Since its inception nearly four years ago, CABBAGES has existed in the spirit of, and in service to, independent and underground hip-hop/rap. Music discovery beyond the limitations and liabilities of streaming giants and their major label dominated machinery remains the mission, each issue meant to connect open-minded listeners with artists and their latest works.
So when it comes to year-end list-making, a practice I generally dislike for its tendency to reward the biggest and most monied major label acts (as well as their industry overlords), I stick to a few simple rules for compiling and ranking the best albums of the year:
- No major label releases. Yes, that means nothing released via Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, or any of the large companies with major label pedigrees that behave like majors.
- The picks are mine and mine alone. I don't consult with anyone else when putting together the list, so what you see here is entirely my opinion.
- Whenever possible, rankings are limited to one album per artist. Naturally, some small exceptions do exist here, particularly for a few prodigious producers. That said, I try to credit other notable releases I liked from those same artists underneath their numbered placements.
So if any of your personal favorite albums of 2023 don't show up here, including those commonly cited at other other media outlets, this is why that is. Anyway, here you go...
25. Al.Divino, SHEET MUSIC, Vol. 1000
As the blotter paper artwork and title imply, this psychotropic project from the prodigious Massachusetts rapper bypasses familiar druggy tropes in the service of dispensing disorienting bars and narcotized lo-fi vibes.
See also: Al.Divino, SHEET MUSIC VOL. 2000.
24. kuya, Tales From Ophir: Moros Y Cristianos
The Queens-raised hip-hop artist tries to suss out a complicated and hidden history of his ancestors here, with a desire to honor tradition, a hunger for more knowledge, and a decidedly New York state of mind.
23. Blockhead, The Aux
No ordinary production showcase, the latest album from the veteran composer bursts with energy and wit as he (with billy woods' help) assembles an astounding lineup of radical rappers from Danny Brown to AKAI SOLO to RXK Nephew.
22. YL, Don't Feed The Pigeons
As much as his prior D.I.Y. efforts have impressed, this predominantly solo set from the RRR spitter represents an undeniable leveling-up, yielding some the finest rhymes in his discography over beats by Junie, Roper Williams, and Zoomo, among others.
See also: Roper Wiliams feat. YL, et al, Infinite Victory Loop.
21. DijahSB, The Flower That Knew
Adopting a funk-soul fusion for their Head About The Waters follow-up makes for yet another one of the Toronto rapper's smart moves, especially as the warm production subtly softens the blows and conceals the scars of their documented struggles.
20. BoriRock & Grubby Pawz, WAVY BULLET
This hardened Dorcester, MA rapper mercilessly chronicles the grimy side of the hustle with Narcos-level detail over his fellow New Englander's comparatively brighter beats, with fiercely local features by the likes of Estee Nack and Shaykh Hanif.
See also: BoriRock & DVNTBEATS, It's Not About You; The Hidden Character & Grubby Pawz, HOOD ALCHEMY.
19. Kari Faux, REAL B*TCHES DON'T DIE!
After years operating within L.A.'s fickle scene(s), the Arkansas native turned Houston transplant reclaims her Southern heritage with a full circle moment aided by meaningful appearances from Big K.R.I.T., Devin The Dude, and the late Gangsta Boo.
18. AJ Suede & Televangel, Parthian Shots
This cerebral and compelling record from the Seattle-based rapper and his Portland producer marks a high point in both artists' respective discographies–no small feat given the quality of their wider catalogs.
See also: AJ Suede & Steel Tipped Dove, Reoccurring Characters; Milc & Televangel, The Fish That Saved Portland.
17. CJ Fly & Stoic, PIRANHA
Continuing to stretch his solo muscles after years repping for the crowded creative collectives Beast Coast and Pro Era, the Brooklynite shows just how much he's grown and proved as an emcee in the decade since Thee Way Eye See It.
See also: CJ Fly, HEALING FROM OUR WOUNDS.
16. Hemlock Ernst & Height Keech, The Fall Collection
The Future Islands frontman brings a survivor's perspective to the coke rap canon, with hefty, arena-rock sized instrumentals made to feel even more massive under the weight of the rapper's brow sweat reminiscences and self-effacing guilt trips.
15. Mach-Hommy Feat. Tha God Fahim, Notorious Dump Legends Vol. 2
Not since Rae and Ghost in the OB4CL / Ironman era has there been an emcee duo whose evident contrasts somehow suit one another so well, as evidenced by this exceptional outing from the two rappers.
14. Larry June & The Alchemist, The Great Escape
Given all the rappers that Alchemist locked in with for projects of late, this collaboration with the laidback Bay Area luxury lifestyle connoisseur seemed long overdue, a sentiment justified by the premium sounds and elevated themes presented throughout their joint full-length effort.
See also: Larry June & Cardo, The Night Shift; Earl Sweatshirt & The Alchemist, VOIR DIRE; The Alchemist, Flying High 1 & 2.
13. Open Mike Eagle, another triumph of ghetto engineering
Once again, the erstwhile Hellfyre Club member and hip-hop podcaster offers his unique and not-infrequently humorous perspective on life with this high-quality, self-released set of tunes delivered with that trademark ease.
