ML3's Top Albums of 2021
2021...a year of dealing with what 2020 began if I want to be completely honest. Joe Biden proved that he was no better than Trump, the world continued to not use common sense in terms of safety, leading to COVID-19 mutating, and the long sought after "normalcy" was nowhere in sight. One thing has stayed consistent throughout all of the foolishness though, and that's music. Industry juggernauts released new projects to add to their stellar discographies, and legends showed that they were far from done with new projects as well. I decided to rank the top 22 projects of the year, and here they are.
22. SoulFly - Rod Wave
Favorite Track: Richer (feat. Polo G)
If anyone is leading the way when it comes to the sing-rap sub genre, its Rod Wave. His music is sad, yes, but its not something that you have to be actually depressed to enjoy or listen to. Emotional music isn't a bad thing to have, especially in current Hip-Hop culture, its needed. Rod Wave is showing that he can be a star in this industry, and based on how much I enjoyed SoulFly, I look forward to what he has coming next.
21. Hall of Fame 2.0 - Polo G
Favorite Track: Bad Man (Smooth Criminal)
Polo G is going to be a superstar in less time than you think. He gave us two albums this year, but I think that the 2.0 version of Hall of Fame is the superior album. To me, it flows better than its predecessor, and has tracks like "Black Man In America" where Polo G gives his perspective that so many black men can relate to. The track that stands out besides that one in my opinion has to be "Bad Man", as the "Smooth Criminal" sample that he surprisingly got cleared is destroyed in the best way. Polo G has shown us that he can rap with the best of them, and he will only get better as he continues to learn sequencing and beat selection while growing as an artist.
20. misunderstood...still - Queen Naija
Favorite Track: Butterflies Pt. 2 (Wale Remix)
I feel like the controversy and jokes that surround Queen Naija on the internet sadly overshadow her music, because she is a very talented artist. This album is what R&B should sound like, and her voice is angelic yet strong over the production. She pours her heart into each track she sings, as you can hear on a record like "Passionate", while she is able to recreate a record for the female audience quite fellas she did with Ari Lennox on "Set Him Up". I believe that if Queen fully focused on music and avoided the internet banter as best as she could, she would get more of the recognition and respect she deserves as an artist in a genre that isn't as dead as people claim it to be.
19. KEYS - Alicia Keys
Favorite Track: Is It Insane (Unlocked)
One of the greatest artists in the history of R&B showed us a way to age gracefully in your genre. Alicia Keys put out a double album and it's not a double album that you feel tired of while listening. The concept of "originals" and an "unlocked" version of the same record was honestly a great one, as we truly got completely different records on Volumes 1 & 2 of KEYS. Alicia Keys familiar voice was refreshing to hear in 2021, and the production on this album fit her perfectly. My personal favorite song on the album was actually written and recorded in the early 00s, around the time that she released her timeless album, The Diary Of Alicia Keys. This is a project that I believe will not only age well, but will eventually become a very important album in Alicia's discography.
18. Happier Than Ever - Billie Eilish
Favorite Track: my future
Billie Eilish became a certified superstar after she swept the Grammy awards with her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, and with the success came a lot of eyes and voices about her music and career. The album delves into the impact that superstardom has had on her personal life and those around her, as well as the way that her insecurities have been put on display due to her fame. Finneas showcases his great production once again on this album, as the sequencing and transition from track to track is flawless. The songs also have a different vibe when you listen to them individually versus when you listen to them in context of the album, which can be difficult to do sometimes. Billie is a grown woman on this album, and is poised to continue to build on the strong foundation she's laid here.
17. The Melodic Blue - Baby Keem
Favorite Track: family ties (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
Baby Keem is everything that's right with modern Hip-Hop. His relation to Kendrick Lamar aside, Keem has been able to navigate the industry himself and create his own work of art with this album. Yes, his cousin Kendrick is on two records, but this is clearly a Baby Keem album, and he holds his own on "family ties" while just having a good time on "range brothers". The production is was unique as Keem's voice on the album, giving the listener a great experience. This is a fun album that you can play in a lot of different settings, and if you enjoy experimental music, this is an album for you. It's refreshing to me to see someone on the younger side of the current Hip-Hop generation take this seriously while also having fun the way that Baby Keem does.
