Every month, we round up the best releases in rap music. This month’s edition covers Payroll Giovanni, Lil Wayne, JPEGMAFIA and more.
It seems inevitable that, within the next eighteen months, Cardo will become one of the biggest producers in hip-hop; no matter how high he climbs on Billboard, it seems impossible that he’d find a better creative partner than the Detroit rapper Payroll Giovanni. The second installment of the pair’s Big Bossin series is rich and warm, unimpeachably gritty but smooth enough to play in church shoes. Cardo, who’s from Dallas, launders the musical legacies of L.A. and Bay Area rap through his native Texas. Payroll renders horrifying scenes of illicit economies and skates away unbothered.
Last year, Rory Ferreira’s who told you to think??!!?!?!?!, released under his more recognizable nom de guerre, milo, argued for art as something made by hand and wielded with menace. Sovereign Nose of Your Arrogant Face keeps that ethos, but uses a lighter touch, and plays, satisfyingly, like a series of diversions and distractions. Since his breakthrough earlier this decade, Ferreira has improved steadily, writing nearer and nearer to the bone. Arrogant Face is his most potent work to date, loose but pointed, smooth and self-possessed. When he blows up the breezy tone for the world-is-burning closer “Sedans,” it’s one of the most satisfying payoffs in rap’s recent memory.
Similar to milo, JPEGMAFIA is someone whose ventures to the fringes of the genre are made more compelling by his mastery of its central tenets. The New York native—who surged into avant circles during a stay in Baltimore—is a provocateur who could hold his own in the most vitriolic 4chan threads, but titles like “Libtard Anthem” and “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies” merely hint at how smartly chaotic Veteran is. There are a half-dozen stylistic threads that are worth untangling at length, but nothing I can say in this space is as important as this interview JPEG did with Willie D for the Baltimore City Pages (RIP).
Maxo Kream fits strangely into an outsider’s idea of Houston rap: at times he strays far from the tropes that were popular during the city’s mid-aughts takeover, but he isn’t exactly a classicist counterpoint. On Punken, a marked leap forward even from his breakthrough Maxo 187, he moves fluidly through a variety of musical styles—the sparse Nextel chirp of “Love Drugs,” the ca. 2010 electro-trap of “Hobbies.” But the centerpiece is the astonishing “Grannies,” a tightly wound series of familial mishaps stretched and compressed into a bouncy writer’s exercise.
Culture II could be trimmed, sure, but the Migos are simply a joy to hear at work: their interplay is goofy and free, but the raps are relentlessly athletic. It sounds strange to say about a group that’s become such a fixture in celebrity gossip channels, but much of this hundred-plus-minute record feels understated, and some of its strangest moments—the outro on “Emoji a Chain,” for instance—are its most intoxicating. Takeoff continues to argue for himself as one of hip-hop’s steadiest hands.
Bbymutha is a rapper from Chattanooga whose Soundcloud profile picture is Joel Osteen and whose kids interrupt her while she records. Technically acrobatic and consistently laugh-out-loud funny—and operating outside nearly all music industry infrastructure—her music began to break to an even wider audience last year (see especially: “Roses” and “Rules”). Her new EP, Muthaz Day 2, is caustic, danceable, and brimming with personality.
Since his eight-month incarceration on Rikers Island in 2010, it’s seemed as if Lil Wayne has only one foot in the music industry, still bankable but not the dominant force he once was. Which could be changing, because in the last couple of years, he’s seemed to fall back in love with the form with a vigor that went away after the third Carter (or No Ceilings if we’re being generous). The extension of the recently-released Dedication 6 is not a major addition to his catalog, but it’s a fascinating warmup: see especially “Bloody Mary,” where he and Juelz Santana tear a rework of Pac’s “Hail Mary” to shreds.
Evidence has carved out a superb career post-Dilated Peoples. (Well, post-ish Dilated Peoples: the group put out an album in 2014 on Rhymesayers, Evidence’s adopted home.) Weather Or Not is not a reinvention, rather a cool, competent day at the office, appropriately workmanlike. Alchemist continues his run as one of rap’s most prolific, dynamic producers; you get to hear Slug rattle off things like “I want knowledge of self / and also everything else.”
Vic Spencer is a rapper’s rapper of the highest order, his style eccentric and tic-riddled enough to slack jaws and breed envy, his formalist chops unimpeachable. His multi-album collaboration with fellow Chicagoan Chris Crack has broadened his audience over the past couple years; Spencer for Higher, his new venture with Sonnyjim, is the sort of record that’s filled with quiet creeps and slow burns, each track a showcase for the sneering wit that makes these rappers exceptional.
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.