Saba 2022
SABA / Photo: C.T. Robert / Courtesy of the Orchard

Hip-Hop Matters: The Best Hip-Hop of February 2022

Another packed month in hip-hop sees Saba drop a future classic, Cities Aviv create a psychedelic fantasia, and Willow Kayne make a compelling bid for stardom.

Willow Kayne – Playground Antics [Columbia]

Willow Kayne - Playground Antics

A Gen Z superstar-in-waiting, Bristol’s Willow Kayne is poised to take over the world. The 19-year-old’s Playground Antics EP is a staggeringly confident debut – five tracks that blur the lines between genres such as hip-hop, neo-soul, drum and bass, and even pop-punk. Kayne pulls off this ultra-contemporary hybrid style with style and panache, with “Opinion” and “This My Film” highlighting her impressively controlled rapping skills. A freshly-inked major label deal and backing by Dua Lipa‘s management team all but guarantees that Playground Antics is just the very beginning of Willow Kayne’s career.

Black Josh, Milkavelli, Lee Scott – Swegasus [Blah Records]

Black Josh - Swegasus

The column will never fail to highlight a new release on the Blah Records label. Everything they put out contains varying degrees of dark, dirty magic, with Swegasus yet another example of this potent alchemy. There’s not much here that its creators haven’t done before, just eight tracks of low-key, paranoid, and quietly menacing UK hip-hop. “Doin’ Bits” is the mini-album’s most muscular and riveting track – a hard-as-nails, whip-smart four minutes that brilliantly utilizes Blah Records’ trademark tone of barely-sublimated tension. Each performer brings their effortless A-game to Swegasus, helping to generate a pitch-perfect soundtrack to these strange, anxious days.

Conway the Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes [Shady Records]

Conway the Machine - God Don't Make Mistakes

As with Blah Records, it’s impossible for this column not to include any new releases from the Griselda collective. Griselda co-founder Conway the Machine’s latest is among the hardest-hitting full-lengths released by anyone affiliated with the collective – 12 tracks of gritty, intelligent, and muscular contemporary boom-bap that never lets up. Conway’s startlingly lucid emotional honesty on display here makes for an engrossing listen. Album highlight “Stressed” is an incredibly intense track that sees Conway discuss depression, alcoholism, his cousin’s suicide, and the death of his child. He also makes multiple references to the shooting that left him with Bell’s Palsy, highlighted by the profoundly poignant title track. The Griselda mob often get painted as just flashy stylists, but God Don’t Make Mistakes is incendiary proof of their intellect and soul.

Hus Kingpin – Bjorkingpin [Independent]

Hus Kingpin - Bjorkingpin

Following 2021’s captivating Portishus – a dense, complex work of experimental boom-bap that drew loosely on the work of Portishead – the prolific Hus Kingpin has dropped a spiritual-sequel Bjorkingpin. Like Portishus, these ten songs derive tonal and textural influence from their iconic inspirations rather than operating as direct pastiches. The result is a collection of thrillingly unique works of modern hip-hop, as frequently emotional (“Utopia”) as they are challenging (“D’evils Embrace”). The Björk samples are chopped to such a degree that they become washy, murky textures that sit underneath the beats, a stylistic choice that often recalls the work of the pioneering New Jersey duo Dälek. Huskingpin is on a real hot streak right now, and it’ll be fascinating to see whatever he does next.