Best Albums of 2022

From January alone, it was clear 2022 was due to be a booming year for releases. High-profiled artists Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé made their return, navigating their way back to a shared spotlight. UK rap did not have its best year, but still offered a few alluring bodies of work. R&B deserved two eyes closely fixated on it, and the underground remained a concourse for hip hop’s uncompromising captains steering the ship.

Throughout the year, Mic Cheque provide a wide pool of hip hop and R&B coverage. But the end-of-year lists are the once chance to showcase the team’s highlights across multiple genres, the majority of which are still in the hip hop realm. This year was so packed that instead of the usual twenty, we opted to extend the list to fifty selections. Selections and rankings are based on a weighted agreement between the panel, rather than scores on reviews.

Honourable Mentions

Before heading into the list, here are some additional contenders that were on the periphery and deserve a spin, or were not lived with long enough to be included in the top fifty.

Billy Woods, Aethiopes

Best tracks: “No Hard Feelings”, “Sauvage”, “NYNEX”, “Haarlem”

Lloyd Banks, The Course of the Inevitable 2

Best tracks: “Dead Roses”, “Menace”, “Living Proof”, “Murda One”, “Trapped”

Sault, 11 / Earth / Today & Tomorrow / Untitled (God)

Best tracks: “Fight for Love”, “Glory”, “Run”, “Stronger”

Ojerime, Bad Influence

Best tracks: “Jetset”, “Local”, “Often Enough”

Conway the Machine, God Don’t Make Mistakes

Best tracks: “John Woo Flick”, “Lock Load”, “Stressed”, “Chanel Pearls”, “God Don’t Make Mistakes”

Metro Boomin, Heroes & Villains

Best tracks: “Superhero (Heroes & Villains)”, “Metro Spider”, “Creepin’”, “Niagara Falls (Foot or 2)”, “Umbrella”

iSight, All-Star Beats Vol. 1

Best tracks: “All-Star”, Flash Games”, “The Stars See You”, “Love Again”, “On My Heart”

Boldy James & Futurewave, Mr. Ten08

Best tracks: “Disco Fever”, “Flag on the Play”, “Mortermir Milestone”, “Jam Master J”

Ari Lennox, Age/Sex/Location

Best tracks: “POF”, “Pressure”, “Boy Bye”, “Hoodie”, “Waste My Time”

French Montana & Harry Fraud, Montega

Best tracks: “Blue Chills”, “Higher”, “Poetic With no Justice”, “Kind of Girl”, “Keep It Real”

Benny the Butcher, Tana Talk 4

Best tracks: “Johnny P’s Caddy”, “10 More Commandments”, “Billy Joe”, Weekends in the Perry’s”



The British singer-songwriter’s most crossover work to date still manages to maintain the avant-garde mystique that made her one of the most talented alt-artists worldwide. CAPRISONGS is billed as a mixtape and certainly feels like one, finding Twigs free from the shackles of conceptual framing. It houses her biggest bops to date, and collaborations that range from The Weeknd and Jorja Smith to Unknown T and Pa Salieu. This is a fine example of how to appeal to a wider audience while retaining your artistic merits. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Papi Bones”, “Jealousy”, “Careless”, “Darjeeling”

49. Lord Sko, Museum


Dwelling in the depths of the underground scene was Lord Sko and his sophomore record. The 18-year-old emcee keeps it authentic over a fifty-minute exercise of staunch raps, proving that 90s hip hop has a place in the hearts of teens today. Sko exceeded expectations with an album that can rival plenty major rap releases of the year, sourcing beats of the highest echelon and rapping like his life depends on it. Straight from the dungeon, Museum will go down as one of the most obscure yet impressive rap records of 2022. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Russian Doll”, “QUILLS”, “Headed Home (Intro)”, “94 Coogi”, “NEWPORT LORD”

48. Fousheé, softCORE

Trackmasters / RCA

Emerging through collaboration with Vince Staples, Steve Lacy and a massive sample in Sleepy Hallow’s “Deep End (Freestyle)”, Fousheé takes a left turn on her debut album, softCORE, a double-sided coin that flips between her alt-R&B touch and unexpected pop punk thrillers. Her quirky vocals surround highlights like “Supernova” and the Uzi-assisted “Spend the Money”. Every turn is chaotic over the 27 minutes, and though her take on punk is on the nose, Fousheé proves she has a knack for it. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Let u Back In”, “Smile”, “Supernova”, “Spend the Money”, “Unexplainable”

47. Joey Badass, 2000

Pro Era / Cinematic Music Group / Columbia

The Brooklyn rapper’s comeback album tethers to the brass tracks, still firmly connected to the era that defines his career. 2000 is a clean, straightforward return for Joey Badass, unwinding through the basics of hip hop without complexity. The production is direct, though is exactly what 2000 needs to be authentic. It is handled by frequent collaborators Statik Selektah and Chuck Strangers, responsible for highlights across Joey’s earliest projects. Their samples invigorate tracks like “One of Us” with Larry June, or the dusty horns of “Zipcodes” and “Brand New 911” with Westside Gunn. “Eulogy” is the song most adjacent with 1999, sounding as if it was recorded back in 2012 as a leftover. With this in its locker, 2000 achieves the right balance of vintage beats and modern flair. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Show Me”, “Make Me Feel”, “Eulogy”, “Where I Belong”, “Zipcodes”

