed the number of features too. It isn’t too many that it overshadows Conway’s work on the album but it’s enough to have the album stand its ground. This is one of the more underrated albums of the year.

Boldy James & The Alchemist- Bo Jackson

It boggles my mind how much attention Boldy James deserves but doesn’t receive. His teamwork with The Alchemist form one of the most underrated duos for decades with the tapes they’ve released. Bo Jackson is no different as it features a lot of smooth and sleek verses throughout the entire album. The Alchemist also did an amazing job with the production. I also thought the features were perfect including the ones from Benny, the Butcher and Freddie Gibbs. Super Tecmo Bo is another great album that Boldy James also released during the calendar year. This is an album that I would recommend to anyone who sticks to mainly mainstream rap.

Slowthai- TYRON

UK Rap is a sub-genre that I’ve continued to investigate as it starts to become more popular. Slowthai was an artist I discovered from Anthony Fantano who also gave him a strong review for his recent album, TYRON. I agree with a lot of the points Fantano pointed out about this album. Despite Slowthai being known for stepping outside the box and integrating his music with abstract ideas such as a man giving birth in the music video for “feel away”, it’s what makes him different from the rest of the industry. His work is great for anyone who is interested in listening to something different, no matter what music-listening background they have. This is a fun album mixed with bangers and emotional tracks. I’m very excited to see what he releases in the future. Seeing him in concert would also be extremely fun as well.

Tyler, the Creator- CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST

Tyler, the Creator never fails to disappoint any time he releases new music. Since the release of Cherry Bomb, he’s made massive improvements to become one of the best artists on the planet. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is no different. He returns to his boasting style of lyricism that he did on earlier projects but in a much better fashion. he also mixes in other elements he included on IGOR and Flower Boy. He continues to make great improvements with each album he releases. Each one also has drastically different themes that show his strong versatility. It is truly incredible to see what Tyler has become over recent years from someone who was considered weird and outside the box without a lot of strong qualities to one of the best musical producing artists of the last five years. I’m also beyond excited to see him live in April.

Porter Robinson- Nurture

First, I would like to shout out to my friend, Dino Rivano, for putting me on this album. As I was never crazy for electronic style music, this album opened me up to the entire genre and now I can say I am a major fan of Porter Robinson and electronic music. Nurture brings a feel-good outdoors kind of vibe with a ton of anime influence. It has beautiful and unique flows that create a beautiful sounding record. This is an album I would always resort to improve my day and boost my confidence. “Look at the Sky” is one of my favorite songs of the year. It was also awesome to be able to see Porter Robinson live with Dino in September, he’s an excellent performer.

Kanye West- Donda

Of course, how could this album not make the list? Not only is Kanye West one of my favorite artists on the planet but Donda is also a genuinely very good album. The production is top tier, shoutout to Mike Dean for the incredible work he put into the album. But what continues to blow my mind is Kanye’s ability to assemble an elite list of features for his more detailed albums, across different eras and subgenera of rap. Jay-Z, Playboi Carti, Travis Scott, Young Thug, Kid Cudi, Westside Gunn, Andre 3000, Tyler the Creator, Conway the Machine, Roddy Ricch, Jay Electronica, and The LOX are just some of the artists Kanye manages to bring on Donda. And to top it all off, I was extremely blessed to see both Kanye and Drake in concert at the Free Larry Hoover Benefit Concert in Los Angeles.

Published by Ethan Hartley

Born and raised in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, right outside of Philadelphia. Junior at the University of Oregon studying journalism with minors in sports business and music studies. An avid follower of the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA, and MMA.

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