The top 20 best albums of 2021
20 December 2021, 13:41 | Updated: 20 December 2021, 17:06
From Dave and Ghetts to Doja Cat and Summer Walker, this is Capital XTRA's definitive list of the best albums released in 2021.
It's safe to safe that 2021 has been full of ups and downs. But if there's one thing that's remained pretty consistent in a world that feels very much the opposite right now, it's the steady stream of top quality music that our favourite artists have been churning out.
From Doja Cat's hit-laden record Planet Her ('Kiss Me More', 'You Right') to Ghetts' remarkable Conflict Of Interest ('10,000 Tears', 'Skengman'), it's been an epic year for rap and R&B.
So, without further ado, here are our top picks for the best albums of 2021.
Polo G - Hall Of Fame
Polo G catapulted himself further into the mainstream with his impressive record Hall Of Fame, which flew straight to the top of the Billboard 200 and scored him his first ever number one album.
Supported by four singles - including the chart-topping, platinum-certified 'Rapstar' - the star-studded album features the likes of Lil Wayne, DaBaby, Young Thug, Roddy Ricch, Nicki Minaj, and the late Pop Smoke. A stellar effort from one of hip-hop's most promising young rappers. - Cat Warner
Ray BLK - Access Denied
A staple female figure on the UK R&B scene, Ray BLK has been consistently delivering bop after bop over the years. So when she announced the release of her debut album, fans rejoiced - and for good reason.
The self-assured South London songstress knows exactly who she is on Access Denied, exploring themes of heartbreak, identity and empowerment through an all-killer, no-filler tracklist. - Cat Warner
Pop Smoke - Faith
It's hard to believe it's almost been two years since we lost Pop Smoke. His legacy certainly lives on through his fans, his rap peers, and in his music, with his latest posthumous studio album, Faith, doing so perfectly.
The second release following the rapper's tragic passing, Faith is a feature-heavy follow-up to the highly-acclaimed Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, including a surprise link-up with pop princess Dua Lipa on 'Demeanor' and the R&B-influenced 'Woo Baby' with Chris Brown. - Cat Warner
Shakka – Roadtrip To Venus
For fans of West London singer-songwriter Shakka, the end of September couldn't come soon enough as the Brit legend dropped his debut album, Roadtrip To Venus.
The majority of the 19-track record consists of infectious solo tracks, with highlights including the island-tinged bops 'Take It There' and 'Temptation'. Shakka calls up Goldlink for the up-tempo 'Solo', while Tiana Major9 and Imani Williams lend their angelic vocals to 'Scuba Deep / A Pipe Dream' and 'Doin’ Time', respectively. - Cat Warner
Shaybo – Queen Of The South
Shaybo released her first studio album Queen Of The South on 20 August 2021. The UK MC, hailing from Lewisham, South London proudly represents for her home town and Nigerian roots on the project.
On the album, Shaybo delves deep into her being and vocalises her thoughts and feelings. Shaybo intended for her voice to be heard with this project, talking her mind and putting her heart into her records.
The star shows a soft side, showing that there is strength and courage in vulnerability. Shaybo brings a good balance of feel good tracks and heavily charged songs.
Shaybo’s album has guest features from major artists such as; Jorja Smith, DreamDoll, Haile and Wale. The South London rapper shows off her vocals, rapping skills and lyricism on the project – ultimately showing her growth as an artist. - Tiana Williams
D-Block Europe - Home Alone 2
Picking up where their smash-hit-packed fan favourite Home Alone left off, D-Block Europe crash back into our ears with another banger of a record to end the year on a high.
The unstoppable duo lead with the Central Cee-assisted 'Overseas', before tapping the likes of homegrown acts AJ Tracey, Tion Wayne and M Huncho, as well as a sparkling feature from Migos' Offset.
Wretch 32's beloved lyricism shines on 'Don't Go', peppered between flexes of expensive timepieces, lavish holidays and luxury cars courtesy of Young Adz and Dirtbike LB. - Cat Warner
Tion Wayne - Green With Envy
T-Wayne From The 9 finally dropped his hotly-anticipated debut album this year, and it was well worth the wait.
Supported by the colossal hit 'Body (Remix)' - a success in itself, prior to its viral verse from Brighton rapper ArrDee - and 'Who's True' with Jae5 and Davido, Green With Envy has firmed the Edmonton native's place at the top of the UK rap game. - Cat Warner
Lil Nas X - Montero
From pole dancing into hell before gracing the devil with a lap dance to being pregnant and giving birth to the album in hospital, Lil Nas X has become a Gen Z juggernaut. Giving the girls and the gays something to bop to, the 15-track melodious debut album was the perfect amalgamation of pop, rap, and everything inbetween.
