Top 25 Albums of 2022

Published January 11, 2023

Top 25 Albums of 2022

2022 was a dynamic year for music. It saw the long-awaited return of many household names (i.e. Kendrick Lamar), the sustained success of the underground, and a handful of unexpected collaborations. The end result was potentially the best stretch of records the twenties decade has seen yet – and here are twenty-five of its best products, aligned to my personal preference.

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

Boldy James
Real Bad Man
43 min.

One of Boldy James’ ten albums of the twenties, Killing Nothing is one of the biggest standouts of the year. His familiarity with multimedia collective Real Bad Man has been intact for ages now, so a specific standard was set for this record that was ultimately met – James practices consistency through supplying a batch of grimy, spacious tracks that complement his numbed delivery.

Griselda’s dominance throughout the past stretch of time is only made clearer by this output – it isn’t necessarily one of the collective’s top efforts, but instead serves as continued quality that solidifies them as the best hip-hop group in the game.

Favorite Track: Hundred Ninety Bands


Lupe Fiasco41 min.

Lupe Fiasco’s catalogue has gone through many, many phases. From being an upcoming hip-hop superstar to someone restrained by the industry, he ultimately settled with the best situation any artist could ask for – full artistic control. DRILL MUSIC IN ZION matches that sentiment, being reminiscent of previous records Tetsuo & Youth and DROGAS WAVE in that it embraces layered songwriting (i.e., the perspective-based storytelling on “KIOSK“), lush instrumentals, and a willingness to experiment.

DRILL MUSIC isn’t necessarily as ambitious as those aforementioned, but it is a firm reminder that Fiasco’s capabilities are infinite – to release something so concise nearly two decades after your commercial debut is phenomenal.

Favorite Track: On Faux Nem

No. 23 – King’s Disease III

Nas52 min.

Album number-fifteen for the all time great was, as expected at this point, a hit. King’s Disease III is a continuation of Nas and Hit-Boy’s unexpected streak of projects, which have secondarily served as a career revival for the Queens emcee. Through showcasing his steady pen game and Hit-Boy’s willingness to exit his comfort zone, the third entry of the King’s Disease series delivered.

The sheer variety in sound resulted in a hefty tracklist, but it was good to see variation from the duo. For example, “Recession Proof” has a bass-heavy basis that feels reminiscent of the golden age – on the contrary, “I’m on Fire” takes a grimy soul-sampling approach that feels tied to the underground. It all packs together nicely, serving as a benchmark for what veterans should accomplish decades into their careers.

Favorite Track: I’m on Fire

No. 22 – 2 P’z in a Pod

LNDN Drugs
Larry June
31 min.

2 P’z in a Pod is a feel-good moment from the likes of rapper-producer duo LNDN Drugs (comprised of Jay Worthy and Sean House), and frequent collaborator Larry June. 2 P’z falls under the branch of west coast influence that creates a summery, easygoing atmosphere for the emcees to lay bars over.

The combination of vocal sampling and vintage synthesizers unlocks a new facet of underground production that is rarely seen, which elevates the project to an unforeseen level of uniqueness. It therefore stands as one of the best-produced efforts of the year, with great rapping to boost it even further.

Favorite Track: Late Nights

No. 21 – TrillStatik 2

Bun B
Statik Selektah
30 min.

A sequel to the similarly-named debut of these two, TrillStatik 2 is further proof that some work ethics are beyond measure. Rapper Bun B (of UGK fame) and east coast legend Statik Selektah furthered their unlikely chemistry through yet another one-of-a-kind creative process – streaming the entirety of the album’s formation on a stream in twenty-four hours and releasing it to the public immediately after.

The charm of these two’s vision comes through the studio environment – featuring artists, media members, close contacts, and more found themselves in and out of the Manhattan studio hosting the process. It serves a reminder of what these artistic minds love doing at the root of it all – making music.

Favorite Track: Right Back At It

No. 20 – 2000

Joey Bada$$53 min.

Joey Bada$$’s first studio album in five years was heavily anticipated. The hype became even more immense when he designed it as a clever reference to his classic mixtape 1999 – the name 2000 resonated as his method of staying true to his roots while also embracing growth. The lyrical content reflects such no differently – it is ultimately vintage, but with open arms to newer collaborators (i.e., Westside Gunn and Larry June) and a more modernized approach sonically.

