The 20 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2023

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best hip-hop albums of 2023

Our coverage of the best music of the year continues with our survey of the best hip-hop albums of 2023. It’s not the first time that a handful of artists show up more than once (Danny Brown, billy woods, etc.) but regardless of volume of output, the level of talent this year has been outstanding all around, regardless of what you’ve heard, from up-and-comers to oldheads on victory laps.

Note: When you buy something through our affiliate links, Treble receives a commission. All albums included are chosen by our editors and contributors.

Aesop Rock Integrated Tech Solutions review

Aesop Rock – Integrated Tech Solutions

Aesop Rock’s never followed anything but his own idiosyncratic muse, which has made his music consistently fascinating to follow for more than two decades. Integrated Tech Solutions is among the strongest records he’s ever released, ostensibly a concept album about technocracy, but immersive and imaginative beyond mere gimmicks. He narrates this satirical dystopia with a laid-back focus and a sense of poetry that anchors each song in moments both affecting and sensorially head-spinning. Integrated Tech Solutions is also produced almost entirely by Aes, who spins up some of his most psychedelic and heady tracks, steeping his vision in his deepest grooves. After 25 years and over a dozen records, Aesop Rock’s skills have only grown sharper. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Merchbar (vinyl)

Armand Hammer We Buy Diabetic Test Strips review
Fat Possum

Armand Hammer – We Buy Diabetic Test Strips

No rap duo in recent memory has captured everyday dysfunction through such a seemingly contradictorily vivid and poetically abstract lens as Armand Hammer. Elucid and billy woods made their debut as a duo over a decade ago, and as their music has progressed, the world around them has continued to fall into disrepair, as evident by the social critiques and absurdist narratives of We Buy Diabetic Test Strips. Dispatches from a capitalist society run amok, We Buy Diabetic Test Strips finds Armand Hammer in the company of a who’s-who of producers (DJ Haram, El-P, JPEGMAFIA), whose sonic treatments offer a suitably eerie backdrop for scenes of desperation punctuated with punchlines. We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is a dense and overwhelming listen, a masterpiece from a team that seems to be racking them up. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Turntable Lab (vinyl)

Danny Brown Quaranta review

Danny Brown – Quaranta

Danny Brown isn’t the only rapper on this list to release more than one albumin 2023, but his are arguably the two that span the greatest distance in mood and temperament. Scaring the Hoes, his JPEGMAFIA collaboration, is Danny at his most fun and freewheeling, while Quaranta—his proper follow-up to 2019’s uknowhatimsayin¿—is his most sober and reflective release to date, shedding an unflattering spotlight on cycles of self-destruction. Which doesn’t mean there’s no fun to be had here; first single “Tantor,” produced by The Alchemist, is a warped banger that fits in comfortably alongside some of the tensest material on 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition. But this is a more understated, darkly atmospheric and brutally honest album, one that favors introspection over intensity, revealing aspects of Brown’s music and personality that we’ve only caught glimpses of before. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Turntable Lab (vinyl)

best hip-hop albums of 2023 - Black Thought
Big Crown

El Michels Affair and Black Thought – Glorious Game

André 3000 doesn’t want to rap, and he’s approaching 50; Black Thought is 52 and just getting started. There are levels to genius. Tariq Trotter, aka Black Thought, is easily making a case that he’s the GOAT, but in creative ways. Writing books, doing plays on Broadway, and connecting with producers who construct these barren, polyrhythmic haunted tracks that pull from soulful origins—sometimes it feels like Willie Mitchell, who produced for Al Green—but those beats have a story to go along with Black Thought’s “information passed down from an OG, a gatekeeper, an elder statesman with a cautionary tale here and there but not being too preachy,” which is how he’s categorized the subject matter on this masterclass of beats and rhyme. El Michels Affair, the producer of Glorious Game, whom Black Thought let it be known that “soulful people are gonna do soulful shit,” never crowds Trotter’s instrument. He gets it. Space is needed for these tales and instructions to breathe, mature, and take flight. – John-Paul Shiver

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Turntable Lab (vinyl)

McKinley Dixon Beloved Paradise Jazz
City Slang

McKinley Dixon – Beloved! Paradise! Jazz?

