Fifty years from now, when gas guzzling cars become extinct and every rapper rhymes with Neuralink, perhaps 2022 should be remembered as the year of the statement album. Grand, well connected, artistic statements crafted by MCs with something to prove to the culture, something to get off their consciousness. To some degree, each of the nine projects below feel birthed out of an environment where a proverbial “now is the moment, seize the day” mantra permeated through the recording studio.
Whether it’s Pusha T pushing the “greatest” conversations or Kendrick Lamar kicking discussions about therapy, JID’s reverberating foray into family politics, or Nas and Hit-Boy dropping their fourth critically acclaimed album in two years; the projects that illuminated the community carried a gravitas in execution that should be celebrated and dissected in the years to come.
So, without further ado, check out the top 9 rap albums, in no particular order, of 2022 below.
Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry
Pusha T’s fourth studio album, It’s Almost Dry, is littered with glorious moments. There’s that point at the very beginning of the Kanye West-produced “Dreamin Of The Past” when the Donny Hathaway sample drops and Push calmly yet emphatically reminds us of the difference between him and everyone else (“There’s levels, there’s layers, so pray for the players”). There’s the moment Pharrell’s resounding drums march in like bass heads on “Call My Bluff,” where the Def Jam MC coolly downshifts into a Slick Rick-inspired storytelling cadence. There’s the moment when “Yesterday’s price is not today’s price” booms through the speakers at the beginning of “Diet Coke,” flawlessly setting the stage for more crack-friendly life lessons. From the perfect balance of Kanye West and Pharrell splitting production duties to the brilliant imagery flowing through seemingly every bar, It’s Almost Dry is an exercise in immaculate taste. This is Pusha T at his absolute best.
Future – I Never Liked You
Future’s ninth studio album, I Never Liked You, often feels like a man basking in his self-branded toxicity. “Hundred b**ches, they calling me Chamberlain,” he kicks on “CHICKENS” featuring EST Gee, absolutely one of this album’s best offerings. “I can hear your tеars when they drop over the phone,” croons Future on “WAIT FOR U” before going full gaslight mode by closing with, “Get mad at yourself ’cause you can’t leave me alone.” Kanye West’s verse on “KEEP IT BURNIN” continues the trend with him rapping, “I’ma buy a home next to your home if I miss you.” I Never Liked You spills the type of toxic conversations that would be polarizing if said in person. Yet, somehow, when coming from Future, all of it sounds effortlessly endearing.
JID – The Forever Story
It’s been four long years since JID’s last full-length release, DiCaprio 2. Judging from the depth and vulnerability in which he tackles an oft-challenging universal topic head-on, it would seem that his time spent during that hiatus was focused on looking inward. The Forever Story is a captivating listen, not only through beats and rhymes but through the detailed depictions of the Route brood. That’s the throughline running throughout The Forever Story: family. Sometimes that theme yields unintentionally hilarious tales like “Crack Sandwich,” where the artist, born Destin Route, describes the blow-by-blow of a brawl that took place after someone hit his sister in the mouth during his older brother’s recruiting visit in New Orleans. JID comes from a family of seven children and let him tell it, the carnage was worth it. “So beautiful, beating **s was like a family thing,” he raps. “Fighting together made us tighter in spite of how we would argue and scream.”
The whole scene is hypervisual, much like the way he colors his “country cousin cruising with the blammer in Savannah at the Florida-Georgia line” on “Dance Now,” or “Bruddanem’s” narration of the unbreakable loyalty shared between brothers, or the intense argument he had over the phone with one of his sisters on “Sistanem.” In life, you can’t pick your family members or co-workers, and familial conflict doesn’t come with a Human Resources Department. Sometimes, it takes time and humility. JID’s decision to beautifully lean into the good, bad, and hilarious aspects of his family life makes The Forever Story the type of project that lingers long after last listen.
Roc Marciano and The Alchemist – The Elephant Man’s Bones
Grimy wordplay, pimped-out storytelling, crime rhymes that verge on side-splitting tales, all over dusty loops and menacing production — in every sense, Roc Marciano and Alchemist’s long-awaited collaboration, The Elephant Man’s Bones, is a rap connoisseur’s dream come true. “This the flow that earned me a Bentley, it came with my own personal Fonzworth Bentley,” Roc hilariously rhymes on “Quantum Leap,” a brooding offering jam-packed with quotables. “Squeeze the Desert Eagle like kegels, only certain people could bend the teaspoon,” he raps seven tracks later on “Zig Zag Zig,” closing the bar with an aptly placed Matrix-reference. Alchemist and Roc Marciano have each been bending the culture to their will over the past decade and change. From Griselda to Action Bronson to Freddie Gibbs, their styles and creations are imprinted across the modern lyrical landscape. In that sense, The Elephant Man’s Bones feels like two roads crossing flawlessly.
