In 2022 we saw rappers who broke out in their teens come into their own and deliver their most poised projects yet. Top Dawg Entertainment dropped not one but two major blockbuster albums with SZA and Kendrick Lamar (Ab-Soul too, but he didn’t make this list). Longtime producers like Kenny Beats and Lil Silva decided to let themselves headline their own solo albums.
Today we’re thrilled to share a breakdown of the hip-hop and R&B albums we enjoyed the most this year. From the confident return of Pusha T to the ethereal croons of FKA twigs, check out our list below to make sure you didn’t miss any of the top projects of 2022. Enjoy!
20. Logic – Vinyl Days
Since his short-lived retirement from music, Logic has been tearing up the hip-hop world. He’s always demonstrated a supernatural ability to create music, and his seventh career album, Vinyl Days, is no exception. The whopping 30-track project sees the Maryland rapper hopping back in the ring. As the title suggests, Vinyl Days explores a more old-school production palette filled to the brim with classic samples and tasty beats. There’s a slew of star-studded talent throughout the album, including Action Bronson, Curren$y, Wiz Khalifa, RZA, Blue & Exile, DJ Premier, and The Game. This is new-school hip-hop taking an old-school approach and finds Logic at his lyrical best.
19. Brent Faiyaz – WASTELAND
For his third solo full-length album, Brent Faiyaz decided to go in a cinematic route, and he created a blockbuster. WASTELAND, told with the help of marquee artists like Drake, The Neptunes, Alicia Keys, and Tyler, The Creator, is a story about a man’s relationship with his vices. He labels himself a villain and plays the part of it well, painting the picture with his words on tracks like “DEAD MAN WALKING” and “ROLLING STONE.” — Reid BG
18. Joey Bada$$ – 2000
Joey Bada$$ is one of the more prolific rappers of our generation. The New York centerpiece had remained quiet by his usual standards since the release of his 2017 album, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$. 2000 serves as the long-awaited sequel to his fan-favorite, decade-old project, 1999. The album contains 14 tracks and features fellow NY talents like Diddy, Westside Gunn, and more. The majority of the production is done by prolific producer Statik Selektah, which gives the album that oh-so-sweet classic east coast sound. 2000 is yet another reminder of Joey’s legendary status among the hip-hop greats and is done so with poise, class, and skill.
17. Kid Cudi – Entergalactic
Kid Cudi’s Entergalactic didn’t receive nearly as much publicity or promotion as his previous 2020 blockbuster album, Man on the Moon III: The Chosen. Regardless, he insisted that it was his finest work to date, and while we might not entirely agree with that, it’s still a great album. It’s the soundtrack to his Netflix project, Entergalactic, and while it’s thoroughly enjoyable on its own—Kid Cudi shows off a much more downtempo, R&B-leaning side of himself—one might grasp it a bit easier when consuming it in soundtrack form, and then coming back to it. — Reid BG
16. Lil Silva – Yesterday Is Heavy
Lil Silva is no newcomer to the industry, as he’s 12 years into his music career. He’s an artist who, after gaining songwriting bylines for major pop artists like Mark Ronson, Adele, and more, has finally shifted his focus onto his own solo career. A gifted producer (and DJ as well), Yesterday Is Heavy is a brilliant introductory showcase of his talents. While successful producers (like Metro Boomin) often put out a “solo” project filled with features, Lil Silva gives himself a handful of songs where he can shine on his own, like the beautiful and complex “Another Sketch.” — Reid BG
15. Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart
Without knowing Vince Staples, you might think Ramona Park Broke My Heart is about a girl. Ramona Park, however, is where Vince Staples grew up, a place in Southern California riddled with gang violence. With the help of producer Kenny Beats, who’s the most prevalent producer on the album, Vince Staples mourns his lost childhood. It wasn’t long ago that Vince Staples was working with innovative electronic producers like Flume and SOPHIE, but Ramona Park Broke My Heart required a bit more subtlety to convey the somber messages that Staples delivers. — Reid BG
14. Open Mike Eagle – Component System with the Auto Reverse
Open Mike Eagle should be mentioned near the top of any conversation regarding today’s finest hip-hop lyricists. He shows off his penmanship in a very strong manner on his eighth studio album, Component System with the Auto Reverse, an ode to a time when old-fashioned stereos from the ’90s had an array of different functions you could use to play around with the sound. The boom-bap style that Open Mike Eagle leans into on this record makes it one of his most accessible yet. — Reid BG
13. Smino – Luv 4 Rent