Though McKinley Dixon’s Beloved! Paradise! Jazz? runs only 29 minutes, it packs a whole lifetime’s worth of memories, dreams, grief and regrets into less than half an hour. Taking its title from three Toni Morrison novels (including an opening reading from poet and onetime Treble contributor Hanif Abdurraqib), the album bridges Dixon’s past to his present and future, taking listeners on a tour through some deeply personal recollections scored by arrangements that transition from neo-soul groove to hard-hitting trap and lush jazz rap. An affectingly personal hip-hop record that doubles as mesmerizing headphone journey. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Merchbar (vinyl)

DJ Shadow Action Adventure review
Mass Appeal

DJ Shadow – Action Adventure

History is a fickle accountant who keeps an accurate and on-time wristwatch. The techno progenitors—the Belleville Three: Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson—never (and they shouldn’t) have a problem telling all the breakbeat genre police “We gave birth to you and your funny hats.” Josh Davis, aka DJ Shadow, is around 52 and doesn’t have time for the “I’m a vocalist and have such-and-such amount of followers on whatever special media handle of choice.” On Action Adventure, his seventh album, is a flying-through-history-with-no-chonies-on take on the origins of hip-hop, essentially when freestyle, big-beat, boogie, new wave, and some ish we still don’t know what it is, got gobbled up by the Akai MPC sampler community. In 14 tracks Davis gives the wettest kiss to sounds from the ’80s and early ’90s any beat-head ethnomusicologist could give. Instead of playing the 2023 game of building songs around vocalists, Shadow puts on his gloves and mask and gets knee-deep in the dirty/beautiful vinyl/cassette, 8-track game. Taking instrumental vocals and popping those joints on found tracks, reminding us all, that physical media still be our Daddy. “You Played Me,” inspired by an eBay auction of 200 tapes recorded from a radio mix station in the DMV area in the ’80s, is the big-beat freestyle R&B choon many a boombox memory might have originated from. – John-Paul Shiver

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Merchbar (vinyl)

Earl Sweatshirt Voir dire review
Tan Cressida

Earl Sweatshirt and The Alchemist – Voir Dire

Puffed up by lost album rumors and anticipations, Voir Dire could have easily been a let-down. Instead, it sounds like a victory lap. Earl Sweatshirt is more than familiar with melancholy and hurt; this is the first of his projects you could describe as breezy. That may be because it’s as much The Alchemist’s as Earl’s; warm and analog, his pillowy beats smooth out the rough edges. The mind reels at the size of Earl’s unreleased music vault, no doubt amounting to orders of magnitude more than these 27 minutes afford us. But for now, Voir Dire is a gift that keeps on giving.  – Casey Burke

Listen/Buy: Spotify | Turntable Lab (vinyl)

best hip-hop albums of 2023 fatboi sharif

Fatboi Sharif & Steel Tipped Dove – Decay

Arriving less than a year after Preaching in Havana and only a few months before his Halloween collaboration with Bigg Jus, Fatboi Sharif’s Decay raises the bar through a path fraught with trapdoors and snares. Paired with producer Steel Tipped Dove, who provides an atmosphere of darkness and distorientation, Fatboi Sharif provides a surrealist delivery that teeters between psychedelia and horror. Decay is a funhouse maze of an album, fraught with peril and moments of stunning aural stimulation alike, a stellar addition to the continuously excellent Backwoodz catalog and a career best for the New Jersey emcee. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Merchbar (vinyl)

H31R Headspace

H31R – Headspace

Producer J Words and Brooklyn Emcee maassai work in tandem. It’s a version of hip-hop built on club beats, Kraftwerk meets techno atmospherics, with maassai delivering observational text riding the celestial brew in a comfy/conversational manner. JWords, a New Jersey-based Afro-Latina producer, is not just a fan of Missy Elliot—she’s the product of that trailblazer who melded so many things into a hip-hop universe. Headspace, where Quelle Chris shows up and by action co-signs on this wonky spaceship blues that goes bump off the launch pad, is the reason why you gloriously can never tell which way the culture will go. Just know that when it goes real different—brace yourselves for the future. – John-Paul Shiver

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon (vinyl)

Ice Spice Like
TenThousand Projects

Ice Spice – Like..?