One thing that can be appreciated about Joey’s growth is his affinity for becoming increasingly personal with time – the idea of him dropping a song as emotionally dense as “Survivor’s Guilt” a decade ago is far from expected. Breakthroughs of this caliber are what helps 2000 stand out as one of many artist comebacks that were materialized as of late.

Favorite Track: Where I Belong

No. 19 – The Forever Story

JID1 hour

On the topic of comebacks, here’s another – JID’s The Forever Story was several years in the making, and the Dreamville prodigy’s first solo release since 2018’s DiCaprio 2. Callbacks to his studio debut – and prequel to this record – The Never Story are quickly implemented through the introductory “Galaxy“.

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

evans.27 min.

Faceless is one of many fascinating beat tapes to grace the last calendar. For a bit of confidential context, evans. is one of many personal affiliates involved in the musical collective HOUSE. He stands as its youngest member as far as chronology goes, yet his musical knowledge was immediately noticeable.

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

Denzel Curry45 min.

It seems as if Denzel Curry gets more comfortable with each release. Imperial and TA13OO felt hungrier, but not as raw and honest – ZUU was a step in the right direction through representing his hometown, but principally leaned on the side of pure hype. Melt My Eyez See Your Future, however, fuses Curry’s likeness for high energy with colorful beat selection and lyrics out of an open book.

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

The Alchemist
38 min.

Combining two of the hardest workers in hip-hop history – for the fourth time – is bound to amount to anything but failure. Continuance is a fitting name, because it is the emblem for Curren$y and The Alchemist’s unwavering partnership that has stood strong since the early-2010s.

It falls under the same umbrella as most of The Alchemist’s recent works, employing a simple sampling style that somehow results in a larger-than-life outturn. The best example is deep cut “The Final Board“, which contains an effortless beat switch that Curren$y floats over with elegance. Multiple other refined cuts find themselves littered across the album, which characterizes the entirety of Continuance as an attempt to tread high-quality territory.

Favorite Track: Whale Watching

No. 15 – Few Good Things

Saba48 min.

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

Lord Apex
Cookin Soul
29 min.

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

Black Thought
Danger Mouse
39 min.

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

Roc Marciano
The Alchemist
38 min.

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

Domo Genesis26 min.

Despite the commercial breakthroughs Odd Future has made as a collective, some of its members remain underappreciated. Domo Genesis falls under that category, unfairly overshadowed despite being one of the best lyricists of the modern age. Intros, Outros, & Interludes, produced by L.A. icon Evidence, is a strict suggestion to tune in to his stream of great mixtapes.

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)

JAYJAY!40 min.

JAYJAY!’s Collection of Beats (2021) barely makes this list – not because of placement, but rather because it was an early January release entirely comprised of 2021 instrumentals. This only makes its appearance all the more impressive, though – it was one of the earliest top albums and held its ground the entire way.

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

Philmore Greene
Apollo Brown
50 min.

Apollo Brown’s fifth full-length project of the decade coincided with the uprising of Chicago lyricist Philmore Greene. Cross-connections between two mid-west states has never sounded more crisp, as Cost of Living balances the sights of Chi-town and sounds of Detroit immaculately.

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

Mad Sadiq
19 min.

If the word “radiant” was turned to sound, it would be Capri. A product of southern heritage, the nineteen-minute jam somehow sounds bound to no region – it combines the laidback essence of the south, production habits of the east coast, and warmth of the west coast in impressive fashion.

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

HUES43 min.

Following the release of two EPs, Michigan producer HUES honed in on the creation of a full-length “roster” album to accompany the seldom-self-titled Heavy Upon Every Soul in his discography. While the aforementioned work falls on the rustier, experimental side of things, Greetings From Tombstone has an emanating confidence that accurately depicts growth.

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

Hype45 min.
1 hour, 9 min. (deluxe)

In the Internet age, tradition is dearly missed at time. Talk To Me Nice is a return to conventional hip-hop standards – hard-hitting production hosting straight bars, consciousness weaving through each verse, and an eventual deluxe version loading the adventure with plenty of extra content.

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

iSight38 min.

This choice is a tough one to tackle. Is including your own work on a list considered bad manners? Unprofessional? Or is it just another thing to enjoy, at the end of the day? Not sure. But the truth is that I have love for All-Star Beats, Vol. 1. It’s something I’m proud of, in no different fashion than this website.

