Words Below By Jake Abrams
We spent most of 2020 pent up, cramped, and simmering with angst. All of it came out in a torrential flood in 2021. The music that stood out most reflected this year’s strange mix of pain, beauty, and absurdity. No album embodied this more than Rx Papi’s glorious Foreign Exchange, a cathartic workout that is as close as I’ve heard to a musical exorcism. The same goes with Mach-Hommy’s political masterpiece “Pray For Haiti,” which launched the rapper into the critical stratosphere.
And what more can be said about Pink Pantheress? Against all odds, her music touched something deep in all of us – it turns out garage music’s reincarnation is in full swing. Her featherweight voice and sugar-coated melodies will stay with us long into this decade. Speaking of melodic beauty, Rod Wave hit a career mark with SoulFly, an album that cemented his monolithic stature as both a singer and storyteller. After spending years bubbling in the New York underground, MIKE hit a euphoric career-high with DISCO, and The Alchemist continued a decades-long winning streak with his Armand Hammer collaboration “Haram.”
The hip-hop landscape is more sonically and lyrically diverse than ever – there’s room for every type of sound imaginable, and this breadth was on full display in 2021.
- Rx Papi – Foreign Exchange
- Mach-Hommy – Pray For Haiti
- Rod Wave – Soul Fly
- Pink Pantheress – To Hell With It
- Armand Hammer/The Alchemist – Haram
Honorable Mention – MIKE – Disco!
Words Below By Adam Smith
While the grand spectacle of a multi-million dollar album roll-out plan still comes charged with increasingly high entertainment value, this year we learned that a truly great album it does not guarantee. Instead, budding and buzzing artists stepped forward less encumbered by pageantry and posturing, acutely focused on offering up prolific bodies of work during a year where artists have never been a more vital arbiter of hope for listeners seeing the world through a pandemic filter. Listenability seemingly rode shotgun while deeper relatability took the wheel through introspective thought patterns matched with intentional production details in and outside of the box. Ultimately a special year with less a seismic sonic shift and more a revisiting of what feels right when things seem to be constantly going wrong, 2021 will remain memorable for both reasons.
- Mach-Hommy – Pray For Haiti
- Kota the Fiend – Lyrics To Go, Vol. 2
- Nyck Caution – Anywhere But Here
- Van Buren Records – Bad For Press
- Baby Keem – The Melodic Blue
HM: Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
Words below by Cam Robinson
In a year of things going back to the “norm” we had experimental music rise to the top, many artists go viral for one single and everything in between but one product that this confusing year brought to us was great music. With artists not touring many of them were forced to sit inside and record. While some had a hard time with the creative process, others took advantage of their time and created amazing art. Artists such as SoFaygo, Yeat, Autumn!, and BabySantana showed us a new direction of music. Other artists such as Young Thug, Baby Keem, and Tyler, the Creator showed us what it sounds like to try and perfect their craft. 2021 is coming to an end but what happened throughout this year will be prominent in the years to come.
- Young Thug – Punk
- BigBabyGucci – Assume the Worst
- Autumn! – Golden Child, Chapter 1
- SSGKobe – KO
- Ken Car$on – Project X
HM: Young Nudy – DR. EV4L
Words below by Joe Karandy
BING BONG! The age of oversaturation and overconsumption is among us. A lot of vacuum music is being made, but these albums are here to stay. Not that my opinion means anything anyway, here are my favorite projects of 2021!
Although dropped late 2020, Playboi Carti’s Whole Lotta Red definitely lands in my top rotation of albums this year. At this very moment of time, it’s pretty evident the Atlanta artist has the youth’s ears in his grasp. Fully integrating his roots of Atlanta trap with this booming new-age Rage movement. WLR only continued to cement his imprint in Rap in 2021, today we see vast amounts of rising artists in the new wave taking direct inspiration from the influential creative.
Both of the London natives Lancey Foux and Pink Pantheress made huge intersections into what is essentially America Pop music in 2021. (Rap is Pop now) Sliding on lo-fi U.K garage samples, Pink Pantheress’ To Hell with It’ was one of the high points of the year. A true breath of fresh air. Whereas the British model turned Rapper Lancey Foux found himself becoming a martyr for modern Men’s Fashion.
