The first month of the year was a bit quiet on the release front, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some fire that will last through the year. Future dropped off his The WZRD solo album, while upstarts Boogie and Dreezy dropped a pair of long-awaited albums with Everything’s For Sale and Big Dreez. Elsewhere, YNW Melly and Yung Bans dropped off a pair of impressive, harmonious projects, and Aesop Rock took us on another journey with producer Tobacco as Malibu Ken.
Future, The WZRD
Future set off what’s sure to be a typically busy 2018 with The WZRD. The album’s release cycle has been dominated by reaction to his admission that he was reticent to announce that he kicked the cup and quit lean. But the debate about his omission shifts the focus from what should be the primary takeaway of his latest work: His undeniable musical gifts.
Sure, Future occupied a lane as a self-medicating blues spitter as prone to depressive laments as euro-fashion references, but that’s not the whole of who he is. The WZRD properly displays the scope that he should have staked his musical reputation on before any intoxicant. The album is twenty tracks, but only an hour, which keeps the listener entertained. Album standout “Crushed Up” is an ode to “diamonds in the face” where he manages to let us know “I just blew an M on my kids,” a subtle nod to what may be newly-shifting priorities. On “Baptiize,” he gives us a glimpse of his pensive musing by noting, “when it come to these emotions I play camouflage.” But there’s no hiding that this is a strong effort which shows he doesn’t need any lean to step through with trap bangers.
Boogie, Everything’s For Sale
After much anticipation, Compton rapper Boogie’s debut album Everything’s For Sale is here. Boogie has frequently referenced the hardships of his upbringing in the buildup to the album, which he delves into with poetic flourish throughout the 13-track project. On album intro “Tired/Reflections,” he deftly surmises that “It’s hard to feel sh*t when you livin’ off pain pills/Hard to put on war boots when you walkin’ on eggshells.”
“Silent Ride” and “Skydives,” show him delving into the permutations of a shaky relationship where commitment and loyalty are resounding obstacles. On “Rainy Days,” he and Eminem celebrate their hard-won place in the game, but both surmise that they still have more to do to add to their legacy. Boogie obviously has a longer road ahead than Mr. Mathers, but Everything’s For Sale is a strong first step in the right direction.
Dreezy, Big Dreez
Whether Chicago artist Dreezy is being a fashion killa with Kash Doll on “Chanel Slides” or harmonizing and asking her man to “tell me how it feel when you wit’ me” on the dreamy “Ecstacy” with Jeremih, her sophomore Big Dreez album delivers. The project boasts features on half of its ten tracks, but Dreezy’s vivacious mic presence is still the driving force. She’s just as adept weaving a narrative on heartbreak with professional song-stealer Jacques on “Love Someone” as she is dropping flashy double-time bars with Offset on “Cash App.” Big Dreez is an energetic, well-crafted exhibition of the Chicago rapper’s versatility on display.
Payroll Giovanni, January 30th
Detroit’s Payroll Giovanni released one of the best albums of 2018 with his Big Bossin Vol. 2 collaboration with Cardo, and he’s getting an early start on following up that momentum with January 30th. Sure, the project was just released, but Payroll’s gritty bars are among the best we’ve heard in this first month of scant releases. On “Do What I Do,” he proclaims that his occupation is “stayin on my job” over triumphant horns, while “Still Run The City” is a posse cut full of Detroit standouts HBK, Dre Armani and Doughboy Roc. Overall, the eight-track project is a strong primer for Payroll’s burgeoning fanbase.
YMW Melly, We All Shine
It’s a tragedy that YNW Melly’s recently released We All Shine, an album that in part explores the “Murder On My Mind” MC’s YNW Melly’s carceral experience, was released while he’s in jail on marijuana charges. But perhaps the only silver lining preceding his eventual release is that its another collection of solid songs that will tide his growing fanbase over, and that he managed to collaborate with the insanely popular — if insanely maddening — Kanye West on the properly titled “Mixed Personalities.” “Robbery” shows off his knack for outright crooning coarse street narratives, while “Why You Gotta Walk Like That,” “Control,” and “Ingredients” exhibit the album’s predominant theme of romantic, racy tracks.
Yung Bans, self-titled EP compilation
If you’re unfamiliar with Atlanta rapper Yung Bans, his recently crafted, 72-song compilation of his five previous EPs — and four new songs — is a comprehensive place to start. His gifts for autotuned harmonies are apparent throughout the hefty project, whether he’s exploring the range of “Raw’s” linguistic connotations, collaborating with Lil Skies on “Waterslide” or “Lonely,” or quite simply lamenting that, “N—-s Be Lame.”
Wifisfuneral And Robb Banks, Conn3ct3d
A pair of Florida artists link on the aptly titled Connected album, which shows Wifisfuneral and Robb Banks in their trap music bag. The pair pay homage to one of Cardi B’s many entries into the cultural lexicon with “Okurr,” trade bars over a serene anime sample on “Nauseous,” then bid their loyalty to loved ones and hate to snakes on “La Familia.” The two show off decent chemistry, as Banks’ oft-laid back delivery is offset by Wifi’s more energetic flow. We’re sure most of their fans will be looking for them to stay Connected for more work in the future.
DJ Kay Slay, Hip-Hop Frontline
This legendary New York DJ wanted to make no mistake on amplifying his position within the culture, naming his latest compilation project Hip-Hop Frontline. Kay Slay is known for getting the game’s most ferocious spitters to go bad over gritty production, and Hip-Hop Frontline is exactly that. The album has verses from legends like Grandmaster Caz, Bun B, Busta Rhymes, and The Lox, but also makes way for the new school with Dave East and Moneybagg Yo on “Hater Proof,” Kevin Gates on “I Do This On The Regular” and the brooding “They Want My Blood” with Casanova 2X, Mozzy, Joe Moses and Shoota.
The project is the perfect antidote for those seeking hard rhymes over hard bears, and its a sign of Kay Slay’s respect that every artist showed up and vied to put their best foot forward lyrically. If Slay is on the frontline with more work like this, hip-hop is in fine shape.
Aesop Rock & Tobacco, Malibu Ken
Aesop Rock’s abstract, labyrinthic narratives are an intriguing match with producer Tobacco’s synth experimentalism on Malibu Ken, a collaboration project that released on Rhymesayers January 10. Aesop’s “I’m the world weekly news bat child / B-lining ash pile to ash pile to ash pile” opener on album intro “Corn Maze” sets a characteristically confounding tone for the ten-song project, while Tobacco’s inventive old-school synths serve as a strong cosmic backdrop. Malibu Ken is the furthest thing from the sunny aesthetic one would attribute to the iconic Mattel doll, as the album instead posits what it would sound like if he were body-snatched into an alternate universe full of vivid lights and blippy synths.
Fifthgod, The Fifth Tape
Long Island producer Fifthgod has been making a name within the New York underground rap scene for years. He recently introduced the world to his production and curatorial skills on his compelling debut album The Fifth Tape, a highly anticipated work that’s been in development for several years. Boasting appearances by lyricists like Skyzoo, Ab-Soul, Retch, Da$h, Remy Banks and more along with up and comers like New York’s Mogul Club, Marlon Craft and others, the 15-song track is a perfect union of classic and new age New Yitty lyricism over a range of thumping, evocative compositions. Songs like “‘14 Stuy” pay homage to Brooklyn, while “Conservations” shows Banks trading bars with Mogul Club’s Dre Dollasz and History over a jazzy, piano-driven canvas.