2021 has been an exciting year for hip-hop. After the onset of the pandemic reduced the commercial viability of records and touring in 2020, many album release dates were pushed back. But 2021 hasn’t been lacking in both quantity and quality of work released, with many of the genre’s commercial heavyweights – Drake, J. Cole and Kanye West, to name a few – finally returning for share their latest works. Anyone who says hip-hop deteriorates over time clearly hasn’t heard all there is to offer. The creativity, diversity and execution of the past year across styles, sounds and sub-genres was truly something special, and it’s truly amazing to sit down and watch each project put together in retrospect. . My “New Music with Nick” column is already focusing on a handful of the genre’s newest releases as they’re released, but I wanted to compile this ranking to present a comprehensive and final look at the best hip-hop music of 2021. aim is to recap some of the best work that has come out in hip-hop/rap over the past year, with a holistic view and an open ear to absolutely everything the genre has to offer.
10. Topaz Jones: “Don’t tell your mama”
Last year, few artists have composed albums as rich in storytelling, flavor and versatility as Topaz Jones’ “Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma.” Throughout the tracklist, Topaz floats between the sounds of groove, funk, neo-soul, R&B and hard rap with admirable ease. Complemented by an award-winning indie short of the same name, the album is so much more than just a random compilation of songs. Each track is filled with soul and purpose, and everything comes together to highlight the strengths of Topaz’s artistry as both a musician and a creative visionary.
Favorite songs: “Black Tame”, “Sourbelts”, “DOA”, “Gold”, “Amphetamines”
9. Navy Blue: “Resumption of the Navy”
Skateboarder-turned-rapper-producer Sage Elsesser has flourished in hip-hop as “Navy Blue.” He became one of the sharpest lyricists and the best underground producers in a short time. There’s an intangible personal feel to the album that keeps it consistently engaging. “Navy’s Reprise” is a warm and nostalgic collection, and despite the typically soft nature of the sounds, the album is full of passion, soul and hope.
Favorite songs: “The Magnetic Attraction of God”, “Honor Code”, “My Whole Life”, “Light”, “Petty Cash”, “Ritual”
8. slowthai: “TYRON”
The UK continues to make a splash on the international hip-hop scene, and big albums like slowthai’s “TYRON” have firmly established the country’s artists as regular elite record producers. The album follows a unique structure: the first half contains upbeat and hard-hitting tracks, where slowthai addresses trials and tribulations with feelings ranging from fury to chaotic swagger. The second half of the album contains intimate, introspective and moving tracks like “I Tried” and “I Feel Far Away”, showing love, sadness and despair. It is rare to see albums reach such a range and depth of emotions as “TYRON”.
Favorite songs: “I feel far away”, “I tried”, “MAZZA”, “45 SMOKE”, “CANCELLED”,
7. J. Cole: “The off-season”
In 2021 Cole released his best work since 2016’s “4 Your Eyez Only”. Although it was marketed and built as a precursor to “The Fall Off” (J. Cole’s early retirement album and his expected magnum opus), “The Off-Season” brought good music and flashes of depth. It’s rare to see that kind of hunger from rappers so late in their careers. Songs like “Close” and “Punchin’ The Clock” served as a reminder that Cole still remains at the pinnacle of storytelling in rap music. Cole’s delivery and songwriting are as strong throughout this album as they have been at any point in his career.
Favorite songs: “Close”, “The Climb Back”, “Punchin’ The Clock”, “My Life”, “Hunger on Hillside”, “95 South”, “Applying Pressure”
6. Vince Staples: “Vince Staples”
Vince Staples’ self-titled album was the ultimate slow-burn record of summer 2021. Few albums have flowed as smoothly and cohesively as this one. It’s not the most stunning or mind-blowing collection to listen to, but Staples executed it perfectly. Despite the very short duration, the album still benefits from a great depth and a personal touch brought by the narratives in the songs and the sketches. “Vince Staples” was a key addition to the discography of an underrated modern hip-hop great.
