RAP ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2022
This list isn’t meant to be totally comprehensive, or the “best of the best”. I had a scattered, pretty sketchy year. Ups and downs, accomplishments and setbacks, all that. Coming into 2023, I’ve got some new resolve, and hopefully you’ll see the fruits of that here and elsewhere in the coming months. But this list that follows is the past; my 2022, through the new rap music that kept me going and kept getting replayed. Disclaimers out of the way first. A lot of my listening is done in the car these days, so there’s some tempos or subgenres with heavier representation. Also, I’m not naturally inclined to ranking; numbers aren’t my thing, and I get way too caught up in all the elements to consider. The factors weighed most heavily on this list are simply how much I listened, and how much I want to tell people about the music. I refrained from writing on a few that made it on here, because writers I admire have done better jobs than I could hope to. I wanted to use this opportunity to discuss lot of the artists that I felt deserved more shine for their showing last year. I hope you can come away from it with some new music you enjoy. Thank you for reading, and thanks to the team at CROWNTHEM. Shoutout Jameka especially, for the huge year and all the work you put in. Grateful for all of you. A lot more coming!
SME Taxfree - Unexpected
My undisputed 2022 MVP. While Certified Trapper and MarijuanaXO pushed the Milwaukee scene further into the spotlight this year, Taxfree stole the show for me with his effortless flows and irresistible parlance. Putting out 7 albums through the year (including another excellent solo effort, I’m Off the West and a great collaboration with RRB Duck,) he’s cemented himself as one of the top-tier rappers coming out of the Midwest. In between those projects of straight heat, you can find him trying his hand at autotune croons. He’s at his best on this album though, which is 25 songs and an hour long, but never loses the fun. It’s hard not to have a good time listening to him rap about how fast they make those yings disappear, not to mention the cars they’ve got zipping around Milwaukee. Bonus points any time he’s on Tay Love’s bouncy production.
Bonus killer guest verse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uie3zOVxS-E
EST Gee & 42 Dugg - Last Ones Left
Despite enjoying Detroit rap quite a bit, I never got into 42 Dugg too heavy. Not until this collaboration dropped, and I was forced to confront what I’d missed. One of the best joint albums in recent years, the labelmates tapped their own crews in over some vicious, thumping production, and came out of it with an electrifying final product. EST Gee spits the bloodlust and hatred-filled bars he’s perfected, and Dugg never lets up alongside him, making me a full-blown believer. I was honestly more excited for Gee’s solo effort this year, I Never Felt Nun. There’s a few standouts on there, like the opener and "Voices in My Head." Overall though, that project leans more on his melodic (weaker) side, and is a bit long, with some features that only diminish the raw stuff he’s rapping about (Bryson Tiller was cool, Harlow was meh, but whichever label sadist is responsible for getting MGK on albums like this and So Much Fun needs to stop. Seriously.) Last Ones Left is where I come when I want to hear the Gee that I love. Regardless of any feelings about INFN, listening to this tape makes me certain that both their respective runs aren’t nearly finished.
Moor Mother - Jazz Codes
Pure magic. Poetic, psychedelic, prophetic. Moor Mother is to me what I believe Grimes is for some fairylike young women. Seriously though, magic is the word that keeps coming to mind. The wash of sound below her haunted delivery warrant return visits to the world that’s conjured up here. "BRASS" is still a personal all-timer, and once again here, it’s a thrill to reckon with (and occasionally be confounded by) the music.
Tony Shhnow - Plug Motivation
Tony Shhnow was my most listened to artist this year, and I’m better for it. He’s said in songs and interviews alike that (like Los), he makes music for people to make money to. Listening to enough of his music will make you want to cash out, pick up a pound or two, maybe become your own boss. He enjoys a lavish lifestyle, and funds it further by talking about it, as well as the work that got him there. But while some hustle rappers are tied to a specific sound, Tony can murder just about anything laid out for him. In that way, him and Boldy James are kindred spirits. And like James again, his other albums from this year are just as worth checking out. The deluxe edition of his collaborative project, Killstreak 2, from real early in the year, featured him sliding over some prime loops via GRIMM Doza. For the more grandiose Reflexions, he tapped a variety of producers, such as the Crackhouse maestro, Who the Hell is Carlo, plus other mainstays like Poloboyshawty and Popstar Benny, for an undeniable final product. Songs like "Park My Car," "Don’t Look at Numbers," and "Keep N Touch" never left my rotation. I chose this album because of its combination of uncontainable mixtape energy and his trademark plugg bliss. A few tracks stand out (him and Cashcache have never done anything wrong together, and features from Bear1boss and Darkside Mally deliver), but it’s really a killer listen through and through. Regardless of whether it’s the trap alphabet on "A to Z" or his vocab gymnastics on "M’s," the tape fulfills its title and then some. He differs from Boldy in tone; where the Detroit native’s street-weary voice lets his words carry all the weight, Tony never shows up without that energy in his delivery. Essentially: no one should be telling you how to live, but if you’re gonna take someone’s advice, listen to Tony Shhnow before any of those other charlatans.
