2023 has progressed well. This year, we’ve received great releases from Veeze Skyzoo, Boldy James and more. But now, we can add amazing albums from Sexyy Red, Black Thought, Young Nudy, DaeMoney, Conway The Machine, billy woods, and Talib Kweli and Madlib among others. HipHopDX will continue narrowing down the endless amount of music released during the course of this year to the essentials, providing readers with a list of the must-listen projects.
Struggling to find a list of the Hip Hop Albums that have been shifting the culture? Take a look at our lists for Rap and R&B to get a complete survey of the projects that are dictating the conversation around Hip Hop culture.
Need some new songs to throw in the rotation but Spotify and user-created playlists are way too long? We kept it simple and added only the best of the best songs from each month to make sure you get the songs you need without a hassle. Peep the lists below.
Looking for some up-and-coming rappers and underground gems? We’ve done the work for you and highlighted the short EPs, mixtapes and projects to check out if you’re tired of the mainstream album cycle.
Editor’s note: Albums from this list were released between January 1, 2023 – October 30, 2023.
And Then You Pray For Me – Westside Gunn
His highly anticipated new release, which sits at a relatively hefty 21 tracks, did deliver many things we expected, like an AA Rashid intro, an interlude from his daughter berating our wealth, a poem from the always-dope Keisha Plum, hell, even a wrestling sample. As a great nod back to PFP, Cartier A. Williams appears again with a tap dancing interlude produced by Mr. Green (a producer we haven’t seen Gunn work with in years).
MIKE – Burning Desire
Since releasing his 2017 breakthrough May God Bless Your Hustle, MIKE has been on a prolific run. His catalogue has continued to expand and improve annually, with high-quality projects released consistently and MIKE himself appearing sharper with each outing. Running concurrently with that artistic growth, he seems to be settling into his role as an elder statesman in New York hip-hop’s underground. After being a mainstay in the community for years, the now 25-year-old has solidified himself as a figurehead in the scene – and with his latest LP, it seems he is acutely aware of just where he stands. With Burning Desire, MIKE brings forth his most self-assured work to date. The project is a no-holds-barred effort, existing as a lyrically dense, texturally diverse and unapologetically singular experience.
Magic 3 – Nas
It’s unfortunate that Hip Hop and longevity don’t have more positive connotations, creating this idea that once you reach a certain age, your rapping skills diminish. Granted, many of the greats don’t go out on top (for every 4:44 there’s a Crown Royal). But Nas, who we’ve been listening to for almost 30 years, has re-written that narrative by releasing both his King’s Disease and Magic series congruently. The pocket he’s in with Hit-Boy is like Killer Mike meets El-P, two spiritually connected souls who become better versions of themselves every time they work on music together. It’s why fans didn’t seem surprised when Nas said he was halfway through his next one on “Abracadabra” from Magic 2, as their spark continues to produce some of Nas’ best material in years. Magic 3 is the final parting gift for fans, as Nas says goodbye (for now) to this producer-rapper pairing. The album represents a milestone for Nas reaching 50 during 50 years of Hip Hop, an audio journal of his accomplishments, his reflections on surviving life and lessons learned, reveling in Black excellence, and his dedication to the art form by bucking the trends. But for an artist who was written off several times in his career, and even himself wrote off the genre he helped popularize completely, Magic 3 puts the stamp on one of the most interesting late-career series in Hip Hop history, a feat that may never be duplicated.
Faith Is A Rock – MIKE & Wiki
After connecting this past November for the snack-sized One More EP, released in conjunction with Dutch streetwear brand Patta’s collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger, Wiki and MIKE have unleashed a full-length project, Faith Is A Rock, produced entirely by The Alchemist. Containing three songs from the EP—the collaborative “One More,” and solo tracks “Be Realistic” and “Odd Ways”—this 10-song project admirably delivers what core fans of both MCs had hoped for from a more substantial offering, with Al unsurprisingly in peak form. The duo’s chemistry is off the charts going back to back, keeping the wordplay complex enough to command multiple listens in order to fully decipher.
