The state of hip-hop in the month of July 2017 was very good. While we didn’t get a Jay-Z, Drake, or Kendrick Lamar-sized blockbuster, the last 31 days provided a wealth of fantastic new material from some of the biggest names and brightest up-and-comers in the game today. Every month I put together this feature, assembling some of the best new songs that hip-hop has to offer, and every month I’m reminded that we are currently in the midst of a true golden age in the genre’s history. The musical offerings from July only caused to confirm this for me once again.
Tyler The Creator swung through and dropped off the best album of his career, Flower Boy. Meek Mill finally seemed to put the beef that has defined his career over the last couple of years behind him and got back to the task of being one of the fiercest rappers in the game. Vic Mensa unveiled his long-awaited full-length debut, The Autobiography. 21 Savage packaged together some love songs on his own official debut Issa Album. Amine reminded everyone that the Pacific Northwest has got something to say on Good For You. And Chance The Rapper celebrated the last-minute revival of Soundcloud with a little bit of help from Young Thug.
Overall, July provided a truly stacked bench of musical talent bringing their A-game and then some. Here are the best tracks that hit this month.
Tyler The Creator — “I Ain’t Got Time”
Look, I’m just going to admit it: I’ve never been much of a Tyler fan. Goblin was fine, Wolf was alright, Cherry Bomb was whatever. All that to say, I didn’t feel obligated in any way shape or form to check out his latest release Flower Boy. But then I did, and I’m glad I did, because it’s far and away the greatest collection of songs he’s ever put together. While I wouldn’t dare compare it to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly in terms of depth, expansiveness or sonic expression, some of the jazzier tones as well as the deeper introspection on the part of Tyler brought that record to mine. The centerpiece of course is this track, “I Ain’t Got Time,” where Tyler opens up about the nature of his sexuality. It’s a brave move from someone many, including myself has looked upon in the past as a vulgar clown. Tyler is maturing and becoming a much better artist as a result.
Kamaiyah — “Build You Up”
I got to see Kamaiyah live and in-person earlier this month out at the Pitchfork Music Festival. She was absolutely fantastic. The ’90s R&B vibes that flow through her music were funky, fresh and got a whole helluva lot of people waving their hands up toward the the warm summer sun. That same aesthetic is on full display in the Oakland native’s newest musical offering, a single titled “Build You Up.” I don’t often say this, but you really need to watch the video to get the full effect of the song. It’s a total time-warp, replete with the requisite back up dancers, boomboxes, and brightly colored jumpsuits that matches the vintage drum machine sounds and whistling synths perfectly. Kamiyah is a throwback that feels totally fresh and her album Don’t Ever Get It Twisted can’t come soon enough.
21 Savage — “Bank Account”
No one, myself included, expected 21 Savage to come out with an album chock full of love songs. I don’t really know how I feel about Issa Album yet. Personally, I prefer the supervillain that first grabbed my attention and stole the world’s darkest hearts on Savage Mode, his Metro Boomin produced EP last year. But hey, you take what you can get. The highlight of for me remains the single “Bank Account.” Here, 21 links back up with Young Metro, and backed by a truly sinister, minor key beat he lets loose about his wealth, his women and the “1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 shooters ready to gun you down.” What’s not to like?
Meek Mill — “These Scars” (Featuring Future and Gourdan Banks)
Over the past two years, Meek Mill has continued to fight a war he’d already lost long, long ago. Every since he took those initial ghostwriting shots at Drake over Twitter back in 2015, the fallout has entirely consumed him to the obvious detriment of his art. The specter of Drake seemed to hover over every project he put out, and it only grew more tiresome with each release. On his latest album Wins & Losses, it finally sounds like Meek has let go of some of that heavy baggage, putting together what is in my opinion, his best full-length release since Dreams & Nightmares. The track that really brought it home for me was “These Scars.” Meek comes through with his fastest fastball, rapping rings around Drake’s ride or die Future while suggesting that he’s finally decided to move on from a lifestyle that got in the way of what’s really important. That opening line says it all: “When I was on ‘gram entertaining all the rap beefs / We was on the hood goin’ to war on the backstreets.” Welcome back Meek.
