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list Dec 22 2023 Written by

The Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2023

The Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2023

Discover this year’s standout releases in the Hip Hop realm with our compilation of “The Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2023.” As is our tradition, this list focuses solely on full-length albums, excluding instrumental albums, compilations, and EPs. While some artists label brief projects as albums, we distinguish projects that clock in under 30 minutes as EPs, not ranked on our album list. However, don’t overlook the brilliance of EPs – find them in a dedicated section along with the best instrumental and Hip Hop adjacent projects of 2023. Unveiling a top 60, our list showcases the cream of the crop of the year, with honorable mentions for albums that, while not in the top 60, are undeniably worth your ear. Let’s dive in and explore what we believe are the best Hip Hop albums of 2023.

Also check: Greatest Hip Hop Albums 1980 – 2023 & Top 150 Hip Hop Albums Of The 2020s

The Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2023

1. Armand Hammer - We Buy Diabetic Test Strips

Armand Hammer - We Buy Diabetic Test Strips | Review

Armand Hammer, the New York duo composed of ELUCID and billy woods, has released the best Hip Hop album of the year with their latest, We Buy Diabetic Test Strips – released under Backwoodz Studioz, the label almost singlehandedly responsible for rescuing the Hip Hop year 2023 from mediocrity. This album is a vibe, giving you a taste of the duo’s lyrical genius, taste for experimental beats, and a sound that’s pure Armand Hammer.

The producers on this joint are a wild mix—JPEGMAFIA, Child Actor, Pudge, Preservation, DJ Haram, August Fanon, El-P, Steel Tipped Dove, Messiah Musik, Kenny Segal, Willie Green, Black Noi$e, Jeff Markey, Elucid, and Sebb Bash contribute beats. It could’ve been a mess, but no, these beats come together in a mix that’s both cohesive and out there, showcasing Armand Hammer’s knack for riding different vibes. The album’s got an impressive array of guests too, including Moor Mother and Pink Siifu.

We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is one of Armand Hammer’s best, and that’s saying a lot with Paraffin (2018) and Haram (2021) in the conversation. No skips on the tracklist here. Check the opening track, “Landlines”, setting the mood with its eerie atmosphere. ELUCID and woods drop cryptic and introspective rhymes, diving into memory, nostalgia, and the ticking clock. Then hit up “Switchboard”,  a more upbeat joint with a bouncy beat and catchy hook. The lyrics stay deep, though, as the duo breaks down tech’s role in our lives.

Standout tracks include “Trauma Mic” (featuring Pink Siifu and produced by DJ Haram), a sonic assault with a banging beat and distorted guitars. ELUCID and woods spit raw and visceral bars, facing their personal demons and the world’s injustices, and “The Gods Must Be Crazy” (produced by El-P), a chaotic and unpredictable ride, with El-P’s signature production providing the perfect backdrop for the duo’s mind-bending lyrics.

Armand Hammer keeps it real throughout the album with their trademark bars, unorthodox flows, and thought-provoking lyrics. They cover everything from age and history to politics, hitting you with refreshing and challenging perspectives. The beats match the gritty tales of modern living, swinging between harsh industrial beats and dreamy interludes. Armand Hammer’s been doing their thing for a decade, and We Buy Diabetic Test Strips only solidifies their spot in the underground Hip Hop scene. It’s a bold and commanding LP that captures Armand Hammer’s journey while pushing boundaries. With a rich tapestry of lyrics and a diverse sound palette, Armand Hammer keeps owning the game in the underground Hip Hop world.

Release date: September 29, 2023. 


JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown, two of the most forward-thinking artists in Hip Hop, have consistently delivered groundbreaking albums that have captivated listeners. Danny Brown’s X X X (2011), Old (2013), and Atrocity Exhibition (2016) are regarded as exceptional works of art, while JPEGMAFIA’s Veteran (2018), All My Heroes Are Cornballs (2019), and LP! (2021) have pushed the boundaries of the genre. With the release of their collaboration album, it comes as no surprise that the project is an exciting endeavor that showcases the dynamic range and creative audacity of both artists.

The combination of Peggy’s abrasive soundscapes and Danny Brown’s erratic flows and lyrical intensity generates frantic energy throughout SCARING THE HOES. While the production occasionally overwhelms their vocals, the rawness of the mixing actually contributes to the feeling of daring experimentation that forms the foundation of the album. The rough mixing appears deliberate, a stylistic choice rather than being perceived as a flaw.

Due to the intense lyrical performances and the distorted noise in some of the instrumentals, deciphering the lyrics can require effort. However, each track is packed with clever wordplay that ranges from funny to thought-provoking to disturbing. Although some moments may be unintelligible, they remain entertaining. As Peggy asks on the opening track, “What kind of rapping is this?!” The answer to that question may take time to fully grasp, but in the future, SCARING THE HOES will surely be acknowledged as a landmark album.

The wild and weird SCARING THE HOES is as a triumph of originality and creativity. It showcases the impressive collaboration between two of Hip Hop’s most intriguing left-field artists and has the potential to become a future classic in the genre.

Release date: March 24, 2023.

3. billy woods & Kenny Segal - Maps

billy woods & Kenny Segal - Maps | Review

Maps is the new album from NYC rapper billy woods and LA producer Kenny Segal, their first full collaboration since 2019’s Hiding Places. Four years after that landmark record, the duo has reunited with a vengeance. Maps is a story of the road, or roads, taken and untaken; of living the dream and dreaming of another life. It is an album about trying to find your way home, after making your home wherever you lay your head.

“Kenny and I made more songs together before Hiding Places than we did after,” woods says. “I think we only collaborated once over the last four years and although we didn’t talk about it, I think we wanted to let that energy build again. Neither of us wanted to make Hiding Places 2. We needed to go on other journeys, artistic and otherwise, to come back and do something fresh.”

Produced in full by Kenny Segal, Maps features Danny Brown, ELUCID (Armand Hammer), Shabaka Hutchins, Sam Herring (Future Islands), Quelle Chris, Aesop Rock, Benjamin Booker, and ShrapKnel. Segal moves effortlessly through styles but everything is underpinned with deep basslines and mean drums laid down like railroad tracks. Weaving between poignant memoirs, deadpan humor, and incandescent bursts of surrealism, Maps cements both artists’ place amongst the best of their time.”

billy woods’ Armand Hammer partner, ELUCID, posed an interesting question upon the release of Maps: “Why is every billy woods album his best one?” This question is pertinent because it speaks to the consistency and quality of woods’ music – since the reboot of his career with the release of his monumental History Will Absolve Me album in 2012, woods has continued to impress with a string of exceptional solo and Armand Hammer releases.

On Maps, billy woods takes listeners on a road trip that depicts the ups and downs of touring, from the people and places to the food and the smells to the weariness of constant travel and performing. Meanwhile, Kenny Segal uses his often chaotic and dark atmosphere of boom-bap and jazz fusion to provide an immaculate supportive vision, creating a framework that allows woods’ complex wordplay to shine to the max. Expectations were high after Hiding Places, and expectations were met, and then some – the duo achieved a remarkable feat by producing something that is precisely what you might have anticipated and entirely novel simultaneously. With Maps, billy woods continues to redefine the possibilities of experimental underground Hip Hop – Maps is just another triumph for one of Hip Hop’s most innovative artists.

Release date: May 5, 2023.

4. Aesop Rock - Integrated Tech Solutions

Aesop Rock - Integrated Tech Solutions | Review

Integrated Tech Solutions is Aesop Rock’s tenth album, where he skillfully utilizes corporate jargon to dissect a parasitic worldview. The album’s ingenious, abstract, and esoteric weirdness breaks conventional norms, showcasing Aesop’s mastery of the craft. Departing from his previous loner-centric themes, Integrated Tech Solutions explores new aesthetic realms, focusing on technology and everyday life experiences.

The storytelling tracks infused with humor and non-sequiturs contribute to an album that feels like a genuine extension of Aesop’s interests. Integrated Tech Solutions presents Aesop Rock at his funniest, weaving absurd anecdotes and remarkable production into a cohesive whole. The album’s robotic and industrial instrumentals, while accessible, add a fresh dimension to Aesop’s impeccable flow, with him navigating away from the excessive wordplay that characterized some of his earlier work. The album’s synthesis of Aesop’s beats and live instrumentation pays homage to his Def Jux and Labor Days (2001) roots without mere imitation.

Throughout the album, Aesop showcases his storytelling prowess, reaching new heights with tracks like the standout “Aggressive Steven.” While some beats resemble his previous work, the wacky production and open lyricism, as seen in “Vititus,” elevate the listening experience. Notable tracks such as “Living Curfew,” “Kyanite Toothpick,” and “Black Snow” stand out with exceptional features from the likes of billy woods, Hanni El Khatib, Lealani, Rob Sonic, and Nikki Jean.

The synthesis of Aesop’s near-perfect flow with some of his best beats results in a sonic masterwork. Aesop Rock adds another feather to his cap with this exceptional release.

Release date: November 10, 2023.

5. Blockhead - The Aux

Blockhead - The Aux | Review

Blockhead’s The Aux serves as a giant exclamation point on an already momentous year for Backwoodz Studioz. It also marks Blockhead’s first rap album since his successful collaboration with Aesop Rock on Garbology in 2021. With The Aux the veteran producer showcases his talent for matchmaking, bringing together some of his favorite artists from different eras and scenes within the tracklist and creating an indie Hip Hop All-Star game of an album. The result is a collection of tracks that display highlight reel dunks, alley-oops, and deep threes, all happening so rapidly it’s hard to keep count.

The opening track, “AAU Tournaments” featuring billy woods and Navy Blue, sets the tone with its jazz rap production, allowing Blockhead’s distinctive sound to shine alongside the unique style of each emcee. “The Cella Dwellers Knew” with Quelle Chris offers a groovy, whistle-infused beat and dope bars. Aesop Rock stands out on “Mississippi” with his straightforward approach, as the production blends drums, brass, and occasional vocal and flute samples. “Mastering How To Land” featuring The Koreatown Oddity and Open Mike Eagle introduces a grimy guitar and organ sample, showcasing Blockhead’s impressive production versatility. “Lighthouse” featuring Ugly Frank brings a traditional boom-bap vibe with an ethereal piano melody, off-key whistle samples, and solid grounding drums.

“Hater P*rn” introduces Casual and Breezly Brewin with a minimalistic organ sound that evolves into a jazzy alternative rap song. Both rappers deliver strong verses, enhancing the track’s appeal. “Give Thanks” sees ELUCID taking center stage over one of the album’s simplest yet complex beats with the transition to billy woods’s low-key verse adding depth to the track. “Papi Seeds” featuring Bruiser Wolf introduces a unique vocal delivery over a complex production, blending synth and vocal samples masterfully. “God Is Busy” featuring AKAI SOLO continues the sonic journey with a unique drum pattern and a heavenly piano sample, complementing AKAI’s relentless bars.

“Ponzu Sauce” featuring Breezly Brewin and Aesop Rock exudes a grimy aesthetic reminiscent of early Griselda records, with Breezly Brewin’s vocal style and Aesop Rock’s intricate lyrics adding depth to the track. “Sad Vampire” featuring Brian Ennals impresses with its captivating instrumental and hard-hitting lyrics, while “Gargamel” featuring DefCee and ShrapKnel stands out as one of the more abstract songs with ominous beats and relentless lyrics creating an intense listening experience.

“Pink Lemonade” features RXK Nephew who surprises with this collaboration, showcasing RXK Nephew’s ability to flow effortlessly over a spacey piano beat. The mix of Detroit Scam Rap elements and a different instrumental style works surprisingly well. “1970’s Post Apocalyptic Skin Flick” featuring Creaturenomics and Fatboi Sharif brings a distorted delivery from Fatboi Sharif, perfectly complementing the abstract and distorted instrumental, with Creaturenomics adding an entertaining element to the track. The album concludes with “Now That’s What I Call a Posse Cut Vol. 56” featuring Bruiser Wolf, Danny Brown, billy woods, and Despot. Sampling an Alchemist song, the track features a laid-back and tropical-sounding instrumental with each rapper delivering satisfying verses.

