Every month, we round up the best releases in rap music. This month's edition covers Milo, Lil Uzi Vert, A$AP Mob, and more.
A couple of years ago, milo and s.al moved to Los Angeles. It would end up being a short stay, maybe predicted by the clock in the Toyota that stayed on Wisconsin time. The pair lived elsewhere in the city, further East, but rented a detached garage/storage space in an Echo Park alley and converted it into a studio. milo’s a toothpaste suburb had come out in the fall; together in that Echo Park alley, milo and s.al shrugged off suburb’s sound—a warm haze of adolescent code-building—and got to work on something smaller. It started with a cassette-only, EP-length recording, called (Boyle) and Piles and released under the name RED WALL. That tape had song titles like “Two Men Repeatedly Suggest Something Is On The Low” and “‘Maybe I Like Owls,’ Said Sun Ra”; Busdriver opens another, somber track by saying “Black power obstructionist, take down this phone number.”
The tape came out in December. It was entirely self-produced, and it would hint at the direction milo’s solo music would take over the next few years. Back to the Midwest. so the flies don’t come, his exceptional LP from the fall of 2015, was practically all sinew compared to suburb, a heel turn that burned bridges and booklists. who told you to think??!!??!!?!?!?!, milo’s new record, is his most musically experimental, a craftsmanlike work in an age of sales quotas.
Its singles are obvious achievements: “magician (suture)” is breathless and “sorcerer” frays into a sort of resolve. The guests (especially the Freestyle Fellowship legend Self Jupiter on “ornette’s swan song” and Elucid on the superb “landscaping”) are welcome costars, and the writing process—milo toured these songs before he committed them to wax or .wav—served the material well. This is a smart record that doesn’t stake itself on smartness alone, instead sinking incisor-first into the form.
The copyright lawyers must have flocked like vultures. The Artist Formerly Known As NBA Youngboy, who seems to be making an earnest attempt to craft the world’s most unwieldy rap name, is also one of music’s most promising young talents, an obvious star in waiting. There’s something about that opening line: A.I. YoungBoy starts with “Trappin,” and with an exhausted, matter-of-fact “All of my niggas some shooters / Most of ‘em, they be trappin.” YoungBoy’s voice is thin but pliable, obviously young. See “Untouchable,” recorded just after he got home from an aggravated assault bid—he sounds even younger than his 17 years, but somehow still weathered. Across A.I. YoungBoy, he brings Baton Rouge to life through its residents, cataloging betrayals and supporters with a surprisingly even hand.
Though he appears on all three records listed here (and is more or less the top-billed artist on one), A$AP Rocky smartly cedes most of the spotlight for his crew’s trio of summer releases. The excellently titled Cozy Tapes Vol. 2: Too Cozy is inferior to the one that came before, but is still a serviceable sampler from the Mob. But what A$AP Twelvyy’s *12& and A$AP Ferg’s Still Striving do is reimagine A$AP as a hyper-referential, cloistered crew without national designs. 12 is practically barricaded into New York, while Striving—featuring what is undoubtedly the year’s best album cover—is the most exciting of the three, an often lazy, frequently thrilling collection of overstuffed songs. At his best (“Plain Jane,” “Tango”), Ferg is one of his city’s most arresting writers, and one of its most endearingly chaotic rappers. With supporting players elevating their game to this degree, the crew could have longevity that oustrips Rocky’s Vogue days.
Speaking of New York, Wiki, the precocious Ratking frontman, returns with a major project informed by touring but obsessed with his hometown. It’s an easy sell: Wiki is an absolute joy to hear rap, technically gifted but with the good sense to chew around and slow spit out the thickest syllables. He breaks into melody or snaps to staccato; he gives his song’s characters motivations and unique traits and bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches. What’s more is that No Mountains in Manhattan feels distinct from the Ratking catalog without rejecting it. Wiki has the rapper’s-rapper tunnel vision necessary to sell his style, but clearly also the mind for macro planning and careful arrangement.
Lil Uzi Vert has never been an innovator, and both now and in the past has relied too heavily on the Futures, Chief Keefs, Young Thugs, and, from much earlier, the Meek Mills of the world. Luv Is Rage 2 is not the genre-defining and -defying work it was touted as when it was in its incubator of Instagram snippets. Instead, it’s a very enjoyable rap record, one that courts emo by signifier and pop by arrangement. “XO Tour Llif3” notwithstanding—an absurd qualifier, I know—Uzi is an unexceptional songwriter. He more than makes up for this by committing on the performance side, selling minimal songs like “Pretty Mami” as if they were catalog-defining statements. For the next half-decade, whatever happens to be on Uzi’s iPhone one month will be disseminated and transformed by aspiring rappers the next.
Everything about Action Bronson should be tiring. The third Blue Chips installment should elicit eye rolls and quick glances at watches and cell phone lock screens. Instead, it’s deliriously fun, the kind of record that will morph you back into a teenage heartthrob and teach you how to do backflips into a moving Hummer, in no small part because it comes from an alternate universe where the cool kids still drive Hummers.
If you ever have the chance, see Myke Bogan play live. He was spotted in Los Angeles this week leading pro-kush chants while his dad held court in the back of the bar.
Paul Thompson is a Canadian writer and critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in GQ, Rolling Stone, New York Magazine and Playboy, among other outlets.