A report earlier this year suggested that major labels are having trouble breaking new artists in today’s landscape, with one of the few exceptions being upstart emcee Ice Spice. For what it’s worth, she did the work for them (isn’t that always the case?), her outsized personality, playful approach and undeniably fun sound an irresistible confection even in a year when hip-hop’s grip on the pop charts has dramatically loosened. Backed by block-rockin’ bass-heavy production and with an effortless knack for hooks, Ice Spice’s pairing of rap with pop adds up to a sound to be reckoned with. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Spotify | Turntable Lab (vinyl)

JPEGMAFIA Danny Brown Scaring the Hoes review

JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown – Scaring the Hoes

Quaranta was a necessary step forward for Danny Brown that revealed his frailty. Some lamented that it didn’t showcase his expected zany antics, forgetting that months prior, he found the ideal tag-team partner for his rambunctious act in JPEGMAFIA. Scaring the Hoes is a dream album in some ways; a chance for Brown to go bananas for a full LP and for Peggy to flaunt his astounding improvement as a rapper (he can now rap circles around the JPEGMAFIA from Black Ben Carson and arguably even Veteran). In other ways, it’s the dream album nobody knew they needed—Peggy’s most streamlined work. It’s over a dozen tracks of bars and beats without R&B or studio experiments. Asking for more would take away from Scaring the Hoes’ main appeal—the sublime chemistry between the tag team champs. – Colin Dempsey

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon (vinyl)

Little Simz No Thank You

Little Simz – NO THANK YOU

Released at the tail end of 2022 (well after we compiled our list of the best hip-hop of that year, cough), NO THANK YOU saw Little Simz scaling back from the ambition and grandeur of 2021’s Sometimes I Might Be Introvert in favor of a set of standouts rooted in jazz, gospel and neo-soul. Its bangers hit as hard as any of her rawest past material, like the endlessly fun and breezy “Gorilla,” whereas much of the record is steeped in rich production and arrangements that showcase how well her lyrics translate to a lush, soulful sound. (Which isn’t necessarily all that surprising given that producer Inflo is one of the architects of Sault.) Though it arrived without much in the way of pomp and circumstance, NO THANK YOU not so secretly features some of Simz’s best material to date. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Spotify | Merchbar (vinyl)

best hip-hop albums of 2023 - Maxo
Def Jam

Maxo – Even God Has a Sense of Humor

Los Angeles emcee Maxo has been releasing music for the better part of a decade, acclaimed for his early EPs, which makes it all the more remarkable that he only just this year released his debut LP. Even God Has a Sense of Humor builds on those auspicious early successes with a full-length set of atmospheric, abstract rap featuring production from the likes of Madlib, Karriem Riggins and Greymatter. It’s hypnotic and lush, at once understated and overwhelming, an extraordinary balance between vibes and vitality. If Even God Has a Sense of Humor doesn’t feel like a debut album, it’s only because Maxo had already more than honed his skills by the time he made it official. – Jeff Terich

Listen: Spotify

best hip-hop albums of 2023 - MC Yallah
Hakuna Kulala

MC Yallah – Yallah Beibe

MC Yallah’s second album Yallah Beibe occupies a unique spot on this list, the only record by an artist who raps in four languages—Kiswahili, Luo, English, and Lugandan—all of which the Uganga-based rapper employs to stunning effect. It doesn’t matter whether you’re fluent or not, her lyrical prowess and knack for seamless and ferocious rhythms is undeniable, backed by vibrant and intense production from the likes of Scotch Rolex and Chrisman, and even featuring the menacing growl of Duma’s Lord Spikeheart on “No One Seems to Bother.” Through a constantly shifting landscape of sounds, Yallah is a remarkably versatile emcee, switching up her cipher at a moment’s notice without breaking a sweat. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Merchbar (vinyl)

