2022 has been a good year for hip hop. We have seen fresh, underground artists such as GloRilla and Big30 begin to rise and thrive in the culture and, even better, we have seen the return of some old faces such as Pusha-T and Kelis, although the latter was slightly controversial.
Irrespective of artists’ and their antics, it has been good to see these different artists doing their distinctive things and moving the culture forward. However, certain artists have really taken things to a new level with their work, and throughout 2022, the bar has been extremely high.
Although there have been several debates over the years among older generations within the industry about whether or not the album format has become redundant, it is evident that for most, it most definitely is not. This year has seen some quality albums. Although there have also been some fantastic mixtapes, the albums have set themselves apart with their excellence.
Of course, what is a ‘good album’ and what is a ‘bad album’ is subjective, and opinions can differ. However, there are some common threads that all music fans agree on when it comes to making that decision. When listening to albums, there are specific criteria the body of work just has to meet. A good album is thematically and sonically cohesive. Cohesion is an essential trait all good albums have.
Now, while it is seen as poor if all the instrumental tracks sound the same, they should seamlessly come together and subtly weave into one another. Jumping between genres and having one song abruptly end and another begin with the two sounding totally different is quite jarring and often uncomfortable for listeners.
Another thing people look for is substance. An underlying story, subtle undertones, or a consistent theme. An album that one minute is lyrically telling you one thing but then in the next track contradicts itself is, again, quite jarring and highly confusing for listeners.
Albums are hard to perfect, and a lot of work goes into them, but the finished product is essential. 2022 has seen its fair share of bad albums, but it has also seen some fantastic albums, so without further ado, here are our picks for the ‘five best hip hop albums of 2022 so far’.
Five best hip-hop albums of 2022 so far:
5. Honestly, Nevermind. – Drake
Although Drake is a hip hop artist, one thing that is undeniable is that he’s a versatile artist. This latest release by the Canadian is part hip hop, part R’n’B and part house. Very interesting.
Although some of these things seem incompatible, somehow they work together on Honestly, Nevermind. Not only do they work together there is a real sense of cohesion with the instrumentals. From Drake, vocally, he does what he does best: singing with a sprinkle of rap.
Despite this album’s undeniable quality. Drake has not phased in styles across his career yet has jumped around. It was only two years ago that Drake released ‘War’, a UK drill-style track and it is confusing to hear Drake as an artist today, singing and rapping over house-inspired beats when only two years ago he was attempting drill.
Regardless of the style hopping, this latest release is good. You can listen to Honestly, Nevermind. below.
4. 4 Tha Homiez – Novelist
UK rapper Novelist has been a constant for approximately a decade now. The Lewisham rapper has always been a forward thinker and a figure with an immense amount of artistic integrity when it comes to his music.
Over the years, Novelist has slowly but steadily evolved and grown with his music, pushing boundaries and challenging norms. First known as a grime MC, Novelist first broke onto the scene as part of the Lewisham crew The Square. This was mainly through local online urban media outlets operating in South London and pirate radio stations such as Flex FM.
However, always pushing boundaries, Novelist found his big breakthrough by networking when he appeared on an experimental grime EP produced by UK electronic music producer Mumdance. Following the 1 Sec EP, Novelist left his crew pushing his new Ruff Sound. An experimental and raw form of grime music made at 160bpm. This was around 2016. Moving forward, he continued to push this sound but at all different tempos. It was raw, grimey and a very London sound. His 2018 album was shortlisted for a mercury music prize and was critically acclaimed.
As of 2020, Novelist has evolved his sound as he fused the Ruff Sound with G-funk creating an unidentifiable form of grimey G-funk. This is where Novelist is sonically now, and it is fantastic. Fans are getting an ambient yet gritty form of G-funk that is also (in some aspects) reminiscent of grime. 4 Tha Homiez further explores this sound with singles such as ‘South Man’ and ‘Sneaky Dogg’ being outstanding. You can listen to the album below.
3. SICK! – Earl Sweatshirt
A former member of the legendary LA crew Odd Future, Earl Sweatshirt is one of the few rappers that managed to gather enough of a cult following while in the crew that he could sustain a solo career after the crew’s dissipation.
Earl Sweatshirt, akin to Tyler The Creator and Frank Ocean, was able to gather a separate following while still in the crew for several different reasons. Not only was his name bizarre and comical, but he also had a unique look. Some may have described him as ‘goofy’ or maybe even a bit ‘dopey’ looking, but that was part of his appeal. He was preppy, perhaps slightly nerdy, but this, combined with the fact he was a rapper, was refreshing for many who were sick of the macho gangster aesthetic.
Ever since Odd Future, Earl Sweatshirt has been making music, and his core fanbase has never left his side. He is experimental, daring and audacious with his music. This is all epitomised by his latest album SICK!
SICK! contains a mixture of live instrumentation and electronic elements. However, it doesn’t jump around. Instead, it slowly introduces the electronic components track by track, phasing them in at a comfortable and gradual pace until, by the end, you’re listening to an album that sounds more electronic. However, you don’t notice.
Executed cleverly and thought out well, SICK! features some outstanding underground artists, including Detroit rapper Zelooperz and New York duo Armand Hammer compromised of Billy Woods and Elucid. The album was met with widespread critical acclaim, and although he is not as visible as his former crew member Tyler The Creator, he is still one to watch. You can listen to SICK! below.
2. It’s Almost Dry – Pusha-T
It’s Almost Dry is another example of a 2022 album that has embraced the more old school but more soulful world of live instrumentation. When looking at the roots of hip hop, we know that with regard to production, the art form was based around sampling, and all of those samples were recordings of live instruments. Paying more homage to the roots of this multi-billion dollar culture we call hip hop, executively produced by Kanye West with the help of 88-keys, It’s Almost Dry features extremely sample-heavy production. Still, it brings a wealth of soul along with it.
While songs like ‘Diet Coke’ may, perhaps, lack any profound and meaningful lyrics aside from its endless talk of crack cocaine, there is no denying that the backing track is a soulful earworm. The same can be said for many songs on the album. There is a beautiful warmth that comes with the tracks on It’s Almost Dry, and with songs such as ‘I Pray For You’ also bringing that soul, it is a fantastic album. You can listen to the album below.
1. 2000 – Joey Bada$$
Most definitely the best hip hop album of the year so far, 2000 is an exemplary jazz-hop album that brilliantly toes the line between new school and old school hip hop. The songs are smooth and celestial yet, at the same time, beautifully incorporate elements of jazz music. Combined, it sounds fresh and new.
The album features live piano and many other live instruments, which is a breath of fresh air considering so many artists have ditched live instrumentation to achieve a harsher digital sound that, sometimes, sounds terribly unnatural.
The album is an extension of his 2012 mixtape entitled 1999, and this year marks a decade since its release, so Bada$$ makes sure to show growth on this album. The track features live piano from the rapper himself, who is a pianist also. Furthermore, the artwork is a modernised version of 1999, so you get a sense the album is an upgrade of his 2012 project. The instrumental tracks blend into each other with ease. Furthermore, the way some of the classic live instrumentation has been underlaid with 808s makes something that may have felt dated work in the context of modern hip hop.
Upon hearing 2000, the album instantly fell into my top five hip hop albums of all time, let alone just 2022, but that’s subjective. The album features cameos from Diddy and hip hop legends such as Nas, who appears on one of the interludes. With respect from a legend like Nas, you know Bada$$ is a certified rhymer. You can listen to the album below.