by Paul Thompson

1stOfTheMonth

First of the Month is a monthly column that rounds up the best releases in rap music, from major label albums to Datpiff classics. This month's edition covers Gucci Man, D.R.A.M., NxWorries, Saba, and more.   gucci-mane-woptober-album-cover-official

Gucci Mane, Woptober

In the months since his release from a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, Gucci Mane has gone about radically destructing the myth of the jailed rapper. Tupac came out on the most vicious--and most successful--tear of his career; more recently, Boosie came home from Angola and raised the stakes of his music with every torrid guest verse. But Gucci has gone on a charm offensive, touting his clean lifestyle and calm monogamy, hosting dinners for magazine editors, and putting out a comeback album, Everybody Looking, that was occasionally very good and carried the hallmarks of his truly great work. But it was too magnanimous, too accessible to penetrate the marble-mouthed legend’s canon.


Woptober has more in common with Gucci’s late-2000s peak: some filler but few frills, shards of autobiography buried in language games. Sober or not, Wop takes “Hi-Five” to psychedelic depths, revisiting the apartment buildings of his youth and recounting (re-counting) the thousands of illicit dollars he made there. (He also continues the slow creep of inflation in purported guest verse fees, pricing a cameo 16 at $100,000.) As a career move, Woptober is Gucci moving to the comfortable middle--with the advent of streaming revenue, a steady influx of mixtape-type projects will keep him in the black for years to come. Creatively, it might mark a resurgence.



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Meek Mill, DC4

Before you knew about Majid Jordan sleeping in tents to feed their Canadian overlord, Meek Mill was a wildly popular street rapper in his native Philadelphia. Footage of him on bootlegged DVDs shows glimpses of the magnetism that would land him a major-label record deal and a pair of Gold albums. The latter, Dreams Worth More Than Money, topped the charts just days before Meek fired the first shot in his feud with Drake, the aftershocks of which plague his career today. DC4, the latest in a series of mixtape series that lapse into “album” territory part way through, is well-trod ground for Meek, gothic and grand. Aside from a staggeringly lame Tory Lanez cameo on “Litty,” DC4 is uniformly solid; songs like “Shine” (“My mama crib big as a church--I’m being modest”) are concentrated doses of the desperate, frenzied energy Meek traffics in on his best days. “Offended,” which taps Young Thug and 21 Savage, is a year-end-list contender.



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One of the reasons Atlanta was able to push ceaselessly forward in the 2000s while New York faltered and Angelenos pretended The Game was good is that the capital of Georgia is not bound by tradition. There’s reverence, sure, but no checklist. Crunk, snap, triplets. But the latest Left coast contenders are learning how to navigate L.A.’s rich history in a way that synthesizes ghosts and khakis into something new, vital. G Perico makes pimp rap for the post-Obama years. His hair is curled, his leg scarred from a shooting he survived--a shooting that didn’t stop him from playing a show that very night. His breakthrough mixtape, Shit Don’t Stop, doesn’t just blend the old with the new; it injects dread into stock tales of collecting crumpled $20s, joy into stories about the Broadway Gangsta Crips. [Read my full review of Shit Don’t Stop at Pitchfork.]



Big Baby D.R.A.M. album cover by Boootleg




Even if you hadn’t heard D.R.A.M.’s music, he’d be an interesting case study. He got the first-blush Beyonce co-sign; he had his song ripped off by the Drake industrial complex (which initially admitted “Hotline Bling” was a “Cha Cha” remix, then reversed course and took the Fifth). When it seemed that the Virginian might be left out in the commercial cold, he and Lil Yachty scored a massive hit with “Broccoli” (and with its Vanessa Carlton-indebted video). Big Baby D.R.A.M., despite marking a whiplash downturn at Billboard, is debut that’s diverse, deeply felt, and endlessly fun. “Cash Machine” sounds like dipping out of work at noon on a Friday; on “WiFi,” Erykah Badu turns full interior decorator to irresistible results.



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NxWorries, Yes Lawd!

Yes Lawd!, the long-awaited debut from Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge’s NxWorries project, is jarring at first for how conventional it is. Knxwledge is an impressive producer who slips--both here and more broadly--in and out of Dilla approximation; .Paak is the tough-to-place curiosity turned Dre protege turned rising star turned NBA on TNT spokesman dropping his second blockbuster of the year. And yet, where glitchy singles “Suede” and “Lyk Dis” seemed to promise a confounding, off-kilter collection of silk, Yes Lawd! was raised in the church. By spreading 48 minutes over 19 songs, the duo jumps from hymn to filthy hymn quicker than any (save an ill-advised interlude) can overstay its welcome.




After standing near the spotlight with his more famous friends--you can catch him on Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book--Saba has finally made a definitive solo record. Bucket List Project confirms the promise hinted at on early efforts like “401k”; there may be too many voices in the mix, but there are superb high points (“The Billy Williams Story,” the Noname-assisted “Church / Liquor Store”) and more than enough exhibit to argue Saba’s place on the biggest stage.




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NBA Youngboy, 38 Baby

NBA Youngboy isn’t old enough to vote in next week’s election, but he’s one of Baton Rouge’s most promising young stars. His mixtape, 38 Baby, features guest turns by his city’s two most visible exports, Boosie and Kevin Gates, both of whom figure prominently in Youngboy’s still-calcifying style. He has an arresting presence and a keen eye for detail, and could join his elders on the national stage in short order.
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