Every month, we round up the best releases in rap music. This month's editions breaks down new albums from 03 Greedo and more.
03 Greedo is an inhumanly prolific rapper from Watts who’s currently facing inhumane legal penalties. It’s tempting to survey his various vocal styles and production modes and see him as a synthesist, someone blending popular and fringe styles from his hometown and his laptop hard drive. While Greedo certainly is able to hang with Webbie or Uzi depending on the mood, the chameleon streak isn’t what defines his music. It’s his writing: glitchy and discursive, marked by impulse but eerily interconnected.
While Greedo, recently signed to Alamo and riding a wave of good press and grassroots enthusiasm, seems to be on the cusp of securing a larger audience, The Wolf of Grape Street is not a distillation of everything that makes him tick, edited for clarity and formatted for your screen. It’s a one-off, a cross-section of his numerous different looks all turned up to their most frantic, most urgent. Even the moments of brightness (“If I Wasn’t Rappin’”) or contemplation (“For My Dawgs”) are marked by a sort of paranoia. It’s fitting that “Never Bend,” one of Greedo’s biggest hits, is included in the tracklist: it makes peace feel foreign and success, even when earned, feel like some dark cosmic joke.
Though Little Brother garnered a remarkable fan base during the early- and mid-aughts, it’s difficult to talk, or even think about the group without holding them in direct opposition to other currents in hip-hop at the time. The Listening was a subterranean mission statement and The Minstrel Show leveraged pop-culture’s racial and intellectual caste system against itself; when the group’s producer, 9th Wonder, blew up instead of either of its rappers, Little Brother seemed even more like a well-kept secret For Heads Only.
Ironically, Phonte, the group’s clear on-record leader, because more influential to subsequent generations through his R&B-ish side project, The Foreign Exchange. His second solo rap album, No News Is Good News, aims to reposition him as a self-assured elder statesman, somewhere between 4:44 and Be. The most successful moments, though, are the ones where music recedes to the background, where Phonte is worried about his mother’s health and his father’s legacy, psychological and coldly medical.
To quote the esteemed Twitter user gabra_cadabra, Valee raps like an old-timey, tip toeing burglar. It’s true: the Chicagoan, recently signed to Kanye West and Pusha T’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint, is reserved and often nearly whispers. But he’s still forceful, a hushed bludgeon. He’s also quietly innovative––see the way his flows have already been repurposed by more famous rappers. This EP serves as a primer, collecting songs that have existed on previous projects along with some new material that taps adjacent veins.
His writing oscillates: between droning hypnosis and nearly-linear storytelling, between weed-in-the-Caesar salad detail and the vaguely anonymous. It gives his music a satisfying depth, that of a newcomer with a clear, clean stylistic agenda but a degree of conflict simmering in the frontal lobe. It’s difficult to imagine something as strange and addictive as “Vlone” being constructed from so few moving parts. While there’s little in the way of hard autobiography on GOOD Job, Valee seems like a lay-up pick to become a breakout star in the year or two to come. (An aside: there’s little doubt in this critic’s mind that Pusha’s flow on the “Miami” remix came from 2 Chainz.)
Even with a new rash of fame-adjacent news hooks––that shoutout from Kendrick at the Grammys and an appearance on the Black Panther soundtrack in particular––Mozzy is not the kind of rapper who invites this-guy-breaks-paradigms hagiography or goofy, knowing hyperbole, which are more or less the two critical currencies in rap today. So while he has one of the steadiest, most emotionally robust outputs in rap today, it can be tough for him to find the correct angle and break through the din. (I should know: I framed this record in an almost identical way just a few weeks ago.)
What Spiritual Conversations does is highlight the moral and psychological heft that underscores nearly all of Mozzy’s songs. The lush, sober “In My Prayers” is the sort of song that would serve as a latter-half qualifier on most albums; here, it’s the thesis from which the record seldom deviates. The spiritual reckonings here collapse the imagined distance between the Bloods and Black Panthers in Mozzy’s family tree.
Roc Marciano, whose 2010 classic Marcberg and its follow-up, Reloaded, spawned an entire scene in New York state and in various crevices of the internet, is often spoken of as a sort of revivalist. This is not necessarily accurate. While his DNA is obviously infused with coding from early-’90s New York––whose isn’t?––he dives down creative rabbit holes that have never before been explored, eschewing at various times drums, middle age, and modern economics. The sequel to last year’s Rosebudd’s Revenge skews warmer and richer to tremendous effect––except when it leans on serrated, dissonant gold like “Major League.”
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.