Our Annual Report continues with our list of the Best Rap Albums of 2023. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and interviews about the best music, film, and TV 2023 had to offer. You can find it all in one place here.
While putting together the shortlist of candidates for the best hip-hop albums of 2023, a fascinating pattern emerged: a large percentage of the top records this year were released without any sort of backing from a major label. After some careful consideration, we decided to use this opportunity to highlight these independently produced efforts. Call it a retort to the complaint that “there’s no good hip-hop being released anymore.”
There’s not enough space here to debate all the pros and cons of partnering with a major label versus staying independent, especially since the definition of an indie artist has become more nebulous over time. However, there’s never been a better time to operate outside of the confines of the big machine. Thanks to more prevalent digital distribution and artist services platforms, there’s no need to give up ownership of one’s records and creative freedom to reach the masses.
While that unlimited creative freedom doesn’t automatically produce better art, it does give artists more time to experiment and find the sound that works for them right now, whether they are rising stars gaining a foothold or established veterans trying something different. It’s truly magic when an artist’s vision and talent come together to produce an undeniable body of work, and that’s true of every entry on the list.
After recently celebrating its 50th anniversary, hip-hop still has plenty of room for growth both as a culture and genre of music. This collection of albums simultaneously serves as proof of how far it’s come and hints at where it could go in the future.
So fire up your streaming service of choice while scrolling through this list; we’re confident there’s at least an album or two befitting your taste. Here are the best rap albums of 2023 released without the aid of a major label.
— Eddie Fu