Blurring the lines between hip-hop, neo-soul, and R&B has become a defining trait of Smino. The St. Louis-born artist has proven a unique figure in the rap world, from his southern draw and multi-voice sing-rapping to his picked-out side buns. These outward representations of individuality are mere samples of the depth of character that lies within–a character whose story is told in his 2022 album, Luv 4 Rent. The album shares snapshots of love from Smino’s life in all shapes, sizes, and forms. Lines dissecting the trials and triumphs of self-love provide depth to balance those about the fickle love of capital and flesh. The connective tissue bridging this gap is the complicated endearment for his community and its ability to lift up as well as hold back. Smino also does a stellar job of allowing the feature artists like J. Cole and Lil Uzi Vert to shine through their own styles without bending them to a stylistic pretense. — Austin Miller
12. Syd – Broken Hearts Club
Sometimes, the best way to get over a lost lover is to get under a new one. On Broken Hearts Club, her silky smooth voice mixed with warm production gives you that familiar giddy feeling when meeting someone new, a reminder that it’ll all be okay. Following her earlier work with Odd Future and The Internet, Syd’s Broken Hearts Club is the singer’s second solo effort, and it shows an improvement in her songwriting (her voice has always been stellar). Syd illustrates deep, passionate moments on this album that feel like they can materialize right in front of you. — Reid BG
11. Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future
Exploding out of Broward County, Florida, as a teenager during the SoundCloud rap days in the early 2010s, Denzel Curry had a high-intensity sound that he became famous for with tracks like “Threatz” and “Ultimate.” Every now and then, however, he’d deliver a collected gem that didn’t require a mosh pit (even if one formed anyway). Fast forward to today, on his fifth studio album, Curry truly comes into his own. Melt My Eyez See Your Future is the most poised version of himself he’s revealed throughout his prolific career. And it suits him well. His youthful energy is not lost on tracks like “Walkin,” but even then, he sounds wiser and more clear-headed than ever.
10. Earl Sweatshirt – SICK!
For someone who rapping appears to come naturally to, how do you keep getting better? Whatever the secret is, Earl Sweatshirt knows it. He was already blowing people away with his talent at the age of 16 with Odd Future and hasn’t missed a beat with his solo albums like Doris and Some Rap Songs. On his latest effort, SICK!, he pairs up with two of hip-hop’s finest producers, Black Noise and The Alchemist. Their experimental yet honed production matches Earl’s ambitiousness, clearing the way for him to speak confidently on topics like maturity, facing adversity, and acceptance. — Reid BG
9. Action Bronson – Cocodrillo Turbo
Action Bronson may have become a media personality via his TV show, Fuck That’s Delicious, but he’s never let his music get too commercialized. He got a little close to the sun on Mr. Wonderful, but he still pulled off a mainstream-leaning album with class. Cocodrillo Turbo is by no means meant for radio play. It shows Bronson going on an intoxicating safari to discover abrasive, psychedelic sounds full of crocodile roars, pig squeals, and blown-out vocal samples yelling “TURBO” on every track. While maybe not the easiest listen for a casual fan who wants another “Baby Blue,” hip-hop heads should get a serious kick from this project. — Reid BG
8. Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry
The follow-up to Pusha-T’s GRAMMY-nominated DAYTONA did not disappoint. It’s Almost Dry picks up exactly where DAYTONA left off, continuing to tell the story of Pusha-T’s life as a dealer turned rap phenom. Production is split between Pharrell and Kanye, the former responsible for the sinister, experimental beats on tracks like “Brambleton,” the latter providing the innovative flips of classic samples on songs like “Just So You Remember.” If the A-list features from the likes of Jay-Z and Kid Cudi weren’t enough to make this one of the most relevant albums of the year, It’s Almost Dry also sees Pusha himself at his best. His signature aggressive, forward-leaning style of rap is on full display as he prowls through the bars of tracks like “Hear Me Clearly.” He oozes confidence as he alternates between biting cultural commentary on the opioid epidemic and tongue-in-cheek references to Game of Thrones. It’s Almost Dry is a testament to Pusha’s staying power as an artist and solidifies his spot in the modern rap lexicon. — Laurel Barkan
7. FKA twigs – CAPRISONGS
With the enigmatic FKA twigs, the rule is to expect the unexpected. Each release she puts out redefines the R&B genre, and she continues to test its boundaries on CAPRISONGS. Twigs keeps listeners on our toes as she pendulates between dancehall, sad girl slow tunes, sultry, experimental afro beats, and even hyper pop. The one overarching sonic motif is the way twigs’ ethereal voice flits in and out as she finds herself through her lyrics, simultaneously breaking our hearts on songs like “careless” and stoking our confidence on “papi bones.” In our January review, we said CAPRISONGS was an album we kept coming back to, and almost a year later, it’s certainly stood the test of time as a repeat listen.
