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.
Struggling to find a list of the Hip Hop Albums that have been shifting the culture? Take a look at our lists for Rap and R&B to get a complete survey of the projects that are dictating the conversation around Hip Hop culture.
Need some new songs to throw in the rotation but Spotify and user-created playlists are way too long? We kept it simple and added only the best of the best songs from each month to make sure you get the songs you need without a hassle. Peep the lists below.
Looking for some up-and-coming rappers and underground gems? We’ve done the work for you and highlighted the short EPs, mixtapes and projects to check out if you’re tired of the mainstream album cycle.
Editor’s note: Albums from this list were released between January 1, 2023 – December 30, 2023.
Pink Friday 2 – Nicki Minaj
Teased initially in 2020, Pink Friday 2 comes in the fourth quarter of 2023 after Minaj spent most of the year reinstating her dominance through guest appearances. Her most successful collabs in 2023 are remixes to Ice Spice’s “Princess Diana” and Sexyy Red’s “Pound Town,” while other collabs with Lil Uzi Vert (“Endless Fashion”), Young Thug (“Money”), and YoungBoy Never Broke Again (“WTF”) kept her name in the conversation. Pink Friday 2 is a risk-free Nicki album, taking safe bets to meet the expectations of her fans. By doing so, she continues extending her reach as a global force, further straddling the line between Hip Hop and pop through refined Barbie aesthetics and more mature reflections. Coming off the divisive mixed reception of Queen, Pink Friday 2 is a return to form, maxing out her sonic abilities in Hip Hop, R&B, pop, and dancehall.
Quaranta – Danny Brown
The 11-part tracklist is essentially a “best of” taken from 30 to 40 songs recorded over the pandemic, he 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.
Welcome 2 Collegrove – Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz
The years-in-the-making Welcome 2 Collegrove marks the second collaborative project by these longtime colleagues and close friends. The pair released Collegrove in 2016, an album overshadowed by Wayne’s label troubles and effectively a 2 Chainz solo effort with a handful of Lil Wayne features tacked on for good measure. The sequel might not see the duo vibing like Ghost and Rae on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, but their chemistry is evident, born out of a real kinship that authentically translates on wax. The album largely succeeds off the natural chemistry of its co-creators and the wide range of instrumentals that touch on several regional rap styles that both rappers learned to conquer during their decades-long careers. But the mayors of Collegrove keep it in the parking lot, displaying a flair and attitude endemic to rappers from south of the Mason–Dixon line.
The Night Shift – Larry June & Cardo
On The Night Shift, June’s second album this year with a legendary producer (in April, he released The Great Escape with The Alchemist), he adds just enough new wrinkles to keep his sound interesting. There were no sharp left turns; June still raps about women, biking, and smoothies (even interpolating the opening two bars from his own 2019 song “Tracy, CA” on “Stickin’ and Movin’”), but with some extra monetary flourishes. If you don’t believe his tried-and-true formula of rapp works, The Night Shift is a testament to the contrary; since 2019, the old school Beamers have become McLarens, the limos have become private jets, and the Kenzo sweaters have become Celine pants.Larry June is at his best when he sticks to his reliable recipe, compounding a few new concepts with each successive project. The Night Shift is June continuing his growth and evolution as an artist, however incremental it may be.
Burning Desire – MIKE
Since releasing his 2017 breakthrough May God Bless Your Hustle, MIKE has been on a prolific run. His catalogue has continued to expand and improve annually, with high-quality projects released consistently and MIKE himself appearing sharper with each outing. Running concurrently with that artistic growth, he seems to be settling into his role as an elder statesman in New York hip-hop’s underground. After being a mainstay in the community for years, the now 25-year-old has solidified himself as a figurehead in the scene – and with his latest LP, it seems he is acutely aware of just where he stands. With Burning Desire, MIKE brings forth his most self-assured work to date. The project is a no-holds-barred effort, existing as a lyrically dense, texturally diverse and unapologetically singular experience.
We Buy Diabetic Test Strips – Armand Hammer
When society collapses, Armand Hammer (ELUCID & billy woods) rises from the rubble and destruction. We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is the new album from the Brooklyn-based duo, following up 2020’s Alchemist-produced Haram, and it’s a work that contests the current times, unafraid to break old caricatures into new ones. As people, we are governed by technology, dictated by our cell phones and AI that’s integrated into daily life. Armand Hammer understands the everyday struggle, the limitations of mortality, and individual powerlessness. We Buy Diabetic Test Strips challenges the status quo, taking aim at new rappers, the diminishing economy, and the diminishing of black leadership in the United States. billy woods and ELUCID may not have the solution for society’s problems, but they recognize that the system is broken.
