2021 has been a solid year for Hip Hop so far. This month, fans received new music from Boldy James and Alchemist, Nas, Young Nudy and more.

DX will be narrowing down the endless amount of music released during the course of a year to the essentials, providing readers with a list of the must-listen projects. Also be sure to check out our other lists: 

This list includes albums released between December 2, 2020 and August 28, 2021

Editor’s Note: DONDA will be in consideration for next month’s Best of list. 

The Top Hip Hop Albums Of 2021 (December – September)

Contributing writers: Trent Clark, David Brake, Ben Brutocao, Kyle Eustice, Jeremy Hecht, Devon Jefferson, Dana Scott, Anthony Malone, Kia Turner, Ben Brutocao, Matthew Ritchie & Josh Svetz.

Bo Jackson – Boldy James & Alchemist

Boldy James and The Alchemist have ascended up the ranks of best rapper-producer combination in rap history with their second full-length collaboration. If their previous album, The Price Of Tea In China, was an announcement of Boldy’s prowess and the duo’s untapped potential for greatness, Bo Jackson is their coronation. It’s an entrenchment of the very formula that endeared them to rap fans on the first installment. The Alchemist’s soul-stirring, nostalgia-fueled sample loops exist as a perfect background for Boldy’s deadpan delivery, one that forces the lyrics to become the star of each song, avoiding gimmicky inflections and ad-libs completely. Boldy is a rapper’s rapper, bouncing in and out of tightly woven pockets in Alchemist’s production with expert precision. Each word is enunciated fully, where his stories of street life and redemption refuse to get lost in the flow of the album. 

Consistency is the key for this album. There’s no dip in quality of production or performance from track to track. Standout songs are difficult to choose from, as it simply hinges on preference. Bo Jackson is a masterpiece in both construction and execution, one that solidifies Boldy as an upper echelon talent and adds to the already lengthy résumé of The Alchemist. 

-Matthew Ritchie @mrkwrt

King’s Disease II – Nas

Through 28 summers, the Hip Hop community still stands at attention whenever Nas delivers a new album. But there’s a contingent of his fans who share some longtime skepticism about the New York rap magnate’s questionable ear for production. On King’s Disease II, the sequel to 2020’s Grammy Award-winning predecessor, Nas assures his core audience of gangsta and underground conscious rap purists that his erstwhile Esco and Nasty Nas personas remain intact. The formula from the first installment of the KD series remains the same, embracing the business empire he’s built, while also making himself relatable, using allegories of joy, facing danger, romance (“No Phony Love” featuring The Gap Band’s leading crooner Charlie Wilson) and late 1980s rap nostalgia (“EPMD 2” featuring  EPMD’s Erick Sermon and Parish Smith with Eminem) sprinkled throughout his lyrics. 

Hit-Boy employs beats that draw from pages that made Nas’ hefty boom-bap sample loop-driven debut illmatic into his magnum opus (“Rare,” “Store Run,” “Moments”) and the polished soundscapes of his sophomore effort It Was Written (“Composure”), which exposed Nas as a gifted songwriter. Nas also uses today’s popular Southern trap instrumentals (“40 Side”) and West Coast bass elements (“YKTV” featuring A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and YG) to underscore his ability to hold his own over anything rather than fall back on just rapping in triplet cadences.

One of the high points of KDII is the late 2Pac producer Johnny J-inspired “Death Row East,” which finds Nas opening up for the second time on record about his strife and attempted truce with Tupac Shakur since his 1999 track “We Will Survive,” as well Death Row Records’ New York expansion plan before 2Pac was murdered.

-Dana Scott @iam_danascott

Rich Shooter – Young Nudy

Young Nudy is back with one of his most polished albums yet only a few short months after DR. EV4L. Rich Shooter is a return to formula, dropping much of the horrorcore the Atlanta native has been experimenting with and supplanting it with classic Atlanta trap with a fatalistic twist. Nudy still sees dead bodies, but he’s no longer searching them out.

Rich Shooter is a near perfect encapsulation of what makes Young Nudy effortlessly magnetic. Despite a departure from his Freddy Kreuger career path, Nudy doesn’t waver in his singular approach to rap. His thin voice, dangerous mindset and off-the-wall humor mix well with some of the best beats released this year to create an electrifying experience. He’s a force of nature in the current rap scene, one of the few with the gall to truly make the music he wants. There are no radio concessions and few obligatory A-list features, allowing further exploration of a persona that’s terrifying, hilarious and entirely alluring. Young Nudy has always made music on his own terms and with Rich Shooter, he shows why that’s a good idea. 

-Ben Brutocao @ben_brutocao

GUMBO’! – Pink Siifu

For the Alabama-born hyphenate Pink Siifu, rap should be uncategorized. He achieves his overarching goals of bridging the generational gaps between Xennial mumble, stoner-oriented cloud rap, trap and crunk with Gen-Xer semi-punk diversions, neo-soul and multi-cadenced lyricism in the aural sanctuary of his boundary-challenging album GUMBO’!.

The rapper, producer, dancer and multi-instrumentalist has reached an artistic peak on his third LP, spicing up the 18 tracks to embody its popular Southern food namesake. It features production from The Alchemist, DJ Harrison, MichaelxWhite and Pink Siifu himself. The opening title cut’s Sunday morning church choir feeling of “Gumbo! 4 the Folks, Hold On” and “Scurrrrd” both feature Atlanta’s legendary Dungeon Family spoken word poet Big Rube giving the album’s mission statement by combining some of the tracklist’s song titles (“Got love for older folks, down to the youth/Just let the record play, and let the songs be living proof/Can’t stop the truth”). The latter track has Georgia Anne Muldrow’s sultry serenation, plus “Call The Bro (Tapped In)” and “Fck U Mean/Hold Me Dwn” each sound like Y2K-era Soulquarian jazz. 