Glockstar Dimi solidified his innovative drill sound in 2021. Delivering “Through the Rain” on the hype of lead single “Ready?”. The tape welcomed production from ATL’s Richie Souf. While simultaneously receiving a huge co-sign from Givenchy’s Mathew Williams.
- Playboi Carti – Whole Lotta Red
- Pink Pantheress – To Hell with It
- Glockstar Dimi – Through the Rain
- Lancey Foux – First Degree
- Kanye West – Donda
HM: Kay Flock – The D.O.A Tape
Words below by Avi Cantor
For most, 2021 has been a year to reacclimate. Whether it be going back to concerts or even grabbing food with friends, we’ve all been slowly getting back into the rhythm of life pre-covid. However, this year’s music didn’t get the ‘ease back into things’ memo. With fresh styles emerging, musical heavyweights dropping, and Tik Tok invading the global conscious, this year has been like no other in the world of music.
For starters, Yo Gotti’s CMG label made its mark on the rap world this year, wielding three of the best projects of the year. Moneybagg Yo’s RIAA certified platinum album A Gangsta’s Pain–and it’s subsequent deluxe–featured platinum-selling hits like “Time Today” and “Wokeisha”, as well as gold-certified bangers “Shottas (Lala)”, “GO” ft. Big 30, and “Hard For The Next” ft. Future. Hits aside, Bagg managed to drop an album and a deluxe totaling 30 songs with barely any misses.
This trend continued with 42 Dugg’s Free Dem Boyz and it’s deluxe which featured gold-certified singles “4 Da Gang” ft. Roddy Richh and “Maybach” ft. Future. The album silenced critics as well as the tsunami of short jokes that had dominated social media throughout the year.
Then, LA newcomer Blxst stormed onto the scene with his album No Love Lost that had absolutely no skips. With the Ty Dolla $ign and Tyga assisted song “Chosen”, Blxst took over the West Coast and then the world. This is an album I’ve listened to almost every day since the summer.
Now, for a sleeper pick and a bold proclamation: CEO Trayle’s “Happy Halloween C4” is the best album of the year. Trayle’s wordplay, insane beats, and menacing delivery were severely underrated. Getting caught up in the hype of a Tik Tok record can make it difficult to establish yourself as a real artist but Trayle cements himself as one of the most exciting talents in the game. Check out “Novacane”, “First 48’d”, “Percocet Pain” ft. Babyface Ray, and “Paul Walker”, you won’t regret it.
Finally, Pink Panthress’ to hell with it was one of the best surprises of the year. After “Pain” and “Break It Off” exploded off of Tik Tok, it was unclear how sustainable her sound would be on a full-length project. However, the British singer knocked her 10-track effort out of the park with songs like “Noticed I cried”, “Passion” and “All my friends know”.
Words below by Joey Walker
If you ask me, it’s been one hell of a year for music. Although my taste usually dismisses the mainstream acts, we got to see Drake, Kanye, Tyler, the Creator, Summer Walker and many others all release albums in 2021, making this truly a memorable year.
As we head towards 2022 and reminisce on 2021, the albums that truly made an impact on me this year have to be Blxst’s No Love Lost Deluxe, Slimelife Shawty’s Better Living, BIGBABYGUCCI’s 1 Night I Took Acid album, Rod Wave’s incredible Soul Fly project, and the highly acclaimed Tyler, the Creator’s Call Me If You Get Lost.
I’d also be wrong if I didn’t mention Bronx artist Kay Flock‘s The DOA Tape, whose recent explosion is one of the few things that excite me in music, along with my favorite artist of all-time, Isaiah Rashad, and his new album The House is Burning.
These tapes have all played a major role in my life. Whether it’s getting me through tough times, or making me feel invincible, these projects truly held the most weight for me this year. And in a year with Drake and Kanye releasing albums, that’s saying something. So hats off to them.