Nas and Hit-Boy – King’s Disease III
There’s a moment on “Michael & Quincy” (track four on King’s Disease III) that aptly captures the chemistry between Nas and Hit-Boy. “Like Quincy on the trumpet, Hit-Boy on the drum kit,” rhymes Nas before continuing with, “Nasty like Mike on the vocals, I overdub it.” The rest of the verse plays out through a mean extended metaphor in which he compares himself and Hit-Boy to Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. As lofty as it may seem, this Queens-to-Cali connection has netted four consecutive highly celebrated albums — King’s Disease, King’s Disease II, Magic, and King’s Disease III — in two years. By all measures, they have a great thing going, and their latest offering may be the best of the quartet.
On “Beef,” for example, the rap legend personifies beef in all its forms in vintage Nasir Jones fashion (“All that internet beef, that s**t a virgin to me/I been here before the Bible, it’s murder I speak”). “Thun” and “Once A Man Twice A Child” come replete with gravitas and life lessons tangible enough to connect with the common man. And “First Time” is a celebration of the first time we all heard Nasty Nas. “First time you heard Nas you probably heard somebody say that I pick bad beats,” he says with dry humor and sincerity. Since connecting with Hit-Boy and embarking on an improbable four-peat in his late 40s, “critically acclaimed” is all that’s left to say.
DJ Khaled – GOD DID
DJ Khaled’s 13th studio album, GOD DID, is another example of the superproducer’s ability to captivate through epic collaborations. “BIG TIME” featuring Future and Lil Baby is one of the best offerings this year from two artists who also released solo albums in 2022. “PARTY” featuring Quavo and Takeoff flips Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time” sample into a trapped-out salute to the fallen Migo. The song was created before Takeoff’s passing, but Khaled’s inclusion on GOD DID hits different in retrospect. Then, of course there’s the title track “GOD DID,” which contains two Verse of the Year contenders, as both JAY-Z and Lil Wayne’s verses are magnificent. Conversation around Hov’s contribution was a major touchpoint for the culture in the week’s following the album’s release. Everyone from Twitter Spaces to MSNBC seemed to take a shot at unraveling JAY-Z’s multi-entendre’d stanza. With GOD DID, once again, DJ Khaled compiled a project that captures the zeitgeist.
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
Who knows what most expected to be at the forefront of Kendrick Lamar conversation following his five-year hiatus since DAMN. I mean, what does a man rap about after winning a Pulitzer Prize? In the case of K.Dot, it appears the answer is therapy. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is an ambitious, beautifully anti-pop project that compels the listener to face uncomfortable truths. Recurring devices Eckhart Tolle and the sound of tap dancers hold together a double disc’s worth of reminders that therapy is necessary, and sometimes we can no longer tap dance around our traumas. Where “Father Time” opens a discussion on manhood, “Mother I Sober” addresses addiction and sexual abuse raw and straight, no chaser. “N95”, with its anthemic energy and raucous rhyme schemes, points a finger at tribalism by questioning, “Where the hypocrites at? What community feels they’re the only ones relevant?” From mic to plug, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is an album designed with all of us in mind.
Drake and 21 Savage – Her Loss
In 2022, album rollouts didn’t come more controversial than Drake and 21 Savage’s Her Loss. From the moment the project was available on streaming platforms, online conversation focused on the number of shots Drizzy tossed at his contemporaries. There were the Megan Thee Stallion and Kanye West call-outs on “Circo Loco.” There was the bar on “Middle Of The Ocean,” where he called Serena Williams’ husband a groupie. There was that DRAM line on “BackOutsideBoyz,” where Drake spit, “Tried to bring the drama to me, he ain’t know how we cha-cha slide.” Perhaps the controversy makes the album polarizing, but that’s certainly not Her Loss’ whole story. Tracks like “Spin Bout U” and “Treacherous Twins” highlight the subtle brilliance of Drizzy and 21’s combined stylings, for example. With Certified Lover Boy in 2021, and Honestly, Nevermind and Her Loss in 2022, Drake has delivered a three-album trilogy in two years, flooding the culture with controversy and certified hits at a relentless pace. Her Loss shines a light on the best of both MCs.
Freddie Gibbs – Soul Sold Separately
Freddie Gibbs opens “CIA” (track 14 off his fifth studio album, Soul Sold Separately) with, “I did this album off pages ripped out my diary, confessions and hard lessons, killers confide in me.” Gibbs goes on to point out a number of missteps and losses he’s experienced in his life and career. The time he was banned from Instagram, another time where his ex-girlfriend set him up to get robbed back in 2003, and the shame of making the vaulted XXL Freshman cover as the only artist featured without a record deal, for example. It’s powerfully introspective and captures the range Gibbs flexes on Soul Sold Separately. Where the Kaytranada-produced “Zipper Bagz” leans on Bone Thugs-N-Harmony for its inspiration, “Space Rabbit,” produced by Boi-1da, with its jazzy intonations and wispy blips, provides an unexpected soundbed for the self-proclaimed Skinny Suge Knight. From Pinata to Bandana to Alfredo, we’ve seen Gibbs craft immaculate one-producer projects in recent years. Soul Sold Separately, his Warner Music debut, basks in the best of his previous minimalism — only this time it’s packaged for a wider audience.
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