Predictions for best Rappers & Albums of 2021

Hello, my name is Michael Stephens, and I’d like to welcome you to “Around The Block” where I will be covering culture & hip hop. Overall, music has always been a passion of mine and has been a heavy influence throughout my family. Although I appreciate music in general, there is one genre that I love the most which is Hip-Hop/Rap. The reason I love Hip-Hop/Rap the most is because of the delivery in which the music is presented, I receive it the best. I also feel like out of all genres, Hip-Hop/Rap has the most versatility. To me, in Hip-Hop/Rap I think you’ll get good quality music regardless of what the subject matter is. There are so many different lanes in Hip-Hop/Rap in regards to the substance. Even though there are quite a few artists who get criticized for talking about things such as sex, gun violence, drugs, etc there are still a lot of songs out there containing this kind of content that still sounds great. Then you have the artists whose content contains social issues and other serious matters. Regardless of what the content is, the music can still be enjoyable, that’s the beauty of Hip-Hop/Rap. With all that being said, I’ve always been inspired to give/write reviews on different albums and artists. Whilst in my position with “Around the Block” I will be talking/writing a lot about Hip-Hop/Rap including upcoming artists, album reviews, song of the month, album of the year, best rapper, etc.

Since it is too early in the year to talk about the best rapper or best album of the year, I will just give you my predictions of 2021.

#1 J.Cole 

Firstly, I’m going to start by saying my dark horse pick for album of the year will be J.Cole and I say this without being biased since Cole is my favorite rapper. As a Cole fan, his career has been a roller coaster ride for me as it has consisted of both highs & lows just like any other artist. Going off of his last 2 projects (KOD, 4 Your Eyez Only) I felt as if Cole lost his hunger that he once had during his mixtape days. Even though in general consensus, 2014 FHD is his best album and a classic, I still say that his best project is the mixtape that won everybody’s hearts to begin with, Friday Night Lights. Friday Night Lights is Cole at his very absolute best and no one will convince me otherwise. If I were to give a new listener a starter guide to J.Cole, I am playing Friday Night Lights hands down. On this mixtape, Cole puts his rap skills on full display, showing his storytelling, lyricism, as well as his production skills. He was rapping like he had a point to prove, if you really listen you can feel and sense his hunger. Of course, once he finally made it to the top, that hunger went away for some time as he started to grow as an artist. Although I think the closest thing to Friday Night Lights that we got from Cole, is 2014 FHD it still was not Friday Night Lights. FHD might be his biggest album to date, but I still feel like his pen was at its peak on FNL. I still have been waiting on Cole to peak again, for him to find that hunger he once had. With all the years that have passed since FNL, I will tell you I have not been more excited to hear a Cole album more than I have been for the last 2 years. For the past 2 years, it feels like Cole has found that hunger he once had when he was trying to make it, is back. Ever since after his album KOD he has just been on an absolute tear. Listening to the feature run he went on from working with artists like 6lack, Jay Rock, Wale, 21 Savage, Big K.R.I.T, Moneybagg Yo, Anderson .paak, etc you can hear it. Throughout his feature run, Cole has showcased so many different flows showing he can hop on any style beat. Aside from the feature run, the verses he gave us on his record label compilation album “Revenge of the Dreamers 3” were also some of his best. To top that all off, the 2 singles he dropped last year were the icing on the cake. When I first heard “the climb back” I was immediately blown away because I have not heard Cole rap that well in a good minute. Also, it seems like with all the promo I have been seeing, it feels like “The Fall Off” just may very well be Cole’s last album. I feel like since it’s his last album, the only way for him to go out will have to be on top, rapping like he once did on FNL showcasing his full rap ability. 

#2 Pusha-T

This prediction may not be a popular one, since there are a lot of drake stans out there who dislike this man from the last time he was musically active. I don’t care what anyone says, Pusha is one of THE best rappers alive. The last time this man was active (2018) he hit an all-time peak and collected some W’s. He gave us one of the best albums of the decade and in my eyes is a classic, Daytona. The production on this album was absolutely phenomenal along with Pusha’s lyrics. I’m telling you every time I listen to this album I feel like I’m an invincible drug dealer. Despite not having the biggest fan base, Pusha’s acclaim hit an all-time high due to this Grammy nominating masterpiece and also due to being victorious in arguably the best rap “beef” of the decade. To add on to his album “Daytona”, and his notorious diss record “The Story of Adidon” he also has managed to stay sharp on features by giving us arguably the best rap verse of 2019 on “Palmolive” featuring himself and Killer Mike on Freddie Gibbs “Bandana” album. Say what you want to say about Pusha-T, but the man has not missed on a verse and he delivers EVERY single time. One thing I love about Pusha-T is that even his subject matter is always the same, he always finds new ways to deliver it, not having to recycle any of his coke lines/bars. He has confirmed to have a new project coming soon, all produced by the Neptunes and Kanye West. These guys bring out the best in Pusha. If his next project is just as good or better than Daytona, we are in for a treat in 2021. Pusha-T is my runner-up. 

