This was another strong month for rap albums. Last month, there were highly anticipated releases from 21 Savage, Benny The Butcher, Def Loaf, Junglepussy, Westside Gunn, and Reason. Rap vets T.I. and Black Thought, Open Mike Eagle also released projects. Last month also saw the release of Jay Electronica’s Act II, which became an “official release” after Tidal put the leak on their platform. Check out all the best new rap projects below.
21 Savage & Metro Boomin — Savage Mode 2
Four years after 21 Savage and Metro Boomin linked up to go into Savage Mode, the trap stars offered another dose of menace. It’s a beautiful thing to see artists know who they are and revel in it. 21’s steely delivery and menacing metaphors sound right at home on Metro’s murky, thumping production — and yes, alongside Morgan Freeman’s voluminous narration. The Atlanta-based artist doesn’t delve far from street tales — the most spiritual moment on the album is, “I did a 69 with hеr friend, I’m prayin’ to God she don’t tell on mе” on “Rich N***a Sh*t” with Young Thug.
He does offer some “TLC” on “Mr. Right Now,” where Drake makes an appearance and outs an old relationship with SZA. But aside from that and 21’s errant shot at Jeezy on “Many Men,” there’s not much gossip-fodder on the project, just a gifted duo showing off their savagery for 15 tracks. (Check out the chopped not slopped version, too).
Benny The Butcher — Burden Of Proof
Griselda has been flooding the streets with work all 2020, but Benny The Butcher waited patiently to release his long-awaited Burden Of Proof. He’s talking as filthy as ever on the Hit-Boy produced project, offering a 360 view of the streets and noting on “New Streets” that “It’s rubbin’ me the wrong way when these rappers speak comfortably / ‘Bout street life, it seem like they only givin’ y’all luxuries.”
We’ve come to expect certain production from Griselda projects, but Hit-Boy imbued Burden Of Proof with a glossier soundscape and expertly chopped samples that intentionally harken to the days of Roc-A-Fella yore. Benny is often regarded as a throwback to that early ‘00s East Coast sound, and he got with Hit-Boy to create a project that replicated its winning aesthetics while still sounding modern.
Black Thought — Streams Of Thought: Vol. 1: Cain & Abel
Black Thought is “chasin chicken like a chupacabra” (“State Prisoner”) on the third volume of his Streams Of Thought series, but he’s also speaking for the moment throughout the 13-track project. On “Quiet Trip,” a quintessentially impressive track, he reflects that he’s “hopin’ I don’t get cut / by these police makin’ raids on those of us who know what’s up” alongside Portugal. The Man and The Last Artful, Dodger, who appear throughout the project. Black Thought is locked in per usual, but the project’s various guest stars play off of Thought well. Pusha floats over Swizz Beatz’ caustic “Good Morning” beat, while Schoolboy Q is “Beethoven to the bass swollen” on “Steak Um.” where he builds off Thought’s bid to go from “showman to shaman.” The project is another strong lyrical exhibition tinged with pro-Blackness and timely gems.
Jay Electronica — Act II
Jay Electronica finally dropping his debut album was one of the most shocking moments even by 2020 standards. So seeing him drop another, by turning his Act II leak into a Tidal exclusive release, surged the surreality into overdrive. Those who waited a decade for a Jay Elec project were rewarded handsomely this year. There are no illusions that he’s here to “save rap” as was the case in 2011. But perhaps that’s a good thing, as fans can experience the partially finished, but fully impressive lyrical exhibition without any superlatives or expectations attached to it.
External expectation is in fact what kept this project, as well as A Written Testimony, from being released early. It’s apparent that Jay stepped away from Act II at some point, with short songs, especially toward the end. But even incomplete songs like “Night Of The Roundtable” and the short “Life On Mars” show off his artistic brilliance. Devout Jay Elec fans may have already heard many of these tracks, but unacquainted listeners got the gift of hearing them in the context of a project, almost as the reclusive rhymer intended at one point.
Junglepussy — JP4
Brooklyn artist Junglepussy dropped her JP4 project after a two-year hiatus. She has said that JP4 sounds like what she “really, really, really,” wanted to embody as an artist all along. Apparently, she wanted to do a little of everything — and do it well. JP4 is a thrilling ride from haunting opener “Bad News” through the rest of the 10 tracks, which merge elements of trap, electronic, R&B, and a slew of other aesthetics into a canvas ripe for her to express her bold, empowered lyricism.
JP4 explores a range of moods, dropping nuggets of introspection that illuminate her many sides. She boasts, “You be the beauty, I been the beast, I don’t bite but / My boundaries form a fence of piranha teeth” on “Spiders,” but also admits, “My friends say I’m just a wreck when I’m in love” on “Telepathy.” She’s the “Main Attraction,” yet “not trynna be pretty / I’m goodie in a Champion hoodie” on “What You Want.” We’re all multi-faceted, glorious or gloomy depending on the circumstance. Junglepussy is an artist gifted enough to make every angle sound like the ultimate truth.
