Selections of noteworthy hip hop.
July 2021 saw some great hip hop drop! Normally, I stay a little further afield from the mainstream than this, but this month, I had to go swim into the middle of the river. We had some incredible music from across the country. Let’s dive in!
Generally, I’m skeptical of posthumous albums. They feel played out and exploitational, often verging into hagiography rather than a new piece of art. All of these ring true for Pop Smoke’s latest (I would never say final) album, but I still have to give it some props because Faith is a solid hit. Smoke’s deep, husky voice over synths and drums continues to ring out, propelling his name out from the masses of other rappers. His style is so aggressive, so lively, so anticipatory! You can’t help but recognize his talent and understand why his star has risen beyond the Brooklyn drill scene. It’s just too bad it was shot down before he could truly make it shine.
I tuned into IDK at some point last fall and I’ve been blasting his shit at every point possible since. He is an impertinent lyricist with an impeccable ear for beats, and
USEE4YOURSELF continues his trend of fire records, but I would also be remiss to not also mention his new course at Harvard – a tuition-free course on music business and management for BIPOC students. With this clout, I don’t see him staying far from the mainstream discourse for long, and to my eyes, he’s already at the top of the current scene. I just hope he can keep up the quality alongside this workload.
I’ll never not write about Vince Staples. He’s one of the best lyricists in the game and he drops bangers with an empathic tone. In some ways, I struggle with what to say about Vince’s new, self-titled album: if you vibe with Vince, you’re already on board. If you don’t know him yet, he’s an advanced, lyrical rapper/community member who doesn’t care that you don’t know who is. His flow is impeccable; his rhymes are impetuous. When paired with a laidback production set from Kenny Beats, Vince is also at his chillest delivery here, avoiding some of the ferocity of his previous albums, but it doesn’t mean that he’s lost his bite.
DJ Drama opens Tyler’s new album saying: “I don’t think you’re ready,” and I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t. After some dalliances into pop, Tyler’s back on his hip hop grind this year. Every hip hop fan knows the fear that their problematic fav has gone pop and they’re never coming back, but this year Tyler returned to his roots and he’s never been better. I’m stoked that he’s back on his rap grind, playing to his deep voice, dynamic flow, grooving on weird grimy, synth-y beats. I can’t lie about this one, it’s running on AOTY for me right now.
Despite his five-year absence, Isaiah Rashad is back right in his groove, dropping laidback bars laced with venom. Back when TDE announced that The House is Burning was the label’s new album, some folks misbehaved, disappointed it wasn’t Kendrick. They all need to be ashamed of themselves because Zay’s new album might be the best out of the TDE box since Damn. It’s smooth as hell but cold as fuck – Rashad is a calculated professional with a vibrating soul
That being said, I somehow end up wanting more from Rashad. He’s got the finesse, the flow and the production to build on his classics, but he just seems to ride those same vibes. And listen, those vibes are fire, and if precedent means anything, I’m gonna a while before I quite digest everything that’s happening here. But I also want to hear him bridge out a bit more, experiment with some other sounds. Maybe he will when he drops again in another five years. But even if he doesn’t, I’ll still be excited.
Noah Springer is a writer and editor based in St. Louis. You can follow him on Twitter @noahjspringer.