best hip-hop of january 2023

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

The best hip-hop of January focuses on albums from underground veterans, viral upstarts, and hyper-productive modern masters.

For our first column of the year, we’re looking to the underground for our best hip-hop and rap releases. There were no records this month from any of the genre’s ‘big’ names unless we include Lil Yachty’s bizarre psych-rock excursion Let’s Start Here. Instead, we focus on albums from underground veterans, viral upstarts, and hyper-productive modern masters. We hope you enjoy this eclectic roundup of releases in the hip-hop genre from January 2023.

Skyzoo & The Other Guys – The Mind of a Saint [First Generation Rich / HiPNOTT]


Skyzoo’s been active since the turn of the millennium, grafting hard and working with the likes of Pete Rock, Apollo Brown, Black Milk, 9th Wonder, and countless others. His previous release, 2021’s All the Beautiful Things, was a marvelous highpoint in his career, upon which The Mind of a Saint admirably builds. If it’s not quite as impressive as that previous opus, it stands tall as an emotionally-resonant work of traditional boom-bap. Skyzoo’s sophisticated lyrics tell a subtly-complex narrative, bolstered by the Other Guys’ unfussy but elegant production. Everything Skyzoo does is worth checking out, and The Mind of a Saint is no exception.

CRIMEAPPLE – El Cantante [Fat Beats]


CRIMEAPPLE will never be regarded as the wisest rapper, but damn if he isn’t one of the most entertaining out there. The contemporary king of braggadocio puts out tons of records, and his first of 2023 is among the most eclectic of his recent discography. From the brash “Cosos” to the serene “Hellman’s” to the atmospheric “719”, the production of El Cantante is shape-shifting and meticulous. CRIMEAPPLE is as confident and commanding as ever, using his sharp, funny bars to devastating effect. It’s a top-tier effort within this creator’s increasingly-impressive discography.

Ice Spice – Like..? [10k / Capitol]

Like so many musicians today, Ice Spice seems to become a name to watch overnight. Like..? is her debut collection, seven fiery, self-assured drill tracks that announce the 23-year-old to the world as a fully-formed artist. In spite of her controlled delivery, her bars are inventive and elastically spat, as highlighted by the rapid-fire rhythms of the viral hit “Bikini Bottom”. While there isn’t much in the way of variety — “Actin a Smoochie” is as about as mellow as it gets) — Like..? is a short, sharp, and thrilling display of energetic and hyper-contemporary rap from a burgeoning star.

Papo2oo4 – PAP on P.E.D.’s [755739 Records]

To my shame, I was unaware of the busy Papo2oo4, the New Jersey native who last year released two full-lengths and guested on releases by the likes of Wiki, ccv.vino, and VIP Skylark. PAP on P.E.D.’s is his first of 2023 and is a real gem. While its creators’ lethargic vocals recall underground experimentalists like MIKE or AKAI Solo, his beats are far more linear and approachable but no less colorful and distinct propositions. I’m extremely excited to hear more from Papo2oo4.

Boldy James & RichGains – Indiana Jones [Independent]

Before we go any further, this column would like to send our best wishes to Boldy James who is now in stable condition following a car accident early this month. The Detroit rapper has been on a seriously productive streak of late. Last year he released four full-lengths and this month alone he’s released a physical-only EP with Real Bad Man and the 17-track epic Indiana Jones. Featuring mellow trap production from Freddie Gibbs collaborator RichGains, this latest release is yet another feather in James’ cap. Moody, sensual cuts like “Electric Blue” and “Never Had a Friend” reveal a whole new side to this modern rap master. 

Reuben Vincent – Love Is War [Jamla / Roc Nation]

A warm, soulful album that’s rich in mood and texture, Love Is War announces Reuben Vincent as a force to be reckoned with. The Charlotte, North Carolina native’s Roc Nation debut is a confident and emotionally intelligent work, one that belies its creator’s youth. The whole album is bathed in a dreamy warmth, like walking into someone else’s daydream. “Geechie Suede” and “Mon’e” go relatively hard, but most cuts are light on their feet and nuanced, full of compassionate, thoughtful lyrics that attempt to unpack the many complexities of love. Given the quality of this release and the fact that Vincent dropped his first tape at the age of just 13, it’s safe to assume that he’s got a bright future ahead of him.

ZelooperZ – Might Not Make It [Independent]

ZelooperZ is something of an enigma. Every release from the Detroit MC expands his artistic identity further and further. The five-track EP Might Not Make It is his most experimental collection to date. Self-produced by ZelooperZ, there’s a palpable air of freedom to this admirably-strange collection. Each track is wholly unique, full of jagged drums, eerie spaces, and surreal lyrics. It’s not for everybody, but if you can tune into its weird wavelength, Might Not Make It reveals itself as a prime example of contemporary rap music’s forward-thinking nature.

Tha God Fahim & Nico JP – Chess Moves [Odd Harmonics / InnerCar Music Group]

Like the aforementioned CRIMEAPPLE, Tha God Fahim is never going to be remembered as the most insightful rapper of all time, however, his distinct voice and effortless technique make him a consistently-compelling MC. In recent years his highest profile work has been on collaborative projects with the likes of Mach-Hommy and Your Old Droog, and Chess Moves proves that he has plenty enough flair and vision of his own. The mood of these eight tracks is somber and portentous, rife with spacious strings (“B Faded”), grandiose pianos (“Tha Fog”), and dark basslines (“Tha Dark Saga”). It’s an enormously-engrossing effort.