In 2022, fans witnessed the highly-anticipated return of Compton's very own Kendrick Lamar, a.k.a K.Dot., and lyric tycoon and rap veteran Pusha T. The year also featured music from up-and-coming rappers, bringing new, vibrant styles to the arts. We also discovered diligent proteges following the steps of their mentors, striving to heighten their own. Lastly, 2022's music catalog boasts the re-emergence of older rappers modifying their craft to complement pop culture while reigning in their dominant signature style.
The highly dynamic world of rap has persevered. It continues to thrive despite political drawbacks, evolving culture, and misrepresented virtues. It influences other genres and impacts the entertainment and arts industries. For years, it has also shaped some of the most significant movements in pop culture.
2022, in particular, has been an eventful one for Hip-Hop as the genre ages toward its 50th year. Queens rapper Nas, who will be leading the anniversary celebration with special tributes, released a project this year, King's Disease III – the third act of an installment.
Although there was a sweeping stream of admirable projects, these ten mold-breaking, culture-refining albums comprise the best of 2022.
10. Ramona Park Broke My Heart, Vince Staples
On the astounding track Magic, Vince Staples rhymes about his past ghetto lifestyle and building himself from the dirt. “See, when you come from nothing / Make it into something, I call that luck / But when you come from where we come from, I call that magic.” The following intermission demystifies the overlaying fog on the concept of survival in relation to a violent upbringing.
When Sparks Fly surfs the dynamics of a Bonnie and Clyde relationship with a gun whom he paints as a lover. And although he flaunts his amassed wealth throughout the album, his last track is a keen reflection on self and the bleak side of fortune. It inspires questions like, “What's success but guilt and stress?”
Ramona Park Broke My Heart is named after his hometown in California. It vividly bares the harsh realities he grew up in. He uses metaphors and precise language to convey the horror with a finesse that qualifies it as not just one of the rapper's best, but an underappreciated gem of the year.
9. This Is What I Mean, Stormzy
As Adele said, you can't fight fire with fire. Apparently, you can't rival it with water, too. Stormzy wears his heart on his sleeve, portraying two lovers too opposite to make anything concrete of their love. The eight-minute intro track is really an audiobook. In it, the artist chronicles his broken heart, shattered dreams, and hope to be rescued from harrowing despair, while coming to terms with solitude.
Even though it's a rap album, there are some bluesy vibes on tracks like Firebabe, Sampha's Plea, Holy Spirit, and Give It To The Water. More introspective tracks like Please, offer a plea to himself and the audience to accept his scars and imperfections, freeing himself from the captivity of his own mind.
In My Presidents Are Black, he subtly hints at the black slave history as a double entendre for mental enslavement. But through the distress, heartbreak, and loneliness, Stormzy's spirituality and the presence of a higher power paint a silver lining over the dark storms that hover above him. This Is What I Mean is an honest rumination of a man on the journey to self-recovery. It breaks the veil of toxic masculinity, allowing the artist to be flawed and fragile.
8. It's Almost Dry, Pusha T
There's no questioning the quality of this album when production was handled by only the two best producers ever: Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. Does Pusha T's slick lyricism measure up to the flawless beats? There's also no question there. The songs on the album serve different interpretations of a hustler's life and on being cocaine's Dr. Seuss. But he definitely saved the best for the last.
On the closing track, I Pray For You, featuring Labrinth and Malice, he debunks an old saying with a fact: “Lightning struck twice on four classics.” And later says, “We gon' live forever 'cause the sh-t we write is timeless.” True that. Three albums later, Pusha T's pen game is still as inventive as ever. The second half of the two-part track takes a different direction than the rest of the songs on the album, Pusha T's brother No Malice, self-introspecting and rapping about faith.
Asides from seamless rhymes, Push offers peak wittiness, heightened creativity, and gripping perspective to the most unapproachable topics. With his literal dope bars, debonair flow, and A-list features, the rap mogul proves he knows how to make a comeback. That's a staying power in his twenty-year career.
7. Traumazine, Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion opened her third album with a daring track – one of the best on the album. NDA covers all the bases of the major themes in Traumazine – her sexuality, career, self-love, and dealing with the hate, jealousy, and bad energy surrounding every beautiful, accomplished, and powerful woman on her way to the top. With a spitfire flow, she drops bar after bar, verses oozing feminine energy and empowerment, enough to call her the Beyoncé of rap music. They are H-town sisters, after all!
On another exceptional track, Not Nice, she says, “They so intimidated 'cause I'm coming for their spot.” We know! She lets her guard down on Anxiety, letting herself be open and intense because “bad b–ches have bad days, too.” Traumazine is Megan Thee Stallion at her most real – cozy and confident, sassy and sexy. Whether she's bragging about her sexual competence, hot girl status, or being a black, independent woman, it's easy to see why anyone would want to be her.
6. Heroes & Villains, Metro Boomin
When it comes to rap music producers, the cream of the crop is no doubt Metro Boomin. Collaborative albums like Perfect Timing (Metro and NAV), Double or Nothing (Metro and Big Sean), Savage Mode I and II (Metro and 21 Savage), and Without Warning (Metro, 21 Savage, and Offset) are attestations of his musical adeptness.
Only a few bridge the gap between rap and imaginative storytelling. In his previous act, Savage Mode II, he features sage monologues from Morgan Freeman, who played the godfather role, with his distinctive bass voice. On Heroes & Villains, the veteran actor reprises his role as a God figure.
Metro Boomin has mastered the art of storytelling in and out, an art he proves transcends actual words and lyricism. Heroes & Villains is not just an album but an audio cinematic experience, released with a six-minute film. Sampling the classic R&B song I Don't Wanna Know, which in turn samples Fugees' hit single Ready or Not was only an ace move that set the internet on fire. (The album cover was a foreshadowing.)
