Best and Worst of 2022: Hip-Hop Edition

After a rebounding year in 2021 from the COVID-19 pandemic, many expected that 2022 would be tough to follow up. However, 2022 delivered some amazing rap albums that will become staples in history for years to come. There were some unlikely collaborations, surprise releases, and overall some of the best albums of the decade. Even with honorable mentions, there were still so many albums that were unable to top these awards despite all the recognition they deserve. Let’s break down some of our awards for rap albums released in 2022.

BEST OVERALL

After taking four years off, Kendrick Lamar returned and easily dropped the best album of the year, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers. This takes a full look at Kendrick’s life and mindset over the last four years where he shares his experiences of generational trauma and celebrity worship. The creativity on this album is outstanding, with We Cry Together being the highlight of that. It’s incredible to imagine that Kendrick and Taylour Paige are still rapping throughout the entire argument. Kendrick did a fantastic job of lifting his features to new heights including Kodak Black, Blsxt, and Tanna Leone. But the record also included household legends such as Ghostface Killah and Summer Walker. He also does amazing work with his cousin, Baby Keem, who Kendrick helped release a great debut project from him, The Melodic Blue. This is one of the few albums I would label as a 10/10, as it is impossible to find any flaws throughout the record. Followed by a fantastic tour, 2022 was Kendrick’s year and it will be fascinating to see his path going forward, now free from his label, Top Dog Entertainment, and creative freedom with his own brand, Pglang.

Honorable Mention: 10 by Westside Gunn

WORST OVERALL

What’s Poppin laid the groundwork for Jack Harlow to hit the ground running with his commercial success. While that success has still continued for him his latest album, Come Home The Kids Miss You, just doesn’t stick outside the commercial success. Despite the all-star feature list on the album, Harlow’s production and craft manage to bring down all of them throughout the entire album. The production throughout the record can’t save it either, as it seems it was cheaply done besides some solid samples selected such as Glamorous by Fergie. The only song that decently sticks is Churchill Downs with Drake and even with a below-average Drake performance, Harlow still manages to set the bar even lower. With this kind of commercial success that Jack Harlow has had, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see him switch out of the formula. Nonetheless, it comes at a cost critically, as Come Home The Kids Miss You ends as one of the worst records of the year.

Honorable Mention: Honestly, Nevermind by Drake

MOST SURPRISING

Dreamville’s JID has always been considered an underrated artist of the label with a fast and exquisite flow. But 2022 was a huge jump for him with the release of The Forever Story. This album highlights JID’s pen ability, creativity, delivery, and flow, showing that he is one of the best rap artists on the planet and can compete with some of the legends that have crossed this genre since the beginning. JID also brings along with him a star-studded cast on this record and they also do not disappoint. Lil Wayne, 21 Savage, Earthgang, Ari Lennox, and Baby Tate are just some of the highlights of The Forever Story. Now expecting to headline his own tour in January, JID enters as one of the newest commercially successful artists with a very bright future as some have already started comparing him to Kendrick Lamar.

Honorable Mention: God Don’t Make Mistakes by Conway The Machine

MOST DISAPPOINTING 

Going back to my awards at the end of 2021, Kid Cudi’s Entergalactic was listed as one of the confirmed records that I was most excited for after the very psychedelic and emotionally tense Man on the Moon 3. The album was originally expected to release during the summer of 2022 after being announced in early 2021, giving a lot of build-up for its release. However, as more started to develop about the release of Entergalactic, the more it started to feel less like an actual album. First, it was announced that Cudi would be releasing some sort of film on Netflix alongside its release. Then when Cudi released the cover art for the album, it seemed clear that the album and the show were supposed to go hand and hand. Once the album was finally released at the end of September, it was almost obvious that this had the intention of being a soundtrack for the show, almost diminishing its quality and excitement that had been built up for nearly two years. Now with Cudi’s rumors of quitting music, it is unknown what is next for him going forward but nonetheless, Entergalactic would certainly be considered a negative end to Kid Cudi’s musical career.

Honorable Mention: Her Loss by Drake & 21 Savage

BEST DEBUT

Despite Black Thought’s long and extensive career with The Roots, his new record, Cheat Codes, with Danger Mouse is actually considered a debut album under the new label, BMG. Throughout his time as an artist, this album still stands tall as not only one of Black Thought’s best albums but one of the best of the year. His rap delivery and pen work continue to be some of the best today and that is easily seen throughout Cheat Codes that he still puts his best foot forward on every track. The production from Danger Mouse is also spectacular as it brings a perfect old-school sound but is also unique enough to not be seen as a complete ripoff of the 90s hip-hop scene. The sound is almost perfect for an original vinyl record with the feint scratches in the background of each song. The features are also amazing, from Conway the Machine to MF DOOM, every artist performs to their highest on Cheat Codes. This record could easily win an award for best artist and producer of the year as well.