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

Your Old Droog19 min.

YOD Wave carried on the momentum of a ridiculously slept-on run Brooklyn’s Your Old Droog assembled throughout the year. It was delivered at the perfect time, with an icy essence complementary of the cooler March days. Droog was a bit of a stranger to shorter-length projects at the time, only reaching under twenty-five minutes on EPs The Nicest and Looseys.

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

Kendrick Lamar1 hour, 19 min.

After half a decade’s worth of time missing in action, Kendrick Lamar quietly returned to the light on Baby Keem’s The Melodic Blue. Following a couple features, label announcement, and series of cryptic appearances, he finally presented what fans had been dying for – a rollout.

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

Apollo Brown1 hour, 9 min.

Instrumental albums were never Apollo Brown’s safe space. He only has two widespread beat tapes under his name, that being 2011’s Clouds and 2014’s Thirty Eight – when news arrived of him developing a third, and the first in eight years, a strong wave of excitement enveloped his fanbase.

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

Stalley35 min.

As it stands, Stalley is debatably the hardest worker of the twenties. After leaving Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group to partner with the new MMG – Mello Music Group – he has entered a career revitalization. Colorful production and an increased sense of consciousness define his artistry now, and Somebody Up There Loves Me summarizes that in thirty-five blissful minutes.

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

Weekly Album Spotlights, Sep. 25

Published September 25, 2022

Weekly Album Spotlights, Sep. 25

This installment includes a guest write-up from friend and writer Evan B.

Write-up By Isiah C.

Karma – Pharoah Sanders

1969Spiritual Jazz37 min.

Karma is, at heart, a pulsing ball of energy. Everything about it finds its roots in spirituality, thought and existence. It intends to encourage reflection, immediately clear by its meditative cover.

The cause of this inclusion is unfortunately due to the passing of Pharoah Sanders this week. The legend enjoyed a long and successful life, and the intensity of Karma is even stronger with this news in mind.

The main piece, “The Creator Has a Master Plan“, is a thirty-two-minute long nebula of contrasting emotions. The forward-thinking hit begins with a grandiose atmosphere that immediately sends the listener into a state of contemplation and curiosity, eager to see what exotic sounds lie behind such an ambitiously-named song.

The progression of the track’s first half is subtle, smooth, and soulful. Much like the recordings of fellow African-American creators in these historic genres, Sanders’ content aimed to depict feelings of social strife and the means by which it can create a path of healing. His poetic, repetitive lyrics deliver a certain message:

“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah, yeah yeah
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah, yeah yeah
The creator has a working plan
Peace and happiness for every man
The creator has a working plan
Peace and happiness for every man”

Karma is unapologetically religious and wants to tie together the many factions of the world through a mutual connection to a higher power. Sanders’ belief is that tranquility can be achieved over time through the vision of his creator – as soon as these words resonate, it becomes clear that this experience will expand far beyond the boundaries of jazz, aiming to lift others to a higher plane of conscious thought.

The track eventually decompresses into a raw, experimental cacophony of aggressive saxophone techniques, yodeling, and sonic vigor. Sanders aims to showcase the intricacy of his abilities amidst the chaos, proving his worth as an instrumental creator while also delivering an ethereal lesson.

The brief, five-minute “Colors” feels like an afterthought after such a legendary and lengthy performance, but it may be the solution to truly understanding what Sanders intended to express. Vocalist and collaborator Leon Thomas – who was also heavily involved on the first track – uses the rainbow as a metaphor for the many facets of life one should appreciate. A reminder is issued that in nature, spirit, and faith, the key to happiness can be found.

Ending Karma on such an interpretive, free note after the intensity of “The Creator Has a Master Plan” is a genius approach. It’s emotional, warm and inspirational. The influence the record had on the development of jazz music subsequently becomes immediately apparent as it closes – managing to bring the realm of spiritual, avant-garde content to the mainstream was vital to development of funk, psychedelia, hip-hop, and more.

It’s an unbelievable body of work. Rest in peace, Pharoah Sanders.

Write-up By Isiah C.

Under Pressure – Logic

2014Boom Bap57 min.

One to multiple times a year – but most often when temperatures get low and school comes around – Under Pressure hits my rotation and holds its place.

