We think this more and more every year, but it's an incredible time to be a rap fan. The genre is so diverse and so full of great music that narrowing down a list of the 30 best rap albums of 2022 was no easy task. Throughout this list, you'll find everything from '90s boom bap revival to futuristic genre-defiers and art-rap auteurs, from Southern trap to West Coast G-Funk, from artists fusing hip hop with jazz to artists fusing hip hop with electronic dance music, from new blood to esteemed veterans, from the US to the UK. Even with all that, we had to leave off dozens of rap albums we love (shoutouts are in order to Rome Streetz, Junglepussy, Latto, Backxwash, Cakes Da Killa, Ka, JID, Yeat, R.A.P. Ferreira, Sampa the Great, Quelle Chris, Westside Gunn, Saba, Smino, Babyface Ray, Defcee, Fly Anakin, EarthGang, EST Gee & 42 Dugg, ShrapKnel, and still plenty of others), and even with a very wide definition of "rap," we left off a few rap-adjacent albums that we thought primarily fell under other genres, like Sudan Archives, Bad Bunny, Shygirl, Mykki Blanco, and 070 Shake, but those are all very worth checking out too. And even having listened to and considered literally hundreds of albums for this list, that's still just the tip of the iceberg and we're sure we've missed some of the year's gems.

Some of the albums on this list also appeared on the main BV list, but most did not. Let us know your faves in the comments and read on for the list...

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    30

    Open Mike Eagle - A Tape Called Component System With The Auto Reverse

    Auto Reverse Records

    Open Mike Eagle's latest project is part solo album, part showcase for his talented friends Video Dave and Still Rift (and likeminded artists like Armand Hammer, R.A.P. Ferreira, Aesop Rock, and Seregenti), and it's the kind of quirky, funny, serious, and endlessly enjoyable rap album that only OME could make. The album title and artwork hearken back to the cassette era, and Mike clearly took musical influence from that era too, with beats and rhyme schemes that keep the dream of the '90s alive, as well as some legendary producers from that era (Diamond D of DITC and Madlib). But even the most nostalgia-inducing moments are filtered through Mike's loud, unique personality and the outlandish inner workings of his brain. At times the album is irreverent, and at others, like on the MF DOOM tribute "For DOOM," it finds Open Mike Eagle at his most sentimental.

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    AJ Suede - Metatron's Cube & Hundred Year Darkness

    Fake Four Inc & Chong Wizard

    Where to start with AJ Suede? The prolific Seattle rapper released four albums this year, all of which are worth checking out. We couldn't settle on just one, so we narrowed it down to the two that stood out to us the most: Metatron's Cube and Hundred Year Darkness, which were both made entirely with a sole producer, Televangel (of Blue Sky Black Death) and Small Professor, respectively. Both producers are great at churning out airy, spacey soundscapes in their own different ways, and AJ sounds great over that kind of backdrop; he's got a calm, steady delivery that keeps you at the edge of your seat when you give it the time it deserves. Both albums are full of clever wordplay and great one-liners (including one we couldn't help but notice about stabbing BrooklynVegans with a Pitchfork), and they've got great guests too. Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire, Hemlock Ernst (aka Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands), Squadda B (of Main Attrakionz), PremRock, and Ceschi are on Metatron's Cube; and Defcee, Fatboi Sharif, and Teller Bank$ all appear on Hundred Year Darkness.

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    Mike Dimes - In Dimes We Trust

    Camp Billy/Encore

    21-year-old San Antonio rapper Mike Dimes cites Joey Bada$$ and A$AP Rocky as core influences, and you can sometimes hear their styles coming through in his Texas drawl, but on top of any surface-level similarities, Mike's place in the world also reminds me of where those guys were at when they were coming up a decade ago. He's got a knack for channelling the classics and updating them for modern times, and he's already got a clear sound of his own that stands out from his influences and peers. And most importantly of all, his sophomore album In Dimes We Trust finds him delivering a batch of songs that hit hard on first listen and leave you coming back for more. It's not everyday you see a new artist coming out with their own style and this much substance as quickly as Mike Dimes has.

