The Rap Round-up is back! Each month, columnists Alphonse Pierre and Lorena Cupcake compile a list of the most noteworthy rap releases. Up this month: A$AP Rocky, Key!, Lil Baby and more.
Despite what your Twitter feed looks like, a lot more happened in rap this month than the tangled mounting beef between Pusha T and Drake (and Kim K and Rhymefest and Quentin Miller… it’s been messy). When we weren’t listening to the Kanye-West-produced Daytona, Playboi Carti’s surprise album Die Lit, or one (two, three) of the new albums released by Rae Sremmurd, there was a ton to sink our teeth into.
New York represented: we got new albums from Brooklyn queen Junglepussy and Harlem’s A$AP Rocky, while Upstate’s enfant terrible Post Malone delivered a sing-songy addition to the rap-rock pantheon.
Weiland’s Grimey Youth hit the SoundCloud underground, while Juice WRLD crossed over into notable mainstream success with Goodbye and Good Riddance. And while it might not be worth $100K, Blocboy JB showed us the value of a Drake co-sign (for now) when his first project since ‘Look Alive’ attracted more listeners than ever.
Here’s eight projects to catch up on while you for Drake’s ‘The Story of Adidon’ response.
A$AP Rocky may treat rap like a side hustle at this point in his career, but he’s still able to accumulate an intriguing set of ideas and collaborators despite a glaring lack of growth as an artist. Most of the exciting moments on Testing do not come from Rocky himself, but his guests. ‘ASAP Forever (Remix)’, a track reminiscent of the Live.Love era, features Kid Cudi in singular Man on the Moon form, giving us a peek into the unique interior that made people fall in love with his music almost a decade ago. Frank Ocean also comes out of hiding for ‘Purity’, where he delivers one of the album’s most genuine and introspective rap verses. AP
Blocboy JB rides his current wave of fame with finesse on Simi. It’s the Memphis rapper’s first project since his single ‘Rover’ was remixed by Drake into the inescapable ‘Look Alive’ and the video for his track ‘Shoot’ became a viral dance challenge. ‘Shoot’ producer Tay Keith handles most of the beats and guests include Billboard chart mainstays like 21 Savage, Lil Pump and YG. LC
Goodbye & Good Riddance
Chicago’s Juice WRLD isn’t scared to sing without the varnish of effects, a choice that lends an extra intimacy his lyrics of isolation, inadequacy and prescription drug addiction. There is a bold vulnerability that comes with the complete absence of hope; a fearlessness that allows one to lean over the precipice of self-destruction and free-fall.
Goodbye & Good Riddance’s success on the Billboard Hot 100 (his breakthrough song ‘All Girls are the Same’ debuted at No. 92; ‘Lucid Dreams,’ a sad banger based on a Sting sample, debuted at No. 74) is evidence of emo rap’s development from a bedroom SoundCloud genre to a serious mainstream contender for radio and playlist placement. LC
On her first album in three years, Brooklyn rapper Junglepussy hasn’t lost her edge. Single ‘Trader Joe’ cruises on dreamy double-tracked ’60s girl group harmonies; ‘All of Love’ follows a sinuous funk bassline. ‘I’m in Love’ tortures her secret lover’s partner with imagery of JP sprawled in bed with him, hitting spliffs.
‘I Just Want It’ is a brash declaration of a need for female-first sexual fulfillment with profane chorus it’s easy to imagine fans shouting at shows — just try to keep yourself from whispering along with your headphones. It’s a song so fun, even JP dissolves into giggles. LC
777 is the rare rapper-producer album that actually works (we see you, Big Sean and Metro Boomin). For the last several years, Atlanta rapper Key! has had his fingerprints all over a number of rap movements: Two-9’s initial buzz, OG Maco’s run, the rise of Awful Records and, currently, A$AP Rocky’s AWGE collective.
Now he’s taking the spotlight with 777, an ambitious collaborative album with prolific producer Kenny Beats. There’s no weak link here and their chemistry is primed to push Key! from the realm of background player. AP
Coach K’s Quality Control has another star with Lil Baby. After a string of promising mixtapes, Harder Than Ever his breakthrough. Yes, it helps that the project received the Drake stimulus package in the form of collaboration ‘Yes Indeed’, but even without the assist from Aubrey, the project is a showcase of how well Baby’s Young Thug-influenced melodic capability works when paired with Atlanta’s top producers.
Southside, Quay Global, Wheezy and London On Da Track handle the beats, while Lil Uzi Vert and Hoodrich Pablo Juan are supply some of the guest vocals. Baby’s partner-in-crime, Gunna, shows up for two essential Harder Than Ever tracks, ‘Life Goes On’ and ‘Throwing Shade’, a pair of tracks that suggest they could make a play to become the best rap duo since Rich Gang. AP
Thanks to streaming numbers from ‘Rockstar’, the marquee single featuring 21 Savage, Post Malone’s rap-rock follow up to his 2016 debut Stoney was certified platinum in only four days, setting records as this year’s biggest no. 1 debut on the Billboard charts.
Despite a self-professed preference for Bob Dylan over hip-hop, Malone frequently dips his iced wrist into the black culture cookie jar, pulling out West Indies slang with less self-consciousness than one might hope to see from a white guy from Syracuse. Beerbongs & Bentleys is a bleary-eyed survey of post-party wreckage; while Malone accurately captures the apex of excess, he fails to imagine a future once the groupies have blocked his number and the housekeeper’s wiped the last sticky rings and traces of powder off the coffee table. LC
We probably don’t really need another blonde-haired, gun toting-teenager in rap, but Weiland’s Auto-tuned flex anthems and love ballads are a surprising exception. It’s unusual to hear this much melodic control or such polished production on a SoundCloud project and it’s why he become one of the platform’s must-know names.
Grimey Youth’s best tracks are never rushed, despite their brevity. Standouts include the yearning ‘Alot’, produced by frequent collaborator Ginseng, while ‘Into Me’ is filled with puns and features an impressive vocal range. Like it or not, it’s only a matter of time before Weiland makes his way into SounCloud’s upper tier. AP
Alphonse Pierre is a freelance music writer based in New York. Find him on Twitter.
Lorena Cupcake writes about every facet of culture. Find their insightful coverage on music, food and more at lorenacupcake.com.