46. Knucks, ALPHA PLACE

No Days Off

Knucks brings a classy touch to UK hip hop on Alpha Place, a thirteen-track tape with plenty stories to tell. There are two elements to a successful Knucks song: jazz production, and reeling lyricism. His production choices are actually conventional in the grander scheme, but not for UK listeners due to the surfeit of trap and drill music. Alpha Place is largely self-produced alongside production from Venna, splitting the thirteen tracks between natural instruments, smooth samples, and hints of lo-fi drill. When Alpha Place brings the formula together, it’s met with some of his best songs to date. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Los Pollos Hermanos”, “Leon the Professional”, “Alpha House”, “Hide & Seek”, “Die Hard”, “Nice & Good”

45. Che Noir, Food for Thought


The sacred essence of the project fuels the Buffalo-native to be brutally honest with the subject matter, building a deeper connection between artist and listener. In a genre that occupies an excessive number of male participants, Che Noir is a breath of fresh air, providing a new layer of grit and glory on Food for Thought with new set of tricks up her sleeve, showcasing progression in her rhymes and a new hobby of producing. Through her tales of trails and tribulations reign supreme, Che also sprinkles some lyrical sparring sessions, exhibiting her ability to hang with the most lethal emcees. When it’s all said and done, you’re going to be mad when realising you slept on Che. —Alex Corrales

Best tracks: “Bless the Food”, “Communion”, “Table for 3”, “Ladies Brunch”, “Praises”

44. Freddie Gibbs, Soul Sold Separately

ESGN / Warner

Soul Sold Separately channels classy Gangsta Gibbs who is sounding like a veteran at this stage of his lengthy career, offering another consistent album without any serious blemishes. The pockets associated with albums like Alfredo and Bandana arrive in the standout opener, “Couldn’t Be Done”, and in “Blackest in the Room”. His hypnotic cadence shimmies across “Zipper Bagz”, locking in a memorable hook that aren’t to be found on most of the songs. The Memphis sound consumes “PYS” with Three 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul, more than proving Freddie has chameleon skin when it comes to rapping on any type of beat. Rather than topping his Madlib-produced albums, Soul Sold Separately opts to extend Freddie’s consistency; ten years on and he’s still not dropped an average offering. That’s something we can live with.

Best tracks: “Couldn’t Be Done”, “Zipper Bagz”, “PYS”, “CIA”

43. Smino, Luv 4 Rent

Zero Fatigue / Motown

Smino refines his buttery neo-hop on Luv 4 Rent, churning with standout hooks and collaborators that compliment the vision of each track. What really draws you to Smino’s music is his free spirit, which can be heard across all his work. But on Luv 4 Rent, it’s evident just how much fun he’s having making these songs. His vocals are like free form jazz, twisting and turning with panache. As the listener, we bend to Smino’s will, on an album built for the springtime. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Defibrillator”, “90 Proof”, “Matinee”, “Pro Freak”

42. Brent Faiyaz, Wasteland

Lost Kids

The Maryland singer unlocks his potential on his sophomore album, a prickly R&B record fuelled by Brent’s tales of lover hardship. Plenty has been learnt in terms of songwriting on Wasteland, curating structural songs with a conceptual thread rather than crooning aimlessly for three minutes. His hooks shine on cuts like “WASTING TIME” and “ROLE MODEL”, taking advantage of what is undeniably a silky smooth voice. It’s an album that’s never overstated, treading lightly in its cautious production and conscious plights. —Hamza Riaz


41. Lancey Foux, LIFE IN HELL

PSYKE / Human Re Sources

The British rager’s sixth album is a psychedelic trap escapade charged with high-energy beats and the rapper’s most varied tracks to date. LIFE IN HELL brings the familiar sound across the 22 tracks; highlights such as “Lancey or Lancey”, “Sun Moon” and “World on Fire” are right in line with typical offerings. But it is the softer side of LIFE IN HELL that grants Lancey’s best songs to date. Opening cut “Spirit of X2C” is an ethereal piano ballad. “Lies Will Set You Free” is layered with focused subject matter and emotional weight. “Casino Royale / Thank You” has minimal Auto-Tune that finds Lancey at his most humane. With both pockets combined, the record is able to please existing fans and attract new ones . —Hamza Riaz


40. Burna Boy, Love, Damini

Spaceship / Bad Habit / Atlantic

Afrobeats excelled to the mainstream this year with Burna Boy’s third album leading the charge. It hosts one of the biggest songs of the year, “Last Last”, amongst further highlights blending genres that’s made Burna Boy one of the genre’s biggest stars. His songwriting reaches a new peak on cuts like “How Bad Could It Be”, while flexing his global reach with features from J Balvin and Ed Sheeran. When it all comes together, Love, Damini is the ideal balance between the personal and the parties. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Last Last, “How Bad Could It Be”, “Toni-Ann Singh”, “It’s Plenty”

