best hip hop february 2023
ALGIERS by Ebru Yildiz / Matador

Hip-Hop Matters: The Best Hip-Hop of February 2023

February’s best hip-hop projects feature angular experiments, tranquil vibes, a returning legend, and boundaries being blurred.

Welcome back to PopMatters’ monthly hip-hop roundup column. This month is among the most eclectic since we started running the column. February was a big month for rap music. Tons of albums were released, including higher profile ones from Fredo Bang, Don Toliver, and Logic, along with well-received R&B albums by Liv.e and Kelela. This column prefers to look a little more left of center, however. The albums included in this month’s roundup range from mellow and jazzy to abstract, confrontational, and wholly deconstructed. We hope you find much to enjoy. 

Maxo – Even God Has a Sense of Humour [Def Jam]

Maxo Even God Has a Sense of Humour

Maxo’s second album on Def Jam is as effortless as rap music comes. A laid-back and jazzy collection, Even God Has a Sense of Humour is as effervescent as it is playful. Bolstered by production from the likes of Madlib and Karriem Riggins, along with solid guest features from Pink Siifu and Liv.e, these 14 tracks encompass smoky psychedelic rap (“Nuri”), mellow boom-bap (“Free!”), neo-soul (“Both Handed”) and all manner of other tranquil, contemplative styles. Expect to see this one on many end-of-year lists.

Jehst – Mork Calling Orson [YNR Productions]

Jehst Mork Calling Orson

A welcome return from UK legend Jehst, Mork Calling Orson is another jewel in the venerable MC’s crown. For the uninitiated, Jehst’s debut, The Return of the Drifter, is an all-time great UK hip-hop record, though all his releases are of the highest quality. His latest Mork Calling Orson intelligently cribs from contemporary rap, featuring Griselda-style samples (“Daily Planet”, “Skyline”) and Blah Records quiet menace (“You” even features Blah head honcho Lee Scott). However, Jehst’s charisma always shines through, further proving his underrated brilliance.

Nappy Nina – Morning Due [LucidHaus]

Nappy Nina Morning Due

Morning Due is the latest from Nappy Nina, a Brooklyn-based MC that this writer, to his shame, was previously unaware of. It’s a quietly magnificent album with 14 tracks of delicate rapping (imagine a middle ground between Noname by and Moor Mother) and abstract, though never alienating, electronic production. It’s experimental but also approachable and full of introspective depth. Nina’s honest lyrics aren’t interested in flexes or punchlines, focusing instead on themes that portray a reserved, complex persona. It’s a guarded, subtle, and brilliant rap album.

Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy [Ninja Tune]

Young Fathers Heavy Heavy

Scottish trio Young Fathers are a frequently indescribable prospect. Their music (Heavy Heavy is their fourth studio album) dissolves hip-hop’s boundaries, encompassing art pop and experimental electronica as much as traditional rap music. It overflows with ecstatic vocals and percussive rhythms as if channeling the earliest 20th-century black vocal music or further back still. We include it in this column because it’s hip-hop-adjacent, with “Drum” featuring rapid-fire rapping and “Shoot Me Down” boasting moody, bass-heavy beats. It’s a unique collection that music fans of all persuasions need to hear.

SKECH185 & Jeff Markey – He Left Nothing For the Swim Back [Backwoodz Studioz]

SKECH185 He Left Nothing For the Swim Back

The line doing the rounds about Backwoodz Studioz is that they’re this generation’s Definitive Jux. However, there’s an argument to be made that Backwoodz Studioz’s output is even more challenging and abrasive than El-P’s revered label. SKECH185’s Backwoodz debut is relentlessly maximalist and in-your-face. His intricate raps are delivered at maximum volume, while Jeff Markey’s beats are by turns angular, dense, and often as confrontational as its MC’s delivery. However, if you can tune into its wavelength, He Left Nothing For the Swim Back is hugely engrossing. Highlights include the dark, riveting production of “The River” and the vivid lyricism of “East Side Summer”. It’s an essential listen for open-minded rap fans.

Russ Millions – One of a Kind [One of a Kind Music]

Russ Millions One of a Kind

The UK drill scene is showing no signs of slowing down. Russ Millions’ 2018 track “Gun Lean” was the first drill track to crack the top ten of the UK charts, while in 2021, Millions’ “Body” claimed the number one spot. One of a Kind is his first full-length album (this genre and his fans seem increasingly unconcerned with the album format), and while it’s not groundbreaking, it’s brilliant entertainment. Millions’ marvelous voice is unconcerned with thematic substance, focused instead on guiding highlights like “Can’t Forget Me” and “Fall in Love” via effervescent flows. This genre still sounds fresh, exciting and underpinned by a sense of cold melancholy.

Sideshow – 2MM DON’T JUST STAND THERE! [10k]


Perfect for fans of MIKE and AKAI Solo, Sideshow’s 2MM DON’T JUST STAND THERE is a colorful and humble collection of experimental hip-hop. It’s not exactly substantial, but the best modern abstract rap albums are often the most focused and pared down. 2MM DON’T JUST STAND THERE is light on its feet and airy. “2MM” breezes by atop gently intricate production, “SHELL IN A GHOST” is reflective and psychedelic, while “MR COULDN’T HURT A FLY” is the album’s highlight, full of intelligent rhymes and elegant production. This one’s a grower. It seems slight at first, but its effortlessness will gradually become clear. 

Algiers – Shook [Matador]

Algiers Shook

Interestingly, this has come out the same month as Young Fathers’ Heavy Heavy. AlgiersShook shares much of that record’s focus on the black voice and vocal music’s radical, transcendental qualities. Shook is as much a soul and post-punk album as a rap album. It awkwardly but thrillingly shifts gears with wilful abandon, ranging from the EBM beats of “Irreversible Damage” to the caustic synth-punk of “A Good Man” to the dark, abstract rap of the billy woods and Backxwash-featuring “Bite Back”. It’s not as focused or singular as Heavy Heavy, but it makes up half of a double bill showcasing how hip-hop can be deconstructed and reimagined.