Another Triumph Of Ghetto Engineering – Open Mike Eagle
Open Mike Eagle has always taken a grandiose approach to his rap music. From 2010’s Unapologetic Art Rap to 2016’s Hella Personal Film Festival and 2017’s opus Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, the Chicago-bred, LA-based underground broke superhero has often organized his work around a key theme or principle. His latest project, another triumph of ghetto engineering, is perhaps his finest work to date, or at least sets the stage for an epic debate amongst indie rap fans everywhere. This album has an explicit theme—the hard, often unrewarded work of Black artists everywhere—and one that bubbles beneath the surface and gives the album its brilliant thrust. Namely, this is a celebration of rap, of its beauty and brokenness, of those at the top of the game and those gone too soon to ever reach a peak. This is an album of triumphs and toils, of all that the game has given Mike and the ways in which it has fallen short for him. Mike is probably your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, but more importantly, he’s your favorite rapper’s biggest rap fan.
Marquis – Key!
“It feels great to be alive and it feels great to be me.” It’s with this renewed mindset and creative direction berthed in his rehab stint that Key! approached Marquis. Key! is at his best when he’s having fun, and his new album is no exception, only this time he’s more wise, grappling with love and loss and existentialism as well as the perils of late-stage drug addiction and the prospect of losing it all. When he’s firing on all cylinders, Key! never loses his earnest disposition, a comic relief cracking through the firmament of a dark canvas painted by his demons and his environment.
Rocket Power – Quavo
With the arrival of Rocket Power, Quavo channels the pain of losing his nephew and creative partner in crime, Takeoff, into a solid return. Unsurprisingly, the album is at its best when Quavo uses the tragedy of his nephew’s death to reflect on his own life, where he’s been, and where he still aims to go. It’s tricky to measure an album by this rubric, but it’s not a coincidence that Quavo sounds the most engaged when he’s grappling with the tragedy that has altered his life forever. Quavo turns in a record that seemed impossible to make under the circumstances. He honors the life of Takeoff while looking for a way forward. It’s a position you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy, yet Quavo handles it with grace. Even when Quavo allows himself moments to shine—an occasional bar to reflect on all the wins he’s had—the reality of his fallen brother in arms is never far from his mind.
Sundial – NoName
Noname blends Chicago’s deep-rooted history of poetry and soul-embalmed rap with the polyrhythms of traditionally African instrumentation n her brilliant new album Sundial. The catalyst to this is present here in Saba, Ben Nartey and AJ Halls’ collaboration in the production, bouncing rimshots on every off-beat, keeping pace with Noname’s slick boom-bap. In its introductory skit, “toxic” showcases a feminine-masculine mismatch in the understanding of love. The speaker emphasizes that love is commitment, and Noname expresses that same frustration with “toxic” love from people whose company she wouldn’t even prefer to her own. The yearning is paradoxical and so are Noname’s lovers, having babies with other women even though they had never shown maturity since the beginning. With the album, Noname flaunts a lyrical and spiritual masterclass, while also embracing her vulnerability and silencing anyone who doubted her.
The Patience – Mick Jenkins
On The Patience, Jenkins’ familiar laidback cool is replaced with an anxious, angry bite. Jenkins is pissed – at the industry, fugazis (“Pasta”), money-grubbing peers (“Guapanese”), and his lack of recognition. A feeling of frustrated stasis is palpable throughout Jenkins’ excellent new album, which he mostly recorded while waiting out his CMG contract. His expression on the cover says it all: these songs were crafted during a period of deep frustration, when waiting began to feel like prison, when all he wanted was full control over his artistry. This project is a career reset – years of being a mainstay in underground circles and garnering acclaim from critics has still left Jenkins feeling overlooked. He’s ready to take his craft to a higher level. The Patience is a rewarding opening chapter, a satisfying burst of fresh air after a period of holding his breath. What comes next for Jenkins is unknown – but hopefully fans won’t have to wait too long to find out. He closes the album with a promise: “I’m just now stepping into what I feel like is full agency over my creativity, my artistry, my business, and even myself as a man.” And with this new album, he makes great strides to return to form when he was once considered the next great Chicago rapper.
