2021 has been a solid year for Hip Hop so far. This month, fans received new music from Young Thug & YSL, BROCKHAMPTON & 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:
- The Best Hip Hop Songs of 2021 …(so far)
- The Best R&B Songs of 2021 …(so far)
- The Best R&B Albums of 2021 …(so far)
- Catch up on all of the Best Hip Hop Albums of 2020 and see who won our award for Best Hip Hop Album of the year here.
This list includes albums released between December 2, 2020 and May 1, 2021
The Top Hip Hop Albums Of 2021 (December – May)
Contributing writers: Trent Clark, David Brake, Kyle Eustice, Jeremy Hecht, Devon Jefferson, Dana Scott & Josh Svetz.
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 Explanations – Kamaiyah
- 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