As 2023 wraps up, we’ve been reflecting on some of our favourite releases in a year stacked with exciting music from all corners of the globe. The scene at home is in top form, and the global scene continues to grow in exciting and unexpected directions. It was no easy task, but our writers have been in the trenches to bring you the rundown on our 25 favourite albums, EPs and mixtapes of the year. From seasoned veterans dropping impressive follow-ups to exciting prospects making their mark with debut releases, we’ve put our heads together and come up with the list that best represents what Acclaim has been loving throughout 2023.
#25. Jorja Smith – Falling or Flying (UK)
After moving back to her home of Walsall, a quiet haven on the outskirts of London, Jorja Smith has found a way to escape the city lights and find herself again. Caught between fame and the want of a simple life came her second album Falling or Flying. It’s like the title insinuates, Jorja soars to dizzying heights with happiness and then stumbles, unable to catch herself from the negativity. On this album, Jorja is the best we’ve ever seen her. Flitting between genres like pop, punk, and her signature R&B, Jorja opens the doors to experimentation, showing us that artists are allowed to change despite what her fans’ whims say. Unlike her first album, which looked to the past for inspiration, FOF sits firmly in the present, documenting her growth into womanhood and saying goodbye to the kid who began her ascent into fame as a late teen. It seems being home and surrounded by familiarity is a fitting place for Jorja to produce her best music yet. — Julie F.
#24 Destroy Lonely – If Looks Could Kill (USA)
Destroy Lonely emerged this year as the newest fashion-vampire/rapper to drop music on Playboi Carti’s Opium label, offering up his debut album If Looks Could Kill. Diverging from the mosh-ready music of Carti and Ken Carson, Lone brings more of a droney and contemplative vibe to the label. His raspy autotuned vocals navigate an angsty tracklist as he warbles through themes of drugs, fast cars, Glocks, and Rick Owens outfits across grungy backing. Sonically, the album is a concocted blend of fuzzed-out, post-punk guitars and Atlanta trap production that complements Destroy Lonely’s distinct vocal style. Honestly, even though 20+ track albums are jokes and I wish people would stop doing them, If Looks Could Kill does wonders to establish Destroy Lonely as a trendsetter for the new generation, with a skilled ear for selecting beats and a talent for crafting atmosphere.— Cass N.
#23. Kelela – Raven (USA)
How to describe Kelela? Perhaps as a celestial body whose voice causes a sensual, come-hither and powerful explosion sucking you down an alt-R&B black hole into a universe where only beautiful things exist. A bit much? Oh well. Her album, Raven, unfolds as a slow, sensual intergalactic journey of self-care. It’s mature, intelligent and follows no obvious structure, but avoiding the latter makes way for a powerful display of Kelela’s voice and vision.— Julie F.
#22. MIKE – Burning Desire (USA)
To get vulnerable for a second, 2023 has been one of the most challenging years of my life. Personal upheaval has been a common occurrence. Procrastination has become overpowering, pushing me into a sense of numbness, and providing me a prime position to watch life pass me by. I lash out in combos against lethargy, but it has the presence of a pro-boxer and beats my ass. Constant 10-counts for the journeyman, who no longer has the motivation to embark on journeys.
Throughout all of this, MIKE’s Burning Desire has been a beacon. It’s his most self-assured album yet, an evolution clearly foreshadowed in his career arc. Past projects have found him riddled with the challenges of processing grief and adversity, traversing an atmosphere of lo-fi loops trying to find an answer on how to feel better. Here, he chooses to honour the loved ones he lost and the dark times he found himself in, celebrating how these people affected his life and how those trials and tribulations led him to triumph. It’s almost as if you can hear the smile on his face throughout the woozy melodies of ‘What U Say U Are’, or the vibrant raps of ‘Billboards’.
Whenever I pick myself off the canvas, Burning Desire accompanies me as my cornerman. The sun-soaked soul of the instrumentals lures me outside, so I can feel the fresh air alongside these fervent raps. His seamless flows form a place of comfort, taking me away from my bouts with the black dog. Songs like ‘should be!’ have become a soundtrack for those moments where it feels like things are going to be okay, while the title track causes a surge of motivation, finding my second wind as MIKE raps ‘To fuck around see me plummet, shit I couldn’t stomach.” Burning Desire is more than just a collection of great music, but a guardian that denounces the idea of your downfall, and emphatically calls for your comeback. With a hype man like MIKE, we’re all bound to land a haymaker soon. — Henry O.