Logic has been the topic of frequent critical controversy over the course of the past several years, but I’ve never been afraid to cite myself as a fan of some of his projects. His debut studio album in particular is one of the 2010’s best, encompassing all qualities a modern age hip-hop album should.

Its loose concept, themed around his means of relieving stress and managing worldly tension, is executed to a far better degree than often credited. He cites “Nikki” – which also happens to be a track – as his partner in crime and greatest relief. Seemingly a woman, it is eventually exposed as a metaphor for nicotine, adding another layer to the troubled upbringing detailed throughout the record.

Specific themes tackled include the process of rising to the top (“Soul Food“), gang culture’s effects on the youth (“Gang Related“), and the uncertainty associated with growing up in a negative environment (“Growing Pains III“). The album remains true to its inspired roots of boom bap through weaving these ideas into a cohesive effort, all the while maintaining a dusty, nearly nostalgic style of production.

The charm of Under Pressure is actually in its dedication to its influences, if anything. Logic’s plethora of mixtapes prior to 2014 were often directly taking after the pioneers of hip-hop – that did not hinder their quality, but it muddied the clarity of Logic’s character.

This album broke through that barrier, remaining dedicated to honoring the greats:

“Smoking blunts in Amsterdam
Oh my God, this is my jam
“May-December” by Mos Def
In my headphones, that’s the man”

…however, it never tried too hard to emulate somebody else. For that reason, the personal subject matter expressed throughout – especially on the title track – held a stronger impact on the listener that led to their prolonged interest.

Under Pressure falls under the category of lyrically-inclined albums from the modern era’s most exciting prospects, including good kid, m.A.A.d city and 2014 Forest Hills Drive. It isn’t as ambitious as the former, nor aiming for mainstream appeal like the latter. Instead, authenticity ran through its veins – Logic didn’t try to make his music deeper than it was, using honesty as a foundation.

It’s what established the east coast emcee as one of the decade’s most promising names, eventually sparking a commercially significant career. Everybody starts somewhere.

Write-up By Evan B.

May the Lord Watch – Little Brother

2019Conscious Hip-Hop37 min.

The history of the legendary underground rap duo (formerly trio) known as Little Brother has been full of obstacles – from creative differences with labels to departures, disbandment, and an eight-year hiatus. MCs Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh met while enrolled at North Carolina Central University in the late 90’s, with twenty-plus years separating the beginning of their friendship and the release of this album.

From 2001-10, the duo operated as partners in rhyme, with their breakup being announced after the release of their fourth album, Leftback. For the next five years following, Pooh & Tay were not on speaking terms at all. It wasn’t until the unfortunate passing of hip hop phenom Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest (a group with similar group conflict and eventual hiatus & reunion) that the two rappers decided to put their differences aside and rekindle the spark that made them underground heroes.

The album May the Lord Watch serves as a reunion for Phonte and Big Pooh, acknowledging that they have grown up plenty in their time away from the limelight, yet not by any means missing the chemistry characteristic of their music during the Okayplayer/backpack era. Previously titled Homecoming, this release invites longtime fans to return home to the charismatic reconciliation of Durham’s heaviest hitters.

In terms of lyrical prowess, this may just be these two at their technical peak. From speaking on how there’s always a way to improve in life on “Black Magic (Make It Better)” to the disconnection from the youthful life of the party they once loved on “Sittin Alone”, there is no absence of thematic value here.

Although the pair isn’t afraid to tap into more serious topics on this project, that doesn’t mean that the humor of their previous work is left out of the equation – quite the opposite, actually. Five different skits appear on the tracklist, working as a continuation of the material from 2005’s The Minstrel Show – featured references include Phonte’s swooning R&B alter ego Percy Miracles, as well as words from Peter Rosenberg, Joe Scudda, and Roy Lee, all of whom appeared on earlier Little Brother albums. Tay & Pooh’s cultural references and witty wordplay are also on point as usual throughout the project.

My personal favorite cut from May the Lord Watch would have to be “Goodmorning Sunshine,” which is effectively a love song with effortless back-and-forth flow and an extremely uplifting instrumental. Every track on the fifth studio album is filled with great conscious rhymes and stellar production – a mark of true consistency from these rap vets. While the presence of original member 9th Wonder is sadly missed from this project, the weight is carried by his fellow Soul Council producers Khrysis and Nottz, common LB collaborators such as Focus…, Zo!, and one of Detroit’s finest in Black Milk.

