2023 was a surprising year in music, to say the least. It played out with long-awaited releases and even the appearances of artists who many thought would never drop.
At the time of writing, many of us are still reeling from André 3000’s surprise debut album New Blue Sun — which, of course, shocked listeners, not only because of the fact that 3 Stacks had actually released a full-length effort, but also because of the record’s contents. If anything though, this is a teachable moment for music fans everywhere that growth can be present in different ways. Travis Scott’s UTOPIA, Teezo Touchdown’s How Do You Sleep At Night? and Doja Cat’s Scarlet are all testaments to the respective artists’ growth, and find them in powerful positions that will only push them deeper into their artistry.
As the Hypebeast roundup arrives early in the month of December, it would be amiss not to mention the records that are due to come out later in the month. This includes Nicki Minaj’s highly-anticipated Pink Friday 2, which will undoubtedly solidify her legacy and impact even more.
André 3000 - New Blue Sun
For his first album in 17 years, the bar was already high and yet, André 3000 was nonetheless able to surprise his listeners. Fans never expected that the rapper, who is best known as one-half of the hip-hop duo OutKast, would put out a project consisting entirely of instrumental tracks. When he began teasing New Blue Sun, André jokingly warned fans that it contained “no bars.” Instead, he performs a variety of different flutes, including the contrabass and wind controller, for 87 minutes. Carlos Niño executive produced the project alongside André, and a variety of musicians were brought in to contribute across eight meditative, New Age tracks.
Bad Bunny – nadie sabe lo que va a pasar mañana
In Bad Bunny’s nadie sabe lo que va a pasar mañana (Nobody Knows What Will Happen Tomorrow), he furthers his braggadocious cause. His past projects have heard him talk about the problems that plague his beautiful Puerto Rico, but this time around, he goes in with a funny and raunchy angle with a sonically explorative backdrop. With his extensive list of achievements in 2023 alone (the international icon for WWE 2K23 and breaking Spotify records), Benito wants everyone to know that he is free of any pressure or expectations placed upon him. If the murmur is true and nadie sabe lo que va a pasar mañana turns out to be his last album in a while, at least fans can keep on dancing until the next one comes.
Doja Cat - Scarlet
Doja Cat may have burst onto the scene as an internet-inspired hyperpop act, seemingly engineered for TikTok virality, but on Scarlet, she’s evolved and matured, returning with a more nuanced, layered sound — though she’s still giving fans the Doja they know and love. For her fourth studio album and the follow-up to 2012’s Planet Her, the singer looked to R&B and hip-hop for inspiration, fusing elements of the styles with contemporary pop music. Beyond mere sound, Doja particularly shines in her developed lyricism. The bars are harder, wittier and, counter to critics who may try to put her in a box, Doja proves once again she can truly deliver hard-hitting raps, even while dabbling in other genres.
Kali Uchis – Red Moon in Venus
Kali Uchis’ dissection of love results in a celestial exploration on Red Moon in Venus. Aided by guest features from Omar Apollo, Don Toliver and Summer Walker and lush production from the likes of Yussef Dayes, P2J, WondaGurl, Sounwave and Cashmere Cat, the record puts Uchis’ self-awareness and femininity on the forefront. While she can touch on the wounds caused by another party, she also looks inward in order to heal her inner child. Red Moon in Venus may be a project about love, but it doesn’t come across as a selection of tracks fuelled by bitterness and rage — it’s cohesive, therapeutic and inspiring, and takes on a refreshingly new angle on “love.”
Olivia Rodrigo - GUTS
Let Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS take you back to the chaos of your early 20s. Although her life experiences as a young star are drastically different than the average 20-something, she still went through the grueling phase of transitioning into adulthood. She bares her guts across the 12-track album and doesn’t let her superstardom cover up the intimate details she chooses to share with listeners. In fact, she humors us. GUTS is, at its very core, a close look at the thought process of how young adults handle similar problems the older generation faced — except now, they have the added pressure of social media and, in Rodrigo’s case, the tricky path of fame. The record will remind you of how grateful you are to be past that time in your life, but it can also make you miss the mess of it all. She summarizes the metamorphosis with a lyric in “Bad Idea Right?” — ”F*ck it, it’s fine.”
