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
Much love to PhoeNix. I’m still so grateful I was able to talk to him in mid-2022. He’s one of the brightest talents in the currently booming South. His writing, the beat selection, not to mention the effortless flowing in that drawl, all contribute to some excellent music. If you missed this piece we put out leading up to the release of Walkthru, I’d love for you to read it here. But if you need some convincing first, listen to this:
Drakeo the Ruler - Keep The Truth Alive
Not the biggest on posthumous albums, but this one felt different. Taken far too soon, the Ruler had plenty of hits still in the vault. Songs like "DRAKEO Not Drake-O" and "3Ks" sequenced out in between skits taken from past Instagram Live videos remind us of his brilliance, his one-of-one approach. Before any of the biters, there was the truth.
BIG30 - Last Man Standing
BIG30 has been holding it down in Pooh Shiesty’s absence real well. This album got a lot of play in my car this year. "Nuskie Living" and "Dead Guyz" are both hits on their own, and ATL Jacob brought his beats as well as a pretty dope feature on "Uh Huh." Momentum carries all the way through, and Memphis remains a rap stronghold.
OTM and Ralfy the Plug - Stincs Got It Off the Mussle
Ralfy went on a tear this year following the loss of his brother. Lots of great music, mostly solo albums, but this tape stuck with me. Ralfy and OTM were both artists who I listened to alongside Drakeo most often, so it’s cool to see them come together here in his absence and still elevate. Tons of songs, clocking in at just over an hour and a half, so maybe not the most focused effort, but there’s a lot to enjoy in here. It’s a great full-length intro to the darker OTM energy.
Daniel Son x Futurewave - Sun Tzu and the Wav God
Huge ups to Daniel Son for sending me the CD. Saved me a few days in the car when I was without an aux. Bush Doctor was a really solid album as well. He’s been due to level up, and this year might have been that. Decide for yourself, but either way, don’t take your eyes off him.
LG Deno Skeno - Born to Trap
Must listen for Detroit heads, went way under the radar. DODBH brought some fire to the table, and Deno did his thing on it. The features come with the heat, and songs like, "5 Felonies," "Only Life I Know," "Born to Sell Dope," "Never Fold," and "Made N*****" are all impressive as hell. Don’t hold off, press play and get caught up on his tales.
Popstar Benny - Album* (Deluxe)
Big love and respect for Benny. This album is killer, and his next one is about to blow your minds too. I was lucky enough to speak with him for SharpieCovers’ Crazy Bastard Magazine this year, where he told me how he connected with MIKE and we bonded over the greatness of Tony Shhnow. One of the most exciting in the game right now.
The 6th Letter - ePIFFany
Wrote this piece earlier for his first album of the year, but the ALS-produced ePIFFany ended up being my favourite of the two. BKRSCLB has some real talent, and The 6th Letter’s measured, elevated bars have always resonated with me.
Tay Love - All in the Game
Tay has got it, talented as hell. If you like the exciting, bouncy tracks he works on with Taxfree, do NOT sleep on this tape. He knows how to make a hit, and songs like "Shipping & Receiving," "Double Shift" and "Talk My Shit" all demonstrate how the the SlappHouse don does far more than just make beats. With an ear for clever bars and references, he’s got it locked down. Milwaukee’s premier producer in my eyes. Y’all really can’t do it like Tay Love.
Icewear Vezzo, DJ Drama - Paint the City
Vezzo was pivotal for me getting into Detroit rap, so I’ll always vouch for him, even as the “same flow on a slightly varied beat each time” allegations pile in. The Rich Off Pints series, of which the third installment dropped July, has some demonstrations of him at his best. However, his Gangsta Grillz tape Paint the City from late this year was by far the winner for me. The song with Kodak, "It’s All on U," is irresistible, and "No Talking" featuring Peezy and G.T. is real hard as well. Drama’s shit-talk pairs real well with Vezzo’s trademark arrogance. There’s some triumphant trumpets and a motivational theme here, but you can never take the Detroit out of his music.
Babyface Ray - FACE Deluxe
All eyes have been on Face since he brought Detroit further into the mainstream. His late-in-the-year release, MOB, was solid, but it’s on FACE (Deluxe) that he shows why he’s that guy. Some all-time Ray songs, a strong cohesive feel, and some ridiculous bonus tracks too. It does lean more major-label, but he maintains his effortless cool and expands his canon in the way only he could. Standouts are "My Thoughts 3 / Pop’s Prayer,""Tunnel Vision," "6 Mile Show" with Vezzo and "Overtime" feat. Yung Lean. The deluxe has Veeze and LUCKI doing their thing on "Spending Spree" and "Back N Action" respectively, to great effect.
K-Trap - The Last Whip 2
K-Trap had his track "Warm" blow up this year, and rightfully so. The project it came off of, TRAPO, was excellent, and a big step forward for one of the pioneers of UK Drill. This year, he released a killer joint album with road rap legend Blade Brown, called Joints. For me though, his best was the sequel to his classic mixtape, The Last Whip.
Best of the Rest (34-100)
34. Earl Sweatshirt - SICK!
35. Chung - See You, When I C U
36. Roc Marciano and the Alchemist - The Elephant Man’s Bones
37. Wrecking Crew - Sedale Threat
38. BoofpaxkMooky, GRIMM Doza - I’VE BEEN HIGH FOR DAYS (Deluxe)
39. 716soup - Soup Springsteen 2
40. Wifigawd - CHAIN OF COMMAND
42. G.T. - Money Counter Music Vol. 2
43. Big Moochie Grape - East Haiti Baby
44. Young Slo-Be - Southeast
45. Chicken P - Bussabrick Vol. 2: Bussone 101
46. Drego and Beno - Sorry We Were Trapping
47. Stik Figa x August Fanon - Heresy
48. Daboii - Can’t Tame Us
49. Shaudy Kash x Top$ide - On the Yeah Side
50. Mavi - Laughing so Hard, It Hurts
51. E L U C I D - I Told Bessie
52. Mike Shabb - Sewacide 2 (HM: Bokleen World) ME
54. JoogSZN - Where’s Joog?
55. Willyynova - Novacane
56. G.T. - Money Counter Music Vol. 2
57. Conway the Machine - God Don’t Make Mistakes
58. Louie Ray - Still Grinding 4
59. Che Noir - Food for Thought
60. Shawny Binladen - Wick the Wizard
61. CEO Trayle - HH5
62. Kamaiyah - Divine Timing (Deluxe)
63. Akai Solo - Spirit Roaming
64. Ronrontheproducer - Ronrondothatshit Vol. 2
65. August Fanon - MORE…
66. Young Nudy - EA Monster
67. Messiah! - Perfect 7
68. Los - Kareem from New Orleans 2
69. Young Dolph - Paper Route Frank
70. Iblss - raja’s sun
71. Sideshow - Wegahta Tapes Vol. 1
72. Future - I NEVER LOVED YOU
73. DJ Lucas and Papo2oo4 x Subjxct5 - Continuous Improvement
74. Kay Anthony - Color Theory
75. Brooks - Everybody Brooks
76. Westside Gunn - Peace “Fly” God
77. Top$ide - Lost Files
78. Armand Hammer - WHT LBL
79. Conductor Williams - Samo’s Revenge
80. 3AG Pilot, Popstar Benny - Fuck Rehab!
81. Rome Streetz - Kiss the Ring
82. RMC Mike - Junior Season
83. Muddy - Muddyworld v2
84. Babytron - Megatron
85. Raz Fresco - Magnetic
86. Defcee x Boathouse - For All Debts Public and Private
87. 7xvethegenius - Self 7xve 2
88. SMO - Who TF is Smo
89. Armani Caesar - The Liz 2
90. Krispylife Kidd - The Art of Spice Talk 3
91. AJ Snow, Jansport J - No Awards for The Real
92. Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon - Here, There & Everywhere
93. Bbyafricka - The Art of Geekin
94. Lord Juco x Finn - Company
95. Duke Deuce - CRUNKSTAR
96. Yungeen Ace - Survivor of the Trenches
97. Benny the Butcher - Tana Talk 4
98. Nicholas Craven - Craven N 3
99. Mach-Hommy x Tha God Fahim - Dollar Menu 4
100. Baby Stone Gorillas - BABYST5XNE GORILLAS
RAP SONGS OF THE YEAR:
Los - "Smoove Exchange" ft. WB Nutty & Icewear Vezzo
EBK Jaaybo - "Ride Along"
JoogSZN - "Bleedem like Joog" ft. NFant and Young Who
Young Nudy - "Impala"
SME TAXFREE - "‘21 Kia Stollie" ft. Big Homie DreCash
billy woods and Preservation - "Sauvage" ft. Boldy James and Gabe Nandez
RX Lil Cuz - "Yung N****"
AMF Big CEO - "Pay Me In Dope" ft. WB Nutty and Los
Boldy James x Cuns - "God Speed"
Future - "Like Me" ft. 42 Dugg and Lil Baby
Rome Streetz - "Long Story Short"
Saba - "Soldier" ft. Pivot Gang
RX Papi - "Daddy was the Dopeman"
Badd Karmal x Boyo Levity - "Lousy Man" ft. 716soup
Goldenboy Countup - "Decatur"
And of course,
MarijuanaXO - "Free Da Yung OG"