To me, May the Lord Watch is ‘grown man rap’ at its best. The NC-based lyricists highlight the ups and downs of embracing adulthood head on, all the while putting on an absolute clinic with their rapping – both entered a second, matured prime completely separate from their earlier days in the 2000’s. The group name Little Brother originally came from seeing themselves as the torch-carriers of the movement led by A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Public Enemy. Now, they have the ability to be the big brothers to the next generation of music, seeing how they have inspired modern-day leaders in rap such as Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and J. Cole. Phonte said it best in his 2019 interview with Vulture:

“I like to think of ourselves as giving young rappers a look around the corner… Hopefully we can give a blueprint to show that you can mature, you can grow older, and you can be true to yourself but not be crotchety. There’s a way you can settle into that moment and still be dope and be profitable and have things to say.”

Write-up By Isiah C.

I Am Not A Crip – HUES & Korban Baxter

2022Hardcore Hip-Hop18 min.

One resonating thought when listening to a number of recent releases is how they grew from the influences that shaped them. HUES & Korban Baxter’s I Am Not A Crip isn’t just your typical producer-rapper collaboration – it’s a revival of the moody, dungeon-like sounds of the golden age translated to the modern standard.

Before anything, let’s throw some love in Baxter’s direction. His commanding presence on the mic is reminiscent of an Earl Sweatshirt type – not particularly loud or energetic, but instead raw and descriptive. His words flow effortlessly into pools of poetry, forming verses that clearly highlight his everyday activities.

Not A Crip is akin to a storytelling experience, despite its short length. Immersive interludes carry on the energy, featured Baxter and a number of people in his life conversing over recognizable hip-hop songs. Before you have time to fully digest the content of the skits, you’re thrown into another hardcore cut – it’s a fantastic approach to pacing that makes the EP feel lengthier.

HUES deserves an abundance of credit for his leadership on this album’s sound as well. His hard-hitting drums and grim samples feel reminiscent of Diggin’ in the Crates, particularly Buckwild. If you claimed “Carroll Park” released in 1995, no eyebrows would be raised.

The ambience of these tracks is the key to Not a Crip’s identity, as Baxter’s verses float calmly over every backdrop. “Lost Values” is a specifically great example, featuring a downtempo soundscape from HUES that is tackled with a slowed, melodic approach to contrast with the high-energy tracks preceding it.

The genius of underground producers is highlighted even further by the lyricists they work in tandem with, and this is no exception. You may associate the streets of Detroit with soul – think J Dilla, Black Milk, and Apollo Brown – but when you fuse that with the ferocity of a Philadelphia emcee, you discover an exciting combination.

Weekly Album Spotlights, Sep. 2

Published September 2, 2022

Weekly Album Spotlights, Sep. 2

With a new month comes new content, and this brand new Weekly Album Spotlights series aims to provide write-up about a handful of albums every week, sometimes with another contributor.

This week, writer Jack R. and I are touching upon four albums that we wanted to discuss and have you consider adding to your rotation.

To keep things familiar, these articles will follow the same format as the “Favorite Hip-Hop Albums” countdown – if you haven’t checked that out, check either of the “Posts” tabs!

Write-up By Isiah C.

The Never Story – JID

2017Southern Hip-Hop40 min.

Realistically speaking, this slot could’ve been for the newly released The Forever Story. It almost was, but maybe we can touch upon that another time – great album, by the way.

It’s interesting how hearing a new record can immediately motivate you to revisit an older one, but that was the story of my past week. The Never Story is a very nostalgic experience for me, being one of my late-2010s favorites.

The hunger throughout is the deal-breaker. When an emcee is truly ready to put in work, they let it show with ferocity right away. The near-titular “NEVER” tells this story is simple words:

“Most of the niggas I came up with haven’t came up
And doin’ the same stuff, but I haven’t came up, this really ain’t none”

Now that JID has made it known that rapping was not his dream profession, this lyric holds more weight. Not only does he unfortunately have to see his hood continue to struggle with finding prosperity, but he doesn’t hold his way out to highly either – it wasn’t his number one option.

Regardless of those darker undertones, The Never Story isn’t remotely close to a morose experience. JID truly represents his Atlantan hometown with a collection of hard-hitting bangers amongst moodier selections; for every “All Bad“, there’s an “EdEddnEddy“. This isn’t to say he doesn’t remain introspective – because he absolutely does – but this was a successful debut because it stayed true to showcasing his bars.

