Without any morsel of apprehension, it can be easily declared that 2022 was a phenomenal year for the familial genres of Hip-Hop and R&B. Albeit there were so many highlights to spurt from this year’s output, some noteworthy moments to stem from this awesome year in music include Kendrick Lamar reawakening out of his five-year hiatus to present the world with his fifth studio album: “Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers,” Pusha T disseminating more masterful, now GRAMMY-nominated coke raps with “It’s Almost Dry,” Steve Lacy sending TikTok into a frenzy with the release of his second studio record: “Gemini Rights,” Ravyn Lenae ascending into supernatural territory with the release of her long-awaited debut album: “Hypnos” and PJ Morton taking us to church with “Watch The Sun.” While this impressive menagerie of high-profile drops barely scratches the surface on this year’s rollout, it definitely puts things into glaring perspective.
In spite of all the profound music to rise from this year, there has also been a great deal of heartbreak. Whether it was the untimely passing of PNB Rock or more recently, the tragic killing of arguably, the best lyricist within the “Migos” trio: Takeoff, the consistent rate and volume has been troubling and extremely disheartening. On a brighter note, this sublimity of this year’s music harbors the power to uplift and has given us hope for the future of the two genres. Here are the Top Hip-Hop and R&B Records to come out of 2022.
King’s Disease III – Nas
After winning his first ever GRAMMY for “Best Rap Album” back in 2021 for King’s Disease, living rap legend Nasir Jones, more commonly known as simply Nas finally solidified his legacy among the commercial apex of modern-day music. However, that was just the Cherry on top for the Queensbridge native. He never needed a gilded gramophone to reaffirm his status as the original prodigal son of Hip-Hop. His iconic discography and unprecedented lyrical acumen speaks for itself. Keeping the fire lit, he went for two more records: “King’s Disease II” and “Magic,” which are both considered some of his best projects in years. Now, just only a year later, Nas has teamed up with renowned, GRAMMY-award winning production titan: Hit-Boy once again for his third installment of the King’s Disease franchise: KD III. Picking up right where they left off, Hit-Boy has perfected the formula for how to tactfully craft instrumentation that aligns with the prophetic, didactic storytelling of Nas. Embodying the long-standing adage that “age truly is just a number,” it seems like Nas is only getting better with time. With this much momentum, the concept of slowing down doesn’t seem like a feasible nor logical course of action for one of Hip-Hop’s indisputable GOATs.
HYPNOS – Ravyn Lenae
Since landing into the purview of contemporary R&B and Neo-Soul with the big splash emitted from her third EP: Crush back in 2018, the midwest singer/songwriter prodigy has left fans in whimsical anticipation for when she would finally drop her debut album. Despite taking over four years to release “HYPNOS,”, Lenae has truly made it worth the wait. Shimmering in lustrous instrumentation from start to finish, the “Zero-Fatigue” member glides through a sublime assemblage of 16 well-crafted, blissful tracks. In a matter of literally 54 minutes, Lenae augments herself from the status of being merely a teenage heartthrob with unequivocal potential to an elite, full-blown R&B star. Often coined Gen-Z’s closest semblance to soul legend Minnie Ripperton, she reinforces such acclaim on this record with absolute poise and grace.
Luv 4 Rent – Smino
Developing an unforgettable sense of recognition from his incredibly distinct style and idiosyncrasies, Smino illuminates that he’s been in the lab hellbent on crafting a classic with this record. Sonically emulating the sublime feel of early 00s chipmunk soul instrumentation, Luv 4 Rent emanates a retrospective edge with a contemporary feel. Vacillating between sultry vocals and skillful lyricism, Smino shows that he is anything but one-dimensional. Whether it comes in the form of a soul-ridden “Defibrillator” or the lo-fi, chill vibe of “No L’s,” what remains consistent about the midwest crooner is his unbridled talent and originality. In a world where it feels like authenticity is few and far between, Smino is the antidote.