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    GloRilla - Anyways, Life's Great...

    CMG/Interscope

    Memphis rapper GloRilla's rise happened gradually and organically; she had independently been releasing singles since 2019 until her video for "F.N.F. (Let's Go)" unexpectedly went viral earlier this year. In just a few months, she was signed to Yo Gotti's CMG label, and had a song with Cardi B. November brought the release of her major label debut, the Anyways, Life's Great... EP with "F.N.F.," the Cardi B collab, and seven other songs, and it proves that the hype is deserved. She loads the EP with the kinds of loud, boisterous, memorable bars that made "F.N.F." so appealing, and she reveals herself to be a compelling lyricist, capable of being tough, funny, and introspective in equal measure.

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    Moor Mother - Jazz Codes

    ANTI-

    Camae Ayewa released two albums this year, and they couldn't be more different. One is an avant-garde dance/rap album released with her duo 700 Bliss (more on that soon), and the other is a fusion of jazz, hip hop, and more called Jazz Codes, released under her Moor Mother moniker. She considers it a companion to last year's fantastic Black Encyclopedia of the Air, but even that album is distinctly different from this one. It's a gorgeous, atmospheric album made with talented jazz musicians, backing soul singers, and a handful of great guest rappers (AKAI SOLO, YUNGMORPHEUS, Fatboi Sharif), and both the lyrics and instrumentals connect the dots between the long histories of Black American music. Jazz, hip hop, soul, funk, and blues are all connected, and whatever barriers do exist between those genres are torn down by Jazz Codes.

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    Pusha T - It's Almost Dry

    G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam

    Pusha T is dreamin' of the past, he tells us via a pitch-shifted sample of the late Donny Hathway's cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," which could double as It's Almost Dry's mission statement. It's an album that proves doing what he's always done best is still working out just fine for Pusha T. He's still telling gripping stories about dealing drugs he doesn't sell anymore, and the album acts as the culmination of the two acts of Pusha T's career so far. It was half produced by Pharrell, whose Neptunes helmed every beat on the classic albums by his former group Clipse, and half-produced by Kanye West, who's helped keep Pusha T invigorated throughout his solo career. Pharrell gives him trunk-rattling, Clipse-like throwbacks on songs like "Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes," and "Dreamin of the Past" isn't the only time Push coaxes Ye's early 2000s soul-sample-infused production out of him. He also reunites with his brother/Clipse partner Malice on closing track "I Pray For You." There are moments that sound more modern ("Scrape It Off" with Lil Uzi Vert and Don Toliver being a key one), but for the most part, It's Almost Dry wins because Pusha T truly doesn't need to fix what ain't broke.

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    Benny the Butcher - Tana Talk 4

    Griselda/EMPIRE

    As far as I can tell, Benny the Butcher released his biggest single yet this year, Tana Talk 4's "Johnny P's Caddy," thanks to the song's J. Cole feature. The song finds Cole embracing the gritty Griselda sound, and hopefully he turned some of his fans onto Benny in the process, because if you listen to the rest of Tana Talk 4, you're treated to one of Benny's most solid projects yet. He doesn't stray from his usual formula -- ominous, boom bap-inspired production and brick-heavy bars that would make Benny's '90s-era forebears shit their pants -- he just continues to hone his craft, and he still has plenty to say. Alongside Cole, Benny ropes in great guest verses from usual suspects like Boldy James, Stove God Cooks, 38 Spesh, and his Griselda partners Conway the Machine and Westside Gunn, and he taps Diddy for a sequel to Biggie's "Ten Crack Commandments" that has no trouble holding a candle to the original.