The turn-up elements on the project harken back to the psychedelic Parliament-Funkadelic and Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz on “Wayans Bros.” The lead singles “Roscoe!,” “lng hair dnt care” and “Bussin (Cold)” featuring Turich Benjy and Siifu’s family dedications “Smile (with yo Gold),” “Doing Tew Much (In My Mama Name),” “BRAVO!” and “Living Proof (Family)” prove this album should be a delightful addition to everyone’s streaming playlist this year.

-Dana Scott @iam_danascott

America’s Sweetheart 2 – Bear1Boss

Bear1boss’s music is like some video games — it should come with an epilepsy warning. On his latest tape, America’s Sweetheart 2, Bear builds on the momentum previously established on Super Fancy 2. The ATLien is a hybrid combination between I Came From Nothing 3-era Young Thug, Dance Dance Revolution and psilocybin-infused chocolate bars. Like Thugger, his vocals stretch in an ear-ringing falsetto as if his Adam’s Apple could burst with any note. 

Popstar Benny, 14 Golds and Ziti are amongst the few producers crafting Bear’s world. The EDM-inspired beats are vibrant, sugarcoated with Hyperpop flare that could blow out speakers at the Electric Zoo festival. Despite the bubblegum digi-core atmosphere, Bear isn’t shy when it comes to violence. On “In the Party,” Bear gleefully sings, “I still be on gang shit, I bring my Glock up in the party.” A standout is “Blast off!” which features a verse from Tony Shhnow who’s a puff of Moonrocks away from touching the sun. America’s Sweetheart 2 is a glimpse into the future of Atlanta rap, and Bear1boss is the enigmatic host creating moments of musical euphoria.

-Anthony Malone @AnthonyJMalone3

Vince Staples – Vince Staples

Vince Staples’ self-titled album isn’t like much of his past work. It isn’t as exuberant and lively as 2018’s FM!. It’s not synth-driven Los Angeles rap like his debut Hell Can Wait. It’s perhaps most similar to the winding storytelling of Summertime ’06, but with more restraint and a healthy dose of R&B influences. Because of its differences to his artist-defining previous projects, Vince Staples was initially met with apprehension and mild pushback. But as listeners continued to explore the ever-expanding world of the Long Beach rapper’s sixth studio album, they found new sounds and hidden themes running throughout.

Produced in entirety with frequent collaborator Kenny Beats, Vince Staples feels organic, growing with each listen, and morphing to the state of mind of the individual listener. It’s also remarkably sonically diverse while still maintaining a solid foundation. His bars tumble from his mouth on the melodic “TAKE ME HOME” featuring Fousheé, meanwhile catching a screw-faced groove on the album’s closer “MHM.” There aren’t many rappers operating with the consistency as Vince Staples and his latest album is no exception.

-David Brake @davidaaronbrake

The House Is Burning – Isaiah Rashad

The House Is Burning is unlike any Isaiah Rashad project that precedes it, simply because he is a different person shaped by a brand new set of experiences. The trials he underwent following The Sun’s Tirade, dealing with depression and addiction working in concert with the expectations of achieving superstardom, are enough to break any person down to a shell of themselves. The ever-constant battle with these illnesses affects the ways in which we think and act for the rest of our lives, becoming permanent scars, both visible and invisible.

By his own account, this album is a departure from the downtrodden tones of the previous projects, with the same outwardly heartbreaking sounds noticeably missing. Even so, they retain the same Zay flavor, as he displays a thorough grasp of song construction and writing, producing endearing tracks just the same. “Claymore” is a supremely fun standout, with a smooth and syrupy production accompanied by a zany appearance by St. Louis native Smino. Tracks like the single “Headshots (4r Da Locals)” and “Chad” show off his aptitude for hook-making, crafting earworms that sneak into the listener’s minds and stay there for hours. The album is the epitome of easy listening, with Zay becoming a master of mood management.. Despite the upbeat nature of the album, he still sneaks in moments of mortality that remind us many wounds never fully heal.

-Matthew Ritchie @mrkwrt

We’re All Alone In This Together – Dave

Wise beyond his years and filled with unquenchable fury over the sorry state of the world, Dave follows his successful debut “Psychodrama” with a tighter, more cogent project that solidifies the Brixton rapper’s name as one to remember. He’s a first rate wordsmith who is challenging himself, perhaps a bit too hard, to build a masterpiece. We’re All Alone is duly ambitious and important, but the powerful lyrical display greases all parts of this hulking machine.

Dave has a supreme confidence in his artistic abilities, which might have come off pompous or gauche if he wasn’t so undeniably talented. There isn’t the risk of a bad verse, which allows him the freedom to experiment with song structure. When most rappers release a 10 minute, largely a cappella track, the savvy listener will reach for the skip button around minute one. But, when Dave does it with “Heart Attack,” the same listener will play it twice.

-Ben Brutocao @ben_brutocao

Moon Boy – Yung Bleu

HipHopDX rising star Yung Bleu’s debut Moon boy validates all the noise the Alabama rapper/singer has been making among hip hop circles. The album does every genre in Bleu’s repertoire well, from classic southern melodic bangers to heartrending R&B, and Bleu blasts through a manhole from the underground to the forefront of the hybrid rap/soul genre.

Bleu’s attitude on Moon Boy ranges from mournful to egotistical to home-from-war horny, and he proves himself well endowed to elevate any moderately pleasant beat to a full-fledged radio hit. In addition to a commanding lead man, the features are elite, with spotlight stealing performances from John Legend, Jeezy, and more. Armed with an adaptable voice and powerful industry contacts, Bleu brags, threatens, reminisces and flirts himself to the stratosphere.