39. Loyle Carner, Hugo


Loyle Carner is angry, happy, upset, and confused, all in concurrence. Hugo is a tender self-examination in a year that finds therapy showing up in many popular rap releases, and how necessary it is to do so. Carner’s lyrical weight is what maintains your attention when the production takes a backseat. Usually composed on the mic, Hugo finds Carner more frustrated than ever. He explores the effects of an absent father, which led to a lack of exposure to his black roots. It’s impacted how he will raise his own son, using Hugo as a teaching moment for himself as a parent. Frustrated Carner is when Hugo is at its best, exploring harsh dichotomies that are a welcomed departure from the rapper’s usual lounging. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Hate”, “Nobody Knows (Ladas Road)”, “Georgetown”, “Speed of Plight”

38. Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen

Stone’s Throw

The glamorous Natural Brown Prom Queen is close to organised chaos, a supremely ambitious record that constantly shape-shifts. An R&B record at heart, it also leans on hip hop elements, but knows when to get weird as well (“NBPQ”). There’s various branches to the tree, all connecting back to the one-man-band that’s Sudan Archives, who doesn’t just write the tracks and sings them brilliantly but also plays the violins, drums, bass and keyboards found across the album. With now two elite albums under her name, it’s clear Sudan Archives is quite the talent. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Home Maker”, “Ciara”, “NBPQ (Topless)”, “Homesick (Gorgeous & Arrogant)”, “ChevyS10”

37. Central Cee, 23


It’s easy to not get the Central Cee hype. Stanalone singles “Doja” and “Let Go” are enough to repel praise for their strategical outfits. But it’s the West London rapper’s second mixtape that shows what he’s really about. 23 displays Central Cee’s ability to create hit tracks while proving he can rap. It is home to the greatest single run of the year by a UK rapper, setting the bar with “Cold Shoulder”, “Retail Therapy”, “Straight Back to It”, “Khabib” and “Obsessed with You”. Surrounding them are punchy songs that prove Cench is more than a singles artist, and that the hype is definitely justified. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Straight Back to It”, “Cold Shoulder”, “Retail Therapy”, “Khabib”, “Eurovision”

36. Pak-Man, Big Pakachino


South London’s Pak-Man delivered the best UK trap tape of 2022 with Big Pakachino, his tightest project to date crammed with blaring street anthems. “Real hood politics / Gave out more orders than Boris did / Mobster shit / Waiting on my lobster dish,” he rhymes with full authority, treating each bar like the ten crack commandments. Though he also takes moments to reflect on lost relatives in tracks like “Memories” and “Boy to a Man”, breaking up the belligerent energy of massive cuts like “Different” and “Mob Figures”. Big Pakachino became Pak-Man’s first charting project after ten plus years in the scene, and is fittingly top three in his discography. It’s safe to say Pak-Man played the long game and has the rewards to show for it. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Life Is Real”, “Pakachino”, “Different”, “Mob Figures”

35. Pusha T, It’s Almost Dry

G.O.O.D. / Def Jam

It’s Almost Dry proves Pusha T has the most reliable blueprint in the game, convincing us to buy his product each and every time—because it lives up to the promise. The album splits production from Pusha’s go-to’s, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West—already parading his ambition for the album, and his accessible connections. Each track finds the producer’s staple sound: Pharrell’s metallic clangs show up on “Brambleton”, “Neck & Wrist”, “Call My Bluff” and more, while Ye’s soulful chops shape tracks like “Dreamin of the Past”, “Rock N Roll” and lead single, “Diet Coke”. Pusha T feels right at home on both sets of beats, reminding listeners how necessary both producers are to delivering his vivid raps. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Diet Coke”, “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes”, “Just So You Remember”, “Hear Me Clearly”

34. K-Trap, The Last Whip II


The sequel to the UK rapper’s classic debut positions him back on the throne of drill. It’s like K-Trap has taken a time machine back to 2017. The production in drill may have evolved since then, but the performer is able to channel the same spirit he first broke onto the scene with. This is the secret to the quality of The Last Whip II. K-Trap knows how to make a drill song without all the excess. You’d expect this from a father of UK drill, but it’s easy to lose that touch five years into a career. With The Last Whip II, K-Trap hones drill like it’s second nature, delivering one of his best projects to date that carries all the vim required from the genre. It’s back to basics for K-Trap, and for the best. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Spoilt”, “G19”, “Golden Goal”, “Molly Mae”, “Charts”, “Feel It”, “Manners”

33. The Weeknd, Dawn FM


Cali was once the mission, but The Weeknd’s next mission is reaching the afterlife. Dawn FM revisits his signature motif: death, and what awaits him on the other side. After Hours was cryptic and despondent. Dawn FM is direct and accepting of its fate, jumping off the cliff into self-destruction. Throughout Dawn FM, you can imagine Weeknd travelling towards the light, particularly in transitional moments like the intro to “Take My Breath”, a song that titularly matches the album concept. There is a consistent sound in play while the content is scattered thoughts of relationships, which is perhaps fitting for a man on the brink of the unknown, and for an artist who’s toxicity’s transformed into regret for never pursuing true love. Though the competition to be among his best work is high, it is another intense chapter in his precise career. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Out of Time”, “Is There Someone Else?”, “Sacrifice”, “Take My Breath”, “How Do I Make You Love Me?”

