Our 2022 Annual Report continues with our Top 15 Rap Albums list. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2022. You can find it all in one place here.
By its very nature, hip-hop is constantly shifting, with new trends and subgenres bubbling up seemingly every week. Now more than ever, a rapper can pop off with a viral hit at any moment, whether it’s off the back of a TikTok trend or emerging at the forefront of a local scene. Either way, eventually the real test is being able to put out an album that resonates with fans.
This can mean either dropping an undeniable string of hits or putting together a strong body of work weaving together lyrical themes, production, and sequencing in a cohesive manner. But none of that really matters unless there’s something special about the artist in the first place, whether it’s their charisma, vulnerability, pen game, flow, or all of the above.
That’s what all the albums on this list have in common — each one has a specific vision and purpose. In a time when the music industry would have everyone believe streaming numbers and playlist placement matter more than artistry, that commitment won’t necessarily be appreciated by anyone but the real fans.
But that’s why we put together this list together in the first place. Algorithms aside, we identified which projects made enough impact for us to revisit them time and time again — beyond whether they were capital “i” important or by our favorite rappers.
Here are the best rap albums released in 2022, many of which we’ll keep listening to well into the new year and beyond.
— Eddie Fu
New Music Editor
15. Flo Milli – You Still Here Ho ?
With early hits like “Beef FloMix” and “In the Party,” Flo Milli quickly cemented herself in the canon of fan cams and TikTok dance crazes. But on her official debut album, You Still Here, Ho ?, the Alabama rapper proves her playful wit and effortless flows aren’t just bait for an algorithm; the record’s title alone seems to suggest we’re all living in her world, and it’s best if we stay out of her way.
Of course, there’s no shortage of classic Flo Milli hot-girl anthems here: When she proclaims “feelin’ myself, I’m conceited!” over rattling 808 beats, you can almost hear her smile through her bars, but she also isn’t afraid to tone things down, like on the contemplative love song “Tilted Halo.” Her perky voice contrasts the industrial flourishes of “No Steppa” that seem to nod to the late SOPHIE. Across the entire album, Flo Milli’s charming feminine energy yields a 2000s-esque sheen — like she’s scribbling her verses down with Cher Horowitz’s fluffy-ended pen. — Abby Jones
14. Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart
A companion piece to muted self-titled effort Vince Staples released in 2021, Ramona Park Broke My Heart brings livelier production hearkening back to his Summertime ’06 days. Seven years later, the Long Beach rapper is no longer closely tied to the neighborhood after which it’s named, but the nostalgia remains strong. Staples digs deep into his past and present, fully tearing down the wall guarding his innermost thoughts. — E.F.
13. LUCI – Juvenilia
At just 26 minutes in runtime, you might think that LUCI’s Juvenilia doesn’t have the capacity to make a significant mark. But anyone who’s made it through the project knows that the multi-faceted artist’s creative production choices and unique vocal presence burrow deep into your brain. Call it whatever you want, but if you say it’s boring, tracks like “Ash & Dust” and “Gnarly” would like a word. — Jonah Krueger
12. Nas – King’s Disease 3
King’s Disease III caps the best run of Nas’ legendary career. It’s the crowning achievement for his collaborative series with Hit-Boy, and proof positive he’s possibly the greatest of all time. Unlike KD and KD II, this is Nas dolo over Hit-Boy beats, reflecting on a life well-lived and providing insight into how his present illuminates his past.
Hit-Boy modernizes Nas’ sound while never forcing him into boxes in which he doesn’t fit. The producer samples soul and jazz records while building his own compositions that fit Nas’ voice like a glove, and even throws in a snippet of The Five Heartbeats on “Legit,” the album’s true earworm. Nas dropped God’s Son two decades ago amid questions about his career’s direction. 20 years later, consider those questions emphatically answered. — Marcus Shorter
11. Danger Mouse & Black Thought – Cheat Codes
To absolutely no one’s surprise, when two top-tier artists decide to collaborate for an album’s worth of tracks, the final product comes out pretty damn good. Yes, Black Thought is still a Top 5 MC, and yes, Danger Mouse remains a premier beatmaker despite his break from the genre. Even still, “pretty damn good” undersells Cheat Codes, as it’s ultimately a project that exceeds the already high expectations set by its premise. — J.K.