- Blxst “No Love Lost Deluxe”
- BIGBABYGUCCI “1 Night I Took Acid”
- Rod Wave “Soul Fly”
- Tyler, the Creator “Call me if you get Lost”
- Slimelife shawty “Better Living”
Honorable Mention: Kay Flock “The DOA Tape” and Isaiah Rashad’s The House Is Burning
Words below by Heath
Looking back at this past year, we could easily say it was the resurgence of the music industry. Shows came back, and the more prominent artists that held off releasing during the pandemic were eager to drop. We had a great year in music on the mainstream level; however, this year’s emerging artists took the cake. From Dijon, Remi Wolf, Paris Texas, and Terry Presume, we got some of the most innovative music in a long while. That being said, Dijon’s Absolutely and Tyler’s Call Me If You Get Lost had the most extensive musical impact on me this year. Both of these artists used their distinct styles to tell personalized stories that can be relatable to all listeners.
Baby Keem’s The Melodic Blue was a statement piece for him, saying that he is one of the new school leaders. Showing that he has staying power and mass appeal, I see a bright future for Keem. Clairo gave us one of the most intimate albums of the year with Sling. The crisp indie production is some of the best of the year, and the honesty in the project is commendable.
I’m looking forward to 2022 to see what new sounds get brought to the forefront of the musical landscape. Artists like Jean Dawson, Teezo Touchdown, and 100 Gecs are prime to release new projects this upcoming year, and I’m stoked.
- Dijon- Absolutely
- Tyler The Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost
- Baby Keem – The Melodic Blue
- Remi Wolf – Juno
- Paris Texas – Red Hand Akimbo
Honorable Mentions: Still Woozy – If this isn’t nice, I…,Terry Presume – What Box?, Clairo – Sling
Words below by Reese Haynes
- Playboi Carti – Whole Lotta Red
- Pi’erre Bourne – The Life Of Pi’erre 5
- Tyler The Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost
- Don Toliver – Life Of A Don
- Yeat – Up 2 Më
- Honorable Mentions: KA$HDAMI – epiphany, PinkPantheress – to hell with it
Many of the top Hip Hop acts have been absent since late 2018. The game has also been void of trailblazers who look to challenge mainstream sound. This all changed on Dec. 25th, 2020 with the release of Playboi Carti’s highly anticipated third studio album, Whole Lotta Red. To the surprise of many, Carti’s traditionally calm and eccentric vocals over video game esq beats had shifted into pure aggression, laced with industrial, hyperpop, punk, trap and metal infused instrumentals. WLR sounded like nothing on the market at the time of its release, going on to inspire waves in the underground rap scene. I can honestly say that no mainstream rap album has been this experimental, polarizing and influential since Kanye West’s, YEEZUS.
Pierre‘s TLOP 5 may have been the only highly anticipated album to release this year that appropriately met all the hype around it. At just 16 tracks, every song is connected by beautiful transitions and Pie’rre proves that he sounds the best over his own beats. The album also included stand out features from Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti. Tyler The Creator‘s Call Me If You Get Lost was a pleasant surprise as I had no idea that Tyler would be releasing this year. Call Me If You Get Lost features the most emotionally and sonically mature version of Tyler that we have seen. This album was the best culmination of his sound or Cherry Bomb done right, as many would like to say.
Don Toliver’s, Life Of a Don was an amazing follow-up to his 2020 album, Heaven Or Hell. On LOD, Don Toliver showcases his improved vocal ability, crafting real R&B tracks opposed to his traditional up-tempo melodic trap sound. The synths and psychedelic feel of the tracks were not as pronounced on this project in comparison to his last but the improved song structure and lyrical content made up for it. Yeat managed to pass the entire underground rap scene in over a year, producing his own bangers while linking with Drake on the side. One could also argue that Yeat has the best visual effects out of all the new artists. Up 2 Më is a lengthy project full of many dark trap, drug-inspired songs that will have you floating on a purple cloud, sipping wok with your Twïzz.
2021 was a great year for music but If I don’t receive albums from A$ap Rocky, Joey Bada$$, Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, and SoFaygo in 2022 I’ll explode.