The Forever Story – JID
After making noise with the release of his seminal project: “The Never Story,” JID became known as Dreamville’s dopest apprentice. From there, he has shown that he is worthy of such a moniker, releasing dope track after dope track and showing off his lyrical wizardry every chance he gets. While he’s been cooking up remarkable music since his emergence back in 2017, it’s been a minute since he’s delivered on a full-length project. Even though he has been in the game for a few years now, “The Forever Story” feels like JID’s official arrival at the front door of superstardom. In what feels like a valiant effort to craft a timeless body of work, JID seemingly achieves his goal with flying colors.With a cinematic backdrop, JID strives to actively extend his repertoire as he exercises his newfound vocal chops on “Kody Blu 31” and “Galaxy.” From a content POV, he leans into his vulnerable side more than ever before with tracks like “Sisternem,” “Bruddanem” and “Crack Sandwich.” Overall, JID provides a “short but sweet” collage of meticulously, high quality tracks from the soul.
Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers – Kendrick Lamar
With five years having elapsed from the release of his previous body of work: DAMN (2017), which also helped him become the first rapper in history to acquire a Pulitzer Prize in Music, it was a bit of a puzzling quandary to define when he would return back to producing another full-fledged project. In conclusion to all the wandering curiosity evoked from Lamar’s hiatus, he finally decided to drop his fifth and final album on his home label: Top Dawg Entertainment. As a byproduct of serendipity and outstanding skill at this point, “Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers” is a musical canvas of deep-rooted introspection. Through Lamar’s undying penchant for inner exploration, he discovers deeper parts of himself and challenges his listeners to follow suit. Oklama strives to come to terms with his shortcomings by virtue of further understanding. Whether he’s perusing the concept of innately being unable to please everybody on Crown or examining the struggles of fatherhood within the Black community on Father Time, Lamar is raw, unpretentious and brutally honest about everything on this project. Reminiscent of Nas in his prime, Lamar postures his many thoughts on the state of contemporary life in America from a Bird’s Eye POV. In rightful fashion, he denotes once and for all that he is merely an artist and “not your savior.”
$oul $old $eperately – Freddie Gibbs
Veering away from the underground sounds of his two classic records: “Alfredo” and “Bandana,” which propelled him to the limelight of mainstream rap, Gibbs takes a different approach this time around. Teaming up with an eclectic hodgepodge of top notch producers and artists, some of which include Kelly Price, KAYTRANADA, Raekwon, James Blake, Pusha T and more, the mid-western lyrical assassin creates a project that sparkles in the newfound opulence he has garnered in recent years. Taking the time to reflect on how far he has come since his first mixtape: “Full Metal Jackit” back in 04’, Gibbs is in an ongoing state of reflection on this record. Whether he’s discrediting his naysayers on the righteous and ole’ so soulful “Couldn’t Be Done” featuring legendary R&B singer Kelly Price or being an avid conspiracy theorist on the ultra morose “CIA,” Gibbs is fully immersed in all of his well-earned glory and deservedly so.
Herbert – Ab-Soul
It seems like the legend of “Ab-Soul” is something of real-life folklore. Despite not being the most active member on his trailblazing record label: Top Dawg Entertainment, his allure has never waivered. Since the release of his last project: “Do What Thou Wilt”, which dropped back in 2016, the Carson, CA native has been relatively quiet and siloed away from the industry. Similar to his labelmates Kendrick Lamar and SZA, there wasn’t any timeline present for when he would come out with anything new. After playing “Herbert” for one or two plays, Soul makes all of the whimsicality of his music forgotten and all the more worthwhile. It feels like Ab-Soul is embracing his status as one of TDE’s premier elder statesmen, as well as, one of the best West-Coast lyricists of all-time with a newfound verve for his craft. In conjunction with these epiphanies, he’s hella reflective about the overarching meaning of life on “Herbert” too. From the “Art Of Seduction” to “Moonshooter,” Soul takes the time to ponder on existential concepts such as lust and the pursuit of happiness. Having been in the rap game for 20 years, Soul is a seasoned vet with conventional wisdom to disperse and it’s palpable on “Herbert.”