Róisín Murphy – Hit Parade
Irish singer Róisín Murphy’s Hit Parade was a true labor of love, written and recorded over the course of several years. After emerging as one-half of the pop duo Moloko in the 1990s, Murphy has spent the past few decades fine-tuning her solo work, an eclectic style of dance music, often punctuated by jazz instruments. Though Murphy has amassed a cult following of her own, the LP’s production and instrumentals were bolstered by the work of some of the younger generation’s tastemakers, namely DJ Koze and Laufey. True to its title, Hit Parade was nothing short of a hit, particularly on the seven-minute “You Knew.”
Slayyyter - STARFUCKER
Slayyyter holds a lens up to the ecstasy and excess of Hollywood on her sophomore album, the satirical STARFUCKER. Taking notes from the electropop sound that dominated 1980s music and advancing the more typical pop song introduced on her debut Troubled Paradise, the singer refreshes the genre for a new generation of listeners who have grown up at a time when the influence of celebrity culture and social media is seemingly inescapable. STARFUCKER is a no-skips collection of songs, ranging from the pre-game hype tracks to harder, techno club bangers.
Teezo Touchdown – How Do You Sleep At Night?
After introducing himself on UTOPIA (“Modern Jam”) — and later on as part of Drake’s For All The Dogs — Teezo Touchdown proved he’s a force to be reckoned with on his debut album How Do You Sleep At Night? The genre-defying, boundary-blurring, nail-headed musician got the cosign from Drake before the album dropped (calling it “some of the best music ever) and enlisted an intentional lineup of featured artists who would elevate the experimental album: Janelle Monáe, Foushée and Isaiah Rusk. With his artistic versatility at the forefront, How Do You Sleep At Night? sees the Texas rapper flex his melodic muscles, infusing punk guitar runs, upbeat indie melodies and even electronic production throughout the LP. Teezo Touchdown not only exists in the interim between rap and rock, but he continues to define what this interim even is – How Do You Sleep At Night? is a great example.
Travis Scott - UTOPIA
Travis Scott’s UTOPIA took the world by storm months (actually years) before it even dropped, with Scott championing an immersive UTOPIA universe for the release rollout. When the album – 19 songs and a stacked lineup of features – finally landed at the end of July, the wait proved worth it. With collaborators including Beyoncé, Drake, 21 Savage, Playboi Carti, Young Thug, Westside Gunn, Bad Bunny, SZA, Kid Cudi, Future, James Blake, The Weeknd, Bon Iver, Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Yung Lean, Swae Lee, Teezo Touchdown, Rob49 and even Dave Chapelle, La Flame brought an auditory utopia down to earth. With big shoes to fill – Scott’s first album since 2018’s ASTROWORLD – and all eyes on him – also his first solo release since 2021’s Astroworld tragedy – the rapper had to deliver on his fourth studio album. Equipped with unparalleled, synth-heavy production and a handful of Kanye West-inspired beats, UTOPIA finds Scott in a new sonic sphere – and we think it suits him.
Troye Sivan - Something To Give Each Other
Troye Sivan’s third album Something To Give Each Other not only garnered great critical acclaim but also cemented the Australian musician as Gen-Z’s favorite dreamy, dancing pop persona. Sivan reentered the scene with “Rush,” kicking off the album release with a bang; the upbeat cut sees Sivan front a captivatingly choreographed music video, almost as if he’s telling us “I’m back.” The album’s second single “Got Me Started” and third single “One Of Your Girls” continued the momentum and showcased different sides of Sivan’s electropop evolution. 10 tracks long and complete with just one collaboration – with Spanish singer and guitarist Guitarricadelafuente – Something To Give Each Other sees Sivan expand his artistry by leaps and bounds in comparison to his Blue Neighborhood debut, while also asserting more confidence and certainty than he did on 2018’s Bloom.