16. Playboy - Tory Lanez
Favorite Track: H.E.R.//Are You Dumb
Tory Lanez has been in headlines for all the wrong reasons in the past 18 months, but this album has been a bright spot to me. He truly tapped into his R&B bag and got vulnerable on this album, as he gave the perspective of a broken down man on just the first record, rightfully titled "And This Is Just The Intro". The feature from Chris Brown on "Feels" further showed the chemistry the duo has in the studio, and I look forward to potential collaboration between them in the future. Tory has successfully avoided being put in a box throughout his career, being able to be superior in both R&B as well as Hip-Hop, as he's definitely as great of a singer as he is a rapper. This album was beautifully produced as well, pulling you into the toxic world he creates from the first lyrics you hear.
15. Heaux Tales - Jazmine Sullivan
Favorite Track: Price Tags (feat. Anderson .Paak)
Jazmine Sullivan has been making music since the mid-late 00s, and I believe that she has one of the best R&B voices of this millennium. This album gave her the attention that she's deserved from the general public since her debut, as songs went viral social media, which was in its early form when her career first began. I can say that the way the industry didn't give her the shine she deserved was partly do to her weight, which is truly a damn shame. The way that the industry puts down others for not being what they deem as "marketable" is disgusting. Jazmine was a beautiful person and artist regardless of how people decided to deem her, and its good to see that she's continued through the years and finally gained the respect she deserved with this album. Her live performances of "Pick Up Your Feelings" truly show what a vocalist is, because she can sound better live than she sounds recorded. I also truly enjoy the production on this album, and I believe that if Anderson .Paak ever decided to executive produce an album for someone, it should be for Jazmine.
This album was also very important for modern black women in my opinion, as Jazmine was able to express the thoughts and feelings of black women going through life and truly learning themselves as adults throughout this album. The skits in-between the records was refreshing as well. I'm happy that black women were able to hear something like this, whether or not they subscribe to exactly what's going on in the album.
14. Culture III - Migos
Favorite Track: Type Shit (feat. Cardi B)
The Migos are a lot like Drake but as a group, and I'll elaborate further: they have nothing that they need to prove. People will say that their music sounds the same, but you have to remember that they're the pioneer of this sound, so this is THEIR sound to use more than anyone else. This album isn't anything new, but its a great album nonetheless. These three have impeccable chemistry, as we've become accustomed to over the past decade, and it shows throughout this album. I enjoy when the Migos add Cardi B to records, because she cuts through what we've become used to and adds a different flavor to the record. I also enjoyed hearing Polo G on "Malibu", because it showed that the trio is not only still tapped in to what's hot right now outside of their superstar tier of the industry, but it showed that they can collaborate outside of their tier as well. I think that Quavo, Offset & Takeoff are far from done, and if this is the direction that they're headed, I have no issue with it at all. Culture III was a solid album for Migos.
13. Folarin II - Wale
Favorite Track: Poke It Out (feat. J. Cole)
Wale has sadly been an unappreciated artist in recent years, but this album gave him a little more shine than we're used to seeing, and rightfully so. This album was beautifully produced, with early 00s-esque tracks like "Poke It Out" and "Angles" paying homage to timeless classics, as well as tapping the voice of Jamie Foxx to add as a background while getting smooth flows off on "Dearly Beloved". Wale haas always been firmly in the discussion for top 5 Hip-Hop artists that debuted when I was coming up, along with the likes of Drake, Kendrick, Big Sean, and J. Cole. Whatever order you decide to put these men in, Wale is a part of it and should not be forgotten. If you love Hip-Hop or if you love music in general, you'll enjoy Folarin II.
12. lately I feel EVERYTHING - WILLOW
Favorite Track: Gaslight (feat. Travis Barker)
I'm known to not be a rock music person (outside of a few bands like Paramore of course), but I did study the history of the genre in college, and this album is a the perfect blend of alternative/pop rock. Travis Barker carries the album with his drum work and Willow has the perfect voice to lead a rock band. The album is an ode to 2000s pop punk, and based on what I studied, its done very well. I honestly didn't expect to enjoy this album as much as I did, but I think this showed me that I can actually go l=check out other artists in this space. This album was disappointingly snubbed from the Grammy Awards, but I dont care who wins, this was the Rock Album of the Year in my opinion.