Words below by Courtney Fields
Before you say it, I know… my list is riddled with rap. But in my defense, it was a great year for rap; and if you say otherwise then you simply aren’t listening to the new generation. More often than not when fans think of rap, they think of the most traditional forms of the genre, but it’s evolved. To me, rap is a much larger entity than it ever was in the past, with more subgenres than I’m able to mention. The “new” stars are proving it too, Little Simz, Durk, Baby, and Dave are all the voices of a new generation of music; they’re inspiring storytellers who are still able to be insanely relatable amidst the new heights they’ve reached in 2021.
We always expect greatness from Kanye and Tyler, both of which despite having great albums; probably both take the crown of the best releases of the year (shout out to their marketing teams). From Ye’s live listening events to Tyler’s commercials and hotlines, hopefully album releases are back to becoming events, where fans feel involved in the release.. opposed to a lousy Instagram post a week in advance being labeled a “rollout”.
- DONDA – Kanye West
- Call Me If You Get Lost- Tyler the Creator
- Sometimes I Might Be Introvert – Little Simz
- Voice of the Heroes – Lil Baby & Lil Durk
- We’re All Alone In This Together – Dave
Honorable Mention: Punk – Young Thug
Words below by Colt Cupit
2021 just might have been even weirder than 2020. It was a year that couldn’t decide if we were still in a pandemic or not, shows couldn’t seem to find a strong footing, and release schedules and strategies seemed to be full of guessing and checking. With that being said, it lead to a lot of highlights, and in my opinion, gave underground artists a chance to shine as unorthodox marketing tactics seemed to prevail more than ever before. I found myself discovering less music than any year I have in recent memory, but the gems I found were some big ones that lead to consistent replay throughout the start of the new decade. BIGBABYGUCCI’s 1 Night I Took Acid was a mainstay for me, this project being what I would describe as a penultimate display of his trap/R&B hybrid sound. It’s been ran front to back more times than I care to tell, and I even purchased a physical copy.
Genre was dead to me this year (and really most years lately) and I found myself deep in an indie binge with Luna Li’s Jams EP being a constant play through full of 1 minute or less songs that featured some vibey instrumentation to turn on and zone out to. Kanye won the title for high profile artists for me with DONDA being what I expect to be an album that proves to be even more celebrated the longer that it’s out. Finally, I found myself deep-diving into the Virginia underground scene more than ever, with several projects in constant rotation. My favorites being Virginia Beach artist 1pump’s Scott Summers II, Richmond native Saekyi’s Sunset Demos EP, and Danville frontrunner Breeeze434’s Breezo from the 4.
- BIGBABYGUCCI – 1 Night I Took Acid
- Luna Li – Jams EP
- 1pump – Scott Summers II
- Kanye West – DONDA
- Saekyi – Sunset Demos EP
HONORABLE MENTION: Breeze434- Breezo from the 4
Words below by Brick
What an absolute pisser of a year. Both good and bad and full of vivacious zest. It was hot, cold, spicy, sour, and umami. And with each of these 12 months lapsing I have a different set of sounds to live by. Phil and Giane are a pairing unlike any other, along with Perks and essentially his MVP year as well. Boldy made my list last year with The Price of Tea In China and Bo Jackson ended up on here this round. Tyler dropped another classic in the midst of chaos. And of course, I have to show out for the home team with E. WLR was probably the best project simply because of the replay value, but nonetheless, the music kept me sane. I stopped hanging out with a lot of people who didn’t reciprocate but were going up with the right ones and that’s all that matters. Thanks for listening or reading or whatever the fuck. Peace, be safe, and I hope it all works out for you.
- Dr. Phil – RealYungPhil & EvilGiane
- PunkGoes Drill – Polo Perks
- Bo Jackson – Boldly James & The Alchemist
- Call Me If You Get Lost – Tyler, The Creator
- E For Effortless – E The Profit
- -Honorable Mentions-Obvi WLR, Principles To Die By – SoloSam, It’s Cooler In The Shade – Joei Razook & Kellbender