2021 saw the world starting to recover from 2020, and naturally, music played a major role in that. If last year gave artists more time to devote to finishing creative endeavors, then this year was our chance to hear those efforts. All in all, 2021 was kind to music fans in need of superb albums, whether or not their favorite release had pandemic origins.
Established artists added onto their legacies, up-and-comers staked their claim in the industry, and some acts already on our radars elevated themselves to a new level. While Uproxx’s previous year-end best album lists were presented as a ranking, this year, we’re going un-numbered, because you don’t have to quantify music to appreciate it. (And really, is there a noteworthy distinction between the year’s 41st-best album and the 44th?) Also, please note that albums released in December 2020 are eligible for this list.
So, find our list of 2021’s 50 best albums, presented in alphabetical order, below.
Arlo Parks — Collapsed In Sunbeams
Arlo Parks was like a therapist during the pandemic. Originally beginning as poems, her songs are gorgeous ruminations on the depressive states that are all too common with young people today, and became magnified as we lived our lives in a locked-down state for months. The way her warm-voiced presentation of lyrics like “It’s so cruel, what your mind can do for no reason” (on “Eugene”) struck a chord with the loneliness millions were feeling in 2021 and were a salve in dire times. Collapsed In Sunbeams won the Mercury Music Prize as the top album in the UK, and also garnered a Grammy Award nomination for Best Alternative Album. It illustrated the power of Parks’ universal songwriting and she’s maintained an unshakeable grace and charisma along the way. – Adrian Spinelli
The Armed — Ultrapop
The Armed is a real trip. For the unfamiliar, the experimental hardcore group has an ever-changing lineup that isn’t usually revealed. They did give a list of artists who performed on the new album Ultrapop (their first released through Sargent House), but given the group’s history of misdirection, who knows whether or not that should be taken at face value. Things only get more confusing when you listen to the new album, but in a good way, as it features the group pumping out everything from post-hardcore to power-pop, doing it all in ways that make the band’s many mysteries all the more engaging. – Derrick Rossignol
Big Red Machine — How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?
What’s interesting about the second Big Red Machine album is how unexperimental it sounds. Whereas the first Big Red Machine record consisted of esoteric sketches that felt like excerpts from long, heady jam sessions, How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? includes some of the most approachable and pop-oriented material that Aaron Dessner or Justin Vernon have ever produced. This can partly be attributed, of course, to the involvement of Taylor Swift, who along with suggesting the album title appears on the album’s most immediate track, “Renegades.” But the rest of the record is similarly melodic and warm, evincing little of the electro-indie dissonance of the recent output by The National and Bon Iver. – Steven Hyden
Billie Eilish — Happier Than Ever
For a brand new artist, pushing past the massive surge of a super successful debut can be a challenge. But not for Billie Eilish. Barely taking a breath between accepting a record number of Grammys for When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? and releasing new singles, Eilish weathered the pandemic by slowly trickling out songs like “Everything I Wanted” and “Therefore I Am” to set up her next phase. Happier Than Ever was a jazzy, downtempo left turn after her trippy gothic debut, and more proof than Eilish will be doing whatever she wants from here on out. When the vocals sound this good, genre becomes irrelevant. – Caitlin White
Clairo — Sling
After the breakout success of her debut album Immunity, all eyes were on Clairo when she released her sophomore album Sling. But rather leaning into the bedroom pop that first popularized her name, Clairo instead took Sling in a different, more reflective direction. The album is jam-packed with quiet and tender piano songs that draw inspiration from doleful-yet-warm acoustic sounds of ’70s ballads. The notable shift is attributed in part by her simply getting older and growing into herself and her sound. But Clairo also noted that, while writing the album, she had much time to reflect on the domesticity that come with caring for her rescue dog. – Carolyn Droke