32. Rimzee, Cold Feet


Billed as a mixtape but boasting album presence, Cold Feet maximises the road rap genre with the pensive bars matched with standout beats, hooks and collaborations. “Expensive Pain” and “Unruly” are celebrated street anthems, while tracks like “Life on the Endz” with Snap Capone reminisces on days of incarceration. There’s no gimmicks in sight, just unfiltered tales validated by real-life troubles. Cold Feet ensures it will stand tall as one of the strongest UK releases of the year, regulating Rimzee’s brief but iconic discography.

Best tracks: “Unruly”, “Expensive Pain”, “Morals & Principles”, “Soul to da Streets”, “Juggin”, “Life on the Endz”

31. Ab-Soul, Herbert

Top Dawg Entertainment

Coming off a six-year hiatus, Soul dropped the most defining record of his career, facing triumph and tragedy in the process. Not many understand the pain that Soul has endured over the past few years. From losing his closest friends to surviving a failed suicide attempt, Herbert places his battles on public display as Soul is at his most transparent he’s ever been. Not only is Soul giving fans the update on his personal life, the man is rapping at a high calibre as he fills the gaps with battered-up bars to remind people he’s not the emcee to fuck around with. The days of third eyes and pineal glands still live forever in the Black Hippy catalogue, but a comeback record like this was much needed for Soul to grow as an artist and as an individual. —Alex Corrales

Best tracks: “Moonshooter”, “Gotta Rap”, “Message in a Bottle”, “Fallacy”, “FOMF”

30. Redveil, Learn 2 Swim


While Redveil’s Learn 2 Swim flew under the radar for a few, the record yields a significance like no other. Fresh off the scene with a handful of records to his name, Redveil overcame the odds of the hand he was dealt and managed to build his foundation brick by brick. In an industry thats finding itself flooded with content, Redveil’s dense writing, bright beat selection and effortless flows throughout the record helps keep his head above water. Learn 2 Swim displays unfathomable potential within the young talent as he reaches new heights in his artistry. With artists like Redveil being present in the culture, the future of the genre is comfortably in good hands. —Alex Corrales

Best tracks: “pg baby”, “morphine (da ways)”, “shoulder”, “new info”, “mars”

29. Larry June, Spaceships on the Blade

The Freeminded / EMPIRE

Larry June has been on a one-of-a-kind run over the past few years. The Frisco mogul has risen to the top of hip-hop’s food chain, promoting organic lifestyles and financial freedom. Spaceships on the Blade doesn’t deter from this mission, but takes it to the next level on all aspects. Through the newly introduced Monaco meals and private valets, Larry maintains a smooth composure, failing to fold at the hand of his recently acquired fame and fortune. Sometimes, all you need to help get you hustling on your feet is an orange and a track from Uncle Larry. —Alex Corrales

Best tracks: “Don’t Check Me”, “I’m Him”, “Private Valet”, “For Tonight”, “In My Pockets”

28. Westside Gunn, 10

Griselda / EMPIRE

Just when we thought the controversially named Hitler Wears Hermes collection had wrapped up for good, Westside Gunn revived the series with another flawlessly curated installment. With his mind on the development of Griselda’s recent signees, Gunn manages to sit his allies next to good company, which includes legendary appearances from the genre’s finest beat makers and emcees. Gunn himself manages to lyrically turn it up a notch as he finds himself side by side with names from Raewkon to Black Star. A top tier display of high level street art, Gunn never disappoints on either side of the boards. —Alex Corrales

Best tracks: “Mac Don’t Stop”, “Peppas”, “Shootouts in Soho”, “Science Class”, “Red Death”, “God Is Love”

27. Steve Lacy, Gemini Rights


When he’s not (rightfully) telling casual concertgoers to be quiet, Steve Lacy is out here delivering some of the most addictive tracks of the year. Even TikTok couldn’t spoil the pure euphoria of “Bad Habit”, a song that deservedly propelled Lacy from ‘If you know, you know’ to ‘If you don’t know, now you know’. The monumental song doesn’t define the album, however, as Gemini Rights masters the touch of delicacy on cuts like “Static”, “Amber” and “Sunshine”. Elsewhere, the funk consumes tracks like “Helmet”, while “Mercury” is the real standout track sonically. In totality, Gemini Rights is spring-time love existing through a time machine of throwback sounds. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Bad Habit”, “Static”, “Helmet”, “Sunshine”, “Mercury”

26. Future, I Never Liked You

Freebandz / Epic

A decade on from his debut, Future keeps finding ways to deliver addictive trap music, in touch with the melodies and production that make him stand out. This is Future’s shortest album since 2016’s EVOL, its standard edition carrying sixteen tracks and a runtime of 48 minutes (though the deluxe tracks are certainly worth your time). It works favourably for Future, providing the exact dose needed at this stage in his career. There is plenty consistency here; the sequencing is thought out, creating a fluid listening experience that is often absent in trap albums. The real selling point is Future’s performances always meshing with the beat; his flow switches every four bars on a plethora of tracks, each one as addictively melodic as the last. It’s no wonder Future is one of the best rappers when it comes to flows—and the greatest trap artist repping Atlanta. —Hamza Riaz