#21. Andre 3000 – New Blue Sun (USA)
There is no rap on this goddamn album!!! How many times does Andre have to say it? And that’s why it’s so good. Oftentimes we hold rappers to a standard that they just don’t want to be held to (that’s probably why artists like Andre grow tired of the fame). But if you’ve been a fan of Andre over the course of 20 years, you’ll know that he has ALWAYS been at the forefront of experimentation. And after bumming around the world, often caught in viral videos with a flute in his hand at airports, coffee shops or on the street, this doesn’t stray far from expectation. It’s new-age, spiritual and has a tracklist with some weird ass titles, ‘That Night In Hawaii When I Turned Into A Panther And Started Making These Low Register Purring Tones That I Couldn’t Control … Sh¥t Was Wild.’ It’s a mouthful, it’s literal, but the album is good. Maybe it won’t perform well on the charts, but we do get to see an artist making music for the love of music rather than the love of fame. — Julie F.
#20. Jaal – You Only Die Once (AUS)
JAAL’s You Only Die Once explores the duality of existence. It finds him celebrating the highs of life on songs like ‘SUCK!’, where he highlights the grind towards triumph in a series of invigorated raps. He also explores the lows that linger, facing his demons with deliberation throughout hazy cuts like ‘WHEN IT RAINS’. The twists and turns of this album focus on the jarring juxtaposition of emotions and how quickly these sudden switch-ups can come. But even in the frantic world of feelings, Jaal only manages to find one solution: live your life to the fullest. He appreciates the success and traverses the sombre moments looking for something to learn.
Jaal is accompanied by contemporaries like MALI JO$E, FLY BOY JACK, ThatKidMaz, and Oscar #Worldpeace on this expedition, and every moment is enhanced by this beautiful display of hip-hop talent. You Only Die Once is a demonstration of some damn good rapping, and an incredible reminder to appreciate the complexities of life. — Henry O.
#19. Gunna – A Gift & a Curse (USA)
In the face of adversity and with the weight of YSL’s RICO case weighing heavy, Gunna surprised the hip-hop world with A Gift & a Curse in what was surely the lowest point of his career. He emerged with renewed focus, infusing urgency and inspiration into his craft without the assistance of his usual collaborators. The absence of features on this introspective album allows Gunna’s velvety-smooth, mellowed-out style to take centre stage, weaving a narrative that transcends his prior carefree attitude. Gunna’s lyrical prowess shines on the project, addressing allegations and affirming his unwavering loyalty to YSL despite the chatter online. With the gratuitously viral ‘fukumean’ a strong contender for song of the year and many saying it’s his best work to date, it’s hard not to root for Gunna and his 2023 glow-up. We’re hoping for good news in 2024 for the rest of the seemingly fractured YSL camp. — Cass N.
#18. Cleo Sol – Gold (UK)
Cleo Sol caught us off guard again with the surprise release of her fourth studio album Gold, just two weeks after the unexpected arrival of its predecessor, Heaven. The spiritually motivated oasis of hope and solace in her music has established Cleo as a maternal figure, comforting audiences through her consoling lyrics and the soothing embrace of her angelic vocals. Gold serves as an outright expression of Cleo’s faith, delivering a universal message of resilience that transcends religious boundaries.
Tracks like the album opener, ‘There Will Be No Crying’ and ‘Only Love Can Wait’ speak to this, offering guidance that resonates with individual experiences. The album’s production is characterized by its simplicity and compels you to become completely immersed in Cleo’s words. Another highlight is ‘Please Don’t End It All’, with Sol’s hypnotic vocals blending seamlessly into stripped-back instrumentation, creating a space filled with light and love in a world that often challenges our sense of optimism. — Tahsharn L.
#17. Zion Garcia – ZION GARCIA: THEATRICAL VERSION (AUS)
While technically not an album, this is the debut project by Sydney rapper Zion Garcia. Aside from having a stage presence that one can only be born with, Zion Garcia’s rap delivery has a weirdly addictive quality that’s as concise as it is emotive. On songs like ‘Heart’ his tongue trips over his lyrics with professional dexterity, at times throwing it back to early-2000’s production while also creating something wholly modern on Australian shores. For an artist so young, this project is a showcase of a promising future to come. — Julie F.
#16. JPEGMAFIA, Danny Brown – Scaring the Hoes (USA)
JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown really did a number with this one. While some might discount the production as ‘all over the place’, a lot of thought, technical skill and a vast amount of samples have gone into every single song. From Nintendo commercials to Kelis’s ‘Milkshake’ to a song by 90s boy band NSYNC, the production is glitchy, destructive and pulled together by JPEG and Danny Brown’s verses. Described as “rap not fit for parties” (which is a title it probably doesn’t hold anymore due to its critical acclaim) from the outer limits of unorthodox hip hop, the rappers are bringing their music to the forefront and showing how innovative production can change the game. — Julie F.