SOS – SZA
Coming off the critical and supremely well-received acclaim of her debut hit record: “Ctrl,” which is now considered a bona fide contemporary R&B classic, SZA took some time away from music. For years, folx wondered what she may have been up to but evidently, she was just seeking the inspiration she would need to cultivate her next project. Unbeknownst to both SZA and all of her proponents alike, it would take six years for us to hear another complete project from her. While the wait has been long and we’ve been patient, SOS fully satiates our appetite and leaves us with surplus for years to come. Over 23 masterfully crafted tracks, TDE’s leading woman carefully examines the intertwined ideas of love and subsequent heartbreak all across this record. Having undergone another batch of trials and tribulations in her dating life between CTRL and SOS, SZA is keenly aware of her emotions and somehow mustered enough concentration to transform tragedy into triumph. Whether it’s her insatiable urge to kill her ex and his new girl on “Kill Bill” or railing soulfully about her deep-seated hatred for her partner on “I Hate U,” she’s ultra creative about the ways in which she presents contempt on this project. There are some many sobering realities that Solána Rowe, the woman behind SZA has had to face and she basically brings us along for the ride. From a sonic perspective, SZA gleefully boasts her ability to hop from genre-to-genre like a modern-day shapeshifter with numbing ease. She hops in her R&B bag in one instance and then on the next track, she switches gears by dabbling in Hip-Hop showing that she can even legitimately spit viable bars. There’s been some public chatter about the quality of this record. However in all reality, there isn’t much debate to be thrown around. SOS is just as much of a classic as “Ctrl” and this fact is difficult to dispute. Overall, SOS knows zero bounds and it’s very much palpable.
NO THANK YOU – Little Simz
Following the copious momentum of her last project: “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert,” which was dubbed as one of the “200 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums Of All-Time” by Rolling Stone, one would think it might require some time before Little Simz could fathom creating something with as much innate alchemy as her last project. But this particular theory simply doesn’t apply to someone with as much unbridled passion and talent for their craft. Aside from Simz’s exceptional lyrical acumen, what makes this project such a salient standout is its musicality. In a world seemingly inundated with generic, microwavable and increasingly soulless instrumentation, ‘NO THANK YOU’ is this year’s saving grace. Replete with sprawling, atmospheric instrumentation and back-up vocals from R&B starlet Cleo Sol, this project yields a wholesome listening experience for lovers of quality music and lush, vibrant instrumentation. On behalf of Hip-Hop enthusiasts everywhere, thank you Simz for delivering such a wholesome record.
Closer – Kenyon Dixon
After years of being the leading proverbial “pen” behind the lyrics of some of the biggest artists in music today, the Watts, CA native has finally crafted what feels like his own magnum opus. Emulating the traditional essence of R&B, Dixon adds his own contemporary rendition with unique and refreshing flair. Despite still being a relative newcomer, ‘Closer’ evades the pitfalls of an amateur mystique and skips straight to the category of being a thoroughly seasoned mainstay. Leaning further into his penchant for incredibly intimate songwriting, Dixon is backed by a diverse array of smooth R&B-driven instrumentation. Whether you’re seeking some sultry sounds on an early evening back home from work or chilling with your boo on a whole Sunday afternoon, this project accommodates a multitude of soothing scenarios.
2000 – Joey BadA$$
Despite taking some substantial time to live life and pursue acting for a while, Brooklyn’s favorite lyrical prodigy has returned back to his passion with a more mature paradigm. Easily proving that he hasn’t lost a step whatsoever, he takes time to acknowledge his longevity in the industry and how much he’s grown since his first project: ‘1999,’ which dropped in 2012. Reflecting upon his time in the rap game, there’s such an abundance to be grateful for and BadA$$ indulges in the various fruits of his labor on this record.
Whether it’s the many women lapping up in his car or the 911 he copped with relative ease, BadA$$ is winning by every stretch of the imagination. Sonically, he explores more of a mainstream palette this time around swaying away from the gritty, underground instrumentation that made him a household name. There’s something more swanky and opulent about some of his sonics this time around that he’s arguably never dabbled in before. But with great risk, it yields great reward in this instance. Vindicated by some of the most notable figures in Hip-Hop, which include Diddy, Nas, Ab-Soul and more on here, BadA$$ illustrates his profound impact on the landscape of Hip-Hop music over the last decade. Moreover, the latter end of this project takes more of an earnest and introspective tone as he confronts the concept of survivor’s remorse and pays reverence to his late friend Capital Steez, who tragically took his own life at the age of 19. Overall, ‘2000’ is Joey’s coming-of-age and being extremely grateful about being able to tell his own story.