The outro “LAUDER” is often cited as the best example of this – with a vicious southern flow reminiscent of early Outkast albums, JID drops three excellent verses on the J. Cole produced outro. Take this excerpt, for instance:

“So part of the reason I be so hard on my people
We never had it easy, never had a pot to pee in
I be on my knees praying till my onomatopoeia’s packing a coliseum
Ain’t no parking, I gotta see J.I.D
Gotta be there for my family, I gotta, can’t try to be
I could be out of my mind, thinking logically
No apologies for speaking how I feel, I silently swore solemnly
That I would be the guy to make my black people proud of me”

This may be the moment in The Never Story where listeners realize that JID can get intensely lyrical, which was a huge boost to his hype at the time.

Personally, it’s hard for me to point out a song I don’t enjoy on this record. It packs every vibe possible into forty minutes, creating an infinite source of enjoyment that can always be appreciated on a revisit. It’s important I integrate The Forever Story into my rotation, but my favorite in the catalogue is right here.

Write-up By Isiah C.

Reflection of Self: The Head Trip – Stalley

2019Conscious Hip-Hop33 min.

Now on the less popular side of things, Reflection of Self: The Head Trip is my number one priority of recommendation on this post. I cannot stress enough how underrated Stalley is.

What’s so cool about The Head Trip is that it truly feels like a shift in style. As one of his first self-released projects, Stalley felt no need to cater to anybody or even draw new supporters in. This release was for him, and hardcore fans could give a toast to that.

The production, which is solely handled by west coast producer Jansport J, sounds exactly like where it came from. Stalley’s unapologetically midwest cadence fits the soulful nature of these instrumentals a tad bit too well, making listeners wonder why the two hadn’t done this sooner. Jansport J also did an excellent job keeping the beats stripped down and minimal, which provides a properly hollow soundscape that fits the album’s themes.

A free-flowing structure defines The Head Trip, jam-packed with instrumental interludes reminiscent of what Pete Rock did alongside C.L. Smooth so many years ago. Sporadic soundbites inspire a sense of adventure, establishing a comfortability with so many raw verses. In tandem with Stalley’s distinct delivery, often accompanied by his signature pitched vocals, a mildly psychedelic sound is born and embraced. It is a sharp turn from the hard-hitting cuts of his mid-2010’s efforts, but that is simply a result of five years of development.

As a big fan of the Ohio rapper, this resonates with me heavily. It’s always pleasant to see musicians be honest about their mental state, personal growth, and backstory without fabrication. The second verse of “All So New” is immediate proof:

“Sat desperate for days trying to fill a page
My thoughts locked in a cage I started building rage
Marijuana and sage at my personal rave
Holistic psychedelics brought a mental change
Clear as the water my thoughts became pure
Anxiety and stress I had to endure
Was barely outside I kept it indoors
My sanity I had to fend for”

Lines like these set the stage for a transition to pure art, which has been further reinforced with every release of his since.

A lot of longtime fans said this was “that classic Stalley talking”, and they didn’t lie.

Write-up By Jack R.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert – Little Simz

2021Conscious Hip-Hop1 hour, 6 min.

In 2021, Little Simz released her fourth studio album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert – what followed was a realization from the world that she has been one of the best rappers in the world for nearly a decade. Her sharp lyrical ability and outstanding delivery have allowed her to continuously craft some of the best works the 2010’s has to offer, yet S.I.M.B.I. is a completely different beast. Simz somehow managed to level up her songwriting ability, reflecting deeply on her femininity, familiar trauma and most of all, her introversion. What resulted is an album that would sit at the top of almost any artist’s discography.

The album opens with “Introvert,” and it immediately makes a statement before Simz even says a word. With that sort of title, it’s hard not to expect a lowkey beat to mirror the introversion. Yet, instead we are met with bombastic drums and horns, almost like a war cry then matched with her vocals, sounding as bold as ever.

It’s hard not to be in awe of the strength that radiates from a track that really showcases the impacts of her introversion, as she manages to also depict the comfort she’s found in it – and how she actually draws power from it. It’s rare to find an introduction better than this one, as few songs really seem to fully encapsulate the essence of an album like it does.

