The rap game, like most industries, may be in a precarious position right now, but the music kept coming in April. This month there were projects from DaBaby, Westside Gunn, Smino, Tory Lanez and Guapdad, as well as releases from rap vets Skyzoo, Cormega, and Mike Dean, who released an instrumental album. Newcomers like Rod Wave and Kari Faux also dropped memorable projects that will help them grow their burgeoning fanbases. There was a wide variety of rap released in this first full month of spring, but here are the best 10 projects:
Westside Gunn — Pray For Paris
Griselda’s resident showman is back with another collection of soulful tracks that fuse the opulent and gritty into a compelling package. On Pray For Paris, his third studio album, the Griselda rhymer sets himself apart from his stylistic peers with an effervescent charisma that hammers home factoids like, “keep a loaded firearm in Mercedes armrests” on “327” with Tyler The Creator and Joey Badass. Gunn has indicated that he’s looking to fall back from rapping and embrace a behind the scenes role with Griselda. While Pray For Paris may not be the year’s best lyrical display, his curatory skills and ear for beats like “No Vacancy” “$500 Ounces,” and “LE Djoliba” show that his fingerprints will still be all over the game even when he’s not rapping.
Conway — LULU
Conway’s LULU was technically released at the end of March, but it deserves to be acknowledged as fans of the Buffalo MC’s gritty lyricism were likely bumping it all April. The Machine linked up with The Alchemist on the seven-track display of his stellar lyrical ability. The EP title — and song titles — take reference from 2001’s Paid In Full, Dame Dash’s cult classic retelling of the 1980’s Harlem drug trade. The project’s ubiquitous menace is interlaced with witty boasts like “Gold BBSs’” “why the popo so vexed for? / they raid the wrong house, we had the dope and money next door“ that could have made LULU the perfect soundtrack for the film.
Smino — She Already Decided
Smino has a thing for unconventional rollouts. His NOIR album was released days earlier than expected, and She Already Decided, his second official mixtape, was prepped with a reference to a mixtape “on ice.” The St. Louis rapper is using this quarantine period to develop his upcoming third album, but decided to appease his eager fanbase with a 16-tracker that’s way more than an appetizer. The project shows Smino still in his groove, crafting genre-bending tracks over a versatile suite of beats from the Three Six Mafia-sampling “Popeyes” to the smooth “Already,” where he boasts,” I walk around like a whole legend, ‘cause I am that already.” S.A.D. is a glowing exhibition of Smino’s wide-ranging talents.
Tory Lanez — The New Toronto 3
If there’s any silver lining of this bleak moment in time, it’s been Tory Lanez and Quarantine Radio, the Instagram Live stream that got so raunchy it was temporarily banned. His cheeky “radio guy” persona is a glimpse of the charisma that’s all over The New Toronto 3, his latest project. Tory is either admired or maligned for his versatility, which he’s exploring to the fullest extent on the 16-track project. The anthemic “Stupid Again” is the project’s first highlight, as he’s seemingly 80-feet tall over an urgent production that meets his height. He uses a similar flow to celebrate his nothing-to-something come up on “P.A.I.N.,” before giving the thumbs down to romance on “Who Needs Love.” In all, The New Toronto is another solid collection of tracks that show off Tory Lanez’ on-the-pulse ability to explore different styles and execute with impressive efficiency.
Quelle Chris & Chris Keys — Innnocent Country 2
Some artistic efforts seem to be guided by divine timing. In 2015, rapper-producers Quelle Chris and Chris Keys collaborated on Innocent Country, a beloved project in the bustling underground scene. The two could have released their sequel any time, but the reflective effort just so happened to drop in 2020, during a period where listeners have plenty of time to sit with the knowledge they’re dropping. Innocent Country 2 is chockful of features like Earl Sweatshirt (“Mirage”), Pink Siifu (“Grease From The Elbows”), and Homeboy Sandman (“Sacred Safe”), but the project is still defined by Chris Keys’ warm production and Quelle’s matter-of-fact reflection and sharp social commentary like, “you don’t get no likes, you might decide to switch yo image” on “Bottle Black Power BUY THE BUSINESS.”
Guapdad 4000 — Platinum Falcon Tape, Vol. 1
In between Falcon Fridays, Rona Raps sessions with his rap peers, and freestyle pleas for, umm, companionship, hip-hop resident scammer Guapdad had time to drop off a six-pack that could serve as another primer for those who still primarily know him for his viral antics. Project standout “Greedy‘ starts with context for his foray into scamming before devolving into remorseless reflections such as “fuckin’ hoes while my brothers going in their purse.” Vol. 1 veers from the bouncy title track and the trap-driven “Greedy” to fraud anthem “Embezzle” and “Peanut Butter Pootie Tang,” which somehow describes how smooth the track is. Guap’s Bay influence is evident on the project full of capers scored by lush, cruise-worthy soundscapes.
Rod Wave — Pray For Love
When it comes to becoming a star, time doesn’t mean as much as relatability. Florida’s Rod Wave is the perfect example. He’s become one of the game’s hottest young rappers with soul-bearing music such as Pray 4 Love, his latest offering. The 14-track mixtape is a stellar offering to a bluesy, piano-driven wing of trap music defined by confessionals such as “I Remember,” a sentimental reflection of bygone days. But the project isn’t all vulnerability and gloom, as he muses about “Girl Of My Dreams” and “pray to God that I can see the mornin” on “Ribbon In The Sky,” a gripping depiction of the very streets that have left him wayward.
Kari Faux — Lowkey Superstar
Kari Faux is one of the game’s most unheralded new artists, but that’s going to change with more efforts like the oxymoronic Lowkey Superstar. The eight-track project shows off the Little Rock, Arkansas artist’s star quality, from the bouncy, rock-tinged “While God Was Sleepin’” to “Actors, Rappers, & Wrestlers,” where she breaks up the album’s self-affirming bars with vocals where she lets would-be suitors know “I’m not that wife type.” The swaggering project is a brash dose of confidence for fans of smooth trap music and like-minded women unencumbered by patriarchal standards.
Skyzoo & Dumbo Station — The Bluest Note
Skyzoo is unabashedly Brooklyn to the death, but it was a chance encounter in Italy inspired that fueled his latest effort, The Bluest Note. He met Italian nu-jazz band Dumbo Station while on tour in 2017, which sparked a collaborative relationship leading to a full of dense lyricism over a live jazz soundscape. He has said he longed to “connect my lyricism with the truest definition of musical lyricism: jazz,” and did so in impressive fashion on tracks like the lush “There It Goes“ and “We (Used To) Live In Brooklyn, Baby,” where he speaks for many by noting, “sometimes I sit back, reflect on the place that I lived at / and how was it was, I can’t get back” over melancholy horns.
Cormega — MEGA
During the very last week of the 2010s, Queens rapper Cormega dropped MEGA. The project may have fallen through the crack of retrospective and 2020 predictions (which were ALL way off the mark). This month MEGA decided to re-release the project with two new tracks. On “Live Your Best Life,” Cormega links with Mobb Deep’s Havoc to affirm their status as OGs with rhymes like “I’ve seen valleys and peaks now I’m mentally prepared.” The project is full of Cormega’s rewind-worthy insights on his maturation, overcoming adversity and the modern rap game, as Sheek Louch gripes about “IG rappers” chasing fleeting fame on “City Of God.” The thoughtful project is backed by soulful, triumphant production, which is a soaring bed for Cormega’s sage insights.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.