Let me start off by saying there were so many great hip-hop albums that came out this year that you can argue should make this list. I spent a good two weeks going back and forth with my list that I’ve been continually adding to and modifying throughout the year. After much contemplation, this is the list I came up with and I have no apologies for it.
*Disclaimer: I am but one man with one opinion. Everyone is entitled to disagree and to have a completely different order and list. But that can be for your list, not mine.*
People are gonna be mad with me for this one since it was the highest-selling rap album this year. I knew Moneybagg Yo could make a banger but this album took him to new heights as far as where I rank him as an active rapper. This guy can make a hit and to the surprise of some, he can make some really introspective records. “Wockesha”, a song where Moneybagg Yo raps about his relationship with the same endearing characteristics that you would a woman is just an example of that. Looking forward to seeing what else he has in store.
This man just keeps putting out music at a high clip and will not be denied. Boldly James & Alchemist understand the assignment every single time. Luckily for us “The Price of Tea in China” was not the end of their collabs because “Bo Jackson” might be even better. If you’re tapped in* to the Detroit rap scene and aren’t talking about Boldy James, then you’re slippin*. This guy raps like “if this project doesn’t work, I’ll be broke”…every single time. He’s a part of a rare list of active rappers that can do that. His storytelling, his cadence, his rap voice, it’s all captivating. Bo Jackson deserves to be on everyone’s top 10 list this year.
I’ve been waiting for what felt like a very long time for Zay to give us a new project. In full transparency, my appreciation for Isaiah Rashad’s music always felt a bit different than the other rappers in TDE because I felt like I related to it so much. Not in the sense of all his personal experiences but more so in the sense that he always played that line between being super conscious rap or talking that ignant* shit. The line between being the best version of himself and being a person of the world. “The Sun’s Tirade” was good, and it had those elements but it left me wanting something more cohesive. “The House is Burning” checked off all the boxes I was looking for. Welcome back Zay, hip-hop missed you.
This album right here was a pleasant surprise! If you asked me if I thought I’d like a Maxo Kream album as much as I did in 2021, I’d look at you funny. This album is so fire*. It was filled with stories from his personal life and witty wordplay around some of the heaviest content you’ll hear on a rap album all year. This is out of the hardest albums to come out of the south this year. The production is sound, the verses are packed with content and because his diction is so clear, his southern accent doesn’t make him difficult to understand at all. If you’re looking for something completely unexpected this year, this is it.
Let’s be clear here, “King’s Disease 2” or “Magic”, take your pick but keep Nas on your list. I didn’t want recency bias to influence my decision so I’m here to talk about King’s Disease 2 today. Nas and Hit-Boy do not miss at all. Believe it or not but this is actually better than the original King Disease album that won Nas his first grammy. The beats fit Nas’s rapping style better, Nas is rapping better and the features are even better. I don’t know how they did it again but with high expectations already placed on them, Nas & Hit-Boy knocked this thing out of the park.
I’m here to tell you whether you’re a fan of Vince Staples or just a casual listener, this is his best body of work to date. With only 10 songs, it’s a digestible listen but every song is impactful. Not a single bar is wasted in a record that expands our understanding of Vince Staples upbringing in Long Beach, California. There aren’t a ton of childhood stories on here but it’s more so an album that explains the mind state of Vince Staples the rapper. You gain a lot of appreciation for why he’s currently one of hip-hop’s hidden treasures even when he’s not on Twitter.
As such a huge Cole mixtape fan, I have a love-hate relationship with Cole albums. Every single time a Cole album comes around I always feel like he could just rap better because he’s done it before on his mixtapes and on any loosey single…until now. “The Off-Season” is the Cole album I’ve been waiting for since 2011. Everyone wants a concept album from this guy except me. I just wanted him to show his ass* in this thing called rap. Just spazz with the bars and tell em’ you’re nice wit it. He finally did it! As a mixtape Cole fan I finally have a full-length studio album I can point to and say, this guy finally did it. There was no way this wasn’t making my top 10 this year! Shoutout to Cole man, you made me proud.
Looking back, I think this is the only female emcee that made my list but don’t think that it’s the reason why this album is so high on my list. This woman rapped rapped! As my UK man would say, she’s “cold bruv”. This album felt like I was watching a movie when I was listening to it. Do you know how hard it is to do that? To have an album concept and make it cinematic? Bare ratings* to Little Simz man, you gave us an album that regardless of your sexuality, you can feel in your chest when you hear it because the content is raw, real and relatable. This is a jewel the entire UK should be proud of.
This is easily my favourite Tyler album of all time (I didn’t stutter and I choose violence). The nostalgia of having DJ Drama talk on your project and to master the art of having it be the right amount to the point where it’s not annoying is top-tier work. Then to give us songs with some of the best active rappers and still shine through, is top-tier work. If that wasn’t enough to convince you, then he gave us songs like “WILSHIRE” which display such a high level of emotion and storytelling. This is a top-tier album from a top-tier rapper. Tyler’s grown into his own and it feels like he’s finally comfortable not only talking in interviews like he’s one of the best but is rapping on his projects like he knows he is. He’s always been a talent but this? This is something different. Bare ratings to Tyler for this body of work.
If you’ve been looking to get your first dabble at UK hip-hop look no further than Dave. He now has a track record where we can say with confidence that the content is always raw, the production is clean and his diction is always understandable. You don’t have to be British or heavily into Grime culture to understand what this guy is saying. Even the album title can speak to anyone living in present times. In the midst of a pandemic, we’re all going through something and we all feel like we’re going through it alone. To take that theme and present this album at such a young age is incredible. This guy’s 23 and speaks on things from the perspective of someone well beyond his years. This guy is a star and with this pen, he’s here to stay.
The minute I first heard this album, I said to myself “this might end up being the best album to come up out all year”. In my opinion, there hasn’t been anything that’s come out this year that convinced me enough to waver from that stance. This is what I’d consider the best hip-hop album to come out in 2021. Not only did this man rap his ass off but he informed the listener so much about the situation going on in Haiti. To have these bars on this production and to tie it all into this history of his motherland is something that needs to be celebrated. This guy Mach-Hommy showed his ass* this year and put hip-hop on notice. I don’t know if I’d fully consider myself one, but this is the backpack rapper fan’s dream right here.
Tapped in – to be attentive to something
Slippin’ – to make a mistake or error
Ignant – ignorant
Fire – to be really good or enjoyable
To show ass – to make a scene or a spectacle
Bare ratings – to show much love and respect