In the wild future we currently inhabit, hip-hop has become perhaps the most progressive popular musical style. In correlation, the genre has become remarkably diverse, to the point where it’s tough even to collate such different sounds under one all-encompassing term. This column attempts to plot a trajectory of where music labeled ‘hip-hop’, or more simply ‘rap music’ is headed. However, it is never easy. The genre is ever-shifting, ever-developing, and ever-expanding.
These are September’s 12 best albums in the genre currently known as ‘hip-hop’. They represent all that it’s done, plenty of what it’s doing, and some of where it’s headed.
Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
A dense work even by its ambitious creator’s lofty standards, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a lush and grandiose work that sees Little Simz ascend to contemporary hip-hop royalty. Rife with warm samples and ornate strings that make a compelling contrast with Simz’s relaxed and highly controlled flow, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a soulful delight – one that is guaranteed to be sitting pretty on more than a few ‘best of 2021’ lists come to the end of the year.
Damu the Fudgemunk – Conversation Peace
There’s a charmingly timeless quality to Damu the Fudgemunk’s Conversation Peace. On his latest album, the Washington DC producer digs into the KPM Originals library, layering their wealth of decades-old soundscapes atop his easy-going boom-bap, in the process crafting a psychedelic jazz-rap album for the ages. Featuring contributions from Blu, Raw Poetic, and Nitty Scott, the album culminates with the four-part “For Better and for Worse” – a mini-masterpiece of serene and thoughtful psychedelic hip-hop.
E L U C I D & Von Pea – Dirtee Deacon (In T.S.O. Pea)
Similarly colorful, though decidedly more experimental, is E L U C I D and Von Pea’s Dirtee Deacon (In T.S.O. Pea). E L U C I D is quietly making a name for himself as one of the world’s most interesting (and prolific) underground rappers. His collaboration here with Von Pea, which was actually recorded a decade ago, is a reminder that he’s been at the top of his game for some time. Highlights such as “Safety Is an Illusion” and “Nebuchadnezzar” sound cutting-edge even compared to some of today’s most abstract boom-bap rappers.
Injury Reserve – By the Time I Get to Phoenix
Injury Reserve’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix is one of the most (justifiably) acclaimed albums of the year, with one or two reviewers using ‘post-rap’ to describe its abstract, free-form strangeness. While numerous groups throughout hip-hop history could have been tagged with this term, it does a solid job explaining the deconstructed madness of Injury Reserve’s second studio album. Released in the wake of founding member Stepa J. Groggs’ death, By the Time I Get to Phoenix is a wild, jarring, and often profoundly affecting ride.
Lil Nas X – Montero
Montero’s most outstanding achievement is its ability to be both entertaining and progressive in equal, effortless measure. It’s among the most defiantly queer albums ever made in the hip-hop and pop genres, yet this quality never feels forced or shoehorned. Lil Nas X is in total command of his identity and rapidly developing craft, which he uses to imbue Montero with a hugely impressive tonal variety. From the world-beating lead single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” to the sultry anthem “Scoop” to the reflective closing tracks, this is a pop-rap album for the ages.
M1llionz – Provisional License
Drill is rapidly becoming the UK’s predominant contemporary mode of rap music. Following stellar 2021 full-lengths by Unknown T and Digga D comes M1llionz’ Provisional License – an immersive and visceral ride through the darkest crevices of its creators’ consciousness. A loose concept album, Provisional License, sees M1illionz reflecting on his impoverished upbringing, jail time, and the struggles to succeed in spite of the hand you’ve been dealt. Its 12 tracks are lean, focused, and muscular, the highlight being “Air BnB” – a fiery collaboration with fellow drill king Headie One.