As I started in my piece about my favorite songs from the second half of 2021, I think the last couple of years have given us some great music. Times of turmoil and trauma can end up inspiring a lot of great art, and I think this was the case in regards to COVID. Obviously, pretty much nothing positive came out of the pandemic. The last couple of years have been some of the weirdest and darkest we have ever had. But this darkness coupled with the fact people were forced to stay inside for so long, drove creativity levels through the roof for so many people. Because of it, some of the most eclectic and cool music we have heard in a while ended up coming out of artists during the era of COVID. I truly believe that a lot of the best music from the last two years will inspire artists for years to come. The sound of so many musicians will be directly affected by this period for a long time, and a lot of the music themes created in 2020 and 2021 will be prevalent for the foreseeable future. With all of that being said, here is a list of some of my favorite records from 2021(in no particular order besides that it is sort of chronological). Please let me know in the comments how you feel about these albums, and also comment on what albums you loved from 2021 I didn’t write about.
PARANOIA – Maggie Lindemann
Maggie Lindemann is an up-and-coming artist I have been following for a while. She has always had a special voice and she has always been a great lyricist, so it has been fun to see what she does next. Up until now, she has bounced around between genres a lot, and it never seemed like she knew what kind of music she wants to stick with making. With her 2021 project PARANOIA, she has found her calling. It is a project that is very inspired by various types of early 2000s Rock. From Pop-Punk to Post Grunge, Maggie Lindemann channeled the music from this era in such an eclectic way for PARANOIA. Her voice fits perfectly with this kind of music; she is able to capture the emotions that are prevalent in these Rock sub-genres so well. PARANOIA is a record that proves Maggie Lindemann knows exactly what she is supposed to be doing at this point, and I imagine she is only going to keep improving with this sound in the future.
TYRON – slowthai
slowthai is an artist who can not be put in a box in regards to his sound. Even though he is a rapper, his music has also been inspired by Punk Rock and Electronica. He has always picked instrumentals that are outside the box, and his rap delivery has matched these weird instrumentals very well. His 2021 album, TYRON, was his most mature and vulnerable piece of work to date. He let listeners into how he feels and who he is in such a raw way on this record. His struggles with mental health and addiction are relatable to so many normal people out there who love his art, and him opening up and this stuff made him feel so much closer to his fans. He did this all while using more interesting and out-of-the-box instrumentals than ever on TYRON. This record shows how much of a unique and bright star slowthai is. He’s one of the most interesting rising stars currently making Hip Hop in Britain.
Boys Cry – Oscar Scheller
One of my favorite ways to discover new artists is through randomly hearing other people listen to them on social media and looking them up. I first heard Oscar Scheller on someone I follow’s Instagram story last year, and I knew I had to check him out right when I heard him. I am very glad I did check him out because he has such a different take on Indie Pop music. His sound has a very Gothic feeling to it. He makes music that teeters on the edge of modern Indie-Pop and 80s Goth Rock or New Wave music. I know a lot of artists today seem to be inspired by New Wave, but Oscar has a fresh and bright take on this sound that is his own. He also bears all of his feelings in his music, making him so relatable to listeners because they have felt how he was feeling when he made this record. Boys Cry is one of the most fun and distinct Indie Pop records of 2021. It makes him stand out in a very big way.
RONALD. – 6 Dogs
Along with Lil Peep and Yung Lean, 6 Dogs is one of the artists credited with helping start and shape the Emo Trap and Cloud Trap movements very prevalent in Hip Hop today. 6 Dogs was a popular underground artist for a while, and he developed and molded a lot of trends in Hip Hop that have turned into the Emo-Trap sub-genre. His music was defined by incorporating elements of Alternative and Emo Rock into his music, and by his vulnerable and raw lyrical style. A lot of his fans related to the feelings he expressed in his music, and this made him endearing. RONALD. was the name of the last full-length project he put out before he passed away. It was finished and turned into the label just days before he left this world for good. This album is a culmination of all the things about his music that were great. The instrumentals are extremely eclectic and distinctive, and the lyricism is so honest and real. It is an album that proves he was just beginning to reach the level of greatness he was meant to achieve. RONALD. is an album that shows everything about 6 Dogs that made him stand out.
ROADRUNNER – Brockhampton
After going on an incredible run between 2017-2019 with five universally acclaimed albums, they decided to take 2020 off and release no new music. After rumors that the self-proclaimed Hip Hop boy band may break up, those worries were eased when they announced their album ROADRUNNER would be coming out in Spring of 2021. Brockhampton has been known to completely transform their sound with each record, and ROADRUNNER was no different. Some of it has a 90s Boom Bap theme, some of it has an early 2000s R&B theme, and the rest has a modern Trap sound. With there being so many members of Brockhampton, the amount of diversity in regards to the sound is huge on this record as always. I feel like there is something for all Hip Hop fans on this record. ROADRUNNER is a record that once again proves Brockhampton is at the top of their game.