billy woods x Preservation - Aethiopes
Writing about woods feels like writing a book review; so much is said, and yet I’m given the task of tryna wrap it all up neatly for you. No can do, especially with this one. The layers and samples combined with the dense, vivid lyrics make for a captivating album experience. His second of the year, Church with Messiah Musik is similarly great (listen to "Classical Music" with AKAI SOLO and FIELDED), but there’s moments on this one like the opener, or "Sauvage," "NYNEX" and "Heavy Water," where whole new worlds are introduced to the listener. I was blessed enough to catch him twice this year in Toronto; once alongside E L U C I D and once solo. Neither are nights I’ll forget anytime soon. Listen all the way through, and then listen again.
Boldy James x Nicholas Craven - Fair Exchange No Robbery
It’s fair to say Boldy is on an all time run. No robbery either to say he’s the best out. Who’s doing it like him?. No one. Putting quality music out at his clip and consistency is an unreasonable and unsustainable ask from anyone else. What would be even fairer is if every single album he dropped was this list. Mad love to all those producers. Of the two Canadians he worked with, my favourite goes beyond provincial borders. Had to go with the Montrealite Nicholas Craven, as I’ve been itching for this project since I had an inkling it might happen. Recorded real quick with some futuristic mic tech, they locked in and captured a moment in time. The closer (and the single that made me certain this was gonna be special), "Power Nap," is beautiful and eerie like nothing else I’ve hear this year. There is a lot to be said about songs like "0 Tre Nine" and "Designer Drugs" too.
Here’s my ranking of his other three offerings:
2. x Cuns - Be That as It May
Was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved this one. Boldy further showing how he can kill just about any beat. The lead single is a stunner.
3. x Futurewave - Mr. Ten08
Another northern collab I dreamt of. Boldy over these dark, jazzy beats is just captivating. I feel that this one will grow with me, and might rise up the ranks as the years pass. Shoutout Futurewave for crafting these backdrops for Boldy to smoke.
4. x Real Bad Man - Killing Nothing
No shade, shoutout Real Bad Man. Real Bad Boldy was right up there with The Price of Tea in China for me before this year shook my whole rankings up. This one still has some very solid tracks and features. "Hundred Ninety Bands," "Open Door" (ft. Rome Streetz and Stove God Cooks), and "Sig Sauer" all got a bunch of replays from me.
WB Nutty - City of Addiction
They really dialed it in on this one. "Whole Hood" (prod. DODBH, with that wicked whistle) is one of my favourites from him since he and JRDN cooked up "Dope Sick" off Narcotics Anonymous in 2021. Similarly, "Rush," "Heavyweight," and "Invested" are undeniable. The stakes feel higher from the start, yet he steps right up to the plate to deliver a killer project. You can always count on either brother to tell it how it is, and here, Nutty doesn’t hold back.
MIKE - Beware of the Monkey
I knew this was making it high on my year-end list immediately upon hearing it. For years now, through grief and reinvention, MIKE has made some beautiful music. Plenty of impressive songs here, although the immediate hit for me was "Stop Worry!," the dancehall-tinged tune with Sister Nancy. Rinsed that one before the album was even out, it’s pure bliss. His production alias, dj blackpower, shows out just as much as he does with his lyrics. It’s his album with the most sublime moments yet. Very easy to get lost in, and I recommend doing just that.
RX Papi - First Week Out Deluxe
Forever with the quotables, and comfortable on seemingly any beat, Rx Papi had an impressive 2022 given the circumstances. First Week Out Deluxe is the culmination of a lot of things, but notably a demonstration of his freedom. He hops between heavy Detroit beats and an exciting mixture of other sounds, for a project that serves well as an introduction but should also satiate his biggest fans, who were itching for new Pap. It’s hard to imagine watering down rap this raw, and he does no such thing, opting to keep sharing his life with us uncensored, through his brilliant, off-colour, punched-in bars.
Whitehouse Studio - Da House, Vol. 3.5
An incredible crew tape lost to the streaming abyss, for reasons that were either never mentioned or that I missed. I never understood what made it 3.5 either, because it seemed a worthy successor to the former three. Incredible, blown-out production, like the beat behind "Forever World Touring," and Rude Villain bringing out Durk’s “Man WHAT!” adlib was enough to make me miss this album every day it was gone.