D Smoke — War & Wonders
The follow-up to D Smoke’s excellent 2020 debut, Black Habits, is far less insular and self-centered; whereas its predecessor focused on telling the story of the Inglewood native’s family and upbringing, War & Wonders is instead concerned with the impact D Smoke looks to have on the world around him. He warns of the dangers of gang life on “Crossover,” admonishes listeners to make the most of their opportunities on “Stay True,” and sets lofty goals on “Better Half.” Employing hard-hitting production and a percussive vocal delivery to make his points, each word lands like a blow on the heavy bag at the boxing gym he recently opened in his hometown. – Aaron Williams
DDG — Die 4 Respect
DDG’s 2021 mixtape Die 4 Respect with the Grammy Award-nominated producer OG Parker of Quality Control is everything the project’s title implies. “I really feel passionate about it to the point where I’d die about this shit like you gonna respect me at the end of this,” the Pontiac, Michigan raised artist told us earlier this year in reference to his transition from being a bonafide YouTube star to a full-fledged artist. In turn, DDG saw several hits off Die 4 Respect. Among them is the platinum-selling hit “Moonwalking In Calabasas” featuring Blueface, “Impatient” featuring Coi Leray, and “Money Long” with 42 Dugg. His heartfelt opener, “Hood Melody” with Youngboy Never Broke Again, tells the story of how he lost his brother to gun violence and is a true display of his abilities as a lyrical storyteller. OG Parker and our July 2021 cover star came through with a project that was both cohesive and offered music that was clearly set out to prove the mixtape’s Die 4 Respect title. – Cherise Johnson
Dijon — Absolutely
The incredibly evocative singer helped redefine traditional notions of R&B on Absolutely. The album is as stunning for the way Dijon delivers his vocals as it is for the music that backs him. Guitars and strings are an ever-present character motif, like the city of New York in a Spike Lee joint, and the surrounding cast of musicians (led by guitarist Mk. Gee) provide a glorious canvas for Dijon’s vocal tour de force. “Many Times” is a riveting number that’s controllably frenetic in the best way possible. Same goes for “Bike Mike’s,” with its slide guitar popping in from one angle, bass from another, and Dijon floating in congruence with drums and guitar as he pines for a mythical woman. – A.S.
Doja Cat — Planet Her
Ladies and gentlemen, Doja Cat has arrived. After two albums of fun, frothy, somewhat inconsequential stabs at pop-laden hip-hop and R&B, Amala stuck her nose hard to the grindstone to turn up a much more focused, slicker slice of her world. She still wields the same wicked sense of humor that got her national attention with “Mooo!” in 2018, but now it’s a scalpel instead of a hammer (“Get Into It“). Her pop sensibilities have sharpened as well, allowing her to trade in glimmering dancefloor anthems (“Kiss Me More“) and stargazing kickback staples (“Need To Know“). – A.W.
Don Toliver — Life Of A Don
Don Toliver’s Life Of A Don deserves to be played in its entirety starting from the project’s glowing opener “Xscape” to its buoyant closer “Bogus.” Though the loving “What You Need” and “Drugs N Hella Melodies” were the album’s supporting singles, even more desirable songs await for anyone who takes a dive into the full collection of 16. If you have never been to Houston before, “Double Standards” takes you right to the center of the city and its follow-up “Swangin On Westheimer” keeps you there. It’s one of the most beautiful transitions that serenely introduces a side of the H that is palpable for anyone who has never been. “Outerspace” featuring Baby Keem is another standout track off Life Of A Don (more Don and Keem collabs please) and “You” with Travis Scott is a sleeper for sure. H-Town OG Mike Dean’s presence is all over this as well as help from Hit-Boy, Sonny Digital, Mustard and Metro Boomin — yet it all still sounds like it came from the same planet. Donny is devotedly opening a new paradigm for melodic rap and what it means to be an artist with Life Of A Don, it’s just up for the rest of the world to catch up. – C.J.