The Off-Season – J. Cole
As I stated in the review for this album, I have not always been the biggest fan of J. Cole’s. I have always respected how great of a lyricist he is, but I could just never get behind his rapping style and sound for some reason. That changed with this record, tho. On The Off-Season, J. Cole proves he can make modern Trap music as well if not better than the top artists doing it. The Off-Season is full of hard Trap beats that do not seem like they would be the types of instrumentals J. Cole would typically choose. He kills it on every song though, proving he is good enough to do whatever he wants. The lyrical theme of this record is that J. Cole is not satisfied with all the success he has already had. He knows that as massive as he is as an artist, he can always do bigger and better things.
SOUR – Olivia Rodrigo
At this point last year, Olivia Rodrigo had just released her smash hit ‘drivers license’ and was beginning to go viral. Now she is one of the most famous Pop artists in the world. It is crazy how fast things can change. When you are as talented as Olivia, though, that kind of change is inevitable. It is undeniable that Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR is one of the best records of 2021(if not the best). On SOUR, Olivia takes her biggest influences(like Taylor Swift and Paramore) and morphs their sound to fit super well into the current landscape of music. She wears her heart on her sleeve in her lyrics, and the way she feels is so relatable to a lot of young people todsy. She makes her listeners feel like they are not alone at all. SOUR is proof that Olivia Rodrigo is a Pop superstar, and I think she is going to be a staple in the music industry for a long very time.
Culture III – Migos
As everyone who is a fan of Hip Hop knows, Migos has been a staple of Trap music since it started to become huge in the early 2010s. With their instrumental choices, rap flows, and overall demeanors, they have been the blueprint for what it takes to be a Trap music star. Their first two official major-label albums, Culture and Culture II, are considered to be two of the more influential Trap albums. Because of all of their success, it seems like Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset got bored of making music for a little bit. After Culture II, they took a bit of a break and started to focus on solo ventures. In 2021, they got that fire back, though, and decided to make and put out Culture III. On this record, they showed that they are still at the top of the craft. This record is full of bangers that highlight everything about them that makes them great individually and as a group. It is not a perfectly consistent record, but the highs outweigh the lows so much that it does not matter. Culture III is proof that Migos is still one of the Top Dogs in Trap music and that they will be for the considerable future.
CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST – Tyler The Creator
Tyler the Creator has always been one of the most interesting and innovative figures in music. He has always thought way outside of the box, pushing boundaries in music, fashion, and videography since he first burst onto the scene in the early 2010s. Over the last few years, starting in 2017 with his record Flower Boy, Tyler has been on one of the best runs of any artist making music. He has pushed the boundaries creatively in a perfect way and has come up with some of the most eclectic concepts in music. His 2021 record, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, is just another example of why he is one of the most exciting artists out there. This record has a concept based around a character Tyler has created(who seems to be somewhat based on himself,) and the record tells the stories of the highs and lows of this character. This record is narrated by DJ Drama, making it feel like a free blog era mixtape from the late 2000s and early 2010s. The instrumentals vary from having a 90s feel to feeling almost futuristic, and Tyler proves that he can excel at anything he wants to. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is further proof that Tyler the Creator is at the peak of music at the point and that there are not many out there who are near to as good as him.
Planet Her – Doja Cat
Over the last few years, Doja Cat has had one of the most exciting and interesting rising to superstardom. There are very few people who would be able to straight-up turn a viral meme into a chart-topping music career, but that is why Doja Cat is so special. It has been obvious since she first went viral that she has unbelievable talent. On her first studio record, Hot Pink, she showed that she has one of the most diverse musical styles out there. It seems like she can do anything; from R&B to Hip Hop to Pop to even Rock, she is able to excel at whatever kind of music she wants to. She doubled down on this with her record Planet Her. On this record, it seems like she does not have any limits or boundaries. She can make music that sounds like it came from the 90s and music that sounds like it came from the future. She can get anyone she wants to feature on her music and sound so natural with that person. Doja Cat is one the most diverse artists I have heard of in a long time. There is something for all music fans on Planet Her. It shows that she is one of the biggest Pop stars in the world and that she is here to say.