Another Triumph Of Ghetto Engineering – Open Mike Eagle
Open Mike Eagle has always taken a grandiose approach to his rap music. From 2010’s Unapologetic Art Rap to 2016’s Hella Personal Film Festival and 2017’s opus Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, the Chicago-bred, LA-based underground broke superhero has often organized his work around a key theme or principle. His latest project, another triumph of ghetto engineering, is perhaps his finest work to date, or at least sets the stage for an epic debate amongst indie rap fans everywhere. This album has an explicit theme—the hard, often unrewarded work of Black artists everywhere—and one that bubbles beneath the surface and gives the album its brilliant thrust. Namely, this is a celebration of rap, of its beauty and brokenness, of those at the top of the game and those gone too soon to ever reach a peak. This is an album of triumphs and toils, of all that the game has given Mike and the ways in which it has fallen short for him. Mike is probably your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, but more importantly, he’s your favorite rapper’s biggest rap fan.
Sundial – NoName
Noname blends Chicago’s deep-rooted history of poetry and soul-embalmed rap with the polyrhythms of traditionally African instrumentation n her brilliant new album Sundial. The catalyst to this is present here in Saba, Ben Nartey and AJ Halls’ collaboration in the production, bouncing rimshots on every off-beat, keeping pace with Noname’s slick boom-bap. In its introductory 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. With the album, Noname flaunts a lyrical and spiritual masterclass, while also embracing her vulnerability and silencing anyone who doubted her.
The Patience – Mick Jenkins
On The Patience, Jenkins’ familiar laidback cool is replaced with an anxious, angry bite. Jenkins is pissed – at the industry, fugazis (“Pasta”), money-grubbing peers (“Guapanese”), and his lack of recognition. A feeling of frustrated stasis is palpable throughout Jenkins’ excellent new album, which he mostly recorded while waiting out his CMG contract. His expression on the cover says it all: these songs were crafted during a period of deep frustration, when waiting began to feel like prison, when all he wanted was full control over his artistry. This project is a career reset – years of being a mainstay in underground circles and garnering acclaim from critics has still left Jenkins feeling overlooked. He’s ready to take his craft to a higher level. The Patience is a rewarding opening chapter, a satisfying burst of fresh air after a period of holding his breath. What comes next for Jenkins is unknown – but hopefully fans won’t have to wait too long to find out. He closes the album with a promise: “I’m just now stepping into what I feel like is full agency over my creativity, my artistry, my business, and even myself as a man.” And with this new album, he makes great strides to return to form when he was once considered the next great Chicago rapper.
Signature – Joell Ortiz & L’Orange
Between his multisyllabic rhyme schemes, agility and penchant for piling writerly details, rapping has never been a problem for Joell Ortiz — and it wasn’t on his mostly solid 2021 album, Autograph. There, his raps were generally sharp, with the project’s main issues being indistinct production and spurts of formulaic song tropes that occasionally halted its momentum. Those issues are almost entirely erased on Signature, a reimagining courtesy of soul production maestro, L’Orange. This time, Ortiz and L’Orange cut trite mid-2000s sounds and a few generic songs for a tighter, more emotionally intense offering. As sharp as it is tidy, the Autograph remix edition is an exercise in efficiency and sonic imagination, with the latter being a courtesy of a production dynamo who keeps it anything but stale. In the end, L’Orange left his mark on Signature by penning his own, making this version of Autograph a lot more legible.
Summer’s Mine – Babyface Ray
2022 was the year that Babyface Ray made his mostly seamless transition from a regional rap star in Detroit to an international star with critical acclaim and mainstream appeal. The beautiful part is that he didn’t need to stray far from his signature sound to do so. His latest offering, Summer’s Mine, is a return to form after a slight meander off the path with his second project of last year, MOB. Now, as one of the biggest names in the Motor City’s booming hip-hop scene, Babyface Ray is continuing to put his city on his back with a continuous, effortless knack for unapologetic flexes, nervous flows, and introspective reflections. On Summer’s Mine, all of these characteristics combine for a masterful, all-encompassing body of work that finds Ray claiming the summer for the second year in a row – and succeeding.
Ganger – Veeze
Though it should be considered a musical aggregate of Detroit’s rap scene, Ganger’s mixing 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 mixing on Ganger periodically boosts 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.
Michael – Killer Mike
The moniker Killer Mike conjures a lengthy list of descriptors: searing truth-teller, 2nd Amendment advocate, activist, MC. His new LP, Micheal, Executive-produced by No I.D., is an eclectic, heartfelt swirl of majestic soul and songwriting that’s as piercing as it is intimate. For this one, 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.
