Over this last year, many great R&B and hip-hop projects have dropped. Here’s our breakdown for the top 2023 R&B/hip-hop albums:

Scarlet – Doja Cat

Doja Cat has established herself as hip-hop’s queen of controversy. Some of her most noteworthy controversial moments include allegedly participating in a white supremacist group chat. Even with all her questionable actions, she uses this opportunity to underscore this one indisputable fact: she is a now-decorated pop artist who can appeal to a vast audience. Instead of detracting from the controversy, the Los Angeles native unapologetically leans into it. Fervent in spirit and rebellious, Scarlet perfectly embodies the refrain on her track “97” as she says, “Looks like we don’t give a s**t.” In conjunction with her free-flowing energy, she makes it a point to illustrate how extensive her range genuinely is. From the sultry vibe of “Agora Hills” to the infectious IDGAF energy of “Paint the Town Red,” every track adds an entirely different vibe. Whatever you’re seeking, you’ll be able to find it on Scarlet. Doja Cat stepped her game up this time, and who knows what she might coordinate next. 

Jaguar II – Victoria Monét

Kicking off the record blasting with a robust head bopper and sublime instrumentation, “Smoke” (featuring Lucky Daye), Monét sets the tone for her objective with this record to make a veritable statement. Taking a more anthemic approach and embracing a broader, more lush soundscape of larger magnitude this time, Jaguar II aims to attain masterpiece status, and it indeed does just that. Capturing the essence of the likes of Aaliyah and Beyoncé, Monét holds firm to the subtle distinctions of her DNA. The record is cohesive, meticulous and beautifully written. While the entire record is worthy of abundant praise, some stand-outs on this record push Monét’s discography to great heights: “Alright,” “Smoke,” “On My Mama,” “Good Bye,” and “How Does It Make You Feel.” With 10 nominations under her belt for 2024’s Grammys ceremony, it would be blasphemous for her not to win in at least a few categories. This record has almost zero shortcomings, and it’ll be riveting to see where Monét takes things from here. 

Call Me If You Get Lost: The Estate Sale – Tyler, The Creator

Doubling down on the meteoric success of IgorCall Me If You Get Lost was yet another masterful body of work that no one could deny. In 2022, Tyler, The Creator won a Grammy for best rap album for the record. Considering things, it makes sense why the extended version would make this list. After having a plethora of bangers on the original version, some of which include “WusYaName” (ft. NBA Youngboy), “Rise,” “Juggernaut” (ft. Lil Uzi Vert and Pharrell Williams), the Los Angeles native amplified the allure of the record even more by adding a few more sublime tracks: “Sorry, Not Sorry,” “Wharf Talk” (ft. A$AP Rocky), “Dogtooth” and more. Even with the record consisting of B-sides from the original project, they’re just as good as everything on the initial iteration. 

Kaytraminé – Kaytranada and Aminé

Deciding to craft a joint project was unsuspecting for this duo until it happened. After taking the initiative to bring it to fruition, it was the duo we only knew we needed once it arrived. With the idiosyncratic sound juggernaut that is Kaytranada coupled with the tongue-in-cheek, sneakily poignant, super witty flows of Aminé, few duos have eclipsed this one in the history of music. While some claim that Kaytraminé felt rushed and that more effort could have gone into it, that doesn’t negate that it’s easily one of the best albums, let alone the best duo record, to drop this year. Some of the best offerings from the record include “Rebuke,” “4Eva,” “Master P,” “Who He Iz” and “LetsTalkAboutIt.” Meshing seamlessly well, Aminé laces Katra’s beats with little to no effort. In the grand scheme of this year, this was a fun, perfect record for the summer season, and it’s a certified classic off the rip. 

A Gift & a Curse – Gunna

After being released from jail last December, Gunna came out with a palpable chip on his shoulder and rightfully so. Following the infamous YSL indictment in 2022, Gunna reached an epiphany about life. He didn’t know who to trust and felt he needed to reaffirm his status as one of the best and remind people if they might have forgotten, and he does just that. Instead of choosing to loathe and complain, the rapper from College Park, Georgia, decided to turn his hardships into fuel. Hitting on all fronts with joints like “Back at It,” “Rodeo Dr.” and “IDK No More,” Gunna put his best foot forward on this record. In the words of Joe Budden, Gunna was indeed “rapping as if his life depended on it.” 

Electric Dusk – Leon Thomas

Over the last year, there’s been an interminable amount of social rumblings about the talented multihyphenate that is Leon Thomas. Since his breakthrough single, “Breaking Point,” dropped last December, Thomas’ musical genius is finally on display. Although he has been writing songs for high-profile pop artists such as Ariana Grande, who is also his former co-star on the Nickelodeon hit show Victorious, this year was about endorsing his talents, and there’s no better way he could have done that than with the emergence of Electric Dusk. Reflecting on the sometimes sordid, sometimes blissful nature of his experiences with love and the concept of power across the record, Thomas bathes in a tub of vulnerability as he explores ideas of disillusionment and the fruits of his labor in general. Soaking up all of his songwriting brilliance, Thomas paints a vivid picture of what Hollywood life has looked like for him over the years. Kind of reminiscent of an early Nostalgia Ultra iteration of Frank Ocean, Thomas’ voice is delightfully refreshing. Across the record, there is great nuance in song structure and versatility. It’s been a long time since something this sincere has been released. If this is Thomas’ debut, his sophomore effort will surely be beyond belief.

Grudges – Kiana Ledé

Basking in the complete thread of emotions that accompany love and subsequent heartbreak, Ledé lays her whole heart bare on Grudges. Through her brutal honesty and vulnerability, this record is cathartic and nourishing for the broken heart. While the sonics are contemporary and vibrant, the lyrics’ intimate nature pierce the soul. On the track “Damage,” she says, “I give you the coldest shoulders/’cause convos only bring you closure/ And it’s the last thing I think you deserve/My silence takes all your composure/It’s funny how you wanna talk things over.” It’s heart-wrenching lyrics like this that are pervasive across the record, and what’s the most appealing part about it? Recognizably not made for the radio, this record can help you get over your ex with relative ease. For a sophomore offering, Ledé strikes pure gold.