2022 was a truly incredible year for hip-hop. From stunning mainstream releases to underground gems that continue to push the genre forward, the year brought magnificent depth and quality. The 2020s got off to a rather slow start, with a shortage of consistently great releases; this year finally turned the trend around in a marvelous fashion. There were way more impactful releases than could be included in a list of only 25, but I hope my list highlights some of the stellar contributions made to hip-hop in 2022.
Click here for a Spotify Playlist of some of my favorite songs from 2022 (across all genres).
Click here for a Spotify Playlist of my favorite songs from my Top 25 Hip-Hop Albums of the Year.
Honorable Mentions: Mike Dimes: “IN DIMES WE TRUST” Brockhampton: “The Family,” Phife Dawg: “Forever,” AG Club: “Impostor Syndrome,” Che Noir: “The Last Remnants,” Mavi: “Laughing so Hard, it Hurts,” Leikeli47: “Shape Up,” Ben Reilly: “Freelance: Charlie,” Kenny Mason: “RUFFS,” Ransom: “No Rest For The Wicked,” Nick Grant: “Welcome to Loveland,” Meechy Darko: “Gothic Luxury”
25. redveil: “learn 2 swim”
Released on his 18th birthday, redveil’s “learn 2 swim” shows flashes of greatness and signals his immense potential. This album is already redveil’s third full-length, fully self-produced project; his debut album released when he was just 15 years old. Songs like “automatic,” “new info” and “pg baby” highlight redveil’s incredible production skill and impassioned delivery.
The young DMV rapper is certainly still finding his sound, as this collection has its highs and lows. That being said, the highs are incredibly captivating and establish redveil as a promising emerging figure to watch in hip-hop.
Favorite Songs: “automatic,” “new info,” “pg baby”
24. EARTHGANG: “GHETTO GODS”
Unfortunately, “Ghetto Gods” was an artistic step back from EarthGang’s first three studio albums. Fortunately, EarthGang is one of the most talented duos that the genre has ever seen.
Even when they aren’t on their A-game, Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot provide fun music and interesting twists to Southern hip-hop. The production choices, lyricism and flows weren’t quite as captivating as their early works, but that’s probably a testament to the excitement and quality of those previous works more than anything else. The Atlanta duo’s most recent release still contains a handful of entertaining songs and substantial sonic cohesion, along with some sincere and heartfelt messages.
Favorite Songs: “Waterboyz,” “American Horror Story,” “Smoke Sum,” “Power,” “Strong Friends,” “Billi,” “Ghetto Gods”
23. Joey Bada$$: “2000”
It’s tough to comprehend that Joey Bada$$ is only 27 years old: the proud Brooklyn-born rapper has been relevant in hip-hop for over a decade now. The prequel to “2000” — 2012’s “1999” — sent the rap world into a frenzy and delivered a true masterpiece of a debut album. His career has never slowed down since.
“2000” calls back on many of the important elements of its predecessor while still allowing Joey to progress in his sound. Although not nearly at the overall quality level of his debut mixtape, Joey’s newest effort still highlights his world-class rapping ability and his authentic East Coast sound.
Favorite Songs: “Brand New 911,” “Where I Belong,” “Head High,” “Zipcodes,” “Survivors Guilt,” “Written in the Stars”
22. WESTSIDE BOOGIE: “MORE BLACK SUPERHEROES”
One of the most distinct and recognizable voices in all of hip-hop, Westside Boogie continues to prove himself as a prominent West Coast rapper. “More Black Superheroes” is intimate, introspective and consistently smooth. Boogie sounds comfortable on every beat and every track blends together very cohesively.
A pet peeve of mine is that the deluxe edition of the album contains two songs — “Float” and “Halfway Right” — that would have fit the original album perfectly. Although the decision to leave those two great songs off the original album is a miss, the remainder was well-constructed, culminating in one of the smoothest hip-hop releases of the year.
