From the Desk of the Editor: 2021’s Best Hip Hop

Am I late? An Editor-in-Chief arrives precisely when he means to. Alright, bullshit aside, I meant to run this a month+ ago. With the general desperate state of the world, my own sagging mental state – not to mention that I managed to get COVID my damn self (pro tip: do not get it. It’s worse than you think, even if you think it sucks.) – it simply took a helluva lot longer to muster the energy to put this thing together. Shouts out to the endlessly reliable Rob Hakimian for getting on my case about it.

I digress: so, the meaning of this thing. While it inevitably is influenced by them, this isn’t meant to represent the tastes of our esteemed writers at Beats Per Minute overall, so any failing is mine, and mine alone. Therein lies the pleasure of this piece, though, at least for me. Needless to say, there is no right answer when it comes to music, let alone the endlessly divisive world of hip hop.

This isn’t meant to be a be all end all, by any means. I hope, if nothing else, it’ll serve as a conversation starter. Think I’m entirely off target? Sound off. I’d love to hear from you. It’s also inevitably slanted, quite simply, to where I happened to spend my listening time in 2021. Instantly coming to mind as a figure receiving less than his due is Ankhlejohn. Not only did he put out two strong collaborative projects – alongside Rome Streetz and Da$h x Look Damien! respectively – he released the genuinely excellent As a Man Thinketh on his lonesome. So, then, why isn’t it included? I simply didn’t spend enough time with it. It receives surely the strongest honorable mention as it no doubt objectively deserves a spot.

That being said, with no further ado, here are the projects that stood out for me in 2021. I hope you have some fun reading along, and if you’re not a particularly devoted head, I hope you might even unearth some gems to listen to. Enjoy!


25. Young Nudy, DR. EV4L : Nudy might not have quite matched Anyways this year, but he’s continued to prove himself one of the more interesting voices of his generation, expanding his low key sound ever closer to Horrorcore with the Relapse-like antics on display here. An intriguing appetizer of what’s hopefully to come.

24. Onyx, Onyx 4 Life : Onyx don’t really seem to age. Their rage is the same as ever, with Sticky Fingaz in particular still hurling every ounce of bile towards the mic, put this together with the pandemic for inspiration, and you have a late period home run from the duo.

23. Young Dolph & Key Glock, Dum and Dummer 2 : Losing Dolph is a wound that won’t soon – if ever – heal. He was still on his way up, and his comfort alongside Glock made for a near flawless release, certainly among his best to date. Low stakes good times between two rap besties. Bittersweet, now, to be sure, but all the more priceless.

22. Isaiah Rashad, The House is Burning : Largely underrated thanks to its understated nature, Rashad’s sophomore album is deceptive: it’s far more complex than a casual listen lets on. Bruised and emotional, it’s the definition of a grower.

21. Devin the Dude, Soulful Distance : Experience counts for something. Devin has been delivering solid release after release for decades, and he hasn’t begun to stumble. Taking the pandemic into account, this one is a comfortable, cozy release to ease into, any time, any mood.

20. Duke Deuce, Duke Nukem : Deuce still has some ground to cover in order to prove that he’s got more going for him than his resurrection of crunk and the latter day Three 6 Mafia sound, but for now, this album stands as a gloriously fun slice of just that.

19. Rx Papi, 100 Miles & Walk’in : While it’s certainly Rx Nephew’s absolutely constant stream of consciousness releases in 2021 that caught most of the attention, to my ears, Papi has remained the more reliable of the two. An underrated project.

18. GoldLink, Haram! : While he’s certainly become persona non grata thanks to an ego and some missteps, to those willing to listen, there’s no denying that GoldLink’s latest is an interesting effort, with a nearly lo fi aesthetic that harshly offsets his raps with the gleaming production. Whatever he’s done, it’s a shame it didn’t find more listeners. Hell, he says it himself: “Leave me alone, I shouldn’t have done what I did.”

17. Sleepy Hallow, Still Sleep? : One of the year’s most promising debut albums, Brooklyn’s Hallow extends his sound beyond Drill into numerous alleys, proving as entertaining a figure as any in the latest generation.

16. Maxo Kream, Weight of the World : The rapper folk at one point wrote off has become one of Houston’s most reliable young voices. Digging deeply into his pain – nowhere more so than on the bracingly direct recounting of his brother’s murder on “Trips” – he’s offered perhaps his strongest statement to date.

