By Daniel Paiz
WELCOME TO THE 10TH INSTALLMENT!
A BRIEF WORD BEFORE DIVING IN…
2021 was a year meant to be different than 2020 but turns out that difference was marginal. Concerts and tours returned in the second half of the year, but some tour dates are starting to get pushed into 2022. If you’ve managed to make it through this year, that’s wonderful news and it’s great you’re here. Let’s hope 2022 is another step towards some newfangled version of normalcy, built upon 2020 and 2021.
…AND NOW BACK TO THE SHOW!
2021 had all kinds of music released and it was impossible to listen to all of it. Just like in 2020, one’s best efforts proved futile in trying to listen to as much as possible. Grading eligibility this year was determined by the album release date; if that date was between December 1st, 2020, and November 13th, 2021, then it was considered. Albums after Nov. 13th will be considered for the 2022 Awards process (so for example, the Apollo Brown-Stalley and Nas-Hit-Boy projects would qualify for 2022).
Determining the Seven Best albums of 2021 was strenuous. Countless artists introduced the masses to spellbinding projects to distract from the ongoing COVID pandemic. These artists earned one of the seven spots by delivering a wide array of sounds. The Honorable Mentions also might look familiar, yet smaller this year. The number was reduced to five, in order to make those spots more honorable and not detract from the seven best.
In addition to the Seven Best and Honorable Mentions selections, other awards will include the Most Underrated Artist of 2021, the Hardest Working, the Capital Steez Award (read that section for more info on the name), and the Next One Up Award. For your entertainment (and ours) we present to you the Seven Best albums of 2021.
OUR SEVEN BEST ALBUMS OF 2021 ARE:
One of the rare albums where Rock and Hip Hop are equally utilized to give us a rough record of imperfection. This project has self-contained episodes in some songs, while other tracks help to build towards the overall concept. Pharoahe Monch delivers veteran rhymes with ease, reminding listeners that experienced emcees still have plenty to say.
6. Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
The way in which this album transitions between songs, that fluid motion throughout is simply marvelous. Simz drops bars on exquisite beats, flexing her skills time and time again. Self-reflection abounds, delivering a space for listener and rhymer alike to ponder existentially. Honestly, Little Simz is going to be around for a while and now’s the best time to start listening.
5. Supaman: Medicine Bundle
The crossroads of cultures flows so well on this project. Supaman has crafted a tool kit for listeners, and it is sorely needed during this pandemic. The rhymes, the singing, the chanting, all of it blends with the rhythms and percussion naturally. Hip Hop from Native Americans keeps getting slept on, and this medicine from Supaman is just one of many that should wake you up.
4. Atmosphere: Word?
Everyday life is the muse that Slug and Ant are operating from for this album. Everyone who listens to this project are reminded to be there for others in our lives and to reflect on the decisions each person makes. This Atmosphere album fits their discography nicely when it comes to the range of emotions and topics you’ll encounter; long-time fans should enjoy this one a bit more if they’re paying attention.
Just like how the color is used in a myriad of ways, Blu delivers a spectrum of emotions on perspective on this album. A sleeper it seems due to the September 2021 release, this project is honestly one of the best of this year. The bars and beats gel well together, and Blu gives listeners just enough to ponder on each track. Only truly special projects would score higher than this one.
This isn’t something you see too often from an artist that has established themselves so well, this whole going thru the reps to improve their craft. The Offseason however is exactly that, a collection of songs where Cole is pushing himself while also interweaving braggadocio and storytelling together. Life, as it is for other artists, is the inspiration for the narratives Cole shares. Adjusting his style while also featuring a wide variety of other artists is a step the famously “platinum with no features” artist seemed unlikely to do. He proves all of us wrong, and Cole would be hard-pressed to find someone else as consistent as he is right now.
1. CZARFACE + MF DOOM: Super What?
Believe it or not, fun wins this year’s Album of the Year contest here at Cypher Sessions. The consistent comic book references, the clever lines from MF DOOM and members of CZARFACE (Inspectah Deck, 7L, and Esoteric) all over the place, and the way these guys tell stories is impressive. DOOM and CZARFACE have so much chemistry on a song, one ends their verse and the other picks up where things left off. Unfortunately for all Hip Hop fans, this is the last MF DOOM project we will hear (as far as we know). CZARFACE is absolutely worth checking out, as they have a lot of projects prior to this one.