Favorite Songs: “Can’t Get Over You,” “LOLSMH II,” “Stuck,” “Killa Mode,” “Ratchet Boog”
21. Boldy James & Nicholas Craven: “Fair Exchange No Robbery”
Boldy James is on an astonishing run right now. Since the start of 2021, Boldy has released six full-length albums. In 2022 alone, he released four studio albums, each of them good enough to be in consideration for my list. Nicholas Craven deserves his flowers too: his “Craven N 3” project contained some of my favorite tracks of this year and was in contention for this list.
These two have an effortless chemistry together, with Craven’s soul samples and Boldy’s monotone delivery meshing together in marvelous fashion. Boldy’s bars and Craven’s beats are both sharp as always. It’s what you’d expect if you’re familiar with the work of these two, and that is a welcome result.
Favorite Songs: “Town & Country,” “Stuck in Traffic,” “Scrabble,” “Designer Drugs”
20. Lupe Fiasco: “DRILL MUSIC IN ZION”
Lupe Fiasco is, undeniably, an all-time great lyricist. “Drill Music In Zion” brings the depth and potency of a typical Lupe record, but with greater accessibility than many of his previous works. His most recent project takes a straightforward and minimalist approach to structure, providing just ten songs and a 40-minute runtime. This choice stands in contrast to many of his recent albums — particularly, his latest, “Drogas Wave,” a 24-track, 100-minute long behemoth whose colossal density inspired a multitude of theoretical interpretations. Although this album might not have as high of highs as some of his other albums, it provides consistency and one of the most well-executed conscious hip-hop albums of the year.
Favorite Songs: “Ghoti,” “On Faux Nem,” “Naomi”
19. Ab-Soul: “HERBERT”
Herbert Anthony Stevens IV, better known as Ab-Soul, finally returned this year with his first studio album in over six years. Being an artist that’s known for deep reflection, conspiracy theories and abstract lyricism, there’s always substantial thought that goes into his work. However, this is probably Ab-Soul’s deepest introspection yet. The album balances a variety of sounds and styles pretty well, providing sharp lyricism and deliveries from front to back.
Ultimately, the tracklist does have great variation in quality. Lows come with the incomprehensibly bad “Positive Vibes Only” and a couple of other lackluster tracks, but thankfully the majority of the songs are impressive. Most importantly, it is great to have Ab-Soul back releasing music.
Favorite Songs: “Goodman,” “Hollandaise,” “Do Better,” “Church on the Move,” “Bucket,” “Gang’nem”
18. Metro Boomin: “HEROES & VILLAINS”
Metro Boomin has genuinely become one of the greatest trap producers of all time. “Heroes & Villains” is another great addition to his discography and shows that Metro has clearly gotten a hold on how to make a quality producer-led project. Metro’s impressive work with sequencing and transitions really helps the album to fit together properly as a collection. He works with a fairly predictable group of guests for the most part, with 21 Savage, Future, Travis Scott and Don Toliver all appearing for multiple features on the album.
Notably, the album’s highlights actually come when Metro takes a different approach away from a more standard trap sound. The refreshing “Feel The Fiyaaaah” provides a standout moment, with A$AP Rocky and Takeoff trading bars over an exhilarating soul sample. “Creepin’” slows down the pace and provides a marvelous hit, dominated by The Weeknd’s vocals and capped off by a 21 Savage verse.
Favorite Songs: “Feel The Fiyaaaah,” “Creepin’,” “Superhero,” “Umbrella,” “Walk Em Down”
17. Loyle Carner: “hugo”
Since his 2017 debut album, “Yesterday’s Gone,” Loyle Carner has established himself as a deeply sincere, soulful and authentic artist. The combination of these traits makes Carner a uniquely likable and relatable figure, which can be very difficult to find in rap.
“hugo” maintains all of these signature attributes but with a sonic and emotional twist. The production and delivery get drastically darker and more atmospheric as a representation of anger bubbling beneath the surface. It’s as personable as ever, but now with an energy that matches how Loyne Carner is feeling about the recent state of the world.
