Local music scenes go through phases and their fair share of shape shifting. Good music has a tendency to not only help listeners gain a more complete understanding of the artist who makes it, but also a better understanding of the world that artist comes from. So, when listening to full albums or bite-sized EPs, the joy is to see things through the lens of our favorites.
Between the Baltimore and the D.C. area’s rap ecosystem, 2022′s best projects came from a handful of usual suspects, but a few newcomers made sure their voices were heard as well. In an attempt to contextualize those standout musical moments, here are The Baltimore Banner’s best rap and R&B albums from the region in 2022, in no particular order.
YG Teck’s first line on the “90 Run” opening track “Still” catches him mid-sentence, as if he’s simply finishing a thought from a previous song: “And I’m still in it/ still spending/ big money/ real business.” The Park Heights rapper’s follow-up to 2021′s “Undeniable” isn’t full of surprises, but he’s impressively consistent with his earnestly motivational brand of melodic trap. And outliers, like Twano’s moody soul sample beat on “Twano” and the manic sitar loop from BB Beats on “Black Trucks,” inject some welcome variety into a tape that’s dominated by NoSignal’s reliable piano riffs and hi-hat patterns.
“From Nothin” and the title track are brief darts, with one verse sandwiched between two choruses, but YG fills them with enough emotion and urgency to sidestep the kind of underwritten Soundcloud loosies that two-minute rap songs often feel like. YG Teck’s most frequent partner in rhyme, Roddy Rackzz, threatens to upstage him with slippery, effortless flows on their two “90 Day Run” collaborations. But “Bus Fare,” which also features YBS Skola and producer WhiteboyCameWitDaBag, boasts uniformly strong contributions from everyone and stands as probably the definitive Baltimore posse cut of 2022. On the ruminative closing track “Left Out,” YG Teck compares himself to other hometown heroes who’ve graduated to national stardom, like Memphis’s Moneybagg Yo or Chicago’s Lil Durk, and contemplates fame beyond Baltimore while treasuring the fans he has now: “I’m the one on all they captions/ I’m the one that they quote/ when people feel like giving up/ I be givin’ ‘em hope.” — Al Shipley
A sequel to a previous album of the same name, “More Than Music Pt. 2″ is Shordie Shordie serving up another helping of his trademark nasal-inflected melodic raps. The Northeast Baltimore native continues to build on his ever-fitting nickname of “Captain Hook”, constructing infectious one-liners and couplets that swirl around eardrums far beyond a song’s final moments. Throughout the album’s 41 minute runtime, Shordie bounces back and forth between a notorious player and jilted lover. Songs like “Can’t Party Here No More” and “Pon de River” find him playing the field, flirting his way through parties and readily professing his love for the many women he entertains; bright drums and acoustic guitars underlining his earnest delivery every step of the way. But when he’s not romancing, songs like “Caring” and “Is It True?” hint at something deeper and more honest, directly addressing more concrete concerns that often come with love, such as trust and forgiveness. Appearances from industry heavyweights and regional staples such as Offset, Rich Homie Quan and Mozzy only help assert the fact that Shordie’s star power is still on the rise. Time will tell just how far his distinct yet rapid-fire cadence and penchant for crafting hooks will carry him, but “More Than Music Pt. 2″ is an effective return to a well that hasn’t quite run dry. — Larry Little
Brent Faiyaz’s career thus far has been a master class on honing in on the music that resonates with your most dedicated audience and continuing to cater to them with that material until more people latch onto your artistry. In the Columbia-raised singer’s case, it’s building a foundation of music that details the difficulties of navigating the intricacies of love while also trying to elevate in a career field that, if you take it seriously, requires you to have long nights and extended periods of time away from people you care about. To some, it’s a selfish cop-out. Faiyaz’s music is intriguing because it’s always unclear about whether or not these tales of emotional ineptitude and eventual distance in relationships are autobiographical or a clever ploy to frame himself as the toxic love interest; here for an extremely exhilarating time, but a short one.