Refusing to cater to his critics, MONTERO is Lil Nas X’s way of fearlessly flipping the industry on its head. Making it his mission to be a voice for a generation of queer kids, the album explored themes of self-hatred and struggling with self-acceptance whilst describing what it means to be happy and at peace with one's self.
Taking fans on a personal journey of self-discovery with tracks like That’s What I Want, Sun Goes Down, and Tales of Dominica, Lil Nas X won the world over with his artistic growth and confidence. Naming the album after himself, the star-studded project saw him collaborate with the likes of Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, Elton John and Miley Cyrus – bagging himself five GRAMMY-nominations including Album of the Year and Record of the Year. - Shakeena Johnson
Kanye West - DONDA
Kanye West, who legally changed his name to Ye, released his tenth studio album Donda on August 29, 2021. The album, named after his mother who passed away in 2007, addresses pain and heartbreak as well as joy, a glow up and elevation.
Donda was initially set for release in July 2020 under the title of God's Country, but experienced multiple delays. Nevertheless, Ye had a dramatic roll out for the release of the project, hosting several album listening parties at stadiums for his fans.
Donda is primarily a hip hop, gospel, progressive rap, and pop album that features elements of trap and drill. Ye explores themes of religion, divorce and pays tribute to his mother.
'Hurricane' was released as the lead single in September 2021, which was followed by both 'Believe What I Say' and 'Off the Grid' in November.
Ye’s album includes features from; Sunday Service Choir, Jay-Z, Playboi Carti, Lil Baby, The Weeknd, Vory, DaBaby, and Marilyn Manson. The album has been widely praised for its lyrical content, technical production and sonical arrangement. - Tiana Williams
Silk Sonic - An Evening With Silk Sonic
When Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak link up, you know what's about to go down. Their first body of work as collaborative duo Silk Sonic, An Evening With is a direct trip to groove central.
Infused with the sounds of the 60's and 70's, the record boasts hits including 'Leave The Door Open' and 'Smokin Out the Window', the former picking up four nominations at the 64th Grammy Awards. Bruno and Anderson have created the feel-good album we all need to listen to right now, and we can't wait for the next one. - Cat Warner
Tyler, The Creator - Call Me If You Get Lost
Tyler, the Creator is the gift that keeps on giving, delivering one of the sharpest albums this year with Call Me If You Get Lost. Exploring themes of maturity, sexuality and social injustice, the follow-up project to his 2019 album Igor saw him collaborate with the likes of Lil Wayne, Lil Uzi Vert and Brent Faiyaz.
Tyler has become somewhat of a god in the rap game and Call Me If You Get Lost proves that he is in the prime of his career doing what he does best. - Shakeena Johnson
J. Cole - The Off-Season
J. Cole dropped his highly anticipated album The Off-Season on May 14, 2021. The long-awaited project became Cole’s sixth studio album, following up from his 2018 album KOD (initialism for Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed and Kill Our Demons).
The North Carolina rapper collaborated with multiple producers, such as; T-Minus, Timbaland, Boi-1da Frank Dukes, DJ Dahi, Tae Beast, Jake One & more. The project was supported by two singles: 'Interlude' and 'The Climb Back'.
Cole shocked his fans with his album features, as it was the first time since his 2013 album Born Sinner, to have guest features. The rapper enlisted Morray, 21 Savage, Lil Baby, Bas and 6lack for the album.
Cole is an artist who is grounded when it comes to the creation of his albums – producing, mixing, writing his lyrics and putting his thoughts and feelings into his art. The album is a reflection of the artist he’s grown to be. - Tiana Williams
Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
Unapologetically delivering a timeless album filled with richness, gratitude and righteousness, Sometimes I Might Be An Introvert is one of the best projects to be released this year.
Touching on themes of love, hatred and systemic racism, the album is an intricate body of work from Little Simz, unequivocally solidifying her as one of the brightest stars on the UK music scene. Featuring guest appearances from Cleo Sol and Obongjayar, the 19-track album is a master class in Black story-telling, with Simz creating an artistic masterpiece that showcases her vulnerability.
Sharing her insecurities and insightfulness by opening up about her past heartache with her absentee father and toxic relationships, Sometimes I Might Be An Introvert is lyrically grand. Reeking of Black girl magic and cinematic excellence – the album debuted at number four on the UK charts, becoming her highest charting album ever. - Shakeena Johnson
Snoh Aalegra – Temporary Highs In The Violet Skies
Snoh Aalegra takes us to new, heavenly heights with her dreamy offering Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies. Her soulful vocals sit over expansive, ambient production and deliver tales of heartache and desire beautifully.
