Nicki Minaj

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10 Best Rap Albums of 2023

  /  12.27.2023

Despite early concerns about the genre’s dominance, 2023 was a transformative year for rap. Not only did it introduce a number of newcomers, but fans also got plenty of long-awaited albums. Namely, Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday 2 and Travis Scott’s UTOPIA came on the heels of five-year absences, while artists who release music more frequently offered up LPs that were too good not to mention.

Hip Hop’s standout moments included Gunna’s inevitable comeback, Doja Cat venturing further into rap and Offset delivering his first solo project since Migos disassembled. Their contributions demonstrate rap’s dynamic nature and geographical diversity, with artists like Ice Spice, Ken Carson, Sexyy Red, Veeze and Rod Wave reshaping the current climate.

While some thought 2023 was disappointing for Hip Hop, especially considering fans didn’t get all of the projects promised, the genre’s vast and multifaceted nature defied simple categorization. Ahead, we round up 10 of our favorite rap albums of the year.

1. Pink Friday 2 by Nicki Minaj

It’s not often that sequels capture the same amount of praise and acclaim as their predecessors, but Nicki Minaj managed to do that, plus some. Pink Friday 2 exhibits the rap icon’s evolution since her 2010 debut while cementing her reign as the dominant female force in Hip Hop. The 22-song offering highlights her Trinidadian roots with tracks like “Needle” and “Forward From Trini” with Skillibeng and Skeng. Minaj also delivers hard-hitting rap verses on “FTCU” and “Red Ruby Da Sleeze,” balancing it with emotive R&B ballads like “Last Time I Saw You” and “Just the Memories.”

Pink Friday 2 is not just a showcase of Minaj’s versatility but also a statement of her supremacy in the genre. She declares confidently in “Big Difference,” “You b**ches look up to me.” If that wasn’t enough, the LP debuted at the top of the Billboard 200, selling 228,000 units and making her the only woman in rap with three No. 1 albums. Furthermore, it features collaborations with Lil Wayne, J. Cole and Drake. In “Barbie Dangerous,” she channels the spirit of The Notorious B.I.G., while “Everybody” with Lil Uzi Vert took over TikTok thanks to its Jersey club beat.

2. UTOPIA by Travis Scott

Travis Scott’s UTOPIA was his first full album following the 2021 Astroworld tragedy. It was subject to many changes before its release, which is largely reflected in the genre-bending mix. Tracks like “HYAENA” and “MELTDOWN” featuring Drake put Scott’s ability to create a cinematic auditory experience on full display, while mosh pit-favorite “FE!N” brings high energy with its intense beat. 

Meanwhile, “I KNOW ?” and the Future and SZA-assisted “TELEKINESIS” slow things down in a way that adds emotional depth to the project. Critics have noted similarities to Kanye West’s Yeezus, but these comparisons do not diminish Scott’s significant input and influence. With features from Beyoncé, The Weeknd and Westside Gunn, UTOPIA is full of experiments.

3. SET IT OFF by Offset

SET IT OFF was Offset’s attempt at turning a new chapter in his artistic journey, and he delivered. The 21-track body of work emerged from a year marked by both personal and professional upheaval, offering an intimate glimpse into the former Migos rapper’s multifaceted persona. Tracks like “DON’T YOU LIE,” “UPSIDE DOWN” and the Travis Scott-assisted “SAY MY GRACE” delve into themes of gratitude, family, overcoming loss and resilience, all while reflecting a depth of introspection. 

The project is also bolstered by high-caliber production and notable collaborations, including appearances from Chlöe, Future, Latto, Don Toliver and Cardi B. Ultimately, SET IT OFF distinguished itself as Offset’s most candid and versatile work, skillfully navigating between self-examining portrayals and energetic club bangers.

4. For All The Dogs (Scary Hours Edition) by Drake

Drake’s latest album, For All The Dogs, landed with the usual fervor and debate characteristic of his releases. Despite missing rumored features — like Nicki Minaj — and self-declared classic status, the LP certainly demonstrated the Toronto native’s dominance in melodic Hip Hop. The opener, “Virginia Beach,” sampled Frank Ocean’s “Wise Man” to set a smooth tone. Meanwhile, the SZA-assisted “Slime You Out” and tracks like “Calling for You” featuring 21 Savage and “IDGAF” featuring Yeat balance high-energy trap beats with Drake’s introspective lyricism. 

A notable collaboration with J. Cole on “Evil Ways” stood out for its clever bars. While For All The Dogs may not top Drake‘s discography, it undeniably marked its territory in this year’s music scene. The project earned the rapper his 13th No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart.

5. a Gift & a Curse by Gunna

Gunna’s a Gift & a Curse marked a significant milestone in the artist’s career, especially following his challenging year entangled in legal battles. Undeterred by his recent incarceration, the Atlanta rapper crafted an album that transcended his troubles while spawning some of his best work yet. 

