Every month, columnists Lorena Cupcake and Torry Threadcraft compile a list of the most noteworthy rap releases for The Rap Round-up. Up this month, City Girls and Leikeli47, as well as male rappers Smino, Vince Staples and more.
November had some strong showings to consider right before we round the corner to Year-End List Season. There were anticipated releases from Metro Boomin, Vince Staples and Takeoff, along with stopgap projects from the likes of City Girls, Moneybagg Yo and Trippie Redd. Lil’ Durk returned with Signed to the Streets 3, and though it was technically a Halloween release, we should also note that Chief Keef dropped his seventh (!!!) project of the year.
Back 2 Ballin 2
Adamn Killa comes off as off-kilter simply because he’s not interested in putting up the same front everyone else is. He doesn’t need to invent conflicts, crimes or conquests to captivate us; he simply needs to be himself, a quality that’s garnered him an unlikely European fan base—the songs and shows with Yung Lean didn’t hurt, either.
The pink-haired Chicago rapper’s latest tape charms with a brilliance for melodies. Adamn’s so talented that he manages to transform the tape’s generic moniker into a truly earwormy hook (“Back 2 Ballin 2, yeah, it’s Back 2 Ballin 2”) delivered in his signature hoarse yet soft delivery. LC
ALLBLACK & Kenny Beats
2 Minute Drills
The bond between rappers and athletes has produced terabytes worth of content. As a sports journalist who loves rap, though, it’s disappointing that the majority of rappers fucking suck at making good sports references. Oakland’s ALLBLACK — a former Pop Warner coach — has the combo of aggression, emotional honesty, and charisma that stands out within the context of a locker room. One could compare him to former 49er Terrell Owens, whose accidental overdoses coincidentally became a punchline on 2 Minute Drills.
Coaches worth their salary tailor their game plan to fit their personnel, and Kenny Beats assumes that role here. He makes sure the project sticks to the theme: each of the seven tracks sits at around two minutes each. He adopts the Bay’s woozy bass and frenetic high-hats, masterfully paired with ALLBLACK’s abrasive flow and content. With a movie’s worth of action compressed into a 20-minute runtime, it’s a fitting soundtrack to a long-overdue cardio session. TT
City Girls’ music creates a vivid cinema of the mind, complete with potent dialogue, lush wardrobe and a hair and makeup department. Their lyrics drip with detail and transport you into the driver’s seat: you can feel the Chanel fur against your bare skin, relish a single mother’s fantasy of a night of freedom.
They even turn JT’s incarceration for fraud charges into an immersive narrative, cutting jailhouse phone calls with verses from her “sister” Yung Miami. Hilariously clever, the pair pack their rhymes with punchlines and quotable lines — punctuated, as always, with a period. LC
The fact that controversy sells, especially in the age of social media, isn’t really worth rehashing. Many stars of this era have emerged along with sketchy origin stories, disturbing criminal charges or publicity stunts. It would be a great disservice to lump Charlotte’s DaBaby in with this crowd, after his involvement in a shooting at a North Carolina Wal-Mart nearly a week after this tape’s release. DaBaby’s frank vocal tone belies his dexterity and to a lesser extent, obscures his wit; as a result, the 20-minute effort is an ideal sample size for repeat listening. TT
Programming beats like the impatient rap of a full set tapping on the nail salon counter, New York’s enigmatic bandanna-masked rapper is back with a healthy 19 tracks of self-produced songs. Her style’s unmistakable but hard to pin down as she moves from clubby eccentricity and a precocious little girl voice on the infectious ‘Girl Blunt’ to grown-ass devotions of love on the flushed and glowing ‘Top Down’.
Turn on this album, lean back and put your feet up while the smell of acrylic fills the air. Leikeli47’s here and walk-ins are welcome. LC
Feed Tha Streets II
Roddy Ricch is another member of a class that sounds more Gulf Coast than Golden State. After getting kicked out at 17, he spent some time in Atlanta. He’s additionally cited his Louisianan grandmother and the late Speaker Knockerz as two chief sonic influences. Within the context of modern rap, Roddy’s style–much like 03 Greedo’s–is one of personal and historical migration, as opposed to a shift away from regionalism.
Lean with no features, Roddy’s latest, Feed Tha Streets II, is as mournful as it is jubilant. Even anthemic tracks like “Brand New” and the slow-burner “Every Season” carry a somber tone. Like many of the rappers we’ve covered in past months, the 19-year-old’s vocal timbre does a great deal of heavy lifting. He transitions from agitated croon to double-time flow without as much of a hiccup, a fitting (though likely coincidental) stylistic tic when you consider the subject matter. TT
Since 2015, Smino has quietly balanced comfort in his lane with openness to experimentation. A third-generation musician, he juggles harmonies and cadences with equal dexterity; nothing seems forced. His latest release, NØIR, is a true-to-form full-length effort. It’s lyrically potent without pretense, charming without veering into corniness.
The majority of NØIR is produced by the rapper’s right-hand man and Zero Fatigue labelmate, Monte Booker. Smino leaps from older American subgenres like jazz, doo-wop, bounce and R&B, as well as baile funk, never once sounding out of place. NØIR’s profundity shines not only through its creative execution but in how understated those aspirations seem to be. TT
The initial reception to Vince Staples’ 2017 album Big Fish inspired a patient-but-anxious demand for his next tape. On his latest, Vince enlists Kenny Beats as well as LA radio legend Big Boy to lean into a common-but not-overdone West Coast rap trope — FM radio nostalgia.
Guest spots are a California-only affair: Ty Dolla $ign, Earl Sweatshirt, Kamaiyah, and Kehlani stop by the Neighborhood, but most importantly — co-host Vince is as sharp as ever. TT
Lorena Cupcake writes about every facet of culture. Find their insightful coverage on music, food and more at lorenacupcake.com.
Torry Threadcraft is a Brooklyn-based breakfast food enthusiast, moonlighting as a freelance writer from South Georgia.