Favorite songs: “Are You With This?”, “Sundown Town”, “The Law of Averages”, “Take Trips”
5. Boldy James and the Alchemist: “bo jackson”
“Bo Jackson” might just be the biggest project in Boldy James’ discography, which is saying a lot. The Detroit rapper has been one of the most impressive and prominent figures in the underground scene, churning out plenty of solid projects over the past two years. The production of The Alchemist was incredible, and the chemistry between the rapper and the producer on this record was omnipresent. Gritty street tales and unrelenting authenticity with an effortless artistry made “Bo Jackson” one of the most special albums of the last year.
Favorite songs: “Double Hockey Sticks”, “Diamond Dallas”, “Flight Risk”, “Illegal Search & Seizure”, “Brickmile To Montana”
4. Kanye West: “donda”
Few albums have ever had such breadth and presence in their unfolding. From Kanye literally living inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, to multiple sold-out previews of the collection at stadiums in Chicago and Atlanta, to the constant memes surrounding the forming and creating process. of the album, the internet was consumed for weeks. Despite “Donda’s absolutely sprawling size (at 32 songs and two hours and 11 minutes on the deluxe), there’s surprisingly little filler: almost every track is useful or brings something unique to the record. It’s not perfectly structured or put together, but Kanye has compiled another wonderful collection of music imbued with as much passion and soul as he ever put into his music. Kanye West’s “Donda” era will never be forgotten, as he truly created another phase of larger-than-life extravaganza that will hold a place in the history of modern hip-hop timeline.
Favorite songs: “Hurricane”, “Life of the Party”, “Off The Grid”, “Jesus Lord”, “Jail”, “Praise God”, “Believe What I Say”, “Moon”
3. Maxo Kream: “weight of the world”
“Weight of the World” is one of the most deeply personal, moving and versatile modern trap albums. The production is always impressive, bringing together interesting mixes of trap rhythms, soul samples and variations in instrumentation. There’s a solid technical performance from Maxo, but the most special aspect of the album is the deep, passionate delivery that comes on the deeper cuts. Coping with the loss and pain of struggle, all of the emotions poured into the album were masterfully conveyed. The storytelling across the project is truly a triumph for trap and for hip-hop in general, delving into everything from the struggles of child poverty to criminal influences. Maxo’s latest album is truly standout not just for 2021, but for the past decade of trap music.
Favorite songs: “Mama’s Purse”, “Cee Cee”, “Trips”, “Believe”, “What I Look Like”, “Whole Lotta”, “Greener Knots”, “Don’t Play With Shawty Ass”, “They Say, “”Streets Alone”, “Big Persona”
2. Tyler, the creator: “Call me if you get lost”
The talent and creativity of Tyler, The Creator has invigorated all music over the past decade. “Call Me If You Get Lost” is a tasteful victory lap that finds Tyler at the peak of his rapping and artistry. Tyler is truly a world-maker, each of his last three efforts placing the listener in a wonderful narrative with a deep and complementary soundscape. His new character, the globe-trotting and eclectic Tyler Baudelaire, has no limits either in excellence or in personal and sonic exploration. Despite the impossibly high bar he’s been setting for himself lately, his most recent collection might just be the finest of them all. Tyler is now firmly seated at the pinnacle of hip-hop and has become a generational creative icon.
Favorite songs: “Juggernaut”, “Safari”, “Wusyaname”, “Sweet / I thought you wanted to dance”, “Wilshire”, “Hot Wind Blows”, “Corso”
1. Little Simz: “Sometimes I could be introverted”
“Sometimes I Could Be Introverted” is one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. No brief description could do justice to the excellence of this album; nothing is missing. Little Simz’s latest album, “Grey Area”, is already a modern classic in my eyes, and its ability to top that album is truly remarkable. “SIMBI” has a true cinematic feel and greatness that goes beyond just music, with incredible creative direction in all things album rollout and visuals. I’ve been preaching for years now that Simz is an all-time generational talent, and “SIMBI” has pulled it all together to give this take full credibility. Little Simz has firmly established herself as one of modern hip-hop’s greatest artists with one of the most wonderful records I’ve ever heard.
Favorite songs: “Two Worlds Apart”, “Woman”, “Introverted”, “Miss Understood”, “I See You”, “Rollin Stone”, “I Love You, I Hate You”, “Little Q, Pt. 2” , “Never Make Promises”, “Standing Ovation”, “Point and Kill”, “Fear Nobody”
Editor’s note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, reflections and criticisms.