So much rap music comes out all the time, and especially with frequent surprise releases, it can be hard to keep track of it all. So, as a way to help keep up with all of it, here’s a roundup of the 8 rap albums from January 2023 that stood out to us most. We also probably still missed or haven’t spent enough time with some great January rap albums that aren’t on this list. What were some of your favorites of last month? Let us know in the comments, and read on for the list (unranked, in no particular order).
Ice Spice – Like..?
Bronx rapper Ice Spice and her producer RIOTUSA started dropping singles together in 2021, and they took the rap world by storm with 2022’s “Munch (Feelin’ U).” With Ice Spice’s calm delivery and the ability to turn one clever line into an instant-classic hook, “Munch” put a fresh spin on the NY drill sound that’s been dominating the city for the past few years, and it quickly became the New York rap song of the summer. Ice Spice proved it was no fluke, following it with “Bikini Bottom” and “In Ha Mood” that successfully repeated the same formula and won over Ice Spice’s growing fanbase just as quickly as “Munch” had. Today she follows those songs up with her first project, the Like..? EP, featuring all three recent singles and three new songs, entirely produced by RIOTUSA. She keeps her trademark spin on drill going with “Princess Diana,” but Like..? also finds Ice Spice starting to flirt with some other ideas too. Ice Spice recruits Lil Tjay for a song that’s named after the late Gangsta Boo and samples P. Diddy’s 2002 single “I Need a Girl Part 2,” and it finds Ice Spice mixing her usual sound with a little Y2K-era nostalgia. “Actin A Smoochie” finds RIOTUSA offering up slower, more atmospheric production that could fit on an early 2010s Drake record, and Ice Spice matches the mood with something a little more sentimental. With six songs in 13 minutes, starting with an EP instead of going straight to an album or mixtape feels like a good move. The brief format is perfect for Ice Spice’s short, blunt songs, and Like..? hints at her being capable of more than she’d shown us already without drifting too far from her already-winning formula. I’m very curious to hear what she does when it comes time for a full-length, but for now, Like..? feels like a neat, lean introduction to a rapper who’s clearly got something to say.
Gloss Up – Before the Gloss Up
As Memphis rapper GloRilla continues to deservingly rise to fame, other members of her crew are getting the spotlight shone on them too, and it’s looking like her pal Gloss Up is next in line. Gloss Up signed to Quality Control this past summer, and her first project for the label is Before the Gloss Up. GloRilla teams up with her on the album’s instantly-satisfying lead single “Bestfrenn,” the rest of the crew shows up on the posse cut “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe,” and their producer pal Hitkidd assists her on “Mad 304,” but Gloss Up exudes star power all throughout these 13 songs, even without her usual friends by her side. (The only other guest: Detroit rapper Icewear Vezzo.) She turns nursery rhymes into tough Southern rap earworms not once but twice (“Eeny Meeny Miny Moe” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees, Toes”), and her knack for hooks does not stop at interpolating children’s music; songs like “Pussycat” and “Don’t Worry Bout It” get stuck in your head just as quickly. Like GloRilla, Gloss knows how to rope you in with a good chorus, but she’s also a great rapper. Before the Gloss Up has depth beneath its ear-catching refrains.
Papo2oo4 – PAP on P.E.D.’s
NJ rapper Papo2oo4 had a very prolific 2022 that included the release of his album Ballerific, his collaborative album with DJ Lucas Continuous Improvement, and an appearance on the new Wiki album, all three of which were entirely or mostly produced by Subjxct 5. Papo2oo4 and Subjxct 5 reunite once again on his new project PAP on P.E.D.’s, with co-production from DVNTBEATS, and they continue to make a perfect pair. Papo’s low, booming, casually melodic delivery has gained comparisons to mixtape-era 50 Cent, and Subjxct’s knack for channelling the early 2000s East Coast production style of artists like Swizz Beatz, Just Blaze, Timbaland, and Pharrell makes for a backdrop that couldn’t be more suitable. They’re not shy about their influences–the project has songs called “Smile Like G-Unit” and “Stillmatic,” and Subjxct repeatedly samples Jay-Z’s “your flow is brain on drugs, mine’s is rap on steroids” lyric from The Blueprint throughout the album–but they bring a sense of urgency to these 20-year-old sounds, and it’s also refreshing to hear an East Coast rap revival of something other than ’90s boom bap. Papo2oo4 and Subjxct 5’s frequent collaborators YL and Reed show up on the album, and there’s also a track with prolific Richmond rapper Monday Night, whose recently-released Good Company EP with 3WaySlim has been deservingly gaining some traction this year. If you’re new to Papo, the already-vast discography that he’s built in the past two years alone can seem intimidating, but PAP on P.E.D.’s is a fine entry point. He seems to just be getting better and better and this project is just instant satisfaction from start to finish.