Blockhead’s The Aux is a standout producer album that captivates with its collaborative efforts and diverse range of guest artists. The album’s versatility and the tight performances of the guest emcees contribute to a superb listening experience, making it the best producer’s album of 2023 and arguably Blockhead’s best work yet.

Release date: November 17, 2023.

6. Apollo Brown & Planet Asia - Sardines

Underground Hip Hop stalwarts Apollo Brown and Planet Asia, reuniting after their critically acclaimed Anchovies album in 2017, elevated their collaborative efforts with SardinesSardines is as a masterclass in minimalist Hip Hop, marked by meticulous production and dope lyrical verses.

Apollo Brown’s soulful basslines provide the ideal canvas for Planet Asia’s razor-sharp lyricism. While by now we know what to expect from both artists and Sardines draws inspiration from classic Hip Hop elements, it successfully avoids the pitfall of stagnation or cliché. Instead, Brown and Asia breathe fresh life into the genre, putting their distinct approaches on full display. This album exemplifies the art of crafting a full-length LP, a form regrettably fading into obscurity as many artists these days opt for releasing a series of quick, 25-minute projects merely to maintain constant visibility on streaming platforms. Sardines stands as a fully realized and well-rounded project, clocking in at just over 45 minutes with a fluidity that immerses the listener in an experience that captivates from start to finish.

Sardines boasts numerous standout tracks, including notable highlights like “Get the Dough,” “Wide Awake,” and “Peas and Onions”. Planet Asia’s rhymes are infused with humor, taunts, and vivid narratives, complemented by Apollo Brown’s soulful beats. The album also welcomes guest appearances from underground heavyweights like Sick Jacken, TriState, Marv Won, and Ty Farris, who all add their own vibe to the album.

If Planet Asia and Apollo Brown aimed to surpass their prior work with Sardines, it’s safe to say they’ve achieved that goal. The production builds upon the minimalistic soul sounds of its predecessor, infusing hints of jazzier undertones this time around. The lyricism, from Planet Asia and the four featured artists, is fire from start to finish. Sardines is a must-listen for anyone seeking authentic and mature Hip Hop at its finest.

Release date: September 8, 2023.

7. Larry June & The Alchemist - The Great Escape

The Great Escape is the first collaboration album between top-tier producer The Alchemist and San Francisco rapper Larry June. Larry June has been a dope act in the underground for a good while with a bunch of strong releases on his name, but this collab with The Alchemist is his best work to date, some next-level sh. Uncle Al’s elite touch is unmistakable, his authentic-sounding drums, vibrant basslines, and appealing soul sampling accumulating in beautifully smooth instrumentals that are tailor-made for Larry June’s lazy flow and down-to-earth rapping style. 45 minutes of music, 15 full tracks, expert sequencing, no time wasted on useless interludes or skits, and great cover art that matches the vibe of the content – this is a blueprint of how to make an LP. The inclusion of A-list features such as Action Bronson, Big Sean, Ty Dolla $ign, Slum Village, Boldy James, Evidence, Wiz Khalifa, Jay Worthy, Joey Bada$$, and Curren$y further enhances the project, making it one of the standout releases in March 2023, a month that was filled with high-quality albums.

Release date: March 31, 2023.

8. Danny Brown - Quaranta

Danny Brown - Quaranta | Review

Danny Brown, known for pushing the boundaries of experimental Hip Hop, has garnered a diverse fanbase with his unfiltered and unorthodox expression of emotions. With each new album release, anticipation runs high among fans eager to hear his unique style. Quaranta was particularly anticipated, especially with Danny proclaiming it as a sequel to his breakthrough album X X X (2011). However, listeners will quickly realize that Quaranta is different from what they expected. Contrary to the anticipation of a high-energy and unhinged album, Quaranta showcases Danny’s most lowkey endeavor yet, demonstrating his maturity, introspection, and wisdom as he fearlessly confronts his demons and navigates the conflict between his two personas.

The album’s production, while toning down the lyrical and thematic intensity, maintains Danny’s mind-bending style. Although the beats may not reach the off-the-wall nature of his previous works like X X XOld (2013), and Atrocity Exhibition (2016), they remain diverse, unhinged, lush, and, most importantly, unpredictable. The tracklist offers a broad spectrum of instrumentals and moods, ranging from the raw guitar solo on “Quaranta,” to the overwhelming sinister synths on “Dark Sword Angel,” and the soothing keys of “Celibate.” This versatility keeps listeners on their toes throughout the album.

Quaranta caters to every fan of Danny’s music, striking a balance between tracks like “Dark Sword Angel,” “Jenn’s Terrific Vacation,” and “Tantor” for those who loved his more chaotic days, and introspective tracks like “Down Wit It,” “Hanami,” and “Quaranta” for those who appreciate his lowkey conscious side. The album feels like a culmination of Danny’s past, a reflection that stays true to himself.

Danny’s performances on Quaranta are impeccable, evidencing a battle between his druggy ego and his more grounded self. While he maintains his iconic yelp on some songs, his normal voice dominates, possibly symbolizing a new era for him. The passion and dynamism in his performances, from the insane rapping on “Dark Sword Angel” to the vulnerability on “Down Wit It,” highlight his artistic range.

Thematically, Quaranta is Danny’s most introspective album, delving into past addictions, mental health struggles, challenging adolescence and adulthood, traumas, and even love. While the second half of the album may not match the intensity of the first, with some forgettable moments, the overall experience remains strong. Danny’s maturity shines through as he enters middle age, offering engaging lyrics and head-nodding beats, further solidifying his position as one of modern rap’s finest.

Those expecting a return to the intensity of his Atrocity Exhibition magnum opus may be disappointed. However, they should be able to appreciate the transparent chill, and emotional nature of the album, acknowledging Danny’s ability to adapt and rap over diverse beats. In essence, Quaranta is a great project from one of the most uncompromising, creatively brilliant, and unique rappers of his generation. It represents Danny’s humanity at its core, marking a significant point in his discography.

Release date: November 17, 2023.

9. Kool Keith & Real Bad Man - Serpent

Kool Keith & Real Bad Man - Serpent | Review

Kool Keith has been an enigma ever since he appeared on the Hip Hop scene as part of the Ultramagnetic MCs crew more than 35 years ago, debuting in 1988 with the innovative classic Critical Beatdown. Always out of the mainstream spotlight, his signature style is a stream-of-consciousness lyrical flow with complex vocals usually peppered with bizarre, disjointed, even delusional or disassociated themes, concepts, and references – skills that earn him a perennial nod from the underground Hip Hop community. Quality control has never been his main concern, but among his almost endless stream of albums, EPs, bootlegs, mixtapes, and collaborations there are enough classics to consider Kool Keith a bonafide Hip Hop icon, one who gives meaning to the word longevity.

Serpent is one of the better Kool Keith albums in recent years – arguably his best since the underappreciated Feature Magnetic (2016). Kool Keith has always needed a producer he could vibe with to bring out the best in him, and as the likes of Ced Gee, Dan The Automator, and Kutmaster Kurt did for him in the past, Real Bad Man hits the right notes with his production on Serpent. Real Bad Man’s profile has been rising since his recent work for the likes of Pink Siifu and especially Boldy James, and the sinister beats he crafted for Kool Keith here once more prove he is a producer to watch. So – the instrumentals are dope throughout and Kool Keith sounds inspired and is having fun – plus there are features from Atmosphere’s Slug, Ice-T (with appearances on two tracks, but not with an actual verse), ZelooperZ, Cool Calm Pete, and Edan to add some extra spice to an album that comfortably fits in the top quarter of Kool Keith’s vast catalog.

Release date: March 24, 2023.

10. Beneficence & Jazz Spastiks - Summer Night Sessions

Beneficence, a prominent figure in Brick City Hip Hop, has teamed up with the UK-based producer duo Jazz Spastiks for their collaborative album, Summer Night Sessions.

Summer Night Sessions invites listeners into a vibrant blend of jazzy street vibes, complemented by smoothly written, soothing, and thought-provoking lyrics. The collaboration between Beneficence and Jazz Spastiks creates an atmosphere that pays tribute to the classic era of Hip Hop. Noteworthy guest appearances from artists like Saukrates, Awon, Doodlebug (of Digable Planets), Skyzoo, Rakaa Iriscience, J-Live, El Da Sensei, Kid Abstrakt, Shabaam Sahdeeq, and Anthony David enrich the album’s overall experience.

The album resonates with a crystal-clear 1990s Hip Hop essence, characterized by meticulous attention to detail and Beneficence’s lyrical finesse. Summer Night Sessions feels like a zenith of throwback Hip Hop, serving as a sonic time capsule that transports listeners through nostalgic journeys with jazzy boom-bap beats and sharp cuts & scratches. While it may not offer anything you haven’t heard before, the album is a dope addition to any Hip Hop playlist.

Release date: October 20, 2023.

11. Rome Streetz & Big Ghost Ltd - Wasn't Built In A Day

Wasn’t Built In A Day is a collaboration between Rome Streetz and producer Big Ghost Ltd, a 12-track offering with guest appearances by Griselda emcee Conway The Machine, Wu-Tang Clan legend Method Man, Plex Diamonds, Lukey Cage, Swab, and Chyna Streetz. The elusive Big Ghost Ltd’s work in recent years is nothing short of impressive, and with this album, he adds another jewel to his crown. Wasn’t Built In A Day is one the best Big Ghost-produced albums to date – Van Ghost (2018) with ANKHLEJOHN remains our absolute favorite, but this project comes close enough. All ingredients to elevate an album to that next level are here: the basement boom-bap beats are top-notch, Rome Streetz is one of the best emcees of his generation, and the guests deliver the goods too (that Method Man verse is FIRE). There is lots of music constantly dropping in the grimy street rap subgenre, but this is the benchmark against which similar albums will be held in 2023.

Release date: February 27, 2023.

12. Oddisee - To What End

Talented producer/emcee Oddisee has long established his name based on the strength of his previous works. Collaborations such as In The Ruff (with YU and Uptown XO, as Diamond District, 2009), Tangible Dream (2013), and The Good Fight (2015) stand out as our favorite Oddisee projects in an impressive catalog of albums, EPs, and mixtapes. To What End is an exceptional album too, showcasing Oddisee’s rare combination of skill both on the microphone and behind the boards, a quality that sets him apart from many other Hip Hop artists. On To What End, Oddisee’s genre-crossing musicality and his ability to craft captivating melodic hooks are fully displayed, complemented by his introspective and thought-provoking lyrics. The album is a compelling and artistically grand offering, representing the finest essence of Hip Hop soul.

Release date: January 20, 2023.

13. El Michels Affair & Black Thought - Glorious Game

This collaboration between El Michels Affair, a New York-based funk and soul band, and Black Thought, the legendary emcee and frontman of The Roots, is a match made in heaven. Their collaborative album Glorious Game is a masterpiece of modern jazzy soul, with tight grooves and expert musicianship from start to finish, all topped off with Black Thought’s smooth and effortless flows. It’s not as good as Cheat Codes, Black Thought’s collaboration with producer Danger Mouse (which was our 2022 AOTY), but Glorious Game still is a great follow-up for Black Thought.

Glorious Game is a classy and stylish little album that showcases the talents of both El Michels Affair and Black Thought. The production is top-notch, with each instrument and element given room to breathe, and Thought’s lyrics are thought-provoking, impactful, and as always flawlessly delivered. Black Thought’s enduring lyrical prowess, dynamic flow, and ability to touch on a wide range of themes and topics have solidified his place as one of the greatest rappers of all time. Glorious Game is a must-listen for fans of soul, jazz, and Hip Hop, or just good music in general.

