8 Best Rap Albums of January 2022
So much rap music comes out all the time, and especially with frequent surprise releases, it can be hard to keep track of it all. So, as a way to help keep up with all of it, here’s a roundup of the 8 rap albums from January 2022 that stood out to us most. We also probably still missed or haven't spent enough time with some great January rap albums that aren't on this list. What were some of your favorites of last month? Let us know in the comments, and read on for the list (unranked, in no particular order).
Earl Sweatshirt - SICK!
It's been fascinating to watch Earl Sweatshirt continue to evolve in the decade-plus since he released his instant-classic debut mixtape as a 16-year-old. His early fame has allowed him to maintain visibility within rap's mainstream (and remain on a major label) the entire time, but Earl hasn't made music that sounds anything like "mainstream rap" since at least 2013's Doris, and even that album still feels left of the dial. His unique position in the rap world has made him an ambassador for the underground, and he continues to find exciting new artists to collaborate with and new sounds to experiment with. On 2018's excellent Some Rap Songs, Earl helped shine a light on the hazy, psychedelic sounds that NYC artists like Navy Blue, Standing on the Corner, and MIKE had been (and still are) making, while more recently he's developed a collaborative relationship with a darker, murkier NYC duo: Armand Hammer (aka billy woods and ELUCID). Earl appeared on their last two albums, and they appear on "Tabula Rasa" off Earl's new LP SICK!. And just as you could feel the influence of artists like Navy Blue and MIKE on Some Rap Songs, you can hear how Armand Hammer's deceptively subtle sound has impacted SICK!.
Elsewhere on SICK!, there's beats from frequent Earl and Armand Hammer producer The Alchemist, a verse from ZelooperZ of Danny Brown's Bruiser Brigade crew and four songs produced by frequent Bruiser Brigade beatmaker Black Noi$e (Danny Brown of course being another rapper who blurs the line between underground and mainstream, and an Earl collaborator from back in the day), and beats by Navy Blue (as Ancestors), Samiyam, Alexander Spit, and more. From that diverse list alone, you get the sense that you can't pin SICK! down as one specific style or subgenre of rap, and Earl really seems to be fusing all the various influences he's developed over time, not jumping from one sound to the next.
The way Earl channels all of this music through his own is very Bowie-like -- Navy Blue and MIKE and Armand Hammer his Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and Marc Bolan -- and like Bowie, Earl is more than an ambassador for under-appreciated artists; he's also a trail-blazing, visionary artist in his own right too. That comes through constantly on SICK!, which is yet another display of deep, complex, abstract rapping over a well-chosen backdrop of psychedelic beats, and one that sounds nothing like any of Earl's previous projects. Compared to the blurry, mind-bending Some Rap Songs and the following year's Feet of Clay, SICK! is a clearer, more direct rap album, but still more abstract than the music Earl was making on I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside and earlier. He crams so many personal details into these songs, and without a lyric sheet, you're probably not gonna absorb it all on first listen. It's an album that's full of many layers, and though it only clocks in at 24 minutes, it demands a lot of your time and attention if you're hoping to unpack all of it. Earl's not giving you easily digestible, radio-friendly singles; he's inviting you on a journey that's unlike just about anything else the current rap world has to offer. As with his previous albums, the ride is consistently rewarding.
Cordae - From A Bird's Eye View
When Cordae (formerly known as YBN Cordae) stepped away from the YBN crew to make his own mark with his 2019 debut album The Lost Boy, it felt like Cordae was determined to prove himself as an old soul, a classicist, a rapper with bars that hearkened back to the boom bap era and an artist with a vision for capital-A albums, not a Gen Z artist with viral YouTube drops like his former groupmate YBN Nahmir. The Lost Boy is a great album, even if sometimes it sounds like Cordae is trying a little too hard to write a Great Album. Its followup From A Bird's Eye View sounds looser, freer, more confident, and simply better.
Cordae's influences on From A Bird's Eye View still feel easy to pick out -- you can hear shades of Kendrick Lamar (whose "Poetic Justice" is interpolated on the album), Nas (who was originally set to appear on the album), J. Cole, Anderson .Paak -- but even if Cordae is still finding his own voice, he's also getting better and better at knockout punchlines, in-the-pocket bars, memorable hooks, beat selection, and in-depth lyricism. Throughout the album, Cordae proves to be just as effective when he's telling in-depth stories about his youth ("C Carter") or the untimely death of a friend ("Momma's Hood") as he is when he's dishing out one-liners that boast about his fame ("Last night I was texting Jack Dorsey/That's the perks you get for being super dope") and his art ("This ain't rap music, this straight literature") or explaining why he dropped the YBN from his name ("I had no other choice, we ain't own the shit"). He also makes seamless transitions between an array of different styles, from the To Pimp A Butterfly-esque jazz-rap of "Jean-Michel" to the '70s funk revival of "Want From Me" to the minor-key trap of "Today" (ft. Gunna) to the no-nonsense rap of the Hit-Boy-produced "Sinister" (ft. Lil Wayne) to the neo-soul ballad "Chronicles" (ft. H.E.R. and Lil Durk). Cordae also pads the album with features from his forebears, from genuinely great Lil Wayne and Freddie Gibbs verses to a much-too-long Eminem verse, which serve as reminders that Cordae can hold his own next to the artists he looks up to. (There's also a Stevie Wonder contribution, presumably the instrumental at the end of "Champagne Glasses," but having his name on the album at all feels like a power move, no matter how minor the actual feature is.) And for all the sonic comparisons to other rappers that you can make listening to From A Bird's Eye View, perhaps the artist he's most conceptually similar to is J. Cole. Like Cole, what Cordae sometimes lacks in originality he makes up for in hard work. His goal is to reach greatness, and he's dead set on pushing himself as far as he can go to get there.
