Hip hop has been on a tear thus far in 2022. We’ve already had several Album of the Year contenders – if you let Pusha tell it, it’s already a done deal – and there’s still half a year to come. So, much like last year, we saw fit to do a round up of what’s come so far. We’ve had Kendrick release his most divisive album to date, Pusha drop what is indeed a great LP, but there’s been far more going on. Let’s dive in on it all (and respect to the albums that have dropped since we began work on this list, Lloyd Banks and on). – Chase McMullen

Listen along to our Hip Hop 2022: Halftime Spotify playlist.

Honorable Mentions:

Dälek – Precipice

It seems that underground hip-hop duo Dälek can’t help themselves when it comes to redefining hip-hop traditions. For over 20 years, they’ve torn apart influences, spoken out against social inequity, and adapted a litany of abrasive sounds to fit their own ideas of what the genre can aspire to. Their latest, Precipice, is a warning of things to come, of cyclical events planned out by people whose only care is their own personal elevation. They aren’t changing their message so much as they are adapting it to fit the darkened mood of a nation beset by paranoia and division. MC dalek and Mike Manteca entomb these bitter and volatile musings in a dense fog of tattered electronics and corrugated beats garbed in smoke and ash. They occasionally offer insight into how we might rise above the din of our collective social and political noise — though, for them, sometimes just hanging on is an act of rebellion. – Joshua Pickard

EarthGang – Ghetto Gods

Few songs have bounced around in my head this year as often as EarthGang’s “Waterboyz”; the laidback track’s call-and-response hook and features from JID and J. Cole make it memorable. But like the rest of the album, it’s anchored by the duo of EarthGang themselves. For Ghetto Gods, member Olu told NPR that honesty was a top priority in making the album, and this approach is reflected in the final product: in the hook of “Lie to Me” and the heartfelt “All Eyes on Me”. Even “Smoke Sum”, which recently got a stoner-friendly remix with Curren$y and Wiz Khalifa, was directly influenced by the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests. Ghetto Gods manages to carry weight while still being fun. As they say on “Strong Friends”, “We gon’ keep it solid”. – Ethan Reis

Kojey Radical – Reason to Smile

Kojey Radical’s debut full-length Reason to Smile feels so lush and expansive at times that it seems on the verge of splitting its seams. Nostalgic but not burdened by its influences, the album finds the London-born artist embracing gospel, R&B, and hip-hop as a way to navigate his own understanding of Black identity – especially being Black and British. Assembling a supergroup of supporting musicians, including Shaé Universe,  Ego Ella May, Shakka, Kelis, Knucks, Wretch 32, Masego, Ego Ella May, and others, he cracks open the rap genre in search of answers concerning racial inequity, governmental corruption, and institutional immigration bias.

Between glimpses into label power struggles (“Pusher Man: BWI”) and maternal adoration (“Gangsta”), Radical explores aspects of 70’s funk, 80’s rap, and early 90’s R&B with all the skill you’d expect, creating a sonic landscape filled with jazzy horns, Parliament-esque rhythms, and neo-soul grooves. Thematically, it’s as complicated as he’s ever been, balancing intimate recollections with broad emotional experiences while the music seeks to add several extra thumps to your heartbeat and broaden your perspective at the same time. – Joshua Pickard

They Hate Change – Finally, New

Tampa duo They Hate Change are music disciples first and foremost – they are crate diggers and excavators determined to cram as many rhythmic histories into their songs as possible. Vonne Parks and Andre Gainey make hip-hop that feels expansive without losing its focus, surgical in its methodology but loose in its execution. Finally, New, their new record for Jagjaguwar, finds them collating their influences into a mishmash of southern rap, Tampa krank, IDM ideology, and several other genres yet to be identified. The closest analog to them would likely be Outkast, a musical precursor whose proclivities for left-of-center production and inclusion remain revolutionary.The search for identity and an understanding of what it means for them personally pervades the album, with them taking time to address their gender fluidity while referencing artists like Jackie Shane, 100 Gecs’ Laura Les, and X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene. The way in which they expel vulnerability and riotousness in the same breath makes them something of an anomaly within hip-hop, a group not afraid to highlight their fears and struggles while also dosing their listeners in vast swathes of musical inventiveness. Finally, New is a perfect encapsulation of their restless melodic ideations, and it stands as one of the best rap records of 2022. – Joshua Pickard

Yung Lean – Stardust

Maybe it was quarantine fatigue, but I could never fully engage in Starz, Yung Lean’s 2020 album. Though the newer Stardust has been called a mixtape, it has enough front-to-back quality to best its predecessor. For starters, it never hurts to get FKA twigs on your opener. “Bliss”, with its propulsive beat and fantastic video, is a great reminder of how Yung Lean remains talented and relevant nearly a decade into his career, yet aged only 26. He gets the assist from his Draingang pals on standouts “Starz2theRainbow” and “SummerTime Blood”, but also manages to flex his strength solo on “Trip” and “Nobody else” (which knocks). Don’t discount Sweden’s golden child. – Ethan Reis

Listen along to our Hip Hop 2022: Halftime Spotify playlist.