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Every month, we round up the best releases in rap music. This month's edition covers Young Thug & Future, G Herbo, 21 Savage and Offset, Young Dolph, and more.
G Herbo is one of the most ferocious rappers in the world, a superb technician whose best songwriting stacks up against that of his most famous peers. Two of his mixtapes (Ballin’ Like I’m Kobe and his breakthrough effort, Welcome to Fazoland) are among my most-played records of the decade, and his work with fellow Chicagoan Lil Bibby features some of the period’s most dynamic back-and-forths. Humble Beast––long teased as his quote-unquote debut album, but released rather unceremoniously––catches the 22-year-old in familiar form as a vocalist, snarling and straightforward. But the production pulls him further from his drill music roots toward warm tones and Willie Hutch samples. Little new ground is broken in terms of Herbo’s biography, worldview, or syntactical style, but the album is still packed with gripping, vignette-length looks into his life. A welcome highlight from halfway through: a phenomenal turn from the recently freed Bump J.
If Why Khaliq came out twelve years ago, he would have been swept under the ‘conscious’ umbrella. It would have given him a better shot of getting a video in MTV rotation (and maybe a Jill Scott feature if he played his cards right), but it would have been a misnomer all the same. What makes the St. Paul rapper’s music so captivating is that its many moving parts––both musical and thematic––are often at odds with one another. The moral stakes will shift from verse to verse, and Khaliq will evoke spiritual predecessors like Devin the Dude only a few bars before he skews closer to contemporaries like Isaiah Rashad. The Mustard Seed is full of rich textures and irresistible rhythms, heady music for car speakers.
Hoodrich Pablo Juan is almost certainly the greatest rapper to ever name a song after a Kratts Creatures spinoff. (For whatever reason, Kratts Creatures was Friends-level ubiquitous in Calgary, Alberta’s public elementary schools; unfortunately, by the time Zoboomafoo hit the air, we were mostly into Mase.) HPJ feels, similarly, just the tiniest bit unstuck in time: one imagines that if the first Designer Drugz came out even eighteen months earlier that, you know, “Trap Dab” would have become a phenomenon or something, and instead of fighting for his piece of Interscope’s marketing budget he would be delighting confused Fallon fans. DD3 is laconic, sometimes to its detriment, but hits a sort of metronomic strides on the back half. It’s easy to slide deep into “B.M.F.”’s crevices.
Timing, again, is difficult to get right. Super Slimey would have not only been more eagerly anticipated in 2015––before’s Future’s saturation period and perceived decline, and when Young Thug’s commercial prospects were still a Schrodinger’s cat thing––but might have been better, or at least more musically varied. As it stands now, Future pulls Thug deep into the autopilot trap mode that became the former’s default after Honest was poorly reviewed. Fortunately, each rapper digs just deep enough to make this a rewarding, if not particularly memorable listen. Think of it as a jam session captured surreptitiously.
A counterpoint: on Without Warning, the collaboration between Offset, 21 Savage, and Metro Boomin, the principals are able to feel out a pocket that’s distinct from any of their solo catalogs. And while it isn’t quite the marketing no-brainer of a MellowHype album or a Chief Keef mixtape, the record earns its Halloween release date––it’s eerily unpredictable, and features some of Metro’s more adventurous melodic choices. (The superproducer doesn’t quite play with tempo like he did on Savage Mode, his collaboration with 21 alone, but the sounds themselves are consistently left-field.) The two rappers, of course, are stark opposites in their deliveries, but play off of one another as if by instinct.
03 Greedo is among the most exciting new artists in Los Angeles hip-hop, which is in the midst of a remarkable renaissance. He releases his music––elastic and psychedelic, borrowing from hyphy when necessary––in massive batches, frequently and often without warning. By contrast, his new record, First Night Out, is practically bite-sized at thirteen songs. Its genre tags on streaming services (“R&B/Soul” instead of hip-hop) severely overstate the degree to which it’s a departure from the rest of his catalog; most of these songs could have been pulled from Money Changes Everything or Purple Summer. There will never be a perfect, definitive point of entry for the uninitiated, so you might as well dive in while Greedo’s buying unpronounceable linens because they’re ice-blue.
Young Dolph can be wildly funny, but the last year hasn’t left him much to laugh about. Two attempts on his life––the nearly unbelievable shooting in North Carolina this February, where his bulletproof SUV shielded him from a hundred shots, and the second murder attempt in L.A. in September––have undoubtedly sucked some of the levity from the room. But Thinking Out Loud doesn’t spend much time dwelling on death. (For the proverbial fresh-from-the-scene record, check Bulletproof, from this spring.) Instead, Dolph mines the more serious sides of his psyche for mid-tempo, craftsmanlike rap songs that stare into the middle distance and are dripping with style. It’s not until the album’s last song when Dolph really runs his fingers over mortality, but when he does, it’s one of the finest showcases in his already illustrious catalog.
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.
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