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The 10 Most Surprising Hip-Hop Albums of 2021

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

This year I checked out a lot of new music from new artists which led to a lot of projects this year that I was pleasantly surprised with. This list is composed of albums that were better than I expected, or that I didn't really have expectations for. 2021 has been a great year for music so far so it will definitely be highlighting some of the better and also some of the more under the radar releases that I loved this year.

10. Rookie Of The Year - Lil Eazzy

What I Expected: 4/10

What It Is: 6/10

Starting off the list we have viral artist Lil Eazzy who blew up off of his song Onna Come Up last year. Though he hasn't had a large presence in the mainstream since, he dropped his debut album earlier this year, and I wasn't expecting much from it. He has a pretty standard trap sound but I knew he could flow well. On this project he did master that trap sound in a way that has his own appealing, signature charisma. Combining that with an aggressive delivery and solid trap instrumentals like producers like Tay Keith it made for a good, fun album. Eazzy did not reinvent the wheel with this one but he showed that he's one of the best out with what he does.

9. To Kill A Sunrise - Kota The Friend & Statik Selektah

What I Expected: 6/10

What It Is: 7/10

Kota The Friend is a rapper that has good lyrics, good flows but is super bland and drab in his delivery. I enjoy his music but I am always underwhelmed by his albums as I feel as if he could do so much more. To Kill A Sunrise was that upgrade for Kota. Though it faces the similar issues as his earlier project in that of repetitiveness, it was truly a great album. Right from the start Statik Selektah's smooth, jazzy instrumentals became the perfect soundscape for Kota The Friend. Kota comes through with his smoothest flows and his best lyricism yet. It's a concise album clocking in at just over a half our run time. Initially it blew me away and now it has grown off of me a little bit, but there is no denying the passion and effort Kota put into this has made it his best album to date.

8. Who Is Nardo Wick? - Nardo Wick

What I Expected: 3/10

What It Is: 2/10

The first I heard Nardo Wick was the origanal Who Want Smoke, and man let me tell you I thought that song was horrible. Then the remix dropped with good verses from 21 Savage and G Herbo, as well as an improved verse from Nardo Wick but I still didn't think it was great. Lil Durk stole the show with his verse and made me like that song a lot. And then I heard the album, which showed Nardo can hold his own without big name guest features. The album definitely gets repetitive towards the end as Nardo has shown to be pretty one dimensional so far but the production was fun and when Nardo raps clearly it's pretty good and he has decent bars. I don't think he'll ever really be amazing but this proved he was better than I thought, even if he doesn't have much to offer.

7. Elephant In The Room - Mick Jenkins

What I Expected: ???/10

What It Is: 8/10

I have ever heard an album, let alone a song from Mick Jenkins before this album. I have heard great things about him but this was my first experience with him. And I was surprised in a very good way. In just twelve tracks Mick is able to give us some of the best social commentary I have heard this year in musical form. From more jazzy and R&B type instrumentals to exuberant trap beats Mick is able to detail the struggles of being black in America in a concise yet deep way. His flows are crisp and his ability to make catchy hooks as well as potent lyrical verses is super impressive. Not only did this album surprise me in a great way, it got me excited to listen to the rest of Mick's catalog.

6. TYRON - Slowthai

What I Expected: ???/10

What It Is: 8/10

Similar to Mick, this was my first experience with the young UK emcee, Slowthai. Also like Mick I have heard nothing but great things about him, and this double disc LP was a great way to get to know him. The violent, psychotic energy Thai bought on disc 1 had some heated bangers but was also a great expression of his anger with himself and the world. Entering disc 2 I was not prepared for the musical transition that he gave us. Rapping more coherently over sorrowful instrumentals that manage to still be aggressive at times was the last thing I expected from him. Especially when the first half had good lyrics, the second disc really stepped it up as he details struggles of his past and the pain he lives with everyday. I was blown away by this record and the themes it tackled as it quickly became one of my favorites at the time.

5. 25 - G Herbo

What I Expected: 5/10

What It Is: 7/10

I never gave G Herbo a chance until this record because I found his delivery unbearable, but that all changed with 25. I learned to love his raspy, angry delivery that details the pain he feels and was extremely surprised with the level of variety in the production. I mean Herbo really brings a lot of different samples and sounds to what would normally be generic trap instrumentals. His hype songs hit different as he has energy like very few others in the game right now that coincide well with his one-liners. Herbo's lyrical ability also caught me off guard as he gets not only introspective, but active as he critiques American control on several tracks. Songs like Demands, Loyalty, Statement and Turning 25 stand out as great tracks from Herbo that play into the larger narrative of G Herbo reflecting on his life up to turning 25.

4.The Color Blu(e) - Blu

What I Expected: 7/10

What It Is: 9/10

Similar to several of the other artists on this list, Blu is someone I haven't heard much from until this album, though I knew they were held in very high esteem. This album is thematically structured around the idea of Blu, the rapper being blue, as in sad or depressed. However he takes this a step further and relates his struggles to the struggles of being black in America and the injustice there is in everyday life, corresponding being blue to being black. Blu's excellent pen game over chopped jazz and soul production is impressive. His flow is nonchalant but poetic in a way. His storytelling and use of vivid imagery is one of his greatest strengths here. This album just truly shocked me in how incredible it is.

3. The Life Of Pi'erre 5 - Pi'erre Bourne

What I Expected: 3/10

What It Is: 6/10

Pi'erre is a good producer, but before this project I did not enjoy him as a rapper. Nor do I enjoy rappers like Playboi Carti who have a similar rapping style. So when I listened to this, and enjoyed it, and it stayed in my rotation. I was in awe as much as I enjoyed this project. The production and transitions are great, creating these lively and intoxicating atmospheres for Pi'erre. His hazy delivery only adds to the experience and though his delivery is lazy it fits the vibe. Lyrics are obviously not the focus with music like this but Pi'erre has good one liners and uses allusions in a similar way to Ski Mask The Slump God, which made me enjoy this album even more.


What I Expected: 6/10

What It Is: 8/10

Yes, I have not heard much of BROCKHAMPTON before this, and what I did hear I wasn't crazy about. But the first two singles for this record, COUNT ON ME and BUZZCUT with Danny Brown I enjoyed a lot, and still love to this day. The rapping ability by some of the group members on tracks like THE LIGHT and BANKROLL was an incredibly great surprise to me as I fell in love with this album after the first listen. Members like Joba and Kevin Abstract blew me away especially. The album as a whole is just so impressive, from the versatility in the tracklist, to the sonic cohesion and thematic cohesion of finding closure there aren't many flaws to pick out with that album.

1. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert - Little Simz

What I Expected: ???

What It Is: 8/10

Another UK artist that I didn't know much about besides a lot of people thought she was great. I had zero expectation for this album other than the fact it was getting hyped up all over social media, and rightfully so. This album has some of the cleanest orchestral production I have ever heard, and Simz raps over them so eloquently. She compliments the production perfectly in the way she delivers her lyrics with authority but not overbearing. She is intimate on this album and speaks to her personal story, and how it relates to being a black woman in the UK. She ties this unique perspective that we don't often get in rap not only into her personal life struggles but how to build a better society for everyone. If you have not heard this album I'd highly recommend it as it is truly one of the most impressive records I have heard this year.

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