11th Annual Cypher Sessions Year End Awards!

By Daniel Paiz

Welcome to the 11th Annual Cypher Sessions Year End Awards! 2022 was a year full of immeasurable amounts of music releases, mixed with a full force return to concerts. A lot of acts got back on the road, while others shared how life’s been going, and still others teased us and pushed back their work till 2023. If you had a good 2022, that’s great to hear; if it was a year of trials and tribulations, hopefully 2023 will be that switch you need.

And here…we…GO

There was something different about 2022, and it felt like everyone released as MUCH music as POSSIBLE. Album Grading once again relied on the album release date; if that date was between November 14th, 2021, and November 11th, 2022, then it was deemed eligible. Albums after November 11th will be eligible for the 2023 grading process, and there’s a growing list due numerous December 2022 releases.

Figuring out the Seven Best Albums of 2022 was quite tumultuous. Because albums are shorter these days, there are more projects released, which means there’s more to sift through. A sonic spectrum of ideas and beats make up the seven you read before you. The Honorable Mentions were all very close but just missed the cut.

In addition to the Seven Best and Honorable Mentions selections, other awards will include the Most Underrated Artist of 2022, the Hardest Working, the Capital Steez Award (read that section for more info on the name), and the Next One Up Award. For your enjoyment (and ours) we present to you the Seven Best albums of 2022.

OUR SEVEN BEST ALBUMS OF 2022 ARE:

7. Run The Jewels: RTJ CU4TRO

Run The Jewels collaborates with a handful of artists from across North, Central, and South America to make magic happen a second time. A remix album, a mashup album, whatever you want to call it, Mike and Jaime have a lot of fun with all of these artists. The new sounds mesh so well with these two and give listeners rambunctious RTJ energy.

6. Black Thought & Danger Mouse: Cheat Codes

The musicality of Danger Mouse’s beats and creations are a natural fit with Black Thought dropping dimes here. Thought is a very talented rhymer. He uses his voice both to express ideas, and as an instrument of intrigue. Thought and Mouse have combined forces for an intriguing project.

5. Kojey Radical: Reason to Smile

Pencil it in now: every year there will be one UK rhymer who will put out something that will surprise and delight Hip Hop fans. This album starts out overtly smooth yet funky. The bars match the beats quite nicely. The features are just the right selections for each song. As things close out, there’s a shift to more narrative and less braggadocio, which ends things on a good note.

4. Nas: King’s Disease 3

This is the best installation of Nas’ King’s Disease series because it sounds like a rebirth, or evolution of sorts for the Queens emcee. The bars and delivery are hungry. There’s nostalgia, but also a recognition of what’s been learned from life thus far. The love of rhyme and music is abundantly clear for Mr. Jones. This guy keeps sounding timeless.

3. Kendrick Lamar: Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

Sharing trauma and working through what’s troubling a person is a powerful thing. Vulnerability is something that takes strength from a person, no matter how flawed they are. However, the cost of such powerful storytelling is not having deeper lines, ironically. The project is very accessible; but the wordsmithing has to be less complex in order to be available to more people. Complexity instead is taken up by the processing of emotions and feelings by Lamar throughout. A powerful album that will certainly be revisited by many.

2. Joey Bad@$$: 2000

This one is an interesting reflection on how one navigates life at a younger age, but also the topics approached during the time of 2000. It’s that shift in how one thinks about things between 1999 and 2000 that drew this listener’s ear in more than expected. Speaking about mental health here was also powerful and important and was more reflection and less conceptualizing. Fewer tracks can deliver a more concise message.

1. Lupe Fiasco: Drill Music in Zion

In a sense, Lupe Fiasco is one of the most cinematic rappers Hip Hop fans have ever experienced. The perspectives that Lupe raps from are unmatched; Precious Things is one of the most unique and thoughtful tracks in recent memory. The ideas, the images, the referential usage of items as mascots for points is unrivaled. Long after the music stops, this listener is still thinking about the lines heard on this album. There are levels when it comes to working through emotions and ideas, but there are also levels to describing and creating images that represent those aforementioned topics.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

  • CZARFACECZARMAGEDON!
  • Homeboy SandmanStill Champion
  • Phife DawgForever
  • Wiz Khalifa, Big K.R.I.T, Smoke DZA, Girl TalkFull Court Press
  • Big K.R.I.TDigital Roses Don’t Die

BEST HIP HOP ADJACENT ALBUMS OF 2022 (ALBUMS THAT HAD ELEMENTS OF HIP HOP BUT WEREN’T REALLY SOLELY HIP HOP, OR DIDN’T MEET GRADING CRITERIA):

  • Def Jam/Various Artists/Ludwig Göransson: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
  • DJ Premier: Hip Hop 50 Vol. 1
  • Bonobo: Fragments
  • Flume: Palaces

It doesn’t make any sense, but it felt like there were more albums out in 2022 than ever before. There was a nice shift from 2021 to 2022, where artists focused more on their bars and their storytelling. The overall level of lyricism improved over 2021. It was nice to hear more risks and ideas dropped in these songs.