Signature – Joell Ortiz & L’Orange
Between his multisyllabic rhyme schemes, agility and penchant for piling writerly details, rapping has never been a problem for Joell Ortiz — and it wasn’t on his mostly solid 2021 album, Autograph. There, his raps were generally sharp, with the project’s main issues being indistinct production and spurts of formulaic song tropes that occasionally halted its momentum. Those issues are almost entirely erased on Signature, a reimagining courtesy of soul production maestro, L’Orange. This time, Ortiz and L’Orange cut trite mid-2000s sounds and a few generic songs for a tighter, more emotionally intense offering. As sharp as it is tidy, the Autograph remix edition is an exercise in efficiency and sonic imagination, with the latter being a courtesy of a production dynamo who keeps it anything but stale. In the end, L’Orange left his mark on Signature by penning his own, making this version of Autograph a lot more legible.
Sex Money Drugs – Lucki
SMD is LUCKI’s response to his clear path to commercial success. Fans swarm him on the streets, his leaks are just as coveted as his proper releases, and yet he feels nothing. His words are slurred together and whether it’s drug-induced paranoia, mania or depression, he falls in and out of melodies just as quickly as he’ll go from over-pronouncing downbeats on “No Bap” to monotony on “Bby Pluto.” s*x m*ney dr*gs is a torn and re-pieced portrait of LUCKI, honing in and honoring the raw sentimentality that brought him acclaim; he’s still an addict, now enabled by own success, questioning his own end goal.
Summer’s Mine – Babyface Ray
2022 was the year that Babyface Ray made his mostly seamless transition from a regional rap star in Detroit to an international star with critical acclaim and mainstream appeal. The beautiful part is that he didn’t need to stray far from his signature sound to do so. His latest offering, Summer’s Mine, is a return to form after a slight meander off the path with his second project of last year, MOB. Now, as one of the biggest names in the Motor City’s booming hip-hop scene, Babyface Ray is continuing to put his city on his back with a continuous, effortless knack for unapologetic flexes, nervous flows, and introspective reflections. On Summer’s Mine, all of these characteristics combine for a masterful, all-encompassing body of work that finds Ray claiming the summer for the second year in a row – and succeeding.
Ganger – Veeze
Though it should be considered a musical aggregate of Detroit’s rap scene, Ganger’s mixing is far ahead of its time within the realm of Hip Hop. Where more experimental, electronic-leaning acts change the mixing of vocals and instruments to distort their sound to become hardly recognizable, Veeze and his team of producers, including Ddot, Pooh Beats, and Bass Kid, toy with the idea of a slight change. The mixing on Ganger periodically boosts Veeze’s voice to be just a few decibels too high or too low, leaving his mumbles either subdued by the instrumental or overpowered by it. The result is a sound collage, where each element in each song feels repurposed under the direction of Veeze. On songs like, “WHOda1” and “Weekend,” the augmented volume of Veeze’s voice reflects a warm amity, whether it be whispering roasts into your ear or shedding his vulnerabilities a bit too close to the mic.
Hard To Love – Moneybagg Yo
Memphis rapper Moneybagg Yo solidified himself over the past five years as one of the most prolific emcees in Hip Hop’s current landscape. A string of LPs from 2018 to 2021 culminated in A Gangsta’s Pain, which found him advancing his formula of trap and drill bangers built around his distinctive flow, stark introspection, and disrespectful assortment of ad libs. Last year’s layoff found him becoming a single father due to the tragic murder of his ex-girlfriend, a cheating scandal involving his current partner, and a lean relapse. Still, all that couldn’t slow his artistic momentum. On Hard To Love, Moneybagg Yo addresses his real life pain in some of the most vulnerable material of his career without sacrificing the street anthems that made him a star. On Hard To Love, Moneybagg Yo delivers a well-balanced trap treatise on the bittersweetness of fame and the difficulty of living real life in the spotlight. Not many artists could blend those deeply personal elements with the bawdy trap anthems that keep clubs churning but Moneybagg Yo seems to be an exception.
