The 10 Best Rap Albums Of 2022

The 10 Best Rap Albums Of 2022

Midway through 2022, it seemed like hip-hop was bland and headed for a disappointing year. Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers confused people with its insularity and inherent selfishness. Gone were sweeping records about Black Americana; say hello to a record about choosing yourself in the midst of rising fascism and cataclysmic unhappiness. There wasn’t a DaBaby of the year, in other words, someone who was seemingly everywhere over the radio. Looking back at these past 12 months, nothing stands out, but there’s an abundance of quality. If there is a MVP of this year, it might be Baton Rouge’s YoungBoy Never Broke Again – the quantity-over-quality superstar whose fame comes from his music and also his sometimes bizarre antics.

We’re in a transition in rap; there’s not one person that is running the culture or creating a new style. That ended with Young Thug; now we’re looking for someone new. Even excellent rappers like Valee or Ralfy The Plug are so regional that they’re unable to crack the mainstream pavement. Still, rap remains the most dense and literary genre; to complain about a lack of a concrete star would be futile and derivative. For evidence of the genre’s health, look no further than the following 10 albums.


NoCap - Mr. Crawford (Never Broke Again/Atlantic)

The Alabama rapper and YoungBoy protégé NoCap crafted one of the more intense and abundant records of the year. But at 21 songs, it flows well too, giving you multiple personalities in one central package. See “No Hook,” which feels like an inner voice talking to an outer one. NoCap has something. Let’s see what he does next.


Bandmanrill - Club Godfather (100% Pure/1865/Defiant/Warner)

The Newark club rapper Bandmanrill created some of the more exuberant records this year, taking a regional genre and combining it with drill-style flows. Don’t call him a drill rapper, though. Bandmanrill is a chaotic fun rapper, and his album is far less straightforward and stiff than any drill record. Club Godfather is a dance party where the threat of physicality or violence looms. But that’s unlikely; in this club, harmony reigns supreme.


Babyface Ray - FACE/MOB (Wavy Gang/EMPIRE)

The Detroit rapper Babyface Ray – who raps like he is fuming in the corner after being put on timeout – dropped two albums this year, FACE in January and MOB in December. With tracks like “Sincerely Face,” one of the year’s best songs, Ray remains the likeliest out of Detroit to blow up. He understands how to use his voice, and he’s still as hard as anyone while maintaining his composure.


Band Gand Lonnie Bands - Scorpion Eyes (TF)

Michigan rapper – it’s a theme here – Lonnie is a challenging rapper to listen to. Not trying to hide his demons, he is often an oversharer. “Still A Mama Boy” never holds back: “Thinking about how pops did my mama made me want to kill him/ She ain’t be bitter she begged me to fuck with him/ I hate that I gotta couple of traits of that fuck nigga.”


Chief Keef - 4NEM

Midway through “See Through,” which starts out like a drill song circa 2012, Chief Keef starts to hit a different octane. He’s practically screaming: “I GOT PROBLEMS I DON’T WANNA FIX, BUT I NEED YOU/ WHEN YOU BROKE THEY DON’T FUCKIN CARE, WHEN YOU RICH, THEY NEED YOU.” It’s an example of his formula and how he has expanded on it. A living symbol of the internet era just before streaming, Keef is the forebear to many artists now, like Yeat. Keef, ever mysterious and prodigious, is still here, though. 4NEM is one of the year’s most dynamic records.


EST Gee & 42 Dugg - Last Ones Left (CMG/Warlike/Interscope)

The bright spots on this record are so bright that they blind you from the inconsistencies of the tracklist and production. Gee remains one of the best rappers on the planet, turning mundane lines into sounds you want to ride on the streets blasting. Dugg is slippery — menacing but also whimsical. His whine lends the excellent “Spin” a feeling unheard in rap this year.


Roc Marciano & The Alchemist - The Elephant's Man Bones (ALC/Marci Enterprises/EMPIRE)

I pity anyone who doesn’t grasp the connection people have with the silk coat music of Roc Marciano. It’s gangster but seductive, like a Mario Van Peebles film. Just when you think the Roc run is over, he comes with this. “Daddy Kane” is one of the year’s best, with Action Bronson matching Roc Marci bar by bar. Listen to The Elephant Man’s Bones on loop throughout the day. It’ll remind you of the first time you fell in love with rap.


Earl Sweatshirt - Sick! (Tan Cressida/Warner)

Earl has lived an expansive life at a young age. For the first time in a few years, he seems comfortable being more direct. On Sick! he’s still a tad abstract, but he’s also loud and clear. “Tabula Rasa” finds Earl and New York underground duo Armand Hammer sounding at home together, like a plate of salmon and spinach. “You only trash if you trash/ I keep it simple and dynamic,” Earl says. Listen to the man; those dreads, chico, they never lie.


YoungBoy Never Broke Again - 3800 Degrees (Never Broke Again/Atlantic)

Intro track “Back On My Feet” starts with a snicker from YoungBoy, like he knows he is about to prove doubters wrong. Before the masterful 3800 Degrees came out, many people, meaning yours truly, wondered why YoungBoy hadn’t released a proper full-length triumph in line with his talents. Since AI YoungBoy 2, he had been a tad bit off-kilter and sporadic. But the 33-minute opus that is 3800 Degrees was inescapable all year. This is a great record from a generation-defining artist.


CEO Trayle - HH5 (Do What You Love/10K Projects)

Horrorcore and horror movies are not only eerie but capricious. They’re statements of opposites; sometimes, tranquility is interrupted by demonic vitality. On his phenomenal HH5, CEO Trayle is capable of a range of emotions only rivaled by Future and Gucci Mane. There’s the Trayle who battles C4 on “Alter Ego 2.” There’s the Trayle of “Sincerely Yours,” who sounds muddled but clear eyed. And there’s the sparse, Fastmoney Ant-added “Nightmares And Dreams.”

This is a record that you will think about before you go to sleep. But everything is all the more normal when hearing it from Trayle, one of the more stylistic vocalists to come out of the South since Lil Baby. But where Baby and the rest of QC kids are melodic and have crossover appeal, Trayle relies on album-crafting and character-driven album stories. The best record of the year belongs to a man blending old-school discography strategies with streaming’s new and irreverent style of rapping. Just when you thought Atlanta’s run was quieting down, Trayle creates an album reminiscent of night time in the trap house.

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