“Wasteland” deals with those feelings, in the same way that his previous album, “Fuck The World” did in 2020. He asks, “What’s left of us? What’s left of our lives? It’s only you, it’s only me. It’s only us at the end of the night,” on “Loose Change,” a song that sits with feelings of being stuck with someone you see no real future with. On “FYTB,” he’s frustrated with his partner even thinking that he has intentions on going elsewhere, even though you know he surely does. On “Wasting Time,” Drake and The Neptunes join him to convince a prospective lover to enter a dead-end, but exciting situationship with him. Faiyaz isn’t the guy helping you break generational curses around intimacy, but he’ll offer some damn good lullabies for you if you share his skepticism of sustainable partnership. — Lawrence Burney
YMC Ant has been steadily improving as an artist since he began making music, and his latest album, “Sincerely From Ant,” is his most complete project to date. This album is a showcase of versatility as he exhibits his ability to blend vulnerability with street talk. It also doesn’t hurt that Ant has some of the city’s biggest names featured on the album, including YG Teck, YBS Skola, Roddy Rackzz and frequent collaborator YMC Tez. With all of these heavy hitters, some may expect that they may overshadow Ant at times, but the melodic wordsmith perfectly plays his part and shows that he’s right where he belongs on these songs.
Ant previously stated that he wanted this album to have a new sound that fits an “industry type of vibe” and he succeeded in creating that. While the delivery may be less raw and rugged, there’s still no shortage of bangers on the album. The album’s second song, “Never Ending,” an autotune-heavy track that sounds like it could be in heavy rotation on the radio, is one of the strongest songs of the year. Whether it’s the YBS Skola-assisted “Interstate” or the fan-favorite “Who Am I,” “Sincerely From Ant” has multiple songs for everybody to enjoy. In turn, the 17-track, 39-minute album is a cohesive and easy listen for fans, a testament to Ant’s growth as an artist. — Taji Burris
Baby 9eno is a joy to listen to because he knows how to contort his delivery depending on whatever kind of production he interacts with, which already places him in a different tier than the majority of artists in the DMV scene, who often insist on keeping the same flow regardless of how much the track begs them to do differently. In January, he released “Hood Legend,” a 14-track project that only runs for 34 minutes in total. Most tracks are two-minute-long adventures in which he packs them with stories about how to make the street economy work for you, which often feels blaxploitation-esque.
He maneuvers through rolling 808s and creepy key hits to talk at a conversational pace about sleeping in pest-infested apartments to cut down on costs, the demands of adult life making it difficult to just focus on rap as a career and how he’s starting to develop a pudge in his stomach from drinking codeine on songs like “Out of Control”. The project’s Lord Fubu-produced titular track loops vintage cell phone ringers and echoey synths are the perfect bed to boast the respect he gets in his neighborhood. The contemplative flute play on “Made Up My Mind” is a nice companion to his self-promise that he’s gonna keep his head down until he stacks up six figures. All throughout “Hood Legend,” Baby 9eno is tooting his own horn for how great of a person he is while unsuccessfully trying to convince us how much he doesn’t care about making it as a rapper. — LB
Black children are often robbed of the luxury of simply getting their feet wet with the lessons of life. As consciousness is developed, Black parents are tasked with having enormous conversations with their kids about their place in the world and what it means to navigate it. Even as they do their best to introduce tough subjects in smaller, more manageable sections, life has a habit of tossing Black kids into the deep end before they’re truly ready. Backyard pools begin to feel like oceans, with vicious waves controlling their every move as they fight to understand what’s being thrust upon them.
“learn 2 swim” by Prince George’s County’s redveil is what it feels like to finally become in tune with your own buoyancy after years of enduring the crashing of waves. Across an effective 12 tracks, he confidently embraces the ebbs and flows of life as he goes out on his own. The album, completely produced by redveil, sonically builds on a history of soulful sample chops and loops. Rich saxophones and lush drum patterns surround his clear and impassioned voice as he raps about the growing pains that inform his sunny optimism.
On “diving board,” lines such as “My saving grace in my DNA/ we Black, that leave me with 2 choices/ get left or adapt,” carry the sink-or-swim mantra that Black people have embodied since the days of slavery. The topic of unity may be the album’s greatest through line, with “mars” containing the salient bars, “But I look like a fool resenting you and you kin to me/ everyday been clear since i found out you ain’t the enemy” and “interlocking get us solid/ I can’t do this on my own.” That addresses both the solitude of healing and the necessity of shared growth. When waters get choppy and your legs are too fatigued, the shoulder of the man beside you will keep you from drowning. — LL
Brian Ennals grew up in Severn, Maryland and has been sporadically making albums full of smart, profanely funny rhymes since 2010. But he was relatively unknown, even locally, before he linked up with a producer a decade his junior, Tariq “Infinity Knives” Ravelomanana, who’s equally interested in studying composers like John Cage or Erik Satie and evoking the crisp electro beats of ’80s hip-hop. And on their second duo project, it feels like Infinity Knives and Brian Ennals kept pushing each other toward stranger soundscapes and more outrageous punchlines, resulting in one of the most widely acclaimed independent rap albums of 2022.