Michael – Killer Mike
The moniker Killer Mike conjures a lengthy list of descriptors: searing truth-teller, 2nd Amendment-advocate, activist, MC. His new LP, Micheal, Executive-produced by No I.D., is an eclectic, heartfelt swirl of majestic soul and songwriting that’s as piercing as it is intimate. For this one, Mike explores tragedy and love with a mix of naked sincerity and the types of detail that usually has to be extracted from memory. As he’s explained in multiple interviews, this isn’t Killer Mike, it’s Michael Render, a human being that’s more than the sum of whichever labels we try to prescribe him. At about 54 minutes, Michael is a dense, but efficient body of thoughts and sounds, one embedded with instrumentation and gospel choirs you’d find in Black churches across the South. Of course, soundbeds like those are natural for Atlanta rappers of a certain age, but in this case, the dosage is more sizable — Mike’s deliberate move to incorporate the music of his childhood while paying homage to the culture that raised him.
Hood Hottest Princess – Sexxy Red
If Detroit has become the de facto center of the universe for a new generation of street rappers with a penchant for deadpan punchlines and copious punch-ins, then Memphis is something of a sister city. Led by the producer triumvirate of Tay Keith, Hitkidd, and Juicy J, the city’s resurgent scene has expanded far beyond Tennessee’s borders to cultivate a new lineage of raunchy, inescapable club-rap anthems. St. Louis’ Sexyy Red is the latest emcee to flip Three 6 Mafia’s tried and true formula into a contender for Song of the Summer: Her horny-as-hell breakout single “Pound Town” is a graphic, often hilarious celebration of casual sex that’s guaranteed to be a floor-filler for months to come. Though it can be tough to follow up bottled lightning with a full-length project, Sexyy Red’s sophomore mixtape Hood Hottest Princess manages to succeed by sticking to her strengths. Light on features and capped at a lean 30 minutes, the release is packed back to front with hard-hitting nu-crunk energy and pornographic quotables—exactly the kind of material anyone pressing play is looking for.
MAPS – billy woods & Kenny Segal
billy woods describes Maps, his exceptional new album and second collaboration with producer Kenny Segal, as a “post-pandemic” record, an interesting shift from the quarantine-album narrative that dominated the past couple of years. And Maps is exactly that, chronicling woods’ return to touring as the general population hesitantly removed their masks and walked back inside. He wrote a lot of the record on the road, documenting the mundanities and curiosities of life as a touring artist, especially one with a larger, more international audience than before. “Soundcheck” describes his need to escape the tedium of its titular activity, opting instead to find the nearest Szechuan restaurant. He fights jet lag on “Bad Dreams Are Only Dreams” and smokes weed in a hotel room during “Facetime,” listening to festival goers chase oblivion after a Playboi Carti set.
WON’T HE DO IT – Conway The Machine
While the metrics for what constitutes a great MC may not be as universal as they once were — as seen from the endless debates and comparisons on Hip Hop Twitter — it’s difficult not to consider Conway The Machine as one of the better lyricists of the day. Rightfully, that has been a bottom-line takeaway for everything he’s dropped since his 2020 debut studio album, From King To A GOD. Though his penchant for darker vibes may have once led some listeners and critics to attempt to confine and categorize his style, Won’t He Do It is his best example yet of why that’s impossible.
SREMM 4 LIFE – Rae Sremmurd
Ten years after dropping a debut jam-packed with up-tempo club bangers, the brothers behind Hip Hop duo Rae Sremmurd find themselves genre statesman enjoying every conceivable trapping of success. Channeling the same dizzying energy that fueled their initial ascent, Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee keep the party bumping with Sremm 4 Life. But although the scenery and the musical backdrop is much the same, the brothers tap into a level of introspection that only comes with age that they’ve never quite harnessed before.
