There was a bevy of high-quality releases this month. Astroworld was undoubtedly the best and most discussed album of the last days of summer and for good reason. But that said, Bas’ Milky Way is a smooth listen ripe for summer nights, YG’s Stay Dangerous is full of slappers, and Trippie Redd dropped off a little something for everyone on his studio debut. There was also a Kamikaze release from Eminem, and Amine, who dropped his OnePointFive project out of nowhere. In between, there was a slew of quality work from veterans and upstarts alike:
Travis Scott, Astroworld
Travis Scott was out to create an “undeniable” follow-up to 2016’s Birds In The Trap Sing Mcknight, and he undoubtedly did. The lush, polished, atmospheric soundscape of Astroworld is the highlight of his trap opus, with beats like “Stargazing,” “Sicko Mode,” exemplifying that La Flare put every effort into creating a fire project. With over 50 writer and other musical collaborators, Astroworld is a full-scale assault on the misconceptions and disparagements of the trap music subgenre. Even if the average detractor doesn’t think trap artists are musicians, Travis got with a who’s who of music to contribute to the project in myriad fashion.
From Stevie Wonder’s harmonica play and Earth, Wind and Fire’s vocalist Phillip Bailey’s vocals on “Stop Trying To Be God” to the iconic triumvirate of Pharell, Weeknd, and Tame Impala‘s Kevin Parker on “Skeleton,” Travis curated a sonic masterpiece that exemplifies the musicality of trap on a level that will be hard to match. Then, in a bid to further thumb his nose at the haters, he finished off the album with “Coffee Bean,” a smooth change of pace from the melodic moodiness that shows him dropping bars. He proved he could drop music with a more traditionalist approach if he wanted to — but why would he if he can continue to push the boundaries of hip-hop into the astros?
Mac Miller, Swimming
You’ve likely heard the adages: The measure of a person is how they overcome pitfalls, and so on. For young veteran Mac Miller, those pitfalls arose after a rough breakup and a troubling drunk driving incident. But on his latest album, he was Swimming with his head above water, fully fixated on delivering the best music of his life.
The Pittsburgh rhymer has long released music that should have shed any “frat rap” label, but his latest album should fully sweep that rep away for good. He toned down on any debauchery here and delved deep on the coming of age album, rhyming about “Self-Care” with XXL Freshman J.I.D and Dev Hynes, and reflecting on the course of his career on “2009.” Perhaps later down the line on a song called “2029,” he’ll look back at this album as a strong turning point not just for him as an artist but as a man.
YG, Stay Dangerous
YG is one of the West Coast’s truest representative of its gangster rap roots, and he showed why on Stay Dangerous, a characteristically gruff sonic stroll through the streets of LA. The 28-year-old LA artist is a chief representation of the adage that artists should simply stick to their guns — and in YG’s case, it’s a bit literal. Just take “Handgun,” his catchy collaboration with ASAP Rocky, “Too Brazy” with Mozzy, “666” with NBA Youngboy, or the bluntly-titled “Suu Whoop.” On each track, he’s unabashedly banging over minimalist synth melodies and trunk-rattling 808s.
The album has it’s flossy moments like “Big Bank” and “Too Cocky,” but it’s bedrocked in an unabashedly raw ethos defined by lines like “Pops told me to change up / But if I change up, they’ll say that I changed up” on album opener “10 Times.” He lets us know what it is from the gate, then proceeds to recapture his magic with DJ Mustard and show that he’s undoubtedly the Snoop to Mustard’s Dre. It’s nothin’ but a YG thing.
Young Thug & YSL, Slime Language
With Slime Language, Young Thug may have whet his diehard fanbase’s appetite for new music, but he also showed off his slime-trepreneurial skills on the introductory compilation to his Young Stoner Life label. While Young Thug has been a polarizing figure in the rap game throughout his career, his exploits didn’t stop him from signing gifted, respected young artists like Gunna, who’s vying for hip-hop rookie of the year honors. The melodically gifted ATLien Gunna is the lone cameo in the video for Young Thug’s “Gain Clout” solo, reflecting the love and high hopes that Thugger has for him.
Those hopes will be realized with more catchy, autotune-mastery like on Slime Language’s “Dirty Shoes” and “Chanel (Go Get It)” featuring Lil Baby. Ditto his appearances on Travis Scott’s Astroworld and Amine’s OnePointFive project. One could say he’s gunnin’ for the top.
NBA Youngboy & Kevin Gates, 4 Respect
Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a small city, but it has a surplus of beloved rappers. Two of the city’s finest are Kevin Gates and NBA Youngboy, who have gotten closer through 2018. They celebrated their personal and artistic kinship with 4 Respect, a four song EP that they released as a surprise last Friday. The project is defined by the two delivering their similar brands of pain rap over moody production, dishing gruff tales of Baton Rouge’s treacherous atmosphere.