#15. Asake – Work of Art (NGA)
Following a surge of global acclaim last year with the release of his debut album Mr Money with the Vibe, Asake makes our list once again with his sophomore album, Work of Art. The signature Asake sound remains strong throughout this project, a fusion of Nigerian Fuji sounds and Amapiano, embedded with his signature flow and uplifted by choral gospel harmonies. The project shows a split between a boastful superstar asserting his self-proclaimed superiority over the imitators in the game, and the decentering of his ego to express gratitude up above for his successes. This juxtaposition can be heard in songs like ‘Basquiat’, comparing his impact to that of the late artist, and ‘Olorun’, in which Asake takes a step back to accredit God for his achievements. Secure in his artistry, Asake is a bonafide storyteller and a vibe curator like no other, establishing a strong momentum that will allow him to continue shaping generations to come. — Tahsharn L.
#14. KAYTRAMINÉ – KAYTRAMINÉ (CAN/USA)
We all crave an unserious, lighthearted album from time to time. Maybe that means the lyrics are a bit corny and devoid of dexterous whip-smart lyrics (in other words, a lot of lyrics about getting head), maybe it’s been described as an album for the summer, and maybe you just don’t have to think too hard to enjoy it. This is that album. KAYTRAMINÉ, the self-titled collaboration album between Kaytranada and Aminé, is the music you’d play if you were by the pool, sipping on some long islands and flirting with that six-packed summer fling. The basslines are funky, goofy, and made for people who are (in another writer’s words) “young, dumb and full of cum”. — Julie F.
#13. Travis Scott – UTOPIA (USA)
On UTOPIA, Travis Scott excels in the rare skill of musical world-building. This album never feels like just a collection of tracks, as they all collaborate to create a universe. Cuts like ‘HYAENA’ and ‘SIRENS’ are dusty rap barrages slicing through the mix like a desert sandstorm. ‘MELTDOWN’ and ‘DELRESTO (ECHOES)’ are simultaneously glossy and eerie, like the vibrance of gargantuan city skyscrapers beaming through foggy Winter clouds. ‘MY EYES’ and ‘PARASAIL’ are moments of tranquillity, slowly growing into the form of sonic mountain ranges. Travis is at his best here, pouring all his passion into being UTOPIA’s narrator, while calling an a-list cast that includes The Weeknd, Drake, Beyonce, and more to arms. But for as vivid and dense this album is, Travis doesn’t shove his vision down your throat, thus allowing you to delve in, and paint your own picture of what UTOPIA truly looks like.— Henry O.
#12. King Krule – Space Heavy (UK)
“It’s been holding the weight of the world” King Krule croons on Space Heavy’s opener ‘Flimsier’. This refrain sets the somber tone of the album. Archy is a lonesome wayfarer, voyaging through his thoughts with the mass of a whole civilisation on his back. At times he starts to buckle in the whirlpools of reverb he drifts through. The jangles of his guitar and the baritone blasts of his voice become submerged. It’s a heavy load to bear.
This is not a tale of demise, however, but a journey where we experience a man mastering the melancholy. The song ‘Tortoise of Independency’ symbolises a moment where he lets the weight go in exchange for a hardened shell. It serves as a protective casing as he slowly meanders through the emotional adversity of the album, allowing him the time to properly process the life around him. He spends time sitting on the “park bench of memories.” He stops by ‘Seaforth’ to pen a lullaby to his child, finding solace from his strife in the joy of fatherhood. He concludes the album by proclaiming, “A lot has changed, now a lot means to me” on ‘Wednesday Overcast’, illustrating that no matter the weight he needs to carry, he will continue to handle it with care. — Henry O.
#11. Jim Legxacy – homeless n*gga pop music (USA)
The first time I heard Jim Legxacy’s ‘dj’, I was sitting in a rural Coles carpark, eating some KFC chips (with extra salt). The background music for such an auspicious occasion was one of YUTH’s mixtapes – the music delighted my ears, while the chips delighted my taste buds. This small dose of Jim Legxacy was enticing enough, but it’s on full projects where his versatility really shines. One moment he’s singing his heart out over a Midwest emo-indebted beat, the next he’s sounding possessed while rapping about Jeff Hardy. There’s something for everyone in Jim Legxacy’s discography because he moves through genres like a well-travelled nomad. Across the 12 tracks from his 2023 mixtape, HNPM, Jim Legxacy samples an all-star cast of musicians to create a scrapbook of sonic memories. He’s vulnerable and stoic in the same breath, letting his guard down for just long enough so you can feel the full weight of lines like “I had to go finding you, reminding you/That one day I could turn this around/I guess it was too much to ask you to stick around” on ‘ur marges crib’. He lands emotional blows like Muhammad Ali in his prime. — Ben M.
