MUSIC REVIEW: HIP-HOP | A LOOK BACK AT THE MOST POPULAR ALBUMS OF 2021

Artwork by Luke Brower ‘24

by Charlie Schmatz ‘22

Throughout 2021, record-breaking hip-hop albums captured the attention of people around the world. Big-name artists such as Kanye West, J. Cole, and Drake all “dropped” albums for the first time in years. 

Donda by Kanye West

Overview: After many teasers by West, Donda, one of the most anticipated albums of the year, finally dropped on August 21st. In the weeks leading up to its release, West held various listening parties (two in Atlanta, one in Chicago) where he previewed the songs that would be featured on his album. Donda was one of the more interesting albums of 2021, infusing elements of both hip-hop and gospel. With the album’s name, West pays tribute to his mother, Donda West, who passed away in 2007. The album includes features from many hit artists such as The Weeknd, Kid Cudi, Playboi Carti, Lil Baby, and Jay-Z. On the day of its release, Donda was streamed more than 60 million times in the U.S. and reached #1 in 152 countries on Apple Music’s Top Albums chart.

Opinion: 10/10. Donda was the best album of 2021. From its production, to its features, to the inspiration behind the music, this album was near-perfect all around. The blend of hip-hop and gospel separates Donda from all of the other albums dropped this year. It undoubtedly adds to West’s legacy, which many consider to be the greatest discography of all time. Best songs include “Hurricane,” “Jail,” and “Come to Life.”

The Off-Season by J. Cole

Overview: J. Cole’s sixth studio album, The Off-Season, dropped on May 14th of this past year. This was one of the most highly-anticipated albums of 2021, as it was set to be Cole’s first album release since 2013. In terms of features, Cole kept it short and sweet with vocals from popular artists 21 Savage and Lil Baby. The Off-Season was immediately recognized as one of the better albums that the legendary rapper has ever released—especially from a lyrical standpoint. Cole’s lyrics in The Off-Season offer insight into the rapper’s personal character, and they show the rest of the rap industry that his career is far from over; he is only getting better. At the time of its release, The Off-Season accumulated over 325 million streams, beating out all other albums in 2021.

Opinion: 7/10. The Off-Season was a solid album from an individual who many consider to be on the “Mount Rushmore” of rap. Cole showcased the type of rapper he is (and will continue to be) with his lyrical prowess and mellow, smooth flow. However, The Off-Season falls short of a “no-skip”album. There are certain songs that make the album good, but it ultimately lacks consistency. Best songs include “9 5 . s o u t h” and “p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l.”

Certified Lover Boy by Drake

Overview: Two weeks after the release of former rival Kanye West’s Donda, Drake released his long-awaited sixth studio album: Certified Lover Boy. The album blends what Drake has accomplished as an artist with who he is as a person. CLB is a personal, polished album from one of the greatest rappers of all time. In addition, the album has a long feature list, including rappers such as Lil Wayne, Kid Cudi, Travis Scott, and Future. With its release, Certified Lover Boy set a record for the most U.S. top-ten singles from one album.

Opinion: 8.5/10. Drake did an exceptional job with Certified Lover Boy and gave fans exactly what they wanted.  Throughout the album his lyrics are relatable and catchy, while the production itself is incredible. His feature choices are sure to satisfy a wide range of listeners. Certified Lover Boy is just shy of a perfect score, however, because (similar to The Off-Season) there are a few misses when listening from start to finish. Best songs include “IMY2.”

Honorable Mentions: Punk by Young Thug, Fighting Demons by Juice WRLD, and Call Me If You Get Lost by Tyler, the Creator.