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    Freddie Gibbs - $oul $old $eparately

    Warner

    After getting dropped by Interscope in the mid 2000s before ever dropping an album, Freddie Gibbs became an indie staple and eventually released a string of critically-adored albums produced by Madlib and The Alchemist, and his organic rise finally landed him another major label deal, with Warner, who released $oul $old $eparately this year. Alchemist and Madlib both appear on the album, but so do a slew of other producers, ranging from modern mainstream staples like DJ Dahi and Boi-1da to electronic wizards like Kaytranada and James Blake to Three 6 Mafia's DJ Paul. "It would’ve been just easy to just do another Alfredo or another Bandana and the critics love the project or whatnot," Freddie told Rolling Stone. "But then everybody would’ve looked at me as a one-trick pony. So I’m glad that I was able to show my versatility on this project." That's exactly what he does; $oul $old $eparately has a little something for everyone, and as its tongue-in-cheek title suggests, Freddie works in some tracks that are a little more radio-friendly than his indie projects, but he's not selling his soul. He's still rapping his ass off, proving to the world that nobody does it like Freddie Gibbs.

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    Megan Thee Stallion - Traumazine

    1051/300

    If you think you've got Megan Thee Stallion pegged from her biggest radio hits alone, think again. As its title suggests, Traumazine finds Megan diving headfirst into her battles with inner demons, as well as the constant sexism and racism and double standards she faces as a Black woman in the public eye, all while rapping with a classicistic finesse that's rare to find in a rapper as pop-friendly as Megan is. It's her most serious album yet, but she still finds time to dish out some good old shit talk ("Budget" ft. Latto), get raunchy as hell ("Ms. Nasty"), contribute to the summer of dance-rap ("Her"), go full-on pop ("Sweetest Pie" with Dua Lipa), and offer up a love letter to her Houston hometown ("Southside Royalty Freestyle," produced by Juicy J and Houston vet Mr. Lee and featuring Sauce Walka and Screwed Up Click members Big Pokey and Lil' Keke). Despite (or in spite of) all of her uphill battles, Megan once again comes out on top, and no fake-ass, snake-ass, backstabbin', hatin'-ass, no-money-gettin'-ass bitches can stop her.

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    Danger Mouse & Black Thought - Cheat Codes

    BMG

    After being talked about for over 15 years, superproducer Danger Mouse and Roots frontman Black Thought finally released their collaborative album. Danger Mouse, who hadn't done a rap album since his classic Beatles/Jay-Z mashup The Grey Album, brings his distinct, crackling, sample-based psychedelic soul to the table, and Black Thought continues the hot streak he's been on since launching his solo career in 2018, reaffirming himself as one of the best rappers on the planet. Black Thought and Danger Mouse are both timeless old souls, and they sound as great together in 2022 as they would have in 2006. Even 30 years into his career, Black Thought still out-raps just about anyone he gets on a track with, but Cheat Codes puts him up against a slew of fellow greats (including Joey Bada$$, A$AP Rocky, Run the Jewels, Conway the Machine, Raekwon, and the late MF DOOM), and everyone rises to the occasion.

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    $ilkmoney - I Don’t Give a Fuck About This Rap Shit, Imma Just Drop Until I Don’t Feel Like It Anymore

    DB$B

    $ilkmoney may be disenchanted with the music industry, but he clearly cares about his music. His latest project finds him dishing out gravelly shout-raps like a young Busta Rhymes over glitchy, psychedelic production that align him with the oddball corners of today's rap underground. In between its hilarious punchlines, sci-fi surrealism, and third-eye-open wordplay, I Don't Give A Fuck About This Rap Shit... finds $ilkmoney showing off a more serious side and commenting on the centuries-long history of racism, class struggles, and the ways in which the music industry hung him out to dry. On both a musical and lyrical level, it's a multi-layered album that seems overwhelming to take in, but still has an immediacy that makes it go down easy.

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    Bandmanrill - Club Godfather

    Pure/1865/Defiant/Warner

    If you're gonna call your first project Club Godfather, you better walk the walk, and Bandmanrill does. Entirely produced by frequent collaborator Mcvertt, the beats hail directly from the Jersey club scene that's been gaining national attention this year, and Bandmanrill tops it off with a delivery that beats much of the New York drill scene at its own game. The thumping beats are as undeniable as any of the stadium-sized stars who co-opted this sound this year, and Bandmanrill arrives so charismatic and full-formed that he already sounds like a star himself.