Tyler, the Creator lands with stellar performances on 'Neon Peach' and 'In The Moment', while solo efforts 'Dying 4 Your Love' and 'Lost You' are like soul food in musical form. 'In Your Eyes' features unmistakable production from hip-hop juggernauts The Neptunes, and proves that Snoh can hop from bouncy mid-tempo back to a spell-binding ballad in a heartbeat. - Cat Warner
Drake - Certified Lover Boy
Certified Lover Boy was released on September 3, 2021 and is the sixth studio album by Canadian rapper Drake. The 6God worked alongside frequent collaborators 40, Nineteen85, PartyNextDoor, OZ, and Vinylz among others to develop the project.
Drizzy enlisted several artists for the album, such as; Lil Baby, Lil Durk, Giveon, Jay-Z, Travis Scott, Future, Young Thug, Yebba, 21 Savage, Project Pat, Tems, Ty Dolla Sign, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, and Kid Cudi.
Certified Lover Boy’s success gave Drake his tenth US number-one album and broke Apple Music and Spotify records for the biggest opening-day streams on those platforms.
The project achieved the all-time record for the most US top-ten singles from one album, with its lead single 'Way 2 Sexy' featuring Future.
Drake graces fans with his vocals, lyrical insight and sonics on the project, while exploring themes of heartbreak, love, levelling up, getting money and more. - Tiana Williams
Ghetts - Conflict Of Interest
Major Grime pioneer Ghetts, released his third studio album Conflict Of Interest on the 19th February 2021. The creative lyrical genius hailing from Plaistow, East London, shows a different level of progression and growth as an artist on the album.
Prior to the album release, Ghetts released five singles: 'Mozambique' featuring Jaykae and Moonchild Sanelly 'IC3' featuring Skepta, 'Proud Family', 'Skengman' featuring Stormzy and "No Mercy" featuring BackRoad Gee and Pa Salieu.
The star-studded project includes more features from the likes of Aida Lae, Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sandé, Giggs, Miraa May, Dave, Hamzaa and Wretch 32.
Conflict Of Interest is beautfifully executed, showcasing Ghetts’ powerful talent, having over nearly two decades in the music scene. - Tiana Williams
H.E.R. - Back Of My Mind
If there's one thing singer-slash-multi-instrumentalist H.E.R. knows how to do, it's conjure up a sparkling R&B ballad.
With assists from the likes of Kaytranada ('Bloody Waters'), Yung Bleu ('Paradise') and Chris Brown ('Come Through'), Back Of My Mind is a solid body of smooth, honey-toned tracks. The record picked up three nominations at the 64th Grammy Awards, and expertly showcases H.E.R.'s undeniable knack of transporting us to another dimension through her music.
The California native has truly cemented her sound, and it's sounding so good. - Cat Warner
Summer Walker - Still Over It
Picking up where her debut album left off, Still Over It proved that Summer Walker is one of the most important voices in R&B. The 20-track album not only touches on processing bad relationships whilst starting new beginnings but also coping with infidelity whilst embracing vulnerability.
From battling with social anxiety to her breakup with London On Da Track, the sophomore album was Walker’s way of letting the girls know we are not normalising toxic situations and relationships anymore and seeing a red flag for what it is… a red flag!
Featuring guest appearances from SZA and Ari Lennox, the album delivered fan favourites like Throw It Away, Unloyal, and Ex For A Reason. Not only did Still Over It score the biggest 24-hour debut for a female artist in Apple Music history, it also became the biggest R&B album debut ever – landing at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. - Shakeena Johnson
Doja Cat - Planet Her
Doja Cat’s Planet Her turbocharged its way through the charts and TikTok this year, becoming the epitome of pop excellence. Basing the album on ‘a fictional planet where all species and races of space exist in harmony’, Planet Her is filled with sweet melodies, alienistic glory and bold rhapsodic lyrics that invite you into the wonderful quirky world of Doja Cat.
From Kiss Me More to Woman, each track effortlessly explores the realms of pop, rap, trap and R&B, with a marquee of celebrity friends joining Doja in her new era of superiority. Unlocking new levels of badass with tracks like Ain’t Shit and Get Into It (Yuh), Planet Her elevated pop music this year, becoming one of the most-talked about projects, making Doja Cat the face of 2021. - Shakeena Johnson
Dave - We're All Alone In This Together
Following up from his 2018 album, Psychodrama, Dave released his second studio album We’re All Alone in This Together on July 23, 2021.
An undeniably advanced lyricist, Streatham native Dave taps into a variety of genres while still keeping rap and grime at the core of his art. We're All Alone in This Together was supported by two singles: 'Clash' featuring Stormzy, and 'System' featuring Wizkid.
On 'Lazarus', featuring DRB Lasgidi’s Boj, Dave provides us with a smooth Afrobeats track whilst still doubling down on socio political issues.Dave teams up with Stormzy on 'Clash', where the Grime god’s go bar-for-bar on an upbeat track.
The album had more incredible features from the likes of Snoh Aalegra and James Blake, gracing the project with their soulful vocals. - Tiana Williams