As we find ourselves in the second half of 2023, there’s already a long list of albums we’ve been streaming on repeat. This year, however, has unfolded a bit differently than the best album roundups in years past. Looking back to 2022’s end-of-year roundup, rap dominated the list, with contributions from Kendrick Lamar, Megan Thee Stallion, Metro Boomin and Pusha T and more.
As late as June, it was revealed that not a single hip-hop project had charted a No. 1 spot on either the Billboard Hot 100 or Billboard 200 charts, compared to the six No. 1 albums we had received by the same month last year. It wasn’t until Lil Uzi Vert‘s Pink Tape in July did hip-hop earn its first chart-topper of the year. The reason behind this was largely attributed to the fact that most of hip-hop’s heavyweights had already put out projects in 2022 and most likely wouldn’t be returning with much more new music in 2023. On a more positive note, it also pointed to the proliferation of other musical genres, from Afrobeats to R&B to indie pop.
Whether you’re looking to expand your horizons beyond rap or simply want a primer for the past six months in music, Hypebeast has rounded up the best music projects of 2023 so far.
boygenius – the record
boygenius fans have been vying for a full-length album since the supergroup released its boygenius EP back in 2018. Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker (a.k.a boygenius) have brought the same cathartic lyricism and vocal versatility they did on the six-song EP to debut studio album the record. The 12-track album hauntingly amalgamates each artist’s vocals while also spotlighting Bridgers, Dacus and Baker each as individual musicians. Running at 42 minutes, the record takes listeners on an emotional rollercoaster that hits stops at soul-scorching ballads (“Cool About It” and “We’re In Love”), hard rock hits (“$20” and “Satanist”) and introspective interludes (acapella opener “Without You Without Them” and mid-way through “Leonard Cohen”). The album closes with “A Letter To An Old Poet,” which includes a nod to the fan favorite “Me And My Dog” from boygenius.
Daniel Caesar – Never Enough
On Never Enough, R&B’s Daniel Caesar fields questions of identity, insecurity and the construction of oneself. The Toronto artist’s music has always been underlined by philosophical themes – his 2017 debut album was entitled Freudian – but his new and third studio LP sees embrace an unflinching mode of self-analysis more than ever before. The tracklist itself is a work out art, seeing Caesar dip into the rhythmic, catchy “Do You Like Me?” before crooning on the vibey “Valentina.” “Sometimes I landed on something stripped back and other times I’m like, ‘no, this complicated thing is right,’” Caesar told Hypebeast in an April interview. “There are definitely songs that are cool and disillusioned. And there are other songs with these quiet moments of simplicity.”
Gunna – a Gift and a Curse
Gunna goes featureless on the fifteen-track a Gift and a Curse. The YSL rapper’s introspective LP, which marks his first project since his 2022 arrest on RICO charges, follows Gunna through some of his darkest days behind bars, as well as his regular ole days (“dripping sweat like the sauna” and pushing lots of P). The album came two years after Gunna’s last, DS4EVER – and just one week before Thugger’s BUSINESS IS BUSINESS album. “Backatit” appropriately opens a Gift and a Curse, as the rapper repeats “Back at it / Smokin’ this ‘Scotti, this shit startin’ to hit like it’s crack in it / The boy got the rock and he sleep at the top like a crack addict” over the building piano beat. Gunna leans into similarly musically inspired beats (with guitars “i was just thinking”) while still delivering lots of classic Wunna beats (“ca$h$hit” and “born rich) complemented by his signature buttery, effortless flow.
Janelle Monáe – The Age of Pleasure
Janelle Monáe has mastered the fine line between conceptual music and songs that are truly enjoyable to listen to. It’s a skill evidenced on her last album, 2018’s critically acclaimed, Grammy-nominated Dirty Computer. Five years later, Monáe returned in full force on the compact, 31-minute long The Age of Pleasure. The singer continues to defy expectations, drawing from Afrobeats for a complex but smooth record that celebrates self love and female sexuality.
