It’s been another stellar month for hip-hop. In our monthly roundup of the genre’s finest releases, we have, among many others, the newest from the legendary Atmosphere, a mixtape by drill king Headie One, a brilliant MF Doom/Flying Lotus mashup, and JPEGMAFIA’s latest crazed masterpiece. This eclectic bunch comprises all singular, ambitious, and thrilling works from this most progressive of music genres. In these dark and confusing times, we hope that you find something here that reminds you of both the power of the present and the potential of the future.
Headie One – Too Loyal For My Own Good
Following last year’s wildly successful Edna, Headie One has been widely regarded as the breakout star of the UK drill scene. Edna was a minor-key, often melancholic affair, frequently pushing beyond the cold savagery of drill towards more elaborate and US-influenced contemporary hip-hop stylings. Headie One’s newest mixtape Too Loyal For My Own Good furthers this rich vein of experimentalism, from the trap-influenced and expertly-produced “PTSD”, to the textured, sultry Afrobeats vibes of “Louis Vuitton Collar” to the brilliant album highlight “Cry”. Flipping Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” – “Cry” is a funky pop-rap anthem that, like much on this irresistible mixtape, points towards an ambitious future for its creator.
Wiki – Half God
A former member of the now-defunct rap punk crew Ratking – Wiki’s latest full-length is the Manhattan native’s most mature and fully-formed work to date. Produced by Navy Blue, Half God is New York through-and-through. Its lush strings, murky rhythms, and Wiki’s thick, commanding accent make for an irresistible combination that intuitively echoes the long lineage of hip-hop masters who’ve arisen from this iconic city. Wiki’s lyrics frequently highlight themes surrounding community and relationships, which combine with Navy Blue’s restrained and often gentle production to make Half God an intoxicating and hugely likable release.
Atmosphere – Word?
Simply put – Atmosphere are all-time greats. The duo – comprised of MC Slug and producer Ant – have consistently put out quality albums since the turn of the millennium, each rife with eclectic production and witty, piercingly-honest lyrics. Released on their own Rhymesayers label (also home to Dilated Peoples, Brother Ali and Eyedea & Abilities), Word? is another eccentric and singular Atmosphere release. It eschews current trends in favor of the duo’s usual unpredictable and often-affecting postmodern hip-hop. Closer “Barricade” is worth the price of admission alone, featuring top-tier verses from Rhymesayers affiliate Aesop Rock and, in yet another posthumous cameo, the eternal MF Doom.
Guilty Simpson and Gensu Dean – Ego
Ego is unconstrained by space or time. The latest from Detroit’s Guilty Simpson, Ego lacks much of contemporary underground hip-hop’s ornate and experimental hallmarks. Simpson’s flow is laconic and ethereal, and producer Gensu Dean’s tight and simple beats refract myriad styles, eras, and fashions. That places the album somewhere outside of the hip-hop history continuum. Like its evocative and lean artwork, the duo conjure a hazy minimalist quality, to the point that the controlled tone can seem occasionally undercooked. However, when it hits its stride, such as on the moody “Talk to Me” or the cold “Right Mind”, Ego reveals itself as a singular work of understated impressionist hip-hop.
The Alchemist – This Thing of Ours 2
The Alchemist is perhaps the world’s most in-demand hip-hop producer. The California native (real name: Daniel Maman) has a staggeringly wide-reaching discography, and in 2021 alone, has produced album-of-the-year contenders by Boldy James and Armand Hammer. His latest EP includes five excellent tracks, each featuring adroitly-chosen guest MCs. Highlights include the charismatic Vince Staples on the jazzy “6 Five Heartbeats”, MAVI’s hyperactive contributions to the tense “Miracle Baby” and “Lossless” – a menacing track featuring MIKE’s charismatic mumble. As his moniker suggests, everything that the Alchemist touches turns to gold.