Since autumn has now firmly set in and winter is rearing its numbing head, the tone of the albums included in this month’s Hip-Hop Matters column is fittingly reflective and subdued. These records have their energetic moments; however, the primary tone of the likes of MAVI’s Laughing So Hard, It Hurts and Loyle Carner’s HUGO is calm, relaxed, and thoughtful introspection. Electricity courses through each of these releases, some more than others. However, the majority are notable more for their mood, intelligence, and insight instead of their visceral thrills. Dive into our latest column to find out what we mean.
Flohio – Out of Heart [FLOHIO / AWAL Recordings Ltd.]
Flohio’s debut has been gestating for several years. Given the relentless volume of tracks that the London MC has released in that time, her 12-track debut full-length, Out of Heart, almost feels like an anomaly. Despite this, it’s more of a complete collection than her 2020 mixtape No Panic No Pain, organized intuitively and featuring a broad tonal synergy that makes for a compelling listen. There’s a level of emotional resonance to this collection that strikes in surprising ways, highlighted by the giddy “SPF,” effervescent “2 Hours”, and resplendent “Feel Alive”. More proof was hardly needed, but on the resonant strength of this release, Flohio has a bright future ahead of her.
Open Mike Eagle – Component System with the Auto Reverse [Auto Reverse]
One of the world’s most exciting and unique rappers right now, Open Mike Eagle effortlessly communicates the giddy pleasures to be found in off-kilter, colorful underground hip-hop. Component System with the Auto Reverse might be his masterpiece, 14 tracks that kaleidoscopically tilt between whimsy, wisdom, and wonder. While solo cuts like “For DOOM” and “Crenshaw and Homeland” detail their creator’s free-association brilliance, features with the likes of RAP Ferriera and Aesop Rock and particularly Armand Hammer elevate Component System with the Auto Reverse to the level of 2022 hip-hop highlight.
MAVI – Laughing So Hard, It Hurts [MAVI For Mayor Music / United Masters]
MAVI’s Laughing So Hard, It Hurts is a gentle marvel, one of the most mellow, quietly-profounding rap albums of the year. The 23-year-old is a quintessential wise-beyond-his-years wiz kid, loading up his brilliant follow-up to debut Let the Sun Talk with subdued beats and melancholic observations. His bars are cryptic, but emotions frequently burst through like flowers through rich and fertile soil. The dreamy poignance of the quietest tracks like “Doves” and “Hemlock” is vibrant slabs of reflective rap that are as relaxing as they are penetrating. Combined with MAVI’s elastic, expressive voice, this giddy tone makes Laughing So Hard, It Hurts both immensely likable and endlessly revisitable.
Armani Caesar – The Liz 2 [Griselda Records]
No month in contemporary hip-hop is complete without a new Griselda record, and this month sees the label drop the latest from recent signing Armani Caesar. The Buffalo native brings a distinct air of glamor to the murky gangster moods of Griselda. Like the film star from which The Liz 2 takes its name, these 17 tracks are decked out in an air of stylish allure. There’s a smoky, almost-erotic air to tracks like the seductive “Ice Age” or the tense interlude “Big Mood” that bleeds through to the more familiar and eerie boom-bap of “Mel Gibson” and “Survival of the Littest”. While the Griselda stable was far from running out of ideas, The Liz 2 has shot a renewed vitality into its cold-blooded veins.
Mach-Hommy, The God Fahim – Duck Czn: Tiger Style [Mach-Hommy, Inc.]
A surprise release by the revered Mach-Hommy and frequent collaborator Tha God Fahin, Duck Czn: Tiger Style is Hommy’s fifth full-length release of the year and possibly his best. These brief 26 minutes are far from the most ambitious or conceptually-grand rap album of the year, but within their brevity and focus lies the copious charm and lyrical props. The Your Old Droog-featuring “Blue Hill @ Stone Barns” leaves ample space within its minimal production for three brilliant verses, while “Chimay Blues” is among the moodiest and most subtly-menacing cuts of boom-bap you’ll hear all year. While not up to the standard of Hommy’s finest works, this is still a compelling and addictive collection.
Loyle Carner – HUGO [Universal]
To immediately clarify, this writer isn’t the biggest fan of Loyle Carner’s sleepy, subdued style of MCing. However, there’s no denying the cult fanbase that the South London rapper has built and the extraordinary lyrical insight on display across much of HUGO. “Blood on My Nikes” is a vivid reflection on knife crime, featuring a powerful speech from teenage activist Athian Akec, while opener “Hate” teems with anxieties and concerns regarding his status and the state of the world. Carner is a brilliant poet; it’s just a shame that his voice so often lacks a degree of expression and pathos.
Fatboi Sharif, noface – Preaching in Havana [Purple Tape Pedigree]
The boldest and most abstract release of this month’s bunch, Fatboi Sharif and noface have come up with a disturbing and surreal opus that pulls no punches. Featuring only the semblance of beats and drowned in layers of viscous effects, the soundscapes of especially-hallucinatory tracks like “1999 Hacker Worldwide” and “5G Celsius Tower” are dark, dank, and full of dead ends, trap doors, and staircases to nowhere. Sharif’s psychedelic bars are frequently-impenetrable and overflowing with strange imagery and complex allusions. It’s hard to sum up, but it is also an essential listen for fans of rap music at its most wilfully challenging.
Westside Gunn – 10 [Griselda Records / Empire]
Griselda head honcho Westside Gunn returns with 10, the second release by the label this month following Armani Ceasar’s equally-stellar The Liz 2. Gunn’s latest mixtape is an accomplished and gaudy collection, even by Griselda’s standards. Despite being a relatively low-key release, Gunn has thrown everything at his disposal at 10, from top-end production work from the Alchemist and RZA to guest features from Busta Rhymes, A$AP Rocky, Raekwon, and other huge names. Finishing it off is the ten-minute posse cut “Red Death”, which sees the whole Griselda staple let loose and drop reams of heat. This is Griselda at the top of its game, full of confidence and brio, and it’s a glorious thing to witness.