Release date: April 14, 2023.

14. AJ Suede & Televangel - Parthian Shots

Parthian Shots is AJ Suede and Televangel’s second collaborative album, following last year’s Metatron’s Cube. Metatron’s Cube ended up in the top 40 of our best of 2022 list, and Parthian Shots is just as good as its predecessor. Televangel can always be relied upon to deliver a robust set of immaculately produced moody instrumentals – on this album a little less edgy than on Metatron’s Cube, but once again a perfect fit for AJ Suede’s smooth stream-of-consciousness flows. Parthian Shots has appearances from Onry Ozzborn, Rich Jones, Old Grape God, Milc, Nacho Picasso, Mr. Muthaf*ckin Exquire (“PBS Kids” is one of the album’s highlights), and Bruiser Wolf to help round out what is an abstract Hip Hop tour-de-force and another AJ Suede must-listen.

Release date: March 3, 2023.

15. Stik Figa & The Expert - Ritual

“Producer The Expert fuses elements from jazz and 60s-era psychedelic music on Ritual, which sets the backdrop for emcee Stik Figa at his most honest and personal. People who have heard psychedelic Hip Hop opus The Overview Effect by The Expert together with emcee Jermiside, already know they’re in for a trip. A glimpse at the tracklist also sets the tone for what to expect with guest spots by Blu, Solemn Brigham (of Marlowe), Defcee, Sleep Sinatra, and Tanya Morgan. But the true beauty of this record lies in the contrast: the way jazz influences collide with psychedelic production pushes both the Dublin, Ireland-based producer and the Topeka, Kansas native into new Hip Hop territory.

Stik Figa has a great ear for beats—he’s got a back catalog of thirteen years deep to show it. His releases include early work with Oddisee, the collaborative album The City Under The City with L’Orange, last year’s Valley of Dry Bones with Conductor Williams, and releases on Mello Music Group with production work by Apollo Brown, Black Milk, and Exile, among others.

Now, with The Expert, he finds himself in a sonic pastiche of psychedelic effects, banging drums, clear touches of jazz, and deep basslines. The Expert freely bends what he digs up from his crates: layers upon layers of Mellotron chords, vibraphone melodies, guitar stabs, and swirling strings tumble over each other. All for hard-hitting beats that defy the golden-era boom-bap rulebook. Case in point: when was the last time you heard a solo piano piece between tracks with reversed drum samples and 808 kick drums? Irish pianist Daniel Luke delivers just that on “Rob Peter, Pay Pallbearer.”

Stik Figa moves with ease from dead honest observations to showing lyrical dexterity and skill, to expressing inner struggles. Ritual is without a doubt his most personal body of work to date. It’s just as he raps on “Uknowhut?” featuring Blu: “Self-fulfillment remains the greatest metric of wealth.” Besides Stik Figa openly sharing his inner musings on the album towards that goal, the same goes for The Expert: he shares his own deepening and further self-cultivation—a head-nodding, mind-blowing continuation of his psychedelic-tinged beat-making antics.”

The Overview Effect was one of the best Hip Hop albums of 2022Ritual is among 2023’s best. At 35 minutes the album is on the short side, but that’s a minor complaint. Ritual is a tasteful and stylish piece of Hip Hop, an album you can’t afford to miss out on.

Release date: June 16, 2023.

16. CZARFACE - Czartificial Intelligence

Comprising New York emcee Inspectah Deck from Wu-Tang Clan and Boston emcee/producer duo 7L & Esoteric of the Army of the Pharaohs, CZARFACE consistently delivers creative and engaging efforts. Czartificial Intelligence doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it maintains the enjoyable vibe of previous Czarface albums. True to form, it’s a virtuoso collection featuring catchy tunes, superb sampling, scratching, and brilliant rhyming. The album shifts gears by focusing on more relatable content, moving away from ambitious storytelling and concept-heavy tracks. Instead of grandiose superhero perspectives, it offers a glimpse into the world of aging emcees who appreciate comics and embrace their mortal and humble sides.

7L’s beats on Czartificial Intelligence continue to channel the golden age of boom-bap, with quirky eccentricities and satisfying scratches. Inspectah Deck and Esoteric seamlessly flow over the production, delivering sticky hooks, nerdy references, sports similes, and other pop culture nods. Standout tracks like “All That For A Drop of Blood” and “You Know My Style” showcase their cold bars, while “Mama’s Basement” (a nod to the ATCQ classic “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo”) delves into humorous lyricism, revealing the group’s deep connection to the subject matter. Features from the likes of Godfather Don and Kool Keith (among others) add additional layers to the album.

While Every Hero Needs A Villain (2015) remains their standout album, Czartificial Intelligence signifies another dope entry to their impressive discography—a testament to their fun samples and great flows from start to finish.

Release date: December 1, 2023.

17. Fatboi Sharif & Steel Tipped Dove - Decay

Backwoodz Studioz has been at the forefront of experimental, left-field Hip Hop since the 2010s, with the elusive billy woods as the figurehead. This collaboration between Fatboi Sharif and Steel Tipped Dove is another Backwoodz hit, the third released in 2023, after billy woods and Kenny Segal’s Maps and SKECH185 and Jeff Markey’s He Left Nothing For The Swim Back.

Over the past few years, the New Jersey rapper Fatboi Sharif has made a name for himself with a vivid, disorienting, utterly unique sound. On his new album Decay, he joins forces with Steel Tipped Dove, a veteran New York producer known for his work with Armanda Hammer and R.A.P. Ferreira, among others. The haunting soundscapes Steel Tipped Dove produced for Decay are among the best he ever did, providing the perfect backdrops for Fatboi Sharif’s unsettling vocal performances.

Fatboi Sharif’s abstract mutterings will take some deciphering, but the feeling of disquiet that permeates the album is awesome. His mordant lyrics are delivered in a stretched-out, theatrical mutter that favors eerie, experimental, minor-key productions. Sharif is playful and charismatic, but he’s also driven to make music that makes you feel weird.

The left-field Decay offers a delicious slice of psychedelic horrorcore, surreal but thoroughly captivating. There are no guest-rappers on the album; the whole record is nothing but Fatboi Sharif rapping in jagged, unpredictable cadences over Steel Tipped Dove’s flickering, evocative tracks. This is one of many excellent projects Steel Tipped Dove’s name is attached to this year, and it elevates Fatboi Sharif to the next level.

Release date: July 21, 2023.

18. Skyzoo & The Other Guys - The Mind Of A Saint

Skyzoo’s eleventh studio album The Mind Of A Saint – produced entirely by The Other Guys – delves into the innermost thoughts of one Franklin Saint, the lead character in the hit FX show, Snowfall, which follows the early stages of the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles in the early 1980s.

After his 2006 debut Cloud 9: The 3 Day High (a collaborative album with North Carolina producer 9th Wonder), Skyzoo went on to build one of the most consistent discographies in the game. The Salvation (2009), Live From The Tape Deck (with Illmind, 2011), A Dream Deferred (2012), Barrel Brothers (with Torae, 2014), Music For My Friends (2015), The Easy Truth (with Apollo Brown, 2016), In Celebration Of Us (2018), and Retropolitian (with Pete Rock, 2019) and All The Brilliant Things (2021) all are great Hip Hop albums, and The Mind Of A Saint is the next jewel in Skyzoo’s crown.

Intimate knowledge of the Snowfall show, or of the situation in 1980s Los Angeles, is not necessary to enjoy The Mind Of A Saint – the elegant jazz- and soul-flavored boom-bap production make for an enjoyable listening experience regardless of familiarity with the source material that served as inspiration for the album. That said, Skyzoo’s writing masterfully captures Franklin Saint’s experiences and thoughts about the world he lives in – Skyzoo makes the concept work. His pen game and his flows are as strong as ever, and the layered narrative captivates from start to finish. The Mind Of A Saint is another Skyzoo winner.

Release date: January 13, 2023.

19. Elzhi & Oh No - Heavy Vibrato

Elzhi and Oh No come together for Heavy Vibrato, a collaboration that highlights Elzhi’s consistent high-quality output. With over two decades in the game, Elzhi continues to deliver under-appreciated gems in the modern underground scene. Oh No provides a cohesive backdrop marked by laid-back vibraphone patterns, light drums, and deep bass lines throughout the album. The subdued, nocturnal atmosphere is a recurring theme in Oh No’s recent work, creating an intriguing backdrop for Elzhi’s performance.

The album’s seamless transitions between tracks contribute to its cohesive feel, maintaining a subdued, nocturnal vibe throughout. Overall, Heavy Vibrato offers a very laid-back yet ear-catching listening experience, showcasing the enduring talent of Elzhi and the production finesse of Oh No.

As one of Detroit’s greatest emcees, Elzhi rose to prominence with Slum Village and later achieved solo success with the classic The Preface in 2008. Heavy Vibrato stands alongside Elzhi’s other notable works like Lead Poison (2016) and 7 Times Down, 8 Times Up (2020), solidifying his consistent quality output over the past 25 years.

Release date: December 1, 2023.

20. Neak - Die Wurzel

“Everything can be traced back to its roots. Sometimes, those roots are ignored, overlooked, unattended to, and uncared for. At the heart of American culture, the roots of African-American became nurtured through the historical beauty and ugliness of American society, and those cataclysmic experiences still resonate within our culture, mindset, and way of life. Die Wurzel explores black life post-1619 to the present day. It is designed to make you pause, think, and reflect on the black experience in America with a level of compassion and sensitivity that has made way for perceived cultural black norms deriving from African-American trials and tribulations. Jammed with black musical roots: gospel, soul, jazz, funk, and rap, Die Wurzel is an intellectual, witty, and soul-driven musical journey that will hold a dear place in the heart of black urban society.”

Chicago-based multi-talent Neak is an artist who has been on our radar for a while now – his Kwesbaar album was one of our favorite releases of 2019, and in recent years he’s been involved in plenty more quality projects besides that one too. Die Wurzel is his most ambitious and arguably his most important record yet, packed with thoughtful lyrics, complemented by lush musical backdrops mostly produced by Neak himself (with additional production by regular collaborator Rashid Hadee). Sequencing, interludes, transitions – everything is done to perfection here, this record is a keeper without a doubt. Fans of mature, intelligent Hip Hop, and those who like music from artists like Common, Odissee, and even Kendrick Lamar, definitely have to check out Die Wurzel.

Release date: February 27, 2023.

21. JustVibez & Negro Justice - Art Of The Craft

Based out of Nashville, Negro Justice is a skilled emcee who teamed up with producer JustVibez – also from Nashville – to create a collaborative project titled Art Of The Craft. JustVibez produced the entirety of tracks on Art Of The Craft, bringing a cohesive vibe to the album that draws inspiration from artists such as Outkast and UGK, without sounding derivative in any way. His beats are laid-back yet edgy, perfectly complementing Negro Justice’s versatile flow. With his Southern drawl, Negro Justice’s warm voice adds a soulful touch to the album as it takes the listener on a poignant and compelling musical journey, tackling personal and socio-political issues with equal ease. Art Of The Craft is a GREAT Hip Hop album, one that deserves your attention.

Release date: April 7, 2023.

22. Four Elements & Beyond - Clock The Chemistry

Four Elements & Beyond is a crew from New York, and their Clock The Chemistry is one of the best 90s-centric Hip Hop albums of the year. Warm boom-bap soundscapes crafted by producer Freak Tha Monsta serve as banging backdrops for entertaining bars and dope flows from rappers Miggs Son Daddy and WRD Life. Shy The BeatYoda’s scratched-in samples here and there give the album more of that 90s feel, and at 45 minutes the album has a normal runtime too. This is how throwback Hip Hop should be done.

Release date: February 5, 2023.