15. Tyler, the Creator, Call Me If You Get Lost : Surely plenty of folk think this should be higher – is it damn good? You’re damn right. However, I think its boastful moments work better than its emotional side, with the whole failed romance angle occasionally feeling a tad tacked on to the DJ Drama assisted antics. Still, don’t get me wrong, it continues to prove just how vital an artist Tyler currently is.

14. Quadry, They Think We Ghetto : A mature and understated statement from a relatively new face on the scene? Yes, please. Hip hop doesn’t often reward music without some self-aggrandizing, but here’s to hoping Quadry’s homegrown brand of reflective music continues to find an audience.

13. Conway the Machine, La Maquina : We may still be waiting on his Shady Records debut (seriously?), but Conway kept us fed in 2021. This album is arguably his most varied and confident to date, with the Buffalo MC as comfortable around his Griselda brethren as the likes of Ludacris.

12. Lloyd Banks, The Course of the Inevitable : All hail the return of the Punchline King. Somehow, some way, Banks has still yet to truly receive his due, despite being the wittiest out of G-Unit, despite linking up with Kanye since, despite delivering bar after bar after bar. This album, with any justice, is edging him ever closer towards those flowers.

11. Navy Blue, Navy’s Reprise : It might not necessarily be anything new for the quickly rising rapper and producer, but it’s perhaps the most concise and confident he’s been to date. Worth every moment.

10. Grip, I Died for This!? : You can never say the man isn’t ambitious. Packing just about every idea possible into his major label debut was a bold move, and one that deserves to pay off for Grip. Clawing at hip hop – and, moreover, the industry’s – many contradictions, it becomes something of a twisted rap Truman Show, you might even feel invasive listening.

9. Mach-Hommy, Pray for Haiti : Perhaps the mysterious rapper’s best work to date, he’s aided by Westside Gunn’s curation, packing together a seamless collection of reflective, buoyant hip hop.

8. Boldy James & The Alchemist, Super Tecmo Bo : No idea how many eyebrows will raise at the inclusion of this over Bo Jackson, but to my ears this tighter, more or less surprise drop is a more proper companion to the damn near peerless The Price of Tea in China than its more fanfare receiving cousin. Finding Boldy continuing his already classic run, he all but constricts the mic here with his patience, still boasting that slow flow that few can match – all while never looking like he’s trying. A superb addition to what’s already one of the best rapper-producer linkups in years.

7. Pink Siifu, GUMBO’! : Unlike anything else in the Siifu’s already diverse catalogue, much as its title implies, it’s a divine mixture of the immediate and the bizarre, blended to perfection, always going down smoothly. Inspired by the likes of Goodie Mob and Dungeon Family at large (and, naturally, featuring Big Rube), it still manages to sound rather unlike just about anything else. A muddy gem.

6. Lukah, Why Look Up, God’s in the Mirror : Drawing on numerous influences, the Memphis underground artist has created a work as enticing as it is gothic, commanding, assured, and intimidating.

5. Yungmorpheus & Eyedress, Affable with Pointed Teeth : Eyedress proves the perfect companion for Yungmorpheus, layering the young MC’s words in an enveloping hammock, creating a comfortable loft from which the viewer can take it all in.

4. Nas, Magic : What’s more impressive than perfecting a collaboration that wasn’t necessarily aces the first time around (Grammy be damned)? Following it up with an even stronger statement in the same year. While Kings Disease II is stubbornly underrated in some circles, it’s celebrated for just what it is in others: a borderline masterstroke statement from a legend long thought past his prime. What better way to celebrate than with a proper masterstroke? Indeed, that’s just what Magic is, and it’s a hill I’ll happily die on. Concise, laser-focused, and packed the brim with insights that come with hard won longevity (worlds away from his sagging world view on NASIR), sobering (that Young Dolph shout out, oof) and elating by turns, quite simply, it’s Nas’ best work in years, and stands right alongside his very best albums. Yes, that is indeed saying something.

3. Ka, A Martyr’s Reward : Perhaps the beloved (yet underrated) rapper’s most intricate work to date, it roams restlessly ever closer towards the full realization of his street reporting meets personal manifestos.

2. Armand Hammer & The Alchemist, Haram : As knotted and dense as one might expect from an Armand Hammer release, albeit offset by the silky brilliance of The Alchemist’s production, the duo paint as uncomfortable a picture of our stark reality as ever.

1. Vince Staples, Vince Staples : A cage of paranoia and simmering regret, Staples takes hardly any time at all to deliver his most painfully intimate portrait of the life he was born into to date.