Honorable Mention: The Elephant Man’s Bones by Roc Marciano & The Alchemist

BEST PRODUCTION

For the last decade, Pusha T has been one of the most consistent rappers on the planet and that does not change with his latest release, It’s Almost Dry. While his last album, Daytona, was executively produced by Kanye West, Push had a different approach coming into his next project. He had half of the beats made by Kanye West and half of the beats made by Pharrell Williams. This combination created a creative and quality blend as not only was It’s Almost Dry ended as one of the best albums of the year but easily one of the best-produced albums with two headliner producers at the helm. Tracks like BrambletonNeck & Wrist, Call My Bluff, and Scrape It Off go down as some of Pharell’s best instrumentals to date, including all of his classic drums and rhythms. The same can be said for Kanye West with Diet Coke, Dreamin’ of the Past, Rock n Roll, and Hear Me Clearly are also some of Kanye’s best-produced beats to date. Top that with Pusha T’s incredible rapping and pen work, It’s Almost Dry was no doubt one of the best rap albums of this year and was recognized by that with a well-deserved Grammy nomination for Rap Album of the Year.

Honorable Mention: God Don’t Make Mistakes by Conway The Machine

MOST UNDERRATED

With Griselda continuing to steadily grow their brand and musical identity, it has been more than just the big three creating quality projects. Rome Streetz has been making music consistently, but KISS THE RING has easily been the best project for Rome Streetz. Exclusively produced by Westside Gunn, this album does a phenomenal job highlight Streetz’s criminally underrated pen ability with creative wordplay and a tough delivery, fitting the Griselda sound. While packing some great features from all the Griselda members, Streetz still does an amazing job on his solo work, consistently packing entertaining verses. The production work from Westside Gunn is also some of his best yet and really enhances the album to a new level. Some of my favorite tracks on this record were Tyson Beckford, Blow 4 Blow, and Serving. It will be very exciting going forward to see what Rome Streetz is able to do to build off of one of his best projects to date.

Honorable Mention: Few Good Things by Saba and NO THANK YOU by Little Simz

BEST FEATURES

Despite yet becoming one of the biggest artists commercially, Westside Gunn has consistently grown his fanbase and has gained a lot more recognition for his unique old-school sound. From originally only including the members of Griselda, Conway the Machine and Benny the Butcher, Westside Gunn has also become more well-known with the artists he has continued to work with in recent years. 10 by Westside Gunn brings an incredible to the Hitler Wears Hermes series that has lasted for more than a decade now. Westside Gunn has done his fair share of work with big artists such as Tyler the Creator, Freddie Gibbs, Joey Bada$$, and others. However, 10 takes the cake when considering how influential these features have been in decades prior. This album is almost a passing of the torch to the next up in Griselda. Gunn’s feature list of 10 follows as with A$AP Rocky, Black Star, DJ Drama, Busta Rhymes, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Run the Jewels, and all other members of Griselda. But it’s not just the name value, every feature delivers a high-quality verse to make this an exceptionally great album to listen to. The sky continues to grow for Westside Gunn as he continues to grow his network.

Honorable Mention: $oul $old $eparately by Freddie Gibbs

BEST ARTWORK

Being one of the most consistent artists right now, Denzel Curry did not disappoint with this new project, Melt My Eyez See Your Future. Not only is this album extremely versatile with its sound but also with its features. Denzel has always done a phenomenal job at bringing on different subgenre artists to diversify his music. Buzzy Lee, T-Pain, Slowthai, 6LACK, Rico Nasty, and JID are just some of the impressive names he featured on the record.  But what is most impressive about this record is the cover art. Featuring psycheldelic tones with its choice of color and gradient, it fits perfectly with the title of “Melt my Eyes”. Denzel has never failed to not put as much attention and work into his cover arts as he does to the music being delievered on the album and Melt My Eyez See Your Future only continues that case for this being on of the best album artworks of the year.

Honorable Mention: The Family by BROCKHAMPTON

MOST ANTICIPATED 

I had mentioned on my last award list that I was excited for whatever would come next for A$AP Rocky considering it had been 4 years since his last release at the time. Unfortunately, outside of a few singles, we were not blessed with a new A$AP Rocky record. However, I am much more confident that he will release in 2023 based on his recent actions. After his Rolling Loud show in September, he announced that it would be his last show before the new album. He also recently did a show for Amazon Prime where he premiered three new songs. He also released a new single called Shittin’ Me not too long ago. This is the most activity he has in a while so it wouldn’t be surprising that this is finally the time for a long-awaited record from New York’s best, A$AP Rocky.

Honorable Mention: Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA collaboration

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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