#5EUK Top 15 EPs of 2021
This is the fifth year I have been doing my end of year lists. But this is the fourth EP list I have done. When I did my first set of lists in 2016, I only did Songs & Albums. Ever since then I have taken every opportunity to big up EPs and have done EP lists from '17 onwards. And without looking back at how I introduced said EP lists, I can guarantee that I have used the words "underrated" "underappreciated" and/or "overlooked".
And I feel like those terms are worthy because while albums are obviously on a different level, an EP can, in a lot of ways, be so much better for everyone involved.
It can serve as an introduction by an artist, a signal that they're switching things up artistically, an appetiser for a future album. For listeners, it can be a taster for somebody new they've discovered and they're not sure whether they like them or not. There are so many benefits for an EP and I for one fully appreciate the shorter dives into one's artistry.
Okay, my manifesto for how great EPs are aside, let's get into my favourite EPs of 2021. Since this list isn't ranked I'm just going to list these in chronological order, starting with the early '21 drops to the latest.
We begin with some contemporary R&B:
Asiahn - The Interlude
It's been a decent year for Asiahn, dropping this EP in the early weeks of January and ending the year basking in the glow of being the lead for Netflix' children's animated series "Karma's World".
It is the first time spinning Asiahn for me and she pretty much had me at the first song "My World" which is a lush beginning and was an immediate addition to my Regular Rotation. It's interesting because her voice never stops influencing the track. There's no moment when you're not hearing her floating in some capacity.
After that solid beginning, the R&B vibes just keep coming with trap-laced "Gucci Frames" that is offset with strings that back up Asiahn's flowy vocals and confident lyrics. Then comes the most popular track on the EP "Get Away" which adds to the dreamy nature of "My World" with this beautiful harp coming through as Asiahn echoes references to getting away with her significant other. Wonderful vocals to finish that track off.
The EP finishes with "Drunk" & "Messed Up" that pair up nicely with the prior serving as a "here is how I got here" kind of messaging and then the latter wrapping up the EP nicely with a wavy but bassy tune. Clocking at just over 12 minutes, the EP serves as a great R&B snack.
Favourite Track: My World
Kota The Friend - Lyrics To GO, Vol. 2
Kota has also had an eventful year, but for the wrong reasons.
I'd like to still talk about this project, however, so I will just go ahead and do so. Because somehow, Kota has this great ability to paint great pictures in such a short amount of time. I put Vol. 1 on my 2020 edition of this list and it's more of the same here. Short, musical vignettes of Kota meditating on himself, the environment around him and what he's been up to on day-to-day.
At 10 songs and just over 15 minutes, every track is a wonderful ChillHop beat that Kota can't fail on. Some highlights for me are the first two tracks "Clinton Hill" & Luke Cage" which really succeed in that picture painting I mentioned. And funny enough, the last two tracks come right behind the first two in my highlights. With "Pomegranate" having these beautiful keys throughout and "Flowers" which has Kota talking about not judging other people for wanting more for themselves amongst other great two-liners.
EPs like these are just incredibly rare to hear but here's Kota going 2 for 2 on a series that packs in so much in so little time.
Favourite Track: Flowers
Erick The Architect - Future Proof
Credit to Co-Host of 5EPN Original "In Search Of Sauce" Miki for putting me onto this EP. Around the time of release, the same week as Kota in fact, Miki wrote for Notion, interviewing Erick The Architect and really added to my enjoyment of this EP.
The main thing I feel needs highlighting with this EP is the amount of collaboration for this five-track, 17-minute project. Six artists not named Erick The Architect are on here which is fascinating for one reason. Unless the artist of note is a producer, (Erick is one as a member of Flatbush Zombies but isn't one primarily for this.) you rarely get an EP with a ton of features. The only other '21 EP I can think of with those parameters is Lucky Daye's "Table For Two".
That observation aside, Erick The Architect is great on here. With Linden Jay having a big hand in the production, this is one of the most cohesive projects of the year. "Let it Go" with Loyle Carner & FARR is an unflinching and transparent look at grief, notably the line about cremating his mother last year and being honest saying that this song won't heal.
"Die 4 U" continues with the sombre feeling of the project, with a beautiful hook by Sophie Faith. One of those hooks that I feel like I've heard before, feels familiar.
The project is honest, real and if you're coming into this as a Flatbush Zombies fan, prepare for a departure from what you normally get.
Favourite Track: Die 4 U
Lava La Rue - Butter-Fly
I think we all should have artists like Lava La Rue in our personal rotations. Those artists that, when they drop, you know you're going to get something that will challenge your tastes in some form. La Rue constantly evolves with every project and after a few solid projects, she's finally got my full attention and not just "I'll spin and we'll see".
