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Nas Kings Disease

Hip-Hop Matters: The Best Hip-Hop Albums of August 2021

The ten best hip-hop albums of August 2021 reveal truths about our strange, alarming but often exciting contemporary socio-cultural landscape.

Trippie Redd – Trip at Knight (1400 Entertainment)

Trippie Redd - Trip at Knight

Similarly colorful, though decidedly less refined, is Trippie Redd’s Trip at Knight. A sequel to Redd’s 2018 debut Life’s a Trip, the Ohio rapper’s fourth full-length sees him make an exhilarating move into the burgeoning ‘hypertrap’ style. To clarify, hypertrap blends hyperpop and trap, utilizing trap’s rolling beats and Auto-Tuned vocals but with bright synths and hyperactive, chiptune-esque melodies layered on top. It’s a wild blend, but one that makes for a bold, maximalist, and excitingly futuristic concoction.

At 18 tracks long and landing just ten months after Redd’s previous album – the comparably-dull Pegasus – there’s a sense that Trip at Knight is a little too much of a good thing. There are a few forgettable tracks here, but when it works best, as on the over-the-top “MP5” or “Matt Hardy 999” (which makes excellent use of Juice Wrld’s emotive vocals), Trip at Knight is intoxicatingly enjoyable. This is the sound of the future, and it’s a complicated, strange, and thrilling place.

Kam-Bu – Black on Black (Atlas Artists)

Kam-Bu - Black on Black

South London’s Kam-Bu is hard to pin down. His lyrics shift from traditional hip-hop braggadocio to socially conscious in the blink of an eye, often pairing the two next to each to provide sharp, incisive contrasts. Sonically, Black on Black’s ambitious and unique production flirts with drill, grime, and trap but never quite settles on any. The tone is close to experimental UK rap artists of recent years like House of Pharaohs, Flohio, and early 808INK – urgent, confident, and vibrantly alive.

Across its ten tracks, Black on Black tests the waters of busy grime (“Dumpling”), cold drill (“Are You In”), reflective hip-hop (“Plane Ahead”), and even a heartfelt skit featuring Kam-Bu’s grandfather (“Grandad (Skit)”). Most impressive, though, is how Kam-Bu weaves these disparate styles into a coherent whole. Nothing across Black on Black’s ten tracks feels out of place or misjudged, just remarkably well-rounded and crafted with clear clarity of vision. Kam-Bu is one to watch.

Westside Gunn – Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely Adolf (Griselda Records)

Westside Gunn - Hitler Wears Hermes 8

Another month, another Griselda album. This month there are two – Griselda founder Westside Gunn drops his newest mixtapes Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely Adolf alongside Benny the Butcher’s Pyrex Picasso. Gunn’s is the stronger of the two, a musky, jazz-inflected boom-bap delight rife with all the Griselda hallmarks. The New York label have become a powerhouse in contemporary hip-hop, dragging boom-bap into the present day and loading it with their brand of recognizable and iconic hallmarks.

Bragging, gangster lyrics? Check. Name drops of luxury brands? Check. Eerie yet laid-back production? Check. Though Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely Adolf will be hugely familiar to Griselda fans, its main hallmark is an incredibly jazzy production style. “Margiela Split Toes” features warm, melancholic trumpets, while “Westheimer” chops up beatless horns and keys – a mode that will also be familiar to fans of the label. There’s not much here that’s new, but it’s yet another jewel in the crown of these genre kings.

GRIP – I Died For This? (Shady Records)

GRIP - I Died For This

As GRIP declares on “And the Eulogy Read!?” – I Died For This? is him “bouncing back with his magnum opus”. Until now, his career has been defined by stops and starts. His first two albums were acclaimed but under-heard, then his first nationwide tour was postponed due to the pandemic. Signing to Eminem’s Shady Records has provided a lifeline, one that I Died For This? more than proves that GRIP deserves. His debut for the label is packed with personality, originality, and intelligence, one hugely conscious of the journey that led to its creation.

The brilliant “Enem3?” reckons with self-destruction, exemplified by the memorable chorus hook: “You’d set yourself on fire for a lonely view / That’s why the enemy is you.” “A Soldier’s Story” is eloquently self-conscious, a ball of nervous energy disguised as a cold-as-ice boom-bap track. Even the bass-heavy trap anthem “Momma Told Me” is self-aware and conscious of life’s complications. I Died For This? features insightful lyrics, eclectic production, and one of Eminem’s best verses in some years, in short – an all-around stellar album.

Kanye West – Donda (GOOD Music/Def Jam Recordings)

Kanye West - Donda

You might have heard of this one. Ye spent six weeks teasing the album’s release, utilizing some spectacular listening parties as a means of testing out the album’s content. When it was finally released (according to West without his approval), the response was deeply conflicted – praised for its lyrical introspection but also deemed unwieldy and indulgent. A track featuring Marilyn Manson and DaBaby (who were also brought out at a listening party) was axed but nevertheless resulted in some more than justified criticism.

Certain moments on this 27-track, one hundred and eight-minute leviathan really work. “Remote Control” is widescreen and melancholic, while closer “Jesus Lord Pt. 2” is genuinely gripping – spiritually transcendent and impressively self-aware for this famous megalomaniac. Unfortunately, many Donda tracks feel like filler and are lacking in focus, as if they’ve been chopped and changed and relentlessly overthought. Donda is still an essential listen, though, primarily for just how well it manages to reflect the current tenor of Western society – vulnerable, confused, and cacophonous.