In case they missed your ears, here’s 10 underrated albums that dropped in 2022 that we think are worthy of your attention.
In the current landscape of music releases, it is near impossible to find the time for discovery after you’ve digested what algorithms and marketing budgets have thrust at you. Yet, every mid year, music publications round up the best albums they’ve heard thus far. This year, much like others, many of the same albums circulated on all of those lists. There have already been major rap drops with critical acclaim from Kendrick Lamar to Pusha T to Vince Staples and major R&B and pop drops from artists like Lucky Daye all the way to Harry Styles.
Each list, however, will include a few under-the-radar projects that stood out to individual writers and critics. On our end, we thought it would be a good idea to make an entire list of these types of projects that we perceive to be underrated. In case they missed your ears, here’s 10 albums think are worthy of your attention.
Tobi Lou — Non-Perishable
Upon the release of his third album in March, Chicago-bred rapper Tobi Lou threatened to take down his new project entirely off of DSPs as well as his website after a seven-day countdown. He challenged his core fan base to support the album enough by purchasing a download link or running the numbers up to make the project truly (as its title says) Non-Perishable. The core fans delivered and the album remains everywhere, yet Lou should be recognized by an even broader audience for his sequencing mastery on the project. From the T-Pain-assisted, emotional power ballad of “2hrs+,” to the playful lyrical tap-dancing on “Hurry Up Offense,” he delivers a plethora of songs that will stay ruminating in your conscience. Lou’s two strengths of honey-level sticky melodies and sneakily clever stream-of-consciousness raps are woven together by production that constantly feels like it’s gliding.
Maverick Sabre — Don’t Forget To Look Up
The veteran English-born Irish singer dropped his third studio album in January. It has seemed to mostly float beneath the consciousness of mass audiences, despite being arguably his most compelling work to date. Matching the striking cover art of Sabre’s head in a birdcage, the album reveals him mentally and emotionally navigating his relationships as well as the times we live in. The core of the project lies in the balance of tracks six and seven. “Walk These Days” is a collage of pitched-down vocal samples, piercing falsetto, sharp guitar strokes, and quick-paced croons that provide an internal mantra urging Sabre to take life a step at a time as he vents about feeling overwhelmed. The following duet with poignant UK singer Sasha Keable, “Middle of Eden,” is as goosebump-inducing a love song as this year has provided. The urging to take things deeper by the two singers counterbalances the prior track’s worry, presenting a rounded view of Sabre’s psyche.
Joony — Pretty In Black
Hailing from Silver Spring, Maryland, Joony delivers music that feels deceivingly effortless. On his sixth DSP release, it appears he has figured out how to present his sound at its most repeatable. At 11 tracks, with a runtime of only 23 minutes, Joony maneuvers different styles while still maintaining his signature lowkey and smooth energy level. Multiple melodic moments linger after listening causing you to reach back for more plays. On a song like “Drugs and Fashion,” Joony appears to start a straightforward love song. Then he transitions into an atmospheric barrage of toxicity. The filtered tonalities he begins with continually expand and add new layers until you fully take in how skilled he is at vocal composing.
Fana Hues — flora + fana
Amidst a slew of strong ethereal R&B releases in 2022, Pasadena, California-born singer Fana Hues’ second full-length album may be the most effective front-to-back listen. Coming off a key feature on the Tyler, the Creator track, “SWEET/I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE,” Hues dives headfirst into a dreamlike sonic space. The album feels inherently escapist, but more for the listener rather than for Hues herself. You are welcomed to transfer your energy into Hues’ bubble as is portrayed on the cover. In contrast to other 2022 projects with sounds in a comparable realm, Hues never drifts on couple song long tangents away from the project’s core musical purpose.
Col3trane — Lush Life
Col3trane’s Lush Life is an astutely crafted summer R&B album. The R&Drill-inspired “Take Notes” takes you on a windows down highway drive, while the sensual “Lights Out” takes you from a romantic outdoor patio dinner date to a dimly lit bedroom. Theme-wise, Col3trane takes you through how a pride-filled Lush Life can free you, but also at times overtake you. A resounding lyric from the album’s most impactful slap “Riley Freeman” sums it up: “I ain’t tryna fall in love you make it difficult/ You threw my heart into your bed with my principles.”
Nija — Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You
Speaking of R&Drill, the best song in the genre ever crafted is on this album from longtime behind-the-scenes songwriter Nija in “Ease My Mind.” After having written for some years for superstars like Beyoncé and Ariana Grande, the New Jersey-bred artist dropped her own dynamic debut album in February. She commands a succinct pocket of sharply delivered pop R&B melodies with a distinctly hip-hop edge and sentiment. The album at multiple moments inspires singing back sequences with finger guns lifted.
Knucks — Alpha Place
Knucks deserves his general flowers for his 10-year-plus grind in the UK rap scene. The music from his 2022 released album also deserves more US and worldwide acclaim. Alpha Place is a rounded introspection on the ideas of home and growth. No one sounds more at home than Knucks does on the album’s opening track, “Alpha House,” spitting reflective bars over keys, synths, and drill drum sequences. Other highlights include the violin-laden, intricately detailed storytelling track “Hide & Seek” and the poignant dissection of religious thinking in rough environments on “Bible.”
Leikeli47 — Shape Up
With zero fear, Leikeli47 dropped the same day as Kendrick. Transitioning back to a hair-centric title — like her punchy 2017 album Wash & Set — Leikeli47 continues to further her career-long mission to bring the bounce back on Shape Up. “Chitty Bang” opens the album with vibrant sample chops and stank face worthy bar deliveries, the mid-album track “Zoom” displays pent-up aggression and paranoia with sleek precision, and later on “Baseball” Leikeli47 surprises with a Supremes meets Beyoncé display of a sports metaphor riddled seduction anthem.
Yung Kayo — DFTK
There’s a lot of hype and attention bubbling around the hyperpop/pluggnb/”rage beats” genre fusion these days. Many of the artists in the space thrive off of singles that blow up on TikTok, but very few have transitioned into making solid front-to-back bodies of work. It makes sense as it’s not necessarily looked upon with as much importance in that lane. That said, YSL signee and Young Thug protogé Yung Kayo in February dropped easily the most intriguing full project in that realm since Playboi Carti’s Whole Lotta Red. With production helmed by relative newcomer Warpstr, Kayo takes this style to new mystical heights. At points, the project makes you feel like you are in the midst of a fairy and elf-themed rage festival/party in the forest. Songs like “save her” and “no sense” stand out as pure escapist anthems that combine bubbly soundscapes with rumbling drum flourishes.
Deetranada — Nadaworld
Baltimore MC Deetranada is simply one of the hardest out. With Nadaworld — first release since 2019 — Deetranada creates her own version of a sonic utopia. She crafts the world of the project through the beats that she slaughters. The album opens on “222bars” with her rapping:
“On my life on the sun and the moon I came out with a boom, the best in the room/ At this very moment I know and I own it, I been in my zone feel the break coming soon.”
She is unrelenting with the vision until the end where she flexes with a moving tribute to the late DMX who it seems inspired her guttural passion. With the state of the world as it is right now, envisioning a more fruitful existence through diabolical rhyme schemes seems to be of the most worthy paths to take.
Miki Hellerbach is a freelance music and culture journalist from Baltimore, whose work can also be found on CentralSauce, Euphoria Magazine, Notion Magazine, GUAP Magazine, and Complex. He also regularly co-hosts the In Search of Sauce music journalism podcast highlighting the top tier work of other writers.