5. Drill Music In Zion, Lupe Fiasco
The Lion's Deen is one of the best openers rap music has encountered. The poetic verse weaves through a dark history while teaching ways to be reborn. Meanwhile, since his last release four years ago, Lupe has been reborn into an even fiercer lyrical massacre maker.
Six years after announcing that he was retiring from making music, he announced on his Twitter page that he would write a ten-song album in twenty-four hours. While the album wasn't created in a day, it took Lupe a considerably short amount of time than usually needed to create a masterpiece of such a fine caliber. The uninhibited way Lupe was more engrossed in the process, rather than the final product is what makes for such a fine miscellanea of socio-political and cultural concepts.
And despite his rare criticism of the black culture, his love for it is glaring. “Man does not become superior 'cause you connect him to a cape / Nor does become inferior because you connect him to a ape,” he says on Ms. Mural.
He references black activists and takes listeners on time travel to a past of oppression and subjugation, not as an act of indignation but as a form of artful liberation. Ms. Mural deserves a special shout-out for how it undertakes different theories, imploring the listener to be as logical as the poet.
4. The Forever Story, JID
The Forever Story is Atlanta rapper JID's venturous third album, chockful of musical brilliance, each masterpiece with stories thriving solely but building the narrative of his life and place in Hip-Hop. On Dance Now, featuring Kenny Mason, he hints at the pressure of being associated with a rap giant like J. Cole. However, he swiftly descends into an extra groovy bop, spiced up with vocal deflections.
A surprise Rastafarian-esque verse closes the track with spiritual advice. He further flaunts his vocal skills in the melodic Kody Blu 3. The song centers on his perseverance for success despite the mounting pressure, holding a torch to his future, and transcending history.
The Forever Story isn't a destination but a journey through youth delinquency, his family, upbringing, and the inner woes of his struggle to success. JID is both a guide and explorer, uncovering new depths in his artistry.
The Dreamville star may not fancy the likely comparisons to J. Cole, but there is no denying the similarities in the eloquent, mind-stirring way they story-tell, JID taking it even a notch higher with a God-like kinetic flow and near-fluid style. “Time is of the essence and I'm progressively improving,” he says, which is true – and crucial in the fast-changing terrain of rap music.
3. No Thank You, Little Simz
Little Simz steers us through a flume of emotions from betrayal to love to anger. She probes the concept of freedom and navigates fame and anxiety – her last album being a critically-acclaimed success – with an honesty that tells she's been through it all. As expressed through her lyrics, toxic black stereotypes often limit her ability to share her struggle. However, on tracks like Broken, she's her own therapist, admitting to feelings of loneliness and insecurity but acknowledging she has the power to choose her path. With her mind as the battlefield, she fights not only her demons but any form of bondage.
“Name one time that I didn't deliver,” she dares on Gorilla. Who could deny her stellar musical prowess? No Thank You is a portrait of self-discovery and acceptance. Despite the shortcomings of success and striving for it, Simz is determined to ride the beat of her craft and follow it wherever it leads.
2. King's Disease 3, Nas
Nas struck a beautiful chord with master producer Hit-Boy, where he elevates his signature rap style through groovy and modernistic beats as he cruises through the changing landscape. The “Michael and Quincy” duo have worked on a series of projects together, leading to King's Disease III, the third installment of the Hit-Boy produced franchise. And after fifteen solo albums, the rapper isn't done yet.
The Queens native son makes a grand return with KD3. The album comprises hood anthems that capture his upbringing and street life in Queens, brotherhood and loss, and finally, an open vulnerability in a few picturesque verses. On Thun, which makes Jay-Z's list of Top Songs of 2022, he references the old beef between them. “No beef or rival, they playin' Ether on Tidal / Brothers can do anything when they decide to.”
King's Disease III opens discourse on Nas' relevance after Atlanta rapper 21 Savage stoked the flames of the controversy, resulting in a massive backlash from Hip-Hop heads and devotees. But 21's preposterous comment earned him more than a negative retort from the media. Rather than fueling a war on new-school and old-school Hip-Hop, Nas hopped on a track with him, showing his love for the evolving culture. On relevance, Nas continuously proves that good music is ever-sweet honey to its listeners, incapable of going stale – and so is the artist.
1. Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar
There are many machinations of grief. Kendrick cracks open the safe of emotional turmoil that plagued his “one thousand, eighty hundred and fifty-five days” career intermission on his intro track. United in Grief is followed by the highly-lauded N95. N95, like his 2017 banger Humble, denounces a world of vain materialism, fake “aesthetic” living, and white-washing everything.
In a generation of highly insecure, toxic men – and people in general, perception matters. On Worldwide Steppers, which features an unlikely collaboration with Kodak Black, he's on full-on vulnerability. He raps about his kids, lust addiction and infidelity, religion – which he also plays as a metaphor – and two years of writer's block.
He touches the theme of toxic masculinity throughout the album. But it is more dominant on tracks like Father Time, and We Cry Together. Giving in to his political nature, he births the controversial song Savior, where he declares not to be one. His struggles make him as human as everyone else. Although in an era of lazy songwriting over blasé and overused synths, we can declare him rap's savior.
Every other track is a journey through his troubled mind, a twisted plot, exploring the different themes that hounded his five-year disappearance. Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers may not contain as many mainstream bops as the chart-topping DAMN. Still, it is a theatrical cornucopia of elite craftsmanship mirroring the artist's demons. It allies with Eminem's statement that Kendrick is one of the greatest lyricists of all time.
This article was written and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.