MarijuanaXO - Milwaukee (It’s R Turn)
MarijuanaXO dominated this year with his gruff voice and passionate delivery. He’s part of a few dynamic duos; him and Joe Pablo are like Teejay and Kasher in terms of early scene hype and raw talent you can’t miss. But tracks with Chicken P, Taxfree, Juicester and Trapbaby carry this project strong all the way to its conclusion. It’s sweet to see all the Milwaukee guys coming together to expand and popularize their regional sound. He dropped a few other excellent tapes this year, like, Red Rum and Da Under Dog, but this is a real solid jumping-off point into their midwestern mania. He contrasts his realist hustlee bars with a lot of the more melodic guys from his city, and more than a few songs stick out. Check out "LOE," "No Name Rappers," "Out of Bounds" or "Gold Teefe" and you’ll get what I’m talking about.
10kdunkin - TENSEI II (DELUXE)
10kdunkin has his lane of dreamy whispered rap conquered. Whether it’s SenseiATL or Jaimoe laying the beat down (check "TOP GOLF" ft. Flee for the latter), he simply floats. Through this album, he shows off how easily his flow is molded, sliding on all his verses with perfect footwork. Scorned men, blast "NEVA PRADA ME" and know you’re worth it. Waiting eagerly for RPs and Plan Bs 3. Tony, what’s good?
Ponae - Rap N**** Still Dealing
This would’ve definitely been higher on my list if it was dropped earlier in the year. It was released on Christmas by one of the Whitehouse Studio’s most consistent, and I gotta admit it suits the weather. Cold bars, menacing beats, real hustle talk; this is one of the essential albums out of Detroit from the year. Ponae is raw as hell and he knows it. This project is his most honed in yet. Features go in as well. The use of refrains in his music (“I’m tryna tell you”, “I got a line up the street”, “NFLWB”) echoes those of Los and Nutty, who both show up to push the eerie production chosen into new territory.
Wrld Tour Mafia - Tourmania
Wrld Tour Mafia are relentless. This year alone, a number of the members put out their own projects, as well as dropping their second album as a group. The stacked list of solo releases include: WTM Milt’s RAFA, as well as Dogshit & Ammunition, WTM Miles’s Crackhouse Mafia, WTM Solid’s Originatour, and Daemoney x Trees dropping Slayer’s Coming. All of those are worth checking if you appreciate their gritty style. On TOURMANIA, the successor to 2021’s Wrld Tour Mafia or Die, they all trade verses breathlessly, sounding hungry as hell. Their favourite producers shine all over; LulBoobie especially brings his best, while Lul Rose, Terrotuga, Chino and the rest of them set the tone throughout. From the song "Final 4" onwards, it’s a run I don’t see anyone else replicating. They have their fun, spitting reckless and callous bars trying to outdo each other. Songs like "Construction," "Or Die," and "Backend" are undeniable.
Vince Staples - Ramona Park Broke My Heart
My favourite album from him yet. "AYE! (FREE THE HOMIES)" and "WHEN SPARKS FLY" are both total stunners. Ty Dolla $ign croons something about life tasting bittersweet on "LEMONADE." The Lil Baby feature on "EAST POINT PRAYER" was a cool surprise too. He surely occupies a unique spot in rap, but when he’s putting out albums like this, it doesn’t matter what he’s tweeting or saying in interviews.
Goldenboy Countup - Chicken Man 3
Top-tier mythmaking music right from the start. Like with a few artists, Mavi put me on. That bird cry in all his songs makes me feel like I’m at a Hawks home game, and his ad-libs only add intensity/urgency. I’ve been scoffing at whispers overheard claiming Florida rappers were really stepping on Michigan production, but Goldenboy made me reevaluate. He alternates, going from cinematic production with heartfelt keys to something that would be right at home on a Flint rapper’s tape. The impressive part is sounding right at home on both. Another drop this year, his Golden Ticket, was real fun as well, but the third Chicken Man is the winner for me. A must-listen.
EBK Jaaybo - Rrari 4eva
I am Nightingale was the breakout track off this tape, and maybe rightfully so. But I was first truly captivated by JaayBo when I heard the back-to-back punches of Ride Along (ft. RSB Poopie and Lik200) and Respectable. His chilly rhyming and unshakeable confidence makes this project a must-hear out of the EBK camp. He recently spent his 18th birthday incarcerated, while his music and the So-Cal scene at large continued to explode internationally. I’m hoping to hear a lot more from him soon.
PhoeNix - Crybaby Soprano 2