23. Recognize Ali - Back To Mecca II

After having a quiet 2022 elite underground emcee Recognize Ali returns in 2023 with Back To Mecca II – a sequel to his 90s-inspired Back To Mecca (2017) with producer Giallo Point. Recognize Ali is taking the listeners back to like 1993 on this album, once again with production from Giallo Point, with additional beats provided by Anu EL, Sibbs Roc, and Hobgoblin. Back To Mecca II offers some of the hardest beats and overall raw gutter production you will hear this year. Recognize Ali is a lyrical emcee who’s got bars for days, and his raspy flow is made for the rough and rugged beats he gets to work with here. Recognize Ali has released plenty of dope projects in recent years, and Back To Mecca II is one of his best yet.

Release date: March 24, 2023. 

24. Navy Blue & Budgie - Ways Of Knowing

Ways Of Knowing is Navy Blue’s major label debut and his best project to date. Budgie’s soulful production is simply gorgeous, a perfect fit for Navy Blue – whose continuing growth as an artist and a human being are evident through his relatable content here. The introspection we know from his previous works remains, but his outlook is somewhat sunnier and more mature. Ways Of Knowing is a beautiful piece of music, with no weak spots at all. A couple of highlights though – most notably the superb “Windows To The Soul” (with an awesome feature from Kelly Moonstone).

Release date: March 24, 2023.

25. SKECH185 & Jeff Markey - He Left Nothing For The Swim Back

We love forward-thinking artists who dare to color outside the lines, making music different from what most others are coming up with. He Left Nothing For The Swim Back is such an envelope-pushing piece of music exactly to our liking. It is a collaborative album from rapper SKECH185 and producer Jeff Markey, and it is released on the Backwoodz Studioz – the indie label that has been at the forefront of progressive left-field Hip Hop for two decades now, in many ways taking up the mantle left by Def Jux. billy woods and Armand Hammer are Backwoodz Studioz’s flagship acts of course, but mostly everything that comes out of Backwoodz is excellent. He Left Nothing For The Swim Back is no exception. Jeff Markey’s instrumentals are chaotic and intense and slightly unsettling, perfect companions for SKECH185’s wild and haunting vocals. A bunch of strong features provide the icing on the cake, most notably from Backwoodz VIPs PremRock and billy woods. He Left Nothing For The Swim Back is not an album for the mainstream crowd, but it sure is one for listeners who dig other experimental Hip Hop projects that emerged out of the Backwoodz Studioz recently, or from labels like Def Jux and Anticon further in the past.

Release date: February 3, 2023.

26. MIKE - Burning Desire

MIKE - Burning Desire | Review

MIKE’s Hip Hop roots can be traced back to the dynamic streets of New York City’s underground scene where he became a crucial member of the sLUms collective in 2015. He learned from his peers while developing his own style, combining his reflective lyrics with the vibrant energy of the city. MIKE’s laid-back delivery and thought-provoking questions dive into topics such as grief, family, and identity, all while riding smooth, soulful beats that carve out his unique sound. Although MIKE has been consistent with his half-asleep flow, he also explores different beats and tempos, producing a diverse and dynamic sound.

The self-produced Burning Desire showcases his growth and maturity as both an artist and an individual, standing out against the flashy and loud personas often found in Hip Hop. This album is an intimate affair, with Mike’s verses whispering from the soul as he tackles universal themes with his signature flair.

Burning Desire is MIKE’s most cohesive album to date, with standout tracks such as “plz don’t cut my wings”, “Burning Desire”, “Let’s Have a Ball”, “Golden Hour”, and “African Sex Freak Fantasy” which highlights MIKE’s experimentation with a more aggressive beat and flow. Overall, if you are searching for a Hip Hop album that is authentic, soulful, and powerful, look no further than Burning Desire. This album deserves your attention and appreciation.

Release date: October 13, 2023.

27. Danger Mouse & Jemini - Born Again

Producer Danger Mouse and Brooklyn emcee Jemini first joined forces in 2003 for the often overlooked but excellent Ghetto Pop Life. After being shelved since 2004, the sophomre album we never knew we missed has finally arrived.

Danger Mouse, who played a pivotal role in 2022’s best Hip Hop album with Cheat Codes, his collaboration with Black Thought, brings his signature production prowess to the table. Born Again bursts to life with “All I,” immediately reminding us of the magic these two can conjure together. Danger Mouse’s psychedelic underground beats set the stage for Jemini’s charismatic storytelling and vulnerability.

Born Again is a sonic journey that blends body-moving rhythms, crate-digger samples, and old-school soul. Danger Mouse’s sophisticated musicianship, with its layers and intricacies, keeps the listener engaged. It’s a rare gem that’s both an instant banger and a piece of art to dissect. Jemini’s lyrical prowess is evident, especially on tracks like “Dear Poppa,” where he navigates complex feelings about his father. But he can also bring the classic Hip Hop swagger, as showcased on the gritty and funky “Knuckle Sandwich II.”

With a compact ten-track lineup, “Born Again” doesn’t overstay its welcome. Tracks like “Locked Up” and “Brooklyn Basquiat” capture Jemini’s blend of pain and playfulness, offering a balanced listening experience. Born Again is a top-notch collaboration that was delayed since 2004 but now finally sees the light of day. Do we have a long-lost classic here? It sure feels like it.

Release date: August 25, 2023.

28. Nas - Magic 3

Nas and Hit-Boy’s sixth collab, Magic 3, marks a solid finale to their journey that kicked off in 2021. It’s a noteworthy entry in their collaborative journey, clocking in at 45 minutes, making it a proper full-length. A fitting wrap to an impressive run.

Now, we’ve voiced some reservations in the past about Hit-Boy’s overly polished beats, but on Magic 3, the production feels more on point especially when compared to the first two King’s Disease albums for instance. Nas, as usual, brings the lyrical heat and, considering this release celebrates his 50th birthday, he proves he’s still reigning in the Hip Hop realm.

Magic 3 boasts plenty of standout tracks, notably “Sitting With My Thoughts,” characterized by its captivating melody and personal lyrics. Other tracks like “Jodeci Member”, “I Love This Feeling”, “Based On True Events”, “Based on True Events Pt. 2”, “Speechless Pt. 2”, and “Japanese Soul Bar” also showcase Nas’s lyrical power.

Despite our reservations about the production styles Hit-Boy employs, it’s safe to say Nas and Hit-Boy consistently deliver as a duo, and Magic 3 keeps their collaborative magic alive. King’s Disease 3 is the best project they did together, but this album stands as a commendable addition to their joint efforts, reaffirming Nas’s enduring talent. Props to the Hip Hop OG for continuing to hold it down in the 2020s.

Release date: September 14, 2023.

29. Killer Mike - MICHAEL

Killer Mike - Michael | Review

Killer Mike’s long-awaited return to the solo scene comes in the form of MICHAEL, a record that solidifies his status as a Hip Hop heavyweight. After an 11-year hiatus, the Atlanta native unveils a musical autobiography that is both touchingly introspective and unapologetically raw.

MICHAEL serves as a testament to Killer Mike’s unwavering dedication to his craft. This album is not about chasing chart-topping hits or conforming to the trends of the industry. Instead, it is a bold step back from the spotlight, allowing Killer Mike to bare his soul and share his truth. The album cover alone, featuring a nine-year-old Killer Mike adorned with a halo and devil horns, captures the dichotomy within—an artist who navigates the light and darkness, exploring the complexities of his identity.

Departing from the well-trodden politically fueled path of his collaborative work with El-P as Run the Jewels, Michael dives deep into Killer Mike’s roots, paying homage to the vibrant Southern rap scene that shaped him. The influence of gospel, blues, and the spirit of Atlanta reverberates throughout the album, creating a sonic tapestry that is both familiar and refreshing, paying homage to the evocative sounds of ’90s Hip Hop and the transformative soul of the ’70s that shaped its foundations.

MICHAEL transcends mere nostalgia though. It provides a vantage point that only Killer Mike’s present existence can offer, channeling his lived experiences, social consciousness, and unfiltered authenticity. The album boldly merges nostalgia with innovation, capturing the essence of contemporary Atlanta sound with its infectious beats and diverse production, leaning towards the soulful side while seamlessly incorporating elements of boom-bap, trap, and soul. The careful orchestration of choirs, pianos, and organs adds a layer of richness to the album, while Killer Mike’s commanding presence on the mic ensures that every word hits with impact.

While MICHAEL may not match the same level of overall quality or the rage and intensity found in Killer Mike’s previous solo masterpiece, R.A.P. Music (2012), it remains a powerful testament to his artistry. His rhymes are as sharp as ever, delivering thought-provoking and personal narratives that resonate deeply. The album’s many features are well-placed, effectively blending into the fabric of the project and adding depth to the overall experience, even if the album could have done with a few fewer guests – Young Thug we could have done without for instance. Others shine –  Andre 3000 has the most memorable appearance, of course.

Overall, MICHAEL is a testament to Killer Mike’s artistic growth and unwavering authenticity. Whether you’re a fan of the Run the Jewels albums or Killer Mike’s previous solo projects, this album is sure to captivate you. It is a triumphantly reflective and gospel-infused victory lap, that solidifies Killer Mike’s place among the Hip Hop greats, reminding us once again why he is one of the best in the game. The album’s profound themes, captivating lyricism, and engaging production make it a standout release of 2023.

Release date: June 16, 2023. 

30. Chino XL & Stu Bangas - God's Carpenter

God’s Carpenter is a collaborative album by iconic lyricist Chino XL and producer Stu Bangas that delivers banging boom-bap beats and complex rhyme flows. Chino XL’s lyricism is intellectual, vivid, and intricate, while Stu Bangas’ production is polished yet hard-hitting. The two Hip Hop heavyweights work brilliantly together, with Chino’s big bars needing the robust underscore of Stu Bangas.

God’s Carpenter is a super bar-heavy offering, with Chino crafting incredibly complex and intricate wordplay and delivering it in his unique and iconic way. The dark boom-bap production that Stu Bangas has perfected perfectly complements Chino’s unstoppable flows. The album takes listeners on a journey through Chino XL’s mind, tackling issues from politics to personal demons. The opening track “God’s Carpenter” sets the tone for the album, with Chino XL’s verbose bars needing the robust underscore of Stu Bangas’ production. Other standout tracks include “AMBImonsterous,” “Murder Rhyme Kill,” and “Scribbled Sorcery.”

Chino XL’s lyricism has always been next level, but his first four albums were let down in places by subpar beats. Teaming up with Stu Bangas was a masterstroke, making God’s Carpenter probably Chino XL’s best album beats-wise. God’s Carpenter is a must-listen for any fan of underground Hip Hop, especially for fans of Chino XL who have been waiting eleven years for a new project from the lyrical powerhouse.

Release date: July 7, 2023.

31. Day Tripper - What A Time To Be DEAD

Day Tripper is an artist from Atlanta, active as a solo artist and as half of the alt-Hip Hop duo The Difference Machine. The Difference Machine released a strong project – Unmasking The Spirit Fakers – last year, one of the best left-field Hip Hop albums of 2022, and part of our best-of-the-year list too. What A Time To Be DEAD is a Day Tripper solo project, and it’s just as good as last year’s The Difference Machine album. It’s not as dense and hard-edged as Unmasking The Spirit Fakers, but the album’s psychedelic instrumentals are equally engaging. Day Tripper’s bars and flows are great too, his stream-of-consciousness rhymes perfectly gel with the appealing musical backdrops. What A Time To Be DEAD is a layered piece of music, an album that gets better with each and every listen.

Release date: January 11, 2023.

32. Madlib, Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs - Champagne For Breakfast

Queens-based rapper Meyhem Lauren keeps his momentum going with Champagne For Breakfast, arguably his best work to date – improving even on Black Vladimir, which was one of the best underground Hip Hop releases of 2022. Black Vladimir was a great project largely thanks to the menacing production by Daringer, Daringer’s beats proved to be a perfect fit for Meyhem Lauren’s booming baritone and his gritty street raps.