-Ben Brutocao @ben_brutocao

HOFFA – Dave East & Harry Fraud

Harry Fraud (born Rory Quigley) is similar to a Hip Hop producer version of Robert De Niro playing reputed American Teamster Frank Sheeran in The Irishman. The Brooklyn-based beatsmith and Surf School record label owner seemingly thrives on working outside the limelight  as an underground hitman who always delivers on call for Hip Hop’s top lyricists, primarily from New York. For his third project of 2021 titled Hoffa, one of Harlem’s finest Dave East enlists Fraud’s formulaic array of airy, obscure acoustic guitars and woodwinds, R&B and soul record samples, New York trap and 1980s easy listening jazz brass-tinged production range across 14 tracks. The 40-minute album leaves their respective fan bases’ ears happily bleeding from Fraud’s polished soundscapes, East’s raspy delivery with hardcore lyrics about coming up in a hardknock life.

The album begins with a news report soundbite about the late Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa who vanished at the alleged hands of the Italian Mafia and delves into the appropriately titled “The Disappearance.” Hoffa has several highpoints including its lead single “Diamonds” as well Fraud’s past collaborators including Jim Jones for the funky “Money Or Power,” Benny The Butcher on the somber-toned 90s East Coast boom bap single “Uncle Ric,” French Montana’s Auto-tuned vocals over the melodic keyboard grooves of “Count It Up,” and calming piano bar loops on the Curren$y-assisted “Red Fox Restaurant.”

-Dana Scott @iam_danascott

CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST – Tyler, The Creator

Tyler, The Creator has finally achieved his goal of creating a Gangsta Grillz-inspired album. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, the seventh album released by the subversive artist, has now arrived and is on pace to land in Billboard’s top slot. Hosted by DJ Drama, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is louder and more up-front than IGOR but still tackles inherently personal themes, from cancel culture to Tyler’s thoughts on addressing the Black Lives Matter movement.

Produced in entirety by Tyler (with the exception of an assist from Pharrell Williams on “JUGGERNAUT”), CMIYGL is a return sonically to the artist’s earliest work but now, with a maturity and cohesiveness developed over years of experience. Features are used brilliantly throughout, from 42 Dugg’s fast-paced bars on “LEMONHEAD” to YoungBoy Never Broke Again’s stunning auto-tuned gospel delivery on “WUSYANAME.” Even with exceptional features, Tyler is the star of the show, switching between impassioned crooning and masterful bars without hesitation. CMIYGL is not only in the running for the best album of Tyler’s career but also the best album of the year.

Hall of Fame – Polo G

Polo G has been one of the most formidable Chicago rappers since his 2019 album Die A Legend. Known for spinning tales of tragedy, triumph and surviving the streets into lyrical ballads over stark and dreary production, Polo G again leveled-up on Hall of Fame, his latest full-length album. Succeeding in spite of his traumas, Polo still carries with him the lessons he learned earlier in his life, but now it appears he’s more hopeful, sharing keys to greatness with the next generation.

The album includes features from The Kid LAROI and Lil Durk on the emotional “No Return,” Lil Wayne on “GANG GANG” and a vindictive verse from G Herbo on “Go Part 1.” Netting Polo his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, Hall of Fame is a worthy offering from the sage of Chicago’s North Side. 

Ice Daddy – Gucci Mane

Gucci Mane no longer needs to prove himself. Over his legendary two-decade plus career the Atlanta rap star has released dozens of mixtapes and albums, amassing slews of Billboard placements and plaques alike. There might not be as much at stake compared to a burgeoning artist but on Ice Daddy, Gucci’s hunger has returned. Gucci is as sharp as he’s been in recent memory, giving tastes of his pre-prison self alongside the more polished and melodic sound he’s been cultivating since.

But the album thrives through its eclectic range of features. In recent years, the 1017 Records Boss has shown his affinity for A&R work, signing buzzing rappers Pooh Shiesty and Foogiano, among others, to his label. He continues the curation on Ice Daddy, securing features from the classic (Sir Mix-A-Lot, E-40 and Project Pat) and the younger generation as well (Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Baby and Young Dolph), which seamlessly mesh together over beats from Mike WiLL Made-It, Southside and more. 

The Life Of Pi’erre 5 – Pi’erre Bourne

Pi’erre Bourne is following in the footsteps of Pharrell Williams on The Life Of Pi’erre 5, the fifth and final installment in Bourne’s seminal series. He’s certainly not transitioning away from being a producer, but the time he’s spent honing his craft as a rapper has certainly paid off. Composed of similar production to the South Carolina-born, Atlanta-based artist’s previous work, TLOP5 explores how his life has evolved since his first releases in the mid 2010s.

On TLOP5, Bourne constructs a world of Saturday morning cartoons and lavish computerized instrumentation, which prop up Bourne’s lilting cadence. Traditional song structure is thrown out of the window, instead, replaced by varying formats and jaw-dropping transitions. “HULU,” “42” and “Couch” all stand out as premier tracks, but don’t miss the Lil Uzi Vert-assisted “SossBoy 2” or the angry drums of “40 Clip.”

The Course Of The Inevitable – Lloyd Banks

After two decades of antiquity, classic boom-bap rap is surging back into the mainstream. It’s a forceful wave, one ridden gracefully by Lloyd Banks, back in the public eye after a lengthy sabbatical. On The Course of the Inevitable, Banks delivers a timeless ode to tough wordplay, proving his inactivity isn’t due to declining ability. He’s rapping like he never stopped, with a truly merciless growl only sharpened by the years, dealing with common topics such as money, resilience, tough come ups and how wack everyone else is.

The beats are tough; Banks has punchlines for days and he picks excellent features from some of the fiercest rappers in the game right now. The album pays homage to the best of the gritty 2000s rap genre while incorporating new sounds, invigorating a Banks’ iconic style.