#10. Noname – Sundial (USA)
Sundial marks Noname’s return after a five-year gap since Room 25, and true to form, it doesn’t shy away from her trademark unapologetic stances and direct punches. As anticipated, the project is riddled with Noname’s brazen worldviews and political satire, with the unmistakable Noname flow evident carrying the album from its opener, ‘Black Mirror.’ On ‘Namesake,’ Noname turns the lens inward, interrogating both herself and her peers over a groovy, upbeat bassline crafted by producer Slimwav that feeds into her comedic cadence, fearlessly confronting her own complicity in the very issues she raps about.
‘Balloons’ stirred some controversy with the Jay Electronica feature, yet it remains blunt, thought-provoking, and flawed—all at once. It is no surprise that Noname would be unphased by the backlash, as her artistry is rooted in a resistance that inherently instigates and provokes. — Tahsharn L.
#9. Veeze – Ganger (USA)
Entering 2023, Jersey Club was the trend infiltrating hip-hop, breaking into the mainstream with hits like ‘Boys A Liar’ and ‘I Just Wanna Rock’ taking the fusion to the masses. As the year unfolded, the shit-talking, bass-knocking style of Detroit rap was reaching far beyond The D. From Florida acts like BLP Kosher and Luh Tyler to Atlanta’s KARRAHBOOO and Anycia, even reaching over to Spain with the emergence of Bb Trickz.
The rapper at the forefront of this wave right now is unassuming Detroit native, Veeze, who stepped into the spotlight back in June with his refreshing debut album, Ganger. Stripped of gimmicks but loaded with eccentricities, Ganger is a lyrical encyclopedia of sharp-witted slimy one-liners, drawled out by Veeze as he nonchalantly embraces his inner dirtbag. Described by Veeze himself as a collection of “Songs that make you never want to go broke again”, the album finds the rapper tackling topics of romance “She say Veeze, you so mean, why I love you so much?“, navigating financial decisions, “I spent a band on drank before I ate, I need an ass whippin’” and self-reflection “I pray one day I’m trustworthy, I been slimy all my life” as he graduates from local legend to a star on the rise: “I’m the first n**** from my hood with jet lag“.
Veeze’s ability to showcase his authenticity and raw rapping talent through his “perfectly toxic” persona and hilarious penmanship makes Ganger a powerful debut, solidifying Veeze as a force to be reckoned with in the long term. — Cass N.
#8. JK-47, Jay Orient – Revision For Regrowth (AUS)
Bundjalung man JK-47’s sophomore album Revision For Regrowth is a personal invitation to introspection and a celebration of all parts of growth—the adversity, the perpetuity and the triumphs. Vulnerable spoken word weaves throughout the tracks, seemingly parallel to diary entries, giving listeners a generous deeper insight into his inner dialogue. JK-47 is a formidable, powerful storyteller, cemented by the creative genius of producer Jay Orient who executively produced the album. The two have magic chemistry together. Impeccable. The project flawlessly flows with metaphors of nature, returning our minds back to Country as we so often forget to do with the sounds of Bundjalung coastal melodies echoed on Regrowth. The album is home to, in my opinion, one of the best songs of the year; ‘Avalanche’ featuring Tasman Keith, amidst another favourite on the album, ‘Zuriel’, an emotional yet exultant song dedicated to his young son with features from Emily Wurramara and Hannah Sands. Let this album be an anthem as we welcome in the new year: I’m speakin’ life, I’m speakin’ love / over my community, and over my Country. — Taneshia A.
#7. Ice Spice – Like… (Deluxe) (USA)
Ice Spice has owned the year, proving wrong those who doubted her staying power thanks to her debut EP, Like.. ? With chart-topping singles like ‘Munch’ and ‘Bikini Bottoms’ having paved the way, Ice Spice made her rapping skills demonstrable on the project and its deluxe edition, and while it left room for improvement, the project is a seamless, easy listen that represents a new generation within the culture. Donned “rap’s new princess” by none other than Nicki Minaj in March, technically, that should’ve been the moment the masses were cautioned about dismissing her as a two-hit wonder. But despite all the pessimism directed her way, Spice used finesse and her unassuming charm to make her way to the top. So.. now what? — Rachael E.