Faye Webster — I Know I’m Funny haha
For Atlanta die-hard Faye Webster, I Know I’m Funny haha represents the fully-formed vision of her folk and country for the well-rounded mind. “Got you a bass last year on your birthday / The same one the guy from Linkin Park plays / But you look better with it anyways,” she sings over a sultry pedal steel on the title track. Then, she pours it on for Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr with “I saw you last night in my dream / That’s still the closest you and I have been,” as a saxophone bellows alongside her on “A Dream About A Baseball Player.” Webster’s ability to enact the impeccable Americana vintage sound from the nuanced perspective of a 20-something is what will keep her firmly entrenched as a torchbearer of the Southern music tradition. – A.S.
Guapdad 4000 — 1176
There were many, many projects that were bigger than Guapdad’s collaborative effort with Illmind this year. None of them were as personal, as vulnerable, or as real as 1176, which is all of the things hip-hop is supposed to be. As he exorcises his demons, Guapdad showcases his storytelling skills (“Uncle Ricky”), his devilish sense of humor (“She Wanna”), tender regard for his Filipino roots (“Chicken Adobo“), and a gift for personal exegesis (“Stoop Kid”), all while Illmind stretches his sonic palette in unexpected ways (the Alice Deejay flip on “How Many” is a favorite). Guapdad 4000 may be known as a scammer but in 1176, he’s as authentic as it gets. – A.W.
H.E.R. — Back Of My Mind
It’s odd to think of Back Of My Mind as H.E.R.’s debut album. After all, it’s so fully formed, sashaying easily between sweeping power ballads (“We Made It“) to mournful reflection (“Damage“) to warm weather bops (“Slide“). H.E.R.’s pen is like a surgeon’s tool, cutting to the bone of such subjects as heartbreak, self-realization, and the stirrings of new love. Her instrumentation is even more impressive. Perhaps it’s owed to the decade-plus of behind-the-scenes work she’s done as she strove toward this moment. After the year she’s had, though, she won’t be in the back of anyone’s mind ever again, because she’s earned her spot at the forefront of the pop-culture consciousness. – A.W.
Halsey — If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
Working with your idols can be daunting, even devastating in some cases. But every once in a while, game recognize game and everything flows into the ideal collab. That’s what happened when Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross started helping Halsey retool their sound for the spectacular If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power. Dark, chaotic, and much more rock-centric than her last album, Manic, this fourth album is as good as a magnum opus for the alt-pop star. Wading through pregnancy, misogyny, historical sexism, and so much more, this record crystallizes her sound in unexpectedly moving ways. – C.W.
IDK — USEE4YOURSELF
For IDK, following up his excellent debut album, the existentially inquisitive Is He Real?, presented something of a challenge. After all, once you’ve set the bar that high, it’s hard to clear it — and even if you do, there will be plenty of naysayers who will almost certainly dispute the results. However, in not succumbing to the pressure to cater to those naysayers by sticking to emotionally and sonically safe material, IDK manages to not only clear the bar he set but raise it as well. Eclectic and wide-ranging both conceptually and musically, IDK bares his flaws, insecurities, and epiphanies with rare panache. – A.W.
Indigo De Souza — Any Shape You Take
With her sophomore album, Any Shape You Take, Indigo DeSouza tackled her songwriting with a kind of vibrancy and open-mindedness that was hard to find in her tiny North Carolina hometown. The songs on her album resist fitting any specific genre category, moving fluidly between sparkling pop anthems and somber suburban emo power ballads. Though it can’t be defined by labels, DeSouza’s music tackles love in all forms while flexing her range of intimate songwriting abilities. The shimmering song “Hold U” is a pumped-up track that describes the importance of platonic love, while other songs like “Pretty Pictures” and “Kill Me” detail the aftermath of a life-altering breakup. – C.D
Isaiah Rashad — The House Is Burning
If you’re going to take a damn-near five-year hiatus between albums to get your life right, your return project has to justify that wait for ravenous (and fickle) fans, or you may as well have retired. Fortunately for the TDE hotshot, his comeback feels every bit as electric as his debut. It’s more weathered and in some places, he sounds weary (“Darkseid,” “THIB“), but he also sounds revitalized and recentered (“From The Garden,” “Wat U Sed“), issuing hard-won observations and heavy-hearted moments of clarity. – A.W.