Orange Print – Larry June

Bay Area-born, Atlanta-bred rapper Larry June has quietly become one of the most consistent artists in Hip Hop. He continues the quality control on his latest album Orange Print, a laid-back autobiography packed with stories from his come up and life philosophies. June possesses the ability to make any detail sound chill. It’s like those random Spotify artists who do guided meditation and positive affirmations; at first it doesn’t seem relaxing, but once you find a rhythm with your breathing and get caught in the sound of the waves — eventually the stress melts away. In June’s case, his healthy view on life — and even healthier lifestyle — has a hypnotic effect.

It’s refreshing to hear June rap about sipping on orange juice while reading the newspaper and making long term investments on “Escrows and Orange Juice”. He doesn’t forget his hustle, heading back to the trap on “Still Cooking,” with green juice in hand. June’s conviction for self-improvement and a comfortable lifestyle invites the listener to try and be their best selves. This can be a corny sentiment in the wrong hands, but June makes taking care of yourself and building generational wealth sound as cool as popping bottles in the club.

All The Brilliant Things – Skyzoo

On Skyzoo’s latest effort All The Brilliant Things, he plays tour guide through the Brooklyn that birthed him. Whether touching on gentrification on the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble-featured “Bed-Stay Is Burning” or paying tribute to local landmarks on “St. James Liquors,” the Mello Music Group MC keeps things tastefully complex. The jazz-infused boom-bap production keeps the project sounding fresher than white linens on a country cloth line.

Highlights include hearing Harlem legend Al Skratch (of Ill All Skratch) revisit the chorus from the underground hit “Where My Homiez? (Come Around My Way)” on “A Tour of the Neighborhood.” Then Sky proves he can body trap rap (if he wanted to) on the standout “I Was Supposed to be a Trap Rapper.” There’s something new to uncover with every listen, so if anyone has been refraining from giving Skyzoo his “Bodega Flowers,” this Album of the Year contender makes that decision harder than ever.

Gandhi Loves Children (Deluxe) – Fatboi Sharif & Roper Williams

Coming together again with the help of POW Recordings, Fatboi Sharif and Roper Williams have released the deluxe edition of Gandhi Loves Children, a cavernous and enigmatic journey into the inner machinations of the worlds of the underground rap duo. Sharif boldly approaches ambitious and polarizing themes of capitalism and the state of American living, leaving no holds barred. The distant and gloomy production of Williams leaves plenty of open space for Sharif’s free-form, tumbling stream of consciousness raps.

Williams provides a study foundation of sampled vocals on “Fly Pelican” with New York’s YL, before the sweeping boom bap of “Smithsonian” featuring a spiraling and magical hook from Sharif. Even when not overt, Gandhi Loves Children is inherently haunting as Sharif and Williams attempt to make sense of their strange and twisted postmodern world.

Disco! – MIKE

For years, New York rapper MIKE has been attempting to find some meaning in his mother’s death while also grappling with his familial trauma and issues with depression. But his latest album Disco! is a new step in MIKE’s grieving process — acceptance through introspection. Disco! plays out like a string of open therapy sessions, complete with rants, venting, half worked through ideas and, ultimately, breakthroughs.

“Ghoulish” places MIKE further in his darkness, breathing heavy as he unweaves the traumas of his past. He confesses about his reclusive nature and events that still haunt him on “Babyvillian (in our veins),” only to use the outro as a platform to give thanks to the people who check on him and reinforce his contributions to the world. Every track is a different session offering new insights for MIKE to use on his journey forward, flipping classic soul samples, lounge act piano keys, ambient senses of dread and off-kilter synths to act as backdrops to his musings.

Through all the trials, regressive moments and steps to acceptance, MIKE finds a glimpse of light through his realization of rap giving him purpose. Even though he doesn’t uncover every answer he seeks, for once, MIKE is given a reprieve from the bustling freight train in his mind. And while not perfect, finally, MIKE seems to find a bit of closure on Disco! — despite the lingering questions he accepts may never have an answer. 

Exodus – DMX

JAY-Z may have provided The Blueprint to contemporary East Coast rap, but DMX was the mythical figure whom everyone aspired to be. With vicious bites and even more legendary barks, Dark Man X was a champion of the people, from the streets of Yonkers to the Five Boroughs and beyond. After a career which spanned three decades, Hip Hop lost DMX from complications which stemmed from an accidental overdose. 

DMX’s final gift to the world arrived in the form of Exodus, a posthumous album with an array of features only DMX could have attained. On Exodus, DMX showcases the various, occasionally discordant, elements of his character. From the aggressive “Hood Blues,” featuring Westside Gunn, Benny The Butcher and Conway The Machine, to the introspective and mournful “Hold Me Down” featuring Alicia Keys, the Ruff Ryders rapper leaves nothing unspoken. 

The Off-Season – J. Cole

 The nexus of love and basketball is the premise for J. Cole’s sixth consecutive No. 1 album The Off-Season. For the first time since his Born Sinner album in 2013, The Off-Season is bound to go platinum with features including 21 Savage, Cam’Ron, Lil Baby, 6lack, Cole’s fellow Fayetteville native Morray, Bas and Diddy assisting the Dreamville co-founder across 12 tracks. Cole reflects on his childhood innocence through the present in his own fatherhood, friendships and family relationships lost, and asserting his reign at the top of the rap game.

This album is the crest in Cole’s career narrative arc, left to ponder what’s next. If Cole ultimately retires instead of releasing his long-teased The Fall Off, The Off-Season could be remembered as a stellar production synthesizing J. Cole’s cache of lyrical dexterity and melodic hooks over traditional underground boom bap (“applying pressure,” “punching the clock,” “close,” “the climb back”),  retro-2000s Hip Hop homages (“95 South” and “my life”) and radio-friendly soulful motifs (“left go my hand” “hunger in the hills) and “pride is the devil”).