MY VISION – Luh Tyler
An immersive, often serene debut project, My Vision asserts Luh Tyler’s status as an outlier in rap’s current landscape. His music’s too downtempo to fall in with the post-Detroit crowd, even when he hops on beats with vaguely Midwestern drum patterns, but it’s not experimental enough to lump in with the new wave of underground artists pushing plugg into alien territory. It’s more like comfort food for those who pine for a time when Kodak Black, Rich the Kid and Wiz Khalifa could hop on any beat—easy listening with 808s. Luh Tyler doesn’t push himself or his influences hard enough to transcend these comparisons, but in 2023, you’d be hard pressed to find a better mixtape to unwind to.
GLORIOUS GAME – Black Thought & El Michels Affair
Coming off the critically acclaimed Cheat Codes — a runner-up for the DX Best Hip Hop Album Of 2022 award — Tariq Trotter, better known as Black Thought, once again asserts his Zeus-level pen with Glorious Game, a collaborative LP with El Michels Affair (headed by one of his fave producers, Leon Michels). Playing out as a stage-worthy one-person show, Thought remains endearingly personal throughout the tightly curated 31-minute project, walking us through the sights, sounds, smells and sensibilities instilled coming up in the Point Breeze neighborhood of South Philadelphia.
GENERATIONAL CURSE – ICECOLDBISHOP
GENERATIONAL CURSE is a unique project from performance to production, especially regarding debuts in 2023. The music sounds fresh; it’s layered and anchored by its willingness to be heard. While Icecoldbishop adds plenty of social commentary throughout the songs, it never feels corny or shoved down your throat. Bishop’s storytelling is exceptional, learning from generations of west coast emcees who created the blueprint. GENERATIONAL CURSE excites the future, and for Bishop, the future couldn’t be brighter.
Gumbo – Young Nudy
Young Nudy operates in the realm of neon distortion. Since 2016, the 30-year-old stylist has blended his sticky rasp and macabre gunplay with beats that could soundtrack Zelda, creating songs that are jarring and immersive. With its vibrantly sinister sounds, pristine sequencing and spurts of Nudy’s underrated humor and flow versatility, Gumbo is just more evidence of his status as one of Atlanta’s most unique artists. Maintaining its cohesion while avoiding monotony, Nudy’s latest is at once chill and animated — an extravagant adventure that’s as controlled as it is fun. Released seven months after last year’s excellent EA Monster, the effort continues Nudy’s stream of strong projects. The LP plays out the way its title suggests. Murderous quips, onomatopoeias and agile flows get steeped deep into eclectic beats. The varied sounds begin to blend with the flavors next to it, and like the best Nudy projects, Gumbo highlights the contrasting ingredients while creating a flavor all its own.
Liberation 2 – Talib Kweli & Madlib
Seventeen years removed from their first collaborative effort, the elusive crate-digging Zeus Madlib and Brooklyn’s own Talib Kweli–the Libs–return with Liberation 2, a Luminary-only album a decade in the making. It’s easy to imagine why the album took so long; they have been swamped since their first Liberation project. Talib (among other things) dropped a cumulative 12 projects in that time span–Madlib had closer to 20, including respective AOTY contenders Piñata and Bandana with Freddie Gibbs. But, as Kweli himself notes in the project’s press release, “Never has there been a better time for such honest, message-driven music that pays tribute to the sounds that came before us.” Appropriately timed to Hip-Hop’s 50th anniversary, the album is not only a cry for unity–something that won’t surprise Kweli fans at all–but also a great reminder of what a well-thought-out, unrushed creative process can produce. Devoid of toxicity and rap-isms, this is an album built to age; in a landscape that thrives off of microwave LPs and feverish release cycles, that’s a particularly alluring approach.
Even God Has A Sense Of Humor – Maxo
The California-based Maxo raps to tell deeply personal stories – not to flex flashy rhymes. Over atmospheric droning or dreamy jazz-fueled production, the 28-year-old grapples with the painful parts of human existence: depression, self-doubt, shaken faith. Maxo is in a more positive headspace these days, but debut LP Even God Has a Sense of Humor is billed as a tribute to and a final rehash of the troubled days leading up to his present at the precipice of mainstream success. Socially conscious and artistically daring, Maxo creates some magical moments on Even God Has a Sense of Humor.
