Chicago’s music landscape is covered with wonderful albums across all genres of music. The Windy City is home to some of the most talented artists in the world, and is one of the biggest places that pulls creativity out of its inhabitants. 2021 was a long year of ups and downs and music was a one constant, yet again, for fans to get through all the times.
It was hard to narrow down this list, with lots of drops happening in November and December numbers got shifted around. One of Chicago’s blessing is that there’s a new song or project to listen practically every week. This in turn allows artists to create new sounds, styles and high-quality music.
Below are the 25 Best Hip-Hop/Rap and R&B albums of 2021:
25.) Slid Thru Part 2 By: Rockie Fresh
Rockie Fresh is no stranger to being included in Chicago’s top albums list. The veteran artist has been putting in work his own way in 2021 and we got a wonderful collection of music that reminds listeners of the incredible skills he brings to the table. He wonderfully gelled with the features from Vic Mensa, 24 HRS and Tobi Lou. Rockie is only going to keep reminding listeners of his value as an artist and he’s got more stories to tell, it’s going to be exciting to see what’s in store for 2022.
24.) Made For Big Speakers By: CP
Arguably the shortest project on this list, CP put out Made For Big Speakers in the summer which was his only project of the year. 2021 was CP’s coming out party as he got the perform throughout big shows in Chicago and grow his fanbase. Features from the city’s DCG Brothers also gave this offering of music a strong boost. Lookout for CP in 2022.
23.) Bet on Me By: Goldenboymnny
Heading into 2021, Chicago’s Goldenboymnny was making noise. Since he released his 12 song project, Bet on Me, he soared to new heights as an artist. His sound is something unique to the city, fans are getting to hear the beginning of what could be a new wave. He worked with a multitude of local producers to help curate incredible production to match this new style of music he’s honing in on. Listen to his interview on The Culture Captures Spotlight Podcast here.
22.) Nu Moon By: Kaycee Shakur
Following a three-year hiatus from music, KayCee Shakur released her album, Nu Moon in April. This album was an incredible way to put yourself right back in the conversation. This 13-track album lets her skill set as an artist shine through each invigorating song. Her captivating lyrics and the overall convincing spirit each song pushes out is something special. Nu Moon has a feature from Matty Wood$ that accompanies her style well, she’s an artist who’s not going to have a feature on her first big hit. With a growing fanbase set to come in 2022, be ready to be streaming more of KayCee Shakur’s music.
21.) Big Bank By: Baha Bank$
This album had to be on the list. Chicago’s Baha Bank$ is on her way to becoming one of the Windy City’s biggest female rappers. She only started recording two years ago, however her debut album “Big Bank” has been a big streamer. Her breakout song, Shake Dat A$$ with Chance The Rapper and a feature from Chicago’s own DCG Shun helped her earn new fans. She’s going to be on a big takeover in 2022. Listen to her interview on The Culture Captures Spotlight Podcast here.
20.) Made With Love By: JAMS TFC
Chicago’s JAMS The Flava Child is one of Chicago’s more unique artists the city offers. This album was his biggest project out to date which propelled him to sell out shows and start a new chapter of his career in Los Angeles. Made With Love was mixed and mastered by legend Edan, who’s worked on classics with Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa, was able to assist JAMS in creating his classic project for his growing and die-hard fan base. Listen to his interview on The Culture Captures Spotlight Podcast here.
19.) Reflections By: oddCouple
Producer/artist oddCouple has been tearing up studios across the world for a decade and the Windy City’s own dropped his first project in about three years with Reflections. In his return, he came back with a new sound that compels listeners as each song run through. This 11-track project is a great listen for the artists in the music industry trying to end up on one of these lists one day, or who are looking to expand on their sound. oddCouple got assists from collaborators like theMIND, Jamila Woods and more.
18.) Children Play With Fire By: NombreKARI
If NombreKARI didn’t have your attention before he should now after dropping his debut album “Clidren Play With Fire” in 2021 he is someone you should be looking out for in the chicago music scene. NombreKARI definitely had one of the more lyrical projects on this years list but that’s what kinda makes him unique with how he truly showcases a more traditional rap sound while also incorporating some of people’s favorite parts of today’s sounds. NombreKARI hasn’t really blown up yet with only having less than 500 monthly listeners on spotify but y’all should absolutely tap in.
