As with every year, 2023 saw the music industry adjust to the wave of new trends that so often dominate the pop culture conversation.
The initial buzz brought about by TikTok artists in the 2020s began to normalize, with major label-backed stars now mainstays on the video-sharing platform; stadium tours and music festivals seemed to multiply like gremlins after a swim, popping up in their droves in both major markets and local communities; and Hip Hop music as a whole lost some ground to country, afrobeats, reggaeton and other genres, yet it still stayed number one thanks to collaborations with some of the world’s biggest international stars.
But that doesn’t mean there was a shortage of top quality Hip Hop albums released this year. Whether it was the return of Travis Scott after the Astroworld tragedy, Killer Mike dropping his first solo album in over a decade, Nas teaming up with Hit-Boy once again, Danny Brown showing what a difference sobriety makes to his musical output, or stellar projects from cult figures such as Larry June, Veeze and NoName, it was quite the year for rap fans.
However, only five can be considered for HipHopDX’s Best Hip Hop Album of 2023. Lauded for a variety of reasons, whether that’s top-notch production, pristine lyricism, detailed storytelling, unimpeachable charisma or seamless cadence and flow, each LP caught the attention of fans and critics alike, standing head and shoulders above everything else released over the past 12 months.
So, without further ado, you can check out the nominees for HipHopDX’s Best Hip Hop Album of 2023 below. You can also review all of our other Hip Hop Award categories and nominees.
Editor’s Note: Selections were restricted to between December 1st, 2022 to December 1st, 2023. Nominees and honorable mentions are listed in alphabetical order.
UPDATE:An earlier version of this article listed King’s Disease III as a nominee instead of Magic 3. We’ve since corrected this error and apologize for the confusion.
BEST HIP HOP ALBUM OF 2023 NOMINATIONS
- Danny Brown – Quaranta
- Killer Mike – MICHAEL
- Metro Boomin – Heroes & Villains
- Nas & Hit-Boy – Magic 3
- Travis Scott – UTOPIA
The Best Hip Hop Album of 2023 is …
Killer Mike – MICHAEL
Killer Mike’s MICHAEL, executive produced by No ID, is an eclectic, heartfelt swirl of majestic soul and songwriting that’s as piercing as it is intimate. Mike explores tragedy and love with a mix of naked sincerity and the types of detail that usually has to be extracted from memory.
As he’s explained in multiple interviews, this isn’t Killer Mike, it’s Michael Render, a human being that’s more than the sum of whichever labels we try to prescribe him. At about 54 minutes, MICHAEL is a dense, but efficient body of thoughts and sounds, one embedded with instrumentation and gospel choirs you’d find in Black churches across the South.
Of course, soundbeds like those are natural for Atlanta rappers of a certain age, but in this case, the dosage is more sizable — Mike’s deliberate move to incorporate the music of his childhood while paying homage to the culture that raised him results in a definitive body of work. Whether the GRAMMYs get it right or not, this is the Rap Album of The Year.
Danny Brown – Quaranta
When his last solo album uknowhatimsayin¿ dropped in 2019, Danny Brown seemed more robust and amiable than ever before in the public eye, but was secretly wallowing in a pit of despair. In a much-welcomed reversal of these belying aesthetics, his latest body of work, Quaranta, offers an enlightened perspective from that same place of struggle he’s clawed his way out of.
The 11-track project is essentially a “best of” taken from 30 to 40 songs recorded during the pandemic, Danny Brown recently told Apple Music 1. Even though his triumphant stint in rehab has afforded him another lifeline, Brown’s only been sober for six months, whereas the concept in question was conceived when he was still trying to cut a deal with his demons. Yet, it sounds like he had already switched gears and was deeply contemplating a sustainable lifestyle long before he acted on it, almost as though his music was ahead of his day-to-day prognostics.
Far beyond the excess of Old and somewhere between the curse of XXX and Atrocity Exhibition resides Quaranta — tired and resigned but, above all, buoyant. The LP is characterized by a mindfulness that Brown usually channels through humor on his podcast and sporadic attempts at stand-up comedy, but his now-somber tone deters from the thrill of probing death while simultaneously trying to circumvent it. Words: Karan Singh
Metro Boomin – Heroes & Villains
Metro Boomin’s universe feels like a Marvel film in that it’s explosive with the biggest names coming together for something that feels vast in scope. That’s the allure of Metro’s projects — the radiant sense of community between the gods of music that binds the collaborations together.
Following 2018’s NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES, Metro calls his superstar friends back once again for Heroes & Villains. The star-studded project flaunts the biggest names in rap and R&B: Future, 21 Savage, Young Thug, Don Toliver, Travis Scott, The Weeknd, Young Nudy, A$AP Rocky and more. Dealing with huge names and high expectations can sometimes crater a project, but Metro’s booming production, and familiarity with these artists turns the album into a odyssean epic. Throughout its 48-minute run time, it proves to be a cinematic experience that enchants and mesmerizes. Words: Anthony Malone
Nas – Magic 3
It’s unfortunate that Hip Hop and longevity don’t have more positive connotations, creating this idea that once you reach a certain age, your rapping skills diminish. Granted, many of the greats don’t go out on top (for every 4:44 there’s a Crown Royal). But Nas, who we’ve been listening to for almost 30 years, has re-written that narrative by releasing both his King’s Disease and Magic series congruently. The pocket he’s in with Hit-Boy is like Killer Mike meets El-P, two spiritually connected souls who become better versions of themselves every time they work on music together. It’s why fans didn’t seem surprised when Nas said he was halfway through his next one on “Abracadabra” from Magic 2, as their spark continues to produce some of Nas’ best material in years.