For Champagne For Breakfast Meyhem Lauren reconnected with DJ Muggs – they previously collaborated on the dope Gems From The Equinox (2017)and brought in Madlib to share production duties with Muggs. Like having Daringer on the boards for Black Vladimir, bringing in Muggs and Madlib to take care of the production for Champagne For Breakfast proved to be another Meyhem Lauren masterstroke – elite producers like these simply add value to any project they put their stamp on. On Champagne For Breakfast it’s Muggs signature ominous soundscapes that are on the musical forefront, but there’s enough of Madlib’s touch to add some unique kind of twists to the hard and dark beats. Nothing innovative about this album, but its straightforwardness is a strength really – the beats are dope as f, and Meyhem Lauren comes with some great bars and flows all the way through. Champagne For Breakfast is one of the best underground releases of 2023.

Release date: April 7, 2023.

33. Jay Royale - Criminal Discourse

Baltimore-based artist Jay Royale takes listeners on a captivating journey with his latest album, Criminal Discourse. This third installment in an impressive trilogy (following 2018’s The Ivory Stoop and 2020’s The Baltimore Housing Project) showcases Jay’s growth as an artist while delving into the evolution of street communication. From the payphone era to wiretaps and everything in between, Jay explores the significance of the trap phone in this gritty and immersive release.

Drawing inspiration from his hometown, and also from its critically acclaimed series “The Wire,” Jay Royale expertly weaves a narrative that pays homage to the communication methods employed by the streets. Criminal Discourse features a talented lineup of collaborators, including AZ Havoc of Mobb Deep, Kool G Rap, Styles P from The Lox, Saigon, and Willie the Kid, each adding their own unique perspective to the project.

The album effortlessly captures the essence of 1990s Hip Hop, evoking a nostalgic ambiance with its atmospheric beats and sharp cuts & scratches. Jay Royale’s lyrics, reminiscent of the mafioso rap style popularized by icons like Nas, AZ, Raekwon, and Kool G Rap, further enhance the album’s authenticity and provide a refreshing throwback to classic Hip Hop.

Clocking in at just the right length with its 45 minutes, Criminal Discourse immerses listeners in Jay Royale’s storytelling abilities and masterful wordplay. The production complements Jay’s artistic vision and unwavering dedication to his craft. The album transcends its subject matter, appealing to fans of the genre’s golden era as well as those seeking a fresh perspective within the contemporary Hip Hop landscape.

With its captivating narrative, top-notch collaborations, and a clear nod to 1990s Hip Hop, Criminal Discourse undoubtedly deserves a spot among the year’s top releases.

Release date: June 18, 2023.

34. Boldy James & RichGains - Indiana Jones

Boldy James is one of the most prolific, and one of the most consistent artists in the game, his recent run of releases is awe-inspiring. His ‘lazy’ flow is an acquired taste and not for everybody, but his deadly bars always are cinematic and powerful – at this point, Boldy James has to be considered one of the elites in the coke rap subgenre.  Of James’s prodigious output in recent years, The Price Of Tea In China (with The Alchemist, 2020), Manger On McNichols (with Sterling Toles, 2020), and Bo Jackson (with The Alchemist, 2021) are the best albums, in our opinion. Killing Nothing (a collaboration with producer Real Bad Man) was his best project released in 2022, and James’s consistent streak continues with Indiana Jones.

Indiana Jones is produced entirely by RichGains, and his elegant instrumentals nicely match James’s ice-cold flows. Unlike many of his colleagues, Boldy James has an ear for beats and the ability to find producers with whose work his style of rapping comes out best. Even if Indiana Jones is not quite as good as Boldy James’s best three albums, it is a fine addition to his discog.

Release date: January 20, 2023.

35. Talib Kweli & Madlib - Liberation 2

Liberation 2 is the sequel – ten years in the making – to Talib Kweli and Madlib 2006’s Liberation album, sporting a 15-song tracklist and a bunch of guest appearances – from Talib Kweli’s children Diani and Amani, and from artists like Q-Tip, Roc Marciano, Westside Gunn, Pink Siifu, Roy Ayers, and the late Mac Miller (among many others). Liberation 2 was exclusively released on the Luminary Podcasts platform, suffering from the same terrible roll-out strategy that severely killed hype, attention, and potential exposure for last year’s Black Star album. Too bad, because Liberation 2 is a dope project – more fleshed-out and better-rounded than the first Liberation album.

The Biz Markie homage “One For Biz” (with Q-Tip and Wildchild) is an easy favorite, “Ad Vice” (with Diani & Pink Siifu), “Marathon Thru Babylon” (with Meshell Ndegeocello), “Something Special” (with Roy Ayers), and “Best Year Ever” are other standouts. Close to 50 minutes of music, stacked with intelligent, empowering, and entertaining bars complemented by lush Madlib production – Liberation 2 is a great record by two industry icons and a host of interesting guests, a project that deserves more spotlight than it will probably get.

Release date: March 6, 2023.

36. Spectacular Diagnostics - RAW LESSONS

Chicago-based producer Spectacular Diagnostics’ RAW LESSONS is his best work yet. His elegant boom-bap beats have a throwback vibe here and there, but Spectacular Diagnostics adds layered sound elements that give his music a definite own unique feel. To add rhymes to his captivating instrumentals he recruited 18 vocalists –  from Wrecking Crew and Backwoodz affiliates Curly Castro and PremRock to the distinct signatures of Fatboi Sharif and Bruiser Wolf to UK representation with features by SonnyJim, King Kashmere, CLBRKS, Lee Scott, Bisk, and others. We are fans – RAW LESSONS is one of the best producer’s albums you will hear this year.

Release date: March 24, 2023.


Los Angeles native rapper ICECOLDBISHOP’s highly anticipated debut album GENERATIONAL CURSE delivers on every front. Epic Records stated upon the record’s release: “GENERATIONAL CURSE rails against the rigged system with unfiltered storytelling and some of the most undeniable and unbreakable rhymes you’ll hear all year.” Enough truth to this statement – The South Central-born ICECOLDBISHOP comes off like this generation’s Kendrick Lamar, with poignant and meaningful content from top to bottom. The concept behind the album is extremely well executed – on GENERATIONAL CURSE ICECOLDBISHOP addresses systemic trauma and modern society’s obsession with guns and violence, going into a lot of detail on how his generation is pretty much f***ed from the start at every level.

Production-wise, the 13-track record mixes and matches sounds of different eras and areas of Hip Hop to great effect – blending Southern Hip Hop and trap vibes with 90s-centric West Coast G-funk. An experimental edge to a lot of the instrumentals gives GENERATIONAL CURSE a definite own sound, which is added to by the idiosyncratic way ICECOLDBISHOP modulates the pitch of his voice and the way he switches up flows. GENERATIONAL CURSE is a special album, reminiscent in more than one way of Kendrick Lamar’s GKMC breakout album – it will be interesting to see where ICECOLDBISHOP goes from here.

Release date: March 24, 2023.

38. Vinnie Paz - All Are Guests In The House Of God

All Are Guests In The House Of God is Jedi Mind Tricks frontman Vinnie Paz’s eighth solo album. This 18-track LP follows his previous solo projects Season Of The Assassin (2010), God Of The Serengeti (2012), The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store (2016), The Pain Collector (2018), As Above So Below (2020), Burn Everything That Bares Your Name (2021), and Tortured in the Name of God’s Unconditional Love (2022). Throughout his career, Vinnie Paz has consistently delivered quality Hip Hop, and this latest album is no exception.

Clocking in at close to an hour in length, All Are Guests In The House Of God showcases Vinnie Paz’s refusal to follow trends and compromise his artistic integrity for shorter, attention-grabbing quickie projects that are common in today’s Hip Hop landscape. This album stays true to his signature style and dedication to producing substantial bodies of work.

The album features a nice lineup of guest appearances including artists such as Freeway, Smif-N-Wessun, Ransom, Saigon, Timbo King, Lord Goat, Ill Bill, Tha God Fahim, and the late Blacastan. Additionally, production credits are shared by acclaimed underground producers Leaf Dog, Giallo Point, Wino Willy, C-Lance, Farmabeats, Vic Grimes, DJ Dister, Stu Bangas – among others.

Expect nothing less than hard-hitting bars and booming boom-bap beats from Vinnie Paz. For over two decades, Vinnie Paz has consistently solidified his position as one of the most successful independent Hip Hop artists in the underground scene. With this latest solo effort, he further cements his place among indie rap’s elite.

Release date: November 17, 2023.

39. King Kashmere & Alecs Delarge - The Album To End All Alien Abductions

The Album To End All Alien Abductions is an epic space age boom bap odyssey that unites UK stalwart King Kashmere and producer/rapper Alecs DeLarge for a dope hour-long 24-track ride. After the intro, the album opener “Angel Strike” sets the tone for a triumphant journey, with King Kashmere declaring his return with confidence and skill. Kash’s lyrics are rooted in sci-fi and comic lore, but he also offers a rare glimpse into his personal life on tracks like “Old Earth” and “House of Cards.” Alecs’ production is experimental, rooted in 90’s sensibilities but also fresh and evolving. He even steps from behind the boards to join Kashmere on mic duties, showcasing their dynamic chemistry on tracks like “Most Blunted.” With a feature list spanning both sides of the Atlantic, The Album To End All Alien Abductions proves that the UK has a firm seat at the table in the international Hip Hop community.

Release date: June 20, 2023.

40. Logic - College Park

Retirement served Logic well. Before he dropped his supposed retirement album No Pressure in 2020, he had a few clunkers on his name (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2019) was particularly terrible), but with No Pressure – which was a pretty good album – it looked like he went out on a high note. Logic quit retirement almost immediately though, returning with Vinyl Days in 2022 – his first post-retirement studio album which turned out to be a winner, his best project yet, and a top-15 album of 2022. The album served as a warm love letter to the golden age of Hip Hop, with diverse and appealing sample-based boom-bap production from start to finish. Because of its 90s-centric vibe, we prefer Vinyl Days to the more modern sounds of College Park, but Logic’s 2023 album is a good record in its own right.

Just like Vinyl DaysCollege Park is a monster of an album – just under 70 minutes in length. The concept of College Park has Logic going back to 2011, putting himself in the shoes of his younger self in a day of his life at the start of his career. “Lightsabers”, “Redpill VII”, “Clone Wars III”, “Gaithersburg Freestyle”, “Paradise II”, “Village Slum”, “Self Medication”, “Come On Down”, “Shimmy” – plenty of dope songs on College Park, with engaging production, great content, and entertaining performances from Logic and guests such as RZA, Redman, Joey Bada$$, and Bun B (among others).

We need to talk about the skits on this album though. The skits are here to help the transition from track to track and to cement the thematic cohesiveness of the album. But putting skits this long at the end of songs instead of making them their own tracks is a terrible choice. Listening to a skit is funny once or twice, maybe. But they get annoying quickly on repeated listens, especially when they are as long as some are on this album. Who wants to hear endless skits on their playlists? The long and short of it is that while the skits help establish the album’s concept and theme, they hurt its listenability and replayability – without the skits the album would have ended up higher on our best-of-the-year list. The skit issue aside: College Park is another strong Logic project that brings excitement toward Logic’s independent work in the future.

Release date: February 24, 2023. 

41. Kid Abstrakt & Leo Low Pass - Still Dreaming

Hailing from Los Angeles, California, Kid Abstrakt is a dope emcee who skillfully embodies the jazzy rap sound of the 90s, proudly carrying the torch of legendary acts like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and The Pharcyde, drawing inspiration from their legacy to craft his compelling music.

Kid Abstrakt initially made waves as a member of the local trio Revolutionary Rhythm before venturing into his solo career. In 2017, he released his debut album, Daydreaming, produced by The Deli from Austin, Texas. With a steadily growing fanbase, Kid Abstrakt expanded his horizons by collaborating with acclaimed producers and bands such as Cap Kendricks from Germany, Emapea from Poland, and Jazzbois from Hungary, solidifying his presence in the international music scene.