17.) Reloaded By: Cdot Honcho
Cdot Honcho dropped a small but promising project in 2021. Compared to his 2020 album “H5”, Cdot goes in on seven songs straight with no features. All the tracks on the project share a bouncy and hard hitting beat that pairs perfectly with his flow. Songs like, ‘Honcho Style 5’ & ‘Demon Time’ hold weight and refresh listeners to how Cdot has dished out so many classics. Hopefully 2022 has big plans in store for this iconic Chicago artist.
16.) Days in LA By: OG Stevo
OG Stevo’s EP “Days in LA” is another one of the shorter projects that’s made the list. But this is one of the Chicago artists’ best offerings in the sorts of a project. Hearing about Chicago natives finding success in other affluent cities is always a big win for the music scene. Songs like Hollywood and On Melrose describe some of the experiences Stevo has seen being in LA more and more. Going to be exciting to see what he drops in 2022.
15.) Loyal By: Booka600
Lil Durks Only the Family artist Booka600 released his first album since 2019 with “Loyal”. Booka was already having a good year with his appearance on the OTF project “Loyal Bros”. With songs like “JUMP”, this project only reinforced his standing in the Chicago music scene. Hopefully we can see more music from Booka600 in 2022.
14.) Trench Baby 2 By: Lil Zay Osama
Lil Zay Osama was putting in the hours in 2021 with him not only dropping “Trench Baby” during the first half of the year in February but also dropping “Trench Baby 2” during the second half of the year in November. Incredible production on each project gave Zay the ability to walk all over these beats. While some would be wary of dropping two albums in a year, Zay didn’t miss a beat on either project with both of them having certified hits such as, “61st to 64th” and “Murderzone.”
13.) I TAPE By: Vic Mensa
Here’s another Chicago legend that’s going to claim a spot on this year’s list, and is no stranger to them too. Vic Mensa’s 7 song project “I TAPE” is a short wonderful collection of songs he put out throughout 2021 that all display wonderful production and A1 storytelling. Features include Wychef Jean, Chance The Rapper, Zacari and more.
12.) elephant in the room by: Mick Jenkins
Mick Jenkins has been plowing his way towards the top of Chicago’s music scene for the past couple of years. His last album, The Circus, brought on a lot of new fans in the city while he was poised on putting out more work. Elephant in the room is a 12 song project where each track brings out various emotions about life events Jenkins and many others have gone through. However it’s something you can listen to try and calm down or, if you need to feel that certain kind of boss energy. His production and engineering is phenomenal and the lyricism from Jenkins hits the high bar he sets for himself. If you have not been hip to Mick Jenkins, you need to get acquitted heading into 2022 before he’s all the way blown up.
11.) Loyal Bros By: Only The Family (OTF)
Lil Durk’s label Only the family released their fourth studio album “Loyal Bros” which featured hit tracks such as Hellcats and Trackhawks, which are certified gold, and Turkey Season. The OTF label was able to expand it’s reach by dropping this project that’s got over 20 tracks, showcasing each member of the group that’s going to be around Chicago’s music scene for a long time. This project showcases not only the diverse group of artists under OTF but also the versatility of sound that they all represent.
10.). Crying In The Club By: Dreamer Isioma
In a world of somewhat repetitive sounds, this EP has a fresh and funky feel. 2021 was a loud year for Dreamer Isioma as she was making campaigns for Vans and got to perform during 2021’s Lollapalooza. Listeners love her EP Crying In The Club, the attention to detail in such a compact project creates a unique experience from start to finish. The use of Isioma’s vocals and matching production tell a complete story. Isioma’s sound is refreshing and really sets her apart from any other artist on this list. This is a project worth listening to for the first time if you have not already done so, you won’t be disappointed.
9.) En Route (Deluxe) By: MFnMelo, squeakPIVOT & Pivot Gang
Pivot Gang has been creating a wave and their own sound since the group joined forces. They’ve continuously bended though everything and have put out Chicago classics in their time together. This past summer, squeak unfortunately had an untimely passing that rocked the Chicago scene. What makes this project stand out is Melo effortlessly gliding all over the beats squeakPIVOT laid out. The feature from Dinnerfromjohn is a calling to the fact squeak’s legacy is still growing everyday.
