Unknown T Adolescence
Unknown T

Hip-Hop Matters: The Best New Hip-Hop of July 2021

These are the best hip-hop albums released this July, including new LPs from Dave, Tkay Maidza, Declaime x Madlib, Unknown T, and John Glacier.

DJ Muggs & Hologram – American Cheese

DJ Muggs Hologram

Not the most well-known name in hip-hop, but a consistent figure in his scene – Hologram came up through the Outdoorsmen crew with Action Bronson and Meyhem Lauren under the original moniker Jay Steele. DJ Muggs needs no introduction. The Cypress Hill DJ has enjoyed something of a creative resurgence over the last few years, producing work for respected youngsters such as Crimeapple, Tha God Fahim, and Mach-Hommy.

American Cheese is a slice of the purest batch of modern East Coast underground hip-hop. Muggs produces beats that sit at two poles – eerie, modern boom-bap, or lightly experimental cinematic grandeur. “Moon Rocks” and “Colors” combine these two polarities to produce hugely enjoyable, if seriously dark, album highlights. Hologram’s lyrics feature copious references to gritty New York life and some poetic surprises – specifically the ecclesiastical “Black”. American Cheese is a straight-up essential listen for fans of the Griselda sound currently dominating East Coast hip-hop.

Unknown T – Adolescence (Island Records)

Unknown T

For readers not based in the UK – drill music has become something of a moral panic here, to the point that London’s Metropolitan Police commissioner has singled out the genre as an instigator of violent crime in the city. It’s an old and flawed argument – violent art is not the cause of social violence but a mirror, in drill’s case a mirror held up to an era of government austerity that has left the poorest further impoverished and seething with rage. Unknown T is currently the leading name in the controversial genre, and his latest mixtape Adolescence makes a vital and explosive case for the genre’s artistry.

Unknown T’s voice is itself a thing of wonder. Elastic, effortless, and infused with the slang and patois of inner-city London, it’s endlessly engaging and likable. Adolescence puts it to engrossing use, from the shatterproof rhymes of lead singles “WW2” and “Goodums” to the thoughtful and surprisingly sweet “Sweet Lies” and “Bible Love”. This is the sound of the future, and it deserves to be embraced rather than close-mindedly admonished.

John Glacier – SHILOH: Lost For Words (Plz Make It Ruins)

John Glacier

Released on Frank Ocean-producer Vegyn’s PLZ Make It Ruins label, SHILOH: Lost For Words is an intimate, minimal bedroom rap album that, while not precisely fully formed, indicates enormous promise from its creator. Over two years, Glacier recorded SHILOH: Lost For Words in Vegyn’s studio, and its lush, crystalline production is a thing of real beauty. “Green Elephants Freestyle” is a hazy, psychedelic trip, “Boozy” is bright and colorful like a blue sky atop a city skyline, while “Cryptomensia’s” IDM synths cascade like digital waterfalls.

Glacier’s rhymes are diaristic and intimate, unconcerned with grand statements or profundity. She supposedly chose her stage name because she’s “icy”, and her laconic, unhurried drawl indicates a cool, confident demeanor. “Icing” and “Trelawny Waters” feature some of the most complex rhymes, and these are the moments where Glacier really comes alive. Still, there’s enough engrossing introspection in more minimal cuts like “Timing” to show that Glacier doesn’t need to pin herself down to any one flow or style.

Lee Scott & Hyroglifics – [gate clicks shut] (Blah Records)

Lee Scott

Lee Scott and the Blah Records roster are one of the best-kept secrets in the world of hip-hop. All possess an arsenal of dark and witty rhymes, backed by production that creeps and crawls, conjuring an atmosphere of heady, intoxicated paranoia. Scott is the label’s co-owner as well as its most prolific member, although a whole cult of like-minded rappers has formed around the company, including Black Josh, Milkavelli, Hock Tu Down, and numerous others.

[gate clicks shut] is the latest release of Scott’s highly prolific career. This time around, he’s working with Hyroglifics – a well-known drum and bass producer. The pair have come together to create Scott’s self-described “least accessible album”. This description is only semi-true, given the fact that nothing that Scott does is especially accessible. Hyroglifics does an excellent job crafting the signature Blah murky beats, while Scott himself is in fine form, highlighted by his razor-sharp bars on album standouts “Sacrificial Goat” and Guy Savelli”.

Various Artists – Young Dolph Presents Paper Route Illuminati (Paper Route Empire)

A combination of mixtape, label sampler, and collaboration album, Young Dolph Presents Paper Route Illuminati is, above all, an intoxicating introduction to some of the strongest artists at work on the contemporary Memphis hip-hop scene. Featuring alumni from Dolph’s Paper Route Empire label as well as newcomers SNUPE BANDZ, Big Unccc, and several others, this 78-minute behemoth is rife with bouncy Southern rhythms, engaging personalities, and dexterous rhymes.

The lengthy, 23 track run-time means there are high and low points across Young Dolph Presents Paper Route Illuminati. However the former vastly outweighs the latter, and even the weaker tracks are never dull. Certain members make especially strong impressions. SNUPE BANDZ is responsible for two of the album’s strongest tracks – “Remember” and “Trust Nobody”, as is the ridiculously charismatic Joddy Badass who appears on the posse cut “Dance” and the solo anthem “333”. Young Dolph Presents Paper Route Illuminati is pure southern hip-hop entertainment and features a number of names who look all set to explode.