For our Best Rappers Alive series, we take a look at the top five best rappers, year by year – ranking them on projects dropped, guest verses and overall impact.
2022 is shaping up to be one of the best years for hip hop in recent history. It’s only May and we’ve already seen a slew of incredible releases from the likes the Pusha T, Denzel Curry, Benny the Butcher, Earl Sweatshirt and plenty more.
As part of the yearly Beats, Rhymes & Lists tradition, we’re going to rank the best rappers of 2022. Seeing that it’s not halfway through the year yet, we’re going to be continually updating this list. As of writing this, we’re still waiting on releases from Kendrick, Freddie Gibbs, Lil Wayne, Nas and plenty others, so expect this list to shuffle around a lot over the coming months.
So let’s get into it, from Pusha T to Denzel Curry, Kendrick Lamar to Benny the Butcher, here are the best rappers alive of 2022 so far.
Notable releases: B.I.B.L.E.
All eyes were on Fivio Foreign this year after a spectacular performance on Kanye’s “Off the Grid” – by far his biggest song to date – which was unanimously praised as one of the best rap verses of 2021. On an album that featured the likes of Jay-Z, Jay Electronica, Lil Baby, The LOX, and plenty other notable names, Fivio’s verse stood the tallest.
The Brooklyn drill rapper made sure to capitalise on his momentum, dropping “City of Gods” which featured a hungry Kanye returning the favour to Fivio, and turning in another scene-stealing performance on Nicki Minaj’s “We Go Up.” As a technical rapper, Fivio is as good as it gets, sporting a flawless delivery, and while he sounds most at home over drill beats, there are moments on B.I.B.L.E. that has him expanding his musical boundaries.
Conway the Machine
Notable releases: Greetings Earthlings, God Don’t Make Mistakes
I’ll be honest, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed after I finished listening to Conway’s Shady Records debut, God Don’t Make Mistakes. I’m not sure whether it was because the album has been hyped since 2018, or because it didn’t feel like a major label debut, or maybe just because we’ve been spoilt with so much Griselda music lately that this one didn’t hit the same. Compared to 2020’s From King to a God, which felt much bigger, this album felt like more a teaser or a mixtape.
Having said that, this is still Conway we’re talking, one of the best rappers of the past few years. With a stacked guest list that includes Beanie Sigel, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, T.I., alongside his Griselda family, the Buffalo rapper gets deep into his storytelling bag and spills his heart over the album’s 12-tracks. Cuts like “Stressed” and “God Don’t Make Mistakes” are trademark Conway lyrical performances and rival “The Cow” when it comes to emotional depth and honesty.
Notable releases: Ramona Park Broke My Heart
Vince Staples is quietly becoming the best and most consistent rapper of his generation. Whether it was 2015’s Summertime ’06, 2017’s Big Fish Theory or last year’s Vince Staples, the Long Beach MC has continued to expand his catalogue, with a refined rapping style rarely heard these days.
There’s a stark clarity and rich detail in the way Staples delivers his bars; every line stands on its own and every hook entrancing. Backed by the likes of DJ Dahi, Kenny Beats, and Cardo, with a guest list that includes Lil Baby and Ty Dolla Sign, Vince Staples might have just dropped the best album of his career with Ramona Park Broke My Heart, and that’s saying something. One of the best rappers of 2022? Absolutely!
Notable releases: I Never Liked You
We got dragged last year when we named Future one of the very best rappers of the 2010s, putting him in the top three above J. Cole. No regrets there. Kanye said it best when he declared Future the “most influential artist of the past 10 years,” and the Atlanta rapper’s latest album, I Never Liked You, is just a showcase of why he’s the best at what he does.
Balancing fire trap bangers with heart-wrenching vocal ballads, Future’s ninth album is an amalgamation of everything that makes him great, influential, and definitely one of the best rappers of 2022.
Notable releases: Zhigeist (with Georgia Anne Muldrow)
Elzhi has been one of the best technicians in hip hop for over the past decade. Coming up in the ultra-competitive Detroit rap scene, Elzhi made his name as part of the legendary Slum Village crew when he was asked by J Dilla to take his place in the group.
