2022 has been a stacked year for music, Hip Hop in particular. So, Are You With That? wanted to give a rundown on some of my favorite projects of the year. These are my favorites, not the best, but this is just my opinion at the end of the day.
Honorable Mentions: To start with the albums that were close to making the top 15 but just missed the cut for whatever reason, maybe I enjoyed another project more or didn’t get enough time with these projects or haven’t gone back to them as much, so without further ado:
-Its Almost Dry - Pusha T
-2000 - Joey Bada$$
-Cheat Codes - Danger Mouse & Black Thought
-Drill Music in Zion - Lupe Fiasco
-Simple. - IDK
-Aethiopes - Billy Woods
-GHETTO GODS - Earthgang
-God Don’t Make Mistakes - Conway the Machine
-10 - Westside Gunn
15. Hugo by Loyle Carner
Coming in at number 15 on the list is Hugo by London rapper Loyle Carner. Hugo marks Carner’s third studio album following up 2019’s Not Waving, But Drowning. Hugo has Carner tackling topics ranging from introspective discussions of personal growth with tracks like “HGU” or “Polyfilla” to tackling larger systemic issues like racism on “Hate” or gang violence in the UK on the standout track “Blood On My Nikes.” Hugo gives a view into a different side of British Hip Hop with an appreciated tenderness and thoughtfulness regarding the heavy topics discussed by Carner. Carner, with a combination of good beat selection, solid wordplay and meaningful overarching themes has earned a spot on my favorite albums of the year and definitely deserves your listen.
Favorite Tracks: Georgetown, Blood On My Nikes, HGU
14. HEROES & VILLAINS - Metro Boomin
Metro Boomin’ returns to add the second installment to his planned trilogy of albums, following the release of the first installment Not All Heroes Wear Capes in 2019. Metro continues on his hot streak of addictive production and stellar features with this year's HEROES & VILLAINS, featuring blockbuster artists like frequent collaborators Travis Scott and 21 Savage all the way to the late Takeoff who had the standout verse on the album in my opinion. Metro brings back Morgan Freeman as a narrator and leaned further into his heroes and villains theme by having samples like a monologue from “The Boys” antagonist Homelander. Overall, Metro has continued his hot streak and shows why he is one of the best producers, let alone trap producers, in the game now.
Favorite Tracks: Umbrella, Creepin’, & Feel the Fiyaaaah
13. MORE BLACK SUPERHEROES - WESTSIDE BOOGIE
Number 13 will be going to Compton rapper WESTSIDE BOOGIE and his album MORE BLACK SUPERHEROES. BOOGIE follows up his critically acclaimed 2019 album Everything’s For Sale with more of the same while further refining his sound. I first found WESTSIDE BOOGIE when he was still going by Boogie right after the release of his third mixtape Thirst 48, Pt. 2 way back in 2017 with tracks like Sunroof (still a personal favorite of mine). I had kept an eye on his career since I felt personally invested in his growth as an artist and after the release of MORE BLACK SUPERHEROES I decided I wanted to step back into his music and see how he was doing. I was not disappointed. MORE BLACK SUPERHEROES keeps with BOOGIE’s ability to make catchy tracks while bringing a punch lyrically, and with his distinct voice BOOGIE has been able to carve out a sonically unique corner of rap. No topic is off limit with BOOGIE but he still has a soft spot for love songs with songs like “NONCHALANT” or “CAN’T GET OVER YOU.” With a deluxe version of the album being released earlier this year as well, now is the best time to check out this unique project from BOOGIE.
Favorite Tracks: NONCHALANT, CAN’T GET OVER YOU, ANTHONY (WAR)
12. King’s Disease III - Nas
The 12th spot goes to the second trilogy album on this list with Nas’ King’s Disease III. If there were any apprehension among the rap community about Nas’ abilities as he grows older, they were reassured on why he is one of the greatest to ever to do it with this album. Nas continues his streak of recent, following the release of the prior two King’s Disease albums and personal favorite of mine Magic from last year. Nas is aided by Hit-Boy on this album for production, lending to some of the best production Nas has had in his career for an album. Even at his lowest in his career, Nas was always able to flex his muscles lyrically and this album is no different. Even while pushing 50 years of age, Nas is able to keep up with artists half his age with ease. While Nas may not ever be able to pass the triumph that is Illmatic, Nas further cements his legacy as one of the greatest ever with each new album he releases at this point.
Favorite Tracks: Ghetto Reporter, I’m on Fire, Michael & Quincy
11. Learn 2 Swim - redveil
Next up comes Learn 2 Swim, the sophomore album from up and coming 18 year old hip hop phenom redveil. At 12 songs, the album leaves me craving more, with stellar production by redveil, the sole producer on the album. redveil also takes the chance to put on smaller artists on several tracks, such as Sam Truth, Fly Anakin or Ovrkast. All in all, there isn’t a ton to say about this album except it is a stellar listen front to back, even more exciting knowing that the artist making it is only 18 and has so much room to go up from here.