Hood Hottest Princess – Sexxy Red
If Detroit has become the de facto center of the universe for a new generation of street rappers with a penchant for deadpan punchlines and copious punch-ins, then Memphis is something of a sister city. Led by the producer triumvirate of Tay Keith, Hitkidd, and Juicy J, the city’s resurgent scene has expanded far beyond Tennessee’s borders to cultivate a new lineage of raunchy, inescapable club-rap anthems. St. Louis’ Sexyy Red is the latest emcee to flip Three 6 Mafia’s tried and true formula into a contender for Song of the Summer: Her horny-as-hell breakout single “Pound Town” is a graphic, often hilarious celebration of casual sex that’s guaranteed to be a floor-filler for months to come. Though it can be tough to follow up bottled lightning with a full-length project, Sexyy Red’s sophomore mixtape Hood Hottest Princess manages to succeed by sticking to her strengths. Light on features and capped at a lean 30 minutes, the release is packed back to front with hard-hitting nu-crunk energy and pornographic quotables—exactly the kind of material anyone pressing play is looking for.
MAPS – billy woods & Kenny Segal
billy woods describes Maps, his exceptional new album and second collaboration with producer Kenny Segal, as a “post-pandemic” record, an interesting shift from the quarantine-album narrative that dominated the past couple of years. And Maps is exactly that, chronicling woods’ return to touring as the general population hesitantly removed their masks and walked back inside. He wrote a lot of the record on the road, documenting the mundanities and curiosities of life as a touring artist, especially one with a larger, more international audience than before. “Soundcheck” describes his need to escape the tedium of its titular activity, opting instead to find the nearest Szechuan restaurant. He fights jet lag on “Bad Dreams Are Only Dreams” and smokes weed in a hotel room during “Facetime,” listening to festivalgoers chase oblivion after a Playboi Carti set.
GLORIOUS GAME – Black Thought & El Michels Affair
Coming off the critically acclaimed Cheat Codes — a runner-up for the DX 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 fave producers, Leon Michels). Playing out as a stage-worthy one-person show, Thought remains endearingly personal throughout the tightly curated 31-minute project, walking us through the sights, sounds, smells and sensibilities instilled coming up in the Point Breeze neighborhood of South Philadelphia.
GENERATIONAL CURSE – ICECOLDBISHOP
GENERATIONAL CURSE is a unique project from performance to production, especially regarding debuts in 2023. The music sounds fresh; it’s layered and anchored by its willingness to be heard. While Icecoldbishop adds plenty of social commentary throughout the songs, it never feels corny or shoved down your throat. Bishop’s storytelling is exceptional, learning from generations of west coast emcees who created the blueprint. GENERATIONAL CURSE excites the future, and for Bishop, the future couldn’t be brighter.
Mind Of A Saint – Skyzoo
Fully thematic albums can be a mixed bag. If an artist’s concept is too complicated or obscure, listeners will lose interest. Conversely, if it’s too loose, artists open themselves up to criticism for poor execution. Brooklyn MC and ATL restaurant owner Skyzoo’s latest release, The Mind Of A Saint: A Soliloquy by Skyzoo, is a master class in pulling off a conceptual album without breaking character or losing steam (no easy feat). The album is told from the point of view of drug kingpin Franklin Saint, a character in Snowfall, a drama co-created by the late John Singleton, set in 1980s Los Angeles at the start of the crack cocaine epidemic. Throughout the 10-song affair, Skyzoo’s penchant for crafting lyrically rich, rewind-worthy Hip Hop loaded with easter eggs shines as brightly as ever, with an almost mind-boggling level of attention to detail. Whether it’s telling the engineer that he’s not used to the studio as he’s from a “different life” on the song “100 to One” or describing Franklin telling his friend Leon about working on an album on the intro to “Brick by Brick” (“Yo Saint, I know you’re going to get all poetic”), he fully commits to his character.
Indiana Jones – Boldy James & RichGains
Just a few weeks after it was reported that rapper Boldy James had been in a car accident in the Detroit area that left him with broken vertebrae in his neck and other injuries, the MC (who has since moved to a rehab center) released a sobering collaborative project with Rich Gains, Indiana Jones. Boldy’s non-assuming delivery and melancholy aura seem almost elastic when applied to the sonic signatures of different producers—which makes, for example, his Nicholas Craven-helmed Fair Exchange No Robbery sound so different from his work with Futurewave (Mr. Ten08), Alchemist or Real Bad Man. In this case, Rich Gains, half of the production duo Blended Babies (with partner JP), has given the Detroit MC an eclectic vibe that pushes him in ambitious new directions. As a result, Boldy delivers incredibly intriguing tracks balanced against some of his bleakest bars in recent memory.