Jay 305 — “All Around The World” (Featuring YG)
Jay 305 is yet another exciting up and comer hailing from Los Angeles. Is it just me, or does it seem like every week there’s a new rising prospect popping out of the “City of Angeles?” Seriously, pull up the names of some of the most compelling names in hip-hop today and a staggering amount — the entire TDE crew, Vince Staples, G Perico — all hail from L.A. Watch out Atlanta, Chicago and New York is all I’m saying. On this new single Jay pulls in another L.A. stalwart, Compton’s own YG, for a fresh and updated take on some of the best and most beloved sounds from that city’s the Golden Era. I’m a ’90s kid, so G Funk will always hold a very special place in my heart, and it’s a thrill to hear what this next generation of artists is doing with the form. “All Around The World” brings back the funky bass lines and menacing synth melodies like they never went out of style. As for Jay, he positions himself as a hood vet with hard-won advice to give: “You can’t sell dope and do dope, rappers ain’t gon’ tell ya / Can’t love a b*tch and be a pimp, I ain’t a rapper, I’m a felon.”
Vic Mensa — “Memories On 47th Street”
As a Chicago-area resident, I’ve been pulling hard for Vic Mensa for years now. While I really don’t know how he’s perceived outside of the general confines of the windy city, around here, he’s a star. People still talk in hushed tones about his thrilling set at Lollapalooza last year. Actually, Vic name-drops that particular festival in this song “Memories On 47th Street,” my pick for the best track from his long-awaited debut The Autobiography. While I still think he’s capable of hitting another gear as an MC, his work on this track shows a glimpse of just how good he might become. It’s a deeply confessional song where Vic essentially tells the story of his traumatic formative years. “At age 12 I learned the difference between white and black / Police pulled me off of my bike, I landed on my back / Back to reality, oops, a victim of gravity / Where they pull you down and keep you there.” Producer No I.D. matches the dark content of the story with some thrilling horn-based atmospherics and a soaring choir in the coda.
Amine — “Dakota” (Featuring Charlie Wilson)
Here’s a hard and fast rule to live by: Charlie Wilson makes all music better. He just does. When you see a hip-hop track and it has the phrase (Featuring Charlie Wilson) affixed next to it, prepare yourself for greatness. While Amine’s excellent debut Good For You contains several exceptional cuts, many of the best hit long before the album ever arrived; songs like “Turf,” “Heebiejeebies” and of course, his breakout, “Caroline.” I didn’t want to tread water by bringing something you’ve heard before, so I decided to follow the Charlie Wilson principle. The groove on “Dakota” is undeniable, as is the optimistic spirit. Amine is only out here because, “I wanna make you feel young (Feel young) / I wanna make you feel something (Feel something).” Even if he intends that mission statement in a romantic sense, the effect ranges far larger.
The Alchemist — “Try My Hand” (Featuring Mobb Deep)
I don’t know about you, but I’m still feeling the death or Prodigy. There just isn’t another rapper out there quite like the Mobb Deep member, and his loss has left a massive void in the world of hip-hop. While I continue to return to older masterpieces like The Infamous and H.N.I.C., I was pleasantly surprised to see the phrase (Featuring Mobb Deep) on this new track “Try My Hand’ from the Alchemist’s new album The Good Book Vol. 2. Alchemist got something special out of Prodigy with their two albums together, Return Of The Mac and Albert Einstein, and it lifted my spirits to hear them, and Havoc attack a track together one last time. “Try My Hand” isn’t a sympathy play either. It’s a minor-key devastator, carried by ominous whirling sounds and soaring backing vocals. When Prodigy raps, “Y’all can’t f*ck with these bums / They wanna test my aim and challenge my gun / The devil wanna try my hand, but God got a master plan,” I wanted to put my fist through a damn wall.
Young Thug and Chance The Rapper –- “Big Bs”
Did you hear the great news? Chance The Rapper saved Soundcloud! Or he didn’t. Like pretty much everyone else, I remain in the dark about how the streaming service managed to gain new funding to continue. But whatever back room deals took place, SoundCloud seems to be hanging on for a little while longer, and we got this brand new collaboration between Chance and Young Thug to celebrate. Even those this is a Chance joint featuring Thugger, with its trap beat and bouncy melody, it really feels more like a Thug track featuring Chance. It definitely would’ve been a standout on Young Thug’s most recent project Beautiful Thugger Girls anyway.
DJ Shadow — “Horror Show” (Featuring Danny Brown)
“Horrow Show,” the collaboration between DJ Shadow and Danny Brown, is an act of controlled chaos. From the rising horns in the intro, the colliding drums through the verses, and the Detroit MC’s wild, nasal-y flow, the entire song always feels about one-inch away from going totally off the rails. It doesn’t of course, and the reason is simple: Shadow is one of the greatest music makers to every touch hands on a recording console. “Horror Show” is a bombastic symphony of boot stomping aggression that gives Danny the space to come hard with some of his weirdest, wildest thoughts yet. I’m glad I get to live in a world where someone actually rapped, “Writing like Shakespeare on the top tier / 10 in life bid with his shank near / To be or not to be thats what the question is / A brackhead blacked out off the medicine.”