25. Curren$y & The Alchemist, Continuance

Jet Ski Life / ALC / EMPIRE

The underground’s favourite smoked out duo expands upon the hazy repertoire of their cult classics, adding a potential classic to the list. Its always a delight when Spitta and Alchemist link up for another record; it’s something special about hearing the NOLA stoner over the trippiest beats ever made. With this record, the two push each other into new territories, conquering sounds that would otherwise sound foreign to the duo’s established foundation. The individual styles of the pair not only compliment each other, but they seemingly help one another exceed expectations when laying down a track. And of course, the perfect way to congratulate the decade-long success of pair calls for a celebratory roll-up. —Alex Corrales

Best tracks: “Obsession”, “Half Moon Mornings”, “Whale Watching”, “Corvette Race Stripes”, “Jodeci Tape”

24. Jay Worthy & Larry June, 2 P’z in a Pod

GDF / The Freeminded / EMPIRE

After building the stage for their highly anticipated collab album, trailblazers, Jay Worthy and Larry June took it back to pimp-postured lines and peddling rhymes for this West Coast adventure. The two paid tribute to a sound that moulded their stature, reclaiming the vintage West Coast sound, infused with funk and soul. June and Worthy bounce back and forth over trunk-knocking beats that take you on a journey from the Bay down to LA. If this record doesn’t make you want to flip the nearest hydraulic switch then you’re not living right. —Alex Corrales

Best tracks: “Maybe the Next Time”, “Hotel Bel-Air”, “She’s Not Around”, “Leave it Up to Me”, “Big Funds”

23. Black Star, No Fear of Time


We heard rumours of a new Black Star album for years, but never did we expect it to drop this year—and on an independent DSP as well. No Fear of Time makes up for the decade stretch in between records, finding Mos and Kweli taking it back to the days of rhyming for fun in the basement, reigniting each other’s passion for the art. With all production being handled by the infamous Madlib, fans were expecting classic material—and classic material was what they got. Mos and Kweli did catch some flack for distributing the record through the Luminary experience app, but the album was worth going the extra mile to listen. Plus both artists can actually receive the income directly rather than get a quarter of a penny for a stream.

Best tracks: “o.G”, “Freequency”, “Yonders”, “No Fear of Time”, “Supreme alchemy”

22. Beyoncé, RENAISSANCE

Parkwood / Columbia

The pop titan went vogue on the dance-infused RENAISSANCE, liberating the genre’s history of black pioneers to the biggest stage in music. There is no trend of despondent tunes that’s dominated mainstream pop of the last few years; Beyoncé insists on unfiltered, feel-good vibes, a necessary move as we slip away from lockdown syndrome. —Hamza Riaz


21. Gunna, DS4EVER

Young Stoner Life / 300

Gunna calmly exercises the trap formula on DS4EVER, embodying how fun he can make songs that are plain and simple. You want catchy trap music? You are getting catchy trap music. DS4EVER is gleaming with your usual trap tropes backed up by addictive production and psychedelic flows. For “South to West” it’s the aerobic horns which makes it the “META GALA” of the album. For “25K Jacket” with Lil Baby it’s the sharp violin that accompanies the duo’s usual chemistry. “Flooded” brings the buoyant bounce of WUNNA to separate itself from the production uniform. The trio of tracks have standout hooks to top it all off, as do many other songs.

It’s easy to get simplistic trap wrong. But on DS4EVER, the checklist is fulfilled: catchy beats, melodic flows and memorable hooks, with a slice of humour. Ridiculous, yes, but ridiculously entertaining.

Best tracks: “south to west”, “pushin p”, “livin wild”, “25k jacket”, “die alone”

20. Rayvn Lenae, HYPNOS


Ravyn Lenae finds the sweet spot between R&B and neo-soul on HYPNOS, possessing a feather touch across its runtime. With names like Kaytranada, Steve Lacy, Jean Deaux and Fousheé involved, it was an album bound to have the right understanding between itself and its target audience. Ravyn’s soothing vocals gleam on “Inside Out” and “Wish”, while coddling the listener on “Skin Tight” with Lacy. But HYNPOS knows how to avoid a rut, picking up the tempo for tracks like “Venom”, “M.I.A.” and “Xtasy”, showcasing her potential not just as an R&B songstress but as a pop star in the making. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Skin Tight”, “Wish”, “Venom”, “Mercury”, “Xtasy”

19. Earl Sweatshirt, SICK!

Tan Cressida / Warner

The last time we had heard from the dreary emcee, the world was in a more laxxed pre-pandemic world. However, as we all rummaged through the tough period, Earl was watching from afar, jotting down his observations and personal gripes he dealt with in this time. SICK! batters itself in the murky coating of the worldwide trauma and emphasises on the mental issues present throughout the globe. Not to mention, the production received quite an upgrade compared to previous projects, setting the proper tone for the psychological analysis of the world. —Alex Corrales

Best tracks: “Vision”, “Old Friend”, “Fire in the Hole”, “Sick!”, “Lye”


Blacksmith / Motown

Vince Staples is fed up of the pain. At its peaks, you can feel the thug tears falling on the page in a way that sounds conclusive, ready to move onto the next chapter. His Stockholm syndrome has found its most creative avenues to date, and met its quota on Ramona Park Broke My Heart, taking his Ramona metaphors to the next level; a stone figure still distraught from the horrors of his hometown. Constantly minimal and morbid, Ramona Park feels like it finally closes the casket on Vince’s scarring past.