Favorite Tracks: diving board, pg baby, working on it
10. Killing Nothing - Boldy James & Real Bad Man
The first album to crack the top 10 for me will be the second collaboration between Boldy James and LA collective Real Bad Man. While I may be able to relate to other albums on this list for their themes of love and affection with MORE BLACK SUPERHEROES or themes of growing up on Learn 2 Swim, Killing Nothing has nothing that I can personally relate to. Which makes it so much more impressive that I was as hooked as I was on it from the get go. Boldy James continues his stellar run of projects, continuing with his second project this year, a collaboration with producer Nicholas Craven in Fair Exchange No Robbery (which Killing Nothing is getting the edge over from me). James is able to have such tight and clever wordplay about topics that would get him parental advisory warnings just for mentioning in public. The best way to describe this album is street rap at its most pure. There is no doubt that Boldy James knows what he is talking about in his raps, which makes his ability to put it into such sonically tight albums even more impressive.
Favorite Tracks: All the Way Out, Game Time, Killing Nothing
T-8th. HERBERT - Ab-Soul
6 years after the release of Do What Thou Wilt. in 2016, Ab-Soul has returned with the release of HERBERT. In those 6 years, not much was heard from Soul besides the occasional single during 2020. Soul has made it no secret why he took such a lengthy absence from the rap game, with him dealing with many personal issues that he discusses within the walls of HERBERT. Walls of a room constituting the inner workings of Ab-Soul, his feelings, his memories, his psyche, him, with this album being a door into that room. Ab-Soul lays his feelings bare before the listener with many introspective, winding tracks. Ab-Soul has created possibly his benchmark album. The record is tied for eighth with the next record simply for the amount of time each has been out. Both HERBERT and the following album coming out mid December, so not fully allowing me to have a ton of time with them. Because of this I will leave them tied for eighth.
Favorite Tracks: MOONSHOOTER, NO REPORT CARD, THE WILD SIDE
T-8th. NO THANK YOU - Little Simz
Also coming in at number eight is the newest album from British rapper and actress Little Simz, this album being the surprise follow up to 2021’s Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. This album including more collaborations between Little Simz (at this point) personal producer Inflo with more supporting vocals from other frequent collaborator Cleo Sol. This album contains all the things expected in a Little Simz album, tight production coupled with stellar flows and creative wordplay. One of my favorites being the groovy-esque beat on “Gorilla” with Little Simz interjecting into the flow of the beat with her bars and ad-libs. Making it one cohesive experience of a song. Little Simz did it again with this album and if it had come out earlier in the year and I had had more time with it it may have landed farther up my list.
Favorite Tracks: Gorilla, No Merci, X
7. Laughing So Hard, It Hurts - MAVI
Coming in at number 7 is the second album from Charlotte rapper MAVI with his album Laughing So Hard, It Hurts. As I am sure you the reader have noticed, there is a certain pattern I like for rap albums. Introspective, thoughtful, and well written, all things common within a MAVI project. This follows up the triumph that was 2019’s Let The Sun Talk, and does a solid job at it. Continuing MAVI’s tradition of positioning heavier topics in a way digestible to anyone listening. Still containing dense lyrics and well thought out story telling devices. Like the first track on the album being named “High John” after High John the Conquerer, an African-American Folktale of an African prince being enslaved in America and buoying his fellow slaves spirits with his sense of humor. MAVI said that this selection of title shows “how laughter stops you from hurting so bad, and also made things that were difficult or were painful seem less enduring.” All of this to show how well thoughtful and intelligent MAVI’s direction is when it comes to portraying his themes.
Favorite Tracks: High John, 3 Left Feet, Last Laugh
6. Ramona Park Broke My Heart - Vince Staples
To follow up that glowing review of MAVI’s work we have number six, Vince Staples’ Ramona Park Broke My Heart. Staples returned this year after last year’s self titled work and did so in Vince Staples fashion. Teasing the album with fun tweets, brand deals with Acura and eye popping videos to boot. To preface any further praise, Vince Staples has been one of my favorites since he dropped Summertime ‘06 in 2015, and since then I have been tuned into every single one of his releases and have loved every single one of them. So, I have been able to see his progression from young hip hop up-and-comer on Summertime ‘06 all the way to seasoned, respected veteran with Ramona Park Broke My Heart. Over that time Staples has experimented with new sounds (like his work with the late Sophie on Big Fish Theory), tweaked his old style (some of his work on FM!) and even mellowed out a bit (with Vince Staples from 2021). RPBMH is the culmination of all those ideas and experimentations, to bring together Vince’s most full and coherent project since Summertime ‘06 (not to say his others weren’t full and coherent). This can be seen with songs like “When Sparks Fly” where Vince is rapping about a troubled relationship from the point of view of a gun in the vein of Nas’ “I Gave You Power,” or “The Blues” where Vince finishes the album reflecting on his past choices and how his circumstances as a youth affected his upbringing. All things that a younger, less experienced Vince may have shied away from. All in all, this may have risen through the ranks of Vince’s to become my favorite album from Vince.