Super What? – MF DOOM & Czarface

 Czarface (composed of Wu-Tang member Inspectah Deck, Esoteric and 7L) has joined forces with the late MF Doom for their second collaboration. The beats are heavy, perfectly dusty, and well endowed to support eye-popping imagery and a healthy dose of superhero references. The Villain spins his mystic riddles as only he could, in so knowing a voice as to choke up even casual fans.

But, this is not a parting album. There are no tearful odes to the metal-masked master. Like all his projects, the focus is on the raps. All three spit with the efficiency of masters, casually strolling within the Matrix of the beat. It is not the sendoff we wanted, but he always knew what we needed better than we did. Long Live Doom.

Kommunity Service – YG & Mozzy

 The beating heart of “Kommunity Service” is the way California legends YG and Mozzy bounce off each other, amplifying the most interesting aspects of both rappers. In order to not be outdone, they push themselves to the brink of their abilities. YG, after a slew of middling projects, reminds us why 2014 belonged to him. Mozzy, for his part, certainly does not squander the opportunity to branch out to a wider audience, showing his surplus of character and dexterity with a mic. 

It’s brash, at times violent, at others red-lit. The two rappers are joined by an excellent feature cast, all of whom earn their keep. It’s a hot summer in California, and these scorching tracks certainly don’t help.

Imaginary Everything – L’Orange & Namir Blade

 L’Orange has been a key fixture of underground Hip Hop since his career began in the early 2010s. Over his career, the North Carolina producer has worked with Kool Keith, Jeremiah Jae and now Namir Blade, painting vivid sonic landscapes through a unique and nuanced production style. Imaginary Everything, his joint project with Blade is indicative of the producer’s world-building skills, as he intricately combines diverse samples with intricate textures, from bubbling synths to the pitter-patter of his drum work.

Blade, who hails from Nashville, sounds perfectly at home on L’Oranges production for Imaginary Everything. Dexterous flows and clever wordplay are on full display as Blade bounds across the beats. Start to finish, Imaginary Everything is deeply enjoyable, but “Point to Point” with Quelle Chirs and the playful “Corner Store Special” are definitive high points.

Free Dem Boyz – 42 Dugg

 DX Rising Star 42 Dugg is a leading figure in Detroit, one of rap’s hottest cities. He raps with a Michigan cadence, but Dugg strays from the pack, creating music which draws influences from locales such as Atlanta, Miami and Memphis. Free Dem Boyz, the most recent effort from Dugg showcases the growth which Dugg has experienced since his first big look, 2019’s Young And Turnt.

Clear highlights of the project include the Future-assisted “Maybach,” “Alone” with Chicago’s Lil Durk and “4 Da Gang” featuring the unstoppable Roddy Ricch. Dedicated to his friends still currently incarcerated, Free Dem Boyz debuted at #8 on the Billboard 200, a metoric improvement since last year’s Young & Turnt 2. The Dugg stock is only going up.

Pray For Haiti – Mach-Hommy

 Brewed in the same psilocybin-laced soup as the last couple Earl Sweatshirt albums, “Pray for Haiti” is certainly a statement of self-confidence. It is a daunting soundscape, dreamy and slightly off-center. Only truly gifted rappers can ride such unpredictable beats, and Mach-Hommy proves himself over and over.

With the original sounds comes an even more original personality. Hommy reps seemingly the entire world, and brings enough wisdom to win over even the oldest head. This is not the last time you are hearing his name, and if it’s the first, this is a phenomenal entry point.

Slime Language 2 – YSL & Young Thug

The long-teased Slime Language 2 album has finally slid to the masses, with Thugger channeling Travis Scott and taking a backseat to his younger labelmates and fellow superstars. Thugger’s latest release is a glamorous and lavish ride of excess through expensive parties where every guest sports a diamond-encrusted chain that costs more than their fans’ apartments. The guest list is a who’s who of the A-list: Drake, Travis Scott, Gunna, Lil Uzi, Lil Baby, Kid Cudi, Meek Mill and plenty of others touchdown for the festivities, while Thugger also uses their status and his own to help give a platform to his lesser-known labelmates. 

ROAD RUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE – BROCKHAMPTON

As BROCKHAMPTON prepares to ride off into the sunset after a five-year run of major highs and devastating lows, the group of friends connected by a Kanye West subreddit have delivered a new album that continues their affinity for blending Hip Hop and pop. But even if the style of the group remains intact, ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE is a much different album than their previous work. All-American Trash featured a rough and abrasive coloring outside the lines experimentation that would give way to more polish but channel that same youthful chaos on the SATURATION trilogy. While IRIDESCENCE incorporated more melancholic sounds and additional melodic experimentation that would transition into the somber GINGER, ROADRUNNER seems to be more of a refined blending of these styles, showing each member’s matured grasp of their individual skills. The band sounds unshackled and free from expectations, insecurities and a need to build a legacy. For the first time since their meteoric rise, they sound like they’re enjoying what they do, and this confidence makes ROADRUNNER one of their most realized visions to date. 

Michigan Boat Boy – Lil Yachty

The career arc of Lil Boat has been a sprawling journey of old head outrage, Sprite commercials and a chase to remain relevant. Known at one time as the “King Of Teens” and one of the most polarizing rappers of the past decade, the last couple of years have seen Yachty notch some hits but ultimately fail to recapture the carefree magic of the Lil Boat mixtape. However, a simple one-off with Tee Grizzley a few years ago has transformed into a new exciting direction for Yachty that brings back the energy fans were drawn to initially. Michigan Boy Boat is a return to form for Yachty, using his name recognition to push rising Michigan rappers while also fitting into their style, culminating in a sea of depraved punchlines, off-color references and the too-cool-to-care rap style that fits so well whether the rapper is from the D or the A.