17. Saba, Few Good Things

Pivot Gang

Saba acknowledges that not everything is good, but that is okay. Few Good Things finds the silver linings and embraces them as tight as he can. As human beings, it is often hard to see the bright side. The dark aspects of our lives know exactly how to impose themselves. What Saba shows on Few Good Things is that if there’s therapy in sharing melancholy, there’s also therapy in locating joy, with the inevitable aim to erase irrational fears. The glass is finally half-full. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “2012”, “Few Good Things”, “One Way or Every N***a with a Budget”, “Come My Way”

16. Jeshi, Universal Credit

Because Music

When looking in the right areas, UK rap had some standout albums this year from artists making their first real impression. East London’s Jeshi tackled British austerity on his debut album, Universal Credit, named after the government fund aiming to support working class citizens. Its prominence increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the cycle of poverty continued across the nation. Jeshi’s commentary on the plight is razor-sharp, communicated through the daily tales of an anguished working-class character. It comes together for one of the best UK rap albums of the decade so far, accomplished in its sound, vision and crucial message that Britain needs to fix the hell up. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Sick”, “Protein”, “3210”, “Coffee”, “Hit by a Train”, “Killing Me Slowly”

15. The Alchemist & Roc Marciano, The Elephant Man’s Bones

ALC / Marci Enterprises / EMPIRE

The Elephant Man’s Bones grants long-time listeners of their wish, simultaneously assembling what could only be described as the pinnacle of each other’s style. Al lays the soundtrack to a pimp-postured mob movie, with Roc displaying his many talents on the big screen. The lead single “Quantum Leap” serves as a perfect example of the chemistry between the two, meshing the best aspects of both artists for a defining track; the album also contains a fair share of experimental pieces (i.e. “The Horns of Abraxas”), flashing the artistic drive both artists have to explore the unknown, sonically speaking. —Alex Corrales

Best tracks: “Rubber Hand Grip”, “Daddy Kane”, “Deja Vu”, “Trillion Cut”, “The Horns of Abraxas”

14. Boldy James & Nicolas Craven, Fair Exchange No Robbery


it would be remiss of us to ignore two of the busiest acts of the year. Nicholas Craven and Boldy James assembled a hip-hop masterclass, composed of elite production, hypnotising flows and dense lyricism; all while upholding a cinematic experience for listeners to soak in. Boldy and Craven keep their machine running like clockwork, shifting between breakneck speeds to spellbinding sermons of the grittiest set of lines you’ll ever hear. It’s as if the pair collectively acknowledged their strengths and amped them up to put on a well-produced show. —Alex Corrales

Best tracks: “Designer Drugs”, “Monterrey Jack”, “Town & Country”, “Straight & Tall”, “Power Nap”

13. Lupe Fiasco, DRILL MUSIC IN ZION

1st and 15th Too

Hip-hop’s most dense lyricist made a return with arguably his most cryptic set of work to date. We all know Lupe as one of the most intricate artists to ever lay vocals on a track – but among minimalistic production and a strengthened set of choruses, the Chicago vet artistically outdoes himself yet again. Whether it be the latest addition of the Mural trilogy or the bouncy nature of the lead single “AUTOBOTO” or the enticing epiphany found within the catchy “PRECIOUS THINGS”, the record yields an array of memorable moments that deserve a yearly nod. From the calculated transitions between records to dense concept on various societal values, DRILL MUSIC IN ZION truly is another artistic masterclass from hip-hop’s most beloved anti-hero. —Alex Corrales


12. Youngs Teflon, All Eyes on Me Against the World


Over a decade since he began releasing music, South London’s Youngs Teflon released a career highlight and one of the best UK rap projects of the year with Side A to his dual EP. In fact, All Eyes deserves more than EP status. You would think Teflon wouldn’t be putting his best foot forward on a mere extended-play, but he proves otherwise. Album-level songs exist across the board, refusing to take a pitstop during its 26-minute run, hosting standout tracks of the year with “Body Language” featuring Stardom and “Stay Dangerous”. All Eyes on Me Against the World finds Teflon in his best pocket, unafraid to tackle the traditional hip hop that launched his career.

Best tracks: “Body Language”, “Costa Nostra”, “Stay Dangerous”, “Plato”

11. Boldy James & Real Bad Man, Killing Nothing


Very rarely do we see a rapper hit a pinnacle point in their lyricism and fly under the radar. This is the case for Boldy James, as he subtlety delivered one of the most enticing lyrical displays of the past decade. With all production handled by Real Bad Man, Boldy James is given the space to slide in at the scene and pop off some of the best performances of his career. Records like “Water Under the Bridge” and “Ain’t No Bon Jovi” catapult Boldy into the heavyweight convos of best rapper and he effortlessly glides over the gritty soundtracks. With two of his four 2022 projects hitting our list, it shows just how impressive Boldy James was over these twelve months—the most in-form rapper of the year. —Alex Corrales

Best tracks: “Cash Transactions”, “5 Mississippi”, “Hundred Ninety Bands”, “Seeing Visions”, “All the Way Out”, “Killing Nothing”