Favorite Tracks: Papercuts, When Sparks Fly, The Blues
5. Melt My Eyez See Your Future - Denzel Curry
People who know me well enough to know my history in listening to hip hop will have begun to see another pattern forming within this list. Beginning at number six with Vince Staples, here on out all of the albums featured are from artists I have been personally invested in since high school, so pushing 6+ years for some of them now. That brings us to the fifth spot on the list, Denzel Curry. Denzel has continued his claim of being the most consistent in the game with his drop this year Melt My Eyez See Your Future, a lot of people’s album of the year, an opinion I cannot disagree with. On the topic of maturing artists, Denzel Curry would have to be near the top of the list for artists who have seen themselves mature and experiment with their sounds in so many interesting ways, with each of his albums feeling different yet connected to the last. This album is just good front to back in every aspect, features, lyrics, production, flows, you name it. Not to mention Denzel released one of the most creative and constructive Deluxe versions of an album I’ve ever seen with the Deluxe version of MMESYF.
Favorite Tracks: Ain’t No Way, Walkin’, The Last
4. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers - Kendrick Lamar
Another album that many have pinned as their album of the years, and another one that I cannot deny deserves that spot if chosen. That is the double album return for one Mr. Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. An album that tackles topics of expectations, self care and self-forgiveness all posed through the narrative of a therapy session involving Kendrick. There is so much to say about this album, but I don’t feel that there is anything that I could add here that has not already been said a million times over. It's a phenomenal album that tackles themes not often seen within a rap album, and it is done with the poise of an expert like Lamar. I can only see this album growing on me further as time passes, similar to how DAMN. did with many. This ranks third in Kendrick’s discography for me and fourth on albums released this year.
Favorite Tracks: Father Time, Mirror, Die Hard
3. Few Good Things - Saba
The theme of Are You With That? enjoying albums that deal with serious topics continues with number three on the list, Few Good Things by Saba. Saba crushed all expectations with his release of the masterpiece (in my opinion) that is Care For Me and created him a hard project to follow. However, I think that Saba was able to meet all the expectations people had following Care For Me and exceed them in some ways. This is not to say that Few Good Things is better than Care For Me, that is still to be seen for me. But it does say that Saba was able to take all the things that worked for Care For Me and hone them into his next project. Few Good Things handles issues of searching for a place to call home, nostalgia, love, racism, and so much more, all with the usual wordplay and flows expected from Saba. I am sure I am sounding like a broken record at this point for all of these albums but they are all unique and thoughtful in their own special ways.
Favorite Tracks: 2012, Few Good Things, Soldier
2. The Forever Story - JID
Coming in at two on my list is the sequel to The Never Story from JID, The Forever Story. JID has created his magnum opus, finding everything that worked from all of his other ventures and turning them into this. Not only does JID handle the up beat banger side of his identity but he is also able to balance that with his slower songs that showcase him telling stories about his upbringing and featuring his singing voice, a voice heard sparingly up to this point. All of this culminates in the 16th track (of the extended version) “2007”, the best JID song up to this point in my opinion. “2007” has JID telling the story of how he became a rapper, featuring monologues from his father, fellow artist Ibrahim Hamad and of course J. Cole. Worth a listen by any hip hop fan, it has something for everyone. Cannot wait to see this man live in concert.
Favorite Tracks: 2007, Stars, Raydar
1. Luv 4 Rent - Smino
And finally for the number one spot on Are You With That?’s favorite album of the year. No surprise to any listener of the show or anyone that knows me personally, we have the newest album Luv 4 Rent from St. Louis rapper Smino. Smino has carved out a special corner of rap that I adore, melodic, R&B inspired, fun and chill at the same time. Smino cannot miss. Every one of his projects have been perfect for what they were trying to be and this is no exception. All of the production on the album is so bouncy and airy and so filled with energy that it allows Smino to hit another level, whether he is making an upbeat song or a slower one. There are so many slower songs on this album, making me reminisce on the blkswn era of Smino. Reminding me of songs like “Amphetamine” with his new cuts like “Lee & Lovie” or “Curtains.” However, Smino is still able to fit in the more upbeat songs like “Pro Freak,” “Settle Down” and 90 Proof.” This is my favorite album from my favorite artist and I will be listening to it for many years to come. It is the perfect album for if you are a fan of more chill rap music. Check it out.
Favorite Tracks: Lee & Lovie, Curtains, Pro Freak