Favorite Songs: “Nobody Knows (Ladas Road),” “Polyfilla,” “Hate,” “Blood On My Nikes,” “A Lasting Place”
16. Freddie Gibbs: “$oul $old $eparately”
Freddie Gibbs’ much anticipated ninth studio album arrived this year and was met with his biggest commercial success by far. “$oul $old $eparately” sees Gibbs comfortably gliding over a mix of trap and boom-bap beats, showing a return to his roots in the former compared to his most recent albums. This collection certainly wasn’t Gibbs’ strongest work, but that doesn’t say much given the strength of his elite discography. It’s never going to stack up to the likes of “Bandana,” “Piñata” and “Alfredo,” but it’s still a strong album showing just how prolific Freddie Gibbs is as a rapper.
Favorite Songs: “Couldn’t Be Done,” “Lobster Omelette,” “Gold Rings,” “Zipper Bagz,” “Grandma’s Stove,” “CIA”
15. Conway the Machine: “God Don’t Make Mistakes”
“God Don’t Make Mistakes” is one of the most personal projects to come from the Griselda crew. The production across the album isn’t as captivating as the best Griselda releases overall, but Conway makes up for it with incredible storytelling and authenticity from front-to-back. The features are well-placed and execute on their contributions. The album is well-structured and cohesive. From a technical standpoint, very few rappers in the world can rap on Conway’s level, and this album emphasized that once again. When pure rapping skills like his are paired with such earnest writing, the result is always going to be great.
Favorite Songs: “God Don’t Make Mistakes,” “Drumwork,” “John Woo Flick,” “Stressed,” “Piano Love,” “Tear Gas”
14. Nas: “King’s Disease III”
One of the greatest rappers of all time, Nasir Jones is now hitting a renaissance in his career. With four full-length albums since 2020, the quantity of output at this point in the 49-year-old’s career is astounding, not to mention that the albums have progressively gotten better.
Nas has found quite the chemistry with Hit-Boy, the elite producer who has been responsible for all of these last four albums and deserves his share of the credit for this career resurgence. “King’s Disease III” is the sharpest in the King’s Disease trilogy and Nas’ best since 2012’s “Life Is Good” (and maybe even since 2002’s “God’s Son”).
Favorite Songs: “Thun,” “I’m on Fire,” “Reminisce,” “30,” “Ghetto Reporter,” “Legit,” “Once a Man, Twice a Child”
13. Benny The Butcher: “Tana Talk 4”
Following up “Tana Talk 3,” one of the best rap albums of the last decade, is no easy task. Although it doesn’t quite stack up, “Tana Talk 4” still serves as a worthy successor. The biggest moment obviously comes on the album’s intro and the lead single of the project. The right J. Cole feature can genuinely change an artist’s career, and it did just that for Benny. “Johnny P’s Caddy” is by far the greatest hit of his career, elevating him to a level of commercial success he had never even come close to seeing before. Outside of the breakthrough single, the album brings more of what Benny is best at: gritty, hard-hitting storytelling with an undeniable authenticity.
Favorite Songs: “Johnny P’s Caddy,” “Weekend In The Perry’s,” “Back 2x,” “Guerrero”
12. Vince Staples: “RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART”
Coming into the 2020s, I was a firm believer that Vince Staples already had one of the most impressive and underrated discographies of any contemporary rapper. With 2021’s self-titled album and 2022’s “Ramona Park Broke My Heart,” those claims have only been strengthened. Vince’s newest release continues the more mellow and minimalistic sound of last year’s album, a style that stands in stark contrast to the elaborate production of his earlier projects. It’s comfortable, unapologetic and from the heart. Vince Staples is still comfortably in his prime, and I expect even more greatness to come.
