As we head toward spring, it’s safe to say there are people all over the country (especially in LA and Brooklyn) who wouldn’t mind infusing their rotation with some feel-good tunes. Good vibes are a major theme of February’s music releases. This month’s list of best albums highlights several frenetic, feel-good albums — along with a slew of thoughtful lyricism. The late Pop Smoke’s Meet The Woo II didn’t make this month’s list of best music, but the project deserves mentioning. His last album, released February 7, was a fun glimpse of a diasporic sound he was only beginning to master at the time of his tragic death.
Lil Wayne — Funeral
Lil Wayne’s Funeral didn’t arrive with the anticipatory pageantry of last year’s finale to his Carter series, but that’s a good thing. Wayne is no longer in contractual bondage, he’s just enjoying life as an oblivious rapper who’s stepping on the necks of peers who were in diapers when he debuted. After 20 years, Wayne’s lyricism and wittiness are as sharp as ever.
Coming in at a hefty 24-tracks, the album doesn’t deviate from what we’ve come to expect from Lil Wayne albums. Tracks like “Mahogany” and “Mama Mia” demonstrate that he can still rap with anyone. “I Do It” with Lil Baby and Big Sean shows that he still knows what it takes to get on playlists and radio mix shows. But misfires like “Trust Nobody” and the XXXTentacion-swiped “Get Outta My Head” make one wonder how potent an album would be if there was an executive producer to help him refine his focus.
The album doesn’t have the gripping personal moments that helped The Carter V jump near the top of his discography, but this gloomily-titled album is anything but a creative death for the rap stalwart.
Young Nudy — Anyways
Months after his Sli’merre project, Young Nudy is back with Anyways. His last project showcased his synergy with Pi’erre Bourne, but Anyways is all about Nudy putting on a solo show. The lyrical fare doesn’t veer far beyond “Understanding’s” labeling of ”dope slangin’, pistol totin’, ho takin’, money makin’, real n****” music, but Nudy’s appeal is in the mastery of his confines. The 27-year-old is becoming a go-to for energetic music that dominates the Atlanta rap scene.
He’s at his best on “Blue Cheese Salad,” floating over a dreamy canvas pillared by 808s that feel like they’re ready to punch through the speakers. His easy-going delivery is an ideal mate for many of the album’s smooth synth melodies, but he’s also capable of pulling off more uptempo, melodic flows such as in the sinister “No Go” and reflective “Nudy Story,” where he lets us know, “I done did all type of gangster shit in all type of states.” These days though, he’s just rapping, and doing a damn good job of it.
Kamaiyah — Got It Made
After a slew of delays and false starts, Kamaiyah’s Got It Made was finally released earlier this month. The long-anticipated follow-up to 2017’s A Good Night In The Ghetto is exactly what the Oakland artist’s fans were clamoring for: a fun, feel-good representation of one of the rap game’s most vivacious personalities.
Kamaiyah’s Bay roots are unmistakable on the svelte, 10-track offering. Songs like the bouncy “Still I Am” and “Mood Swings” exemplify the album’s main conceit of wobbly synths and slapping drums. Kamaiyah’s personality separates herself from the lot of California rappers exploring similar sounds. The unforgettably raunchy “1-800-IM-HORNY,” featuring Too Short, shows her being an equal opportunity freak, flirting with men and women while warning, “if you f*ckin’ me, don’t f*ck my b*tches.”
Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats — Unlocked
Does Kenny Beats ever leave The Cave? If the LA-based producer isn’t filming dope, hilarious video clips with artists like Doja Cat and Freddie Gibbs, he’s making duo projects with the likes of Rico Nasty and Q Da Fool. Kenny and Denzel Curry’s Unlocked is the latest of the collab projects, and has a good case for being considered the best work yet.
The eight-track project is, in true Denzel Curry fashion, is divided into two sides and has titles like “So.Incredible.pkg” and “’ Cosmic ’ .m4a” that indicate they put way more time into the creation of the project than how to package it. One would feel that way until viewing the colorful, Organized Konfusion-channeling album cover that perfectly visualizes the chaotic environment Kenny crafted for Denzel to wreck. Denzel raps with a fervor throughout the project, especially on “Take_it_Back_v2,” where he warns, “I don’t got candy but I’ll turn your head to Gushers, sucka” over minimalist-yet-dire production. That tone continues on “DIET_,” where Denzel proclaims, “people said I would fall off, but I’ve been here for a while.”
And he’ll be here for a while. On Unlocked, Kenny crafted a suite of beats that suits Curry’s artistic dynamism, fusing thick snares and head-nodding drum patterns with funky synth soundscapes.
