Presenting our round up of the top Pop + Hip Hop artists of 2021.
As we bring this year down to a close, everyone is grateful that we are all able to go out into the world and attend concerts, gigs, music festivals and all sorts of public events again. But, throughout the half-locked-down 2021, we revisit the music that kept us motivated to look forward to another day, and if not, then at least provided light in times of darkness or foot-tapping groove at the bare minimum.
Hanumankind is definitely one of the best English rappers to emerge out of India. Since his EP Kalari, he has been gracing stages and dropping bangers one after another. From songs like ‘Daily Dose’ and ‘Southside’, all the way to singles like ‘Beer and Biyrani’ and ‘Genghis’, his conscious expression and clever lyricism makes him a class apart. Lyrics like “What you partying for, we got issues in our nation cuz there’s parties at war” give you some food for thought. His latest release ‘Skyline’ showed a completely mellow and different side of his range as a rapper, always pairing really well his regularly collaborating producers Parimal Shais and Kalmi.
Silk Sonic has seriously been one of the best musical ventures to come out of 2021. A perfect revisit back to the golden sound of 1970’s soul music, the supergroup, comprising of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak launched their debut album ‘An Evening with Silk Sonic’. Having teased the world with their first single ‘Leave The Door Open’ back in March 2021, the duo hyped it up by performing it at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards a few days later, leaving everyone anticipating this amazing collaboration. Certainly expecting some more magic from these suave gentlemen in 2022.
2021 saw Nigerian-Bitish rapper, singer and actress Little Simz release her fourth studio album ‘Sometimes I Might Be An Introvert’. It is a great mixture of political statements and self-reflective memoirs. More of a conversation than a preaching, Simz makes hefty subjects – familial rifts, systemic racism, youth violence – more manageable. ‘I Love You I Hate You’ picks over the open wounds left by an absent father. She addresses issues that we seldom have the courage to talk about. A real standout song on the album that got great notice was ‘Point and Kill’, a real standout groovy slow-funk song with a classic 70’s-like music video, one of the best music videos of 2021 by far.
One of the big hitters of 2021, groundbreaking Delhi hip-hop duo Seedhe Maut dropped a mixtape ‘न’ with Azadi Records, which includes some previously released singles like ‘Namastute’, ‘Naamcheen’, ‘No Enema’ (with Foreign Beggars and Sez On The Beat), ‘Nanchaku’ (with MC STAN), and a bunch of newer material as well. They’ve always been incorporating pop culture and politics in their lyrics. ‘न’ is a more relaxed and casual look at the creative and personal relationship that Calm and Encore ABJ enjoy. Some of the notable new songs on the mixtape are ‘Natkhat’ – which really displays the variable rhythmic flow that both MCs are capable of individually, and ‘Nadaan’ – which is completely a new sound for the duo, slightly laid back and more mellow than what their standard sonic signature.
Probably one of the most prominent pop culture icons of today, 2021 saw the release of Billie Eilish’s second full-length album ‘Happier Than Ever’. Co-written with producer and brother Finneas O’Connell, Happier Than Ever is loaded with songs that talk about the downside of stardom and constantly being in the public eye. A lot of self-reflection and introspection during the COVID-19 pandemic are her main inspirations for this album. Musically, it’s primarily a downtempo pop album. At a staggering 1.028 million pre-adds on Apple Music, Billie Eilish reclaimed her record for the most pre-saved album ever, taking it back from The Weeknd’s ‘After Hours’ album of 2020, who himself had taken it from Eilish’s 2019 album ‘When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’.
Yashraj is one of the most versatile rappers in Indian hip-hop right now. He has shown some amazing penmanship along with his ability to adjust his vibe to blend perfectly with the feel of the music at that moment. From a mellow chilled out collaboration like ‘Complicated’ with Ramya Pothuri to a heavy hard-hitter like ‘Raakh’ with Karan Kanchan, he consistently delivers the right intensity, and most of the time has his producer friend and live DJ with him – Dropped Out. Certainly a name that is going to put out some interesting music in 2022. Looking forward.
Mary J. Blige
The timeless voice of American R&B, Mary J. Blige dropped 2 fresh singles – the title track of her upcoming album that is slated to release on February 11, 2022 – ‘Good Morning Gorgeous’ – which is a soulful, string-led song based on the singer daily affirmation to herself – “good morning, gorgeous” – which helps her overcome the struggles of self-doubt, encouraging and stressing that self-love is as important as any other love in one’s life. And the second one which features DJ Khaled – ‘Amazing’ – a completely new vibe for her with the kind of beat and modern touch the production has, but what’s most important is that she shines through both the songs, inspiring women all over the world to reassure themselves in their own strength and ability to move on and be what they truly are – AMAZING!