Favorite Songs: “When Sparks Fly,” “Rose Street,” “Magic,” “Player Ways”
11. Westside Gunn: “10”
Westside Gunn really pulled out all of the stops for the tenth and final installment of his HWH series. With features from Black Star, A$AP Rocky, Run the Jewels, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Busta Rhymes and the entire Griselda crew, “10” comes with as deep of a guest list as nearly any album this year. The highlights of this album are truly elite and provide some of the better hip-hop moments of the year, offering incredible collaborations and masterfully curated songs.
As a whole, it’s one of the strongest offerings in the entire HWH series and it serves as a very fitting finale, closing it out with vintage work that spotlights Westside Gunn’s excellence. It feels so East Coast and so hip-hop from front to back, providing the loyal Griselda fans more of what they love while keeping it refreshing and exciting.
Favorite Songs: “Peppas,” “BDP,” “Science Class,” “Shootouts in Soho,” “Switches on Everything,” “Super Kick Party”
10. WIL$ON: “1-800-HEARTBREAK”
From the second the sample kicked in on the intro, I knew that this album was going to be special. Wil$on’s wonderful “1-800-Heartbreak” is the best debut album that I heard from any rapper this year. The album packs rich soul samples, impassioned deliveries and proficient writing to form a cohesive and impressive collection.
Many rappers are losing the art of soul samples, but Wil$on is certainly not one of them. The whole project contains an array of wonderfully placed samples and emotional conveyances that complement them effortlessly. Sonically and thematically, it follows a consistent storyline, which can’t be said about too many albums these days. The sequencing and construction are also fantastic. It’s rare to see a rapper this early in their career with so much control and intention in their vision and sound, but “1-800-Heartbreak” showed that Wil$on has exactly that — and that this is only the beginning for him.
Favorite Songs: “Heartbreak Anonymous,” “Hurt People,” “Anthem,” “Hoes,” “Lately,” “*Deep Sigh*”
9. Rome Streetz: “KISS THE RING”
Until this year, Rome Streetz was probably the most underrated rapper from the Griselda crew. “Kiss The Ring” helped him to finally start to get some of the respect that he deserves. If you know what a Griselda album sounds like, then you won’t be too shocked by what you hear; still, the execution is fantastic, and the lyricism is consistently remarkable. Rome Streetz is simply an excellent rapper and it shows. His voice and delivery are some of the best in this lane of hip-hop, and I think this album is just scratching the surface of what he can be, both commercially and artistically.
Favorite Songs: “Fashion Rebel,” “Serving,” “Tyson Beckford,” “Big Steppa,” “Ugly Balenciaga’s,” “Armed & Dangerous,” “1000 Ecstasy,” “Non Factor,” “Long Story Short”
8. Pusha T: “It’s Almost Dry”
At 45 years old, Pusha T has somehow reached his commercial peak. “It’s Almost Dry” earned his first number one album on the US Billboard 200 chart. Beyond the commercial success, the music shows Pusha’s continuation of his artistic excellence. When you have Pharrell Williams and Kanye West producing your entire album, the result is practically guaranteed to be great. The instrumentals provided a variety of styles and sounds and allowed Pusha to highlight his versatility. “Dreamin of the Past” might just be the best song of his career, with a wholehearted performance over an all-time great sample of Donny Hathaway’s “Jealous Guy.” Other tracks like “Let The Smokers Shine The Coupes” and “Call My Bluff” remind listeners of his expertise and greatness with gritty rap over darker beats. Ultimately, this was simply another impressive collection from an all-time great.
Favorite Songs: “Dreamin Of The Past,” “Diet Coke,” “Neck & Wrist,” “Let The Smokers Shine The Coupes,” “I Pray For You”
7. Smino: “Luv 4 Rent”
Of all of the rappers I’ve heard in my lifetime, Smino is easily one of the most vocally gifted. He’s always had an infinite pocket of flows and a massive range of distinct rapping and singing deliveries that he can utilize. There are simply very few rappers all time that can do what he does vocally. Additionally, he has such an innate feel for instrumentals and how to complement them with his performances.