"Butter-Fly" has two of my favourite songs of this year. "Magpie" getting the official nod on my Songs list (Peep here for my words on that.) and "Angel" which is just a banging synth-pop jam. It's probably a perfect example of what Lava La Rue provides, some flowy bars to start off but then some buttery vocals as the song explodes with colour. A vibe that I only get with Tame Impala.
Then comes "Goofy Hearts Club" with this drowsy, abstract beat. Then "G.O.Y.D." that I could definitely see being played on an episode of "Insecure". Her rapping speeds are displayed wonderfully here if you're wondering what she can do on the rapping front. The EP then finishes with "Lift You Up" which just adds to my personal Tame Impala comparisons with the hook from Karma Kid. I love the lyrics on this one, building her own world, Lavatown and using that to stand tall amongst everything in our world that constantly attempts to put the likes of La Rue down.
20 minutes of blissful wonder I would describe this EP, from an artist that creates escapist landscapes with ease.
Favourite Track: Magpie
Laura Mvula - 1/f
2021 had the triumphant return of Laura Mvula after a five-year hiatus from music. And man, was it a return and a half. I came into this not knowing what she planned. When I saw that this EP held a fresh take on some of her most popular songs, I was coloured intrigued.
And fam... Anyone that expected this either had a hand in it or they're lying. Four tracks of 80s inspired musical bliss. To this day I remember the first time I heard that new "Sing To The Moon". It is by far one of my favourite tracks of 2021. But it doesn't stop there! "Show Me Love" is an outstanding love ballad that is begging to be soundtracking a teenage romance film.
"Green Garden" is too short. This track deserves more. It deserves a Donna Summer level 10-minute mix so DJs can just go ham with it. The guitars on this one are absurdly clean. And then we finish with "I'm Still Waiting" which just reaffirms Mvula's status as one of the UK's best songwriters. It's probably the closest to Mvula's former sound but doesn't worry, it's got synths aplenty.
If it isn't clear already, I love this EP to death.
Favourite Track: Sing To The Moon (1/f Version)
NappyHigh - Yellow
Friend of 5E NappyHigh continues to not miss. At this point he needs to be challenged to miss because every time he drops, I immediately put it on my shortlist, fully expecting it to be there when all is said and done.
"Yellow", the spiritual sequel to "Orange", begins with what I consider the greatest song under 25 seconds. I dare you to find another song under 25 seconds as great as "Yellow Intro". How can something so short be so good?!
And the consistency just stays high on this. "ILY" continues NappyHigh & Devin Morrison's hot streak as a collaboration. It's a mean one-two punch that introduces a summery jam from start to finish. The retro samples & overall nature of this EP seems fitting with the clean whip on the artwork for this.
A quick verse from Blu in the middle on "She Was Yellow" over one of NappyHigh's best beats so far, frequent collaborator Memnoc on the first half of "Drop Top MG / Coastin'" and creamy instrumentals sprinkled throughout. You simply cannot beat a vibe like this EP. And one thing I have gleaned from this EP and "Orange" is how NappyHigh can have two tracks in one and for it to just work. They always bleed seamlessly.
One to just press play and vibe out, simple.
Favourite Track: LetGo / OneForMe
Blue Lab Beats - We Will Rise
Before this year there were a few times I spun Blue Lab Beats and was rating what they had going. But for some reason, I never felt the urge to really dive into their stuff. It was all set up for someone like me. This duo smashes Jazz, Hip-Hop and many other flavours to create a sound that is uniquely them. Once you hear a Blue Lab beat(s), you know exactly what they're going for.
Enter "We Will Rise" which dropped a couple of days after my birthday and now I'm in it. I'm ALL, the way in it.
I'm so far in it, that I think next to Inflo, these two are the best UK producers in the game right now. I could highlight the people they have been working with outside of this (Shouts to Angelique Kidjo for blessing these guys with a Grammy nom!) but let me stick to this project.
You start with "Blow You Away (Delilah)" where Ghetto Boy floats over this silky smooth Afrobeat. I'm not even into Afrobeat but when I first heard this I slapped it into my Regular Rotation.
Then we got "Nights In Havana" which is classic BLB. A steady beat throughout and then throwing in clean riddims above it. A personal favourite is the keys in the middle. Then the title track which is probably the most "Jazz" out of the bunch but it's got some funk to it. And then the EP caps off with Kojey Radical just giving his unmistakable voice to "Tempting (Dance 2).
Just try and spin this and not bop to it in some capacity.