The ambassador of Brit-pop, if there ever was one, ‘The Rocket Man’ a.k.a. Sir Elton John, paused his ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ retirement tour during lockdown and instead of taking a brief respite, in 2021, worked on a stellar album with 16 collaborative songs appropriately named – ‘The Lockdown Sessions.’ The album drips versatility, including various styles of music ranging from metal power ballads, retro-sounding disco throwbacks, and even some hip-hop. The man himself has featured with many artists on albums and singles in the past couple of years, and the featuring star power on his album is more than commendable – Lil Nas X, Stevie Wonder, Stevie Nicks, Eddie Vedder, Dua Lipa, Miley Cyrus, Gorillaz, Nicki Minaj and more…
Lil Nas X
Controversial and young, 2021 saw Lil Nas X drop his highly-anticipated bomb album ‘MONTERO’, which is factually his real first name. He came to fame after a record-breaking first single ‘Old Town Road’ featuring Billy Rae Cyrus, which he released in 2019, but shifted away from the country-trap sound of that song, and moved more towards a more mainstream pop, rap and R&B style on ‘MONTERO’. Being considered a one-hit-wonder, naysayers were made to swallow their words (if nothing else) in March 2021 when the title single ‘MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name)’ dropped. The album has a host of prominent guest artists – Jack Harlow, Doja Cat, Meghan Thee Stallion, Elton John and Miley Cyrus. Lil Nas X proudly seems to be at the pinnacle of pop music right now.
The Weeknd is at the epitome of pop music success, and in 2021 released the single ‘Take My Breath’ is what you could call a signature sound he has created, blending his soulful vocals and that dance-y disco-driven retro pulse with heavy synth work in the production, teaming up once more with renowned producer Max Martin. His music has certainly contributed to the re-popularization of the nostalgic 80’s retro synth sound with just the right amount of pulse in the beat to get your feet tapping. Along with writing his own songs, he has also being collaborating with other artists such as Post Malone, Nas, Swedish House Mafia and more.
Veteran New York rapper Nas released 2 more studio albums this year. ‘King’s Disease II’ – a follow-up to his previous album ‘King’s Disease’, released in August 2020. More mature and focused than ever before, Nas has received major critical acclaim for this new album. Primarily produced by Hit-Boy (who has made some chartbusters with Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Drake and more), it has a host of featuring artists such as Eminem, Lauryn Hill, rap duo EPMD and more. And, the latest – ‘Magic’, teaming up with his main man Hit-Boy for all of the songs except for ‘Wave Gods’ featuring A$AP Rocky and DJ Premier. The lyrical content of the album finds Nas appreciating the finer things in life and flexing a little about the payouts he’s been receiving now and again, investing in businesses, etc. He still also feels welcome in the street because of his legacy and that part of him is never going anywhere. He wants to build and build for the people of the hood and in his words empowers and inspires people to take up and achieve their goals like he has.
Soulful and beautiful, the Grammy-winning sensation Alicia Keys dropped her latest album ‘Keys’, her 8th studio album and her first-ever double album, which released on December 10th, ’21. Side A has the original songs in typical Alicia Keys style, whereas Side B has the same songs produced and remixed differently. The album debuted at No. 41 on the US Billboard 200, Alicia’s first studio album to miss the top 5 in the US. But, for her, individually, this album is a milestone, as she has primarily produced and written all 26 tracks along with some production and songwriting collabs from the likes of Sia and Raphael Saadiq and vocal collaborations from artists like Jacob Collier, Pusha T, Swae Lee, Lil Wayne and more.
Megan Thee Stallion
All too habituated to being in no.1 spot these days, the girl who really puts the ass in badass, Megan Thee Stallion has really put herself out there with her stupendous rap game spitting bars as good as any rapper you know, and pushing the body positive movement while at it. In June 2021, she released the single ‘Thot Shit’ with a music video that follows around a hypocritical socially conservative politician. She twerked the daylights out of him! Later in October, she released ‘Something for Thee Hotties’ – a compilation album of previously unreleased songs and freestyles which debuted at no.5 on the UD Billboard 200, making it her 4th Top 10. 2022 is awaiting!
Back to top of the charts, Ed Sheeran came in form towards the latter half of 2021, dropping a fresh new album ‘=’ (Equals), which gave him his 5th UK no.1 and 4th US no.1 of all time. Attempting to revisit the commercial pop bracket he created with the ear-worm ‘Shape of You’, Ed Sheeran released a feel-good clap-along song called ‘Shivers’. The clap groove is a constant and retains the upbeat energy throughout the song, keeping the same pulse going through the harmonised bridge. Sheeran delivers consistently well-produced music which always works with vast audiences because of its catchy simplicity, tight song-writing and commendable vocal composition. Other notable songs to check out are ‘Visiting Hours’ and ‘Bad Habits’ – which was no.1 on the UK charts till ‘Shivers’ dethroned it.
A jaw-dropping 21 songs, a reignited beef with Kanye West, some great guest artists like JAY-Z, Travis Scott, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Future, 21 Savage and more… Drake certainly knows how to make an album release look and sound like a party. His 2021 drop ‘Certified Lover Boy’ was supposed to be released at the beginning of the year, but was delayed because the ‘champagne papi’ had a knee injury. Certified Lover Boy was met with mixed reviews from music critics, most of whom felt the album was comparable to Drake’s other releases, but criticised the level of lyrical insight and the production’s lack of sonic variety. Nevertheless, the album was a commercial success, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 as Drake’s tenth US number-one album.
We hope for more music from these artists and more in 2022! See you on the other side!