A+E: Top Five Hip Hop Albums Of 2021

by Aydn Morris & Jeremiah Davis

As 2021 slowly winds down, we take a look back into the world of hip-hop and rank the top five hip hop albums of the year.

5. The Melodic Blue – Baby Keem

With the anticipation of album releases from both Kanye West and Drake, the attention given to smaller artists was slim to none.  However, Carson native and cousin of Kendrick Lamar, Baby Keem was an exception to this rule.  Being related to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lamar puts a lot of pressure on a performing artist, and Keem understood that and delivered.  

On the singles “Family Ties” and “Range Brothers,” both featuring Kendrick Lamar,  Keem undoubtedly held his own, while some listeners have even felt he had better verses than Kendrick.  Both of these songs were featured on his album, The Melodic Blue, which got the approval of NBA legend Lebron James, who played songs off the album on his Instagram story.

Keem also was able to attract fans on all social media platforms garnering a viral sound off his new song “Range Brothers.” One could also say that the help of Kendrick Lamar played a vital role in pushing his album out there for the world to hear.  

Whatever the case may be, one could not deny the amount of raw talent that Baby Keem possesses at young age.  At only 20 years old, Keem still has what it takes to continue growing as an artists, which is why his album stands at number five on our list.

4. Call Me If You Get Lost – Tyler, The Creator

Tyler, the Creator is a name that is familiar to many hip hop fans and indie music fans alike.  His sonic versatility, playful aesthetic and nonchalant attitude intrigues many listeners and has kept his music so in tune with popular audiences.  

In 2021, despite hype around Kanye and Drake’s beef, rap fans were distributed amongst all artists, both the mainstream and the underground.  Many artists have die-hard fan bases that will enjoy listening to whatever music the artist puts out.  This anticipation, however, comes with a lot of pressure involved as well.

Tyler the Creator released his seventh studio album, Call Me If You Get Lost, on June 25th, 2021, and fans were elated by the project. With mainstream features from the likes of Lil Uzi Vert, Pharell Williams, Lil Wayne, 42 Dugg, NBA Youngboy and Brent Faiyaz, the album showcased some of the industry’s best.  

The most streamed song came from Tyler, NBA Youngboy and Ty Dolla Sign’s collaboration titled, “WUSYANAME.” The song was an overall success as everyone did their part and was able to show how three completely different artists were able to come together and create a popular track.

The album did very well, selling 117,000 copies in its first week.  Many fans expected this from Tyler, as he is a well-established and respected artist within the industry. His longevity within the rap community is well noted to many people, and it will only continue to grow as he gets older.

In comparison to past Tyler, the Creator albums, one could infer that this album brought out a different version of Tyler in comparison to what we usually see from him.  These reasons made it easy to mark Call Me If You Get Lost at number four . 

3. The Off Season – J.Cole

After a three-year-long wait, J. Cole released his newest project The Off-Season, on May 14th.  After J. Cole’s previous album KOD, he announced this new project in 2018, which created much anticipation in the industry. 

On May 4th 2018, Cole announced his album release date on Instagram and then surprised his fans with a song called, “ i n t e r l u d e,” which gave his fans a taste of what was to come on the album. 

J Cole is known for being a lyricist and the album proved that even more. The project consisted of twelve tracks with features from 21 Savage, Lil Baby, Morray, Bas, 6Lack and also had a secret feature from NBA superstar Damian Lillard, who is known as one of the best rappers in the NBA.

When Cole made his post on Instagram announcing his songs, it only showed the twelve song names, but not the features, which led fans to believe that there would be no features on the album. 

However, the hashtag #NoFeatures was trending on Twitter, due to J. Cole’s 2014 Forrest Hills Drive album, which showcased just Cole on vocals and productions. That album cemented his place as one of the most influential popular hip hop artists of this generation along with Drake, Kanye, and Kendrick. 

The Off-Season’s most popular song is track seven, “p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l,” which had a feature from famous artist Lil Baby. Lil Baby is a popular, young, talented artist who showed his potential on this feature with J.Cole.  

J. Cole was amazing on the song and set the tone, but what made the song so special was hearing Lil Baby’s verse after Cole, matching his wordplay and flow. 