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    Wiki & Subjxct 5 - Cold Cuts

    Wikset Enterprise

    Wiki's last three projects were each helmed by a single producer, and for this one he teamed up Subjxct 5, a NJ producer who's been on the rise thanks to his fresh, on-point revival of late '90s and early 2000s East Coast hip hop. His beats on Cold Cuts perfectly suit Wiki, a wise-beyond-his-years New York rapper whose music has always been rooted in his hometown's history. Wiki's at the top of his game lyrically, filling the album with stories from his personal life and NYC-specific references, as Subjxct 5's backdrop shifts from hazy jazz pianos to chipmunk soul to the stuttering turn-of-the-millennium rhythms of "Bossed Up Sense" to the triumphant choral samples of "One More Chance." That song features Navy Blue (who produced Wiki's last LP), and Wiki's old pal Slicky is on this album too, but most of the guests are frequent Subjxct 5 collaborators: Papo2oo4, DJ Lucas, Reed, Hunnaloe, Afrikillz, Big Ouee, and YL. Wiki seems just as excited to shine a spotlight on his friends as he is to tell his own story.

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    ELUCID - I Told Bessie

    Backwoodz Studioz

    After two consecutive years of widely-acclaimed albums, Armand Hammer took 2022 off so billy woods could release two solo albums and ELUCID could release one, executive produced by woods and featuring him on four tracks. It's a more personal album for ELUCID, named after and inspired by his grandmother, who he credits with "pouring early ideals of Black consciousness into [him]," and it reminds you how much of a force he is as an individual artist, with his Armand Hammer partner taking a more background role. ELUCID ropes you in right away on opener "Spellling" with one of the year's most enduring hooks ("Just got to heaven and I can't sit down"), and I Told Bessie never lets up from there.

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    700 Bliss - Nothing to Declare

    Hyperdub

    As 700 Bliss, producer DJ Haram and emcee Moor Mother blur the lines between hip hop, underground club music, and the avant-garde. With help from art pop artist Lafawndah, R&B singer Orion Sun, Alli Logout of post-punk band Special Interest, author M Téllez, Palestinian DJ Muqata'a, and NJ club artist Ase Manual, 700 Bliss crafted a noisy head-trip full of dizzying wordplay and both music and lyrics that shine lights on undertold histories and give voices to the oppressed. It's an overwhelming, vigilant album, and it still finds time for flexes and punchy one-liners.

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    MAVI - Laughing So Hard It Hurts

    self-released

    On his most expansive project yet, MAVI branches out from the hazy sounds of his early material and embraces warm, organic jazz-rap. His delivery is stronger and clearer and he gets a little melodic too as he explores the depths of his inner psyche and touches on addiction, deaths of loved ones, and other personal topics. He doesn't entirely shed the abstract lyricism and lo-fi production of his 2019 breakthrough Let the Sun Talk, but it's a much more direct record and it feels like the moment that MAVI fully came into his own, both on a lyrical level and a stylistic one.

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    Little Simz - No Thank You

    Forever Living Originals/AWAL

    After putting out one of the most grand, ambitious rap albums in recent memory with last year's Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, Little Simz tones things down a bit for the more concise No Thank You. It was entirely produced by her frequent collaborator Inflo (who also leads the SAULT collective), and almost every song features another frequent Simz/Inflo collaborator, Cleo Sol, whose soulful singing is a great contrast with Simz's assertive rapping, and an especially great fit on this more atmospheric, melancholic album. No Thank You finds Simz at her most solemn, lamenting the taboo surrounding mental health in the Black community, and airing her grievances about the music industry undervaluing and under-appreciating its artists, particularly artists of color. There's nothing in-your-face like "Boss," nothing sweeping and cinematic like "Introvert," no singalongs like "Selfish"; these are songs that ask for your patience, ask for you to sit down with them and listen to every word. No Thank You has gorgeous production, samples, and backing vocals, but for the most part, Simz doesn't dress her messages up in anything fancy. She has a lot of important stuff to say, and the world would benefit from taking the time to listen to her.