- KRS ONE: Between Da Protests
- Evidence: Unlearning Vol. 1
- Murs: Love & Rockets Vol. 2
- Declaime & Madlib: In The Beginning Vol. 1
- DMX: Exodus
Best Hip Hop adjacent albums of 2021 (albums that had elements of Hip Hop but weren’t really solely Hip Hop):
- Terrace Martin: Drones
- The Grand Alliance: The Grand Alliance
- 88rising: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: The Album
- Los Mocochetes: Mucho Gusto
2021 had a large volume of music to sift through. However, there were some good albums, and then there were a few really good albums. This year’s beat productions seemed to outshine the lyrics; the rhymers also seemed to focus more on the feelings of the music, as opposed to solely focusing on bars. That could also be in part due to moods and vibes increasing in importance to some listeners.
This year’s race was basically between CZARFACE + MF DOOM, and J. Cole. All of the other artists were close to these two but didn’t seem to get close enough to take the top spots away. The Honorable Mentions were a song or two away from making the top seven slots. Feel free to look up every album mentioned, because there’s so much to work through.
THE MOST UNDERRATED ARTIST OF 2021:
CZARFACE seems to have a similar fanbase to Run The Jewels in that they are a very passionate bunch. So passionate, in fact, that it led this writer to believe that this group is a lot more popular than they actually are. The rise in popularity for comic books might have something to do with this group gaining listeners and notoriety, but the rhymes and beats they create are just so much fun. Pop culture seems like it hasn’t been vigorously sprinkled in rhymes like this for a while, but these guys seem to be one of several making it popular again. All of this is to say far too many people haven’t checked this group out; there are several albums available for your listening pleasure.
HARDEST WORKING ARTIST OF 2021:
In addition to getting on Twitch consistently and rapping freestyles, the LA emcee has also been working with independent artists during this pandemic all of 2021. While this might not be doing the same kind of work Nipsey Hussle (RIP!) was doing, it’s something I haven’t really encountered too much over the past few years. Couple that together with at least a solo project a year and consistent touring, and few others in Hip Hop are doing what Murs is right now.
THE CAPITAL STEEZ AWARD (OR, THE ARTIST WE WISHED WE KNEW MORE ABOUT AWARD):
[Capital Steez was a member of Pro Era and had a number of unique mixtapes. Steez’s life sadly ended years ago, and this award is given to artists who are offer something dope and unique to the masses.]
Usually, a solo project and a guest verse on an Atmosphere song wouldn’t be enough to gather a whole lot of interest. However, BlackLiq isn’t someone that comes off as a run of the mill rapper. His verses are intriguing in how they grab you and tend to stick out when surrounded by other verses. Often times the artists who have been added to this list have a larger body of work. They also tend to have something that sticks out about them; whether that’s last year’s winner The Four Owls or the namesake Capital Steez (STEEZ RIP!), each artist grabbed this writer’s ears. Stick around in 2022 and beyond to see why BlackLiq grabs yours too.
THE NEXT ONE UP AWARD
Simz’ fourth project Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is another puzzle piece that’s creating a picture grander than most might realize. The UK emcee has crafted tunes that have that certain timely and timeless quality that a lot of artists miss the mark on. A cameo in Venom: Let There Be Carnage is another one of those puzzle pieces showing how far Simz has come. There are a handful of artists that would’ve fit Venom’s feel, but Simz got the call. 2022 and beyond should prove that Simz is one of several UK artists that are going to have breakthrough talent into the US Hip Hop realm. Don’t be surprised if that becomes more and more common; last year’s winner Denise Chaila joins Little Simz as a new overseas artist that US fans will gravitate towards.
Ten editions have been graded, written, edited and published in what seems like the blink of an eye. This 10th Annual Cypher Sessions Year End Awards has reached its natural end. I would just like to thank everyone for reading this article, and for checking out previous editions and any articles written on Cypher Sessions. Whether you’ve been here since 2012 or just started reading it is greatly appreciated.
There’s no giant budget with a marketing team here. There’s not a team of a dozen or so writers. It’s basically the author of this article, with the very rare guest feature from one or two other creatives. Writing and editing takes time. Every time somebody reads something and shares their thoughts, it is honestly pretty great for this writer.
If 2021 was a hard time for you for any particular reason, I wish you a better 2022. If it was a good one, hopefully it gets even better in the New Year. Take care and keep reading.