On “King Cobra,” the duo drop musical and lyrical allusions to everything from Pink Floyd and Red Hot Chili Peppers to Ice-T and Sir Mix-A-Lot, while Ennals unfurls a constant stream of quotables like “Bitch, I’m from Maryland, we need a new flag/ with pics of dope needles, Old Bay, and some crabs” (from “A Melancholy Boogie”). Ennals says about 20 things on the album that would cost a more famous rapper an endorsement deal, like “Me and Knives on the run, 12 on our tail, libs mad ‘cause we shot Joe Biden,” delivered flawlessly over a complex beat in a 10/4 time signature on “Don’t Let the Smooth Taste Fool You.” Even when Ennals dips into his storytelling bag on “The Badger,” he constructs a loopy class warfare narrative about conspiring with a schizophrenic army vet to kill his landlord, who’s ultimately shot instead by incompetent police officers. — AS
D.C.’s rap scene — specifically the city’s street music — over the past five years has produced a staggering amount of young talent describing what happens in the District’s underworld in a style that many cast off as “off-beat” and overly abundant on angry piano riffs. But there’s been plenty of gems within this sea of potential. For the bulk of his time contributing to this scene, Northeast D.C. rapper CruddyMurda has never consistently wowed listeners — his voice often an unpleasant squawk and the mixing of songs hindering them from their potential full-bodiedness. But this year, Murda made the smart shift of dropping a project solely produced by Prince George’s County producer Sparkheem and his team of collaborators.
For this reason, “Paint The World” is essentially the first opportunity to hear CruddyMurda fully conceptualized. The production is grimace-inducing throughout, which supports Murda’s tendency to give bloodthirsty details of things he’d like to do to his enemies if he ever gets the chance. Songs like “Drizzy Close,” “Day to Day” and “Backdoor Man” are almost comedic in their gore. Half of the project feels like, if given the proper opportunity and tools, CruddyMurda’s post-rap journey could include writing scripts for slasher films. — LB
OTR Chaz has been one of the more consistent artists in Baltimore and his “Longwood Legends” EP, which pays homage to the Northwest Baltimore street that Chaz hails from, is more of what we expect from him. Chaz’s knack for crooning his slurred words has made him a fan favorite in the city and he continues to do it here. “Breath” and “Pour Up 4″ feature appearances from Roddy Rackzz and the duo flaunt their chemistry on both tracks. As opposed to the braggadacious style of tracks these two normally craft together, “Breath” and “Pour Up 4″ are more introspective.
Tracks like “Addy Family” and “Real Luv <3″ exhibit Chaz’s pop appeal with brighter, ear-grabbing production. This is also where Chaz shines brightest as he uses his own voice as an instrument, toying with several different cadences throughout the EP. Only five-tracks-long with a total of 12 minutes in length, “Longwood Legends” serves as an appetizer for what Chaz is capable of delivering. The Longwood artist has a specific recipe that he uses while creating his music, which tends to be perfect for his listeners to enjoy. — TB
Kolby “YTK” Kennedy has released half a dozen projects since 2019, all of them EPs running under 20 minutes. And it’s a format that flatters him, particularly on his second release of 2022. He dazzles you with as many dizzying rhymes and witty turns of phrase as possible in six songs, and leaves you wanting more. And when he sings, he really brings the vocals, not the offkey warbling of a singing rapper.
YTK had a breakthrough moment in 2021 when “Let It Off,” which sampled Mariah Carey’s 2005 hit “Shake It Off,” went viral and even earned a response from Carey herself. And in 2022 he went international, recording features with French rapper Steki and Australian producer Jadu Jadu. On “As Polite, As Possible,” however, YTK eschews collaborations and recognizable samples in favor of showcasing his versatility.
There are shades of Playboi Carti in YTK’s delivery on “Goals.” But elsewhere on “As Polite, As Possible,” YTK has the self-possessed air of a young Andre 3000, and breaks into rapid melodic flows reminiscent of Do Or Die or Bone Thugs-N-Harmony over a tense string loop on “Don’t Be Dumb (Chosen)” and gospel pianos on “Woe.” On the latter, YTK talks about big career ambitions that feel increasingly plausible: “Last year I was tweetin’ shit ‘bout that I do, now it’s shit that I did/ That should prove I ain’t bluffin’ on shit that I’m sayin’/ I’m sayin’ I’m comin’ for billions of streams, I’m comin’ for you and your team/ I’m comin’ for sold-out arenas/ I don’t know the difference between highlights and goals, I’m a dreamer.” — AS