“Call it correct, used to be callin’ collect” Gates recalls on the piano-driven trap burner “Head On.” The two artists vibe not just because of their similar melodic gifts, but similar troubles, legal and otherwise, that they can likely confide in each other about. Hopefully, the two continue to be positive influences for each other — and offer projects like 4 Respect.
Nostrum Grocers (Milo & Elucid)
Ever-prolific independent wunderkind Milo decided to pivot from his recent slew of solo releases and collaborate with frequent collaborator Elucid as the duo Nostrum Grocers. They dropped a self-titled album that showed them both in their element, unfurling lyrical wizardry over jazzy, arresting, at-times experimental productions. The two artists were able to strike an intriguing contrast on tracks, as Milo’s cool, cocksure flow swayed smoothly across through the beat like lyrical hopscotch while Elucid’s fiery, polished raps seemingly mowed through the rest of the soulful soundscapes. Who knows if there’s more Nostrum Grocers work on the horizon (Milo already tweeted recently about another solo project), but their self-titled debut was an exceptional expression of artistic iconoclasm.
Surprise, Amine released a project out of nowhere last week! No surprise: It’s damn good. The 24-year-old Portland native abruptly dropped off his OnePointFive project, which he cleverly deemed a “EpLpMixtapeAlbum.” That classification isn’t as important as the quality, which is in abundance on the pivot from his cheerful Good For You debut. It’s clear Amine is happy about his come up and is feeling himself, as the album is chockful of bars touting his lyrical supremacy and newfound lothario status. “I’ll take my mama to Louis and take your girl to the Ross” he rhymes on the Funky “Dr. Whoever” intro, setting a tone of braggadocious atmosphere joined by Rico Nasty on “SugarParents,” G Herbo on “DapperDan” and Gunna on “Hiccup” on a disparate trio of trunk-rattling collaborations.
Trippie Redd, Life’s A Trip
Canton, Ohio rapper Trippie Redd has seemingly been known more for his visual aesthetic than his musical among casual hip-hop fans, but Life’s A Trip is a solid start in changing that circumstance. The eclectic album shows every shade of Redd. From the summery “Wish” (produced by Diplo) to the Tunechi-esque vibes of “Uka Uka’ to the sultry “Forever Ever” with Young Thug and Reese La Flare, there’s a strong track for a range of moods. The XXL Freshman is just as comfortable rhyming in a singsongy flow as he is autotune crooning or belting out pop-punk vocal stylings, which highlights infinitely more talent than the book-cover-judging detractors of so-called mumble rap would assume.
Unfortunately, Trippie’s eclecticism is the gift and curse of the project. The project is too much of a sonic hodgepodge — and his vocal runs can be jarring at junctures. That said, the impressive variations on the groovy, melodic studio debut prove that if he decides to hone in on any one of these tracks and explore a more cohesive sound, he can nail it.
Bas, Milky Way
J. Cole has crafted a Dreamville crew that perfectly accentuates his aspirational, everyman image. Following up where Cozz and Cole himself left off earlier this year, Bas dropped Milky Way, a 14-song project that displays the Queens-based artist’s balanced artistry. Whereas Trippie Redd showed off his versatility with tracks that could seemingly be made for a range of different projects, Bas manages to reign in his galaxial ambitions under a similar, summer-party-ready tent.
Whether it’s the self-championing, tongue-twisting “Purge,” the smooth, lovelorn “Front Desk,” or the more uptempo “Tribe” collaboration with Cole, Milky Way flows nicely. The 31-year-old’s project was curated with a sophisticated, jazz-tinged soundscape. He and his producers expertly fused together different elements that nestle together warmly under his smooth vocals, whether he’s rapping confidently or harmonizing longingly. Milky Way marks Bas as one of the more polished acts in Cole’s stable — and one of the better lyricists in the game, period.
Cousin Stizz, It All Adds Up
Cousin Stizz has steadily been making a name for himself over the past couple years, putting the new era of Massachusetts hip-hop on the map and working with top-tier artists like Offset and G-Eazy. While those moves surely help any artist up their stock, it’s also important for new fans to know who Stizz is and what he sounds like comfortably in their zone.
The strategy is full proof and may have served as a sly inspiration for the title of his It All Adds Up project. Though his latest EP is just three tracks, it shows the Dorchester, MA artist at his best, delivering fun, aspirational tracks celebrating his rise. “Did It” is the standout, as he sing-songs over a xylophonic synth about how far he’s come — and how far he has yet to go.