A Gangsta’s Pain – Moneybagg Yo

Memphis’s Moneybagg Yo has been on a mission to secure the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart. Federal 3X and 2 Heartless, two of Moneybagg Yo’s first official albums, gave the artist a taste of the charts, but it was Time Served , Yo’s album from last year, that netted him a project in the Top 3. Now, with A Gangsta’s Pain, Moneybagg Yo has succeeded in securing the top album in the country. A Gangsta’s Pain is set in a Memphis-centric world with production from Real Red and YC, not to mention the excellent “Projects” produced by The Neptunes. On A Gangsta’s Pain, Yo demonstrates a new maturity and polished sound that doesn’t sacrifice Yo’s fire-forged bite. Moneybagg Yo also opted for a more spare range of features (including Future, Polo G, and Kaash Paige), which marks a departure from the star-studded Time Served.

The Plugs I Met 2 – Benny The Butcher & Harry Fraud

Benny The Butcher has continued verbally chopping his way toward the top of Hip Hop’s most beloved MCs. His latest project, Plugs I Met 2, offers more of the Griselda and Black Soprano Family capo’s brand of cocaine rap and erudite street sagas alongside revered producer Harry Fraud. The nine-track project is more lean than Benny’s first Plugs I Met project, Tana Talk and Burden Of Proof. The album also features elite guests such as 2 Chainz, French Montana, Fat Joe and Jim Jones. Fraud’s glowing synth chords, subtle drum patterns and soul samples with some traces of occasional cloud rap motifs set up Benny to take flight with his guns blazing. Some highlights include the album opener “When Tony Met Sosa,” “Live By It,” “Overall” and “Survivor’s Remorse.”

1176 – Guapdad 4000 & !llmind

1176, the latest album from Oakland rapper Guapdad 4000 is a drastic shift from 2019’s Dior Deposits. On Dior Deposits and much of his previous music, Guapdad is a flexer, a scammer with a knack for jewelry and expensive clothes. On 1176, the lovable MC emerged as a more mature artist, comfortable with embracing the spotlight and telling his story. 1176 features fewer big-name guests, and the fourteen tracks are produced entirely by !llmind, the East Coast producer known for his work with acts such as Kanye West, J. Cole, Dr. Dre and Drake. Guapdad is more introspective on his latest, rapping about his Fillipino upbringing and his family life over !llmind’s melody-forward, restrained production. On “Chicken Adobo” the “BALI” rapper speaks to making it in America, demonstrating his excellent singing voice, which is delicately paired with airy strings. “Stoop Kid” presents Guapdad at his most introspective, as the young MC raps about his complicated relationship with his father.

Haram – Armand Hammer & The Alchemist

It’s about time that New York rap duo Armand Hammer was brought into the public spotlight. Gritty, raw and fiercely independent, Armand Hammer, which consists of rappers Billy Woods and Elucid, has been a shining beacon for New York’s unapologetic underground scene for years, but Haram, their latest full-length album with The Alchemist will undoubtedly catapult them into new heights. Haram is dark and intense; it stands unwavering like a brutalist soviet building. Harsh and heady, but never pretentious or unwelcoming, Haram expands with each listen. As these new details appear, the listener develops new insights, giving the project an organic and evolving quality. “Roaches Don’t Fly” sounds like it could have come from a dimly lit studio from 1998 Brooklyn, with RZA-esque drums and abrasive samples. Meanwhile, “Falling out the Sky,” which features a top-tier verse from Earl Sweatshirt, is warm and jazz-laden, highlighting the beauty found in these grimy streets.

SoulFly – Rod Wave

Rod Wave set the bar for himself very high with the 2019 release of Ghetto Gospel and its 2020 follow-up Pray 4 Love. Luckily, SoulFly satisfies the expectations of even the most critical fans. Looking back, Ghetto Gospel was a seminal moment in both rap and Wave’s personal career. The album helped usher in a new generation of rap ballads backed by powerhouse vocalists. It also marked Wave’s entrance into rap’s most elite space. SoulFly is less polished than both Ghetto Gospel and Pray 4 Love. It instead allows Wave’s vocals to fill the space, subsequently creating more diversity and bold creative choices than before. At just 22-years-old, Wave is an unlikely choice for championing rap’s most musical subgenre, but one listen to “Gone Till November” will prove that the Florida-born rapper is wise beyond his years.

Dum And Dummer 2 – Young Dolph & Key Glock

Paper Route Empire CEO Young Dolph and his rap star pupil Key Glock have time and time again proven to be one of the most dynamic trap duos thanks to countless past hit singles such as “Major” and “No Sense.” And with their 2019 Dum and Dummer collaborative mixtape, the two Memphis rappers cemented the fiery synergy they exude across 22-tracks. Dum And Dummer 2 builds onto the pre-existing audio infrastructure Young Dolph and Key Glock have constructed over the years with 20 fresh punchline-packed bangers. The project is highlighted by the street anthem singles “Aspen” and “Sleeping With Roaches.” Exuding a flex-heavy, money hungry sentiment, Dum And Dummer 2 is filled with Hellcat burnout-ready heaters perfect for looming summer partying in smoke filled strip clubs and beyond.

Shiesty Season – Pooh Shiesty

Since signing to Gucci Mane’s 1017 Records imprint, Pooh Shiesty has been one of rap’s hottest prospects. “Back In Blood” with Lil Durk proved the hype was warranted. We’ve now entered Shiesty Season, as the Memphis rapper’s debut project finally hit the streets. Over the course of the 17 tracks, the effortless, ice-cold bars and hooks are so catchy they’ll stick with the listener for weeks.

