BensBeat Top 25 Albums of 2022

Finally, here are the best albums that 2022 had to offer. Looking forward to another year of great music in 2023.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Alvvays – Blue Rev
  • Conway The Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes
  • Dreamville – D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape
  • Florence + The Machine – Dance Fever
  • Joey Bada$$ – 2000
  • Koffee – Gifted
  • Mitski – Laurel Hell
  • MØ – Motordrome
  • Orville Peck – BRONCO
  • Taylor Swift – Midnights

25. Lights – PEP

A force to be reckoned with in the Canadian pop landscape for over 15 years now, Lights’ latest finds her diving back into the colourful pop music of her past after a series of surprising diversions – including electronic forays and an album full of Drake covers. Giving herself the pep talk she needs in a world trying to bring her down, her vocal delivery can range from a soothing, indie-fuelled near-whisper to an all-out anthemic belt, as she puts all areas of her natural pop instincts on display while offering some poignant takes on depression and feminism.

24. Mura Masa – demon time

Another artist who is back to what they know best after a big experimental swing, the UK-based producer returns to his quirky, shimmering electronic mixes after the disappointing indie-rock project R.Y.C. back in 2020. This time, he’s invited some figures from the hyperpop movement to complete the picture. Taking its name from pandemic-era streams of late-night Instagram debauchery, the result is more like a perfect playlist for when that debauchery is allowed to spill back into the real world, pulling from early-2000s and garage energies to lure listeners to the dance floor.

23. Kehlani – blue water road

Kehlani’s vocal talents have always been impressive, but has struggled slightly over their past couple projects with keeping things memorable past the first few listens. With a great roster of guests like Jessie Reyez, Syd and Thundercat, a wide variety of lush R&B instrumentals from different time periods and subgenres, and some of their most compelling and specific lyrical moments yet about their relationship with fellow singer 070 Shake, that hasn’t proven to be a problem with this one. As tracks alternate back and forth between the conflicts and drama of the partnership and eventually falling back into each others’ arms, Kehlani’s smooth delivery sells it all.

22. Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future

While many have elevated this project as one of the best hip-hop albums of the year in a year with quite a few impressive contenders, it took longer to grow on me due to my proclivity towards Curry’s more manic, aggressive bangers that can verge on trap-metal. Taking a jazzier approach but still remaining decisively himself with a handful of anime and Star Wars references along the way, Curry’s flip to the more subdued had a clear purpose – not to distract too much from what he had to say. With lyrical content on every track with tragic implications that might take quite a few listens to fully unpack, Curry dives into his constant state of paranoia while living in a country fraught with systemic racism and violence.

21. Burna Boy – Love, Damini

As his Yoruba-language single “Last Last” became a smash hit across multiple continents, Nigerian Afrobeats star Burna Boy’s latest project feels like the year’s biggest celebration of music’s increasingly global influence. Bookended by appearances from the legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Burna Boy shifts between different diasporic genres and offers crossovers with acts as diverse as reggaeton titan J Balvin, grime rapper J Hus, Jamaican star Popcaan and Western artists like Ed Sheeran and Kehlani. With his charismatic delivery and recognizably gruff vocals, he combines his positive demeanour with messages about lesser-known global issues.

20. NIKI – Nicole

Partially inspired by idol Taylor Swift’s recent odyssey of revisiting her past works and turning them all into (Taylor’s Version)s, Indonesian 88Rising signee NIKI’s new self-titled project finds her filling half with updated versions of the hits that turned her teenaged self into a YouTube sensation six years ago before being deleted, and the other half with previously unheard tracks from the same era. It’s a glimpse into the kind of melodramatic, poetic and heart-wrenching musings a 16-year-old Swiftie going through her first real heartbreak would write, and in this age of the teen heartbreak renaissance, NIKI’s tender delivery as she looks back at her younger days communicates all of those visceral feelings perfectly.

19. Rex Orange County – WHO CARES?

One of the most engagingly cohesive projects of the year, British vocalist Rex Orange County bolsters his typical uplifting and inspirational approach to topics of depression, imposter syndrome and crushing expectations with Disney-style orchestral swells, creating a sophisticated pop veneer that serves as a worthy backdrop for both soulful ballads and bouncy pop tunes. There’s something about his earnest, genuine tone throughout the entire project that’s highly touching, especially when you consider how much of an improvement it is from past music that often felt flat and personality-free. The title track cleverly turns the album’s name into a triple entendre, depending on your frame of mind.

