Hip-hop never fails to surprise. Experimentation and boundary-pushing are built into the genre’s DNA – an awareness of the future that this column has frequently discussed. This month is no different. UK drill upstarts, psychedelic fantasies, and abrasive rap-metal hybrids all feature, displaying the full malleability of this most adaptable of genres. These albums are all thrilling, unique, and vital and offer something for all tastes. We hope you find plenty here to enjoy.
Kojey Radical – Reason to Smile [Atlantic Records]
One of the most exciting talents in UK music right now, Kojey Radical, is making a bid for stardom. The East Londoner is both versatile and productive and seems to have featured on endless streams of music, art, and fashion collaborations over the last few years. His ambitious music blurs the lines between myriad contemporary UK rap styles as well as funk and neo-soul – a fluidity brilliantly exemplified by Reason to Smile. The album contains countless highlights and surprises, from the bouncy, optimistic tone to its numerous guest features. This is the first major full-length release by this soon-to-be major artist.
Benny the Butcher – Tana Talk 4 [Griselda Records/EMPIRE]
Even though Benny the Butcher dropped two full-lengths in 2021, Tana Talk 4 was the album that his fans were waiting for. The Tana Talk series has seen its creator focus on more personal, introspective issues, away from just the usual Griselda crime obsessions. As Conway the Machine did on his stellar God Don’t Make Mistakes, the true heart and soul of this collective are revealed when they delve deeper into their fascinating psyches. Tana Talk 4 sees Benny recounting his days on the streets in vivid and lucid detail, accompanied by high-profile guest spots such as J. Cole, Freddie Gibbs, and Diddy. A simply essential release for fans of contemporary hip-hop.
Cookin Soul & Lord Apex – Off the Strength [Cookin Soul Records]
Spanish producer Cookin Soul has put out some intriguing projects in recent years. Last year saw him release the solid Wu Tang-Clan mashup album Wu Xmas, as well as an album of MF Doom tribute beats. His latest is a collaboration with lo-fi UK rapper Lord Apex, and it’s a union that feels written in the stars. Apex’s charismatic voice pairs beautifully with Cookin Soul’s chilled beats, resulting in one of the most effortless rap albums released so far this year. Especially impressive is Apex’s sparingly-used singing voice, elevating the lightly-psychedelic choruses of “Stayin Alive” and “Euphoria”. Here’s hoping that more will come from this elegant meeting of minds.
Ho99o9 – SKIN [Roadrunner Records]
On the far other end of the spectrum is Ho99o9’s demented SKIN. Since 2012 the New Jersey duo have been terrifying audiences with their unique brand of industrial rap metal and are turning into a genuine modern cult act. SKIN is Ho99o9’s second full-length album and sees them further doubling down on their manic, abrasive, and confrontational sound. Tracks like “SLO BREAD” and “DEVIL AT THE CROSSROADS” follow a relatively familiar modern hip-hop trajectory. However, the most exciting songs see Ho99o9 obliterate genre boundaries and turn into their own manic beast. It’s hard to do it justice through words, SKIN just needs to be experienced. Be warned though; it’s a wild ride.
Fly Anakin – Frank [Lex]
Revered amongst underground hip-hop heads, Fly Anakin is quietly cementing himself as a contemporary great. Frank is an eclectic delight – 17 tracks that are as kaleidoscopic as they are accessible. Vibrant cuts like the Madlib-produced “No Dough” sit comfortably next to more experimental fare such as “WaxPoetic” and “Poisonous Primates”. The production is dense and colorful. However, Frank never feels weighty or obtuse, just endlessly rich. Anakin’s bars are subtly complex, his animated voice always seeming to be on the verge of losing control. Of course, it never does. Frank is as masterfully-plotted as well as intricately crafted. A sure-fire contender for hip-hop album of the year.