For Still Dreaming, Kid Abstrakt joined forces with Amsterdam-based producer Leo Low Pass. Leo’s distinctive style, characterized by jazzy boom-bap and lo-fi beats, is the perfect canvas for Kid Abstrakt’s uplifting and skillful rhymes. He passionately and humbly raps not only about his passion for jazzy Hip Hop but also about his life, family, and the contemporary world we inhabit. The album features guest artists such as Vsteeze, Tab One, Kamau, Awon, Rain Bisou, and Hvmble, adding additional layers of creativity and diversity to the project.

In essence, Kid Abstrakt is a testament to the enduring influence of the 90s rap sound. With Still Dreaming, he pays homage to the past in a great way and breathes new life into the genre, creating a refreshing and enjoyable feel-good experience for listeners. Kid Abstrakt’s music transcends eras, capturing the essence of nostalgia while remaining relevant in the contemporary music landscape.

Release date: May 5, 2023.

42. Big O - In The Company Of Others

Big O is an American producer, recording engineer, and DJ who has been crafting his musical journey since the tender age of 13. Currently residing in London, he continues to evolve his career, consistently pushing the boundaries of his craft. Big O has been on our radar for some time, and his 2021 collaboration with rapper P-Rawb on The Complexity secured a well-deserved spot on our list of the best Hip Hop albums of that year.

With In The Company Of Others, Big O presents a conceptual album divided into three distinct acts, weaving a captivating narrative about the power of influence. Arguably his magnum opus to date, this collaborative tour-de-force features a slew of talented artists, including Fashawn, Danker Harv, L.O.U., P-Rawb, Loki Loko, and many more, all contributing their vocal talents to sixteen tracks that are built on Big O’s elegant instrumental arrangements.

Across the album, Big O adeptly fuses flowing rhythms, tempo variations, and evocative melodies, transcending the confines of musical categories and delivering an exemplary showcase of modern Hip Hop artistry. In The Company Of Others is a culmination of Big O’s creative journey, providing a nearly impeccable record you will not regret adding to your library.

Release date: September 1, 2023.

43. Nas - Magic 2

Nas’ Magic 2 is a testament to his longevity in the rap game, showcasing his ability to deliver quality music even late into his career. The album marks the fifth collaboration with producer Hit-Boy in the 2020s, following Magic and the King’s Disease series, and their partnership remains successful.

While we sometimes feel Hit-Boy’s beats are too polished and clean, the production on Magic 2 is pretty dope, with Hit-Boy displaying his range as a producer. The beats vary from banging to laidback, with Nas seamlessly adapting his flow to each track. Although the album may be considered too short to be a full-length release at just over 30 minutes, it still presents a cohesive project that flows well from start to finish.

Opening with an intriguing intro track, Magic 2 captivates listeners from the start. “Abracadabra” stands out with its powerful bass, while “Black Magic” maintains a similar production style but with a more subtle bass that complements the sample. Throughout the album, Nas’ lyricism remains sharp and witty, showcasing classic boasting on standout tracks like “What This All Really Means”, “Bokeem Woodbine”, “Slow It Down”, “Earvin Magic Johnson”, and “Pistols On Your Album Cover”.

While Magic 2 may not have exceeded the expectations set by King’s Disease 3, it still solidifies Nas’ position in the Hip Hop scene even more. Despite its brevity (we didn’t include the first Magic in our Best Of 2021 list because it runs for less than 30 minutes and therefore is an EP in our book), the album impresses with its dope tracks and Nas’ excellent delivery and flow. The few features on the album are OK too, and the chemistry between Nas and Hit-Boy continues to reach new heights.

Overall, Magic 2 is another great addition to Nas’ catalog, showcasing the enduring power of his partnership with Hit-Boy. The strong production and Nas’ impeccable delivery make Magic 2 another solid project in his illustrious career.

Release date: July 21, 2023.

44. B. Cool-Aid - Leather Blvd

Leather Blvd is the third project by B. Cool-Aid, the duo of rapper Pink Siifu and producer Ahwlee, following BRWN (2017) and Syrup (2019). For Leather Blvd, Pink Siifu and Ahwlee took clear inspiration from jazz and classic neo-soul, musical influences that serve as the foundation for what is a hazy, almost meditative, listening experience that is consistent from beginning to end – and not a second too long even if the album has a runtime of over an hour. Pink Siifu’s raspy and sometimes quasi-whispered delivery works smoothly with the warm and immersive production, and guests like Ladybug Mecca of Digable Planets, Liv.E, Jimetta Rose, Quelle Chris, Big Rube, and Denmark Vessey (among many others) appear to add vocal variation to the songs. Some of the tracks on Leather Blvd exceed the 5-minute mark (“We Good At Leather Tht Leather This” is the longest track at 9 minutes) – so this album might provide somewhat of a challenge for the short attention span people who have gotten used to the 25-minute projects we see so many of these days. We love the stretched-out feel of Leather Blvd though, Ahwlee’s perfectly produced soundscapes simply couldn’t be rushed and thankfully they aren’t. GUMBO’! (2021) was the last Pink Siifu winner, Leather Blvd is even better.

Release date: March 31, 2023.

45. Guilty Simpson & Uncommon Nasa - Escalation

Detroit’s esteemed MC, Guilty Simpson, has released his 7th full-length LP, Escalation, with production from Staten Island’s Uncommon Nasa. With roots in the Almighty Dreadnaughtz collective and a frequent collaborator of the late J Dilla, Guilty’s solo career took off in 2008 with Stones Throw Records’ debut backing of Ode to the Ghetto, followed by standout albums like Madlib-produced O.J. Simpson, Apollo Brown-produced Dice Game, Oh No-produced Simpson Tape, and the Gensu Dean-produced EGO.

Uncommon Nasa’s production has a left-field edge, with dusty boom-bap beats mixed with synths and other sounds that keep you on your toes. Guilty Simpson’s confident baritone smoothly gels with the instrumentals, resulting in a dope match. Quelle Chris delivers a standout feature on the hard-hitting “Stakeouts,” one of the highlights of Escalation. Shortrock, Guillotine Crowns, and Short Fuze also lend their voices to the album.

Overall, Escalation is a great addition to Guilty Simpson’s career. The album showcases his gritty delivery while working with a producer who crafted a set of unique and impactful beats that elevate his rhymes. Fans of Detroit Hip Hop and beyond will appreciate the album’s combination of dark boom-bap with a twist. It’s a must-listen.

Release date: October 13, 2023.

46. Shaheed & DJ Supreme - The Art of Throwing Darts

Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, Shaheed and DJ Supreme are rewriting the Southern Hip Hop playbook with their unapologetic dedication to boom-bap tradition. These two are far from your typical Dirty South artists, and their track record speaks volumes. With two LPs under their belt, Health Wealth & Knowledge of Self and Scholar Warrior (The Remix Album), they’ve garnered critical acclaim, showcasing Shaheed’s razor-sharp lyricism and DJ Supreme’s soul-infused production.

In an era where Hip Hop has evolved into a global phenomenon, sometimes we need a reminder of its authentic roots, and that’s where Shaheed and DJ Supreme step in. These two Hip Hop sages are the keepers of the culture’s precious simplicity, reminding us that to tell your story, all you need are your rhymes and a rhythm to ride. They’ve been holding it down for years, gracing stages with heavyweights like Scarface, Jurassic 5, and The Jungle Brothers, among others.

The Art of Throwing Darts is a testament to Shaheed’s lyrical finesse and DJ Supreme’s soulful beats, with guest appearances from Hip Hop heavyweights like Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na and Akil the MC, Percee P, and Slug from Atmosphere. If you’re hungry for that classic Hip Hop vibe with a fresh twist, The Art of Throwing Darts is your fix.

Release date: September 1, 2023.

47. Rasheed Chappell & The Arcitype - Sugar Bills

New Jersey’s veteran emcee Rasheed Chappell teamed up with producer The Arcitype for Sugar Bills, a dope project that is a must-listen for anyone interested in traditional Hip Hop. The album’s lead single “1520” is its centerpiece, a dope nod to the very cradle of Hip Hop, 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. The track’s laced with a gritty, old-school vibe, complete with a smooth piano loop and a drumline that hooks you from the jump. Rasheed Chappell is on point with his clever wordplay and tight rhyme schemes, on “1520”, and on the rest of the 44-minute tracklist too.

Ever since his excellent debut LP Future Before Nostalgia (2011), Rasheed Chappell has consistently proved himself a great emcee who is in tune with golden-age aesthetics, without being stuck in the past. The Arcitype’s beats on Sugar Bills do the job, and artists like Rome Streetz, 38 Spesh, Jasmine Lopez, Neenah, STL GLD, Noel Pancho, and Lisa Bello help to round out what is one of Rasheed Chappell’s best works yet.

Release date: September 15, 2023.

48. Kool Keith - Black Elvis 2

Kool Keith Announces Black Elvis 2

Kool Keith’s Black Elvis 2 is a dope follow-up to its iconic predecessor. Black Elvis/Lost in Space (1999) has held a special place in the hearts of a lot of Kool Keith fans, despite our feeling that it is not his absolute best work. That said: nearly 25 years after the first Black Elvis, the release of Black Elvis 2 presents us with another intriguing chapter in Kool Keith’s discography.

Kool Keith has always thrived when working closely with a singular producer, as seen in his collaborations with Dan The Automator on Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996) and Kutmaster Kurt on Sex Style (1997) and First Come First Served (1999) – three records that rank among his finest work. These partnerships provided a grounding influence that enhanced Kool Keith’s artistic vision. While Black Elvis 2 explores various themes and lacks a single guiding hand in production, it manages to maintain a commendable level of cohesion, with only one track, “Feeling Me,” falling short of expectations.

Co-produced by Keith himself and featuring collaborations with L’Orange, Marc Live, and others, the album maintains his Black Elvis sci-fi themes while simultaneously exploring typical Kool Keith topics such as fashion, sex, and his dissatisfaction with Hip Hop and the music industry. Tracks like “First Copy” and the album’s absolute standout track “Space Mountain” showcase Kool Keith’s unique sound and dissociative trippy lyrics. Also worth mentioning is the satirical brilliance of “Kindergarten Adults” which exposes the stagnant mindset of rap traditionalists trapped in a bygone era (ouch), while “Without My Culture” turns the tables on the rampant commercialization plaguing the genre.

With its intergalactic trash talk and seamless transitions, Black Elvis 2 stands as one of Keith’s best recent works – though not quite as good as Serpent, his collaborative album with producer Real Bad Man, that dropped earlier in 2023.

Release date: June 16, 2023.

49. Alaska & Steel Tipped Dove - The Structural Dynamics Of Flow

Atom Family alumni Alaska’s The Structural Dynamics Of Flow marks one of his most accessible works yet. The album features a diverse range of tracks, each carefully crafted by producer Steel Tipped Dove, who is on a hot streak in 2023. Fresh from his Backwoodz Studioz debut with Call Me When You’re Outside, Steel Tipped Dove delivers a jazzy and hazy production on The Structural Dynamics Of Flow. The beats effortlessly transition between ambient loops and classic boom-bap, perfect backdrops for Alaska’s bars. His lyrical content covers a variety of topics, ranging from current trends to more obscure themes, all filtered through his unique perspective and delivered with sharp precision. Overall, The Structural Dynamics Of Flow is a great album that will especially appeal to fans of Hip Hop with a slight left-field touch.

Release date: April 7, 2023.

50. Estee Nack - Nacksaw Jim Duggan

Following his collaborative project BRAP (Born Rewards & Penalties) with V Don in March 2023, Estee Nack delivered his Griselda debut album titled Nacksaw Jim Duggan in May 2023. The album draws its name from the renowned professional wrestler, Hacksaw Jim Duggan.

