The 10 best hip-hop albums of 2023

Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2023
(Image credit: Various)

With legitimately classic albums from Kendrick Lamar, Denzel Curry, Little Simz, Loyle Carner, JID and more, 2022 set a sky-high bar for hip-hop going into 2023. And while some of rap's biggest stars swung and missed this year (sorry Drake, apologies Diddy), the genre that has arguably been the most forward-thinking and explorative for some time, duly delivered a host of sublime records from established names and brand-new artists alike. Here are 2023's 10 best hip-hop releases.

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10. JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown – Scaring the Hoes

Two of hip-hop's most unique voices combined for a collab that, due to their own supremely individualistic styles, had the potential to clash and become a total mess. Not so. Instead Scaring the Hoes managed to see both men give each other enough space to deliver, whilst never diluting the thing that has made Peggy and Brown so beloved in the first place. Scaring the Hoes is a dizzying, joyously maddening collection of boundary-free sounds and superbly distinctive flow. 

9. Billy Woods & Kenny Segal - Maps

One of the very best MC’s on the planet joining forces with one of the most singular sounding and respected producers currently operating? Maps was never going to fail. Whilst the base that Segal puts down, full of deep, rich bassy beats, disorientating glitches in sound and subtle chimes and keys, is fantastic, Woods is the star here. Detailing his life as a touring musician, he manages to make something as mundane as a soundcheck or a long bus journey appear both fascinating and menacing. 

8. Armand Hammer – We Buy Diabetic Test Strips

Woods is back again here, this time joining forces again with New York rapper Elucid for their Armand Hammer project. We Buy Diabetic Test Strips might just be the most disorientating and disconnected album of 2023, full of experimental broken beats, stuttering rhythms and ambient electronica. Hardly surprising when you learn that it was created with endless producers contributing in isolation, the jammed vocal sessions coming after the music was assembled. But Woods and Elucid deserve great credit for making this unusually disparate group of sounds appear cohesive and constantly engaging.

7. Buck 65, doseone & Jel – North American Adonis

The ultimate backpack rap nerd's wet dream, the long promised collab from the cult trio finally emerged in November. North American Adonis had been a concept since 1998, and the album we finally received was a gloriously eclectic mix of classic geek rhymes, crate dug samples and boom-bap beats with excellently amusing modern references (see the “We’re just normal men, we’re innocent men” hook on Men). Legitimately worth the 25-year wait.

6. McKinley Dixon – Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?

The fourth full-length album from the Richmond, Virginia rapper was comfortably the finest of his career. An intoxicating meld of poetic, spoken word passages, soaring strings, delicately nimble jazz horns and piano, classic soul and Dixon’s sublime flow and expertly expressive tales of family, his hometown and... er... Slipknot. Who saw that coming?

5. Aesop Rock – Integrated Tech Solutions

Nine albums in and the New York-based artist still manages to find new and creative ways to express himself. On Intergrated Tech Solutions Aesop Rock delivered a brilliantly thoughtful concept album on both mass consumerism, society’s reliance on technology and his own personal experiences with everyone from home invaders to Mr. T. Musically his always thoughtful and expressive flow is complemented by everything from big, booming rock hooks to '80’s synth pulses.

4. Danny Brown – Quaranta

With his sixth solo album, rap's mad scientist matured toward a more measured and considered place. Quaranta is another wonderful journey into the deepest reaches of one of music’s most unique minds. Starting with a much more low-key and reflective tone, it soon builds into the full-blown mania that you would expect from its creator, before simmering back down again. Throughout it all, we get a more open, personal, defiant yet regretful version of Brown, who delivers another classic to add to his discography.

3. Joey Valence & Brae – Punk Tactics

Sometimes hip-hop can just be about fun. The Pennsylvanian duo of Joseph Bertolino and Braedan Lugue, AKA Joey Valence & Brae, aren’t doing anything new or explorative in their music, and every single trick they have in their collective pockets come from the book of Beastie Boys. But, in terms of a pure riotous collection of big, dumb, instantaneous, party starting anthems, nothing in 2023 came close to their debut album Punk Tactics. Old school, frat boy bluster it may be, but try not to chuck your arms about while the title track, Gumdrop or Watch Yo Step are damaging your speakers.

2. Noname - Sundial

The Chicago-based rapper’s second album was a long time in the making, but after scrapping her initial efforts in 2019, she finally “genuinely connected” with her art once again and made one of the most gorgeous sounding and complex records of the year. Full of wonderfully rich soulful beats, jazzy rhythms and swooning backing vocals, Sundial is an aural buffet. But, as sweet as it all sounds, Noname is on fantastically angry form, pointing fingers at all of society's ills without ever being afraid to face her own failings in the mirror. Both musically and lyrically, Sundial has more depth than almost any other album of 2023.

1. Casisdead – Famous Last Words

2023 proved to be a relatively quiet year for the big names in UK rap: Stormzy, Dave, Central Cee, Loyle Carner, Little Simz, Ghetts and AJ Tracey either popped their heads up for a single or a feature here and there, or just kept themselves to themselves. But with the long-awaited release of his debut album, Casisdead made up for all of it. Famous Last Words is the musical equivalent of Top Boy produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, with Cas’ brilliantly slurred and gruff flow detailing some legitimately shocking street violence to the soundtrack of neon, '80s soul and synth pop. Tracks like the woozy Pineapple Juice, the groovy, bobbing, glitching thrust of Venom or Skydive, featuring lyrics and vocals from Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant, are all catchy and brutal enough to make Famous Last Words sound like the score to Scarface, if Brian De Palma's iconic gangster film was set in Peckham rather than Miami. 

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.