For those of you unaware, I recently published a list of my top 10 favourite hip hop and RnB albums in The Wire Magazine, as part of their end of year review issue. It was a tough list to compile because 2022 contained a multitude of stellar releases, many of which deserved further praise.
Guilt quickly set in after I’d submitted the list to my editor, not because I felt like I’d made a mistake with any of my choices, but because I wish I had been given the time and space to write about the bevy of other favourites that had been in rotation over the last 12 months. So now I’m going to attempt to summarise those remaining projects and give them the shine they deserve. But first my original list and the accompanying blurb, for those of you who missed it the first time round. I should also mention that I fucked up with the Little Simz pick. I had it in my head that SIMBI came out in early 2022, but in fact it was late 2021. I blame my own sketchy-at-best memory and the fact that her MOBO win came so late in the year. Anyway…
- billy woods – Church (Backwoodz Studioz)
- Teddy Faley – Teddy Brown Brown (WATKK)
- ELUCID – I Told Bessie (Backwoodz Studioz)
- Moor Mother – Jazz Codes (Anti)
- Fatboi Sharif & noface – Preaching In Havana (PTP)
- Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (Age 101 Music)
- Tom Caruana – Strange Planet (Tea Sea Records)
- Quelle Chris – Death Fame (Mello Music Group)
- GROUP – 2 (Blah Records)
- Eva Lazarus – Brandy Kisses (Melonskin Records)
Narrowing this year down to a simple top 10 felt like a seemingly impossible task, as hip hop once again enjoyed another 12 months of acclaimed releases. Backwoodz Studioz reigned supreme with another faultless run, including two impeccable albums from billy woods, the latter of which edged its way into my chart thanks in part to Messiah Musik’s perfectly matched production. There were also superb projects from ELUCID, Duncecap and ShrapKnel.
The Backwoodz extended family also enjoyed success, as Moor Mother continued to carve out her own jazz-soaked dreamlike niche with Jazz Codes, while Fatboi Sharif teamed up with noface to create another body of work that separated itself from virtually every other album on the planet. Quelle Chris brought forth more refreshing sounds with Deathfame and Teddy Faley returned with some of the year’s best writing on Teddy Brown Brown.
In the UK, Little Simz continued her meteoric rise with the release of SIMBI, securing a Mercury Music Prize win in the process. Tom Caruana once more proved himself an unsung hero of the scene with a dazzling combination of production and collaborations, while elsewhere Jehst and Lee Scott carried on their GROUP effort to ascend to the upper echelons with ease.
So while hip hop is not still without its faults, both within the industry and the culture as a whole, it does also feel as though there has never been a better time to thrive as a DIY artist or independent label. And long may it continue.
So that was that. Now on to the next twenty picks. I feel like a top 30 is a decent number to cover, as it allows me to write a summary which people will (hopefully) actually read, as well as one that will take the time I have free in between working my day job, doing my paid writing gigs and preparing for the arrival of a baby.
First the list, but I want to make it clear that this isn’t in any order beyond the one I remembered the releases in. I hate having to pit one against another. My thing has always been promoting the music I love and the artists I admire, so please don’t pay any attention to the order of these albums and EPs. Hell, they’re not even going to be numbered. I’m going to do them in two more batches of 10, so the summaries are easier to digest (I know this medium is dying in favour of more quickly digestible content, so I’m really trying to make it easy for you guys).
billy woods – Aethiopes (Backwoodz Studioz)
A. Billi Free & The Lasso – Holy Body Roll (Mello Music Group)
They Hate Change – Finally, New (Jagjaguwar)
Defcee & Boathouse – For All Debts Public & Private (Closed Sessions)
R.A.P. Ferreira – 5 to the Eye with Stars (Ruby Yacht)
Open Mike Eagle – Component System with the Auto Reverse (Auto Reverse)
AKAI SOLO – Spirit Roaming (Backwoodz Studioz)
Roc Marciano & The Alchemist – The Elephant Man’s Bones (ALC / Marci Enterprises)
Rich Jones & Iceberg Theory – Smoke Detector (FilthyBroke Recordings)
Marlowe – Marlowe 3 (Mello Music Group)
As I mentioned in the first summary, Backwoodz had an(other) incredible year, with two more of their releases landing in this section. Aethiopes was the critic’s favourite – and the fan’s by all accounts – ending up at the top of a lot of lists, while AKAI SOLO’s full-length label debut made it feel like he should have been a part of the proceedings from the start, further cementing his place as one of his generation’s most engaging artists. Mello Music Group was another label that enjoyed a healthy run of releases, including the sublime collaboration between blog favourite, The Lasso, and the ever-alluring, A. Billi Free, proving once again that the former will never be confined to a single genre. Solemn Brigham and L’Orange reunited for the next chapter of Marlowe, continuing to raise the bar on an already acclaimed partnership, which continued in the physical realm thanks to a successful tour in the UK and Europe.
Boathouse was the latest producer to perfectly complement Defcee’s deftness on the mic, as the pair hit homerun after homerun with All Debts Public and Private, then somehow added to the excellence with the Import Edition. Roc Marciano and The Alchemist made a lot of rap dreams come true as they finally joined forces for a full album, which exemplified their superiority within their chosen crafts, and cultivated even more respect from critics and fans alike. They Hate Change strengthened the niche they had already carved out for themselves, as they blended Gulf coast raps with a plethora of UK subgenres. They also provided one of my favourite live experiences of the year as well, with their appearance at Pitchfork Festival in London. Open Mike Eagle melded a nostalgic past with the present to great effect, with his latest offering, as R.A.P. Ferreira continued his reign on the throne of poetic rap writing with 5 to the Eye with Stars. And finally, Rich Jones and Iceberg Theory came together to further the esteem already held amongst their respective peers, as well as ushering a new wave of fans into their enticing soundscape.
That’s it for now, but stay tuned for part two coming soon. And if you’re not familiar with any of the albums I’ve mentioned, I’d advise you to go exploring. The majority will be available via Bandcamp.