It’s an annual tradition for the RapReviews staff to give you their “best of the year” editorials, a tradition renewed last week by Sy Shackleford. That got me thinking about my own list, and as much as I would like to look back fondly on 2021, it was an incredibly painful year both personally and professionally. I lost family members, I lost childhood idols, and once again the all-too familiar news of rappers being gunned down reared its ugly head. I really can’t talk about what was good in 2021 without getting the bad out of the way first, so let’s say RIP one more time to the following people.

Even outside of hip-hop music and culture the Grim Reaper seemed to have a grudge, working overtime in December to take out the likes of John Madden and Betty White. I imagine many people would like to forget 2021 (and I’d really like to forget April) but as my therapist once said the truth about getting older is that you go to more weddings and more funerals. If it wasn’t painful to lose people then we wouldn’t know how much they meant to us or impacted our lives, and even in sadness we can know the light they shined on us all. On that note let me share with you something more upbeat — the album that made 2021 a year worth remembering.

Sankofa, “Floodgates.” I admit I have a bit of a soft spot for the dude after following his career since the mid 2000’s, but if he was making bullshit music I would tell you… and he never does.

YUNGMORPHEUS & Eyedress, “Affable With Pointed Teeth.” This was the album that surprised me the most. I knew Eyedress was a solid producer but YM was a mesmerizing storyteller that drew me into his every word.

Lil Nas X, “MONTERO.” This might be the most polarizing album I reviewed in 2021. To me X transcends genres — he’s rap, he’s pop, he’s country, he’s anything he wants to be, and he’s a special individual worth listening to.

Bronx Slang, “Substance.” Some of our other staffers rated this album higher than I did, but in hindsight it’s some enjoyable throwback boom bap.

BADBADNOTGOOD, “Talk Memory.” Whether collaborating with your favorite emcees or jamming on their own, this funky Canadian band always seems to deliver soulful grooves to bob your head to.

Homeboy Sandman, “Anjelitu.” Why do the great ones sometimes put out the shortest releases? Answer: In the words of the great Gary Grice, it’s best to keep it “half short and twice strong.” Sandman did.

Lute, “Gold Mouf.” I’m pretty sure people slept on this album even though J. Cole thought enough of Lute to sign him to Dreamville. Now’s your second chance to wake up and see what he’s about.

J Stone, “The Definition of Pain.” A protege of the late Nipsey Hussle who also seemed to slip under the radar for most folks. I didn’t hear anybody talking about him in 2021 and I still don’t know why.

Mattic and Madwreck, “Ill Scholars.” Reuniting after 16 years apart made you question why this duo every went their separate ways to begin with.

Little Simz, “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.” I signed up on our internal review list to cover this album and Patrick Taylor beat me to the punch. Frankly, I don’t blame him.