10 of the Most Underrated Hip Hop Albums of 2022
Updated: Oct 28, 2022
2022 has been a fantastic year for hip hop, both in the underground and in the mainstream. Huge names like Kendrick Lamar and Denzel Curry have released stellar albums, as well as under-appreciated rappers such as billy woods and Rome Streetz. However, the downside to the plethora of hip hop we have been blessed with this year is that so much of it goes under the radar and becomes overshadowed by bigger names. In this short list, I'll go through ten fantastic hip hop albums from this year that deserve far more love.
1. Fly Anakin - Frank
Frank is the latest album from Fly Anakin - one of the most exciting artists in the modern underground. While he's a great lyricist with a smooth flow, it's his viscous delivery which captivates me the most with his music. He spits each verse as if it were his last, with so much passion injected into each song. The jazzy instrumentals match his energy, with a number of producers involved from Jay Versace to Madlib.
2. KnowItAll & Owlkast - The machine
The machine is one of three albums KnowItAll has released this year, with production on this record handled by Owlkast. The two work together perfectly, with the laid-back and smooth beats from Owlkast offering a nice contrast from the raw, impassioned verses from KnowItAll. It's such an addictive record, with a polished sound that makes every track sound so crisp and clean. Like many underground releases, if this had been released under a bigger artist's name, the praise would be endless. KnowItAll and Owlkast deserve just as much love as the biggest legends in the underground today.
3. Midnight Samurai - Training Sessions, Vol. 3 - Benevolence
If you're looking for more instrumental hip hop, I highly recommend this short and sweet project. The grandiose production gives the record a triumphant sound, but there are also colder, more tranquil moments on the record which keep it fresh and exciting. Like any good instrumental hip hop album, when you focus on the intricate details of each beat, there's a lot to be impressed by. Moreover, it also doubles as great background noise to bask in the atmosphere it creates, making it a record everyone will appreciate differently.
4. Che Noir - Food for Thought
Like many albums which came out at the start of the year, discussion about Food for Thought has simmered as more and more hip hop albums have released. However, that doesn't take away from the immense quality of this record. Conceptually, it is a lot of fun, tackling a range of different themes through the wordplay of food. The production is as gritty as a Griselda record, and Che Noir's rapping is just as cold as on any Benny the Butcher or Conway the Machine album. She sounds -- and perhaps this was deliberate -- so hungry and determined. For those who like that braggadocious, inspirational side of the underground, definitely give this a try.
5. Dot-Com Intelligence - Precipice
This is another excellent album in the underground, with Precipice produced entirely by August Fanon. The hypnotic style of production from August complements the explosive sound of Dot-Com Intelligence's rapping, with each verse sounding so focussed and powerful. The album follows the concept of the 'precipice', exploring a myriad of themes and being on the precipice of something. It's one of the best produced albums this year, but the beats don't outshine the rapping - both elements bring so much to the record, strengthening each other to create a cohesive and consistent album.
6. The Koreatown Oddity - ISTHISFORREAL?
The Koreatown Oddity is a rapper whose sound I find difficult to pin down. He's always experimenting, exploring different avenues of the abstract to figure out how weird he can be. ISTHISFORREAL? is a departure from the jazz rap of his last record, leaning into more spacey and psychedelic sounds. It's full of comedic skits and interludes, most of which I find charming, but not everyone's sense of humour is the same, and thus I can see why this could be grating for some. Nonetheless, it's an album I don't see spoken about nearly enough -- especially compared to his beloved album prior, Little Dominiques Nosebleed -- and I would recommend any abstract hip hop fan to give it a listen.
7. Brando Bambino - Bandito
Bandito is the collaboration between rapper Brando Bambino and producer Pyramid Tapes. The overall sound of the record has that same grimey feeling as a Griselda record, but with far more polished production and a nonchalant performance from Bambino. The rapping sounds so cold and effortless, working well over the crashing drums and looping vocal samples in each beat. The features are excellent as well, with stellar appearances from Planet Asia, Trot, Hus KingPin, and more.
8. Mourning Run & Filip Neuf - Pearls Before Swine
Mourning Run and Filip Neuf are relatively new artists to the underground, and with Pearls Before Swine, it's clear that they are beginning to perfect their own styles. Mourning Run appeals to me most of all because of his dense rhyme schemes and effortless flow to go with it, which works well with the serene and jazzy production from Filip. A few other rappers compete with Run for the best verse, with great features from KnowItAll, Backwood Sweetie, and Fly Anakin.
9. E L U C I D - I Told Bessie
While billy woods has been receiving endless praise from abstract hip hop fans this year with his albums Aethiopes and Church, his counterpart E L U C I D has not garnered nearly enough attention, which is strange considering I Told Bessie is just as excellent. E L U C I D's performance is incredible, maintaining that same aggressive delivery throughout which makes his verses so engaging and powerful. A host of talented producers are involved, from Child Actor, to August Fanon, to The Alchemist.
10. Phife Dawg - Forever
Posthumous albums are difficult to pull off without coming across as soulless cash-grabs, but Forever is the best a posthumous record could be. It's so nice to hear Phife Dawg for a full album, over some amazing jazz-rap production with help from 9th Wonder, J Dilla, and Khrysis, among others. The verses sound so fresh and the production so crisp, setting this apart from other posthumous albums compiled of messy, unfinished concepts. It sounds so upbeat and light-hearted, but there are also melancholy moments which pay tribute to Phife Dawg and end the legacy of A Tribe Called Quest on a high note.