As S.I.M.B.I. carries on, it refuses to lose the momentum that began on “Introvert”. While the energy may not always be on that level, the songwriting refuses to fall below the impossibly high standard set. Tracks such as “I Love You, I Hate You” and “Little Q, Pt. 2” see Simz as introspective as ever as she looks inwards on her experiences growing up. However, the 10th track introduces us to the arguable apex of her career.

Listening to “I See You” reminds me of the greatest romantic poets to grace this Earth. However, the likes of Keats have you suspending your disbelief to capture the extraordinary emotions of love; Simz takes the polar opposite route. The song explores the mundane, realistic and day-to-day workings of true love, and portrays the way it works in the most honest way somebody can. She immediately asks the person to take her as she is and overlook all of her mistakes. She continues on with a flurry of gorgeous lines, asking her love to help her through her pain, to grow with her and to simply be with her.

In a passing line Simz raps:

“Know I like my time alone but still don’t wanna be lonely”

…and I can’t give her enough props for centering her introversion in the context of a relationship and how it can impact one in just a singular line. The entire song is a deep dive into love, yet the song never oversells it. “I See You” shows the struggles of a relationship and how everyone’s flaws can impact it; yet, it doesn’t hide from the fact that if two people can work through and accept the other’s imperfections, they will reap the benefits of beautiful companionship.

Just three tracks after “I See You”, we hear Simz really diving into the comfort she takes in isolation. Yet, instead of showing off the audacious energy of “Introvert”, she tries a vastly different sound. Inflo produces a beat that is an absolute blast. It’s funky and soothing, and she decides to bless the beat by testing out her singing voice. The variety of sounds on this record is a treat, and this song is the perfect example. Simz sounds heavenly, despite the darker topics she addresses on this track. She really delves into how she finds comfort in her loneliness and how she would rather be away from everyone. “Protect My Energy” seems generally renowned as an upbeat track, which is just to a testament the musical abilities of Inflo and Little Simz – they turned a near-depressing song into a bop.

The rest of the album maintains the mind-blowing quality that started from the very beginning. It’s absolutely brimming with originality, honesty and just pure talent. I don’t think I can ever oversell just how incredible of an album S.I.M.B.I. is. In an era where certain artists seem to lose their authenticity, Simz refuses to follow this trend.

Her music is a direct reflection of her reality, and very few people can make the reflection as beautiful and vivid as she can. If you have yet to hear this record, I can’t encourage you enough to sit down and listen to it front to back; it truly is brilliant.

Write-up By Isiah C.

Off the Strength – Cookin Soul & Lord Apex

2022Boom Bap29 min.

I can’t keep up with Cookin Soul anymore. Those guys right there are one of my favorite production minds out, but it feels like they have something new released every time I check their page – and I mean that in the best way possible.

It was inevitable that I caught up with their content from this year, and when Off the Strength was recommended to me, I knew I had to dive in.

U.K. rapper Lord Apex – who owns the mic on this record – is a special kind of emcee. He mixes the unorthodox nature of an MF DOOM or Quasimoto (the latter of which inspired his stage name) with the high-energy, hardcore style of his local origin. The result? A gritty yet left-field delivery that unsurprisingly melts into Cookin Soul’s colorful production with ease.

Lead single “The Bullshit” draws you in pretty immediately; it’s absolutely one of the best tracks all year. From the eerie hook to shadowy instrumental, you’d think it dropped on Halloween. Regardless of seasonal ties, though, this is the perfect soundtrack to any golden age hip-hop fan’s day.

It’s almost mesmerizing how smooth each track is, to the point where it took me a couple listens to pick out some differentiated favorites. But repetition can be your best friend in music, and it eventually occurred to me that not only are these all some of Cookin Soul’s best beats, but Apex failed to settle for a moment of dullness.

Whether it’s the hard-hitting “Wagwan Dog“, jazzy “Like You“, or trap-influenced “M.I.M.S.“, variation defines Off the Strength. This is a valuable asset for a short project, as it manages to avoid the lack of development or character that can naturally attach to that.

The U.K. hip-hop scene remains gravely underrated, and these sort of collaborations are the key to their expansion and appreciation from American audiences. Cookin Soul, despite their Spanish origin, have an enormous following in the U.S. – hopefully Lord Apex can slither his way into that territory too, because he has the enticement.