Hip-hop is a fast-moving genre. Constantly changing, constantly innovating – it seemingly never slows down to catch its breath. Whereas other genres are content to reanimate old styles, hip-hop rarely occupies this retro/revivalist space. Instead, it continuously barrels forward, doing the challenging but essential cultural work of carving out the future.
The releases cited here are all incredibly potent examples of hip-hop’s future-mindedness. From Tkay Maidza’s experimental pop to Unknown T’s sinister and violent drill, these works are all singular and vital. They reflect the sound of the contemporary cultural landscape rather than reanimating bygone forms.
The world is getting faster by the day, and hip-hop is the best lens through which to view this accelerationism. We hope you enjoy the releases selected here and that they give you some confidence in the potential of the future.
Dave – We’re All Alone in This Together (Neighbourhood)
It’s remarkable to think of all that London’s Dave has accomplished. The 23-year old’s 2019 debut Psychodrama broke numerous records and won every award it was nominated for, and it’s hard not to see this follow-up garnering the same response. Even more ambitious and versatile than his excellent debut, We’re All Alone in This Together is the thunderous sound of the young auteur throwing down a gauntlet.
Bar the hollow materialism of the Stormzy-featuring “Clash”, We’re Alone in This Together is rich with nuance and insights. “Three Rivers” empathetically portrays the immigrant experience. Meanwhile, the fantastic posse cut “In the Fire” sees its contributors (Giggs, Fredo, Ghetts, and Meekz) adroitly commenting on the state of contemporary UK race relations. Then there’s “Heart Attack”, the album’s pièce de résistance. Across its cinematic nine minutes, Dave delivers one of the most poignant pieces of spoken-word poetry you’ll hear all year. It’s a remarkable album, yet what’s most exciting is you get the sense that Dave still has so much more to give.
Issa Gold – Tempus (Overland Hills Records)
As introspective and personal as hip-hop comes, Tempus is a mini-odyssey through the crevices of Issa Gold’s consciousness. As one half of Brooklyn duo the Underachievers, Gold has spent his career creating colorful and vibrant hip-hop, a combination frequently referred to as ‘psychedelic’. If the purpose of a psychedelic trip is to reach a state of deep self-awareness and understanding, then Tempus is the sound of Gold double-dropping and blowing open the doors of perception.
A relaxed and deeply melancholic album, Tempus is rife with lazy drums, mellow guitar licks, and dreamy keys. Gold’s day job sees him pursue a more uptempo and aggressive style, so it’s little wonder he’s gone solo for this calmer, more contemplative project. “Withdrawn” is a string-lead tear-jerker, “Fictions” is rich with philosophical insights, while album highlight “Options” reckons with life and all its complications. Tempus is a true gift of an album packed with insight, warmth, and sensitivity.
Tkay Maidza – Last Year Was Weird Vol. 3 (4AD)
The third installment of her Last Year Was Weird series of mini-album/EP’s, Australia’s Tkay Maidza, has ended the already-stellar trilogy on its strongest note. Last Year Was Weird Vol. 3 is as eclectic as its predecessors, perhaps even more so, yet it’s also more commanding and confidently performed. Every one of its eight tracks has the potential to become a hit single, and you get the sense that it’s only a matter of time before we see Maidza ascending the worldwide charts.
The versatility on display across Last Year Was Weird Vol. 3 is simply breathtaking. The three middle tracks offer some of the hardest, bass-leaden modern hip-hop you’ll hear this year, particularly the infectious and club-ready bangers “Syrup” and “Kim”. The opening and closing tracks offer a strong counter-balance, with “Cashmere” an especially gorgeous and thoughtful cut. If this is the end of Tkay Maidza’s Last Year trilogy, then it’s one hell of a note to go out on and leaves you giddy at the prospect of where she might go next.
Declaime x Madlib – In the Beginning Vol. 1 (SomeOthaShip)
Declaime and Madlib go way back. The two grew up on the same street and have collaborated countless times throughout their respective careers. Declaime is an underground grinder, putting out albums almost every year since the turn of the millennium. Producer Madlib has achieved enormous fame for his work with MF Doom, his Quasimoto alter ego, and the iconic Shades of Blue project. In the Beginning Vol. 1 collects the duo’s collaborations from the early stage of their respective careers, spanning thirteen previously-unreleased tracks produced between 1993-1996.
In the Beginning Vol. 1 is raw, but herein lies its copious charm. There’s a dusty, unpolished quality to these cuts that gives them the feeling of a find as if the listener is the first person in twenty-five years to pull the white labels out of storage. The overall tone is familiar West Coast boom-bap; however, there’s an omnipresent, subtle sense of experimentation. “Wake Up” is an eerie, Cypress Hill-esque head-nodder, while “Outrose” is an early example of Madlib’s penchant for chopped-up, sample-heavy production. In the Beginning Vol. 1 is a gem of a release for hip-hop heads and is further proof (if any was needed) of its creator’s genius.
Rejjie Snow – Baw Baw Black Sheep (BMG)
Irish rapper Rejjie Snow has described Baw Baw Black Sheep as a homage to the formative films of his childhood, explicitly citing 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. That makes it easy to describe Baw Baw Black Sheep as “a world of pure imagination”. Despite its black and white cover, the Dublin native’s sophomore full-length emulates that film’s tone of sensory extravaganza – similarly brimming with color, soul, and eccentricity.
The laidback, jazzy, and lightly experimental tone invites similarities to contemporaries like R.A.P. Ferreira and Hemlock Ernst but also stretches further back to the gentle eclecticism of legends like Blu & Exile and Mikah 9. Highlights include the delicate and upbeat “Cookie Chips” (which features one of MF Doom’s final recorded verses), the kinetic “Shooting Star”, and the vibrant rhythms of “Mirrors”. The experimental tone is ever-present, but it never feels obtuse or jarring, just complimentary to the jazzy instrumentation and Snow’s quirky skills. A highlight of this month for sure.