Almost of the best rap albums this month explored Black America’s moment of protest in some fashion. There were new drops from veteran acts Wale, Run The Jewels, Flatbush Zombies, Skyzoo. There were also releases from newer acts like IDK, City Girls, and Marlon Craft. Here are the 10 best rap albums of the month, in no particular order:
Run The Jewels — Run The Jewels 4
After years of waiting and what seems like hundreds of El-P Twitter updates, Run The Jewels 4 finally dropped this month. The duo has said that they set out to do a “bare minimum of what EPMD did for us,” which is admirable but also selling themselves short. The 11-track album shows the group in prime form as “menaces to sobriety,” with Killer Mike’s intense, caustic mic presence trampling El-P’s ingenious production.
El-P does some funky chopping on “JUST” with Pharell and Zack De La Rocha and “Out Of Sight” with 2 Chainz, but then appeases traditionalists on “Oh La La” with Greg Nice and DJ Premier. Run The Jewels made good on their desire to help distract fans from this moment of peril, but they also touched on the pain themselves on “Walking In The Snow,” where Mike reminds us to “never forget in the story of Jesus, the hero was killed by the state.”
Flatbush Zombies — Now, More Than Ever
With Vacation In Hell, Flatbush Zombies were one of the few recent acts to pull off a hefty tracklist that was enjoyable throughout. This time around, on their Now, More Than Ever EP, they succeeded with brevity. After teaming up with half of the city on Beast Coast’s Escape From New York, their six-track project features just one guest appearance from Sophie Faith, whose vocals underscore the poignancy of “When I’m Gone.” The versatile group explores different moods on the project, crafting an ode to lighting up on “Herb,” getting aspirational on “Iamlegend,” and proclaiming “my omens have only told me to focus on every quote / and expose every single soul with the motives of takin’ over this globe” on “Dirty Elevator Music.”
City Girls — City On Lock
These are urgent, reflective times. But there’s always space to embrace the whole of your humanity, get some self-care in, and belt “if you really in the kitchen, pay a b*tch tuition!” at the top of your lungs. June is ordinarily prime time for City Girls music, with nightly turn-ups and exotic trips throughout the summer. Covid-19 put a pinch in the nightlife and “flewed out” scene (for those with good sense), but the Miami duo still delivered a suite of bangers for the Hot Girls with City On Lock. They’re not reinventing the wheel on their latest project, and lines like “P*ssy Talk’s” “this p*ssy extort these n*****s” are as coarse as Too Short or Pimp C ever were, but that’s why they’re beloved. They’re brash and flashy and unapologetic — and they’re all of that over surging production that could tempt a church girl to shake something.
Wale — The Imperfect Storm
Wale’s The Imperfect Storm EP was a surprise six-pack. The project displays the DC rhymer in reflective mode. He augmented “Blue Yellow Green Pink White’s” bouncy beat not with braggadocio, but the bare admission that, “I ‘prolly traumatize every woman in my life.” The Eric Bellinger-featured “Empty Wishing Well” starts off with Wale asking, “Where do we go? We never been here before” and then surmising that, “Me versus her’s inevitable / She live in my house, I live in my head.” “June 5th“ is the project’s finest moment, with Wale exploring state-sanctioned violence over a soulful production, rhyming, “They beatin’ white people down just to show us what’s comin’ / Or to show us we nothin’.” When Wale gripes about being underappreciated, consider that he might be right.
IDK — IDK & Friends 2
PG County, Maryland’s IDK has steadily been making a name for himself, and he’s now at the point where he can cede the spotlight have a little fun with his peers. Enter, his latest project, which doubles as the soundtrack to Kevin Durant’s Basketball County: In The Water documentary. The DC area rap scene is having its own renaissance thanks to artists like Rico Nasty, Xanman, (who showed out on “Riley,”) and cult hero Big Flock, who appeared on “495’ alongside YungManny, Weensey, and Big Jam. IDK also linked up with likeminded visionaries such as Denzel Curry (“Bulletproof”) and ASAP Ferg (“Mazel Tov”) on the fun nine-track project.
Skyzoo — Milestone (A Story Dedicated To Fatherhood)
It seems like a rite of passage for MCs to dedicate a song to their mother, but notably fewer artists address their fathers. True to his artistic ethos, Skyzoo filled that breach with Milestone (A Story Dedicated To Fatherhood), which he dropped on Father’s Day weekend. The seven-track project shows him giving myriad glimpses of the father-son experience, from the joyous memories of “tryna be outside until outside’s done” as a youth, to his mature realization that he’s “knowing that If I can do for mine what was done for me then I can sleep comfortably” on project closer “Duly Noted.” Skyzoo has a knack for storytelling, and he was batting .1000 on Milestone.
Tsu Surf — MSKYM
New Jersey’s Tsu Surf is fighting the popular perception that “battle rappers can’t make songs,” as well as the mighty shadow of the New York rap scene, which has stifled the visibility of many Garden State artists. But with more projects like MSKYM, his latest offering, he’s poised to breakthrough. He’s one of the rap game’s most adept at expressing the traumatic toll of the streets — and life in general — through palpable couplets like, “Stopped past Mommy house, layin’ in my mother’s bed / She know when her baby trippin’, hold me, ain’t nothin’ said” from the Wyclef and Mary J-sampling “Quarantine Tales.” The 13-track project shows him equally reflective (“Nana Crib”), menacing (“Free My Opps”), and heartfelt (“5’7”) with an admirable versatility.
Kemba — The World Is Watching
Kemba’s latest EP, The World Is Watching, clocks in at an ominous 8:46 in honor of the late George Floyd. He further pays homage to Floyd’s legacy, and assails the system that took him, throughout the four-song EP. “6 Million Ways” shows Kemba culling through the entirety of our moment’s travails, chiding “the black celebrity singers and self-proclaimed leaders” who “be making sure they’re distinguished from these intolerable n****s.” He’s said that the trap-driven “The Get Back (Riot)” was crafted specifically to be a protest song, with a “they say hands up / we say fight back” chant. On project closer “Stand” he scribes the painful couplet, “I don’t even really wanna get to know you / statistics show one of us might go soon.”
Max B — Charly
Max B’s latest release is Charly, a five-song project where the cult favorite offers up an appetizer of his charismatic, melodic brand of music. For those unacquainted, Max B is one of the rap game’s most one-of-a-kind characters. Only he could find the creative space to pull off a raunchy, luxurious song like “Porno Music 2” while incarcerated. The rest of the project is summer-ready, as he effortlessly swags over the smooth “Promises,” and album standout “They Don’t Know,” where he aspires, “Camila Cabello she on the radar.”
Marlon Craft — Work From Home
Rising New York MC Marlon Craft is reflecting the times by titling his latest project Work From Home. The 9-track EP shows that the physical stagnation of quarantining hasn’t put a dent in his creativity — if anything he’s getting sharper lyrically. On it he proclaims, “Walk in the room like ye high sway all the tension / But none of my answers definite,” showing off slick wordplay but also expressing indecision. He shows off his considerable toolbox on his own for the bulk of the project on songs like “Consequences” and “Larry David.” The lone features on Work From Home are Ricky Motion on “Hope Full” and KOTA The Friend on fan-favorite “Mom’s Whiskey.”
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.