Since then, the Detroit MC has bounced around dropping projects on a semi-consistent schedule, and display his ridiculous ability to put words together. Elzhi’s latest album, Zhigeist, put together with Georgia Anne Muldrow, is just another addition to his catalogue of pinpoint bars delivered over smooth, lush production.
Notable releases: Food For Thought
Che Noir is one of the best female rapper in the game today. Sorry, she’s one of the best rappers in the game today, bar none. Born on the exact same day that Nas’ landmark Illmatic dropped (April 19, 1994), Che was destined for rap greatness. Ever since her collaboration album with the amazing Apollo Brown, As God Intended, dropped in 2020, the Buffalo rapper has been making huge strides in the music industry.
“I can only talk about what I’ve seen,” she said in an interview with Mic. “I’m reporting live on my surroundings for 27 years. I’ve been living in upstate New York on and off my entire life. The trauma I’ve been through has made me introspective, vulnerable, and expressive.” On her latest release, Food For Thought (an early contender for album of the year), Che Noir bares all facets of her soul over the tight 12-tracks, from aggressive braggadocio bars to vulnerable revelations about her struggles with mental health and alcohol abuse.
Notable releases: Aethiopes (with Preservation)
Along with Elucid as part of Armand Hammer and The Alchemist, Billy Woods dropped one of the best rap albums of 2021 with menacing Haram. Born in Washington, D.C. to an English literature professor for a mother, and a PhD Marxist writer and thinker for a father, you can hear the deep literary roots in the way Woods writes his lyrics.
Over minimalist, floating sampled loops, the New York rapper slings dense metaphorical raps that require multiple listenings to decipher. Death and paranoia loom large over Aethiopes, and with Woods delivering his verses in his cold flow, things appear even more menacing than they really should be.
Notable releases: No Rest for the Wicked
Even though Ransom’s been around for a few years now, the New York rapper seems to be entering into his prime right now. After a devastating 2021 that saw him decimate verses on solo albums (Heavy Is the Head), collaboration albums (Coup De Grace with Rome Streetz) and feature appearances (Conway’s “Kill All Rats”), Ransom is back for more.
Moving across his latest release, No Rest for the Wicked, like a lyrical samurai, every bar is sharp and precise, delivered with a cold, detached demeanour, even though they all feature Ransom’s trademark heart-the-sleeve lyrics.
Notable releases: Sick!
Forever an enigma in the rap game, Earl Sweatshirt is content to fall back from the spotlight and come around every so often to drop an album of the year contender. He did it in 2015 with I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, in 2018 with Some Rap Songs and again in 2022 with Sick!
Dropped just two weeks after the new year began, Earl’s fourth album has been stuck in the steady rotation required to fully absorb what the 28-year old rapper is saying in his verses. With fatherhood and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic representing the two major themes on the album, Earl flips effortlessly between life and death, as the bars come out sharply as ever.
The Top 5 Best Rappers of 2022
5. Benny the Butcher
Notable releases: Tana Talk 4
A lot has happened since Benny the Butcher dropped his landmark Tana Talk 3 in 2018. It was around the same time that Griselda was beginning their takeover of the underground. He dropped a number of albums, including the excellent The Plugs I Met and Burden of Proof with Hit-Boy, which is also Benny’s most commercial sounding project to date. In between that, he signed a major label deal with Def Jam, and may or may not have engaged in a beef with collaborator-turned-it’s-complicated Freddie Gibbs.
So when the Griselda rapper announced that he dropping Tana Talk 4 in 2022, it was a statement. Because as all Benny fans would know, as great as his past few albums have been, that Tana Talk represents a gold standard in his catalogue. And for the most part, the fourth instalment to the series lives up to the name.
Over a solid 12-tracks with production by the always reliable Alchemist and Daringer, Benny doesn’t skip a beat as he goes from rapping alongside the likes of J. Cole and Conway, to re-creating classic Biggie tracks, and getting some shit off his chest on “Mr. Chow Hall.” Over the past few years, Benny has been one of the most consistent rappers who can always be relied upon for a solid verse, and Tana Talk 4 is another notch on his already striped belt.
