As fall kicks into gear, I’ve decided to take a look back at some of this summer’s biggest hip hop releases.
Because artists cannot perform live events in front of massive crowds like they used to prior to COVID-19, many in the music industry are releasing music at a rapid pace, perhaps to make up for the fact that their primary source of revenue — income from concerts and festivals — is all but obsolete.
May started off with a bang as both Drake and Lil Baby released projects on the first day of the month.
After the underwhelming hodgepodge of throwaway singles that was Drake’s previous project “Care Package,” “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” was a refreshing release from the Canadian singer-songwriter.
The project sees Drake exploring new sonic ideas, with the occasional UK drill beat popping up on songs like “War” and “Demons.” The album also includes hit single “Toosie Slide,” as Drake reminds us of his uncanny ability to make a mainstream pop hit.
While few will argue that this project is among Drake’s finest work, it is difficult to fault him for a lack of variety or creativity on the tape.
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Lil Baby’s album “My Turn” is among the strongest releases so far this summer and remained atop the Billboard 200 for four weeks.
The project contains a whopping 20 songs, ranging from high energy bangers like “Woah” and “Heatin Up,” to more introspective songs like “Emotionally Scarred.”
Lil Baby’s relentless flow shines throughout the project as he hardly ever stops rapping to take a breath.
While the album is certainly repetitive and formulaic at times, Lil Baby’s fans will not be disappointed when it comes to Lil Baby’s delivery, production and energy in this album.
May’s next big release saw Chris Brown and Young Thug team up on their collaborative project “Slime & B.” Despite having two of the biggest names in R&B and hip-hop, this album falls well short of anything worth listening to.
Young Thug’s verses sound aimless and disengaged, while Brown’s singing does not mesh well with Thug’s sporadic rapping style. Avoid this project at all costs for your ears’ sake.
Some of May’s less forgettable releases include Lil Tjay’s “State of Emergency,” and Polo G’s “THE GOAT.” Bronx native Lil Tjay is one of the up and coming artists in the NY drill scene, and the production on “State of Emergency” is some of Tjay’s best to date.
But, his nasally voice is unmistakably pumped with enough autotune to make a bullfrog sound like Beyonce, and this makes listening to more than two of his songs in a row a less-than-enjoyable feat.
Polo G’s project, “THE GOAT,” on the other hand, has been receiving quite the critical acclaim — and for good reason. Polo G also employs some drill beats on the project, but his voice requires significantly fewer vocal effects because Polo G is a naturally gifted singer.
Polo G’s lyricism is carefully crafted and woven with intricate stories of the pain and suffering he experienced growing up in Chicago.
Future’s “High Off Life” was one of the more cohesive projects that dropped in May.
Throughout the album, Future stays true to his patented style of sporadic vocal inflections as he raps about his extravagant life of drugs and sex on songs like “100 Shooters” and “Trapped in the Sun,” but to the surprise of many, Future also reveals emotional depth and introspection in his lyrics on “Up the River” and “Accepting My Flaws.”
The biggest flaw of the album is the lack of tuning on songs like “Harlem Shake” and “Outer Space Bih,” where Future’s singing is in an entirely different key than the instrumental.
June has been a much slower month for hip-hop releases, with many artists focusing on making singles addressing the political climate of the nation rather than releasing entire projects.
Rap duo Run the Jewels — Killer Mike and El-P — kicked off June with their highly anticipated project “RTJ4.” The album is chock-full of powerful boom-bap instrumentals and braggadocios lyrics, but the duo doesn’t shy away from topics like police brutality and the current political climate in the United States.
RTJ’s anger and boisterous energy remains as strong as ever as the group continues to hold it down for the dying breed of old school conscious hip-hop.
Flatbush Zombies also released their first project since 2018 with the EP “now, more than ever.” Unfortunately, the project only contains six songs, but the Flatbush Zombies still manage to solidify their place among the best underground conscious MC’s.
The album features the dark, gritty production Erick Arc Elliott has become known for, but the album sounds drastically different than their previous work, with an emphasis on slower, more contemplative, dare I say romantic, R&B rather than the drug-infused up-tempo style the group tends to gravitate towards.
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Pop Smoke kicked off July with his posthumous album “Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon.” Executive produced by 50 Cent, the album showed a different side of Pop Smoke’s musical ability.
About half the tracks on the project differed from Pop Smoke’s usual menacing, drill style of music. Instead, it focuses on more romantic topics and gives Pop Smoke room to maneuver his voice over a larger plethora of instruments. The album is loaded with features from Roddy Ricch, Swae Lee, Future and many more.
A week after Pop Smoke’s posthumous release, Juice Wrld’s highly anticipated posthumous album, “Legends Never Die” also released.
This album was a tough listen for me, as the pain and suffering in Juice Wrld’s lyrics shine through and beg the question — why didn’t anyone in his circle see his death coming and step in to help him with his drug abuse?
Juice Wrld’s ability to convey emotion, construct a story from the top of his head and ride the beat with flawless delivery will be remembered for a long time.
After a long two year hiatus, Seattle rapper Aminé released “Limbo,” his most comprehensive project to date. The album is full of hits and amazing features, most notably from Young Thug and JID. Aminé delivers a different vibe on each song, with just enough lyrical depth to keep me coming back form more.
Aminé also continues the theme of artists stepping out of their comfort zones and exploring genre-bending in their music this summer, with songs like “Riri” and “Easy (feat. Summer Walker)” being almost entirely R&B.