The album is admittedly front-loaded with the most poignant songs such as “Shiesty Season Intro,” “Guard Up” and the BIG30-assisted “Neighbors” appearing near the start. But the quality present in the diverse range of songs far outweighs the long listen. Pooh is playful in his wordplay but unafraid to put an opp in their place. He strays from trends, doesn’t sound much like his mentor nor does he even reflect the popular sounds of contemporary Memphis brought to fruition in recent years by artists such as NLE Choppa and Key Glock. His accent sounds like Tennessee, but he raps in a broader context, taking hints from Chicago, Atlanta and Memphis, blending them into his own signature sound.

The Truth Hurts – Drakeo The Ruler

The first independent rapper to land on HipHopDX’s Best Hip Hop Albums list back-to-back is none other than Stinc Team general Drakeo The Ruler. Following his post-incarceration project We Know The Truth (Deluxe), Drakeo upped the ante yet again and pulled out all the stops for The Truth Hurts album. Amplified by the hype of Drake’s assist on the radio-ready banger “Talk To Me,” the Los Angeles native maintains control of the torrential wave of buzz throughout the 17-tracks that include features from Icewear Vezzo, Pressa, Snap Dogg and more.

And even with the added star power his guest features yield, Drakeo still manages to elevate his Stinc team brethren on tracks like “Dawn Toliver” featuring Cactus Jack rapper Don Toliver and recently deceased rapper Ketchy the Great.

Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album – Various Artists

With polarizing collaborations such as Nipsey Hussle’s posthumous connection with JAY-Z on “What It Feels Like” and the homage-paying link up between reigning 2020 DX Hip Hop Awards Producer Of The Year champion Hit-Boy and Hip Hop vet Nas via “EPMD,” Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired By Album delivers a staggering blow of pure lyricism and superb production — all unified under the premise of portraying the story of Black liberation, lead by one of the most profound Civil Rights leaders of all time.

Comprised of an elite and diverse cast such as A$AP Rocky, Pooh Shiesty, Polo G, G Herbo, Smino, Dom Kennedy and more, this project represents an amplified sonic celebration of Black History Month across all 22-tracks.

The Fraud Department – Jim Jones & Harry Fraud

Diplomats capo Jim Jones has kept his index and middle fingers on the pulse of club goers, conscious and hardcore gangsta rap fans rooted in Hip Hop traditionalism on his eighth studio album The Fraud Department, exclusively produced by Harry Fraud. Jones and the Surf School label honcho showcase their Brooklyn-to-Harlem synergy across a wide range of 1970s soul sample-heavy production with punchy drums and New York City trap motifs.

Guest appearances such as Dave East, French Montana and Maino give solid performances on the 11-track album, along with Jones’s reflective thoughts, accessible and clever wordplay and slightly offbeat cadences. The opening track of The Fraud Department titled “Laps Around The Sun” offers Jones’s politically charged Black Lives Matter-themed messaging, the lead single “Lose Lose” and “Say A Prayer” featuring Curren$y and Jay Worthy singing the hook keep the project’s replay value on high.

Soulful Distance – Devin The Dude

Devin The Dude is proof incredible consistency can keep one relevant as a rapper for as many years as one should decide to open the notebook and let the pen glide. With a career spanning over three decades, Houston’s stoner rap pioneer continues his run unchecked, even amid a pandemic. His new album, Social Distance, sees Devin ruminating over the world’s current circumstances, rap music and his matured view on love in his signature laid-back smooth style.

Over the course of 51 minutes, the 50-year-old everyman MC evokes the image of him sitting in the studio with a blunt in hand, sipping on some Moët as he catches people up on what’s been going on in the life of your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. Whether he’s slinging relationship advice on “A Good Woman” or life guidance alongside fellow southern legends Slim Thug and Scarface on “Live And Let Live,” Devin’s relaxed delivery reigns supreme. Eleven albums later, he’s still cooler than a freshly rolled swisher sweet.

Memory Lane – Shordie Shordie & Murda Beatz

As Shordie Shordie’s anthemic Trippie Redd-featuring rap-ballad “LOVE” remains suspended in air, his Murda Beatz-orchestrated Memory Lane project creeps in with substantial material to boost the “Bitchuary” rap star’s blinding lime light even more.

Seemingly utilizing the release to flex the perfections he’s added to his signature raspy, rapid-fire melodic flow since his 2020 >Music project, Captain Hook backs up his monster “Doctors” single with eardrum smashing hits such as “Same N-ggas” and fire bops such as “Networth.” Intact with 12 songs and music harkening painful invocations, as well as lavish get-money vibs, Memory Lane is repeat-ready.

Man On The Moon III: The Chosen — Kid Cudi

Twelve years after it began, Kid Cudi’s intergalactic saga has come to a close with Man On The Moon 3: The Chosen. On his latest, fans find the godfather of psychedelic rap in a better state than the previous two chapters of the trilogy. Previously, Cudder was a notoriously tortured soul, fighting battles with his demons, armed with hums and groovy rap melodies. But on The Chosen, Cudi seems more in control. His demons are still present, but he handles them with grace instead of despair.

With a familiar producer team from the previous MOTM albums consisting of Dot Da Genius, Plain Pat and Mike Dean, The Chosen is a cohesive extension of the Cleveland-born rapper’s previous work. There’s also some fresh blood and new collaborators, including Finneas from Billie Eilish fame, singer Phoebe Bridgers and producer duo Take A Daytrip. There’s some misses (Pop Smoke sounds wildly out of place on “Show Out”), but it’s overall an excellent end to one of rap’s most iconic storylines.

The Voice — Lil Durk

Nothing makes us happier than seeing Lil Durk succeed in a year where all the odds were stacked against him. He lost his dear friend and frequent collaborator in King Von last November and channeled that pain into The Voice, Durkio’s sixth studio album which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, marking the Chi-town rapper’s third Top 10 project.

