We’ve got two Kanye albums coming in two weeks, but before we jump into the jampacked June, let’s take a look back at May. Pusha T cut the ribbon for GOOD Fridays, Wale laid a blueprint for established artists seeking a new label, and Rae Sremmurd released their long-awaited SR3MM album. There was a little something for everyone as vets like Royce Da 5’9 and Zaytoven delivered, but Lil Baby and Tee Grizzley also set it off for young, hungry rappers everywhere. Conway dropped an EP that sounds like classic hip-hop as traditionalists love it, while Playboi Carti made a project that subverts the core tenets of the genre. Like most months, hip-hop represented in myriad fashion. There’s been a lot to like this May, but here are the hip-hop releases to love.
Pusha T, Daytona
You knew this would be here, huh? Pusha T’s King Push had been anticipated for years, and it finally came — by the name of Daytona, with polarizing album art.
The album that Diddy heralded as an “instant classic” kicked off 2018’s GOOD Fridays in grand fashion, with Pusha sounding as masterful as ever with his slick, emphatic mic presence. Pusha heard fans’ “he only raps about coke” criticisms, and emphatically said, “so what?” On “The Games We Play,” he lets us know that the album is made for “mud-made-monsters,” and depicts a world where “you laugh a little louder, the DJ say your name a little prouder / and we don’t need a globe to show you the world is ours.” Push sticks to that script on the succinctly-sequenced offering, rhyming with his trademark flair for the dramatic while revisiting his drug-dealing past.
Pusha’s ominous delivery and cinematic lyricism took us from the album cover’s coke-spotted bathroom and into the trough, where braggadocious lyricism is his product and there’s no alphabet agency in the world that can stop it. The seven-song album is scored by Kanye, who expertly weaves new school arrangements and 808s with his crispy drums and soaring soul samples like “Come Back Baby.” Push told us, “he don’t sing hooks,” on his last album, and on this one he decided to let Kanye’s production handle the chorus duties. Daytona is a testament to the duo’s chemistry, and a strong bet to be the favorite of many come December.
Tee Grizzley, Activated
Like Aaron Williams said in his review, Detroit’s latest lyrical hope released an album that separated him from the pack of so-called gangster rappers stuck in a Datpiff rut. On the aptly-titled Activated, The husky rhymer proved that Jay-Z’s shoutout wasn’t in vain, and that his “First Day Out” smash was no fluke. Grizzley actually borrowed some of his artistic approach from his “First Day Out” remix co-pilot Meek Mill, by delving into how his rough circumstances led him toward the life he lived.
On “Robbin,” he melodically goes into some of his trauma and how it’s hardened him to newcomers in his life with exploitative intentions. He’s equally reflective on “Remember.” Once he shows us where he came from, he spent the rest of the project telling you who he is now over charged production, with gritty tracks like “Connect” and “Time” with Young Jeezy, where he spits, “draco go through an elephant and kill whoever’s hit.” The album is dominated by such coarse imagery, but Grizzley’s knack for melody makes it easier to digest.
Rae Sremmurd, SR3MM
Forget Pusha T, Rae Sremmurd pulled the best chess move of 2018 on the game. After hearing the fan speculation about both of them needing to go solo, they did just that — and attached those debut pieces to their latest duo project, SR3MM. Their triple album proves, unsurprisingly, that the young duo makes the best music together — but Slim Jxmmi having the stronger solo album wasn’t anticipated.
Swaecation was Swae Lee’s attempt at a summer-friendly, melodically driven R&B album, it was bogged down by monotony and songwriting that needed a little more workshopping. Jxmtro showed the relatively unheralded Slim Jxmmy bursting out of the gate, dispensing all the energy that he’s known for into a frenetic collection of tracks such as “Brxnks Truck” and “Anti-Social Smokers Club.” There’s no need for them to be pit against each other, however. All three albums had their highs, and SR3MM could serve as a playlist for any number of summer functions, especially the tracks “Close,” “Guatemala,” and “T’d Up.”
Playboi Carti, Die Lit
Playboi Carti’s Die Lit may one day be seen as a project that transcended genre with its adlib-heavy lyrics, but for now, it still fits in the arena of hip-hop. And in that realm, the 19-track album properly executes what Playboi Carti set out to do: Craft a fun, energetic set of bangers ripe to be sung-along and danced to all summer. Aside from the reflective “R.I.P. Fredo” tribute to Fredo Santana, the project resides in party-starter mode, with booming 808s and sputtering hi-hats anchoring deep, entrancing synths such as on “Home” and the tone-setting “Long Time-Intro.”
Though Playboi used to rhyme like his favorite rapper Curren$y, he’s shifted his format in recent years to a more loose approach, focused on infectious ad-libs and social media-caption worthy phrases. Carti brought a range of collaborators along for the lituation, from Nicki Minaj on “Poke It Out” to Travis Scott and Lil Uzi Vert. He’s learned that while his rambunctious mic presence may be fun, it can wear after a while (such as his eponymous mixtape), and extensive features are basically a mandate.