Larry June & Harry Fraud — Keep Going
Larry June and Harry Fraud linked up for Keep Going, where June reflects and gives game over a suite of smooth Fraud production. Larry June reflects on his story to motivate listeners, rhyming ”took the negatives out my life, then I got rich” on album standout “Organic Miracles.” June’s easygoing delivery sounds at home over Fraud’s impeccable samples, whether he’s channeling early-90’s Bay vibes on the funky “I Like You” or reminding us, “To live like this, you gon’ have to take Ls / You gon’ have to bounce back” on the soulful “Let’s Go To New Orleans,” featuring Currensy. June has gained a cult fanbase with his aspirational narratives, which is why it’s great to see him lean fully into that power on Keep Going.
Open Mike Eagle — Anime, Trauma, and Divorce
Yes, great art comes out of pain, but who the hell wants to go through it? Who deserves the pain that becomes melody? Open Mike Eagle may have many pondering those questions after a listen to Anime, Trauma, And Divorce, a deeply personal project that reflects a year of turmoil and loss — on top of societal peril.
Kari Faux offers harrowing vocals on “Bucciaratti,” where he explores the “broken to pieces” adage with poetic flourish, rhyming, “Part of me struck an original trauma / Part of me wears an invisible armor.” On the doleful, “Everything Ends Last Year,” he brilliantly surmises, “Regardless where the sun is, I’m my own personal winter.” The 12-track album explores similar tones, with Mike using his encapsulation brilliance to draw poignant reflections from his laments and regrets. He was gracious enough to publicly express his catharsis on Anime, Trauma, And Divorce, not just offering fodder for those going through the same trials but dropping one of the best projects of the year.
Reason — New Beginnings
LA rapper Reason introduced himself to new fans by re-releasing his 2018 There You Have It project on TDE last year. But this year he fed his burgeoning fanbase a formal debut with the aptly-titled New Beginnings, a 14-track reflection of just who the TDE newbie is. The first impression for most listeners may be that he’s a damn good rapper, as evidenced by holding his own with J.I.D and Isaiah Rashed on “Extinct,” and “Flick It Up” with Ab-Soul. He also got introspective on the soulful “Fall” and album closer “WIndows Cry,” where he speaks on his navigation through the shady industry, rhyming, “You signed a paper to get rid of your n****s, now you got strangers.”
But Reason shows off his mass appeal throughout the project, especially on “Show Stop” and “Pop Sh*t” with Schoolboy Q, where he sounds ripe to fit right in on the next TDE posse cut. For now though, listeners can just enjoy New Beginnings, a strong effort that shows he belongs.
T.I. — The L.I.B.R.A.
I wrote a retrospective appreciation of T.I. the rapper on his 40th birthday — but he’s still out here. In fact, he says he’s Back Runnin Atlanta on his latest album. The trap rap godfather has done his best to balance out his subject matter to reflect his age and newfound political agency. On “Respect The Code” with “Rick Ross,” he affirms himself as a “full-time family man, part-time politic / Trap n***a, fashion icon, I’m all of it.” He offers up a little of everything on The L.I.B.R.A., talking his talk on “Pardon” with Lil Baby and “On The Hood” with Mozzy and 42 Dugg. He grapples with his present and past on “Horizons,” rhyming, “I got a vision, and a journey, and an attorney / Just in case, I use this burner to keep me off of the gurney,” then raps with his gifted son Domani to entrench his “Family Connect.”
While some may feel like the project could have been more cohesive, it also speaks to his talent that he can hold his own with the disparate skill sets of Young Thug, Lil Baby, Conway, Benny The Butcher, and Jadakiss on the same album. T.I. doesn’t have to worry about actually “running” Atlanta — his catalog puts him in a stratosphere that transcends the now. But it doesn’t hurt that his sustained lyrical excellence makes it a compelling conversation.
Westside Gunn — Who Made The Sunshine
Westside Gunn is apparently on the home stretch of his rap career. Work like October’s Who Made The Sunshine may have fans wishing he wouldn’t back out of the game. He showed up and showed out with gaudy, gritty bars throughout the project, making an album with a slew of features sound cohesive. He has two tracks with the iconic Slick Rick, including the smooth “Ocean Prime” with Busta Rhymes. He collaborates with Griselda mates on “The Butcher And The Blade” as well as “98 Sabres.”
He, Boldy James, and Jadakiss also traded bars on the pensive “All Praises,” while he got sensual (to an extreme degree) on the polarizing “Liz Loves Luger” with Armani Caesar. The 11-track project is yet another strong showing that further entrenches Griselda’s run as one for the rap history books, and makes it hard to deny that his presence will still be felt through executive producing.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.