Most hip-hop heads seem to agree that 2022 has been the genre’s best and busiest in recent memory. With Covid finally a memory and tours busy again, artists have clearly been anxious to empty the vaults. We avoided the typical January / February lull, had a nice spread of mainstream drops, new emerging stars, and finally got albums that actually lived up to their hype. Even choosing a top 25 has been difficult with the sheer quantity and quality of albums this year!
Here are our first author’s favorites; let us know what you think and share your own lists!
#10: Tee Grizzley – Chapters of the Trenches
Not many people would have expected Tee Grizzley to drop a legitimate album of the year contender in 2022. While he had his moment in the spotlight and still drops some fun projects, he hones his greatest talents in order to redefine Detroit trap with Chapters of the Trenches. Always a talented storyteller, Grizz paints a picture of his city, the tragedies within, and the prevailing hope of many across a full album of isolated street tales. Never wasting a breath and building legitimate tension and characters, his writing here rivals any MC, let alone what you usually get from Detroit trap. Chapters of the Trenches is a testament to any genre’s ability to convey emotion, no matter how bleak or heartless the scene.
#9: Sha Ek – Face of the What
For the past couple years, we’ve derided the New York drill scene for failing to consistently build up stars and quality albums in the wake of Pop Smoke’s death. While there have been some here and there, it is rare for someone to exploit the sound at its for a full project: enter Sha Ek. Only 19 years old, the Bronx rapper had been anointed off a year of strong singles, but actually delivered something diverse and well constructed with his debut, Face of the What. Face of the What is spearheaded by his ridiculous shouts, but incorporates just enough bounce and memorable hooks, but also never overstays its welcome. Sha answers exactly what he is the face of, and the scene may finally be competitive again for it.
#8: Mickey Diamond – No Liquor Before 12
Mickey Diamond has really burst onto the scene over the past year. Dropping a slew of projects (namely the Bangkok Dangerous series and now, an affirming collaboration with Big Ghost LTD), it felt as though he needed an album that elevated him past simple, albeit elite, trap and luxury wordplay. No Liquor Before 12 is exactly that; tied together by themes of addiction, personal conflict, and institutionalization, Dallas surpasses all expectations for an MC of his scene by constructing a truly emotional project. Balancing such mature themes with the grimy technical skills that define him inspires new potential for the Umbrella Collective and the Detroit / New York underground as a whole.
#7: L’Orange & Solemn Brigham – Marlowe 3
While L’Orange is a premier producer in the underground (defining the sound of Mello Music Group alongside Apollo Brown), tracking the growth of collaborator Solemn Brigham across their three albums has been a thing to behold. With each installment of the Marlowe series, he adds wrinkles of new off-the-wall flows, melodies, and more evocative themes. Marlowe 3 truly feels like the album that both have been working towards – their densest, and most mature, virtuosic possible.
#6: Robb Bank$ – Falconia
While you might think Robb Bank$ is long past his peak, the name Falconia holds some special weight. Always billed as his biggest and best project, it became little more than myth until now, years later, it resurfaces; and it was well worth the wait. Falconia is firmly a product of its Florida influences, a time capsule to the peak of the SoundCloud era (featuring mainstays such as Lil Uzi Vert, XXXTentacion, Trippie Redd, etc.), and an endlessly replayable, varied album. Bank$ has seemingly caught a second wind and lived up to his potential again.
#5: Roc Marciano & The Alchemist – The Elephant Man’s Bones
After nearly a decade of anticipation and uniting the New York underground’s two greatest, most essential artists, The Elephant Man’s Bones somehow manages to live up to the hype. While Roc Marciano is a phenomenal producer in his own right, he always shows out with The Alchemist. Among the best work in the discographies of two peerless talents, The Elephant Man’s Bones is a rightful victory lap through the scene’s most ostentatious and sometimes sinister capabilities. 2022 has truly been the year of pipe-dream releases finally delivering.
#4: Lupe Fiasco – Drill Music in Zion
There should be little further debate over Lupe Fiasco’s position as one of the greatest rappers to ever grace the mic. No other MC matches his ability to layer bars with meaning, weaving insurmountably dense, abstract concepts into his albums. On Drill Music in Zion, he distills that practice into something far more accessible than Drogas Wave or Tetsuo in Youth, for example. Across only ten tracks recorded in mere days, Lupe critiques and mythologizes everything from violence in hip-hop and shady industry practices to religious and video game allegories. Drill Music in Zion is a piece worthy of both casually spinning and deep, intentional study.
#3: Sadistik & Kno – Bring Me Back When the World is Cured
Ever since 2015’s Phantom Limbs, fans have been desperate for Kno to link back up with Sadistik. On this long awaited followup, the duo takes everything great about their past work and turns it up to 11 with a longer tracklist and a denser, more contemplative concept. Sadistik’s highly technical, wordy horror imagery contrasts beautifully with Kno’s lush and layered soul production. Bring Me Back When the World is Cured has been well worth the wait, rejuvenating one of the most talented lyricists of our time and opening us to reflection on a difficult few years.
#2: Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Ti
While Bad Bunny might be the world’s biggest music star, he never sacrifices artistry in his music for that popularity. His latest album Un Verano Sin Ti is a sprawling tribute to all kinds of traditional Latin music (such as salsa, dembow, and of course reggaeton), perfectly soundtracking your summer and drawing a range of powerful emotions. While the Spanish language might be a barrier of entry for many, Bad Bunny’s greatest strength is in his infectious energy and songwriting – even if you have no idea what he’s saying, these songs are still catchy and guaranteed to get you moving. Endlessly repayable and versatile, Un Verano Sin Ti proves that he is more than another vapid popstar.
#1: Conway the Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes
Another long awaited record, Conway’s God Don’t Make Mistakes is the culmination of years of growth as an MC, mastery of different styles, and his real life experiences. Comprised of an all-star lineup, predictably raw raps, and peerless storytelling, it caps off a run of steadily improving and more versatile projects, but with the added layer of his heaviest, most personal subject matter ever; this all places it perfectly as a conclusion to his unbelievable ascent. God Don’t Make Mistakes is simply the album Conway – and the New York underground as a whole – were destined to make.