10. Jeezy & DJ Drama, SNOFALL

Def Jam

Jeezy puts up 40 points on what’s comfortably a top three album by the Atlanta legend, assisted by the iconic hosting of DJ Drama. The heaters just never stop on SNOFALL, to point where it’s practically shocking that a rapper two decades deep is putting out some of the best songs of his career in 2022. It reignites Jeezy’s status as a top three trap artist, who’s not afraid to pull some of the new cats into his cosmos (42 Dugg, EST Gee, Lil Durk). Beatsmiths Cool & Dre and J.U.S.T.I.C.E League help retain the 2000s trap sound without it sounding dated, a refreshing detail that tops off SNOFALL as the best trap album of the year. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “I Ain’t Gone Hold Ya”, “Scarface”, “Kolors”, “Put the Minks Down”, “My Accountant”, “Most Hated”, “MJ Jeezy”, “Still Havin”

9. Denzel Curry, Melt My Eyez See Your Future

PH / Loma Vista

Denzel Curry shifts from explosive to existential on his fifth studio album, the Floridan’s most realised work so far. On previous albums, Denzel used his imagination to create fantastical domains and characters. On Melt My Eyez See Your Future, Denzel Curry establishes himself as a citizen of the world. This is all about the real him, exploring his existence through his most lucid writing to date. The 45 minutes is a serene experience, sounding as if Denzel is walking through a desert on the route to find his answers. As Denzel walks through the desert, we are walking through his brain, witnessing new peaks of his songwriting, concepts and sounds. Even if he cannot see, Curry’s future shows plenty more promise to uncover.

Best tracks: “Walkin”, “Melt Session #1”, “Zatoichi”, “Angelz”, “Ain’t No Way”

8. Little Simz, NO THANK YOU

Forever Living Originals

Released in the final weeks of December, Little Simz comes in late but hot as a contender for rap album of the year. On NO THANK YOU, Little Simz has ten darts in hand and hits the bullseye every time. Sonically, it borrows much from her 2021 Mercury Prize-winning Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Though this time there is a sharper fire in her belly surrounding the lengthy tracks, symboling a cathartic experience from a person who’s got shit to get off her chest. Simz exerts the best rapping of her career, flexing flows, punchlines and rhyme schemes, combusting on songs like “Heart on Fire” and “Broken”. It adds another dynamic that separates it from last year’s effort, which had sharp performances but focused more on crafting large songs. Above all, it sets a robust argument for being the best rapper not just in the country, but a candidate for the most in-form rapper in hip hop right now. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Angel”, “Heart on Fire”, “Silhouette”, “Control”, “X”, “Broken”


Top Dawg Entertainment / RCA

Where has SZA been? Top Dawg’s First Lady broke through the ceiling back in 2016 with her Ctrl album, and fans had been waiting for a follow-up ever since. Label pushbacks and creative runt were at the heart of its delay, and anticipation soon turned to anxiety. Coming suddenly at the heart of December, SZA’s sophomore is bigger and better than Ctrl; a fully realised effort that transforms SZA the singer to SZA the superstar. At a bold 23 tracks, SOS is seeping with SZA’s best songs and of the year. Her emotional spectrum is put to the sword, from vulnerable (“Nobody Gets Me”, “Special”) to vicious (“Kill Bill”, “F2F”) and daring (“Smoking on My Ex Pack” finds her rapping better than plenty male peers). A five-year delay that was worth the wait. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Ghost in the Machine”, “Good Days”, “Kill Bill”, “F2F”, “Gone Girl”, “Snooze”, “Nobody Gets Me”, “Smoking on My Ex Pack”

6. Rosalía, MOTOMAMI


MOTOMAMI is Rosalía’s most daring and adventurous work to date, challenging pop expectations for an album packed with diverse production and invasive songwriting. While 2018’s El Mal Querer was densely conceptual, MOTOMAMI is the effort with the range to upgrade her presence on a global scale. She challenges traditional sonics on cuts like “SAOKO” and “CUUUUuuuuuute”, flexing her soprano vocals while exploring Latin avenues of bachata, reggaeton and flamenco. The hits come in the form of “CANDY”, “LA FAMA” with The Weeknd and the deluxe edition’s “DESPECHÁ”, although tracks like “COMO UN G” and “G3 N15” offer touching moments of transparency. It’s an album that puts Rosalía in pole position for artist of the year. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “CANDY”, “LA FAMA”, “COMO UN G”, “LA COMBI VERSACE”, “G3 N15”, “SAOKO”

5. 070 Shake, You Can’t Kill Me

G.O.O.D. / Def Jam

Rich in emotion and enchanting in sound, You Can’t Kill Me continues to showcase 070 Shake’s talent for remarkable aesthetic. You Can’t Kill Me is an abstract effort, toying with the pace of all its tracks. Sonically, it will stand high as one of the boldest albums of the year, going the extra mile to create ambitious soundscapes engineered by Dave Hamelin and Mike Dean. Tracks test the patience of the listener, often rewarding them with thick finales that justify the wait. There’s an element of Frank Ocean’s Blonde to its unhinged nature, along with how Shake sells the romance she’s submerged in. It makes for a challenging experience, but one that puts extra emphasis on the compositional end of music.