AJ Suede – Indica Music
Seattle rapper AJ Suede had a huge 2022, releasing four full-length albums (including some of the year’s best rap albums), and now he’s already got another one just six days into 2023. In addition to having some of the trippiest album artwork this side of Merriweather Post Pavilion, Indica Music finds AJ rapping over beats from Small Professor, Argov, Hann 11, Morriarchi, Bloodblixing, Evildewer, Khrist Koopa, and Wolftone, with no guest appearances. The production leans towards jazz, soul, and psychedelia-infused boom bap, and AJ tops it off with the distinct delivery that’s made him a beloved staple of underground rap. He takes a plainspoken approach, and he has a subtle way of sounding like no other rapper as he fills the album with personal tales, clever wordplay, and pop culture references that range from Star Wars to Pearl Jam to Kate Bush.
Oddisee – To What End
After a busy 2017 that saw the release of the new album The Iceberg and the full-band live album Beneath the Surface, the usually-prolific rapper/producer Oddisee slowed down a bit. He wrote, recorded, and then surprise-released the Odd Cure EP during 2020 lockdown, and now he finally returns with his first proper full-length in six years, To What End. In the time since his last album, he’s been focused on his family and his mental health, and he started going to therapy for the first time, and those experiences directly inform this deeply personal album. “Music has always been a source of therapy for me,” he said in press materials for the album. “To What End is a musical journal of my life in recent years. It’s a record of my experiences and gradual shift in perspective.” He describes his journey over a backdrop that owes as much to hip hop as it does to vintage funk and soul, and he gets help along the way from Phonte of Little Brother, Bilal, Freeway, C.S. Armstrong, Noochie, and Haile Supreme. The musical arrangements are organic, multi-layered, and gorgeous, and Oddisee’s knack for satisfying hooks and in-depth lyricism remains in full force.
ZelooperZ – Might Not Make It EP
Experimental rapper ZelooperZ took an R&B/soul-inspired detour on last year’s Get WeT.Radio, and this week he dropped off a surprise five-song EP that more picks up where the eccentric rap of 2021’s great Van Goghs Left Ear left off. The beats are fueled by futuristic electronics and rarely–if ever–rely on traditional hip hop production, and ZelooperZ’s rapping is as erratic as ever. It’s loud and abrasive at times, and woozy and psychedelic at others, with no two songs that sound alike. And no matter what mode he chooses to work in, ZelooperZ continues to sound like no one else in the world.
BabyTron – Bin Reaper 3: New Testament
BabyTron hails from the thriving Detroit rap scene, and he’s got a sound that’s distinctly regional but with increasingly widespread appeal. He makes music both on his own and as a member of ShittyBoyz, and he’s been extremely prolific. Last year saw the release of two ShittyBoyz albums and two BabyTron solo albums, including the third installment in BabyTron’s Bin Reaper series, Bin Reaper 3: Old Testament. Turns out that was only part one of Bin Reaper 3, which also includes the just-released, 26-song Bin Reaper 3 New Testament. The new project finds him doing what he does best, pairing his wired, quirky delivery with beats that channel old school ’80s production through a lens of modern Detroit rap, and filling his songs with absurd punchlines and Nickelodeon references. (Old Testament had a song called “Drake & Josh”; this one has a song called “CatDog.”) The album’s got a Michigan posse cut (“Waffle House”) and it also features fellow rising Detroit star Babyface Ray and Michigan-loving Atlanta rapper Lil Yachty, and it’s also got some guests whose styles contrast more sharply with BabyTron’s, like DC punk-rapper Rico Nasty and Raleigh traditionalist Cordae, whose inclusions here are yet another way that BabyTron is widening his range.
Boldy James & RichGains – Indiana Jones
Just six days after we got the news that Detroit rapper Boldy James was recovering from a car accident that left him in critical condition, we got Indiana Jones, an entire new Boldy James album that arrived with almost no warning. It’s Boldy’s first project of 2023, and considering he released like ten projects since his 2020 resurgence, it probably won’t be his last. The whole thing was produced by RichGains, and guests include Sir Michael Rocks of The Cool Kids on three songs, Jonathan Chapman on three songs, Cassie Jo Craig on three songs, Detroit King Tape on two, Ann One, CHUCKSTAAA, Jai Imani, and Sammy Haig. It finds Boldy doing what he does best, and that just never seems to get old.
03 Greedo & Mike Free – Free 03
Eto & Futurewave – Dead Poets
Fatboi Sharif & Roper Williams – Planet Unfaithful EP
Tha God Fahim & NicoJP – Chess Moves EP
Monday Night & 3WaySlim – Good Company EP
Reuben Vincent – Love Is War
Skyzoo & The Other Guys – The Mind of a Saint
Youngboy Never Broke Again – I Rest My Case