The Off-Season sold a total of 282,000 first week album-equivalent units, which gave J. Cole his sixth number one album.

2. Certified Lover Boy, Drake

Drake is no stranger to dropping hits, whether that be from an album perspective or simply just a single. The man knows how to make pop music. 

The release of his sixth studio album garnered major media attention for several reasons. For one, it had been three whole years since the last release of a Drake album.  Fans were on pins and needles waiting for the next release from the Canadian superstar. 

The second reason was due to his rumored beef with Kanye West. The beef has been stirring up for quite some time now, only adding more fuel to the fire when West posted Drake’s address on his Instagram account before immediately taking it down. 

Drake later responded to what West did as he posted a video of him laughing at Kanye on his Instagram story.  Fans were eager to hear the diss track that Drake was preparing in order to combat Ye leaking his address, but that diss never came.

The album consisted of 21 songs, and overall, it was a feel good album.  Drake also showcased his versatility on this album ranging from storytelling on a song like “Champagne Poetry” to having fun on a song like “Way 2 Sexy.”

The features on the album did not disappoint either with guest appearances from the likes of Future, Young Thug, Lil Baby and 21 Savage.  The album also smashed several records, which didn’t come ax a surprise at all due to the amount of anticipation surrounding its release.  

The album sold 600,000 copies in first week sales and now occupies 9 out of the top 10 spots on the Billboard top 100.  

Drake would drop Certified Lover Boy just days after Kanye’s album to compete with the beefing artist. But either way, it is refreshing to see so many successful artists drop new music.  

1. DONDA – Kanye West

Kanye released his tenth studio album on August 29th, 2021 with a total of 27 tracks.  Kanye said that the album release date was never approved by him.  The album was initially set for release on July 24, 2020, but was delayed multiple times by Kanye.  

There was a huge build up and anticipation to this album since Kanye’s last album Jesus is King, which was released in October 2019.  After many setbacks, Kanye finally declared that the album was dropping and finished.  

This album was such a big deal that Kanye hosted listening parties at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and Soldier Field in Chicago. He held three listening events, two in Atlanta and one in Chicago, all of which sold out. 

Kanye has taken an initiative to make gospel music which started in his previous album Jesus is King, which led into Donda being a primarily hip hop and gospel album. Since the album showcases strong gospel influences, it was aptly released on a Sunday morning.

This may have made sense because of religious ideals, but this may have hindered his first week album sales as well, because albums are usually set to drop on Friday or Thursday night depending on where you are, but he ended up releasing at a time no one would expect an album.

Although it may have seemed like a bad time to release an album, he still was able to sell 520,000 album-equivalent units in that week, which at the time was the biggest album debut of the year (later beaten by Drake’s Certified Lover Boy). 

Kanye also broke the most streamed album in a day record and placed second in the biggest opening days in Spotify history, even after dropping at eight in the morning on a Sunday. 

Kanye called on a whole gang of features, which included rappers Playboi Carti, Lil Baby, Fivio Foreign, The Weeknd, Roddy Ricch, Baby Keem, Lil Yachty, Jay Z, Da Baby, Chris Brown, Young Thug, Kid Cudi, Travis Scott, Pop Smoke, and many others. 

Donda‘s most popular song was track four, “Off the Grid,” which included Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign. Playboi Carti is a very controversial artist, but still held up to have one of the best songs on the album. Playboi Carti also featured on two other songs on the album. 

Playboi Carti and Kanye West have worked with each other and became friends in the past year when Kanye helped produce and feature on Carti’s album Whole Lotta Red.  Their friendship, connection and mix of fan bases are what made “Off the Grid” a highlight the album, along with Fivio’s amazing drill flow and verse. 

Another highlight on the album was track five, “Hurricane,” featuring The Weeknd and Lil Baby.  This song is what the album is all about, with the melodic, gospel singing and mix of rap by Lil Baby.

Donda and Certified Lover Boy can both make a case for being the number one album in 2021 so far. Off of album-equivalent units sold and streams Certified Lover Boy walks all over Donda, but from the perspective of quality and depth, Kanye gets the best Drake. 

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