Published January 11, 2023
Top 25 Albums of 2022
Disclaimer: As with any “album of the year” list, there are several projects I did not quite get around to – ultimately, this serves as a stamp of the top releases I did get to resonate with.
No. 25 – Killing Nothing
Favorite Track: Hundred Ninety Bands
No. 24 – DRILL MUSIC IN ZION
Favorite Track: On Faux Nem
No. 23 – King’s Disease III
Favorite Track: I’m on Fire
No. 22 – 2 P’z in a Pod
Favorite Track: Late Nights
No. 21 – TrillStatik 2
Favorite Track: Right Back At It
No. 20 – 2000
Favorite Track: Where I Belong
No. 19 – The Forever Story
The bulk of The Forever Story is introspective and forward-thinking, combining diverse production and topics to exhibit the Atlanta rapper’s versatility. Whether it be through improbable bangers (“Can’t Punk Me“) or jazzy cognizance (“Money“), this project has one goal in mind – to bestow a long-lasting experience upon listeners.
Favorite Track: Just In Time
No. 18 – Faceless
The twenty-seven-minute creation throws listeners into an abyss of trip-hop and jazz influences, drawing similarities to old-school instrumental albums such as DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. or Prince Paul’s Psychoanalysis. These classics do not exist as the influences for the southern producer’s sound, but he has formed an early connection to the atmospheric, slow-paced techniques they birthed. A reasonable expectation is to consider evans. somebody to look out for moving forward – his ceiling is high.
Favorite Track: Restless (Interlude)
No. 17 – Melt My Eyez See Your Future
While this approach renders the album as less concentrated than other gems in his catalogue, the change of pace is what his craftmanship needed. It created the opportunity for more exploration in this lane of alternative hip-hop, which Curry already traverses so naturally – as a result, it would not be shocking to see Melt My Eyez age gracefully with time.
Favorite Track: Ain’t No Way
No. 16 – Continuance
Favorite Track: Whale Watching
No. 15 – Few Good Things
It’s good to see Saba back in action. Considering the emotional turmoil that defined 2018’s CARE FOR ME, it was clear the Chicago native had been flooded with baggage. This is what makes Few Good Things so uplifting – the therapeutic nature of it is reflected in the confrontational lyrics and uplifting sound.
The mid-west lyricist’s pen sounds revitalized throughout, balancing aggression (“Survivor’s Guilt“), nostalgia (“Come My Way“), and vivid descriptions (“2012“) in a manner unseen on his first two projects. Although it lacks the compact nature of those, it serves as a proper stepping stone for Saba to embrace growth – both personally and artistically.
Favorite Track: Come My Way
No. 14 – Off the Strength
Rapper Lord Apex and production crew Cookin Soul’s March effort has already begun to age noticeably well. Perhaps that stems from Off the Strength‘s bite-size composure – it has a clear aesthetic in mind, and fails to deviate from it.
The comic book-inspired cover explains its quirky sound and near-cartoonish aura. Lord Apex’s adoration of that pocket of hip-hop culture – pioneered by the likes of Madlib and MF DOOM – made Cookin Soul the perfect partner, considering their exceptional approach to the underground ambience. Want proof? Visit lead single “The Bullshit” – not often are such touchingly eerie yet determined cuts found in the average record.
Favorite Track: The Bullshit
No. 13 – Cheat Codes
Following the Streams of Thought series, it was clear The Roots’ lead emcee had found his stride in manufacturing independent content. 2022’s Cheat Codes was his greatest attempt yet, employing acclaimed producer Danger Mouse to illustrate a hazy, theatrical world that suited Black Thought a little too well.
Danger Mouse’s style of sound engineering frees up the voices of his partners, which causes the lyrics throughout to have a sense of command around them. It is difficult to not fixate on the layered writing from the Philadelphia legend, not to mention the various features – many of whom managed to go toe-to-toe with an all-time great. If the consensus wasn’t already that Black Thought had the greatest longevity of any rapper, it would now be difficult to argue otherwise.
Favorite Track: Belize
No. 12 – The Elephant Man’s Bones
The Alchemist’s presence on this list doesn’t end at Continuance – The Elephant Man’s Bones, a collaboration with long-time peer Roc Marciano, also finds itself here. Unapologetically abstract, the duo openly embrace their preference for minimal instrumentals and groundbreaking creativity.
The Elephant Man’s Bones is a strong moment in Marciano’s career particularly – not only did it provide fans with a long-awaited joint effort with The Alchemist, but it further bolstered an already excellent catalogue. It represents the strides made in the underground more than any other 2022 release, confirming the decade as one represented by smaller-name geniuses.
Favorite Track: The Horns of Abraxas
No. 11 – Intros, Outros & Interludes
The sound is soulful and west coast-proper, with loops of a warm tone that encourage comfortable flows. Tracks like “Stay One More Day” are simple in structure but work perfectly, while “Victories & Losses” – which is the lone instance of Evidence rapping – employs a sentimental piano that is far too addictive to let seep out of rotation. For an artist’s first full-length record in four years, Intros, Outros & Interludes sounds indicates that no momentum has been lost for Domo Genesis.
