The 20 Best Albums in 2021 So Far: 10-1

Written by Matt Slocum 

2021 started off slow (in so many ways), but music wise, we’ve already seen some really good drops so far this year. By the end of 2021, the list is probably going to be star studded. Due to the pandemic, music has been in a weird place. Lots of artists have been hesitant to drop, perhaps due to not being able to tour or roll out their projects properly. So, it’s not a surprise that as the world starts to open, some of the biggest artists are gearing up to drop soon. Drake – who is on the verge of releasing Certified Lover Boy, Kanye – whose DONDA rollout is getting frustrating at this point, and Travis Scott’s Utopia are all anticipated to drop before 2021 closes out.  

However, we’ve already had some great music so far. There have been a lot more than 20 great albums this year, but these are my picks.  

Go here to read the 20-11 best albums in 2021 so far.

10. BROCKHAMPTON – ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE 

Label: RCA Records 

Release: 9 April

As a group, BROCKHAMPTON are only releasing one more album together, which will be out before the year is over according to Kevin Abstract, one of the nine members. ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE is another great album added to their already impressive discography. Since there are so many members in the group that are all extremely talented and diverse, it’s almost impossible for them to put out a ‘bad’ project. BROCKHAMPTON are always really consistent with their production, not that it necessarily sounds the same but that it’s always insanely good and that’s no different on this album.  There are a lot of different genres of song’s on here, from high energy on the intro with ‘BUZZCUT’ featuring Danny Brown, a poppy RnB song like ‘I’LL TAKE YOU ON’ featuring Charlie Wilson or a gospel choir song like ‘DEAR LORD’. I personally really liked this project, and it started perfectly with the Danny Brown track but also had other great features from A$AP Ferg, A$AP Rocky, JPEGMAFIA and others. 

9. Snoh Aalegra – Temporary Highs In The Violet Skies 

Label: Roc Nation/Universal 

Release: 9 July

Snoh Aalegra is one of the brightest up and coming artists. She has a great voice, as well as great-sounding production. If you listen to Tyler you might like this one, as it’s clear to see his influence. Tyler helped produce this alongside the legendary Neptunes, so the production guarantees to make you feel like you’re floating on clouds at the best sunset of all time. Tyler also features twice on this album and ad libs a lot of the songs all the way through. But Snoh kills it on this album. I rate it so highly and she’s ready to take the next step up in her career. Despite already made a name for herself, but I’d expect to see her trajectory keep going up dramatically fast over the next year or two. If you haven’t heard of her or any of her music, this is a perfect time to start.  

8. IDK – USEE4YOURSELF 

Label: Clue No Clue/Warner  

Release: 9 July 

IDK is one of my favourite upcoming rappers. He shows his versatility with features spanning from Slick Rick, MF DOOM, Young Thug, Offset, Swae Lee and so many that you wouldn’t expect. USE4YOURSELF is a mix of some slappers you can bump such as ‘Santa Monica Blvd’, ‘Praddabag’ featuring Young Thug and ‘Shoot My Shot’ (featuring Offset, mixed alongside some emotionally vulnerable songs like ‘Cry In Church’ featuring Sevyn Streeter and ‘Peloton’. IDK allows himself to be vulnerable and honest on this project which really comes across well in the music, and he chose his features perfectly. With production credits ranging from the Neptunes to NBA Champion Javale McGee, this album is of the highest quality. You might be surprised to see it so high up on my list, and you might not even know who IDK is, but go listen to it and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I was honestly so impressed by this and everyone else who listened to it has said the same thing. Go listen and let me know what you think! And also, watch out for IDK.  

7. Lana Del Ray – Chemtrails Over The Country Club 

Label: Interscope/Polydor 

Release: 19 March 

I don’t really listen to this type of music, but I enjoyed this project. It’s angelic, it feels like you’re in a colourful book that’s also black and white at the same time. Lana’s vocals and production are great and overall, each song flows into the next perfectly and creates a really nice atmosphere to listen to. I didn’t think I’d enjoy this as much as I did, and I only listened because I saw it being talked about in a positive light, and I ended up really liking it. You have to be in a certain vibe to listen to this, but it has a good aesthetic and is overall a quality album, which is always expected from Lana. If you like this kind of music in general, you’ll like this album. I’d like to see Lana collab with some more hip hop artists in the future because she could easily have the James Blake effect. Listening to this made me realise I’ve been missing out on a top tier artist, but that’s my own ignorance because she’s highly regarded in general.  

6. Nas – King’s Disease ll 

Label: Mass Appeal 

Release: 6 August 

This is easily one of Nas’s best releases for years, well since last year, but still. It’s already gone to number 1, and for good reason. People forget he’s easily in the conversation for the best rapper of all time, as well as probably being the best lyricist ever, and this album is a perfect reminder. Nas is one of the main people who you think of when you think “New York”, and hip hop culture in general, along with the JAY-Z’s, B.I.G’s and the Tupac’s. Although it features a bit low on my list, it’s an album of the year contender for me. There are so many layers, great production from Hit-Boy and some amazing features, notably Lauren Hill who KILLS it. Eminem, Blxst, Charlie Wilson, YG and A Boogie Wit da Hoodie also features on this album among others. This is classic Nas and he shows no signs of slowing down despite being in the game for basically 30 years now. It’s maybe the best two-piece series in hip hop, with Kings Disease dropping last year. Kings Disease ll gets better the more you hear it and Nas truly lives up to his nickname ‘God’s Son’. His lyricism and delivery paired with Hit-Boy’s production are always amazing, and it makes future listens even better because there’s so much more to discover when you keep going back compared to your first time hearing it.  