One of the more melodic founders of Drill Rap, The Voice is packed full of effortless hooks and catchy melodies. “Stay Down” featuring 6LACK and Young Thug is one of the standout tracks from the project, a moody hit by three artists who work incredibly well together. But The Voice is truly a dedication to Von and Durk shines when memorializing his fallen friend on “Death Ain’t Easy” and other heartbreaking but stunning tracks.

That’s What They All Say — Jack Harlow

If anything, Jack Harlow’s debut album That’s What They All Say proves he’s worthy of the hype and chatter surrounding him. Following his Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping hit “What’s Poppin” remix featuring DaBaby, Lil Wayne and Tory Lanez, the December 2020 release remains steadfast in keeping up with Harlow’s feverish hit-making pace.

With deep cuts such as “Luv Is Dro” featuring the late R&B vocalist Static Major and fellow Kentucky native Bryson Tiller combined with viral hits such as “Tyler Herro” and “Way Out,” the album sounds as diverse as it is lyrically. The most convincing part of all is Harlow’s consistent prowess throughout That’s What They All Say — which is seemingly a master class on the execution of a multi-producer project as it’s laced with production from Scott Storch, Hit-Boy, Boi-1da, Harry Fraud and numerous others.

Proud Of Me Now — Sheff G

Since Canarsie-rapper Pop Smoke’s passing in February of 2019, Brooklyn Drill rap found itself in a precarious position. The roots were strong with Fivio Foreign, 22Gz, Sleepy Hallow and Sheff G, but there were vulturous newcomers aiming to make a quick buck off the hype Pop and the BK Drill founders had started. Artists such as CJ, Quelly Woo and other copycats have swarmed to the scene, scraping together what’s left. That’s why Proud Of Me Know, the latest from Sheff G, is so compelling. It’s a bite-sized and highly focused album that strays away from comparisons to the Big Woo and shows that Sheff has a big, booming voice of his own. The aggressive “No Negotiations” and more introspective “Mistakes” suggests that Sheff might be ready for the crown of the Five Boroughs. 

Song Of Sage: Post Panic! — Navy Blue

It would be easy to label L.A.-based rapper Navy Blue’s latest album Song Of Sage: Post Panic! an extension of Earl Sweatshirt — but that would entail overlooking the vast differences between the two artists. Where Earl leans towards fractured narratives and abstract expression, Navy Blue is more concerned with storytelling, and presenting chronology through a deeply impassioned and personal lens.

Navy Blue self-produced a handful of the orchestral beats on Song Of Sage. Though he also recruited rappers Maxo, billy woods and the legendary Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), Song Of Sage is primarily handled alone, a fitting approach given the intimate subject matter of personal history, self-identity and pride.

Music To Be Murdered By: Side B — Eminem

Say whatever you want about Eminem — the man pushes weight. Nearly a year after Music To Be Murdered By was first released, Em dropped Side B, a deluxe edition featuring 16 new tracks. In typical Slim Shady fashion, Side B arrived without barely any warning and featured new contributions from old friends, including Skylar Grey and Dr. Dre but also some new faces in the Eminem universe such as Ty Dolla $ign. The shock drop spread like wildfire, selling nearly 100,000 units in its opening week and helped to propel the album back to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart. 

Sound Ancestors — Madlib

It’s a rare treat when iconic and often reclusive producer Madlib shares new music. One of the undisputed greatest Hip Hop producers in history, Madlib’s 20-year-plus career has brought the world numerous classics. He has an unrivaled ability to sound wholly new and fresh on each project. He sounds leagues ahead of the times on Lootpack’s debut from 1999 and the same can still be said about Sound Ancestors, which dropped in the final days of January.

It’s a grab-bag of global sounds that’s reminiscent of early Hip Hop DJs. An intricate, plucked guitar on “Latino Negro” sounds as if he’s remixing Rodrigo y Gabriela live, while on “Road Of The Lonely Ones,” he flips a track from late 1960s Motown group The Ethics. One thing’s for certain — Madlib never disappoints. 

OTHER FAVORITE ALBUMS FROM JANUARY 2021

  • A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism – Pharoahe Monch
  • Hereditary – 2nd Generation Wu
  • Petestrumentals 3 – Pete Rock
  • Between Da Protests – KRS-One
  • From King To A God Deluxe – Conway The Machine
  • Longway Sinatra 2 – Peewee Longway & Cassius Jay
  • The Alpha Jerk – KEY! & Tony Seltzer
  • Nightmare Vacation – Rico Nasty
  • No ExplanationsKamaiyah
  • Ain’t Gone Do It/Terms & Conditions – E-40 & Too $hort
  • The Definition of Pain – J. Stone
  • Song Of Sage: Post Panic!

OTHER FAVORITE ALBUMS FROM FEBRUARY 2021

  • Tyron – Slowthai
  • Another Day Another Dollar – Payroll Giovanni & Cardo
  • If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed – Big Ghost LTD & Conway The Machine
  • Collection Agency – Curren$y
  • Duke Nukem– Duke Deuce
  • Piñata (Deluxe) – Freddie Gibbs x Madlib

OTHER FAVORITE ALBUMS FROM MARCH 2021

  • Ronald – 6 Dogs
  • Destined 2 Win – Lil TJay
  • To Kill A Sunrise – Statik Selektah & Kota The Friend

OTHER FAVORITE ALBUMS FROM APRIL 2021

  • KO. – SSGKob
  • La Maquina – Conway The Machine
  • Angelic Hoodrat: Supercut – Kenny Mason
  • From Tha Streets 2 Tha Suites – Snoop Dogg
  • My Parade – ILOVEMAKONNEN
  • OSSH MOB – Black Fortune
  • Bad For Press – Van Buren Records
  • A Cold Day In Hell – Drakeo The Ruler & Ralfy The Plug
  • Street Sermons – Morray
  • Shotttaz 4Eva – MO3