As a music critic, it’s important to listen to as much music as possible. Play your favorites, but also discover new artists. Randomly select an album and give it a try. Check out recommendations from family, friends and folks on social media. Give that album you didn’t love another try.
Still, we like what we like, and music is subjective. With that said, here’s my list of the top albums of 2022!
1. Beyonce, Renaissance
Listening to Beyoncé’s Renaissance is like watching and rewatching that epic TV series or film — the discovery is endless, and there is so much to unpack. The lyrics are catchy and confident, the beats are bouncy and brilliant and her vocal range is impeccable, going from fluttery coos on “Virgo’s Groove” to soft and sensual on “Plastic Off the Sofa” to assertive shit-talking throughout the 16-track dance escapade. On the futuristic “Alien Superstar,” the pop icon says it best: “Category: bad bitch, I’m the bar.” I don’t see the lie.
2. SZA, SOS
Christmas came early for SZA stans across the world — including me — when she finally decided to release her highly anticipated sophomore album this December, more than five years after dropping her game-changing debut, Ctrl. In between albums she sprinkled savory singles to satisfy our appetites, but we were all waiting for the full meal. And SZA served. Although the tracklist is long AF and it initially raised my anxiety, SOS is extremely fulfilling, with some of the best bites being “Kill Bill,” “Snooze,” “Nobody Gets Me,” “Blind,” “Too Late,” “Gone Girl” and “Love Language.”
3. Kendrick Lamar, mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
Music’s best lyricist and storyteller does it again. On his first studio album since winning the Pulitzer Prize for music for 2017’s DAMN, Kendrick Lamar continues to peel back layers and reach new heights, tackling issues such as childhood trauma, sexuality, social media, the Black experience and more. His sharp lyrics and the soul production are the highlight, but so are the meaningful collaborations. Ghostface Killah shows up at the right time on “Purple Hearts,” where Summer Walker gets a chance to shine. Taylour Paige partners with Lamar on the poignant spoken word track “We Cry Together,” and Blxst and Amanda Reifer team up with him to make fire R&B with “Die Hard.”
4. Ella Mai, Heart on My Sleeve
If there’s an album that deserves more attention this year, it’s Ella Mai’s sophomore effort, Heart on My Sleeve. It’s a flawless record showcasing Mai’s vulnerability and voice, and on each song she perfectly emotes the lyrics without overdoing it. It sounds effortless but it’s purposeful — she’s just that talented. Some of the standouts: “DFMU,” “Pieces,” “Didn’t Say,” “How,” “Trying,” “Feels Like,” “Leave You Alone” and “A Mess,” a first-rate duet with Lucky Daye.
5. Harry Styles, Harry’s House
A perfect pop album. Period.
6. FKA twigs, CAPRISONGS
FKA twigs taps into new sounds like reggae and Afrobeats — blended with her signature mix of alternative, electronic and R&B tones — to create a batch of bops like “papi bones,” “oh my love,” “jealousy” and “darjeeling” that are sexy, sweaty and stunning.
7. Pusha T, It’s Almost Dry
Kanye West’s 2022 was trash and his only proud moment might be the grand songs he produced on Pusha T’s exceptional album, It’s Almost Dry. But ‘Ye didn’t do it alone: Pharrell produced more than half of the album. But at the center of all its greatness: Pusha and his pen.
8. babyface, Girls’ Night Out
After writing some of the greatest songs of all-time for female artists, from Whitney Houston to Toni Braxton to TLC, Babyface calls on the rising new class of female R&B singers like Kehlani, Ella Mai and Ari Lennox to collaborate on a superb album that is both contemporary and classic.
9. Ari Lennox, age/sex/location
The songstress hits all the right notes on her sophomore album, giving us everything from steamy R&B (“Leak It”) to clever wordplay (“Outside”) to groovy fun (“Pressure”). This is neo-soul music at its finest.
10. Omar Apollo, Ivory
A genre-less debut album that doesn’t miss a beat. There are experimental R&B flavors and alternative feels throughout the 16-track set. On one song, he’s giving off singer-songwriter vibes; on another he’s a Latin crooner. In the end, it’s just really, really, really good music.
Honorable mentions: Bad Bunny, Un Verano Sin Ti; Brent Faiyaz, Wastelands; Carly Rae Jepsen, The Loneliest Time; Muni Long, Public Displays of Affection: The Album; Rosalia, Motomami