Standouts like “fukumean,” which soared on the Billboard Hot 100, and introspective tracks like “back to the moon” and “turned your back” delved into the complexities of his personal life and controversies. At a time where the quality of the music was make-or-break for his career, Gunna delivered a project that stood tall among this year’s cross-genre releases. He found a balance between addressing his trials and uptempo beats, as seen in songs like “rodeo dr” and “paybach.” Elsewhere, the album culminated with “alright,” a hopeful outro reflecting resilience in adversity.

6. Pink Tape by Lil Uzi Vert

Pink Tape is a vivid showcase of Lil Uzi Vert’s flexibility, stretching across an hour and a half of various musical styles. It bounces from New Jersey club to pop, highlighted by the Philadelphia native’s acrobatic raps and melodic bursts. The pre-released single, “Just Wanna Rock,” effectively laid the groundwork for an exciting body of work, and the features didn’t disappoint either. 

In “Endless Fashion,” Uzi creatively samples Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” while name-dropping several high-end designers alongside Nicki Minaj. On the other hand, “Flooded The Face,” “Suicide Doors” and “Mama, I’m Sorry” remind fans why they fell in love with them in the first place. From alternative and metal to a distinctive blend of techno and rap, Pink Tape explores new territories in Hip Hop. It also reflects Uzi’s expansive creative range after narrowing down from an initial pool of 1,500 song ideas to the final 26 tracks.

7. HEROES & VILLAINS by Metro Boomin

Metro Boomin’s HEROES & VILLAINS is a testament to his ability to orchestrate a compilation of rap’s elite artists. Drawing parallels to superhero sagas, the beatmaker assembled a roster of musicians with contrasting styles, such as Chris Brown, Don Toliver, The Weeknd, 21 Savage, Young Thug, Travis Scott, the late Takeoff, and Future. Each delivered performances that could stand as highlights on their own albums, showcasing Metro’s knack for bringing out the best in his collaborators.

Unlike other record producers — for example, DJ Khaled — the LP remained cohesive, with no track featuring more than two artists. As a result, it avoided the pitfall of becoming a scattered, algorithm-driven compilation. Some fan favorites included “Too Many Nights,” “Creepin’” and “Umbrella.”

8. Hood Hottest Princess by Sexyy Red

With Hood Hottest Princess, Sexyy Red effortlessly blends the high energy of the 2000s with outlandish but undeniably catchy bars. Her approach is relatively straightforward: She exploits the production’s lively beats to deliver unfiltered, audacious lyrics. The 11-song offering is a celebration of carefree attitudes, with tracks like “I’m The S**t,” “Mad At Me” and “Nachos” that playfully discuss everything from personal desires to her outlook on relationships. 

It would be remiss not to mention that the project includes hits like “Pound Town 2,” “SkeeYee” and “Looking for the H**s.” All of them channel the raw, house-party vibe reminiscent of the early 2000s classic hits — like Waka Flocka Flame’s “Grove St. Party” or Boosie Badazz’s “Wipe Me Down” — tailored for a new generation. The latter part of the year saw the mixtape expand with additional tracks. It spawned collaborations with artists like Summer Walker, 42 Dugg, G Herbo and Chief Keef.

9. Scarlet by Doja Cat

Throughout the 17-track span of Scarlet, Doja Cat fuses her characteristic playfulness with a matured artistry, showcasing a versatility that caters to her diverse fanbase. The album oscillates between the catchy pop appeal of “Agora Hills” and the raw, rap intensity of songs like “Paint The Town Red,” “WYM Freestyle” and “Attention.” It not only appeases her existing followers but also draws in new listeners with its rich storytelling and impressive lyrical prowess — even in spite of the controversial “Demons.”

While most of the LPs on this list are largely driven by their features or a few standout tracks, Doja proves that she can do it all by herself. Scarlet not only solidifies her as a multifaceted artist but also as one of the most impactful rappers of her generation, embodying a lionhearted, liberated and oftentimes humor-infused persona.

10. Almost Healed by Lil Durk

Across Almost Healed, Lil Durk encapsulates his journey of coping with trauma and loss. Tracks like “Before Fajr,” “Pelle Coat” and “At This Point We Stuck” highlight the Chicago rapper’s knack for vivid storytelling and melodic ingenuity. The album’s title itself hints at a process of recovery and reflection, evident in songs where he confronts his past and present.

Clocking in at 57 minutes with 21 songs, the project allows Durk to explore various themes deeply, from personal struggles to broader societal issues. Its features also lend a helping hand, namely Juice WRLD, Alicia Keys, Future, 21 Savage, Kodak Black, and Morgan Wallen. Notably, the motivational anthem “All My Life” with J. Cole stands out. It’s vying for Best Melodic Rap Performance at the 2024 Grammy Awards.

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