12. Nappy Nina, Mourning Due
Quite a number of rappers of note turn to music to deal with grief; few do so with such breathtaking artfulness as this Oakland-born, Brooklyn-based emcee does on this contemplative quest propelled by both confidence and trepidation.
11. Westside Gunn, And Then You Pray For Me
No longer tethered to the classic Griselda sound, the Buffalo boss presents his purportedly final album as a mash note to the hip-hop that matters most to him, collaborating with iconic trap mixtape DJs while pushing his new era signees.
10. Stik Figa & DJ Sean P, Pookey
Inextricably bound to his hometown despite now living fairly far away, this Kansas-bred rapper gathers friends, family, and familiars to help masterfully tell a personalized oral history that, along the way, wrestles with what it means to be a man.
See also: Stik Figa & The Expert, Ritual.
09. Fatboi Sharif & Steel Tipped Dove, Decay
A once-in-a-generation artist, for whom rap just so happens to be his chosen medium, teams with the busiest studio owner/operator in independent hip-hop today, resulting in heavy and unorthodox production abutting an evolving slate of vocal inflections and lyrical whims.
See also: Fatboi Sharif & Roper Williams, Planet Unfaithful; Alaska Atoms & Steel Tipped Dove, The Structural Dynamics Of Flow.
08. Armand Hammer, We Buy Diabetic Test Strips
ELUCID and billy woods accomplished so much on their prior masterworks Haram and Shrines that this even more collaborative outing feels like the product of a communal gathering at some poets' and writers' salon, albeit with a distinct Backwoodz Studioz touch.
See also: billy woods & Kenny Segal, Maps.
07. Jay Worthy, Kamaiyah & Harry Fraud, THE AM3RICAN DREAM
Frequent collaborators Fraud and Worthy outdo themselves by bringing Oakland's finest into the fold, with both of these West Coast rappers respectively hitting their proverbial strides from jump with big talk over sleek beats.
See also: Kamaiyah, Another Summer Night; Jay Worthy & Roc Marciano, Nothing Bigger Than The Program; RXKNephew & Harry Fraud, LIFE AFTER NEPH.
06. B. Cool-Aid, Leather Blvd.
Expectations-wise, Pink Siifu's 2023 output had a lot to live up to, yet these slick neo-soul interpretations and sublime jazz rap grooves with cohort Ahwlee gave him the means to transcend even the lofty heights of his GUMBO'! with what has to be the coolest album of the year.
See also: Pink Siifu & Turich Benjy, IT'S TOO QUIET..'!!.
05. Fat Tony & Taydex, I Will Make A Baby In This Damn Economy
A full decade after dropping Smart Ass Black Boy, the Houston native re-teams with Wake Up producer Taydex for the most gratifying album of his career, one that examines birth, death, and everything in between with profound insight.
04. Conway The Machine, WON'T HE DO IT
Sturdy and thriving in his Drumwork era, the Griseldan pillar exhibits prestige lyricism delivered with expert (if idiosyncratic) timing on the best of his roughly half-dozen 2023 projects, giving ample space for his own signees all the while.
See also: 38 Spesh & Conway The Machine, Speshal Machinery; Conway The Machine & Conductor Williams, Conductor Machine.
03. H31R, HeadSpace
Not since the days of Antipop Consortium has the tri-state area experienced such a singular fusion of boundary-pushing poetry and avant-garde electronics of this caliber, courtesy of New York rapper maassai and New Jersey composer JWords.
02. SKECH185 & Jeff Markey, He Left Nothing For The Swim Back
Like a battle rapper whose battle is for the fate of his very soul, SKECH185 unleashes an aggressive spoken word barrage where landing the rhyme is secondary to landing the point, as producer Jeff Markey matches that furious energy as it suits him.
01. Estee Nack, Nacksaw Jim Duggan
Lynn, Massachusetts' Estee Nack began cropping up on Westside Gunn projects towards the end of the 2010s, notably featuring on HWH7 and the subsequent WHO MADE THE SUNSHINE. The Dominican-American rapper certainly wasn't unknown before the Griselda impresario's cosign, but rest assured that anyone who hears Nacksaw Jim Duggan, which Gunn executive-produced, will find it hard to forget him.
Following last year's backdoor pilot Peace "Fly" God, which showcased his voice and that of Stove God Cooks more so than the headlining Gunn, this proper full-length offers unshakably authentic street themes set to ambitiously odd beats. A supremely gifted spitter, he proudly pushes his hustler's code and Latin heritage via bilingual references and narco nods with a genuine reverence for Today's Mathematics. Producers like Camoflauge Monk and Conductor Williams root the album in the latest Griseldan sonic motif, yet Nack's distinct approach and the inclusion of fearsome friend Al.Divino make this one all his own, gleaming like a hard-fought championship belt.
See also: Estee Nack & Mike Shabb, Live At The Tabernackle; Estee Nack & Starker, CHANGO MACHO: THE BOOK OF DREAMS; Estee Nack, #MINIMANSIONDUST Vol. 6.