J. Cole — The Off-Season
J. Cole has received a lot of flak over the years for a lot of reasons, but one thing no one can take away from him: The boy can rap his all-American ass off. By restricting the aims of his latest album to simply proving that, he accomplished the unlikely goal of turning all the “J. Cole is boring” doubters into believers. That makes The Off-Season a triumph, a testament to the benefits of hard work, practice, and stubborn dedication. – A.W.
Japanese Breakfast — Jubilee
Michelle Zauner had a momentous 2021. In April, her first book, a memoir about her complicated relationship with her late mother called Crying In H Mart, debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list. Then she made the best Japanese Breakfast record of her career. While Japanese Breakfast’s early material was often classified as lo-fi, Jubilee represents her grandest music yet, nodding to the sonically rich and expansive indie albums of the ’90s and ’00s by artists such as Bjork and Joanna Newsom. In terms of lyrics, Zauner has turned her eye to character studies that are delivered with cinematic flair. – S.H.
Jazmine Sullivan — Heaux Tales
Jazmine Sullivan returned to the music world after an almost six-year absence with her Heaux Tales EP. Through 11 songs with help from Ari Lennox, Anderson .Paak, and HER, Jazmine sings about the experiences through love and intimacy that she and other women go through. There are moments of passion and moments of regrets, but the vulnerability to tell it all and stay true to herself, along with help from other female voices, helped to make Heaux Tales a flawless project. – Wongo Okon
Julien Baker — Little Oblivions
With each album, Julien Baker widens her scope a little bit. Where Sprained Ankle was a very sparse affair focused mostly on lyrics, Turn Out The Lights introduced a few more instruments and depth into the mix, and now Little Oblivions is what Steven Hyden calls “the most musically inviting album that Baker has made yet, with extra heft added to the guitars and rhythm section nudging her closer to a full-on rock record. But the emotional brutality of the lyrics somehow melds with the uplifting beauty of the music, perhaps giving Baker some peace in the process.” – Zac Gelfand
Kacey Musgraves — Star-Crossed
One of two excellent divorce albums by divas this year, Kacey Musgraves definitely dived a little bit deeper into the psychedelic nature of love, connection, and separation than anyone else in 2021. Star-Crossed is perhaps the only album that could’ve followed up its glowing, critically-acclaimed predecessor, Golden Hour. Sure, sometimes the perfect, golden love fades, but going through the wilderness to find yourself again is all part of the journey. No matter what, the risk was all worth it, and this woozy record of self-reclamation is another ode to all the magic of this beautiful, twisted life. – C.W.
The Killers — Pressure Machine
In interviews about the latest Killers LP, Brandon Flowers likened Pressure Machine to Achtung Baby. Incredibly, he’s sort of correct. For one thing, both albums were the seventh releases for the respective arena-rock institutions. But the similarities go deeper than just discography placement. Just as Achtung Baby was a reboot for U2, Pressure Machine is a bold reinvention for The Killers, setting Flowers’ most evocative narrative lyrics ever to dusty, downscaled versions of his band’s hybrid of anglophilia and heartland rock. It’s one of 2021’s most surprising comebacks. – S.H.
Lana Del Rey — Chemtrails Over The Country Club
While she may not be navigating the treacherous waters of social media with the most grace, Lana does best when she leans into her songwriter side and leaves Instagram be. That’s exactly what Chemtrails Over The Country Club is all about, as Del Rey descends into psych-folk smashes like “White Dress” and “Tulsa Jesus Freak.” Folksy ballads like “Wild At Heart” and “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” showcase Lana when she’s stripped back, free and easy, and completely offline. – C.W.