8.) Not For Sale By: Femdot.
Femdot’s second album of 2021 details his thoughts on what it means to be, “selling out” as an artist. Throughout this cinematic story, Femdot pours out his worries and temptations. It’s a story of independence and freedom, and overcoming those challenges. His fan base and name is soaring as high as the buildings in the city, as 2022 is going to be a takeover year for the Chicago artist. From Femdot’s scholarship supporting students of color to creating his own music group, Femdot is proving that you can be successful as an independent artist and make a difference.
7.) 4NEM By: Chief Keef
This is the fourth studio album from Chicago native Chief Keef. With a tracklist of 15 songs, Chief Keef comes back with quality production and cadence. Fans of the rap game legend have been clamoring about the release since it dropped in December of 2021. This could be one of the overall most complete projects of Chief Keef’s historic career. He didn’t need fancy features or big names, not that there’s anything wrong with that, to make a big splash out of nowhere. His energy throughout this project gives listeners a fresh take from the veteran.
6.) Hall of Fame by: Polo G
Polo G’s consistency throughout 2021 was incredible and his decision to drop multiple projects paid off. The entire Hall of Fame project is impeccable, which carries into the deluxe Hall of Fame 2.0. His performance through melodies and flows showcases his true talent as an artist. The project also has many features including Polo’s upcoming artist Scorey, Lil Baby, Pop Smoke, Lil Wayne and more. With a roster of talent and hits like Bad Man (Smooth Criminal), this album is solid all around and is going to continue to push Polo G’s name around nationwide.
5.) WAKE UP LUCKI By: Lucki, F1LTHY
Another project that was released towards the end of 2021, the Lucki and F1LTHY joint project can someday go down as one of the best producer/artist duos. Lucki has been making waves in Chicago for years, he needs little to no introduction. F1LTHY was one of the main producers to work on Playboi Carti’s album, Whola Lotta Red, and is renowned for his creativity and precise style. F1LTHY brought out what fans love to hear from Lucki and something new which ages well overtime.
4.) The Voice & The Heroes By: Lil Durk & Lil Baby
Two of the biggest artists of 2021, Lil Baby and Chicago’s own Lil Durk, dropped off the what could be the best rap collaboration project since Future & Drake’s, What a Time To Be Alive. Fans were hoping for a project from these two artists since 3 Headed Goat released back in 2020, they more than delivered with both artists having multiple hits on the project. This album came with a huge tour for Durk and he was joined by Baby, a huge milestone for each artist individually. The project saw features from the talented Young Thug, Rod Wave, Travis Scott and Meek Mill. This project has aged well and if you haven’t given it another listen since it dropped you will probably pick up a new song for your playlist.
3.) 25 By: G Herbo
G Herbo looks back at his career so far in his sixth studio album. This album is about Herbo maturing as a person and an artist which carries a similar theme to his previous project PTSD. Strong production from producers like Tay Keith and Southside carries Herbo’s flow to the level fans adore him for, he stands strongly alongside features from Chicago’s Polo G, Gunna, 21 Savage and more. What’s so crazy about this project is it’s gaining Herb newer fans by the week that are just now discovering his music.
2.) Fighting Demons By: Juice WRLD
Posthumous albums are controversial, especially amongst the fan base of the deceased artists. Fighting Demons is the second posthumous offering from Juice WRLD’s team and it was such a strong project. Features include Polo G and Trippie Redd, as well as a unique talk from Eminem on the track “Eminem Speaks.” Seeing Juice get a song with global sensations like Justin Bieber and BTS member Suga proves that Juice WRLD paved a way to become one of the most talented artists of this generation.
1.) DONDA By: Ye
Ye, formally known as Kanye West, proceeded to remind music consumers of his influence across the sphere of a space with so many genres and styles. DONDA is the name of his mother, who passed away in 2008. This project originated years ago and was reshaped by the mogul during the nine or ten week rollout process the industry and fans witnessed. When the project dropped, Ye said it was released without him giving the green light. Nonetheless, the project we received ties so many artists together, 24 to be exact, which shows how much the game appreciates him and how important legendary artists are to music.