This article was originally published on HipHopDX
Despite several delays and a wobbly takeoff, Hip Hop enjoyed a successful flight at high altitudes this past year. The genre had a noticeably late start in landing its first chart-topper, which naturally raised concerns about its future as a trendsetter in popular music. Fortunately, a healthy balance of stars and underdogs pulled through and gave the culture a much-needed boost. Still, there was a bit of turbulence along the way that was tough to ignore because it posed a threat to the momentum that took months to build up and stabilize.
Early in the year, the absence of releases from Hip Hop’s biggest names prompted the notion that a Billboard No. 1 placement would be imminent once they dropped. Whereas this was true in some cases, a number of titans built up anticipation and some even generated tons of commercial traffic only to produce lacklustre results. The glaring disparity between star power and quality over 2023 made it clear that hype sets listeners up for failure just as much as it does relief.
This year saw Drake enjoy continued success as far as numbers go despite putting out yet another underwhelming project, while Meek Mill and Rick Ross‘ crossover album proved that not all superstar team-ups yield positive results. Likewise, City Girls and Trippie Redd came and went with forgettable LPs that belied their high-profile status. Lastly, Busta Rhymes cornered longtime rap fans into a disheartening realization: a legacy act, despite the history they carry, is still held to a standard… a really, really high standard.
Check out HipHopDX‘s picks for Most Disappointing Albums of 2023 below:
Busta Rhymes — Blockbusta
Busta Rhymes’ latest solo LP should’ve been a monumental victory by every metric of Hip Hop academia. Even with the team of all-stars the New York native managed to assemble, the record fell flat on its face and ultimately collapsed under its own weight.
Across the 19 tracks, Bus had assists from some of the greatest singers, rappers and producers to ever do it — past, present and future — so it was quite the blow when the majority of the project ended up making a whole lot of noise without giving listeners much to hold on to.
With Timbaland, Pharrell and Swizz Beatz all on board to help enhance the sound of Blockbusta, the 51-year-old veteran served fans a dense platter of mismatching ingredients with countless forced cameos. Busta’s always been a character who guarantees products ripe with life, but he failed to present everything at his disposal with coherence.
A lot of the guest artists did indeed pull their weight; so songs like “COULD IT BE YOU” featuring Blxst and Yung Bleu and “ROBOSHOTTA” featuring Burna Boy could actually have enjoyed success on their own had they been isolated. Sadly, most of the other cuts ended up drowning an already bulky album that would’ve been better off trimmed down to just its finest cuts, of which there aren’t many.
City Girls — RAW
Being labeled a “one-trick pony” is arguably the toughest constraint to claw your way out of, and City Girls walked straight into that web. Their first two albums had people locked in, but by the third, the whole shtick (and that’s exactly what it is — any recent interview with Yung Miami and JT made that clear) felt washed and repetitive from the get-go.
To their credit, the Florida duo built a brand out of provocative and unorthodox femininity that rubbed all the right people the wrong way, but its allure has now fizzled out even though there are plenty of other artists approaching Hip Hop the exact same way. Perhaps new characters, faces and voices are what truly drives the product.
Take, for instance, the contrasting effects of “WAP” and “BONGOS” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion – the controversy didn’t sell anywhere near as much as the first time when the two ran it back earlier this year. Similarly, RAW has put City Girls in the hot seat as the Hip Hop community is now waiting for them to prove that there’s more to their act than the in-your-face sexual liberation of their “I always get what I want” lyricism.
Bars like “Pussy make him do the cha-cha/ He wanna hit it like a piñata” and “Give him coochie ’til that money gone/ Pussy got me Porsches” certainly have a charm, but they’re also diminishing assets; even features from Juicy J, Usher and Kim Petras cannot change that.
Drake — For All the Dogs
The Canadian superstar’s latest full-length offering doesn’t correspond to how spectacular his shows have been. This makes it all the more satirical that his current trek is called It’s All A Blur, because it quite accurately reflects his current output. Uninspired and indefinite, joints such as “Fear Of Heights,” “Daylight” and “IDGAF” establish early on that he’s turning into a template artist, which is to say he’s sounding more and more like a product of Artificial Intelligence and SEO modeled on his earlier work.
In spite of that, the 37-year-old continues to top the charts and sell out venues because his fanbase remains among today’s most loyal. It’s a shame, then, that he hasn’t taken more time to offer the millions of people listening something more than just the bare minimum, with one social media user even tweeting: “This shit felt like a chore to finish.”
As of now, it seems like Drake is shooting rounds of artillery into the dark in the hopes of securing at least a few strikes, which has certainly worked for him thus far. “First Person Shooter” featuring J. Cole is one such case from the new album, but it isn’t exactly a win either considering the package is made up of 23 tracks in total, most of which are of a far lower standard.
Rick Ross & Meek Mill — Too Good To Be True
When “Shaq & Kobe” first dropped, it seemed like Rick Ross and Meek Mill’s alliance would be one for the books. Too Good To Be True, however, ended up succumbing to the self-imposed curse of its title, just like a trailer that outshines its film.
Few would challenge the duo’s merit as MCs, but the jury is still out so far as their creativity is concerned. The album has crispy and defined production, but most of its cuts sound like one watery filler after the other. Similarly, the bars and flow are on-brand but, at this point, just more of the same.
Songs like “They Don’t Really Love You” and “800 Karats” seem pointless and devoid of a purpose, almost like the album equivalent of forcing a word count while writing an essay. The same can be said about tracks like “Gold Medals,”“Grandiose” and “Million Dollar Trap,” which don’t sound like they were written by musicians who challenge themselves but instead feel entitled to positive reception.
Ultimately, the album plays more like a warmup or a drill rather than a project that went through the revision process necessary for any published work to succeed. Judging by the select few bops on the record, such as “Go To Hell” and “Above the Law,” it’s evident that Rozay and Meek do indeed have chemistry, but they don’t seem too adept at focusing in on their strengths and maximizing it.
Trippie Redd — A Love Letter To You 5
At this point in time, Trippie Redd’s greatest shortcoming is his lack of restraint. With three full-length bodies of work out this year alone, you’d think his own music is putting him to sleep from listening to A Love Letter To You 5. The fifth episode of a mixtape series that dates back to 2017, the project proves itself to be abundant and cumbersome.
Make no mistake, the 24-year-old rapper and singer has a dozy yet whimsical appeal that hasn’t quite dissolved yet, but it could very easily if he doesn’t learn how to pace himself. If Trippie filtered out the 15 best songs he released in 2023, he would have a solid album to his name.
Unfortunately, scattering them across what he hoped would be a threepeat ended up working against him, and his second complete release of the year is a testament to that. The LP gets boring before it even lands its first punch, which is why it is of paramount importance that he figures out how to organize what quite evidently is a busy mind.
“I’m Mad At Me” featuring Lil Wayne, for example, is a knockout tune that deserved a better placement and rollout. For it to set in by the time the tape already loses steam is unfair to everyone involved. Put simply, Trippie Redd has what it takes to continue being great; he just needs a better editor.