The aesthetics and visuals for this album also excelled, showing execution on an aspect that’s often overlooked by other artists. Every facet of the album’s rollout was nearly flawless and showed Smino’s mastery of the visual element of his artistry. “Luv 4 Rent” captured all of Smino’s talents and provided an extremely smooth and greatly enjoyable listening experience.
Favorite Songs: “No L’s,” “Lee & Lovie,” “90 Proof,” “Pro Freak,” “Blu Billy,” “Defibrillator,” “Settle Down”
6. Saba: “Few Good Things”
Just from the album cover, it’s obvious that “Few Good Things” offers something very different from its predecessor “Care For Me,” Saba’s previous album and a true modern classic hip-hop release. Although a couple of tracks (namely, “Survivor’s Guilt” and “Stop That”) bring some of the same darkness and intensity as “Care For Me,” the album largely ventures into a much lighter sound and establishes a serene soundscape. Saba’s writing is marvelous as always, with songs like “Few Good Things” and “2012” highlighting his world-class penmanship and storytelling ability. Saba’s flows and deliveries are predictably spectacular, reminding listeners of his extraordinary skill set. This album is just a slight tracklist restructuring away from being near the level of “Care For Me.” Nevertheless, it’s still a wonderful piece of art, putting forward truly beautiful and inspiring music from a premier rapper in the world.
Favorite Songs: “2012,” “One Way or Every N**** With a Budget,” “Survivor’s Guilt,” “Few Good Things,” “an Interlude Called Circus,” “Stop That,” “Fearmonger,” “Soldier”
5. Black Thought & Danger Mouse: “Cheat Codes”
The one-producer album is a concept that almost always seems to work magnificently. Especially when that producer is the eclectic and world-renowned veteran Danger Mouse, the results are going to be cohesive and focused. Black Thought — one of hip-hop’s most influential and prolific figures of all time — delivered the greatest album of his solo career with “Cheat Codes.” An all-time great lyricist, his writing is sharp and concentrated from start to finish, never wasting a single bar. This album is a showcase for all hip-hop heads, offering consistently phenomenal sampling and immensely conscious rapping. Everything is constructed sensationally, and the two legends prove that they are a duo that can create amazing work together.
Favorite Songs: “Because,” “Sometimes,” “The Darkest Part,” “Cheat Codes,” “Strangers,” “No Gold Teeth,” “Belize,” “Aquamarine”
4. Denzel Curry: “Melt My Eyez See Your Future”
“Melt My Eyez See Your Future” cemented a legitimate argument for Denzel Curry having the best pre-28-year-old-discography in the history of rap. With five exceptional albums by the age of 27, Denzel is one of the most overlooked and underrated rappers in the world. His newest effort might just be his most versatile and balanced, all while maintaining a masterful cohesiveness. “Walkin,” the album’s lead single and biggest hit, was easily one of the best songs that came out this year across all genres. “Ain’t No Way” brought what might be the best verse of Denzel’s entire career so far; it’s the kind of coming-of-age verse that’s executed so perfectly that its greatness is impossible to deny.
Every single point of the tracklist is a showcase of Denzel’s skillset, with no shortcomings in quality anywhere. Visually and artistically, Denzel’s influences shine. Culturally, the allusions range from spaghetti western films to “Star Wars” to anime to “Kill Bill.” Musically, the album draws on jazz rap, pop rap, trap, southern rap and boom-bap (among others). Denzel successfully integrated many of his key personal and musical inspirations and created what is arguably the magnum opus of his career thus far.
Favorite Songs: “Ain’t No Way,” “Walkin,” “Melt Session #1,” “Sanjuro,” “X-Wing,” “Worst Comes To Worst”
3. Little Simz: “NO THANK YOU”
Little Simz has been a top-tier rapper in the world for a few years, so it’s no surprise to see her newest album being in the top-tier of this year’s releases.