Kali Uchis – Red Moon in Venus
The album concept of dissecting love isn’t necessarily new, but Kali Uchis’ method of viewing love (and all its forms) through the lens of femininity and domesticity is what makes Red Moon in Venus a standout record. On the lyrical front, she remains honest and true to how flimsy the feeling and aftereffects of love actually are. The track “I Wish You Roses” first presents a no-hard-feelings message up until she taunts “You’re gonna want me back” in the song’s final seconds; the half-Spanish, half-English “Hasta Cuendo” hears her zeroing in on an ex and his new woman; and a cut like “Moral Conscience” takes a deep dive into her cosmic revenge for childhood wrongs. Uchis then places her brilliant and confident songwriting atop lush and heavenly production from the likes of Yussef Dayes, P2J, WondaGurl, Sounwave and Cashmere Cat, who all very clearly understood the album’s purpose to help create a concise, cohesive and celestial body of work.
KAYTRAMINÉ – KAYTRAMINÉ
KAYTRAMINÉ, the musical duo of KAYTRANADA and Aminé, has always been destined for success. Putting two of the industry’s most dynamic artists can only lead to something great, and in this case, it was the creation of a self-titled album that will have you bouncing on your seat from start to finish. Across the 11 tracks, the pair and their collaborators — Freddie Gibbs, Pharrell Williams, Big Sean, Amaarae and Snoop Dogg — exude everything from sleek to confident, polished and impressive. There is an evident mutual creative understanding between KAYTRANADA and Aminé, with KAYTRAMINÉ serving as proof of a technique that allows them to sonically flourish as individuals without outdoing one another.
King Krule – Space Heavy
When Archy Marshall a.k.a. King Krule broke into the mainstream a decade ago with 6 Feet Beneath The Moon — an album Hypebeast previously named as one of the best albums to listen to while staying at home — he dove into a sonic space that was almost unrecognizable. Space Heavy is an expansion of that uncomfortable and almost eerie yet uncompromising sound, but with 10 years and three more King Krule studio projects under his belt, Marshall has become the master of that sonic space. He remains grounded with the hazy fusion of genres that made 6 Feet Beneath The Moon an instant favorite, but the stronger sense of control, sharper tones and elevated lyricism of Space Heavy separates it from its predecessors that have all shined in their own rights.
Lil Yachty – Let’s Start Here
Many critics were suspicious when Lil Yachty said he was going to put out a “psychedelic rock” album. The Georgia-born artist has made his name off of trap, particularly for light-hearted songs like his DRAM collaboration “Broccoli.” When Yachty debuted Let’s Start Here, he more than proved that he could excel at other genres. Rather than rapping, his vocals turned to a more gentle singing form – a pleasant surprise to listeners – laid over experimental rock and jazz instrumentals. At just 25 years old, Yachty’s still early in his career, and as this LP proved his potential to reinvent himself, it’ll be exciting to see where he goes from here.
Skrillex – Quest for Fire
As his first album in nine years, fans set a high bar for Skrillex’s Quest for Fire. The resulting project was an homage to the veterans of electronic music. Although technically a solo album, Skrillex called on producers and artists from every corner of the dance music industry. In addition to Fred again.. and Four Tet – who went on to join Skrillex for his headlining Coachella set – Quest for Fire features guest appearances from Aluna, Eli Keszler, Pete Wentz, Starrah, Swae Lee, Noisia, Flowdan, Bobby Raps, Nai Barghouti and 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady. For electronic music fans specifically, it was a celebratory moment to see their cult favorites link up with one of the most popular DJs of the past decade.
Tyler, the Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST: The Estate Sale
After releasing one of 2021’s albums of the summer CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, Tyler, The Creator returned to the project earlier this year to offer up CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST: The Estate Sale, featuring an additional eight tracks. The initial iteration of the album was cohesive and complete as is, therefore each song Tyler added had to be deeply intentional – and they were. The whimsical “EVERYTHING MUST GO” introduces us to the album’s new chapter, closing by posing the question: “What more is left for us?” Tyler enlists a stacked lineup of collaborators to show us there is, in fact, a lot left for us. He taps Vince Staples for “STUNTMAN,” A$AP Rocky for “WHARF TALK” and YG for “BOYFRIEND, GIRLFRIEND.” The Estate Sale is a leisurely listen – and the new tracks offer more of a mystical feel to the jet-setting journey of an album.