2023 has progressed well. This year, we’ve received great releases from 03 Greedo, Skyzoo, Boldy James and more. But now, we can add amazing albums from Sexxy 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 – August 30, 2023.
Nas – Magic 2
Working at its best, Magic 2 pairs competent Hit-Boy production with acrobatic flows and self-mythology that collapses the distance between a block-dweller and a venerable rap elder statesman. For “Office Hours,” he turns a Dells sample into the battleground for a revolution, letting off vivid flashes of ’80s ephemera while painting a portrait of a forceful, but benevolent Godfather in a world full of Fredos. While his 50 Cent reunion for the track isn’t as grand as you’d hope — enjoyable as it was, Fif’s verse falls well short of a full 16 — it’s a touch of yesteryear that gives off the impression of a man who’s come full circle with his own career. On “Pistols On Your Album Cover,” he pays homage to Boogie Down Productions while interpolating a famous lyric from his one-time rival Tupac Shakur for a solemn juxtaposition of the past and present. Cruising over a tranquil Hit-Boy beat, Nas serves up a poignant mosaic of day-to-day survival, broken dreams and the ironic dual tragedy that accompanies gunshots: “Single mothers on that EBT just tryna feed they seeds/Scammers and boosters livin’ nice off of EDD/CCTV, all the cameras’ll shoot ya/Soon as you let a shot off, it’ll damage your future.”
Grandson – King Von
King Von always sounds assertive in his raps, rarely leaving any room to question his ability to lead or inspire. “Phil Jackson” sounds like a cocaine-fueled attempt at asserting his dominance with Von referencing the titular coach and Shaq’s innate ability to score at his peak, while Polo G likens himself to Osama Bin Laden in his verse. The cockiness isn’t without humor, and while there’s no real way to know when Polo G recorded his verse, it toys with the idea that Von wasn’t as self-serious as his raps would imply. As dour and violent as Von’s raps come off on Grandson, there are still sobering moments of introspection and essential context. He blames his coldness on growing up in the grimier sides of Chicago on “From The Hood” with Lil Durk. Despite Durk’s surface-level lyrics ( “Don’t take it personal / It hit different when you comin’ from the hood”), the passion with which he raps them shows a level of conviction he hasn’t demonstrated much on his own tracks in years. Von only appears for a single verse, indicating that the song was probably only half-ready by the time Durk got his hands on it, but perhaps the grief helped inspire his Chicago peer into tapping back into his earnest side.
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.
Business Is Business – Young Thug
Business Is Business is a good Young Thung record. He’s still as strange as ever, finding new ways to contort his voice. On “Cars Bring Me Out,” a typical display of chemistry with Future, Thugger forgoes melody but keeps the autotune, giving his vocals a warbly, uncanny valley sheen. He’s as experimental as ever with flow, mimicking Project Pat on “Money On The Dresser;” on the Lil Uzi Vert-assisted “Hellcat Kenny,” Thug squirms against the minimal production, sinking into a heavy-lidded, mealymouthed delivery. “Uncle M” features some of his most quietly outlandish vocal work, beginning with autotuned whistling and continuing into the quavering hook. The way Thug’s pitch bends the end of his bars seems at odds with the cinematic beat. It gives the track a cartoonish menace, as captivating as it is off putting. More than anything, Business is a triumph for Metro Boomin’s curatorial skills, earning his executive producer credit by guiding the album’s greyscale sound. Metro provides the lion’s share of the beats, but the other producers he recruits — Wheezy, Aviator Keyyz, F1LTHY — match the unsteady atmosphere. Everything feels a bit paranoid, from the twinkling synths of “Gucci Grocery Bag” to the blanket of sub-bass on “Wit Da Racks.” Thug’s rote materialism doesn’t always match the gloomy production, but Metro manages to keep the energy high with sprightly sequencing.
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.
THE ESTATE SALE – Tyler, The Creator
Released in June 2021, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST served as Tyler, The Creator’s sixth studio album complete with a healthy balance of braggadocios ego and candid vulnerability. With a departure from the lighter, more R&B aesthetics of his previous two albums, IGOR and Flower Boy, CMIYGL was a passionate return to his gritty rapping roots, reminding people of his elite rapping capabilities. Across the album, he continues to push the boundaries of masculinity in Hip-Hop and showcases the various different sides of himself as both a person and an artist, providing listeners with a refreshing balance of blatant vulnerability and imaginative flexing. You won’t hear him rapping about designer clothes, but you will hear him flex about things like the oceanfront view from one of his houses, and bragging that he spends his money on art while advising other rappers to keep their Patek watches.