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    Denzel Curry - Melt My Eyez See Your Future

    Loma Vista

    Denzel Curry has spent the last ten years often exploring the loud, weird, abrasive corners of the rap world -- he helped pioneer Soundcloud rap and emo-rap, and his music is aggressive enough to land him a headlining slot on a hardcore punk festival -- but for Melt My Eyez See Your Future, he cools things down a bit. He throws it back to '90s boom bap and fills the record with jazz and soul flourishes, and he tops it off with his most introspective lyrics yet. "I'm not trying to be Zeltron, I'm not trying to be Aquarius Killa. I'm not trying to be Raven Miyagi," he said, referencing his past alter-egos. "I'm not trying to be any of those personalities or any of those people. I'm Denzel. I'm a human being. I have feelings." On Melt, he lets those feelings out like never before.

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    Flo Milli - You Still Here, Ho ?

    RCA

    Flo Mill is still here, and it doesn't look like she's going anywhere soon. She emerged in 2019/2020 with a couple TikTok-viral songs and a catchy "Flo Milli shit!" ad-lib, and now she's proven she can expand her formula into an enduring full-length album. She constantly blurs the line between loud, hard, in-your-face bars and instantly-memorable hooks, and this 17-song album already plays like a greatest hits. Five of its songs actually are widely-known singles, and Flo Milli has such a distinct style that even the non-singles scratch the same itch as her hits on first listen.

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    Bad Boy Chiller Crew - Disrespectful

    House Anxiety

    Having started out making comedy and prank videos, UK trio Bad Boy Chiller Crew have evolved into dance-rap experts. On Disrespectful, they offer up some of the most addictive '90s house/garage revival since the first Disclosure album, and they yell over it with loud, brash shouts that live right up to the album title. It would all seem a little too ridiculous if the album wasn't so damn hard to stay away from.

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    Vince Staples - Ramona Park Broke My Heart

    Blacksmith Recordings/Motown

    Named after the neighborhood in Long Beach where Vince Staples grew up, Ramona Park Broke My Heart wholly embraces the West Coast rap traditions that his hometown and surrounding areas have become world-famous for. He dives deeply into G-Funk (and not just on the song called "DJ Quik"), and he tells personal tales of growing up in Long Beach, losing friends to street violence, and ultimately surviving and getting out but still having love and loyalty to the community that raised him. Vince is lyrically at his best, and he turns even some of his darkest tales into some of his most feel-good songs.

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    Nicholas Craven & Boldy James - Fair Exchange No Robbery

    self-released

    The extremely prolific Detroit rapper Boldy James released four albums this year, and if you listen to just one of them, it should be Fair Exchange No Robbery. The entire thing was produced by Montreal's Nicholas Craven, whose soulful, sample-based backdrop brings this album to life just as much as Boldy's subtly menacing delivery. Boldy does what he does best, but he does it especially well on this album, matching Craven's gorgeous soundscapes with some of his most memorable bars yet.

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    Rico Nasty - Las Ruinas

    Sugar Trap/Atlantic

    On Las Ruinas, Rico Nasty pushes her music further than she ever has before. She gives Beyoncé and Drake's 2022 albums a run for their money with the thumping, infectious house-pop of "One On 5," makes a great Fred again.. track even better with her "Jungle" remix, delivers one of the greatest weirdo-rap songs of the year with "Gotsta Get Paid," beats rap-metal bands at their own game with "Black Punk," goes hyperpop on "Skullflower," and goes emo on "Easy," all while mixing it up between deeply personal songs about mental health battles and some of the funniest punchlines of her career.

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    Earl Sweatshirt - SICK!