best songs of 2023 - MIKE

MIKE – Burning Desire

MIKE’s not necessarily known for being the kind of prolific rapper that can drop three projects in a year’s time—except that’s exactly what he’s done since last December, first delivering Beware of the Monkey, followed by Wiki and Alchemist collab Faith is a Rock this fall. Burning Desire arrived only a few weeks later, and though each one showcases MIKE in top form, it’s the best of the three by a few degrees, a confident and brash set of songs intertwined with MIKE’s signature reflection. Since 2021’s Disco! however, he’s sounded like he’s been having a lot more fun with his music, and that freewheeling sensibility is on full display here through standouts like the velvety funk-soul title track, the summery “Snake Charm,” and the distorted bounce of “African Sex Freak Fantasy.” If it’s not his best album, Burning Desire is nonetheless the most purely enjoyable MIKE’s ever sounded. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Merchbar (vinyl)

best hip-hop albums of 2023 - Navy Blue
Def Jam

Navy Blue – Ways of Knowing

Making his Def Jam debut after the self-released breakthrough Song of Sage: Post Panic!, a collab with AKAI SOLO and production work for MIKE, Armand Hammer and Wiki, Navy Blue sounds wise and clear-eyed beyond his years on the warm, soulful Ways of Knowing. These are songs bathed in natural light and lived experience, guided by members of his family and prone to moments of joy. An endlessly listenable record marked by an autobiographical honesty, Ways of Knowing finds Navy Blue embracing the light in continually rewarding ways. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Spotify

best hip-hop albums of 2023 - Niontay

Niontay – Demon Muppy

When Niontay dropped his debut project, Dontay’s Inferno, back in March, some of the most talented names in hip-hop took note, including Earl Sweatshirt, MIKE and 454. All three of them appear on this follow-up EP, in which Niontay puts his lithe flow and slinky sense of humor on full display. Meanwhile, the production takes thrilling detours, from the Ryuichi Sakomoto-esque “YATKAMAN3000” to the soulful stomp of “Supa Bowl LVIII.” Come for the scrapbook musings and spirit of sleepy adventure; stay for “Real Hiphop,” in which Niontay goes toe-to-toe with Earl and MIKE in one of the year’s best tracks of any genre. – Casey Burke

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

best hip-hop albums of 2023 - Real Bad Man and Blu

Real Bad Man & Blu – Bad News

Production team Real Bad Man have released eight brief but fun as hell albums since 2020, becoming a reliably prolific presence in independent hip-hop over the past couple years. Just this year alone, they released three of those albums, the standout of the bunch being their eight-song, 23-minute collab with Los Angeles emcee Blu. Sonically bold and cinematic, leaning on more of an old-school hardcore hip-hop production approach, Real Bad Man provide a fittingly rich backing for Blu to do his thing—his clever wordplay and seamless rhyming style as dazzling as ever. Where it might be slightly wanting in terms of innovation, Bad News more than makes up for that by being—you guessed it—fun as hell. – Jeff Terich

Listen: Spotify

best hip-hop albums of 2023 - SKECH185

SKECH185 & Jeff Markey – He Left Nothing for the Swim Back

SKECH185 first made his debut in the Backwoodz catalog with his guest appearance on Armand Hammer’s Paraffin, which was the only guest feature on the album—the New York-by-way-of-Chicago rapper tends to leave an outsized impact. From the first drone of the opening title track on He Left Nothing for the Swim Back, that impact is unmistakable. Paired with Jeff Markey’s menacingly urgent and tense production, SKECH navigates a dystopia of feelgood corporate activism, tragedy as entertainment, fallen idols and burning landscapes with urgency and gallows humor—backed with an appropriate soundtrack of synth-laden darkwave and industrial and eerie piano-laced boom bap. In “Up to Speed,” SKECH asks repeatedly, “Did I go hard enough?” As if this is even a question. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

best albums of 2023 billy woods maps

billy woods and Kenny Segal – Maps

Maps is an album about the drudgery of being a touring artist; billy woods turns that seemingly mundane idea into a journey worthy of Homer. Through flights to Amsterdam and Uber rides to pick up dinner, going AWOL from soundchecks and watching his phone at an afterparty, woods offers stream of consciousness moments of anxiety, discomfort and dissociation in the moments between performances and phone calls back home. The attention to detail is exquisite, particularly as he highlights every meal along the way—skate wing in brown butter, conch fritter, pork belly brine, braised and deep-fried—as producer Kenny Segal orchestrates each detour and return trip. It’s astonishing that, after two back-to-back solo bangers and shortly before another Armand Hammer record, woods only keeps raising the bar that much higher. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

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