Rap Release of the Month
Jean Grae & Quelle Chris, Everything’s Fine
Everything’s Fine marks the re-emergence of Jean Grae, a near-legendary figure in underground rap – she hasn’t issued a major project since 2008’s criminally underrated Jeanius. Her collaboration with partner Quelle Chris is reminiscent of the latter’s fuzzily constructed lo-fi suites, from the noisy feedback loop of “Scoop of Dirt” to the ruddy, demented P-funk of “House Call.” But Grae, who calls herself “Frizzy hair, bookworm, but still street smart” on “Gold Purple Orange,” is arguably one of the best bar-for-bar rap vocalists of her generation. She brings a sharp edge to this quirky suite that satirizes post-millennial, post-Trumpocalypse anxieties, and delves into conspiratorial rants about blonde Kanye and the Koch brothers on “The Smoking Man.” “You miss me? You should have bought the catalog, stupid,” raps Grae on “Zero,” as in “zero fucks to give.”
Also of Note
03 Greedo, The Wolf of Grape Street
03 Greedo is a Chicago rapper with a shambolic quality. On some tracks like “Baytoven,” he raps so wildly that it sounds like he’s going to tumble off beat. But he doesn’t. The best moments of his latest tape make good use of his punchy flow and a raspy, deep-hued voice that’s an octave-and-a-half above baritone. The bleary keyboard presets of “If I Wasn’t Rappin” gives the track a woozy quality; on “Run for Your Life,” Greedo supplies the hallucinogenic quality himself, courtesy of an Auto-Tuned performance.
Bishop Nehru, Elevators Act I & II
Despite being in the rap game for nearly five years, Bishop Nehru is only 21 years old, and idealistic enough to assert that Elevators is his attempt at a hip-hop Pet Sounds. Split into two parts, with Act I produced by Kaytranada and Act II produced by MF Doom, the New York rapper’s latest conveys his penchant for wide-eyed lyricism. The first half has a sunny vibe, with “The Game of Life” set over a Brazilian beat, and “Get Away” making effective use of a supple neo-soul drum pattern. The second half heads to the basement as Nehru battles wack MCs over hard-edge loops like “Potassium” and “Rooftops.” But even when clowning rivals he maintains the belief that beats and rhymes can change lives for the better, especially his own.
Logic, Bobby Tarantino II
Installment Number Two in chart-topping MC Logic’s Bobby Tarantino mixtape series features a skit from Adult Swim favorites Rick & Morty. “I’m in the mood to turn some shit up, Morty/I’m not in a mood for a message,” says Rick insouciantly, perhaps in reference to the Maryland rapper’s massive suicide-prevention hit “1-800-273-8255.” Logic (who’s appeared on Rick & Morty as himself) obliges with a series of humblebrag freestyles – nearly all of which are set over trap hammers – featuring cameos from 2 Chainz, Big Sean and Marshmello. While Logic sacrifices the conceptual weight that bolsters his full-lengths, he sticks to a punchy directness that shows off his superior double-time flow on highlights like “BoomTrap Protocol.”
Phonte, No News Is Good News
“Y’all scoring a game that I don’t care about/Because if you ain’t dropping that cheap, weakened shit every week and shit then they wonder ’bout your whereabouts,” raps Phonte Coleman on “So Help Me God.” The North Carolina vocalist who emerged as one-third of Little Brother over 15 years ago makes clear that rap is a hobby for him now, less a means to dominate than a way to express himself when he’s not on tour with his neo-soul collective the Foreign Exchange. He admits that when he plays his music back “all I hear is mistakes” on “Such Is Life,” and worries about the health prognosis of black folk on “Expensive Genes.” Still, Little Brother fans will recognize the Phontigallo of old – a mix of humblebragging and introspection that influenced the likes of Drake and Rapsody.
Prhyme, Prhyme 2
“Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in the wrong motherfuckin’ era,” claims Royce Da 5’9″ alongside Dave East on “Era.” It’s a curious complaint to make: Royce first collaborated with DJ Premier on turn-of-the-century 12-inches like “Boom,” just as big-budget mainstream rap was consigning golden age hip-hop to the rearview mirror. His relative proximity to a genre-defining ethos – somewhat close, but removed from the heart of it – has both defined his career as an almost-rap star and fueled some of his best work. Sometimes the complaints about the SoundCloud generation get distracting on this entertaining sequel to Royce and Preemo’s successful 2015 pairing. (Anyone who listens to grown-man rap knows the deal: lots of griping about “skinny jeans,” being “soft,” etc.) But the best cuts – Royce recounting his life’s twists and turns on the triumphant nu-funk of “Black History,” the orchestral soul of “Do Ya Thang,” trading bars with an animated Yelawolf on “W.O.W. (Without Warning)” – shine brighter.
Rich Homie Quan, Rich in Spirit
Rich in Spirit represents catharsis for Rich Homie Quan, who only three years ago landed a double-platinum hit with “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh),” and then watched his momentum dissipate during a legal separation with former label Think It’s a Game. He doesn’t address his industry woes directly, but many of his songs evoke struggle. “I’ve been working hard on my craft,” he harmonizes on “Fuck Wit Me.” “I can’t put my trust in no man, I’m on my own now,” he reveals on “Never Fold.” Despite the layoff – which ended with last year’s underwhelming mixtape Back to the Basics – Rich Homie Quan’s talent for rough-hewn melodic flows remains strong, especially on tracks like “Reflecting” and “The Author.”
Rich the Kid, The World Is Yours
Rich the Kid has a flexible voice and a hard-charging tone; he’s not the best rapper, but he’s sharp-witted enough to keep the bandz coming. His debut, The World Is Yours, plays like certain early Aughts rap albums or Transformers movies: so wildly entertaining that it doesn’t matter that there’s little beyond the special effects. To wit, this features many of your favorite mainstream rap heroes, including Kendrick Lamar (who bounces all over the Billboard Top 20 hit “New Freezer”), Future, Migos and Lil Wayne. The production is frequently top-notch, like when Harry Fraud turns “Made It” into a river of flowing New Age keyboard melodies as Rich brags about girlfriends “cooking breakfast naked.”
Roc Marciano, RR2: The Bitter Dose
No one makes a blend of thug brags and dusty, alluring Blaxploitation samples like this onetime Flipmode Squad associate and Pete Rock protégé. The Bitter Dose doesn’t reach the same pimp-ish heights as last year’s excursion Rosebudd’s Revenge, which placed high on Rolling Stone‘s 40 Best Rap Albums of 2017 list. But it has plenty of standout moments: a disembodied female voice wails soulfully while Roc and Knowledge the Pirate trade game raps on “Bohemian Grove,” a waft of orchestral strings and guitar float underneath his pairing with Action Bronson on “Corniche” and bedsprings squeak in a rickety loop for the sex excursion “Bed Spring King.”
Valee, Good Job, You Found Me EP
Earning a deal with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint ensures that Valee will get a lot of attention from rap fans, if not necessarily the mainstream success for which he’ll ultimately be judged. His debut EP for the label reveals a Chicago rapper with a fanciful word delivery that elevates these sometimes-perfunctory trap backdrops. “I bought some Balmains and I put some Gs in it,” he flosses in a nursery-rhyme cadence on “Miami,” his standout track with G.O.O.D. executive Pusha T. “I Got Whatever” replicates the stone-faced enigma of 21 Savage’s Savage Mode. “Shell,” his breakout single from 2016 that evokes the life of a “dirty-ass” street hustler with gritty effectiveness, is included as well.