Lil Durk and Lil Baby — The Voice Of The Heroes
Each year, some corner of the music world grants us collaborative projects between artists who were able to fine-tune their chemistry for a full-length project. In 2021, that came about through Lil Baby and Lil Durk’s Voice Of The Heroes. The project came through the rappers’, and their respective fan bases, realization that their vision and artistry fell in line enough for a full body of work. Propelled by highlights like “2040” and “That’s Facts,” Durk and Baby delivered on expectations for the project that flaunts what two of today’s best hip-hop acts have to offer. – W.O.
Lil Nas X — Montero
The quintessential pop star for 2021, Lil Nas X’s Montero is the ultimate wink and a smile to anyone who doubted him as an industry one-hit-wonder. On “Dead Right Now,” he sings: “Left school, then my dad and I had a face-to-face in Atlanta / He said, ‘It’s one in a million chance, son,’ I told him, ‘Daddy, I am that one.’” It’s pensive moments like this tucked within an album of tongue-in-cheek mega-hits like “Industry Baby” and “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” that flash true dynamic artistry across pop and hip-hop. When the dust settles, this will go down as the year of Lil Nas X, after all, who else can claim that they gave Satan a lap-dance, had a track with Elton John on their album (“One Of Me”), and was named The Trevor Project’s Suicide Prevention Advocate of the Year? – A.S.
Little Simz — Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
Talk about a breakthrough album. London’s Little Simz emerged as one of the best newly established voices in hip-hop on the Inflo-produced Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. She tackles the album in complete fashion, showing that no subject is too difficult for her to master as a songwriter. She extols the mind and presence of Black women on “Woman,” flaunts her panache with fellow British-Nigerian Obongjayar on “Point And Kill,” and unapologetically opens up about the toll her relationship with her estranged father has taken on her in “I Love You, I Hate You.” In the latter, she rises above the pain, emerging triumphantly as a person and an artist, flawlessly sliding in between every note of the beat and leaving a lasting mark in the process. – A.S.
Lucy Dacus — Home Video
Though she’s been operating in the the indie sphere for half a decade at this point, Lucy Dacus‘ third album Home Video marks her strongest effort yet. Now in her mid-twenties, Dacus is far enough away from her youth to reflect on her childhood. With a sense of humor, nostalgia, and a bit of incredulity, Dacus examines her bible study days on Home Video. With catchy refrains, inviting vocals, and heart-tugging lyrics, Dacus walks listeners through the highs and lows of first-times, youthful relationships, and self-discovery. Armed with her current wisdom, Dacus’ music gives honest advice in the form of poetic ballads, urging both her former self and her friends to see their self-worth in the face of potentially harmful relationships through songs like “VMB” and “Christine.” – C.D
Mdou Moctor — Afrique Victime
Afrique Victime is loaded with moments where the great Nigerien guitarist Mdou Moctar steps out of the song in order to ram his guitar directly into your guts. He does this for emotional effect, bending and blurring notes with the furious energy that defines one of his most obvious influences, Jimi Hendrix. But you suspect that Moctar also believes that ripping off a sick solo is extremely dope, which on this record it absolutely is. It might even make you ask: Why don’t we hear guitar solos more often these days? As it is, the concept of the guitar hero remains alive and well thanks to this six-string genius. – S.H.
