13 Favorite Hip-Hop Albums of 2023

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: the time for year-end music lists. Tuned Up has already published its list of favorite albums of the last year, from all genres. The following are 13 of my favorite hip-hop albums of the last year. There are new artists, veteran artists, collaborations made in heaven, and a whole lot of great beats and rhymes. Listen on and let us know what you think.

Aesop Rock-Integrated Tech Solutions

Aesop Rock is the rap world’s Herman Melville, with the most unique words used in his catalogue over any rapper ever. ITS slams, with hard beats and equally hard bars. Listen to the opening line of the first real track, “Mindful Solutionism.” It sets the tone for the rest of the record. Aesop Rock is not messing around.

Armand Hammer-We Buy Diabetic Test Strips

Armand Hammer will never not be at the top of year end lists, hip-hop or otherwise. And for good reason. billy woods is the best independent emcee on the scene right now. Combined with ELUCID, the two elevate hip-hop to a whole other plane, much like A24 does with horror films. We Buy Diabetic Test Strips might be their least accessible, most experimental record to date. But it’s worth the dive.

billy woods x Kenny Segal-Maps

woods put out 2 of my favorite records last year, and Maps does not fall off. He’s a poet. There’s just so much gold to mine in his rhymes. I don’t know any other rapper who can include a reference to “Munchausen by Proxy” and Bob Marley’s “Babylon by Bus” in the same track. Kenny Segal’s production on Maps makes it more palatable but no less complex than the producers he enlisted last year. Aethiopes may be his magnum opus, but Maps is a better entry point for woods.

Black Thought x El Michels Affair-Glorious Game

On Glorious Game, Black Though partners with New York-based cinematic soul band El Michels Affair. Glorious Game continues the 70’s soul tone set on last year’s Cheat Codes. But where Danger Mouse sampled from the era while adding in modern production flair, El Michels Affair plunges into the era creating a fully immersive experience. The lyrics on Glorious Game look inward while also shining a light on the landscape of the current day United States. Black Thought just put out two perfect albums in one year. Let’s give the man the respect he deserves.

Danny Brown-Quaranta

Brown’s second album this year following the bombastic SCARING THE HOES (more on that later), is polar opposite in almost every way. The production is subdued, more traditional, and even leans into aspects of 90’s r&b. The lyrics are more introspective. And Brown relies more on his natural voice than anything he’s done in recent years. Quaranta is the coldmiser to STH’s heatmiser. And both are exceptional.

Defcee-The Golem of Brooklyn

The pitch: a hip-hop concept album about Jewish folklore which is a companion piece and soundtrack to the source material, a book of the same name. If you’re a hip-hop nerd and a book nerd, then this is a match made in heaven. The Golem of Brooklyn is both a banging record and an educational exercise. I’ve learned a lot about Jewish culture and myth from this album. It’s got a lot of repeat value; probably the hip-hop record I’ve returned to the most this year.

Earl Sweatshirt x The Alchemist-VOIR DIRE

There are more drums on this than recent releases from the Alchemist. But VOIR DIRE still displays his now trademarked left of center approach to beats and production. At this point, it’s a cozy place for fans of his work, even if it sounds pretty uncomfortable next to mainstream hip-hop. And Earl’s rhyming is always a welcome addition to the year in music. The two gel together really well, which is part of the genius of The Alchemist; selecting partners that understand and fit with his avant-garde style.

JPEG Mafia x Danny Brown-Scaring the Hoes

There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said about STH. It’s a bonkers record; a Frankenstein’s monster made by two mad scientists pushing hip-hop to it’s very limits. There’s a reason this is topping most end-of-year lists. SCARING THE HOES needs to be experienced to be understood.

Killer Mike-Michael

Killer Mike knew he had something in him that needed to get out outside of Run The Jewels. And so he gave us Michael, his solo follow up to R.A.P. Music. Mike’s voice is singular. You only need to listen to him once to be able to pick him out in any guest spot he does. And making it front and center does not take away its power. The album is gospel-centric musically and autobiographical thematically. It’s very different than what we’ve heard with Run the Jewels, but his cadence is still there, his phrasing is still there, and his indomitable attitude is still there. Micheal is all Killer Mike.

Kool Keith-Black Elvis 2

Kool Keith is the elder statesman of weird in hip-hop. In his 4 decades of output, he has had countless alter-egos, the most endearing and enduring of which is Black Elvis. He debuted Black Elvis on 1999’s Black Elvis/Lost In Space and decided 24 years later that space and time traveling character needed to make a return. Black Elvis 2 maintains the style and continuity of its predecessor, which is good for long time fans. And that he dropped this along with 2 other, completely different records this year, shows how good Keith is at switching lanes seamlessly.

Nas-King’s Disease III, Magic 2, Magic 3

Nas might be the only emcee of his era that is still releasing really good music. There are some still putting out new records. But they pale in comparison to their back catalogue (see Busta Rhymes Blockbusta). Nas is different. He’s not resting on his laurels. Nor is he trying to pretend like he’s still a twenty something up-and-coming artist (although he has that same level of hunger). Nas is embracing his age and experience but is still making relevant music for today. With Hit Boy on production, the beats are hot and current. The rhymes are as sharp as ever. And he somehow managed to put out three incredible records this year without falling off. Give the man his due.

Open Mike Eagle-another triumph of ghetto engineering

Open Mike Eagle is on a tear, following up last year’s incredible Component System With The Auto-Reverse with another dive into thoughtful, independent hip-hop. Eagle has fewer guest spots than last year’s outing. But he did grab up the incomparable BLU, as well as Eshu Tune (aka comedian Hannibal Burress), who is surprisingly good on the mic. Veteran Young Zee drops a HARD verse on “BET’s rap city” which deserves attention. Of course, Eagle’s rhymes are the standout. He’s just a great emcee, whose bars are enhanced by excellent beats from Quelle Chris, Child Actor, Illingsworth, and Kenny Segal. This is a mellow but head-nodding jam that deserves attention.

Skech185 x Jeff Markey-He Left Nothing For The Swim Back

Backwoodz Studioz released four of my favorite releases last year, hip-hop or otherwise. And the collaboration between rapper Skech185 and producer Jeff Markey, easily joins their incredible pantheon, cementing them as an independent studio to follow. Skech185 was totally unknown to me; he has released an album since 2011 and has maintained a pretty low profile. But the dude drops straight fire bars. And Markey’s production fits in with the unique profile that BWS has developed over the last several years. HLNFTSB is a mouthful to say, but worth every second of listening. 

Check out these related articles:

Summer Bummer Singles

Summer Bummer Singles

Technically, summer doesn't start for another month or so. But with graduations behind us and temperatures on the rise, we've entered that bright...

Bands Named After Songs

Bands Named After Songs

If there's anything we learned collectively after "Running Up That Hill" recently became popular again, it's that there's a strange relationship...


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *