This month’s list of best rap albums is dominated by genre-bending projects. It’s a fitting circumstance in the same month that Lil Nas X had his “Old Country Road” hit removed from the Billboard country charts because it somehow wasn’t country enough. People like Juice WRLD, Lil Xan, Nav, and Chief Keef, who fuse rap with rock and/or R&B, are showing that there’s a whole new movement of artists who are having fun exploring the boundaries of rap music. Anyone who calls themselves a purveyor or authority on music needs to get with the times:
Juice WRLD, Death Race For Love
Juice WRLD is an artist who stands at the center of hip-hop’s current discussion on genre boundaries. He upset many hip-hop purists last year by saying he didn’t want to be known solely as a rapper, but those who actually gave a listen to Death Race For Love should be able to understand what he meant, as he explores a bit of everything on the twenty-two-track album.
Death Race showcases unabashed rockstar aspirations when his querulous, maudlin vocals ring out end rhymes for every ounce of anguish on songs like “Hemotionz” and “Won’t Let Go.“ The album is dominated by 808 drum programming, but his producers matched them with gloomy instrumentation that could easily be the soundscape from an (emo) rock artist. That’s the case on “Desire,” and the ruckus “Syphilis.” But there are moments on the 22-track album where he jumps into his smooth R&B bag such as “Demonz” featuring Brent Faiyaz, “Feeling,” and “On God” with Young Thug. Death Race For Love is a mixed bag that shows Juice WRLD exploring a range of sounds to mostly successful ends. It won’t end up being the most cohesive album of 2019 by any stretch, but it showcases that he wants to explore the full range of his artistry — and maybe we should sit back and watch him do it.
Rich The Kid, The World Is Yours 2
Rich The Kid has long reminded me of a new school French Montana. Like French, the Atlanta-based rapper social-climbed his way into a comfortable position in the rap game, even getting Kendrick Lamar on a remix of 2018’s “New Freezer.” Rich has consistently been able to utilize his network and ear for beats to put together enjoyable singles and projects. On The World Is Yours 2, those beats and features once again save the day, and perhaps carry the album.
The 16-track album is unabashedly intent on keeping your speakers lit, with songs like “Two Cups” featuring Offset and Big Sean, “Rockets” featuring Lil Pump and Takeoff, and the arresting “Tic Toc” with Tory Lanez. He expertly chose to co-pilot with a who’s who of modern hip-hop and R&B, but one may finish the album longing for more of an imprint from Rich himself. For better or worse, his lyrical themes don’t veer from typical money, jewelry, and womanizing content. It’s undoubtedly going to get some club and party playlist love, but if the world is his, he could stand to be more present in it next go around.
Chief Keef And Zaytoven, GloToven
It wasn’t that long ago when Chief Keef was touting 1017 Glo Gang years ago, and collaborations between the Chicago artist and producing legend Zaytoven seemed like they would come in bountiful waves. The Gucci/Sosa union didn’t last that long though, depriving us the opportunity for trap classics. At least GloToven is officially here now. The two prolific artists collaborated on a twelve-track project in which Keef is a glove fit for Zaytoven’s moody, piano-dominated soundscapes. Keef affirms his individualism by rhyming “I never gave a f*ck what they said,” on the reflective “Ain’t Gonna Happen,” proclaims, “you wanna be a lame, I’mma let you be one” over cheerful keys on “Fast,” and double-time rhymes with Lil Pump on the colorfully titled “Old Heads And Regretful H*es.”
Zaytoven’s production runs the span from sullen to soaring throughout the project, at most junctures serving as a sturdy canvas for Keef’s idle threats, Chicago lingo and charming, unbothered insolence. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to get another go around from the constantly working artists.
DaBaby, Blank Blank
Charlotte artist DaBaby is ascending fast, and Blank Blank is a strong example why. He doesn’t veer far from the typical boastful, browbeating trap fare on the ten-song album, but his sense of humor marks him as a standout in the field. He’s one of the few people in the game with the gall and charisma to sell lines like, “I just told my b*tch that she gotta learn to be nice to my side b*tch” on “Blank Blank, or “You disrespect me and I’ll beat your ass up all in front of your potnas and children” on “Suge.” In a sea of trap rappers who don’t do enough to stamp their personality on tracks, DaBaby’s wit — and skills — resulted in a strong debut that marks him as one of the biggest characters in the game. It’s as if he’s ready to occupy the lane of southern stalwarts like Ludacris and Young Dro who were hilarious — but also lyrically gifted beyond the humor.