Favourite Track: Blow You Away (Delilah)
Isatta Sheriff - A Kind of Biography
The most fulfilling moments of my music journey are the moments where I catch something in a random search for artists I haven't spun before.
I forget specifically how I found Isatta Sheriff but I'm so glad I did because it's projects like this that bring me back to the centre of why I enjoy Hip-Hop. Sometimes, all you need is a beat and a pen. "A Kind of Biography" comes and goes like a whistle-stop tour. "Eerie Alleys" confirms the essence for me, "do it out of passion," she says on the hook, the beat having this sax in the background, giving it a deep aura.
But then "Ode to the Heads" brings the energy up a little. Sheriff's flow is impeccable here with more lyrics on her artistic philosophy and great one-liners that, when you finish the EP, you actually gain a ton of what Isatta is about if you were like me and never spun her before this.
The EP concludes with the title track that screams nostalgia. It took me a second to pinpoint how that string of nostalgia flows through. It's the samples. A couple of voices, the 'bing bong' of the tube stopping at Whitechapel. You really get a snapshot of her world through her eyes here. I guess the title is 'kind of' fitting.
Favourite Track: Ode to the Heads
Tkay Maidza - Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3
Tkay Maidza continues to shine and consistently put out versatile work through her "LYWW" series. Vol. 2 was my formal introduction to Tkay and I was ready for more.
Vol. 3 does not disappoint. All eight tracks do something different, they evoke different feelings and the quality never dips. This is impressive since "Eden" is one of my Songs of '21. "Onto Me" feels like a throwback R&B track. "Syrup" is straight from the "Missy Elliott school of music". "Kim" with Yung Baby Tate continues the bad B energy but with more contemporary elements.
"Cashmere" slows everything down and gives a more vulnerable side to Tkay, along with "breathe" that links to "Eden" and caps off the EP with a floaty number. Overall, another outstanding EP from an artist whose level is so high right now. And that fact is scary because this is only the beginning for her.
Favourite Track: Eden
ENNY - Under Twenty Five
This was an EP I was very much looking forward to prior to release. I gained awareness of ENNY around the same time most people did when she dropped "Peng Black Girls" with Amia Brave. The track was a beautiful love letter to all shades of black women. The beat has a solid rhythm to it but it's ENNY's bars on here that make the song what it is.
And that's what this entire project is in a nutshell. ENNY is a rapper through and through. She shoots straight and if you're a black woman in the UK, you can probably see yourself in a lot of these tunes. "Same Old" is the other popular single off this EP but it's the deeper cuts that really impress me personally.
"I Want" is so superb. ENNY floats lyrically on this lowkey dance banger and the subject matter is simple to grab hold of and shout to the rooftops. "Under 25" is a little more personal to ENNY but it's once again very easy to find a relation to it, especially in the back half of the track.
Overall, "Under Twenty Five" is a breath of fresh air. Breezy beats, great lyrics and refreshing to see someone go about it in a different way from the status quo.
Favourite Track: I Want
The Compozers - The Experience
Now as I write this, I just recently came off seeing The Compozers live, but I had this EP on my list anyway, I just wanted to tell you I had fun.
Now as for this project. These guys come in with a superb meal of a four-piece band delivering contemporary sounds with live instrumentation. And as is the case with many of these EPs, the first track sets a tone. "It's Time" with Kojey Radical drops heat as the instrumentation stays dormant for half the track until a clean beat comes in. "The Experience - Find A Way" continues this live Hip-Hop essence with Keys The Prince and Afronaut Zu hopping on this one. It's extravagant and high class.
But then the EP bleeds into a mixture of lush, flexy R&B and Afrobeat. The most popular being "Problem" with Mr Eazi and the final track "Better" with Vicky Tola really sticking out from the rest as a straight-up R&B throwback.
It's very clear from this near 30-minute EP that these guys can cover a lot of ground artistically and I for one hope more artists ask for their services because these guys got a genuinely fresh sound.
Favourite Track: The Experience - Find A Way
Emmavie - What's A Diamond To A Baby
Start spreading the news, Emmavie has got a tune for you. That's a reference to "Tune" which is one of many bops that "What's a Diamond To A Baby" holds. The entire EP is a fascinating mix of contemporary and throwback. Similar to someone like Ari Lennox, Emmavie really succeeds here in blending elements from recent eras. Take a track like "Avalanche" that has contemporary production but Emmavie's performance and hook give me throwback vibes.
Or an even better example, "2003" which feels so 2003 it's crazy. But it's not a parody in any sense, she keeps a balance that makes the song sound like it could be from both '03 or '21. It's very impressive how the project blends.