11. The House Is Burning - Isaiah Rashad
Favorite Track: Wat U Sed (feat. Iamdoechii & Kal Banx)
Zay finally made his long-awaited return to music and its a beautiful thing. Since 2016, Isaiah Rashad had been out of the spotlight that he earned, fighting addiction and going through rehab during his stints or trying to return. I'm truly happy to see that Zay is doing better and able to focus on what he loves. He did amazing on this album, and without a Kendrick feature this time around. I believe that albums like this are special, as it sounds NOTHING like anything else. Isaiah Rashad has a unique rap voice, but it always blends perfectly with his beat selections. Smooth hip-hop is his specialty, as showcased on "Wat U Sed" and "Headshots (4r Da Locals)". With Kendrick Leaving Top Dawg Entertainment after his next album, I believe that Zay is setting up to be a big part of the trio leading the label along with Schoolboy Q & SZA.
10. 30 x Adele
Favorite Track: My Little Love
Adele is one of the greatest artists of our generation, and this album is a great example of why. The raw emotion on this album is beyond enough to make you shed tears along with her as you listen, and Adele's voice has never been stronger. Adele said herself that she wasn't chasing a hit when making this project, and she didn't have to because she's making music for the people she started with, those who are adults, those that have real life problems as well ass successes. This album was truly "adult music" in the best way.
9. King's Disease II - Nas
Favorite Track: Store Run
Nas is in a renaissance right now and its a wonderful thing. Hit-Boy was the producer that Nas needed, and he's gonna ride this wave until the wheels fall off, and rightfully so. This album was a superior one to its predecessor, and that's saying a lot given that King's Disease earned Nas the Rap Album of The Year award at the Grammys. Not only did Nas outdo himself with the sequel, but he blessed Hip-Hop with the first Lauryn Hill rap verse in over 2 decades. This album is in the conversation for rap album of the year again and rightfully so. Rumors are swirling about King's Disease 3, and I can't wait to see what the duo has in store.
8. Still Over It - Summer Walker
Favorite Track: Closure
Summer Walker is one of the pillars of R&B in the current state of the genre, and that's a good thing. Her music is vulnerable, its raw, and we know that its coming from a real place more than we do for a lot of artists. Despite what we can rightfully say about all of her antics outside of music, you can't deny her impact or talent when it comes to what she does with a microphone. I also believe that her album is a greta toxic outlet for everyone, we don't have to indulge in the dramatics in our personal lives, but its great music to enjoy nonetheless. Summer Walker's Still Over It is an experience, and something you should definitely play all the way through on first listen.
7. Back Of My Mind - H.E.R.
Favorite Track: Trauma (feat. Cordae)
HER has been a force in music since 2017, but she hadn't officially put out a debut album until now. The wait was definitely worth it, as we got everything that we've come to love from HER. The album was longer than I expected it be with 21 tracks, but that is in no way a negative thing. Every track was good in my opinion, as we've come to expect nothing less than quality after a four-year warmup from the artist. HER also showed that she's good at collaboration, as she got Lil' Baby, Ty Dolls $ign, Chris Brown & others to join her on this masterpiece.
HER has made her presence felt across the country and is a huge reason why I believe that R&B is far from a dying genre. She echoed this sentiment at her second annual Lights On Festival that I was able to attend. The amount of effort and care she places on R&B is a great thing to see, as she truly loves the genre and is going to be a reason why it continues to elevate itself. Back Of My Mind was carefully curated to show every side of HER was an artist, and I believe that if you listened to this album, you should go back to the tapes we received before this to appreciate them even more. This album is the foundation for a very long and successful career in the industry for this Bay Area vocalist.
6. Donda - Kanye West
Favorite Track: Believe What I Say
Kanye West, now going by Ye, did it again. He changed up his sound in a way we didn't hear before and delivered. This is what Kanye does, and the world may not always like it, but this is what he does. Donda is a touching tribute to his late mother, and the production is amazing as always. This album isn't his best work in any sense, but when speaking about an artist on Ye's level, this isn't a negative critique (read the article on Donda for a more in-depth review of this album). He gave a platform to a bunch of newer artists on this album as well, like Baby Keep and Shenseea, as well as reconnecting with Jay-Z on a solo album for the first time since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy released in 2010. Donda's deluxe took it to a new level by adding the vulnerable record "Life Of The Party" with André 3000. The Sunday Service Choir was angelic on this album as well, thanks to Ye's great sequencing. Donda was a breath of fresh air from West after the reviews that the album Ye had in 2019.
5. Planet Her - Doja Cat
Favorite Track: Love To Dream
Doja Cat is officially here ladies an gentlemen. She can do it all: sing, dance, rap, whatever you need, she can do it. This album is Dojo's own creation of a world for female empowerment, a beautiful world curated by the futuristic production around the many voices that this multitalented artist has. There's pop on this album, there's rap, and there's R&B as well. Like I said, whatever you want, Doja can do it. The only thing I have to critique this era of Doja is to warn the industry to not overwork her, as artist need time to rest, no matter how talented they are. Based on how this album sold and streamed this past year, I know that there's more music on the way, and I can't wait to see the direction that Doja Cat decides to go next.