Nick Cave/Warren Ellis — Carnage
Decades into his career and as prolific as ever, Carnage stands among the best work of Nick Cave’s career. In song after song, surprising moments sweep the listener off their feet, from the nightmarish repetition of the titular phrase on opener “Hand Of God” to the best Spiritualized refrain that they didn’t write on “White Elephant.” Collaborator Warren Ellis makes his mark on each, turning an album that’s often spare into a headphones-needed exercise in nuance. There might not be more beautiful moments on tape this year as the title track or the plaintive “Albuquerque.” – Philip Cosores
Olivia Rodrigo — Sour
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s had a bigger 2021 than Olivia Rodrigo. In time between sharing her debut single “Drivers License” in January and releasing her No. 1 album Sour in May, Rodrigo went from Disney Channel fan-favorite to one of the most talked about musicians across the globe. She raked in award nominations, dominated streaming services, and smashed charting records held by the musical greats. Throughout the 11 tracks on Sour, Rodrigo positioned herself as an ever-talented songwriter capable of crafting both touching heartbreak ballads and roaring pop-punk anthems. The album captivated audiences of all generations with relatable lyrics and effervescent instrumentation while simultaneously rewriting the persona of the typical pop star. – C.D.
Petey — Lean Into Life
It’s likely you’ve seen Petey on TikTok (where he’s known as @peteyusa), as his off-kilter and hilarious videos routinely rack up millions of views. Learning that he also makes music might seem like you’re finding out about a frivolous spin-off endeavor that influencers do to expand their brands, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. His TikTok fame actually came after his record deal and the music really is something to behold. His comedic traits can be seen in the music, but his songs, which are diverse and constitute some of the year’s most gripping indie-rock, are no joke. – D.R.
Playboi Carti — Whole Lotta Red
For many Playboi Carti fans, the wait for Whole Lotta Red was a grueling one. However, to their delight, the project arrived beside their holiday presents on Christmas in 2020. Carti’s entire brand is unharnessed energy, and while Whole Lotta Red attempts to reel in that that energy, unintentional room for that to thrive appears in various pockets of the album. Through 24 songs and contributions from Ye, Future, and Kid Cudi, Whole Lotta Red adds another chapter to Carti’s thrilling story as one of hip-hop’s biggest rockstars. – W.O.
Polo G — Hall Of Fame
With every project that Chicago rapper Polo G releases, his stock in the rap game increases. His debut Die A Legend made him a young name in hip-hop worth paying attention to. His sophomore effort The GOAT solidified his presence in music for years to come. Now, his third album Hall Of Fame presents a rapper who can stick to his roots and present himself as a top-selling rap product. Through 20 songs, Polo G not only shows that his pen has improved but also his awareness towards records that will pop and bring a bigger spotlight to him. – W.O.
Rico Nasty — Nightmare Vacation
When Rico Nasty first roared onto the SoundCloud rap scene in 2016, her rawness was part of the appeal. Now, five years, seven mixtapes, and a debut studio album later, she’s one of mainstream hip-hop’s most interesting figures, as much — more — of an innovator than any of her punk-rock-influenced peers. On Nightmare Vacation, she justifies every ounce of hype while utilizing every tool on her belt. There are her signature yell-rap anthems (“STFU,” “Smack A Bitch Remix”), hyperpop experiments (“iPhone”), and dreamy trap bangers (“Don’t Like Me”), all utterly saturated in her uniquely rebellious spirit. – A.W.
Sega Bodega — Romeo
Sega Bodega may not yet be on your playlists, but that’s just due to lack of exposure. The Irish artist only just released his first album last year but already has major co-signs under his belt: Rihanna has used his music in Fenty ads and Arca makes an appearance on this year’s Romeo, featuring on “Cicada.” That song is one of many from the new album that shows off Sega Bodega’s versatility: While “Cicada” comes across like warped ethereal Reggaeton, the album features everything from dreamy electronica (“Only Seeing God When I Come”) to straightforward pop ballads (“I Need Nothing From You”). – D.R.
Silk Sonic — An Evening With Silk Sonic
From the very moment that Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak made their newly-formed Silk Sonic duo official with the release of “Leave The Door Open” earlier this year, their promised debut album was one of the most sought-for releases in 2021. Would the duo live up to the hype? Would the album perhaps be unbalanced? A multitude of questions arrived at Bruno and .Paak’s doorstep, all of which were answered with the brilliant An Evening With Silk Sonic. The duo met all expectations and did it through an excellent display of showmanship. There’s no telling how long Silk Sonic will last, but their current presence is something to be thankful for. – W.O.