Favorite Track: Victories & Losses
No. 10 – Collection of Beats (2021)
The beat tape draws strong inspiration from the likes of 21st century production legends, particularly the likes of J Dilla. The works are sample-heavy, elaborately chopped, and free-flowing. Even when JAYJAY! gets into a more abstract pocket (i.e., “Jumper 8“), the result is satisfactory – when such wide ground can be covered with effectiveness, it is inevitably going to remain a staple in one’s rotation.
And to no surprise, that’s exactly what occurred here.
Favorite Track: Merry Go Roooound
No. 9 – Cost of Living
Greene’s newer presence in the game explains his never-ending hungry delivery, as he makes the most of an alliance with one of the underground’s most celebrated names. Brown provides him with the perfect soundtrack, full of lofty sampling and lo-fi drums that have defined his sound over the past few years. Consequently, fans are provided with what some would describe as “pure hip-hop” – conventional, relatable lyrics that anybody could get lost in at command.
Favorite Track: Time Goes
No. 8 – Capri
The two’s chemistry is devoid of bumps and rough patches, intentionally spanning itself over a short runtime to ensure nothing drags on. Mad Sadiq says everything necessary in the handful of tracks provided – especially on lead single “MO“, which has an optimistic attitude implying something significant is underway. While Capri doesn’t quite present itself as larger-than-life, it serves as the beginning to an exciting partnership between two striving creatives.
Favorite Track: Grown
No. 7 – Greetings From Tombstone
Everything from the instrumentation to guest appearances is an upgrade, and the outcome is a photographic, grimy experience of dungeon-like proportions. Confining to one style is dearly avoided throughout – you have high-energy posse cuts (“Paycheck“), somber reflections (“If I Go Missing“), and slow-paced cyphers (“Sun Gods“). By the time the conclusive three-track run at the end – including bonus track “Heal Break” – is complete, a strong feeling of progress from HUES can be embraced. It truly executes itself in a cinematic fashion.
Favorite Track: Manuscript, Pt. 2
No. 6 – Talk To Me Nice
The lane Hype wants to be in is clear, and he navigates it honorably. Purists will admire this body of work – it absolutely sounds modernized, but consistently aims to pay homage to the craft of the all-time greats while showcasing a personality of its own. “Underdog“, which is arguably the best track, is the thesis of this claim. Don’t stop there, though – every cut on this record is worth embracing.
Favorite Track: Underdog
No. 5 – All-Star Beats, Vol. 1
To avoid treading any narcissistic territory, I’ll briefly comment on my outlook of it months after it released – running it back as a “fan”, the maturity is what sticks out. The production technique used throughout shows steep improvement from the ambitious, but disorganized nature of obServe… – the sampling is equally eclectic, but confirms the solidification of a style. It’s one of many strides the HOUSE label made in recency, and I’d feel wrong not to include it on a collection of yearly favorites.
Favorite Track: The Stars See You
No. 4 – YOD Wave
In seven tracks, he achieves a level of consistency that somehow surpasses other amazing works in his catalogue – collaborations with fellow Dump Gawd members Mach-Hommy and Tha God Fahim deliver as expected, and he uncovers personal demons of his own on the descriptive “.500“. Nicholas Craven spearheads the entire movement, helping Droog transition to a high-quality, high-quantity approach he adopted for the remainder of 2022.
Favorite Track: .500
No. 3 – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
“The Heart Part 5” led the way, and soon after came Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. Kendrick’s music has always been intense and personal, but this was on a tier of its own – throughout, the California lyricist openly discusses his flaws, contemplates morality, and aims for growth. It results in the bulkiest and most experimental piece of his to date, but as usual, the content resonates. Nothing less can be expected from a genius of this caliber.
Favorite Track: Silent Hill
No. 2 – This Must Be the Place
If Clouds is a young adolescent with big dreams, This Must Be the Place is him in a state of experience and freedom. It truly verifies that Brown is amidst a secondary prime of sorts, now a master of a floaty, crisp style that contrasts greatly from the rugged rhythms of his earlier stages. “Got It Good” is a hazy introduction, while “Jupiter Gold” adamantly tackles a bouncier tempo. Randomly placed cuts from former projects Lovesick and Blacklight can even be found throughout, making this a gold mine for not only a dedicated Brown fan, but a lover of production in general.
Favorite Track: Pipe Dreams
No. 1 – Somebody Up There Loves Me
Everyday life is the theme – lead single “FRESH LINEN” gravitates towards such, affirming his status as a man dedicated to morals that goes through the same daily cycles as anybody. Such proclamations co-exist with his usual braggadocio and use of storytelling (“REPOSADO STORIES” is a unique example), giving life to luscious beats that contrast with – and as a matter of fact, exceed – his previous drops of the decade (sans Blacklight). An exhibit of such a hungry emcee dedicating himself to sharpening his sword is what powers Somebody Up There Loves Me, fueling it with the character to reasonably claim the “album of the year” title.
Favorite Track: BAKERY