Royce 5’9” — The Allegory
Royce’s The Allegory, is a project that reflects the renewed care the Detroit rhymer has put into his craft. Since getting sober, Royce’s lyrical content has expanded from flouting lyrical supremacy into social commentary reflected by the album cover’s assertion that money “is known to kill and divide society”
The album explores the many ways in which money corrupts, including on “Tricked,” where he links with Slaughterhouse partner KXNG Crooked to give game such as, “Only thing they takin’ is your publishin’ / Watch you make mistakes in the court of public sin.” On “Overcomer” Royce rhymes, “I don’t rhyme for the likes, I’m who the jealous target / I’m underground for life this shit is a seller’s market,” reflecting contentment with his career that’s breeding his sharpest lyricism yet.
There are no reaches for Billboard relevance or records tailored to women, just Royce going crazy over his own beats. His production debut is solid, as he’s got a good ear for loops exemplified by “FUBU” with Conway and “I Don’t Age” — but sometimes the overall composition can be too ambitious, such as junctures of “Overcomer.” Overall, The Allegory is a strong exhibition of lyrical precision and the wisdom of life experienced fused in compelling fashion.
Duke Deuce — Memphis Massacre 2
Duke Deuce went viral late last year with the video for “Crunk Ain’t Dead,” a frenetic banger that evoked classic Three Six Mafia. The Memphis rapper showed that there’s more where that came from on his latest project Memphis Massacre 2. Deuce thrashes through 12 tracks on the project with the help of Lil Jon, Project Pat, and Juicy J on the beloved “Crunk Ain’t Dead” remix, as well as Lil Yachty and Thad on the cleverly branded “Crunk Ain’t Dead Mob.”
“BHZ” is another party-starter in the mode of “Crunk Ain’t Dead,” but Deuce shows that’s not all there is to him on “Bad News,” where he declares himself “the type to burn a head in the bathroom” over a smoky soundscape. He also gets melodic on “Trap Blues” and “Body,” showing off a compelling versatility that will have the Quality Control artist in-demand for the foreseeable future.
Boldy James — The Price Of Tea In China
It’s perhaps rap’s easiest equation for a memorable project: a dope rhymer + Alchemist beats. Boldy James and the beloved producer linked up to give hip-hop heads an early candidate for album of the year with The Price Of Tea In China. The two veterans underscore the genius in simplicity on the 12-track project. An artist can genre-bend and explore the boundaries of their vocals, or they could just rap their ass off over beats that run the gamut of moods like Boldy did.
Boldy is a compelling lyricist that makes excellence look easy, riffing off assonant rhymes with a matter-of-fact delivery on tracks like “Scrape The Bowl” (with Benny The Butcher) and “Surf & Turf,” where he stretches a rhyme pattern across his entire first verse without reaching for a head-scratching multi. He showed off his dazzling lyricism and told Detroit war stories with equal skill, offering the latest dose of high-grade work for the rap underground.
Bbymutha — Muthaleficent
Bbymutha’s latest EP is the inventively-titled Muthaleficent album, another appetizer to the main course of her upcoming Muthaland debut.
The Tennessee rapper has made “Mutha” a buzzword of her growing catalog through titles and lyrics. But she doesn’t just use it to explore her inner-matriarch — lines like “I do my mutha-ly duties / I’m at the house with your daddy / I’m finna give him some booty” from “Territory” exemplify that being “Mutha-ly” is an all-encompassing lifestyle. The seven-song project is another example of Bbymutha at her best, owning 808-based productions with man-eating lyrics and reminders to rap peers that they’re not f*ckin’ with her.
Che Noir — Juno
Last year, underground stalwart 38 Spesh exclaimed on Twitter that, “I signed Che Noir last year and now..she making more money than ya plug.” Two years into the game, and the Buffalo rhymer is set to make more with Juno, another collection of slick rhymes and thoughtful bars over 38 Spesh beats.
She comes out the gate firing on “Art Of War,” where she lets us know “I move my trigger finger like I’m masturbatin’.” That rewind-worthy tough talk accentuates the project, but that’s not all she is. On “Royalty,” she explores her fractured family and recalls a “classmate told me my father was a fiend, man I felt so embarrassed.” Che more than holds her own with project guests like Planet Asia (“Crown”) and Ransom on “Prey,” where she summates, “pain in the bars just restore the essence.” She put pain, reflection, and insight into every bar on Juno, making it a strong.
AKAI SOLO — RAFT
Brooklyn’s Akai Solo is a busy man. His third release in as many months is RAFT, an acronym for Ride Alone, Fly Together. That affirmation is a strong summation of his musical approach as he roams the 17-track album exploring spirituality and self-appraisal with empathy and passion that speaks to his hope for the collective.
The production is predominantly handled by frequent collaborator and fellow TASE GRIP collective member iblss. Production range from the lush “Full Blunt Alchemist” to the despondent jazz of “Mika’s Impetus.” The warm soundscape is an inviting foil for Akai’s intricate musings, such as “With The World In Mind” where Pink Siifu bemoans “headaches from the long road,” but is “still a king though” and “if it break despite the effort, it may have never been worth it.” RAFT is worth the listen.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.