Babyface Ray - FACE
Babyface Ray had been a staple of the thriving Michigan rap scene for years, and he had a mainstream breakthrough with last year's Unfuckwithable. Now he follows that with new album FACE, and proves that even if he's getting more popular, he's not watering down his sound at all. If anything, FACE feels less pop-friendly than Unfuckwithable, with much of it focused on slow-paced, melancholic production and Ray's in-depth lyricism. Assists from Pusha T, 42 Dugg, G Herbo, Wiz Khalifa, Icewear Vezzo, Yung Lean, and Landstrip Chip help shake things up, but more than anything else, FACE proves that Babyface Ray remains one to watch.
Che Noir - Food For Thought
The cold, hard, gritty sounds of mid '90s NYC rap aren't dead; they just moved upstate. And it's more than just Griselda. Fellow Buffalo rapper Che Noir is helping to lead the movement too, and after putting out three albums in 2020 and having a much quieter 2021, she's now back with a new album, Food For Thought. Featuring other upstate New Yorkers like Ransom, 38 Spesh, and 7xvethegenius (and Brooklyn's likeminded Rome Streetz), the album finds Che and her peers doing what they do best, keeping the focus on classic-style bars and lyricism and doing a lot of justice to their '90s forebears. Che's also a great producer, having helmed about half of Food For Thought's beats herself, and her production is just as loyal to the boom bap era as her words are.
Your Old Droog & Tha God Fahim - Tha Wolf On Wall St 2: The American Dream
Last year, the highly prolific rappers Your Old Droog and Tha God Fahim each released a handful of different projects, including two together, one of which was Tha Wolf On Wall St. We named that one one of our favorite rap albums of 2021, so it's exciting to learn that the pair's latest collab is intended as a sequel to that specific project. Tha Wolf On Wall St 2: The American Dream features beats by Nicholas Craven, Messiah Music, Fortes, and Conductor Williams, and like its predecessor, it's an offering of vintage-style boom bap that rivals the '90s greats it was influenced by. It also feels a little lighter in tone than the first Wolf On Wall St, but with just as much depth in the lyricism and just as effortlessly great.
DJ Muggs & Rigz - Gold
After producing some of the best rap albums of 2021, Cypress Hill's DJ Muggs is back at it again, having produced the new album Gold for rising Rochester rapper Rigz. Guests include Rome Streetz, Meyhem Lauren, Mav, Mooch, and more, and if you liked the classicist rap albums Muggs helmed last year, you'll definitely like this.
AJ Suede & Televangel - Metatron's Cube
Fake Four Inc
Seattle rapper AJ Suede teamed up with produer Televangel (of electronic duo Blue Sky Black Death) for an album released on the trusty underground rap label Fake Four Inc. Televangel stirs up a psychedelic backdrop and AJ Suede rises to the occasion with bars that are as hard-hitting as they are mind-bending. Guest appearances come from Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire, Hemlock Ernst (the rap alter ego of Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring), Squadda B (of Main Attrakionz), PremRock, and Ceschi.
Damedot - The Umbrella Again
Forever Gutta Music/EMPIRE
Damedot's long been a staple of the thriving Michigan rap scene (he was a member of the Team Eastside crew that also included Babyface Ray, Peezy, and others), and as the national interest in this scene increases, Damedot is staying prolific, following up last year's Mafia Lord (Chapter II) with his new 25-song project The Umbrella Again. To quote Alphonse Pierre's review for Pitchfork, Damedot "raps almost exclusively about getting money, expensive fashion, sleeping around, and slinging dope up and down the Midwest, over pounding 808s, ominous piano melodies, and a splash of Motown soul." He's got a loud, brash delivery, and he sounds like he should be on a star even on the songs that don't bother with hooks.
Del The Funky Homosapien & Kool Keith present FNKPMPN - Subatomic
Observe Since '98 - Muerte De Un Salvaje
Gunna - DS4Ever
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