Magic 3 is the final parting gift for fans, as Nas says goodbye (for now) to this producer-rapper pairing. The album represents a milestone for Nas reaching 50 during 50 years of Hip Hop, an audio journal of his accomplishments, his reflections on surviving life and lessons learned, reveling in Black excellence, and his dedication to the art form by bucking the trends. Words: Eric Diep
Travis Scott – UTOPIA
Following the monumental success of his 2018 album ASTROWORLD, Travis Scott’s UTOPIA was undoubtedly one of the most anticipated projects of the last five years. He first teased the album in 2020 and since then a lot has happened in his world — including the tragic events of his 2021 Astroworld festival. With anticipation continuously building and rumors of the album’s sonic landscape swirling around the internet, it seemed almost impossible for the Houston native’s new music to live up to the hype. But Travis Scott has never been one to simply stick to what seems possible. Continuing his streak of high-quality projects, it’s safe to say he delivered with UTOPIA.
The album features a sonic vibrancy that blends some of Travis’ biggest influences — specifically Kanye West — and his signature autotuned sound to create what can only be described as futuristic elegance. With mentorship from Mike Dean and Rick Rubin on the project, it’s no surprise that the album features some of La Flame’s most polished production yet. From Playboi Carti’s high-pitched vocals on “FEIN” to Justin Vernon’s haunting harmonies on “MY EYES,” every feature adds something unique to the album.
While every project is going to have its fair share of critiques, Travis Scott fans across the board seemed to be in agreeance that even with expectations at an all-time high, their guy didn’t disappoint. Words: Jeremy Hecht
Black Thought & El Michels Affair – GLORIOUS GAME
Coming off the critically acclaimed Cheat Codes — a runner-up for HipHopDX’s Best Hip Hop Album of 2022 award — Tariq Trotter, better known as Black Thought, once again asserts his Zeus-level pen with Glorious Game, a collaborative LP with El Michels Affair (headed by one of his favorite producers, Leon Michels). Playing out as a stage-worthy one-person show, Thought remains endearingly personal throughout the tightly curated 31-minute project, walking listeners through the sights, sounds, smells and sensibilities instilled coming up in the Point Breeze neighborhood of South Philadelphia. Words: Riley Wallace
Earl Sweatshirt & The Alchemist – Voir Dire
In 2019, The Alchemist hinted at a secret collaboration with Earl Sweatshirt uploaded under a different alias on YouTube. Fans scoured the internet looking for fragments of the mythical project to no avail. It was a scavenger hunt without any marquee-leading clues. Voir Dire, which surprise-dropped in August, is the long-awaited full-length offering from Earl and Alc. There’s moments of brilliance across the 11 tracks; Earl’s pen is elegant and intricate, Al’s production delicate and meticulous. Much different in sound and scope to Earl’s previous brooding works, paired with The Alchemist the former Odd Future rapper expands his narrative building and vivid imagery, resulting in an immersive one-way trip into the duo’s world. Words: Anthony Malone
Larry June & The Alchemist – The Great Escape
Larry June’s music paints the picture of a man whose lavish lifestyle and composed attitude take priority over meaningless feuds and stresses. His songs actively campaign for his fans to get richer however they can. Whether that be through smart investments or starting a business, Larry June simply wants you to grow.
Rapping about growth and riches isn’t exclusive to The Great Escape, the first full-length collaboration between June and The Alchemist. The former had always advocated for self-improvement through hard work and intelligent asset management, but his producers of the past relied on typical West Coast tropes. June’s beat selection never held him back, but it never quite amplified his nonchalant voice the way Alc’s beats do on their collaborative album.
Often slow, but never dull, the legendary producer’s instrumentals draw themselves out across the album’s 15 tracks, leaving June and his guests with a wide-open stage to express their ambitions, failures, and lessons. Words: Louis Pavlakos
NoName – Sundial
NoName blends Chicago’s deep-rooted history of poetry and soul-embalmed rap with the polyrhythms of traditionally African instrumentation on her brilliant album Sundial. The catalyst to the project’s themes comes through Saba, Ben Nartey and AJ Halls’ collaborative production, bouncing rimshots on every off-beat, keeping pace with NoName’s slick boom-bap.
The skit “toxic” showcases a feminine-masculine mismatch in the understanding of love. The speaker emphasizes that love is commitment, and NoName expresses that same frustration with “toxic” love from people whose company she wouldn’t even prefer to her own. The yearning is paradoxical and so are NoName’s lovers, having babies with other women even though they had never shown maturity since the beginning.
On Sundial, NoName flaunts a lyrical and spiritual masterclass, while also embracing her vulnerability and silencing anyone who doubted her. Words: Nina Hernandez
Veeze – Ganger
Though it should be considered a musical aggregate of Detroit’s rap scene, the mixing on Ganger is far ahead of its time within the realm of Hip Hop. Where more experimental, electronic-leaning acts change the mixing of vocals and instruments to distort their sound to become hardly recognizable, Veeze and his team of producers, including Ddot, Pooh Beats, and Bass Kid, toy with the idea of a slight change.
The album’s mixes periodically boost Veeze’s voice to be just a few decibels too high or too low, leaving his mumbles either subdued by the instrumental or overpowered by it. The result is a sound collage, where each element in each song feels repurposed under the direction of Veeze. On songs like, “WHOda1” and “Weekend,” the augmented volume of Veeze’s voice reflects a warm amity, whether it be whispering roasts into your ear or shedding his vulnerabilities a bit too close to the mic. Words: Yousef Srour
Check out our previous Hip Hop Albumaward winners.
Artwork and Graphic Design by JR Martinez.