While this column is usually introduced by saying something about the sheer volume of excellent hip-hop released every month, last month’s albums somewhat complicate this maxim. While there’s still tons of fabulous music featured herein, June also saw the release of some undeniable disappointments, predominantly from the genre’s big hitters. Blockbusters rappers Drake, Gucci Mane, Logic, and Lupe Fiasco dropped new releases whose quality varied from average to terrible. So this column is instead looking a little further left field.
The records included here range from underground favorites such as Crimeapple, Pan Amsterdam, and Elucid to upstarts ranging from London drill newcomer Cristale to Texan star-in-waiting Erica Banks. While the genre’s established acts disappointed, the underground, as always, provided ample quality.
Elucid – I Told Bessie [Backwoodz Studioz]
A highlight of last month, regardless of genre, Elucid’s I Told Bessie is a shining example of everything that contemporary experimental rap is capable of. The New York MC, best-known as one half of Armand Hammer, possesses a singularly expressive style of lyricism, one rife with dense metaphors, symbolism, and free-from allusions. That, combined with a penchant for an off-kilter, abstract production style, can make his work a challenging but highly rewarding listen. I Told Bessie benefits from an emotional throughline that dissects his history and that of his grandmother, an approach that, on tracks like “Mangosteen”, uncovers some surprising depths of emotion amidst all the arty strangeness.
Raury – Strawberry Moon [The Woods]
Raury’s an interesting character. The Atlanta native’s last studio album dropped seven years ago, though, in that time, he’s released several mixtapes, including The Woods and Fervent, both gentle, folk-inflected works. His latest full-length Strawberry Moon wholly drops the campfire vibes in favor of a more cohesive and all-around successful fusion of rap, electronica, and neo-soul. The production is eclectic and subtly experimental, while Raury possesses accomplished skills as both a singer and rapper. Highlights “Heatwave” and “Channel Zero” display his laid-back but laser-guided flow. It’s an intriguing alternative hip-hop album that should raise its unique creator’s profile.
Cristale – What It’s Like to Be Young [4ZA Music/Black Butter Limited]
Despite the popularity of UK drill, it’s taken a little while for female artists to rise in prominence within the genre. However, it seems like the time has finally come for the genre to become infused with a female perspective, with artists like Ivorian Doll, Abigail Aswante, and Cristale leading the way. South London’s Cristale has been marked as one to watch for some time, following a string of releases, including the viral TikTok hit “Bong Bing”. Three of her previously released tracks feature on her debut EP, What It’s Like to Be Young, a thrilling drill excursion that combines smart, slice-of-life lyricism with bass-leaden aggression. Cristale’s energy is raw and infectious, especially thrilling when her voice stretches to a shredded yell on the ice-cold highlight “Braids”. She’s one to watch on the UK scene.
Pan Amsterdam & Damu the Fudgemunk – EAT [Def Pressé]
Every other month, this column seems to sing the praises of a new Damu the Fudgemunk project. His latest, a collaboration with the idiosyncratic MC Pan Amsterdam, is another rich, analog tapestry rife with warm instrumentation and inventive textures. Pan Amsterdam’s surreal allusions are seriously off-kilter and often very funny and share an internal language similar to MF Doom’s 2004 classic Mm.. Food. EAT is similarly packed full of references to food and eating, contributing to this meticulously crafted album’s vibrant, full-bodied flavor. Pan Amsterdam’s style is a unique taste, but EAT sharply contextualizes his eccentricities. It makes for a rich and singular treat released on the excellent Def Pressé label.
Big Ghost Ltd. & Conway the Machine – What Has Been Blessed Cannot Be Cursed [Big Ghost Music]
No month is complete without a new Griselda Records-affiliated release. This month What Has Been Blessed Cannot Be Cursed sees ex-label star Conway the Machine once again teaming up with producer Big Ghost Ltd. There’s little in the way of surprises to be found here, however, therein lies its copious charm. This murky, crackly boom-bap sound is an addictive intoxicant, as is Conway’s signature gritty vocal style. His flow is relaxed and oozing with confidence, rarely spectacular, just consistently charismatic. Tracks like “Bodie Broadus” and “Sunday Sermon” are especially potent dives into a shady underworld, while “Scared II Death” features an always-welcome guest spot from Wu-Tang legend Method Man. It’s a dark, moody, and often electrifying cut of contemporary boom-bap.
Anonymuz – ANAGO [Rxdical Records]
One of the many brilliant rappers currently at work on Florida’s wild underground scene, Anonymuz’s brand of modern hip-hop is bass-leaden, distorted, and shrouded in darkness. His flow varies from laconic (check out the indifferent tone of “The Business”) to ferocious (the spit-flecked verses in the middle of “Jungle”). Meanwhile, the production never once wavers from dark, futuristic and nocturnal. Incendiary highlight “Only God Forgives” is a speaker-shredding masterclass, everything that cutting-edge yet accessible rap music is capable of in the gloomy days of 2022. In between Anonymuz’s honest, introspective lyrics is a real sense of foreboding, the sense that something terrible is perennially around the corner. That makes for a highly potent collection of music and further proof of its creator’s underrated talent.
Erica Banks – Diary of the Flow Queen [1501 Certified Ent/Warner]
To get it out of the way immediately – yes, Erica Banks sounds a lot like Megan Thee Stallion. Banks’ bass-driven brand of hyper-sexual southern rap shares undeniable similarities with the Houston genre queen, even down to her choice of label – 1501 Certified Entertainment, who were the first label to sign Megan Thee Stallion. Diary of a Flow Queen, Banks’ debut full-length following a series of mixtapes, does a solid job of clasping for her crown. Club-ready lead singles “Slim Waist”, “Throw a Lil Mo”, and “The Best” are visceral and commanding bangers, while “Work” sees her flex her impressive singing voice. It’s not a perfect record as there are a couple of interchangeable filler tracks. However, Diary of a Flow Queen is mostly a confident, entertaining exercise in modern southern hip-hop.
Crimeapple & DJ Skizz – Breakfast in Hradec [Different Worlds Music Group]
Crimeapple is sort of the underground Action Bronson, possessing the same beard and braggadocio but also a sense of emotional honesty that Bronson often lacks. Breakfast in Hradec is another string-soaked East Coast triumph, full of its creator’s trademark charisma and personality. DJ Skizz is a more-than-competent collaborator, providing carefully-polished sample-built production that makes Breakfast in Hradec a vivid and often resplendent experience. The duo also indulge in some intriguing experimentation; see the penultimate track, “La Lluvia”, with lyrics constructed entirely around nouns beginning with the letter ‘L’. It’s an extremely likable and often very intelligent release.