18. The Weeknd – Dawn FM

Trust a creative like The Weeknd to envision a trilogy where the main character dies at the end of the first part. Narrated by Abel’s childhood hero Jim Carrey, Dawn FM is a concept album about the radio station playing in the car ride up to the pearly gates after his Vegas-induced death at the end of After Hours. It seems that the man upstairs is just as into the synth-heavy 80s revivalism as we are, as The Weeknd continues to lean even harder into the trend that he had a huge hand in kickstarting while experimenting more than ever before with different vocal styles and samples from other musical worlds. It feels like a home for all of the unbridled moments of 80s pop euphoria that he wanted to include on his last project, but couldn’t find a place for due to its overarching story. 

17. FKA twigs – CAPRISONGS

FKA Twigs’ latest is inspired by an astrological meme based on her real-life star sign. Coincidentally, a Capricorn’s best traits of being ambitious, driven, and hard-working certainly align with the UK experimentalist’s penchant for reinvention. With unexpected dose of cheesy, playful, and danceable energy coming from an artist who typically comes with a slight baroque pop twist and goddess-like imagery, Twigs showcases just how multitalented and fun-loving she can be over a globe-hopping showcase that feels like her response to hyperpop’s rise. It’s not the high-concept masterpieces of her past, but this is the result of FKA Twigs letting her creativity run wild.

16. Jack White – Fear of the Dawn

I’m still waiting for anyone else with Jack White’s level to experiment with the tired form of modern-day rock music as much as he does. Continuing to bring his quirks to the table, the first of two albums that White released this year stood out as the better one. Over the course of a concept album that finds White going through the phases of an evening and night, apprehensive about the symbolic coming of a big change in his life – in this case, a marriage proposal – he finally learns to embrace it by the end. Often coming across like a deranged preacher in the best possible way, White’s use of sampling, his typically mindblowing guitar solos, and a garage rock fuzz that still comes across strikingly clean in contrast to most muddy, guitar-filled mixes today shows that nobody is stepping up to this guy’s level.

15. Metro Boomin – HEROES & VILLAINS

You wouldn’t think that an album loaded with feature after feature from artists that we’ve seen pop up on just about every big-name rap tracklist – Future, Travis Scott, Young Thug, Don Toliver – would rank this high on a year-end list, but that’s how impressive of a trap maestro Metro Boomin still is. Even after you think that the genre has been completely wrung dry of ideas, Metro appears to elevate the performances of a variety of artists who have been mostly on autopilot for years with his constantly shifting, deceptively simple beats that evoke the kind of menace and energy bubbling under the surface ready to explode that serve as the essence of hip-hop’s greatest thrills. After a year filled with personal tragedy, Metro continues to prove that his influence will be timeless.

14. renforshort – dear amelia

If you’re loving the pop-punk resurgence as of late but can’t stand the cookie-cutter formulae, 20-year-old Torontonian renforshort’s compelling concept album is for you. Taking us through the darkest parts of her psyche and touching on specific topics like losing parts of herself in the struggle to belong, the project represents a series of self-help letters to a mystery columnist that partially represents friends she unfortunately lost too soon. The hooks are all stadium-sized, and renforshort’s shift from subdued, emotive musings about the hard times to the powerful belt necessary for the cathartic release that they provide hits hard every time.

13. Lizzo – Special

Lizzo’s latest album opens with an immediately in your face belt of “Hiiiiiiii motherf**ker, did you miss me?!” Her absence certainly didn’t feel like three and a half years due to her cultural omnipresence, but on the musical side of things? Yes, yes I did. Diving back into her penchant for charming, memeable and empowering pop-rap-soul chaos, Lizzo takes things in a bit more of a funk and disco direction than ever before while dropping some of the funniest lyrics and biggest vocal moments of her career so far. And while it sounds silly due to just how on-the-nose her messaging can be at times, there are multiple moments on this project where Lizzo’s motivational anthems made me legitimately emotional – especially on the title track where she highlights the value of every listener with an audibly tearful smile. She’s fantastic at what she does.

12. Charli XCX – CRASH

Even when Charli XCX, an artist typically regarded as one of the most forward-thinking pop stars on the planet, half-jokingly refers to her latest album as her “sellout era,” you can still expect a couple subversive twists alongside the catchy hooks that she’s so experienced at crafting. Instead of her glitchy hyperpop-adjacent sounds, it almost feels like she set out this time to deconstruct the idea of the mainstream major-label pop star, rather than the sounds they typically make. Said to have been inspired primarily by Janet Jackson’s hits, the album runs between uptempo 80s dancepop, smoother R&B slow jams, and the electronic boom of the 2000s. Sampling some campy classics like September’s “Cry For You” and Robin S’ “Show Me Love,” CRASH is the sound of an experienced pop historian appreciating her genre’s past before taking a full-fledged leap into its future. 

11. Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry

There aren’t often a great deal of surprises when we receive a new Pusha T album, but the man is such a master of his craft that it truly doesn’t matter. There’s almost nobody who can come close to matching the former Clipse member’s absolute level of conviction in the booth and creativity when it comes to hyper-specific lyrical mic-drop moments, and there’s always been a certain kind of magic in how cool and collected he sounds on the surface despite every syllable dripping with condescension, confidence, and his signature evil grin. With production duties split between two of the most celebrated beatmakers of all time – Pharrell Williams and that guy that we don’t talk about anymore – It’s Almost Dry should be just about every hip-hop fan’s dream.

10. Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time

This album was originally ranked lower down on the list – after all, it’s been widely regarded as the Canadian pop icon’s most disjointed project of her career – but when crafting my songs list the realization struck that there were about five of them that I considered excellent enough to immediately spring to mind as contenders. It reminded me to never doubt just how well a Jepsen pop hook can stick in your head until the end of time, and she has 15 more of them for you to enjoy on her latest project. Applying her brilliantly emotive voice to acoustic balladry, full-blown disco, borderline hyperpop and chilled-out beachside anthems mixed into her typical synth-laden pop anthems, we don’t typically hear so much of her personality mixed into her takes on pristine pop templates that could only come from a true student of the game.

9. Freddie Gibbs – $oul $old $eparately

While his collaboration projects with legendary producers like Madlib and The Alchemist have cemented themselves as modern hip-hop classics, Freddie Gibbs’ solo albums haven’t felt so alive before now. Combining his affinity for dusty boom-bap with some more modernized features and beats, while both touching on bigger issues and letting the same kind of personality that makes him an expert-level Internet troll shine, makes it a perfect middle ground to show off his skills. It all goes along with a fun concept as the album is stitched together with various skits and voicemails from famous friends as Gibbs envisions his stay at a combination hotel and casino while working tirelessly to complete the very album that we’re hearing. With some appearances from legends like Scarface and DJ Paul and modern trailblazers like Anderson .Paak and Moneybagg Yo, it’s his best yet.

8. Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights

Steve Lacy knows that Geminis are hard to deal with – especially in the context of a romantic relationship. The former guitarist for The Internet drops a sophomore project that finds him trying to defend his astrological nature while expanding his trademark psychedelic guitar sounds and breaking through to the public in a big way with “Bad Habit,” which just might be the weirdest #1 hit single in recent memory. The whole thing is concise, genre-free and endlessly replayable, as Steve demonstrates that sometimes the TikTok crowd knows exactly what they’re doing. His tracks have been bubbling under the surface as background music in videos for years, but Lacy’s level of talent has been at a high level for long enough (even though he’s still only 24 years of age) that it only feels natural that he’s ready to become a global superstar.

7. SZA – SOS

After a lengthy five-and-a-half-year wait with a rollout dating back as early as September 2020, SZA fans finally got to open an early Christmas present with the release of SOS, a follow-up to her transcendent Ctrl album that brought a refreshing new voice to the R&B genre and ignited the summer of 2017. With more than an hour of new material, SZA’s no-holds-barred lyrical approach when tackling matters of the heart hasn’t changed much, but the conclusions she draws from her experiences go to both extremes – some feel a lot more mature as she turns her focus towards healing, but one of the first couple tracks we hear is a murder fantasy about her ex. Pushing her seemingly limitless voice to new heights and experimenting with some spellbinding vocal runs, the album’s overall vibe is a little more aggressive and percussion-heavy to match her lyrical barbs.

6. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

Kendrick’s latest certainly makes the five-year wait evident. He’s clearly grown up, become a father, and done a lot of healing and re-evaluating of the values presented in his previous works. Structured like a therapy session as spoken asides find Lamar resisting and ultimately embracing the emotional outpouring, he’s never been as vulnerable on a project, revealing layers of vices and traumas both current and generational. At times, it feels like a combination of the freeform theatricality of To Pimp a Butterfly and the dense storytelling of good kid, m.A.A.d city, even if some tracks’ experimental lack of structure makes for some of Lamar’s first ever moments that are less than spellbinding from a musical standpoint. Still, if listeners are willing to engage with this album and unpack its many details, they’ll be deeply rewarded with what might be Lamar’s most important and compelling narrative yet as he grapples with the meaning behind the position and platform he’s been thrust into.

5. Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Ti

2022 was the year where Bad Bunny solidified himself as the biggest artist in the world. It should be impossible to release an 81-minute, 23-song album without a single skip in the bunch, but that’s exactly what the Puerto Rican achieved with what became an undeniable summer soundtrack no matter what language you spoke. His flirtatious attitude, passion and fun-loving personality shine through all the same as he constantly innovates within the reggaeton genre. Imbuing his party-starting player persona with his standard degree of wholesome, positive energy and touching emotional moments, Bad Bunny’s music as well as his progressive lyricism and videos continue to establish him as the standard-bearer when it comes to a worthy global superstar for a new era in culture and music.

4. Little Simz – NO THANK YOU

While many touted Simz’s commercial breakout of Sometimes I Might Be Introvert as the undisputed album of the year last year, her quick follow-up might be even more appealing. Bringing the same eye-opening narratives and orchestral beats to the table, Simz attacks these beats with a little more fire in her voice and a little more confidence when it comes to her mic presence. With a concise ten tracks – though many of them run quite long as Simz runs through verse after verse of technically impressive internal rhyme schemes and speedy flows – Simz’s message still shines through as she implores listeners to start paying attention to the horrors of the world around them, and ultimately, decide to either ready up for the coming war ahead or get out of the way. Interspersing many of the tracks with striking gospel elements as she simultaneously touches on aspects of her faith, Simz continues to prove that she’s one of the most abundantly talented rappers in the game.

3. Beyoncé – RENAISSANCE

After her self-titled album and Lemonade made Beyoncé’s godlike, larger-than-life status somehow even bigger than it was before as she crossed over into the good graces of music critics across the globe, there should have been absolutely nothing for her to prove anymore. It’s anyone’s guess how she keeps finding the ability to drop near-perfect albums, reinventing herself every time along the way. RENAISSANCE hilariously dropped only a couple weeks after Drake failed miserably to bring dance and house music to the forefront of the mainstream, and his fellow superstar didn’t only one-up him, she perfected the formula right off the bat. With scores of the history of Black and queer contributions to the genre coursing through the proceedings in the form of a lengthy list of samples, various dedications to her own queer uncle who introduced her to the world, and a variety of transitions that make the whole thing feel like a seamless DJ mix during a night out at the coolest club in town, Beyoncé didn’t tone down her vocals for the more electronic angle either. It all truly has to be heard to be believed.

2. JID – The Forever Story

There isn’t any rapper right now who is simply easier to listen to than JID. With endlessly creative flows that always keep listeners on their toes, a buttery smooth voice capable of flipping through different characters and accents at will, and a knack for engaging storytelling, it feels like he should be the kind of person whose brain works faster than their mouth – but it’s all the more fun seeing how he catches up. Throughout The Forever Story, JID alternates between emotional tracks about family to social issues and aggressive bangers, often on the same song. Not only that, but he also takes it upon himself to show us for the first time just how great of a singer he is as well, coming out most prominently when he soulfully tributes a friend’s son who unfortunately passed away. Seemingly always in control of his complex and interlocking narratives, themes come and go across the album, but by the end JID has demonstrated that he’s able to take just about any hip-hop sound and craft an interesting tale out of it, whether it’ws deeply personal or commentary on the world at large.

1. ROSALÍA – MOTOMAMI

ROSALÍA feels like the perfect representative for music’s current direction: completely genre-free, and increasingly global in influence. As jazz piano solos and reggaeton beats collide with power-pop balladry and crashing industrial noise, MOTOMAMI often feels like a traditional flamenco singer returning from a time-travel adventure with knowledge of pop’s future. The album is split into two intertwined halves showcasing the “soft” and “hard” parts of her personality, but by the end of the album, two clearly isn’t enough to define her. The album artwork, featuring the singer wearing nothing but a motorcycle helmet, speaks for itself – with regards to her music, her fashion, and her public persona, Rosalía can be sensual and vulnerable, but she balances it out with a tough, no-nonsense exterior. She has mentioned in interviews that she had hoped that showcasing these two sides would “provide a feminist counterbalance to misogyny in music” when it comes to her genre of reggaeton, traditionally dominated by men and some questionable lyrical content. When it comes to ROSALÍA’s lyrics, she’s mostly just having a lot of fun – though a couple more touching moments about the pitfalls of fame taking her away from her family and what really matters in life crop up from time to time as well. Accompanied by a voice that’s strikingly delicate and beautiful, made all the more so by its quirks, breaks and imperfections, she breezes through minimalistic, show-stopping ballads and some of the most mindbending, insane-sounding instrumentals of the year. After pulling from Hispanic folklore on her breakout project in 2018, ROSALÍA has taken all the boundless experimentation that made her one to watch and combined it with her vibrant personality for the first time.

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