Then the features from Kojey Radical (Again!) and Phonte to name a couple, everyone provides a nice spice to the tracklist but at the end of the day, it's all Emmavie with a wonderful voice, tracks that are begging to be sung live (Uh Huh Okay is a MUST.) and some great UK R&B that also, somehow, echoes the past without getting too drunk off nostalgia.
Favourite Track: Tune
Sainte - Local Mvp
The discovery of Sainte has been one of my favourites this year. Versatile style with the flow of a Drill/UK Rapper on some of the smoothest beats of 2021.
With just four tracks you know exactly what Sainte is about. Some flex bars, some relationship bars, the usual stuff. That may not sound appealing but sometimes all it takes is confidence and rock-solid flow and Sainte has those two in spades. Take "Stylin'" for example. The way this goes makes me want to live life in perpetual slow motion. It's calm, it's confident.
And "Hunnids" continues that essence, maybe better than "Stylin'" when I think about it. The hooks on these tracks are straight earworms as well. Sainte might just pull up with a little croon like on "On Me" but it fits like a glove.
The way Sainte goes over these simple, breezy beats is so fascinating. I remember when I first listened to this EP. I came out of it thinking "how has nobody else thought about this kind of rapping with this kind of production?!". The EP is only 9 minutes but boy does it make an impression.
Favourite Track: Hunnids
Venna - VENOLOGY
Saxophone-centric ChillHop beats?! Umm, yes, please. Where and how can I inject this into my veins?
Grammy Award-winning Venna comes in with the penultimate EP on the list. An EP that is so up-my-alley it's silly. The beats are dynamic and aquatic. Tracks like the single "Standard" with Knucks is just a heater. I've been pretty lukewarm with Knucks' work but the way he just goes on this track, and then the saxophone coming at the end of the track?! Chef's frigging kiss.
"Aroma" & "Avenue B" feel like they should be on a ChillHop Essentials compilation album. This is my type of music right here. Then you have "Sun, Moon & Herbs" where JVCK JAMES just crooning with the Sax following him wherever he goes. Just beautiful. "The Last Poets" could be seen as a straight Jazz affair with the Sax & Drums just going blow for blow with a bass in the middle, creating this melting pot of Jazz goodness for the soul.
This was the most pleasant surprise of the year. I saw Venna's name a couple of times in the past year but it wasn't until this EP that I began to pay attention and boy am I glad I spun this.
Favourite Track - Standard
Alewya - Panther In Mode
The 15th and final entry into my EP list came right at the death. I was days into building my shortlist, already making my final picks, but here comes Egyptian/Ethiopian Londoner Alewya with "Panther In Mode", an EP that gripped me by the throat with how ethereal it is.
With a hand in production on every track apart from "Play", Alewya knows exactly what she wants to do with this EP. And that is to give you these deep rhythms and lyrical content that give a form of Afro-futuristic worldbuilding. As she brings in tracks like "Ethiopia", lyrics like "Oh Zebdew kebru-lenya / I come through in it, I'm done ya / Oh I feel like a warrior" and then lace that with some production help from the legendary SHY FX & AG. It's just an arresting listen.
And then Afro-dance banger "Zuggy" which I'm very ready to peep live. Then "Spirit_X" which really leans into the Afro-futurist angle. If she said that she read Octavia Butler novels while creating this one, I wouldn't be surprised. It's an outstanding soundstage.
This EP is an absolute force by an artist with a superb sound and I can't wait to see where Alewya goes next.
Favourite Track: Spirit_X
And that, ladies & gentlemen, are my Top 15 EPs of 2021. I will throw some honourable mentions below because boy there were some great EPs that I had to leave out. Remember, if you have a spare 10, 20, 30 minutes, give some of these a spin! Widen your net and support good art.
Ian Kelly - Kells is D.E.A.D
Alicai Harley - The Red Room Intro (Yard Gyal Inna Britain)
Lucky Daye - Table For Two
Ayanna Witter-Johnson - Rise Up
CHIKA - ONCE UPON A TIME
BINA - This Is Not A Film
Awate - Fear
Rachel Chinouriri - Four° In Winter
Mereba - AZEB
Wretch 32 - little BIG Man
Blu & Sirplus - For Sale
Ruby Rushton - Gideon's Way
Statik Selektah & Termanology - 1982: The Summer
Skepta - All In
Steam Down - Five Fruit
Hamzaa - Full Circle
MELONYX - Black Elixr
P Money & Silencer - Untraditional
SoulChef - For The Moment
Kay Young - This Here Feels Good
Chiedu Oraka - Ave Life