Skyzoo — All The Brilliant Things
Being independent in the rap game is both a supreme gift and a withering curse. Take, for instance, Skyzoo’s latest album. Untethered to the limits of the major-label system, Sky was able to craft one of the most inspiring and intricately-constructed rap albums of the year. However, without those major-label resources, it went largely overlooked — which is a shame, because there were few projects this year as consistently… well, brilliant as this one, on which tracks like “I Was Supposed To Be A Trap Rapper” turn staid hip-hop tropes on their ears and “Bodega Flowers” implores us all to salute our greats before they’re pushing up daisies. Well, salute, Skyzoo, one of the best out today. – A.W.
Snoh Aalegra — Temporary Highs In The Violet Skies
While many excel in relaying their experiences with love, Snoh Aalegra does a beautiful job of showing her wavering feelings in romance through her music. Her third album Temporary Highs In The Violet Skies is another example of that. Its 14 tracks present a woman who chooses to focus and highlight the best moments in love, even if they last shorter than expected. This task is accomplished beautifully thanks to help from Tyler The Creator, James Fauntleroy, Pharrell Williams, The Neptunes, and more. – W.O.
Summer Walker — Still Over It
Summer Walker achieved some groundbreaking feats with her 2021 sophomore album Still Over It. First of all, she got “Ciara’s Prayer” from thee Ciara Harris-Wilson. Lord knows how long the ladies have been asking Cici herself for the prayer and Ms. Walker was able to get that and was generous enough to share it with her listeners. Second of all, Still Over It is the highest-charting album from a female R&B artist since Beyoncé’s 2016 Lemonade and is likely to continue towards an upward trend. Regardless, Summer Walker uses Still Over It to air out her grievances a la Usher’s Confessions, except she’s naming names and calling out her baby daddy-ex London On Da Track, his mother, and the other women in his life. She does this over perfectly curated production by the same man she’s going in on. London and Summer made magic on Over It, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. On the other hand, Pharrell and Summer on “Dat Right There” sounds like a win for the future of music. Most of all, Summer’s adept songwriting skills, inimitable vocals, and ability to dig into the souls of her listeners through song puts her on another level, to the point that whatever shenanigans she’s on The Shade Room for makes the music worth it. – C.J.
Taylor Swift — Evermore
If there was anyone who was going to spend the pandemic creating not one but two perfect albums, it was always Taylor Swift. Even as the ripples of Folklore were just beginning to dissipate, Taylor gently sent a second album out into the world. This one is a little bit darker, a little more country, and just as satisfying as the first. Between her epic murder ballad collaboration with Haim and features from Bon Iver and The National, Evermore is still distinctly Taylor: Sharp, funny, sometimes scathing, and eternally devoted, despite it all. – C.W.
Tinashe — 333
If you needed proof that independence is what’s best for Tinashe, her fifth album 333 is undeniable proof of that. The album is arguably one of, if not the strongest showcase of her versatility as she bends the R&B genre in a number of ways, something she’s proven capable of doing time and time again. 333 is also a testament towards trusting the process, and if you know what it took Tinashe to get here, you’ll have an added dose of appreciation towards her current position. – W.O.
Topaz Jones — Don’t Go Tellin Your Momma
It’s not every day that one of the best albums of the year also picks up a short film jury award for non-fiction at Sundance Film Festival but that’s what Topaz’s latest managed at the top of the year. A stunningly executed concept album in its own right, Don’t Go Tellin’ is an incredible rap genealogy project, following the Montclair, New Jersey native as he explores his family’s history, then shares it with the world. Awash in the influences of funk mainstays such as Sly And The Family Stone, peppered with jazz intonations and marked by Jones’ deft recollections, Don’t Go Tellin’ shows what a refined version of the artform can look like when crafted with care. – A.W.
