This month’s column features hip-hop in all sorts of shapes and sizes: a prodigious 18-year-old’s stellar third album, a UK drill star recording his music under extraordinary circumstances, a thrilling punk/rap hybrid group, cult veterans of several decades doing what they do best. All of it is different, and all of it is by turns vital, entertaining, troubling, and profound. We hope you find plenty here to enjoy.
Vince Staples – RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART [Motown]
Vince Staples‘ career has been defined by a palpable air of playfulness and unpredictability. Best highlighted by his experimental and masterful 2017 album Big Fish Theory, Staples is unafraid to push boundaries, both his own and those of the broader genre. RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART strikes the perfect balance between his avant-garde experiments and comparably more straightforward recent output. Tracks like “When Sparks Fly” and “The Blues” glow with layers of dreamy effects, while “Magic” and “Lemonade” bring the party vibes. A brilliant encapsulation of its creator’s abilities.
billy woods – Aethiopes [Backwoodz Studioz]
Wow. April saw billy woods (always stylized in lowercase) drop one of the albums of the year, regardless of genre parameters. The prolific New York MC is one of modern experimental hip-hop’s great icons, and with Aethiopes, he’s come up with what will surely be one of the darkest, strangest, and most gripping records released in 2022. The masterful storytelling of opener “Asylum” sets the tone, followed by endless highlights – the mysterious textures of “Wharves”, the chilling imagery of “Smith + Cross”. Brilliant cameos from El-P and Mike Ladd place billy woods firmly within the lineage of dark hip-hop futurists and serve as further icing atop an LP possessing a genuine air of genius.
Digga D – Noughty By Nature [CGM Records]
One of the UK’s most prominent drill artists, Digga D makes his music under incredible circumstances. Since 2018, the Londoner has been subject to a Criminal Behavior Order which prevents him, under threat of jail time, from inciting violence and mentioning certain London postcodes and people. His lawyer vets every line of his work, and specific names and places are carefully redacted. Fortunately, this has done little to prevent his rise in stature. His third mixtape, Noughty By Nature, displays some impressive range, from the drill perfection of “Main Road” to the 2000s vibes of “Pump 101” and “Let It Go”. One of UK drill’s true pioneers, Digga D, is only going from strength to strength.
redveil – learn 2 swim [Independent]
On what is already his third album, Maryland’s redveil (also always stylized in lowercase) dropped learn 2 swim on his 18th birthday. It’s jaw-dropping that someone born in 2004 has crafted an album this well-rounded and emotionally resonant. However, it’s also a thrilling testament to the intelligence and abilities of gen z. learn 2 swim is quite brilliant, defined by a uniquely lush, layered production style and melancholy tone. It’s a bit of a cliche, but redveil genuinely seems wise beyond his years. The profound bars of “morphine (da ways)” highlight his precocious smarts, from “tryna set ablaze all my shitty old ways” to how the “need for capital turned living into a race”. redveil has the world at his feet, and it’s going to be fascinating to see what he’s capable of.
Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry [G.O.O.D. Music]
Pusha T is a master minimalist. His albums are pared-down, free of lengthy runtimes or half-formed ideas. It’s Almost Dry is as laser-focused as ever, possessing an immaculate formalism crafted to within an inch of its life by its two heavyweight producers – Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. Both offer their trademark styles, which manifests as an enthralling beat battle between West’s artful sterility and Williams’ seductive bass-worship. Pusha T himself is as commanding and precise as ever, particularly on the beautifully-designed Just So You Remember. It’s not the finest work of its esteemed creators’ careers but makes for fabulous entertainment nonetheless.
Bob Vylan – Bob Vylan Presents the Price of Life [Ghost Theatre]
This one’s a bit of a curveball. For the uninitiated – Bob Vylan are a brilliant UK duo who play a thrilling concoction of punk and hip-hop, complete with sharp lyrics rife with timely social commentary. Their third album, Bob Vylan Presents The Price of Life, offers 15 explosive tracks defined by confrontational, righteous anger. The duo are probably a better rap group than they are a punk band (the guitar riffs of “Pretty Songs” and “Phone Tap” are a little prosaic) however, their skills as wordsmiths are never in doubt. Album highlights “Health Is Wealth”, “GDP”, and “Must Be More” reveal as such, displaying swathes of wit, charisma, and deeply-felt humanism.
Czarface – Czarmageddon! [Silver Age]
It seems like only yesterday Czarface dropped their previous non-instrumental album – the MF-Doom-featuring Super What? It was a solid work, livened by spectral cameos from its late collaborator. Czarmageddon! brings things back to Earth, utilizing the supergroup project’s trademark sci-fi boom-bap in service of yet another compelling and singular album. It’s the first Czarface album in several years to feature consistent verses from Inspectah Deck, whose presence lifts the whole project, as highlighted by the bright, off-kilter “Can It Be?” Czarface have become a proper cult act, and Czarmageddon! will only further deepen their appeal.
Dälek – Precipice [Ipecac]
While we’re on the subject of excellent hip-hop cult acts – New Jersey’s Dälek are an even more unique proposition. The duo’s eighth studio album offers even more of their enthralling brand of smart, conscious hip-hop drenched in dense layers of viscous noise. They’re among the closest that the genre has come to shoegaze in terms of both production and the deep pangs of melancholy that Dälek’s music similarly evokes. Tracks like “Good”, “Decimation (Dis Nation)”, and especially “Devotion (when i cry the wind disappears)” are profoundly moving, featuring lyrics rife with both radical politics and beguiling poetry. A stunning album that anyone who feels beaten down by the state of the world needs to hear.
Action Bronson – Cocodrillo Turbo [Loma Vista Recordings]
It feels like Cocodrillo Turbo has gone a little under the radar, particularly in comparison to Action Bronson’s previous full-length – 2020’s widely-successful Only For Dolphins. Nonetheless, Cocodrillo Turbo is an effervescent, gently-psychedelic delight, packed to the brim with colorful production and its creator’s signature coarse charisma. Featuring solid guest spots from the likes of Conway the Machine, Hologram, and Roc Marciano, as well as production work by, amongst others, the Alchemist and Daringer, Cocodrillo Turbo is charming, eclectic, and constructed with intelligence. It’s not Action Bronson’s masterpiece, but it’s another solid addition to a back catalog overflowing with quality.