4. J. Cole
Notable releases: D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape (with Dreamville)
It’s becoming a yearly tradition now. Whether or not J. Cole is dropping an album, fans can depend on him coming through and murdering a few guest verses. Whether it was on 21 Savage’s “A Lot” in 2018, Gang Starr’s “Family and Loyalty” in 2019, or Wale’s “Poke It Out” in 2021, J. Cole is becoming the official guest verse murderer of his generation.
It’s really saying something when Cole has the best verse on the entire Tana Talk 4 which boasted a killers’ row of MCs. Like he said on “Johnny P’s Caddy” – “I’m prolly gon’ go to hell if Jesus ask for a feature.” And we ain’t even have to mention the fire he dropped on D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape.
3. Denzel Curry
Notable releases: Melt My Eyez See Your Future
According to an interview with Loud And Quiet, Denzel Curry scribbled down the words “Melt My Eyez See Your Future” in a notepad back in 2018. He didn’t exactly know what they meant, but he felt there was something in those words that he’d come back to in the future.
In between jotting those words down and releasing the album, Curry dropped two other records – 2019’s Zuu and 2020’s Unlocked with Kenny Beats. And as great as those two albums are, there is just something different about Melt My Eyez See Your Future that makes it standout amongst his catalogue.
Curry’s rapping has always been phenomenal, and over production by the likes of Kenny Beats, he’s always guaranteed to produce back-to-back bangers. But on his latest release, the Florida rapper is intent on pushing himself artistically, as he flows over a diverse range of production, from R&B and jazz to boom-bap and funk.
While comparisons to Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly are bound to happen over the next few months, Melt My Eyez See Your Future is wholly original and an album that only Denzel Curry could have created. It’s a goddamn masterpiece.
2. Pusha T
Notable releases: It’s Almost Dry
Consider this for a second: Clipse’s debut single, the GOAT coke rap anthem “Grindin'” dropped May 14, 2002. Pusha T’s fourth solo album, It’s Almost Dry, dropped April 22, 2022.
That’s almost 20 years to the exact date of Pusha performing at the highest level of street rap. It’s just never been done before. With his latest release, Pusha has entered the upper echelon of rappers who have been managed to balance out longevity with refreshed, new music that appeals to their core fanbase.
Content-wise, It’s Almost Dry is exactly what you would expect from a Pusha T album: high level, luxury drug rap. But this time, the Clipse rapper is playing around more with different flows and cadences – peep the way he raps like Slick Rick on the casually menacing “Call My Bluff” or the rhyme scheme he employs on “Neck & Wrist.”
Compared to Daytona, an already classic record in Pusha’s catalogue, It’s Almost Dry has more colours, more dimensions, and is just a testament to a rapper who’s dedicated to perfecting his craft. The best rapper of 2022? YEUGH!
1. Kendrick Lamar
Notable releases: Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
Y’all knew this was coming right? I mean, how could you not. The last time Kendrick Lamar dropped an album, XXXTentacion was just blowing up, Nipsey Hussle was getting ready to drop Victory Lap and Pop Smoke was still trying to get in the rap game. Five years later and those three rappers, representing a spectrum of the hip hop community, have passed, while Kendrick was in self-imposed exile going through some shit.
Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is perhaps Kendrick densest and most complex listen. It lacks the vivid cinematic quality of good kid, m.A.A.d city, the musicality of To Pimp a Butterfly and pop sensibilities of DAMN., but what you get in return is his most honest and soul-baring album to date. However, while storytelling and brutal truths are at the forefront of the album, make no mistake, Kendrick’s rapping talents are still on full display here – his innate ability to twist his flow around words, dense delivery and various vocal cadences make the album an incredible listening experience.
Listen, Pusha T is my favourite rapper of all time and he might have just dropped his best solo album to date, but there’s no denying it: Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper of 2022.