Turnstile — Glow On
Just an insanely fun record that has unwittingly inspired a revival of one of the biggest bummer music conversations: What makes a hardcore band a hardcore band? Specifically, can a band that kind of sounds like 311 and ’80s Rush (seriously!) really be considered hardcore? Fortunately, Turnstile themselves don’t seem to care all that much about semantics. Yes, they play shows with the manic energy of a hardcore gig. But their songs have so many hooks that Glow On ends up being one of 2021’s most inviting and inclusive records. – S.H.
Tyler The Creator — Call Me If You Get Lost
Pound for pound, one of the most impressive studio releases of the year, Call Me If You Get Lost finds rebellious Tyler taking a nostalgic step back to redeem the blog era credit from which he was either barred or that he himself spurned (depending on which version of him you ask). Tapping mixtape maestro DJ Drama and emblazoning his latest with the Gangsta Grillz label is deceptive, though; as much as he revels in the sheer art of rhyme (“Lumberjack,” “Juggernaut“), he also finally gets more vulnerable and expansive than he’s ever been (“Massa,” “Manifesto”), pushing the series beyond mere mixtapes into something richer and much more vital. – A.W.
Vince Staples — Vince Staples
Call me biased (Long Beach, stand up), but I don’t think a single rap project this year came close to touching Vince Staples’ eponymous fourth studio album. Clocking in at just ten tracks — as many of the great albums do — Vince’s new approach strips away bells, whistles, and several layers of anything resembling varnish to expose the gritty truths he bares throughout its harrowing narratives. Trading in his frantic yelps for a laconic, resigned incantation, Vince invites listeners to not just watch the movie but inhabit his point of view. If you don’t get it, that’s on you. – A.W.
Wale — Folarin II
For years, Wale has not only believed his own hype but also been its main proponent. While he’s never exactly labored in obscurity, he’s unfortunately been regarded as something less than what he actually is by hip-hop fans at large, which is one of the best bar-for-bar rappers the game has ever seen. He came by that assessment honestly too, via a deep, abiding, and near-obsessive love for the art form. Here, he displays that love, culling samples from across the breadth of the genre (Q-Tip on “Poke It Out“). As a result, it looks like that love is finally being reciprocated as fans learn to appreciate just what he brings to the game. – A.W.
The War On Drugs — I Don’t Live Here Anymore
After four long years, The War On Drugs finally returned in November with a reward for our patience. Musically, I Don’t Live Here Anymore is a refinement of the craft the band explored on 2017’s A Deeper Understanding, which itself was a refinement of 2014’s Lost In The Dream. It’s evidence of a band that is always adapting and evolving for an LP that is without a doubt their most accessible material to date. It packs in catchy hooks, driving rhythms, and emotionally cathartic instrumental arrangements anchored guitar solos that will remind you why guitar solos are, in fact, awesome. – Z.G.
Wild Pink — A Billion Little Lights
The latest Wild Pink release, A Billion Little Lights, feels like a culminating moment for songwriter John Ross. What originally began as a vision for a massive double-album exploring the history of the American West was eventually trimmed down to a more conventional release, with Ross refocusing his efforts instead on creating the most beautiful and enveloping soundscapes that he could. A Billion Little Lights is what Steven Hyden called the project’s “most ambitious and overall best work, infused with deep lyrical craft and impeccable melodies that set Wild Pink apart from the indie-dude pack.” – Z.G.
Young Thug — Punk
Young Thug’s career is filled with individual eras. There are the rapper’s red-haired and blonde eras as well as that for Slime Season and Jeffery. Thug’s second album Punk issues another chapter for the rapper’s extremely unique career. Falling on the opposite side of the spectrum from his debut So Much Fun, Punk finds Thug going against the grain of his own career and the expectations of his fans. Vulnerability, honesty, and a story to tell all stand at the forefront of Punk. However, just like Thug’s previous projects, it serves as another example of the rapper doing what he wants. – W.O.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.