Vince Staples – Vince Staples
Vince Staples is another artist who has always gone against the grain. It seems like he is never satisfied with being similar to the status quo. He always wants to do his own thing and does not want to fit into anyone’s mold of what it means to be a star in Hip Hop. He has always had an affinity for old-school West Coast Hip Hop, which has always made him stand out in the landscape of Hip Hop music today. This love for 90s West Coast rap is very prevalent on his 2021 album, Vince Staples. This record sounds like it is very influenced by artists like Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, and Warren G. On this record, Vince Staples combines classic G-Funk with modern laid-back Trap music. It is an interesting sound that you will probably not hear from anyone else. Vince Staples shows that he knows exactly what he is great at on his album Vince Staples, and it proves that he has a lane carved out in Hip Hop music today that is entirely his own.
The House Is Burning – Isaiah Rashad
Isaiah Rashad is an artist who was thought of as the next Hip Hop protege to come out of label TDE for quite a while. After his album The Sun’s Tirade came out in 2016, many people thought he had the potential to become the next Kendrick Lamar. He has a vocal style that is so unique and addicting to listen to, and he bares his all in his lyrics in a way that helps listeners love and relate to him in a special way. Unfortunately, due to substance abuse issues and lack of motivation, his career got derailed for a while. It ended up taking 5 years for him to announce that he had another album coming out. This record, The House Is Burning, came out in the summer of 2021. The House Is Burning is proof that Isaiah Rashad is still one of the most talented MCees out there, and that he is completely focused now. This record bounces back and forth between modern Trap and laid-back West Coast blog era style Hip Hop, and Isaiah Rashad kills it on every beat. He is still one of the most exciting artists making West Coast Hip Hop, and he deserves his flowers for The House Is Burning.
Donda – Kanye West
If there is one thing that is certain about Kanye, it is that he will always try to push boundaries and come up with the next big thing in Hip Hop. Throughout his career, he has been known to influence major changes in the way Hip Hop sounds. After almost every single one of his records(sometimes immediately and sometimes a couple of years later), the largest themes in Hip Hop have seemed to change to reflect what he did on those records. Donda is a record that may seem a little strange now, but I honestly feel like it will have a profound effect on Hip Hop. His use of otherworldly synths on this record is an extension of what has been going on in the underground Cloud Trap movement. He is bringing to the forefront a style of Hip Hop that has been exploding in the underground internet movements. So much of Donda feels futuristic and atmospheric; it creates a strange feeling that is close to euphoria but also feels a little tainted. Donda is a record that will be very influential for years to come, and we will look back on it as a game-changer soon.
Sling – Clairo
Clairo has been one of the premier Indie artists ever since she went viral in 2017. Her two viral hits, ‘Flaming Hot Cheetos’ and ‘Pretty Girl,’ turned her into the quintessential Indie darling. Although her viral hits in 2017 had an ultra-modern Lo-Fi sound, her debut album Immunity has an old-school Dream Pop, Soft Rock, and Folk theme to it. This record was critically acclaimed, and it immediately turned Clairo into a star in the Indie music world. On her 2021 record, Sling, Clairo doubled down on all of her favorite old-school influences. This album sounds even less modern than her first. It is a lot more inspired by Folk music than Immunity. On Sling, Clairo seemed to ditch the Dream Pop element to her music and went solely with a classic Soft Rock and Folk-Pop sound. One of my favorite things about Sling is how emotionally vulnerable Clairo is on it. Clairo lets all of her emotions run free on this record, and she lets the listener into her life in a super intimate way. Sling is a record that shows off how mature Clairo has become as an artist and person in the short time she has been famous, and it proves that she is one of the biggest stars in the Indie music scene right now.
Where Have All The Flowers Gone? – Deb Never
As I have mentioned before in this list, one of the things that draws me to artists more than anything is when they like to think completely outside of the box; I love when artists refuse to play by the rules of genres. Deb Never is an artist that is tough to classify. I guess that technically she should be considered Indie or Alternative, but her sound is not very similar to most other artists who make those kinds of music. Deb Never makes music that seems to be very inspired by 90s slacker Rock and Post Grunge but is equally as influenced by Hip Hop. A lot of her music has a Hip Hop tempo to it, and a lot of her vocal deliveries have rap flows. On her record Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Deb Never excels at her signature sound. I feel like fans of Lo-Fi and calm Hip Hop music would enjoy her just as much as fans of Alternative music. Deb Never is known to bear all of her emotions in her music, and this is more true than ever on Where Have All The Flowers Gone? She is a hopeless romantic, and she lets the listener into her mind in a personal way on this project. Deb Never is one of the most exciting rising artists in the Indie music scene right now, and this record does a great job of showing off how talented she is.