#6. Yëat – Aftërlyfe (USA)
Listening to Yeat gives me a sense of confidence. I’ve spent many nocturnal nights cooped up in my living room, blasting discography highlights like ‘Get Busy’ and ‘Poppin’. The bouncing 808s propel me on a quest to feel myself. The woozy, autotuned flexes put me into a trance-likestate, and in an act of trap music transmutation, turn me into an ego-inflated creature. Aftërlyfe is an expansion of the Yeat sound. It’s a switchup in comparison to projects like Lyfë, and finds him delving deeper into his creative potential. Songs like ‘Rav3 p4rty’ are smothered in distortion, leading you to into an oddball hip-hop underworld. ‘Nun id change’ pulsates with cyberpunk dance production, an atmosphere he winds through like he’s on a Tron lightcycle. ‘Myself’ closes the album with a rare moment of vulnerability from Yeat, reflecting on past struggles through dense autotune filters, making like distant extraterrestrial transmissions. This album recaps the journey of how Yeat became a braggadocious bard, and the tales he tells add some depth to my narcissistic DJ sessions. — Henry O.
#5. Don Toliver – Love Sick (USA)
2021’s Life of a DON was the album that proved Don Toliver was more than a feature artist, and this year’s follow up Love Sick is testament to Toliver’s ability to navigate experimental soundscapes, crafting a thematically consistent body of work that showcases his versatility as both a singer and rapper. Love Sick was a conceptual album centred around Toliver’s reflections on love, accompanied by a short film that launched on Amazon Prime. With credits boasting titan producers like James Blake, Hit-Boy and Kaytranada, it’s a no-skips album proving that Don Toliver is only moving forward with each release. — Rachael E.
#4. Bakar – Halo (USA)
Some people think that Bakar’s music is depressing, which he offsets with upbeat instrumentation (at least I made the mistake of saying that to him), but actually, as he told ACCLAIM a couple of months ago, “I always see my music as a light at the end of the tunnel…It’s like, even when I give you sadness, there’s hope within that sadness.” His debut album, Halo, was written on the road and filled with the small observed nuances that come with the ups and downs of being on planes or in the back of tour buses. First finding fame on TikTok with ‘Hell n’ back”, the album is well-rounded, feelgood, and possesses a quality that unites people navigating the complexities of early adulthood. — Julie F.
#3. Teezo Touchdown – How Do You Sleep At Night? (USA)
What a breakout year it’s been for Teezo Touchdown. With his fast rise marked by his debut album, How Do You Sleep At Night?, the dynamic musical offering has marked the arrival of an exciting, contemporary rockstar to the mix. We all remember being introduced to him on Tyler, The Creator’s 2021 album, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, but Teezo Touchdown’s debut really lets us into the world of his eccentric and creative mind. The 14-track project, where no single song sounds the same, is a fresh, multifaceted display of Teezo’s powerful vocal abilities and genre-bending musical flair. There’s a certain level of showmanship to this album that is wildly impressive and simply captivating, offering up experimental doses of rap, rock, R&B and hip-hop. Teezo Touchdown represents all the weird, alternative kids who have this blossoming creative side to them and How Do You Sleep At Night? is a fantastical sneak peek into what’s yet to come. — Breanna T.
#2. Sampha – Lahai (USA)
Sampha is undeniably one of the most emotionally aware artists of our time. Of course, that’s reflected in his albums. Released five years after his breakout with ‘Process,’ his sophomore album Lahai is a poignant documentation of life after the loss of his mother and the birth of his child. The spiritual connection between these two events is explored with influences from scholarly texts like More Brilliant Than The Sun by Kodwo Eshun and delves deep into history and time, sci-fi and Afrofuturism and self-discovery. Much his debut, Lahai is vulnerable and tear-inducing, cementing Sampha as a genuine and emotionally driven artist. — Julie F.
#1. Amaarae – Fountain Baby (GHA/USA)
Amaare’s voice is baby doll pink. Her velvety falsetto shines on her debut album Fountain Baby, which tells the tale of a woman who wants the world, floating across nights on amyl, searching for her soul at midnight, and singing lullabies that soundtrack pres before sardonic nights at the club. The Ghanaian-American delivers a polished album that is vast in genre, fun in production, sometimes sad, sometimes sweet and sometimes ‘fuck you’. Perfectly balanced and addictively crafted, it’s a no-skips album that takes the crown as our top pick for 2023. Amaare stands as a radiant example of a recurring theme in 2023 — a landscape where unique vocals, diverse production, and left-of-centre artistry are propelling innovators to the forefront. — Julie F.