    Tan Cressida/Warner

    Earl Sweatshirt was once poised to be on the path to rap superstardom, but he'd rather hang out with experimental underground acts like Armand Hammer and Zeeloperz, who both appear on his latest project Sick! and fit perfectly within Earl's increasingly progressive sonic palette. Sick! is built upon a warped, trippy base crafted by The Alchemist, Navy Blue, Black Noi$e, Samiyam, Earl himself, and a few others, and Earl matches that with dizzying rhymes that avoid easily digestible hooks and defy traditional rap song structure. His words are as daze-inducing as the music itself, coating stories about Earl's personal life and the pandemic in cloudy metaphor. It's an album unlike anything Earl's made in the past, and it pushes the envelope just as much as the innovative non-major label acts that inspire him.

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    Leikeli47 - Shape Up

    Hardcover/RCA

    The conclusion to Leikeli47's Beauty trilogy is also her best album yet. One of the most unique and charismatic rappers around, Leikeli busts out memorable hooks, hilarious punchlines, and hard-earned boasts as she bounces between moods; she can go from fun and lighthearted to serious introspection at the drop of a hat. And in a year where mainstream hip hop has embraced house music and ballroom culture more wholly than it has in a while, credit where it's due to Leikeli47, who's been doing that for years and did it as expertly as ever on Shape Up. Whether she's offering up a pulsating ballroom anthem like "Jay Walk," beating radio-rappers at their own game on "Chitty Bang," or subverting a famous rapper's moniker on "LL Cool J" (that's "ladies love cool jewelry"), Leikeli47 strikes a balance between catchy, innovative, and fun that puts Shape Up in a league of its own.

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    Conway the Machine - God Don't Make Mistakes

    Shady/Interscope

    Conway the Machine's got over a decade of flexes, shit-talk, and knockout punchlines under his belt, but does anybody care that he's stressed? For his long-awaited major label debut, the Griselda rapper offers up his most personal album yet, addressing an array of tragedies and demons without abandoning the gritty, East Coast boom bap-inspired exterior his fans have come to know and love. The album's centerpiece is "Stressed," in which Conway opens up about the death of his baby son, his cousin taking his own life, suffering physical abuse as a child, and dealing with depression and addiction. These feelings and experiences loom large over the rest of the album too; elsewhere on the LP, he discusses suffering a near-fatal shooting and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. His intense storytelling is made even more gripping by his ability to twist words into hardened couplets, and the morose backdrop that The Alchemist, Beat Butcha, Daringer, and other producers crafted for this record. "I'm far from my final chapter," he raps on "Tear Gas," and he sounds hungry enough on this album to live up to the promise (not to mention the multiple other 2022 projects he released since this one dropped in February).

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    billy woods - Aethiopes & Church

    Backwoodz Studioz

    Like he did in 2019, billy woods blessed us with a double-header this year, and two albums in 12 months is perfect for an artist like billy woods, whose music engulfs you more and more the more time you spend with it. And two albums in one year is even more of a treat when each one is so different, as Aethiopes and Church are. Aethiopes finds the NYC underground rap lifer (and Armand Hammer member) teaming up entirely with producer Preservation, who's also a frequent collaborator of Ka. Pres' minimal style makes Aethiopes one of the most tucked-away-sounding billy woods albums yet, one that's most rewarding after close, repeated listens. Five months later, he dropped Church, which reunites him with frequent Armand Hammer producer Messiah Musik, and this one's one of woods' most immediate, accessible albums to date. It's still a billy woods album, so words like "immediate" and "accessible" are all relative, but Church feels the storm after Aethiopes' calm. And on both albums, woods remains a lyricist like few others, weaving together personal tales, eccentric references, and subtle punchlines that could only have come from the mind of billy woods.