Screen Violence – Chvrches
When Chvrches first become popular in the early 2010s, I always felt like they were ahead of their time. They made this extremely bright, vibrant, and fun Synth Pop music that had such a futuristic quality to it. They stood out so much in the Alternative music scene because there was truly no one like them. Throughout the years, they have still always sounded like they would be even bigger if they came out in the future. In 2021, I think their music fits in more than it ever has. In a Pop music landscape that is dominated by Synths that sound like they are inspired by the 1980s, Chvrches slides right in perfectly. Their 2021 record, Screen Violence, has a Goth Rock undertone. Even though it is still dominated by their signature Synths, the tone and lyrical style of the record remind me so much of artists like The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Chvrches’ style of music is perfect for 2021. It has a colorful and sparkling sound, but a dark lyrical undertone. Screen Violence is the quintessential Alternative Synth-Pop record for 2021.
eat ya veggies – bbno$
Over the last few years, a movement has risen online of artists that are referred to as ‘Comedy Hip Hop” or “Meme Rap.” It is characterized by artists who do not take themselves very seriously, and who take a light-hearted approach to the way they make Hip Hop. They are still very talented MCees, they just like to have fun and be silly in their music. One of the artists who has been at the forefront of this music is bbno$. He has become so popular online that he even had his 2019 single ‘Lalala’ make it onto the Billboard Hot 100 list. His 2021 record, eat ya veggies, has old school theme to it that bounces back and forth between Disco music and British Drum n’ Bass style EDM music. There are no instrumentals on this album that would be considered remotely traditional in the current landscape of Hip Hop music, but it still works so well. bbno$ has so many flows that just seem to work perfectly with these old-school beats. eat ya veggies is probably the least traditional Hip Hop albums of 2021, but it is also one of the top Hip Hop albums of the year.
WEIGHT OF THE WORLD – Maxo Kream
Out of all of the great Trap rappers to emerge over the last several years, Maxo Kream is one that has been a bit slept on. In my opinion, he just has not gotten the amount of credit that he deserves. I have always wondered if this is because of the more old-school nature he has to the way he raps. Even though he raps on a lot of modern and almost futuristic Trap instrumentals, the way he raps is so reminiscent of rappers from the late 1990s and early 2000s. This is because of the storytelling nature he has in his rapping. It is obvious he is inspired by the great storytellers of the late 1990s like Biggie Smalls and Nas. On his 2021 album, WEIGHT OF THE WORLD, Maxo Kream doubles down on his storytelling ways. WEIGHT OF THE WORLD is full of cautionary tales about Maxo Kream’s life. As successful as he is now, things have not always been easy for Maxo. Also, because of the decisions he has made, he has ended up losing a lot of people that were close to him over the years. WEIGHT OF THE WORLD is an album with a modern Trap sound and an old-school lyrical feel, and it stands out in a big way among the current Hip Hop landscape.
An Evening With Silk Sonic – Silk Sonic
Before 2021, I do not know if there was one person that would have thought Anderson.Paak and Bruno Mars would or should form a group together. Bruno Mars has been when of the biggest Pop Stars for a decade, and Anderson.Paak has emerged as a staple on the outskirts of the R&B and Hip Hop scenes over the last 8 years or so. Both artists have always been influenced by old-school Soul and Funk music, though, and both of them have always been known as excellent singers and awesome instrumentalists who have extraordinary swagger. It turns out what they each bring to the table compliments the other artist perfectly. They are very similar in the way they approach making music, and their respective attention to detail and ability to constantly morph themselves is so equivalent to each other as well. An Evening With SIlk Sonic is an ode to their favorite Disco, Funk, and Soul artists of the 60s and 70s. This record honestly sounds like it could have been released 40 years ago. Even though it sounds like it came from another decade, An Evening With Silk Sonic is still one of the best records of 2021(if not the best). I hope this is not the only collaboration between Anderson.Paak and Bruno Mars that we get to see, because these two are meant to make music together.
Live Life Fast – Roddy Ricch
Roddy Ricch took the world by storm two years ago when he released his debut record Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial. That record was lauded for being unconventional and unordinary among the landscape of Trap music; from the instrumentals used to the variety of unique vocal styles that came from Roddy Ricch, it was praised because it pushed boundaries. Weirdly, even though a lot of those same qualities are prevalent in Live Life Fast, this record did not receive nearly as much acclaim. I feel like Roddy Ricch made even more of an effort to think outside the box and be different on Live Life Fast, and a lot of mainstream Trap music fans were not necessarily ready for what he was trying to do. This album is full of off-the-wall melodic instrumentals that are a little more Poppy than what is typical in Trap music today, and it is not what most people were expecting. Live Life Fast still has so much quality, though, and I think it will be influential on melodic Trap music in the coming years. Trap music fans may not realize it yet, but I think this album will be looked back at as being a blueprint for how melodic Trap is going to continue to change in the near future.