Arguably even more than other obsessive music fans, hip hop heads are an expectant bunch. The slightest misstep of an album, the misfire of even a sole bland single? The stans are ready to take your head off, man.

Still, when you see folk online complaining that 2021 has just been a letdown of a year for hip hop thus far… it’s hard to disagree with them. It’s mostly been the year of the fear: Migos misfired. J. Cole fumbled. Cardi is worried about the sophomore jinx, Travis seems uncertain about letting us enter Utopia, hell, who knows what’s going on with Kendrick – even Drake has delayed time and again since January…the list goes on.

To be fair, Tyler recently spiced things up a bit, and we have Vince Staples and (hopefully!) Westside Boogie to look forward to in the near future, but it’s still hard to say that it’s been anything resembling an exciting year for rap.

Despite all that, or specifically because of all that, we at Beats Per Minute thought it was high time to shout out the hip hop that has had our heads nodding in ’21. There may not have been a true Earthshaker yet, but you’ll find plenty to enjoy in the list below. Let’s dive in. – Chase McMullen

Listen along to our Hip Hop 2021: Halftime Spotify playlist.

Honorable Mentions:

Brockhampton – Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine

Kevin Abstract had to navigate the PR nightmare that presented itself when the accusations of sexual misconduct about Brockhampton‘s frontman Ameer Vann surfaced. Coming out of it unscathed wasn’t an option, and while 2018’s Iridescence landed atop the Billboard 200, its follow-up Ginger landed at no. 3 with a significant decline in units sold. Not a failure, not a flop, but it did indicate that maybe folks weren’t too keen with Brockhampton anymore after the hype train died down.

Well, it’s time to hop on board again. Brockhampton’s latest is possibly their best. With an eclectic blend of huge talent like Danny Brown and A$AP Rocky, and buzzy underground talent like JPEGMAFIA, Roadrunner is the most diverse and unpredictable record of the group’s short career. Dabbling with rock influences on tracks like “The Light” but also strictly sugar dusted bangers like “Count on Me”, the penultimate Brockhampton record leaps back and forth with a little bit of everything.

There’s autotune, there’s boyband aesthetic, and there’s just banging production by the likes of Goldwash and Queen Sixties. There’s no dominant force either – while Ameer Vann’s presence overshadows the Saturation trilogy, Abstract has opted for a more democratic process where everyone gets a piece of the pie with writing credits out the ass. This gathering of talent all turning in equal pieces of the puzzle makes Roadrunner feel way more accomplished than anything before it. – Tim Sentz

Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon – Too Little, Too Late

As the album title (and cover) readily imply, this is music quite concerned by time. Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon raps about camera time, time coming (is it his time yet?), the passage of seasons, public transportation ETA’s, you name it. Ogbon hails from Charlotte, North Carolina, but his airy brand of boom bap is clearly indebted to New York City, a sound he makes all his own as he floats across music that often seems to float itself. “Summer Body Goals” flips P.M. Dawn classic “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” into a dense, nearly eerie beat. This is followed immediately by the stoned groove of “He for the Streets”, where Ogbon attacks both with the energy of a hungry MC. Nothing is Too Late, this is his moment, and he makes the most of it at every turn. – Chase McMullen

Slowthai – TYRON

Over the last few years, Northampton rapper Slowthai has built a reputation as an ball of sheer chaos with a sharp tongue. This persona culminated in his embarassing display at the 2020 NME Awards, which saw him getting hauled out after starting a fight with an audience member – shortly after receiving the ‘Hero Of The Year Award’. He avoided cancellation due to people saying it was ‘Slowthai being Slowthai’, but on his second album he set out to redress that idea, to show us more of who he is.

Of course, he couldn’t go without making a direct comment on the incident, which is what we have in TYRON‘s Stormzy-featuring “CANCELLED”. A lot of the first disc (it’s technically a very short double album) is full of this American-indebted braggadocio, but the more interesting part of TYRON comes on the later, more introspective half. Here, Ty opens up truthfully, admits his shortcomings, vulnerabilities and depressive tendencies – but does it with his usual candour, just dimmed slightly to a warm glow rather than a scorching flame.

Slowthai might still have some way to go to convince detractors that he’s not just a troublemaker, but TYRON proves that there is a well-rounded man under that scuzzy exterior; one worth knowing and listening to, and whom we’ll hopefully get to see more of on future releases. – Rob Hakimian

Snoop Dogg – From tha Streets to tha Suites

Cultural icon that he may be, will Snoop ever get the credit he deserves for his consistency? Name a truly bad album he’s put out. Tha Doggfather? Find a West Coast artist it didn’t inspire. Da Game Is to Be Sold…? It’s a hungry, still young Snoop across a standard No Limit/Beats By the Pound release, so far an outlier in his discography that it grows more intriguing by the year. Malice n Wonderland? Ok, you might have me there, it’s as close as he’s come, but even it boasts the likes of “I Wanna Rock” and the ridiculously catchy, Soulja Boy-supported “Pronto”. The man is more than an institution, he’s longevity itself in a genre notorious for casting off the favorites of yesteryear.

The last several years have somewhat quietly boasted a proper second renaissance, from the sun-drenched, wildly underrated, Pharrell-helmed BUSH to the nostalgia-triggering I Neva Left. His latest, From tha Streets to tha Suites, if a minor one, is another win in that latter column, finding a laid back Snoop doing just what he does best across just the sort of West Coast thump that you’d like to hear him over. His voice sounds as good as ever: this is a low key delight (in a bummer of a year, no less) that shouldn’t be missed. – Chase McMullen

Listen along to our Hip Hop 2021: Halftime Spotify playlist.