With Nacksaw Jim Duggan Tragic Allies rapper Estee Nack dropped what probably is the most divisive project out of the Griselda camp this year, this is a hate-it or-love-it kind of album. The album possesses a unique disjointed quality that only a rapper like Estee Nack can make seem ordinary. Take the opening track, “NACKMANCOLETRANE,” for example. It skillfully blends a raw saxophone snippet mid-melody with occasional brash honks, resulting in a repetitive yet mesmerizing effect. Nacksaw Jim Duggan can be classified as left-field occasionally, benefiting from the masterful production of the Griselda crew that combines the familiar Griselda boom-bap grime with unsettling experimentation that gives this project its unique vibe.

Contrary to expectations of a typical Griselda release, Nacksaw Jim Duggan aligns more closely with Estee Nack’s previous works, albeit enhanced by marvelous Griselda-style production. While the album’s production becomes somewhat repetitive as it progresses, Nack’s captivating lyricism and impeccable chemistry with the beats, along with his clever use of adlibs, prevent monotony from overshadowing each track. All in all, we really like Nacksaw Jim Duggan, and think it’s one of the better releases out of the Griselda camp this year, it’s probably not for everybody though.

Release date: May 19, 2023.

51. Chucky Smash - The Taking Of Pelham 123

The Taking Of Pelham 123 is the solo debut from Chucky Smash, who is part (with Molecules and Ceelow) of the famed Bronx-based crew The Legion. Maybe you know The Legion from the solid Three The Bronx Way (2019), or even from their low-profile but strong 1994 debut album, Theme + Echo = Krill. That album (partly produced by Showbiz and Black Sheep) received mixed reviews upon its release, maybe because critics didn’t appreciate or understand what The Legion was trying to do: bring back that Golden Age feel that they felt was already over and done with by 1994. Almost 30 years after that slept-on debut record, Chucky Smash still is on the same mission. The Legion partner Molecules produced the album (with Key Figures), Droopy Dog, Marvelous Supreme, Lucky Fishburne, Milano Constantine, Dres (Black Sheep), and The Legion appear as guests, DJ Eclipse, Venom, and Tha4orce provide sharp cuts & scratches. Beats, flows, scratches, everything breathes Golden Age – The Taking Of Pelham 123 is a dope throwback LP that will appeal to traditional boom-bap enthusiasts especially.

Release date: March 13, 2023.

52. YUNGMORPHEUS & Real Bad Man - The Chalice & The Blade

Producer Real Bad Man doesn’t miss. Earlier in 2023, he was responsible for creating a selection of captivating beats for SerpentKool Keith‘s best album in years. Continuing his streak, he contributed 45 minutes of immaculately produced beats to The Chalice & The Blade, arguably YUNGMORPHEUS’s finest project to date. Real Bad Man skillfully harnessed the rapper’s signature lo-fi, chill aesthetic, bringing out the best in the Los Angeles rapper.

The smooth and stylish instrumentals on The Chalice & The Blade serve as the perfect backdrop for YUNGMORPHEUS’s laid-back delivery and distinctive voice. While we hold YUNGMORPHEUS projects like Bag Talk (2019, with Pink Siifu), States Of Precarity (2021), Thumbing Thru Foliage (2021, with ewonee), Affable With Pointed Teeth (2021, with Eyedress), and From Whence It Came (2023) in high regard, The Chalice & The Blade surpasses them all in our eyes. Real Bad Man’s work on the boards elevates YUNGMORPHEUS to new heights.

Also, the album features guest appearances from Boldy James, Blu, Theravada, Dreamcastmoe, Grip, Kool Keith, and Fatboi Sharif, providing the icing on the cake to an already dope project.

Release date: November 17, 2023. 

53. Mike Flips, Nord1kone & Seize - Life Cycles

Producers Mike Flips and Seize join forces to create a nostalgic soundscape of classic boom-bap beats, setting the stage for the nimble lyricism of Outsiders Syndicate emcee Nord1kone. In Life Cycles, we’re taken on a journey through time and introspection, with lyrical prowess that bridges the gap between the past and the future.

This album is an entertaining sonic experience that pays homage to the roots of Hip Hop while gazing forward to new horizons. The inclusion of guest appearances by El Da Sensei from the legendary Artifacts and the talented Outsiders Syndicate emcee The I.M.F. adds a bit more depth and dimension to the project.

Life Cycles is a testament to the enduring power of classic boom-bap, skillfully revitalized by Mike Flips and Seize and elevated by Nord1kone’s lyrical finesse. If you’re a fan of Hip Hop that pays homage to its heritage, this album deserves a spot in your rotation. It’s a bridge between the golden era and the ever-evolving future of the genre, and it’s definitely worth a listen.

Release date: September 8, 2023.

54. Ja'king The Divine - Parables Of The Sower

Brooklyn artist Ja’king The Divine is one of the most exciting talents to emerge on the Hip Hop scene in recent years. Parables Of The Sower is his 5th album, a dope follow-up to the awesome 手​术​: BLACK SUN TZU (2022). Production on Parables Of The Sower is creative, with pristine sampling and unique musical twists, and lyrically Ja’king The Divine is dope as f – he has an expressive flow and comes with strong content too.

Boom-bap-inspired lyrical jazz rap, with engaging, slightly left-field production – Parables Of The Sower is a great album. When will Ja’king The Divine be properly discovered by wider Hip Hop audiences? Maybe Parables Of The Sower will do it for him, it’s certainly time for this artist to get his props.

Release date: January 28, 2023.

55. Moka Only - In And Of Itself

Moka Only is a multi-talented artist based in Vancouver, British Columbia. With a nearly three-decades-long career, he has left an indelible mark on the Canadian music scene. Initially part of the renowned rap group Swollen Members for five years, Moka Only embarked on a primarily solo journey from 2005 onwards, releasing over 50 (!) solo projects and collaborating with an array of notable artists, including J Dilla, MF Doom, Kool Keith, and Del The Funky Homosapien, among others.

Moka Only’s music is a delightful fusion of Hip Hop with genres such as jazz and soul. Renowned for his smooth and laid-back flow, he always comes with witty and introspective lyrics that usually touch upon love, relationships, and personal growth themes. In And Of Itself showcases Moka Only’s signature style and musicianship. The seventeen-track project, entirely self-produced, seamlessly combines his smooth flows with dusty beats, which will captivate listeners from start to finish.

Release date: May 19, 2023.

56. V Knuckles & Phoniks - The Next Chapter

The Next Chapter is a collaborative effort from Boston’s V Knuckles and beatmaker Phoniks. For over two decades, Knuckles has been a prominent figure in the underground Hip Hop scenes of Boston and Cambridge, leaving a mark globally too, as a vital part of the NBS (Natural Born Spitters) group, gracing stages on six continents.

The album’s title, The Next Chapter, serves as a symbolic reflection of Knuckles’ personal journey as he embraces a new life chapter—settling down with his fiancé and welcoming a baby boy. This narrative gracefully unfolds through beats and rhymes, offering listeners a poignant glimpse into his evolution and newfound inspiration.

On this project, Knuckles and Phoniks have curated a team of underground legends, including the iconic Inspectah Deck (of Wu-Tang Clan), Fredro Starr (of Onyx), Termanology, Edo G, Reks, Awon, Flash (of NBS), and more. Each artist contributes a unique flavor, resulting in a dynamic and captivating album that not only pays homage to the roots of underground Hip Hop but also propels it forward into The Next Chapter.

Especially for enthusiasts of 90s Hip Hop, this soulful boom-bap album will make a worthy addition to their collection, offering a genuine tribute to the genre’s foundational elements. The Next Chapter delivers a well-crafted and authentic Hip Hop experience to its listeners.

Release date: October 20, 2023. 

57. Declaime & Theory Hazit - Rocketman

Declaime, also known as Dudley Perkins, is a rapper, singer, and producer from Oxnard, California. Theory Hazit is a rapper and producer from Winchester, Kentucky. Both are known for operating in Hip Hop’s left field, so these two seem like an ideal match for a collaborative album. Rocketman delivers on its promise: Declaime’s slightly off-the-wall rhyming style synergizes perfectly with Theory Hazit’s quirky beats. It’s not for everybody, but adventurous Hip Hop listeners who are willing to give Rocketman the time and attention it deserves will find plenty to enjoy.

Release date: September 1, 2023.

58. Raw Poetic & Damu The Fudgemunk - Away Back In

Away Back In is a remarkable and celestial blend of Hip Hop, jazz, and garage rock by rapper Jason Moore, known as Raw Poetic. The album is produced by Damu the Fudgemunk and features the guitar work of P-Fritz. The album opens with the lead single, “Ease Side,” which reignites and revitalizes the jazz elements of Moore’s recent work. P-Fritz’s smooth guitar riffs and bass lines lay the foundation for Moore to dissect the emotions of a carefree relationship.

Moore and P-Fritz’s artistic symbiosis is evident throughout Away Back In. Moore’s ability to melodically narrate everyday experiences in the intricate tapestry of modern existence harmonizes uniquely with P-Fritz’s consistent capacity to craft musical panoramas that complement these narratives.

The lyrics oscillate between sung and spoken, taking listeners on a dark and melodious journey. In “Bird’s Eye,” an exploration of tumultuous moments in the twilight of time, the guitars cascade into overdrive, fashioning an eerie resonance. Meanwhile, “Sometime After Midnight” probes the essence of racism in the American context.

Despite the thematic complexity, threads of hope persist, evident in tracks like the spirited “The Dank-ish,” and the eponymous piece “A Way Back In,” a song commemorating the extensive history and camaraderie shared by Moore and P-Fritz. The album’s closure, “Human Kindness,” orchestrates an unlikely fusion of folk-style guitar and Hip Hop, presenting the listener with a remarkably optimistic perspective on human nature.

Away Back In is an engaging and soul-infused opus unlike anything else you will hear this year. It is an imperative auditory experience for enthusiasts of innovative Hip Hop and jazz aficionados.

Release date: August 25, 2023.

59. Atmosphere - So Many Other Realities Exist Simultaneously

Atmosphere, the revered duo from Minneapolis, has been releasing music for over two decades with a prolific output that includes more than two dozen studio albums, EPs, and collaborative projects. Throughout their career, they have built a legacy of honesty, humility, and vulnerability, constantly pushing themselves to evolve while staying true to their roots. Slug, the emcee, is a masterful storyteller, crafting compelling narratives that pay homage to his influences while leaving his own mark on the genre. Ant, the producer, draws inspiration from a variety of genres including soul, funk, rock, reggae, and the pioneering work of Hip Hop DJs and producers, creating his own unique soundscapes that pulse with life, love, stress, and setbacks. At their core, Atmosphere has been a musical shepherd, leading listeners on a journey through life with each new album.

So Many Other Realities Exist Simultaneously is their 13th full-length studio album and one of their better recent releases. The album presents a daunting exploration of paranoia, which can be connected to the prevailing sense of unease in society due to the pandemic and civil unrest. It’s a big album at over an hour, but it never overstays its welcome. Ant’s music and Slug’s bars manage to captivate throughout and despite its heavier underlying themes, there’s levity and positivity too – perhaps best exemplified by the album’s opening and closing tracks: “Okay” and “Alright (Okay Reprise)”, bookending So Many Other Realities Exist Simultaneously with the message that everything will eventually work out in the end.

Release date: May 5, 2023.

60. Black Milk - Everybody Good?

Black Milk’s 2023 album, Everybody Good? features an eclectic mix of soulful, pop-oriented, and hard-hitting boom-bap beats, combined with introspective lyrics and smooth flow. This is Black Milk’s eighth full-length album, showing his consistency as a producer, rapper, and songwriter.