2019’s “Grey Area” and 2021’s “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” (“SIMBI”) were the best albums to come out in their respective years. Not just that, but they are also both two of the best modern hip-hop albums in general, with “SIMBI” going one step further and being one of the best albums of all-time.
Although “No Thank You” lacks the grandiose universe that “SIMBI” painted and the sharpness and excitement of “Grey Area,” it still captures all of the elements that make Little Simz a world-class artist. This album provides crucial continued personal development to the story of an emerging hip-hop legend. All of her frustrations with the music industry are expressed with artistic excellence. There is no weak part of the album in any aspect. “No Thank You” delivers another spectacular, honest and authentic work that serves as a reminder of Little Simz’s legendary talent.
Favorite Songs: “Broken,” “X,” “Gorilla,” “Sideways,” “Silhouette,” “Heart on Fire,” “No Merci,” “Angel”
2. Kendrick Lamar: “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers”
Some music is so beautiful and powerful that it truly elevates the experience of being a human. Throughout his career, Kendrick Lamar has consistently provided his listeners with that gift. Watching an all-time great change the world of music in real time is a privilege.
“Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is one of the most experimental mainstream releases that I have ever heard in hip-hop. In both structure and sound, the album is unique. Complexity and originality can be seen with idiosyncratic production and internal arrangements. It was a critical work for him to deliver, with crucial stories for him to tell for his development as an artist and as a person.
Even in a catalog that contains some of contemporary hip-hop’s most conscious projects, this album stands as Kendrick’s most personal and introspective. Songs like “Father Time” and “Mother I Sober” offer astounding and poetic explorations of self that are beyond rare in the genre, particularly in the stratosphere of the mainstream that Lamar operates in. “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is a masterpiece and a cornerstone addition to one of the most illustrious discographies of all time.
Favorite Songs: “Mother I Sober,” “Father Time,” “Savior,” “The Heart Pt. 5,” “Purple Hearts,” “Auntie Diaries,” “United in Grief,” “We Cry Together,” “Savior – Interlude,” “Count Me Out,” “Mr. Morale,” “N95”
1. JID: “The Forever Story”
“The Forever Story” was a special moment. Everything came together perfectly for JID in the true defining moment of the Atlanta rapper’s career. It’s an album that is simultaneously profound, inspirational, miraculous, adventurous and captivating; its remarkable execution constitutes an unforgettable piece of art and an everlasting imprint on the genre.
JID has emerged as a leading storyteller, rapper and overall artist. Beyond that, his personability and authenticity make it easy to want to support him. There is no skill missing for JID.
Nearly every song on the album deserves its own individual praise that a short paragraph could not possibly contain. However, “2007” warrants special recognition. The originally intended (and later officially added) outro is one of the best rap songs of all time. It feels like an entire album inside of a song, containing so many beat switches, such depth and such proficient storytelling that even a first-time listener could garner a deep appreciation of JID. From front to back, JID delivers the chronological story of how he became the artist and person that he is today. He touches on everything from playing football at Hampton University to how he met J. Cole, who provides the song’s outro in the form of a conversational dialogue establishing Cole’s belief in the potential of JID. The brilliance of the song is hard to even put into words, and it capped off the album with one of the greatest and most fitting outros ever.
Few albums feel like they really cement an artist’s legacy in a genre with such a precise time and place, but this project certainly fits that feel. Everything that I have hoped for from JID over the past decade has finally come to fruition and has been delivered nearly flawlessly. The term “classic” is overused in casual conversation, but this is an appropriate case to use it. “The Forever Story” is a modern classic Southern rap album and should forever be remembered as a legendary project.
Favorite Songs: “2007,” “Crack Sandwich,” “Money,” “Raydar,” “Stars,” “Bruddanem,” “Surround Sound,” “Dance Now,” “Lauder Too,” “Kody Blu 31,” “Just In Time,” “Can’t Punk Me,” “Can’t Make U Change,” “Sistanem,”
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.