#3 Freddie Gibbs

Just like Pusha-T, Freddie Gibbs also hit his peak in terms of acclaim/status & rap skills off of his last project, Alfredo. Alfredo was the best rap album of 2020 to me, and very much deserves the Grammy nomination it received. In my opinion, Freddie Gibbs has one of, if not the best flow/cadence in the rap game. There are not too many rappers I can name that have the ability to switch cadences/flows on one song as he does on his projects. He has built a solid catalog throughout his career, all of which have been highly critically acclaimed. Although I do think that producers like The Alchemist and Madlib bring out the best in Gibbs, I would like to see him take another lane working with other producers, because as I said before he has one of the best flows in the game and can jump on any beat. Aside from dropping some of the best rap albums over the last 3 years with “Fetti” (w/ Curren$y & The Alchemist) in 2018, “Bandana” (w/ Madlib) in 2019, and his most recent album “Alfredo” (w/ The Alchemist) in 2020, Gibbs has made it known that he is not taking his foot off the gas. In one of his recent Instagram posts, he posted a picture of an article headline by who has crowned him rap album of the year for the past 2 years (2020, 2019) indicating in his caption that he is “going for the 3peat.” With that being said, you definitely can’t go wrong with betting your last dollar on Gibbs dropping one of, if not the best rap album of 2021. If you’re new to Freddie Gibbs, I highly suggest you give his last 3 projects a listen. 

#4 Benny The Butcher

Let’s just be honest, you cannot talk about “Rap album of the year” candidates without mentioning the best rapper in New York at the moment. As far as rappers who hit their peak and won’t blossom until late age-wise, Benny the Butcher is definitely on that list. However, he still has blossomed nonetheless, giving us the highest-charting album on the Billboard 200 from his record label known as “Griselda.” Like his peer Freddie Gibbs, he has shown remarkable work also giving us some of the best rap albums over the last 3 years. I think I speak for a lot of fans when I say my only concern with the Butcher was him being one-dimensional. I do commend him for staying true to his roots and sound as I am a huge fan of old-school rap music, but for a second I thought his music would only have 1 lane/sound. Although his projects “Tana Talk 3” and “Plugs I Met” are projects that I feel would have most definitely thrived in the 90s era, they were missing something. I haven’t been able to find the right word for it but after listening to his most recent work “Burden of Proof” produced all by highly acclaimed producer Hit-Boy, I believe he finally fulfilled the hole that was empty from his previous 2 projects. The word is “enjoyment.” Even though I still don’t think Benny’s pen shines best over Hit-Boy production, he still gives us a refreshing new sound, as well as enjoyable. If we were going off of strictly enjoyment & replay value, “Burden of Proof” is his best project to date. Benny the Butcher has also shown his work ethic throughout features over the years showing he can rap with the best of them. His most recent standout verse is his featured verse on “Frank Lucas” off of Freddie Gibbs’ “Alfredo” album. It very well looks like Benny will continue his hot streak in 2021 as he has announced to drop “The Plugs I Met 2,” produced all by Harry Fraud on March 19th. I feel like we will get another refreshing new sound given the project is produced all by Harry Fraud. The Buffalo rapper has done a great job of drawing all eyes on him as well as on his label mates in Griselda, 2021 will be a promising year for Benny the Butcher. 

#5 Kendrick Lamar 

Last but certainly not least. Need I say more about this man? We all know what K.Dot brings to the table. Kendrick Lamar has no doubt acclaimed himself as the best rapper of the decade, having given 3 classics in a row. He gave one of the greatest/best debut rap albums with “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.” Followed it up with arguably the greatest album of all time “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Even though I believe TPAB is his least enjoyable album and has the least replay value, it still stands as one of, if not the most significant album ever and is a lyrical masterpiece. To Pimp a Butterfly remains his most important album, highlighting social/political issues such as culture, racial discrimination, etc. Having shown peaks on every album both musically and lyrically, he incorporates both the best on his most recent album “DAMN.” DAMN is the first album to win the Pulitzer prize outside of the genres jazz and classical. The problem is that his “most recent” album was 4 years ago. As we all have figured out throughout his career, there are huge year-long gaps between his albums. I guess it is both a good thing and a bad thing to be a Kendrick Lamar fan. The bad part about being a Kendrick Lamar fan is that there will be a drastically long wait before you get something new, whether it’s a single or an album. As a fan, this can be very frustrating and dissatisfying because you want new music from your favorites. Although I understand Kendrick is a master of his craft, 4 years is a very long time. However, the good thing about it is, like all of his previous projects, it will be WELL worth the wait. Every Kendrick album has aged very well as they all currently still sit on the Billboard 200 charts. There have been numerous rumors of Kendrick’s next album being heavily rock influenced, but as stated before, just rumors. We all know Kendrick reinvents himself on every single album, so there is no doubt in my mind he will thrive in whatever new sound he is experimenting with. Even though he has not been active for quite some time, he remains one of the top candidates for best Rap Album of the year every year. 

Again, these are just predictions. I have many more predictions when it comes to this particular topic, but these are my top 5 picks. I could be right, I could be wrong, but 2021 should still be a great year for Hip-Hop/Rap.

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