Even after Nas stated hip-hop is dead years ago, the genre continues to live on, evolve and prosper in ways that outpace its humble beginnings. As time goes on, new names, music from established acts and sounds push hip-hop forward. Over the last few years, there have been plenty of strong rap albums, each with different interpretations of the art form. Creating a good project is difficult, but in reality, it all starts with one excellent song, then building off that. If there's one thing that the albums highlighted here have in common, it's that they all have at least one great song. XXL highlights one great song from great hip-hop albums in recent Memory, giving them the love they truly deserve.
2021 saw the reappearance, or resurgence in some cases, of rappers the game is familiar with. J. Cole's highly-anticipated The Off-Season album is really about the North Carolina rhymer facing his mortality as an artist, which influenced him to tap into the hunger he began his career with. No song better encapsulates that feeling than "Punchin . The . Clock," an album cut on which Cole rhymes about how his success has changed his perspective on his own career, and the way it affects his personal life. Tyler, The Creator has just recently had his star turn, where his potential has realized itself in his cultural impact, album sales and one-of- one live shows. "Hot Wind Blows," off his critically lauded album, Call Me If You Get Lost, is a full circle moment, with Tyler rhyming alongside one of his favorite rappers and now regular collaborators, Lil Wayne, as both shine in the moment.
There are also standout albums from newer acts over the last year, which were filled with so many quality songs it was difficult to choose which was truly "the one." Baby Tate's After The Rain: Deluxe clearly establishes the width of the Atlanta singer-rapper-songwriter's talents, and the effortlessness of her viral song, "Eeenie Meenie," proves she can pull off whatever she wants. The song is a fun, very catchy trip through the world of a sought-after woman, and her very natural confidence and edge make listening to her music a joy. On the other side of the coin, the somber yet hopeful sounds of Rod Wave, one of the most consistent young stars out of a packed Florida scene, delivered the song "Tombstone," off his album, SoulFly. The track is excellent, and very gripping, as Rod sings and raps about the peace that comes with death. He speaks of passing away as a positive without fear, focusing more on the things he's accomplished (and will accomplish) as opposed to what he's losing.
Check out One Great Song From Great Hip-Hop Albums in Recent Memory below.
Slowthai puts his character and integrity over a dollar, and packages it in a gloomy, brooding package.
"Fell Up In The Club"Duke Deuce featuring A$AP Ferg
As a Memphis crunk revivalist, Duke Deuce's talent lies in harkening back to the old days while still adding in a modern twist. Here, he recruits A$AP Ferg for a track that would've shut down parties all across the country if we weren't in a pandemic when it dropped.
Album: Duke Nukem
Usually known for their obscure sports references and sense of humor, L.A. duo BlueBucksClan come up with a song on which they describe themselves from the eyes of an overzealous hater. Hilarity (and many a sharp couplet) ensue.
Album: Clan Virus 2
Rod Wave's music has always been personal and somber. "Tombstone" is about the relief of the afterlife while living in the present, where he feels pulled in too many different directions.
"Buddy Love"Young Dolph and Key Glock
The late Young Dolph was taken from the world much too soon last November. On his last project before his death, Dum and Dummer 2, Dolph and his cousin Key Glock do what they do best: work off each other's energy and rap at a high level.
Album: Dum and Dummer 2
The Neptunes step into a time machine and revert back to their late 2000's style on this track, which is the perfect canvas for Moneybagg Yo to rap about how he narrowly survived hustling before he became a rap star.
Album: A Gangsta's Pain
An unsung aspect of Conway The Machine's talent is he sounds solid over any style of rap production. Here, he gets loose over a borderline trap beat with a polished hook to boot.
Album: La Maquina
"Came And Saw"Young Stoner Life and Young Thug featuring Rowdy Rebel
Nothing says "I'm back" like getting a feature on a well-respected rapper's track a few months after being released from prison like Rowdy Rebel did with this one. He shines right alongside Young Thug, one of the most talented artists out there.
Album: Slime Language 2
"Punchin' . The . Clock"J. Cole
J. Cole likens rap to working a 9-to-5, and also navigates the fact that his success hinges on the pain of his past.
Album: The Off-Season
Originally taking off as a snippet, "Eeenie Meenie" finds Baby Tate having fun with a tongue-in-cheek spin on being a woman with plenty of suitors to choose from or dismiss. She's not tripping too hard on how they feel about that.
Album: After The Rain: Deluxe
"Murder Czn"Mach-Hommy featuring Westside Gunn
An underground rapper who has been working for a while, but is getting his just deserts now, Mach-Hommy is one of the nicest. "Murder Czn" illustrates his haunting singing ability along with his upper-tier lyricism after Westside Gunn sets the scene.
Album: Pray For Haiti
"Drunk And Nasty"Pi'erre Bourne featuring Sharc
Pi'erre Bourne has locked in the label of being one of most talented producers of the last five years, and he also likes to rap. "Drunk And Nasty" is a fun song that describes a late night rendezvous, composed perfectly from the lyrics to the hook and beat.
Album: The Life Of Pi'erre 5
"Hot Wind Blows"Tyler, The Creator featuring Lil Wayne
Tyler, The Creator has evolved as an artist in different arenas over the years. He's become better with time, from his rhymes to his production, and even his music became more experimental. "Hot Wind Blows" is a showing of two revered MCs kicking it while performing at a high level.
Album: Call Me If You Get Lost
"The Shining"Vince Staples
Vince Staples' self-titled album is incredible and personal, and on "The Shining," he shares why he'll never leave his neighborhood of Long Beach, Calif. behind, even though he has the money to do so whenever he wants.
Album: Vince Staples
"Beautiful Lies"Yung Bleu featuring Kehlani
There isn't much that's outside of Yung Bleu's wheelhouse in the studio. He raps, sings and producers, too. Here, he turns in an excellent vocal performance alongside Kehlani for a song about preferring to keep a fantasy going even as it falls apart.
Album: Moon Boy
"3rd Person"Boldy James and The Alchemist
On this aptly titled song, Boldy James shares a tale in which he gets jammed up in a criminal investigation by someone he isn't that close to. The Alchemist crafts a classic beat and Boldy's vivid imagery shines.
Album: Bo Jackson
"716 Mile"Westside Gunn featuring Boldy James
Over an oddly haunting beat, Westside Gunn continues his streak of kicking off verses perfectly, and every bar in his verse lands. Then Boldy comes on and weaves in clever biblical references to rap about surviving the streets and jail.
Album: Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely Adolf
On a song that could've easily slotted onto his 2020 album Wunna, Gunna displays everything that makes him such a famous and successful act on "Flooded." He's got a signature flows that blends right into the beat and never lets go. No one makes being rich sound flyer.
Chief Keef's 4NEM has a throwback appeal in that it sounds like the music he was making when he first blew up as a teenager. What has changed is he is an even better rapper now, and "See Through" has the energy of his old days, with the developed sense of humor and lyricism of his current form.
More than two years after his passing, Juice WRLD is still praised as a venerated artist—one that flipped what it means to be a rock star in rap on its head. "Doom," the dark, dreary album cut, is about dealing with drugs and depression, while experiencing new love and musical success.
Album: Fighting Demons