This month’s best hip-hop selection is among the easiest we’ve ever had to assemble. Several releases (billy woods, Freddie Gibbs) will surely feature in our end-of-year roundup, while others have been either long-anticipated (LMD) or feel wholly intuitive (Rome Streetz’ Griselda debut). It features works by artists from both sides of the Atlantic (as well as one trip much further afield), each of whom utilizes myriad different styles and approaches. All of which is to say that this month’s selection is an especially strong bunch. We hope you find much here to enjoy.
billy woods – Church [Backwoodz Studioz]
In the space of six months, billy woods has released two contenders for best hip-hop album of 2022. Following up the dark, dense and electrifying Aethiopes comes his surprise-released latest Church. This one’s a little more straightforward, yet sacrifices none of the abstract wordplay and intricate production that woods has become known for. The level of emotion here is what really surprises, with “Pollo Rico” and “All Jokes Aside” in particular featuring stirring some sound design and hard-hitting imagery. Pure brilliance from an artist at the top of his game.
LMD – Flying High [Bang Ya Head ENT]
A supergroup team-up album that’s been in the works since 2010, LMD’s debut Flying High is an effortless Cali rap delight. Comprised of rappers M.E.D, Declaime, LMNO, and producer Madlib, Flying High is by turns funky, smoked-out, and gently off-kilter. Madlib’s production makes it really pop, from the hyphy-like bounce of “Steppers” and “High Stakes” to the sample-built brilliance of “Super” and highlight “Kool”. Each of the three unique MCs leave a unique impression, combing to create a timeless album overflowing with charisma.
Sampa the Great – As Above, So Below [Loma Vista Recordings]
An idiosyncratic outing from the Zambia-born, Australia-based Sampa the Great; As Above, So Below is a bolder and more eclectic effort than the excellent previous full-length The Return. Recorded in Zambia over the space of just two weeks, tracks like “Never Forget” and “Can I Live?” combine African rhythms and textures from numerous different eras into a thrillingly-unique fusion. Her singular voice and rapping skills shine on cuts like “IDGAF” and “Lo Rain”, while stellar guest features including Denzel Curry, Joey BadA$$, and Kojey Radical make As Above, So Below an unpredictable and enormously-compelling work.
Freddie Gibbs – $oul $old $eparately [Warner Records]
Lauded by many rap fans as one of the best in the game, Freddie Gibbs’ much-anticipated $oul $old $separately offers nothing to dissuade these claims regarding his talents. Gibbs’ technical prowess is endlessly-inventive, with every track offering sharp evidence of his intuitive ability to decouple from the instrumental while never losing sight of its rhythm or direction. Highlights include the resplendent, Rick Ross-featuring “Lobster Omelette”, the moody, Pusha T-featuring “Gold Rings” and the relentless vocal gymnastics of “Space Rabbit”. An essential listen for fans of modern hip-hop.
Greentea Peng – Greenzone 108 [Universal]
The latest mixtape from London’s versatile Greentea Peng, Greenzone 108 is another laidback, eclectic triumph oozing with compelling personality. Peng’s fusion of hip-hop, jazz, neo-soul, and reggae is brought together in a wholly effortless collision. The instrumentation is surprisingly full-bodied for a mixtape, featuring string flourishes (“Stuck In The Middle”), guitar riffs (“Your Mind”), and visceral bass (“Bun Tough”). Greentea Peng herself is the glue that holds it together, guiding the vibrant music via her unique rap singing, with “Lose My Mind” an especially commanding example of her skills.
Pink Siifu & Real Bad Man – Real Bad Flights [Real Bad Man Records]
Real Bad Flights’ elevator pitch is incredible: a psychedelic stoner rap album using air travel as its central lyrical motif. The latest from the restlessly-creative Pink Siifu and his first full-length with L.A. producer Real Bad Man, Real Bad Flights adroitly fuses kaleidoscopic production with Siifu’s singular wordplay. The guest features are right at the forefront of modern experimental rap (including Armand Hammer, Boldly James, and Ioji), while Real Bad Man’s sampladelic production stands out. Highlights include “Tokyo Blunts”’s blend of heavy bass and ethereal flutes, as well as “Off the Plane’s” seductive seventies funk. A cohesive and confident release that casts an intoxicating spell.
Coby Sey – Conduit [AD 93]
Coby Sey’s remarkable Conduit is this month’s most strikingly unique release. The London rapper’s debut has been intriguingly described as a ‘post-grime’ album. The angular expressionist grit of these nine tracks certainly feel like a deconstructed take on grime, with some trip-hop atmospheres and industrial rap textures also thrown into the mix. Sey’s voice itself isn’t especially expressive, acting more as abstract spoken word than rapping. The album’s bold production is what makes it really special though, from the disorientating beats of “Dial Square (Comfort)” to the fractured techno of “Night Ride”. A distinctive debut from an artist with enormous potential.
Nicholas Craven & Boldy James – Fair Exchange No Robbery [Nicolas Craven Productions]
Boldy James is one of this column’s favorite contemporary rappers, a fandom strengthened by the white-hot productive streak he’s currently riding. His second full-length of the year Fair Exchange No Robbery is more low-key than some of his recent masterclasses but is nonetheless still bursting at the seams with his usual verbal brilliance. His and Canadian underground producer Nicholas Craven’s sensibilities sync up perfectly on cinematic highlights such as “Stuck in Traffic” and “Monterey Jack”. Here’s hoping these two collaborate again in the near future.
Ka – Languish Arts & Woeful Studies [Independent]
Ka is among the most beloved modern cult rappers. The Brooklyn native’s latest two albums were dropped without warning on the same day and are currently unavailable on streaming platforms. Digesting two albums might sound intimidating, but Languish Arts and Woeful Studies are two sides of the same coin, both as reflective, poignant, and low-key as the other. Ka is one of the most soulful and emotionally-intelligent rappers out there, and every cut across this hour of new music features copious insights. Like all Ka releases there’s a lot crammed in, which makes Languish Arts and Woeful Studies endlessly revisitable examples of the art of deep, somber hip-hop.
Rome Streetz – KISS THE RING [Griselda Records / EMPIRE]
Rome Streetz’s first full-length since signing to the esteemed Griselda Records, KISS THE RING also might just be his finest hour. You get the feeling that Rome Streetz has crafted these seventeen tracks to be his masterpiece, and it’s hard to argue with him. The production veers from eerie (“Tyson Beckford”) to relaxed (“Long Story Short”), while numerous tracks around its midpoint eschew beats in favor of textured samples. Rome Streetz is the focal point at the album’s center, firing off confident bars and going toe to toe with established Griselda guest stars like Westside Gunn and Benny the Butcher. He was clearly destined for Griselda, and KISS THE RING vehemently cements his place within their notable canon.