6. JID – The Forever Story
JID has been one of Atlanta’s most popular and adept rap talents since Outkast. He’s done just about everything right up to this point and even has a Grammy nomination under his belt. The Forever Story is JID’s third solo project and is a bit of a continuation of his 2017 breakout, The Never Story. Throughout the project, we get a first-hand look into the rapper’s past and his place within hip-hop culture. The range is immense, as there are heartfelt ballads intertwined with humorous references to the Teenage Mutant Turtles. On The Forever Story, JID delivers an ambitious take on a modern hip-hop album that allows us to look deep into the mind of an impressive lyricist.
5. Saba – Few Good Things
Saba has risen as one of the brightest Chicago talents in hip-hop. Few Good Things sees the rapper adding a melodic layer to his confident yet soft-spoken voice as he takes us through neighborhoods old and new, reflecting on his success. The versatility here is astounding as Saba undulates through seemingly endless different styles, with a wide range of flows, via both singing and rapping. He’s at his best when relaxed but goes off on tracks like “Survivor’s Guilt” with fellow Chicago heavyweight G Herbo. — Reid BG
4. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
The world takes notice when an artist as globally relevant and respected as Kendrick Lamar releases a new album. Five years separated Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers from K.Dot’s Grammy award-winning album, DAMN. For Kendrick, it was five years of purposeful self-growth and healing. Lamar’s lyrics have always been at the pinnacle of personal and societal reflection, but his latest project took aim at one target and one target only, Kendrick Lamar. The Compton-born artist has been open about his attendance of therapy in recent years and the integral role of that process in the writing of Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. The result is an astonishingly raw display of the most foundational pieces that make up the man behind the lyrics. — Austin Miller
3. Little Simz – NO THANK YOU
2022 saw a pronounced uptick in the global presence of UK hip-hop. But long before drill beats took over Tik Tok, London-based MC Little Simz had established herself as a spearhead for conscious flows and righteous beats. Last year’s Sometimes I Might Be An Introvert rocketed Simz to international acclaim but only proved to be a glimpse of what she had in store. 2022’s NO THANK YOU reveals a Simz that is more sure in her craft than ever before. We get to witness the blossoming of a talent who has spent the last two years touring around the world as she delivers carefully constructed lyrics whose confidence and complexities are further accentuated by those of the richly orchestrated production. While her hypnotic delivery, pocketed cadence, and fine-tuned lyrics are certainly what makes Little Simz an instantly recognizable talent, this project’s instrumental space proves to be an impressively powerful delivery for the energetic messages between the words. — Austin Miller
2. Kenny Beats – LOUIE
As one of the most respected and sought-after producers in modern hip-hop, it was only a matter of time before Kenny Beats had to drop his own solo album. While he can craft bangers in a matter of minutes, LOUIE is a surprisingly intimate go that showcases his masterful sampling abilities. Dedicated to his father, a former broadcaster who was diagnosed with cancer last year, the album includes sounds of spinning tape, static, and other tidbits that come to mind when you envision an old radio studio. He meshes his own style here with a plethora of soul samples, creating something we’ve never heard from Kenny Beats before in such a format. While uncredited, he includes many appearances from the top talent he’s worked with in the past, such as Vince Staples, Thundercat, and Mac DeMarco. — Reid BG
1. SZA – SOS
SZA is the present-day queen of R&B. Her bid for the crown came in the form of her 2017 album Ctrl, and her coronation has come with her newest album, SOS. After five years and a slew of viral singles, R&B’s leading voice stepped back into the spotlight with her new album, SOS, leaving no doubt that the Grammy award winner has leveled up in every way. Her vocal delivery has somehow become even more razor-sharp both technically and lyrically as belters like emotional purge “I Hate U,” symbiotically exist with the charismatic sing-rap flow of the empowered intro, “SOS.” Deep dives across the full spectrum of our innermost monologue that forever occupies our hearts and minds never sounded so good. — Austin Miller