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    Roc Marciano & The Alchemist - The Elephant Man's Bones

    ALC/Marci Enterprises/EMPIRE

    For such an elusive artist, Roc Marciano is everywhere. Between his own music, his production work on albums by rising rappers like Stove God Cooks and Flee Lord, and his vast influence, Roc Marci has either directly or indirectly had his fingerprints all over underground hip hop for over a decade. When he puts out his own albums, he rarely misses, but some points are higher than others, and The Elephant Man's Bones is one of those highs. It was entirely produced by The Alchemist, who's also been on a roll lately -- having recently helmed entire albums for Armand Hammer, Freddie Gibbs, Boldy James, Curren$y, and more -- and it marks Roc Marciano's first album entirely produced by one person since 2018's DJ Muggs-assisted Kaos. Marci and Alc are both lifers and true believers in underground, boom bap-inspired rap whether that style of music is trendy at the moment or not, and Alc's glistening keys are the perfect foil to Marci's subtly brutal delivery – not to mention the perfectly-matched features by Boldy, Action Bronson, Ice-T (!), and Marci's underrated frequent collaborator Knowledge The Pirate. This is the kind of album that creeps up on you, and once you're hooked, it opens you up to a whole new world. (For more, try to track down to the two worthy bonus tracks that only appear on the vinyl-only "Pimpire Edition" of the record.)

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    redveil - learn 2 swim

    self-released

    Even in today's vast, musically diverse rap landscape, redveil feels like an anomaly. The unsigned, 18-year-old rapper/producer/pianist from Maryland is an open-minded auteur in the spirit of Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt -- the former of whom was one of his earliest supporters -- and he's also got a shapeshifting delivery that sometimes reminds you of Denzel Curry, who he toured and collaborated with this year. The lush backdrop of his third album learn 2 swim is built off of fragments of jazz compositions, pitch-shifted soul samples, and woozy textures, and redveil seamlessly moves between melodic hooks and confidently rapped verses, revealing more and more intricate details at every turn. Like his aforementioned forebears, redveil makes music that defiantly bucks trends but is too widely appealing to go unnoticed forever. learn 2 swim is one of the year's catchiest, most thoughtful, and most fulfilling rap records, and by the looks of things, redveil is just getting started.

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    Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

    pgLand/TDE/Aftermath/Interscope

    "Kendrick made you think about it, but he is not your savior." Of the many themes on Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, this is one of the most prevalent. Kendrick presents the listener with so much across this 18-song double album -- he opens up about struggles with mental health, lust addiction, and infidelity, he confronts homophobia and transphobia, he explores generational trauma, he makes some controversial remarks about cancel culture -- and he wants you to know that if you try to turn him into your role model, your spokesperson, or your hero, he's going to disappoint you. Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is messy and problematic by design, and it rarely has answers, but it makes you think -- and feel -- a lot. I don't think it's possible to agree with or feel good about everything Kendrick says on this album, but he wants you to know that that's the point. And as far as music that made me think this year, not a single album did that as much as this one did. The album dives into so many topics that are rarely explored this deeply by a chart-topping, arena-headlining superstar, and the lyrics carry so much weight that you almost forget how remarkable the production, arrangements, and songcraft are too. Mr. Morale uses innovative electronics, grand string arrangements and choirs, gorgeous R&B hooks, adrenaline-rush rhythms, weeping pianos, and more to create an ever-changing, genre-defying backdrop that rarely settles into a traditional hip hop production style. Guest appearances are only used to enhance the plot, whether it's Sampha blessing "Father Time" with a shimmering chorus, Portishead's Beth Gibbons punctuating the stream-of-consciousness verses on "Mother I Sober" with her haunting hook, actress Taylour Paige staging a couple's nasty blowout with Kendrick on "We Cry Together," or Summer Walker and Ghostface Killah both bringing vastly different perspectives to the album's messy ode to love, "Purple Hearts." Mr. Morale is a taxing, immersive listen that really needs to be heard from start to finish and can't really just be tossed on in the background, but as towering and overwhelming as it is, it's got bops too. They might take a little longer to reveal themselves than the more immediate singles that Kendrick put out in the past, but the more you listen to Mr. Morale, the more these songs stick with you and pop into your head. It's an album of many, many moods; it can be devastating, thought-provoking, depressing, confusing, off-putting, awe-inspiring, anxiety-inducing, anger-inducing, and hopeful. And as much as Kendrick has made this a challenging, intensive listen, he's also made it a rewarding one.

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