4. An Evening With Silk Sonic - Silk Sonic
Favorite Track: After Last Night (feat. Thundercat & Bootsy Collins)
This came out of nowhere but I'm so glad that it did. Bruno Mars was able to use his star power to give Anderson .Paak his well deserved spotlight. The two are clearly music geniuses and they delivered a classic album in my opinion. Getting Bootsy Collins involved in order to pay direct homage while making a 70s inspired album was the icing on the cake. This is an album that we will listen to 20 years down the line and remember not only the moment it released, but the memories that came with it. Hopefully this isn't a one project endeavor for the duo, because their chemistry is off the charts.
3. Certified Lover Boy - Drake
Favorite Track: Pipe Down
Drake has found his comfort zone to cost in when it comes to music. Most people mean that in a bad way, but I don't. I see that people want Drizzy to "change it up", but it doesn't have to be a full 180 degree shift. I feel that Drake has made his mark on the industry in a way that this sound he's been doing is HIS sound. This isn't just him taking everyone else's sound as he's been accused of. He puts other artists on, pays respect to those who influence him, and has been able to give us consistent hits throughout his career. Drake is not Kanye West, and that's okay, he doesn't have to to be.
Certified Lover Boy doesn't sound like Scorpion or Views, it has a similar pacing, but it's a completely different album. "Pipe Down" and "Race My Mind" are vastly different records, and the album hit on every song except two in my opinion (read the article on CLB for an in-depth review). It was great to get a new Drizzy project, and I look forward to see if he has anything new in store for us in 2022.
2. Call Me If You Get Lost - Tyler, The Creator
Favorite Track: WUSYANAME (feat. Youngboy NeverBrokeAgain & Ty Dolla $ign)
Tyler elevated himself for the fourth time in a row with the release of this album. His growth from Cherry Bomb (2013) to now has been a beautiful thing to see. He gets back to the bars on this album, and shows how much he truly cares about the genre. Getting DJ Drama to narrate the album pays homage to early 2000s mixtapes and adds something that most of his fanbase hasn't heard before. Tyler also paid homage to 'Ol Dirty Bastard with his album cover, a modern version of ODB's Return To The 36 Chambers. Tyler's impeccable production skills are showcased in the best way on "WUSYANAME", as he chopped up H-Town's "Back Seat (With No Sheets)" perfectly, creating a beat that matched the aesthetic of not only the album, but Tyler himself. His production style has grown with him over the past decade, and he spoke on his growth on "MASSA". Call Me If You Get Lost is Tyler as a fully grown man, he's found himself and accepted it, no matter what anyone else has to say about it. Given its well deserved success and near flawless sound, I look forward to the direction Tyler is going.
1. The Off-Season - J. Cole
Favorite Track: my.life (feat. 21 Savage & Morray)
The best album that released in 2021 has to be The Off-Season in my opinion. J. Cole had been on a historic solo run, as "platinum with no features" became synonymous with his name to the point of annoyance to the public. Cole heard the public's critiques and responded with features on an album for the first time since his classic sophomore album Born Sinner in 2013. This album had much less storytelling than listeners had become accustomed to over the years, as we heard much more wordplay and pure rapping, showcasing the skills that have cemented him in the top three of this generation of Hip-Hop. This album is more "fun" or "laid back" in a sense, as it doesn't feel like he's rapping at the listener, as some (not me) have complained about in the past.
As we've become used to no features on J. Cole albums, each feature heard is a welcome surprise. From Cam'Ron and Lil' Jon on "95.South" to Lil Baby on "pride.is.the.devil", the album flows beautifully from top to bottom, and it was also good to hear from Cole after a three year hiatus since KOD's release. The production on this album was beautiful, as we were blessed to hear J.Cole on beats other than purely his own on a solo project. He destroyed the soul sample on "my.life", flowed over the T-Minus' production on multiple tracks, and Cole blessed listeners with his production on "applying.pressure". J. Cole mentioned in his recent mini-documentary leading up to this album that this would be a part of the end of his rap career. This isn't his last album, but if this is the direction that he's going on his way out of the game, the rest of Hip-Hop should take notes on how to make an exit the right way.