This year’s race did not go as expected when writing out who would be listened to. Every single spot was within a half point or less of each other, and those top three above were surprising; not because of who was there, but the final order. Shout out to Lupe Fiasco for his 2022 album, it was both a work of art and a master’s class in writing rhymes. Kendrick Lamar makes his first appearance in a Cypher Sessions list and it’s for honestly the best album of his career. The Honorable Mentions were all very enjoyable projects but didn’t match the fire of the Seven Best listed above. However, all of the projects listed will give you something to bump if you’re looking for something that isn’t already in your rotation.

THE MOST UNDERRATED ARTIST OF 2022:

Big K.R.I.T

This is normally a spot that goes to a newer artist that is gaining some traction on the world wide web. K.R.I.T is bucking that trend because he has a large discography and decided to go in a new direction in 2022. Digital Roses Don’t Die is a departure from his previous albums, and he set out to make music that made him happy after the past few years of the pandemic. Switching stylistic lanes in such an uncertain time for creatives is a boldly brave choice, and one that deserves applause and flowers. K.R.I.T also did a collaborative album with Wiz Khalifa, Smoke DZA, and Girl Talk (all making their list debuts this year) and it was a project of having fun and showcasing their versatility and ideas. Salute to artists taking risks and putting out work that feeds themselves creatively first.

HARDEST WORKING ARTIST OF 2022:

Ludwig Göransson

This isn’t the first time Ludwig has made this list, and it likely won’t be the last either. Likely starting in 2021 and working through 2022, Göransson worked with musicians in Mexico to recreate the sounds of Mayan culture for the film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. He also worked with artists in Africa and across the Americas for that film’s score and soundtrack, which he executive produced. This soundtrack was completely different than the TDE/Kendrick Lamar iteration from 2018, and rightly so due to the changes in the story and characters. It was still a seamless project, despite working with such different artists and working with Def Jam to get this 2022 project completed. He also managed to compose and create music for the final season of the FX show Atlanta. Donald Glover’s show has such interesting social commentary on contemporary America, and Ludwig added to that with the sounds he concocted.

THE CAPITAL STEEZ AWARD (OR THE ARTIST WE WISHED WE KNEW MORE ABOUT AWARD):

MAIMOUNA YOUSSEF (AKA MUMU FRESH)

PC: Mumu Fresh gallery

[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.]

There are Indigenous artists in the United States, Canada, and across the globe that get overlooked simply because of their background. One such artist that has earned all her kudos is Mumu Fresh, who is Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee, and African American. The Baltimore emcee has worked with all kinds of artists, ranging from Black Thought and Tech Nine to Lynn Whitfield and Kamilah Forbes. What makes her worth checking out and worthy of the Captial Steez Award is that she speaks out about so much that’s important to her and keeps doing so through multiple creative lanes. There are a lot of artists who speak about societal ills, but there aren’t as many who work towards changing them.

THE NEXT ONE UP AWARD

Coast Contra

Viral freestyle videos, opening for the Flatbush Zombies at the iconic Red Rocks Ampitheater in Colorado, and putting out a very solid debut album in Apt. 505 is lightwork for these four fellas. Coast Contra is a hungry group of emcees who likely will be making noise for years to come. Ras Austin, Taj Austin, Rio Loz, and Eric Jamal have already had a handful of shows on both the West and East Coasts in the United States, and likely will keep playing more shows and festivals in 2023. The energy and creativity this group brings is what pulls in so many people. Pangea from their debut album is a great introduction to the group, if you haven’t watched them on social media yet.


Unlike the sands of time, this 11th 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 truly appreciated.

There’s no giant budget, there’s no marketing team, there’s not a team of a dozen or so writers. It’s mainly 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’s an honor for this writer. If you enjoy these artists, check out their work, and if you enjoy these words, please share them, comment, talk about them, get them to people you know please.

Here’s to 2022 ending better for everyone than it started, and to 2023 building upon what you’ve learned and done so far. Take care and keep reading.

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