The music on Everybody Good? was produced, arranged, and mixed pre-COVID and the beats are gorgeous and meticulously crafted. Black Milk plays it rather safe though, going for a mix of the sound he’s done before. The production on Everybody Good? is a highlight even so, with Black Milk displaying his range as a producer. The beats vary from soulful to hard-hitting, with Black Milk seamlessly adapting his flow to each track. The concepts here are personal and introspective, with the production being a melting pot of past sounds from the live instrumentation that Album of the Year (2010) began displaying to the jazz elements of his previous full-length Fever (2018) and even the futuristic electronics of Tronic (2008).

While the album may lack huge standouts, it is still a really solid effort overall. Black Milk sounds as good as ever on the mic, and some of his catchiest hooks are here as well. The song with Phonte, “Feelings Don’t Feel,” is easily the best track here, a great track. Everybody Good? is arguably one of the best-produced albums of the year, showcasing Black Milk’s growth and polish as an artist. While it may be a bit too eclectic and pop-oriented for some tastes, it is still a worthy addition to his catalog in which No Poison No Paradise (2013) and If There’s a Hell Below (2014) remain the absolute standouts.

Release date: July 19, 2023.

Honorable Mentions

Full honorable mentions (250+ albums) list here.

Best Hip Hop EPs Of 2023 ‎

  • AZ – Truth Be Told
  • McKinley Dixon – Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?
  • H31R – HeadSpace
  • Coast Contra – The Old Way
  • J. Rawls & Cas Metah – Criminal Blinded
  • Unscathed & C-Lance – Difficult Conflicts That Can’t Be Described
  • Beedie & Rim – Trading Places
  • Snotty – Boy George Dreams
  • Hus Kingpin – Slime Wave 2
  • A-F-R-O & Ikom – Aint Nothin!
  • Illage People – Death Rattle Dances
  • 1773 & Strange Soul Music – The Strange Soul Project
  • Shabazz Palaces – Robed in Rareness
  • Jamar Johnson – The Rebirth
  • Raticus & K.Burns – A South Street Story
  • Fatboi Sharif & Bigg Jus – Insomniac Missile Launcher
  • Optimystic, Frukwan & Lord Vladagus – First Light
  • Cedrick Bogan – Diabolical Swordsmen
  • Niontay – Demon Muppy
  • Stu Bangas – Death Wish Part II
  • Eloh Kush & Reckonize Real – Pillarz
  • RJ Payne & C-Lance – The Barber Shop
  • Khrysis & Kel – Destined 4 Greatness
  • Bishop Nehru – Mysteries of Initiation
  • Hannibal Stax & PF Cuttin – Omega Supreme
  • Ty Farris & Graymatter – Sounds That Never Left My Soul
  • Planet Asia & Vanderslice – Kings Chamber
  • KXNG Crooked & Joell Ortiz – Prosper
  • The Hidden Character & Grubby Pawz – Hood Alchemy
  • Jay Worthy, Kamaiyah & Harry Fraud – The Am3rican Dream
  • Domo Genesis & Graymatter – What You Don’t Get
  • Torae & Marco Polo – Midnight Run
  • UFO Fev & Get Large – Eastside Fev
  • Asun Eastwood, Lex Talionis & Vinyl Villain – Don’t Reach
  • Ransom – Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child
  • Jus-P & Body Bag Ben – Fortune Favors the Bold
  • 38 Spesh & Conway the Machine – Speshal Machinery
  • Earl Sweatshirt & The Alchemist – Voir Dire
  • Open Mike Eagle – Another Triumph of Ghetto Engineering
  • Jus-P & Body Bag Ben – Fortune Favors the Bold
  • Jack Jetson & Illinformed – CAMOGODSKIN
  • Halfcut & Reks – Survival Mode
  • Ransom & Nicholas Craven – Deleted Scenes 2
  • Crimeapple & Clovis Ochin – Cacio & Pepe
  • Nicholas Craven, Raz Fresco & Estee Nack – Gia… A La Carte
  • Al.Divino – Sheet Music Vol. 1000
  • Valee & Harry Fraud – Virtuoso
  • Pro Dillinger & Wino Willy – Dirty Work
  • Rim Da Villain – Rimbrandt: Oil Based
  • Def Soulja & Sebb Bash – Moonlight Marauder
  • AJ Suede – Ark Flashington
  • Sankofa – Iron Kofa Sharp
  • The Alchemist – Flying High
  • Curren$y & Harry Fraud – Vices
  • Napoleon Da Legend & J Scienide – Goat vs Sheep
  • RJ Payne & Cartune Beatz – Jigsaw EP
  • Nino Man – Incognino
  • Hus Kingpin & SmooVth – Paid in Full
  • Boldy James & ChanHays – Prisoner of Circumstance
  • Factor Chandelier – Moving Like a Planet
  • McKinley Dixon – Beloved! Paradise? Jazz!?
  • Dazzie Dee – West Coast Boom Slap
  • K.Burns & DirtyDiggs – Baggery
  • Wais P & Dame Grease – Pimp Grease
  • Cydney Poitier & Beatenaunt – Uptown Saturday Night
  • DJ MROK – Don’t Fk Wit Da Baldeez
  • Del the Funky Homosapien – Diamond Dawg EP
  • Vince Staples & The Alchemist – Untitled EP
  • Killer Mike – Motherless EP
  • Chuck Strangers (Pro Era) – The Boys & Girls EP
  • A Plus Tha Kid & DirtyDiggs – Goat Milk
  • Nowaah the Flood & Machacha – Ground Provision
  • Eff Yoo & Level 13 – Blocktoberfest
  • Solomon Childs & Darkim Be Allah – Child Famous
  • Tha God Fahim & Mike Shabb – Dump Gawd: Rhyme Pays
  • Tha God Fahim & Sadhugold – Dump Gawd: Tha Knocking of Loose
  • Tha God Fahim – Dump Gawd Reloaded
  • Obijuan & HooksArthur – Wavonomixx
  • DirtyDiggs & Planet Asia – The Experience
  • Redveil – playing w/ fire
  • Nym Lo & Statik Selektah – From The Horse’s Mouth
  • Chuck D – We Wreck Stadiums
  • BlackLiq & Mopes – Choice Is a Chance
  • Tha God Fahim & Oh No the Disrupt – Berserko
  • Royce Da 5’9″ – The Heaven Experience
  • Ill Bill – Billmatic
  • 38 Spesh – Gunsmoke
  • Cortez & Crisis – Filthy Karma
  • Ty Farris & Machacha – Malice At The Palace
  • Hus Kingpin – The Tricky Tape
  • Obijuan & Wino Willy – Mangrove Maze
  • Chubs & Body Bag Ben – Burly Baby
  • Murs & Wiardon – Speak N Spell
  • Conway the Machine & Jae Skeese – Pain Provided Profit
  • Al.Divino & BoriRock – MGNTK
  • Supastition – Every Last Word
  • Grieves & Mouse Powell – WHY NOT?
  • Supreme Cerebral & Vinyl Villain – The Emperor’s Deity
  • G4 Jag & GiveEmSoul – Soul In The Sky
  • Nerves Baddington – No Survivors
  • Vic Spencer & 38 Spesh – Greenthumbs Meets Trigger Fingers
  • Tha God Fahim – Iron Bull
  • Pro Dillinger & Machacha – Dirt Don’t Hurt
  • Atmosphere – Okay EP
  • DJ Moya – Hikikomori
  • Taelor Gray – Thou Shall Not Covet
  • Hus Kingpin – A Poem In Ten Books
  • Casket D. & Statik Selektah – Calculated
  • Murs & El Lif Beatz – Take It Easy My Brother Murs
  • Crimeapple – El Cantante
  • Stove God Cook$ & Roc Marciano – If These Kitchen Walls Could Talk
  • Tha God Fahim & Camoflauge Monk – Dark Shogunn Assassin
  • Bobby J From Rockaway & Nef – Radio Days
  • Tha God Fahim & NicoJP – Chess Moves
  • Kota the Friend – Lyrics to Go Vol. 4
  • Fashawn & Marc Spano – FAX
  • AJ Suede – Indica Music
  • Murs & GLDNEYE – Guide To World’s Greatest Cities
  • High John – High Jazz Reworks

Best Instrumental Hip Hop Albums Of 2023

  • Nottz – Sounds of Meadowbrook
  • DJ Premier – Beats That Collected Dust Volume 1 – 3
  • 9th Wonder – Zion IX
  • Kid Koala – Creatures Of The Late Afternoon

Best Hip Hop Compilation Albums Of 2023

  • Mello Music Group – Omakase
  • Brotha Lynch Hung – Choice Kuttz: Da Best of Brotha Lynch Hung
  • Dollar Bill Y’All: Spring Records and the First Decade of Hip Hop

Best Hip Hop Adjacent Albums Of 2023

  • Fielded – Plus One
  • Temps – Party Gator Purgatory

The Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2022

Click here or on the image for the full list.

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18 responses to “The Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2023”

  1. Jelle Ris says:

    7th of january, 3 albums, 3 ep’s, let it grow, let it grow, let it grow!!

  2. Dan says:

    Thought Provokah – I Let My Tape Rock Til My Tape Pop is a very nice album, highly recommend!

  3. Goonerboyee says:

    When is EPMD due?

  4. Jay says:

    No way Fine Dining is higher than God don’t f with you. God don’t must be on top 10 and Fine Dining shouldn’t be even on the list it’s wack

  5. Gerge says:

    I wouldn’t worry. Neither will be on the final end of year list.

  6. WJ says:

    An indispensable ongoing list for great Hip Hop. Thanks for all your hard work. Don’t sleep on Cavalier & Quelle Chris’s “Death Tape 1: Black Cottonwood” – by far the strongest Hip Hop EP this year, as well as Brainorchestra’s “It Means a Lot” in your album list – which is IMO better than many on your list. Keep rockin’ it!

  7. Dan says:

    Wouldn’t surprise me if Scaring the Hoes is still #1 come the end of the year. Just an astonishing album.

  8. Dea Phiri says:

    Scaring the Hoes is a special special album.

  9. Mike G says:

    I started a playlist of new Hip Hop using this list as a guide. Enjoy

  10. Musa says:

    King Kashmere & Alecs Delarge – The Album to end all Alien Abductions should be added to the list. It got me excited, it is a little bit long but tops some of the albums already on the list.

  11. Mike G says:

    I realize art is art. But can someone please explain Steel Tip Dove? They have 3 projects in the top 60 as of today. I make weird beats too but I don’t get it. Not trying to hate.

  12. Graham says:

    one album that should be near the top of any Best of 23 list needs to be Vega 7 the Ronin and Superior – Sleep is the Cousin, absolutely mesmerising album.

    Also, Tree & Vic Spencer – Nothing is Something should at least be an HM, quality bit of work

  13. Musa says:

    Joker Starr, DTY FT – Gawd‘s Children

    Might be something for that list.

  14. Craig Howard says:

    Don’t sleep on the new Elzhi and Oh No project ‘Heavy Vibrato’ – it’s a must-listen for hip-hop enthusiasts!

  15. Mike G says:

    You guys love Backwoodz Studioz way more than I do. Differences aside, I really enjoy your lists every year. Thank you!

  16. Cedrick Bogan FRLMG says:

    I appreciate all the hip-hop fans put there that really took time out of their day to listen to the authentication of ” Diabolical Swordsmen ” choosing it to be the best Hip-Hop EP of 2023 I wouldn’t of done it without you.

  17. Gold school hip hop says:

    Always enjoy these, listening to any I’ve missed hoping to find a gem I’ve missed. phoniks & V Knuckles and also the Mathematik album are both🔥 so thanks for those recommendations! Only other album I’ve enjoyed that’s not on your list is by Alcynoos & Parental so worth a listen if you’ve not heard it.

  18. BLove says:

    Amazing list. Thanks for all you guys do!! Glad to see Summer Sessions made top 10…solid beats and bars throughout. Not hard hitting like others but more groovy old skool vibes. 🙏

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