The summer is long gone, but the heat is still coming in. This month, there were releases from a slew of upstart artists such as DaBaby, Kemba, IDK, and Earthgang. Cult favorites like Skyzoo, Conway and JPEGMAFIA also released strong projects. Kevin Gates dropped the long-awaited I’m Him, while Post Malone sold another boatload of units with his Hollywood’s Bleeding album. Hip-hop’s versatility and prosperity is on display every month, and September was no different:
DaBaby — Kirk
DaBaby starts rapping before you press play on Kirk, and keeps you two-stepping in his world for the entirety of the 13-track album. He doesn’t stray too far from his formula of “I came up” braggadocio and hilarious oneliners over thumping trap percussion, but it’s working for him. His ever-catchy cadence will occasionally divulge slivers of who is, but by no means should the title (named after his father) be misconstrued as his attempt at biography. Kirk, like Baby on Baby, is a fun record that showcases DaBaby’s corner of the rap world as one of the coolest places to be in 2019.
Kevin Gates – Im Him
Kevin Gates is in a zone since being released from prison last year. He’s released two EPs and a mixtape, honing the genre-bending harmonies and heartfelt lyricism that has earned his cult following. All along, he’s been building toward I’m Him, the album he and his team promoted the moment he came home. Gates’ second album shows him at a creative zenith on tracks like “By My Lonely,’ and “Walls Talking,” where he meshes his knack for melody and catchy hooks with poignant, well-crafted confessionals about the squalor of the streets. On I’m Him, Gates is exactly who he ideates himself as.
Skyzoo & Pete Rock — Retropolitan
Skyzoo and Pete Rock linked up for some soulful, head-nodding lyrical exercises on Retroplitan, an ode to the classic New York City sound. Skyzoo sounds invigorated spitting over a legend’s beats, dishing his assonant lyricism and clever wordplay over Pete Rock’s masterful chopping and thick, dusty drums. The duo display strong chemistry throughout the 11-track album, and both Styles P and the Griselda crew (with Elzhi) show out on “Carry The Tradition” and “Eastern Conference All-Stars,” respectively. Skyzoo showed why he’s an underground stalwart, while Pete Rock helped cook up another dish of the classic sound he’s expressed a longing for in the past.
Don Trip — They Don’t Love You
Memphis’ Don Trip released his second project of 2019 with his They Don’t Love You mixtape. On “Breakfast Of Champions” he proclaims it’s “back to the wall like it’s always been,” and sets the tone for his reflections on self-reliance and perseverance through everyday struggles. But Trip isn’t exactly alone on the project. Several local Memphis artists feature on the project. But most excitedly, he links with longtime collaborator Starlito twice. “Austin 3:16” is, as could be expected, a surging track where the two flout their independence. “Nothing At All” shows the two riding a soulful, atmospheric sample that bodes well for their upcoming Step Brothers 4 project.
JPEGMAFIA — All My Heroes Are Cornballs
JPEGMAFIA became an underground darling after his caustic, experimental Veteran album. But just when his swooning fanbase was set to confine the ambitious artist to noise rap ingenue status, he swerved with All My Heroes Are Cornballs, a witty, sarcastic examination of America’s current cult of celebrity. There are elements of Veteran’s spastic percussion and freewheeling arrangements, but tracks like “Grimy Waifu” and the title track (where he urgently asks “why these wiggers only show up when n—-s be poppin’?”) are examples of JPEGMAFIA opting to lay his samples out and gracefully season them instead of putting them through a blender. Both approaches work, but All My Heroes Are Cornballs shows off JPEGMAFIA’s intriguing versatility.
Kemba — Gilda
The Bronx’s Kemba has been gradually ascending over the past several years. The thoughtful lyricist put an exclamation point on his name change (from YC the Cynic) with the exceptional album. But he’s been on a bit of a hiatus, which is understandable after the passing of his mother in 2017. A loss of that magnitude would leave anyone doing internal reflection, and Kemba was gracious enough to share his gems on Gilda, his Republic Records debut. Songs like “Whay A Day” and “Dysfunction” show him culling the permutations of being a rising artist while so many other pillars of his life crumble around him. But the cathartic album ends on a hopeful note, as he proclaims “My time is limited and so I’m living it / Life, love, and liberty, I place my energy” on album closer “Alive.”
Gunplay & Mozzy — Chopp Stixx & Banana Clips
Two of the street’s most intense, respected voices connect on Chop Stixx & Banana Clips, a project that’s as straight to the point as the title. Gunplay and Mozzy aren’t recreating the wheel, they’re shooting shots and leaving flats. But if you love them, you’ll love this 10-track bicoastal testimonial on how universal themes of struggle, revenge, and survival are from coast to coast. The project doesn’t have the most polished production, but the duo’s chemistry and streetwise content make it worth a listen.
Conway — Look What I Became
There are very few artists in a zone like Buffalo’s Griselda movement. The latest release from the busy, newly Roc Nation-affiliated crew is Look What I Became, which shows Conway sharpening his sword as he prepares his upcoming Shady Records debut album.
There’s still plenty of menace and obscure boasts like, “my bars give you the fear of God, b*tch, I’m Jerry Lorenzo,” but Conway also gets vulnerable on “You MadeIt,” where he commandeers a smoky Statik Selektah soundscape to celebrate women who, like him, have been through their share of hardship. But hopefully, for Conway, those trials are over and only fodder for documentation on projects like this.
Earthgang — Mirrorland
How good is Earthgang’s Mirrorland? It caused Twitter users to spend the better part of its immediate release debating whether the Atlanta duo is the next Outkast. The debate is meaningless, but only an incredible body of work would garner such a lofty comparison. Earthgang achieved the much-deserved acclaim with a fun, energetic album full of tracks meshing hip-hop with elements of electronic, soul, and more. They contort their flows over a variety of production, from the thumping “Bank” to the spastic “Avenue.” With Mirrorland, they prove they’re not the next anything, because there are few contemporary acts, if any, doing what they do as good as them.
IDK — Is He Real
PG County, Marylands IDK is one of the most conceptually ambitious artists in the game, with his “Suburban Trap” movement and suite of thoughtful concept albums. Is He Real is his major-label debut, and his first chance to show off his skills to a broader public. Is He Real mostly succeeds as a carefully-curated portrait of his younger self, who was so despondent with his life he questioned its very nature.
He’s certainly not the first to question theology, but few have done it over such a sharp, genre-bending soundscape of 808s and variant synths. “42 Hundred Choices” is a spooky trap burner, while “Alone” is a posh canvas for his musings of seclusion. Even if you don’t agree with the conclusions he raises, Is He Real demonstrates a compelling thought process that will likely only build on itself in time.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.