FROM WHENCE IT CAME – Yungmorpheus
On From Whence It Came, YUNG contrasts humble beginnings with the success he now finds in doing him: “Y’all can be chameleons, call me mister Himself” (“Hold Tighter // Don’t Mention It”). He does this over an array of sounds from low-rider tunes to drum and bass. “For The Evening,” an infectious track that meets the criteria for an easy-going West-Coast hit, despite coming from a floridian. Even his friends laugh in disbelief on the outro. “For The Evening” and “Top Dog // Under Dog” showcases YUNG’s influences living in L.A. thanks to Al Dali and Fitz Ambro$e’s choice of thumping 808s, synths and the rejuvenation of A & B-side tracks. Outlier “Heavy Bags,” a subtle jungle anthem speckled with eerie pianos will keep crowds bubbling with energy. It’s a grounding refresher from other tracks like the musing “So It Goes” and his self-produced dreamscape “Creme Brûlée” that sound like floating in the clouds.
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.
LOVESTREAK – Tony Shhnow
Tony and GRiMM have successfully flexed their skills as a team on smaller-scale works like KILLSTREAK I and II, but the big-budget ambition of LOVE STREAK allows each collaborator to progress beyond what they’ve previously been capable of. Despite a slow start, the finished product succeeds in its ambitious scope, acting as a drama, romantic comedy, and mob movie all at once.
College Park – Logic
Logic isn’t nearly as bad as people say. Social media clowns him for his rapping skill, copying flows, possessing a catalog with way more hits than misses and only rapping about being bi-racial. Let the internet tell the tale and Logic has never been good. Though his credibility and durability as a rapper is true in the streets, Twitter believes Logic hasn’t been able to shake this try-hard persona for much of his career. So how does a recently record label-free Bobby Tarantino deal with the years of Internet slander? By going back to his Maryland roots and releasing one of his best projects in years, College Park. It’s the the most free, fun and formidable Logic has sounded in years. It would be safe to assume the Internet has already made up its mind on the album and unfortunately Logic’s perceived corniness can’t be shaken with one solid outing. But with bars, beats and a positive belief system as strong as Logic’s its hard to deny the joy ride.
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
Glockoma 2 – Key Glock
The first Glockoma was one of the best mixtapes of 2018 alongside Future’s Beast Mode 2 and Lil Baby and Gunna’s Drip Harder. Five years later, Glockoma 2 arrives when Key Glock is an established Memphis trap specialist, continuing to show promise with elevated slick talk and better punchlines. If you haven’t listened to a Key Glock album yet, it’s like riding down Elvis Presley Blvd in a foreign dripped in designer. Each song represents strolling down the street with a pimp coat and cane energy. Beat-wise, some of the same producers from Glockoma return such as Tay Keith, King Ceeo, and BandPlay to create a Memphis trap that’s minimalist, rattling with bass hits and hi-hat ticks. Packed with flex raps, pimp energy and Memphis rap signatures, there’s plenty of energy to get Huey’s and Gus’s jumping.
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.
Free 03 – 03 Greedo
From the GTL line, 03, formerly known as 03 Greedo, stated that when he gets out of prison he would “speak on the pain.” His new project, Free 03, doubles down on that promise, thumbing through his rolodex of styles to remind us all what he’s capable of, and how he’s the true pioneer of the melodic rap dominating the sound today. Considering he reportedly recorded around 3,000 songs before starting his sentence, Free 03’s grab bag mentality makes sense. The three new songs (“Today,” “Hype,” “If I Die”), all of which 03 recorded while behind bars, make the case that his technical proficiency and preternatural songwriting chops remain intact, if not sharper than ever. The tracks recorded prior to his bid move effortlessly from syncopated Southern California slink to manic Atlanta-inspired trap to silken sex jams. But no matter the subject, it always feels as though Greedy’s shoulders are up by his ears, eyes darting to keep every exit in sight.
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