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2021 has been a wild year for everyone, but thankfully we will always have music to soundtrack and get us through it all. Some might have been a bit disappointed in popular releases or bigger names not dropping, but there was no shortage of quality hiphop in the underground. Here, we will go over our first author’s 2021 album of the year list.
Sauce Walka – God of Texas
The Sauce CEO was arguably the MVP of 2021 – Dropping 5 diverse albums, a slew of quality loosies, and killing features, he is one of the most prolific and unique artists out of the South today. God of Texas is a sprawling modern interpretation of classic Houston party music and Sauce brings so much charisma to the table through both typical trap talk and his signature brand of street wisdom. For a more thorough review, check out our 2021 Sauce Walka recap playlist!
22gz – The Blixky Tape 2
The new king of New York drill dropped an essential project to the subgenre in 2021. 22 has always had some of the best flows and pure lyrical ability out of the drill scene, but on The Blixky Tape 2, that comes to fruition in a truly quality album. From the epic opener “Twirlanta”, to catchier hooks, apt features, and more varied production, 22gz is making a name for himself as one of the best rappers out of New York period. Check out our guide to the NY drill scene for more info!
Ceschi – This Guitar Was Stolen Along With Years of Our Lives
While Ceschi leans all the way into a folk-punk sound on this record, he remains one of the most thoughtful and daring artists in any genre today. Considering all that we’ve seen over the past couple years – Covid, political unrest, and the monstrous responses of some – Ceschi both laments, and finds hope to salvage.
#10: EST Gee – Bigger Than Life or Death 1 & 2
Kentucky rapper and CMG signee EST Gee has been bubbling in underground trap for awhile, but Bigger Than Life or Death marks an artistic breakthrough. Displaying range and a comprehensive feature list, Gee brings star potential back to a darker breed of trap. Spitting surprisingly clever, evocative bars and telling nonchalant murder tales through gritted teeth, Bigger Than Life or Death strikes the perfect balance of bounce and evil – of raw experience, talent on the mic, and eyes set on Hot 100 someday.
Listen to Bigger Than Life or Death on Spotify
#9: 42 Dugg – Free Dem Boyz
Certainly the biggest star of the Detroit trap scene, 42 Dugg also comes through with it’s crowning artistic achievement. Free Dem Boyz is a sprawling, endlessly repayable collection of catchy trap ballads and bangers, exploring Dugg’s treacherous deeds and tragic destiny as a product of Detroit. The added themes of institutionalization and many songs being dedicated to fallen or locked up homies make for uniquely moving undertones. Free Dugg!
Listen to Free Dem Boyz on Spotify
#8: McKinley Dixon – For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her
McKinley Dixon delivers what might be his masterpiece on this densely packed, heartfelt jazz record. Exploring black artistry, how the culture must progress from traumas of the past, womanhood, and love for fellowman, Dixon presents one of the most gratifying listens of the year. Every song has such lush and compact production full of horns and almost live sounding percussion, making for what is easily some of the best jazz rap to drop in recent memory. Grand, catchy hooks also overlay such powerful verses. Overall, Dixon has made a piece of art which is both classical and forward thinking in how deeply it pushes us to consider its themes.
Listen to For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her on Bandcamp
#7: Lukah – Why Look Up? God’s in the Mirror
Alongside Grip – who dropped an amazing album this year as well – Lukah is leading the new wave of Southern consciousness in hiphop. After dropping the blaxploitation inspired When the Black Hand Touches You earlier this year, he further honed his craft into a truly special album here. On Why Look Up, Lukah brings sinister raps which peer into his own psyche and the condition of black men in America over dark, yet somewhat classical production. While it is distnictly southern, there is also a hint of the gritty revivalist scene alongside features from Boldy James and Estee Nack. With an endearing voice, direct bars, and mature outlook, Lukah considers how there is greatness hidden in all of us despite the ugliness we live through.
Listen to Why Look Up, God’s in the Mirror on Spotify
#6: Rome Streetz & DJ Muggs – Death and the Magician
Rome Streetz has quickly become one of the most prolific and meanest spitters out of the NY revival scene. With frank bars on dealing and aggressive flows, he really transports you to his corner and lets you know who runs it. On Death and the Magician, the legendary DJ Muggs laces him with dark yet Heavenly beats which give him room to explore the balance of morality and survival. For a more thorough review, check out our Rome Streetz 2021 recap playlist!
Listen to Death and the Magician on Spotify
#5: Aesop Rock & Blockhead – Garbology
The legendary backpack duo Blockhead and Aesop Rock finally reunited for their first full length collaboration, and it is an excellent modernization of their classic sounds with some more mature sentiments. As Aes goes after more punchlines than usual, he also dives deep into his mindstate during the Covid era and the fallacies which we all live through. Check out our full length review!
Listen to Garbology on Spotify
#4: Big30 – King of Killbranch
Memphis trap is in good hands; Alongside artists like Pooh Shiesty, Big Scarr, and Duke Deuce, Big30 is one of the most talented and memorable rappers out of the scene today. With menacing bars, high energy, and beats placing a slightly futuristic twist on the traditional trap sound, 30 delivers what might be the best trap album in years. Check out our full review here!
Listen to King of Killbranch on Spotify
#3: Jim Jones & Harry Fraud – The Fraud Department
Despite some Dipset classics in the early 2000’s, Jim Jones is an OG who never really got his shine. That seems to be changing as he has gone on a run of strong releases and features in recent years, with this Harry Fraud collaboration being the stand out. Settling into a sort of elder statesman role in the rap game, Jim has maintained a knack for hooks while actually improving his flow and overall lyricism quite a bit. The Fraud Department is concise and sees him tackling a lot of interesting topics – His own age and veteran status, industry bullshit, social justice, and more. Strong features such as Conway the Machine, Maino, and Dave East fit his themes well and ride over immaculate beats from the producer of the year. Be sure to check out our Harry Fraud 2021 recap playlist as well.
Listen to The Fraud Department on Spotify
#2: Armand Hammer & The Alchemist – Haram
Legendary producer The Alchemist links with the esoteric rapper-poets Billy Woods and Elucid for a journey through society’s darkest corners – Its disgusting, yet you can’t look away. Notorious for deep allegories and literary references, the MC’s address the woes of the world in the most unorthodox terms. Through anecdotes about an African funeral service, a paranoid addict, or a trip to California, this record’s lyrics are extremely rewarding to interpret. While Elucid has at times been the weaker link in Armand Hammer, he shows out strongly this time alongside Woods, who happens to be an all time great. The Alchemist laces them with both mysterious and tropical beats which only further the album’s themes of taboo beauty, on what is easily their best produced album yet. This record has potential to go down as a cult classic. For more information, check out our 2021 Alchemist recap.
#1: Skyzoo – All the Brilliant Things
Brooklyn’s finest delivers a masterful exploration of gentrification and cultural erasure among African Americans. Over lively jazz production, Skyzoo uses his old school sentiments to break down all of the ways his home and way of life have been degraded before his very eyes. Already an elite MC, Sky up’s the stakes through such a dense concept and it pays dividends. All the Brilliant Things is one of the best and most important hiphop albums of our time. Read our full review here.
Listen to All the Brilliant Things on Bandcamp
Check out all of our album of the year reviews and lists here!