5. Vince Staples – Vince Staples 

Label: Blacksmith/Motown 

Release: 9 July 

This is such a great album, and I think it’s a breakthrough for Vince. I struggled to find a spot to place it because I think it deserves to be higher up on my list. Vince has always been a scary good rapper and one of the most authentic artists in hip hop today. But, on this Kenny Beats produced album, he finally found a way to master melody in with his subject matter, often talking about his upbringing in Long Beach. It feels like Vince has finally ‘got it’ on this album. Every project he’s released has been high quality, but this is a big step up. It’s mellow, and something you can play in a lot of environments. With this album, he keeps the LA sound as the base, like he usually does, but there is just way more melody in here, which makes it more appealing to a broader audience. The album only runs for 22 minutes and is an enjoyable listen. In an interview with Ebro on Apple Music, Vince said he went to Kenny Beat’s house twice a week for three weeks and made about 40 songs and picked eight for the album right before Christmas. Vince’s growth on this album is similar to Tyler when he dropped Flower Boy back in 2017. Tyler had released some good projects before, but Flower Boy was like the start of a more polished version of him and his growth since then has been huge. Vince’s next projects could be important for his discography, so don’t be shocked to see a massive wave of new fans over the next few years. Vince fans love this, hip hop fans love this, I love it, great album. Go listen.  

4. J. Cole – The Off-Season 

Label: Dreamville/Roc Nation 

Release: 14 May 

Ah, the long-awaited Cole project. After three years, Cole returned with The Off-Season. It was good to hear from him, and he came back with a good album. This is a lot of people’s albums of the year. The energy Cole comes with on this makes it so enjoyable, and he made good choices for the features, such as 21 Savage, Lil Baby and Nas. There is a good balance of substance and softer production as well as aggressive Cole, and it’s an enjoyable listen all the way through. We all know Cole is a great artist, and the hype was real for this album, but in all honesty, I’m not sure he lived up to it. At the time, I loved it, and it was my album of the year, but since then I just haven’t revisited it as much as I thought, and that’s been a common narrative towards this album. Maybe the hype got to me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very good album, and it’s worth a listen if you haven’t already, and I still have songs in my rotation. For me, I thought this album was solid, but it defined Cole as a rapper. He’s really great, but I don’t think he’s at the level of Kendrick. Father time has never been wrong and will once again be the judge on how this album ages. This album to me feels like an appetizer for his next project, The Fall Off. A respectable body of work with something bigger coming, hopefully soon.  

3. Isaiah Rashad – The House Is Burning 

Label: TDE 

Release: 30 July 

This is easily an album of the year contender, and in a lot of people’s eyes it is. Isaiah is one of hip hops best and most loved artists, and it’s been five years since he released a project. This album is nothing short of amazing. Isaiah does a great job creating an environment on this album. He creates an atmosphere and holds a lot of presence on the mic. I was trying to think of a way to describe what it feels like listening to it, but the album title fits perfectly. You’ll understand once you listen to it. The House Is Burning sold about 43,000 units in the first week which is decent for someone like Isaiah who isn’t in the public eye and doesn’t emphasise promotion. The production on this is impeccable and it has features from Lil Uzi Vert, Jay Rock, SZA, 6LACK and more. Isaiah is a great rapper and a great artist, and this was exactly what fans were hoping for after such a long wait, not only from him but TDE artists in general. This album gets better the more you listen and will age like fine wine. Hopefully, with Isaiah dropping, it’s a sign of things to come on TDE, with the world waiting in anticipation for Kendrick Lamar’s return after almost disappearing off the face of the earth after DAMN in 2017. I would love it if Isaiah dropped more frequently, but if he comes with projects like this every once and a while, who are we to complain.  

2. Dave – We’re All Alone In This Together 

Label: Neighborhood 

Release: 22 July 

Go read my review on this album. It’s amazing, a true masterpiece and representation of Dave’s growth as an MC and as a producer. Dave really pulled through on this project with amazing storytelling, energy, production, and his choice of features. It shows his growth as a person and an artist over the last few years and at such a young age, he’s one I (and you should, too) will be paying close attention to over the next few years. He’s already a superstar, but he’s going to keep elevating on his extremely upward trajectory. The perfect follow up from his debut album PSYCHODRAMA. Easy album of the year contender. The sky’s the limit for Dave and he’s going to go down as one of the all-time greats.  

  1. Tyler, The Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost 

Label: Columbia 

Release: 25 June 

In my opinion, this is easily the best album so far this year and it wasn’t hard for me to choose. This has been in my personal rotation ever since it came out and I revisit songs from it every day. IGOR was always going to be hard to follow up on, but Tyler did just that with commentary from the legendary DJ Drama. Back in 2010, Tyler tweeted it was a dream to get a “gangsta grillz tape”, and his dream finally came true. Tyler tapped into an experimental mixtape vibe with this album where he was able to try new things and be creative. On this album, Tyler is himself. He is honest, funny, insightful, and free. He said himself this is the best project he’s put out to this point, but there is still a lot of untapped space for him to move into which is exciting. There are features of other hip hop stars like NBA YoungBoy, 42 Dugg, Lil Uzi Vert and Pharrell to name a few. Tyler brings out the best in them and really showcases their talent because he is so in tune with the vibe he wants and his skills on the production side can facilitate for basically anyone. I’m going to put my life on the line and say this was better than IGOR, let me know what you think! I’ve been listening to this nonstop since it dropped, and it keeps getting better. Album of the year so far. You’re sleeping if you don’t go listen to this. Tyler is 3 from 3 on his last releases, and his trajectory is only going up. He’s always trying new things, breaking out of the box, and being different, which is refreshing, and he’s good at it too.  

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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