Slae Season 3 – DaeMoney
DaeMoney has spent the majority of his life around rappers, learning the craft from his uncle Babyface Ray at a young age and even recording a pre-written verse on a Team Eastside track when he was just six. His latest album, Slae Season 3, feels like the work of a seasoned vet, delving into a neurotic level of introspection. While the series’ previous entry, released in 2021, still felt tethered to Detroit conventions like frantic harp melodies and squelching bass, SS3 delves into a murkier aesthetic that better suits DaeMoney’s lethargic flow. Emphasizing his vocals in the mix, the production is impressionistic, allowing a blend of detuned synths and sleepy string samples to seep into a backdrop of distorted 808s. The effect is more mid-fi than lo-fi, but the subtle influence of artists like Earl Sweatshirt and Lucki (who makes a guest appearance on “Who Is That?”) is evident in his taste for the muffled and understated.
The Secret Weapon – BigScarr
A few years ago, Gucci Mane’s 1017 Records imprint was looking to become the hottest label in Atlanta and beyond as it reinvented itself from the mid 2010s and kept an ear to the streets for burgeoning talent. He signed some exciting names in Pooh Shiesty, Foogiano, Enchanting and Big Scarr. Together they released compilation tapes such as So Icy Boyz along with an onslaught of solo releases. However, recent years have found the label running into issue after issue. Shiesty was arrested, as was his partner Foogiano. But it was in December of 2022 that rock bottom hit – when Big Scarr passed away from a reported accidental overdose. His latest effort, The Secret Weapon, shows he had so much more to give, and it will serve to protect his legacy.
I Rest My Case – NBA YoungBoy
The key to YoungBoy’s workaholic overload is consistency — he’s developed a dependable sound, not quite country rap, but aching with a bluesy soulfulness and frequently accompanied by classical guitar. It’s a style he does well, but his voice encompasses a wider spectrum of timbres and emotions. When YoungBoy veers from the formula in favor of something more unpredictable — like the old school Southern sound he channeled on last year’s 3800 Degrees — he’s easily one of the most exciting rappers out. I Rest My Case splits the difference between these two tendencies: about half the songs are YoungBoy as usual, while the rest go in over futuristic rage beats.
Mind Of A Saint – Skyzoo
Fully thematic albums can be a mixed bag. If an artist’s concept is too complicated or obscure, listeners will lose interest. Conversely, if it’s too loose, artists open themselves up to criticism for poor execution. Brooklyn MC and ATL restaurant owner Skyzoo’s latest release, The Mind Of A Saint: A Soliloquy by Skyzoo, is a master class in pulling off a conceptual album without breaking character or losing steam (no easy feat). The album is told from the point of view of drug kingpin Franklin Saint, a character in Snowfall, a drama co-created by the late John Singleton, set in 1980s Los Angeles at the start of the crack cocaine epidemic. Throughout the 10-song affair, Skyzoo’s penchant for crafting lyrically rich, rewind-worthy Hip Hop loaded with easter eggs shines as brightly as ever, with an almost mind-boggling level of attention to detail. Whether it’s telling the engineer that he’s not used to the studio as he’s from a “different life” on the song “100 to One” or describing Franklin telling his friend Leon about working on an album on the intro to “Brick by Brick” (“Yo Saint, I know you’re going to get all poetic”), he fully commits to his character.
Indiana Jones – Boldy James & RichGains
Just a few weeks after it was reported that rapper Boldy James had been in a car accident in the Detroit area that left him with broken vertebrae in his neck and other injuries, the MC (who has since moved to a rehab center) released a sobering collaborative project with Rich Gains, Indiana Jones. Boldy’s non-assuming delivery and melancholy aura seem almost elastic when applied to the sonic signatures of different producers—which makes, for example, his Nicholas Craven-helmed Fair Exchange No Robbery sound so different from his work with Futurewave (Mr. Ten08), Alchemist or Real Bad Man. In this case, Rich Gains, half of the production duo Blended Babies (with partner JP), has given the Detroit MC an eclectic vibe that pushes him in ambitious new directions. As a result, Boldy delivers incredibly intriguing tracks balanced against some of his bleakest bars in recent memory.