With such level of soundscape behind her, 070 Shake cannot fail to deliver. You Can’t Kill Me continues to bring her ear for aesthetic to life, continuing the ambition of artists that defined her generation. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Skin and Bones”, “Web”, “History”, “Body”, “Come Back Home”, “Stay”

4. JID, The Forever Story

Dreamville / Interscope

On his third album, JID unlocks the full package that’s been brewing all this time, delivering a body of work that’s utterly absolute. JID touches every base possible on The Forever Story, marrying each aspect of being a rapper and an artist. His rapping is off the scale, but so is his songwriting and production choices (Christo, BadBadNotGood, Thundercat, James Blake). On the rap side, JID is as athletic as his past suggests, laying immaculate rhyme schemes and flows that keep every second entertaining. Such dexterous performances are paraded across “Raydar”, “Can’t Punk Me” with EarthGang and the flawless “Lauder Too”—the pinnacle of JID’s nimble competence.

If there is to be a new big three to succeed Kendrick Lamar, Drake and J. Cole, JID is the first candidate in the conversation. There is no formula here; simply improvements on all fronts, resulting in JID’s best album to date. Alongside that, it is one of the strongest releases of 2022, cutting no corners to get to its artistic goal. The Forever Story catapults JID to the next echelon, ticking every box required to be deemed a generational talent. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Lauder Too”, “2007”, “Sistanem”, “Kody Blu 31”, “Surround Sound”, “Can’t Punk Me”, “Just In Time”

3. Nas, King’s Disease III

Mass Appeal

It takes a nation’s weight to spark fruitful interest for a 90s rapper in 2022. As a 90s debutant, it’s very likely you laid your best material three decades ago. Trends change, passion is lost and old age catches up within a young man’s game. Though over the last two years, a certain Queensbridge rapper has defied the odds. With King’s Disease III, Nas eclipses his third prime on the best volume of the King’s Disease series, leaping to prodigious heights that marks the greatest renaissance in hip hop history. Nas unlocks improbable form, raising his rapping, hook game and production choices courtesy of Hit-Boy. At 49 years old, Nas is carrying your entire attention with ease, equipped with sharp flows, strong hooks and compelling subject matter personified.

It takes fifty-two minutes to prove Nas had never fallen off. He remained steady throughout the 2000s, but stayed quiet throughout the 2010s. Now, he has four albums in a two-year span that settles all doubts, one of which is a top three rap album of 2022. This is a historical rebirth, a feat that no rapper from his class can attest to. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “Beef”, “Michael & Quincy”, “Thun”, “I’m on Fire”, “Hood2Hood”, “Recession Proof”, “Legit”

2. Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope

Kendrick is more than aware of his long absence. He quotes the exact days since DAMN. was released (1,855) on the album opener, the amount of days he’s been ‘going through something’. If the product is anything to go by, the time off has been meditative, shrinking the bigger picture down to the being that needs to unpack himself rather than unpack the world around him. Across eighteen tracks and 73 minutes, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers weaves through two discs of emotional highs and lows, dissecting open wounds by exploring topics he’s never touched before. It is his most conceptually coherent record to date, and most conventional in sound, manoeuvring across modern trap percussion, mellow piano and strings, and traditional samples. He opts to keep up with the times; it’s a risky approach from someone who’s reinvented himself with every album. But as a result, his words and writing are clearer than ever.

On Mr. Morale, Kendrick confesses he’s not the social commentator that people want him to be. The saviour complex is gone, hammered away with the power of his pen that’s given his most revealing songs to date. It will forever remain a conflicted oracle that finds Lamar at his most sincere, astute, and controversial. —Hamza Riaz

Best tracks: “N95”, “Die Hard”, “United in Grief”, “Saviour”, “Worldwide Steppers”, “Auntie Diaries”, “Mother I Sober”, “Rich Spirit”

1. Black Thought & Danger Mouse, Cheat Codes


A Black Thought and Danger Mouse has been hip hop’s ‘we should grab a coffee’ for the best part of the millennium. Their paths have crossed in small doses over the years, but a full-length partnership was always in mind. Cheat Codes is as the name suggests—an inequitable advantage of two geniuses combining for one of the strongest hip hop albums of the new decade. This is an album where every track is a highlight.Songs like “Because”, “The Darkest Part” and “Aquamarine” carry the spirit of The Roots thanks to the tone of the hooks, adding that vital pinch of alternative aura to Cheat Codes, which separates it from other traditional rap albums from the last two years.

The album assures it is one for the traditionalists. It carries the dusty aesthetic of boom bap rap, vinyl crackles and dense lyricism. When it comes to the production, Danger Mouse is on his A-game. Over twelve tight tracks, he offers the best production Thought has rapped on in a solo venture. In Black Thought’s case, he’s keeping up with software updates thirty years into his career. It shouldn’t be humanly impossible to maintain the level of skill of his early days, but every track here prove he has, or got better. His rhymes have bewildered listeners for decades, and they continue to do so on Cheat Codes. He is an early homosapien that’s survived extinction.

Danger Mouse and Black Thought played the long game, and ended up with all the cards. Cheat Codes is a flooding rap extravaganza, poised to be the best hip hop record of the year. It is impossible to bound to time, nor does it consent to typical categorisation. There is a sixth sense that lingers in Cheat Codes; the sign of a timeless album and future classic.

Best tracks: “Aquamarine”, “The Darkest Part”, “Strangers”, “Sometimes”, “Belize”, “Cheat Codes”