Here Are Three Hip-Hop Records I've Had in Heavy Rotation the Past Few Weeks
Denzel Curry, Vince Staples, and another phenomenal outing from billy woods are highlights of the year.
It’s been a busy few months around here, and dammit, I missed Tuesday’s fresh music review. With schedules clearing up, I look forward to digging back in next week. In the meantime, here’s a quick look at some outstanding new records I’ve had on repeat the past few weeks.
Enjoy your weekend!
I’ve noted a few times in 2022’s early months that the hip-hop scene lacks great new releases, but April looks to be changing this just in time for the warmer weather that begs for memorable beats.
Denzel Curry is never one to repeat himself, morphing into something completely different with each release. While I appreciated his balls to the wall effort with Kenny Beats on UNLOCKED, his latest, Melt My Eyez See Your Future, is easily his best effort since 2019’s ZUU. Blending 90s throwback beats from the genre’s golden age with biting verses about living as a black man in turbulent times, the Miami rapper ditches the mosh pit for flowing introspection. Curry brings along a handful of top collaborators, including Thundercat, JPEGMAFIA, and Robert Glasper, to produce. Sure, T-Pain and slowthai show up (“Zatoichi” and its samurai feel is a highlight), but it’s great to hear Saul Williams again for a poetic verse on “Mental.”
I’ve read enough “how is Vince Staples still (relatively) underrated?” articles over the past few weeks, so I’ll spare you. Instead, let’s talk about how his latest, RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART, and how it’s his best since Big Fish Theory. Staples's upbringing in Long Beach and Compton is always a reliable subject for the now veteran rapper, but RAMONA PARK sounds like the first time he may be over this, looking to turn the page. Full of singles like the hooky “MAGIC,” the almost love song in “WHEN SPARKS FLY,” and “EAST POINT PRAYER,” whose intro wouldn’t sound out of place on Bon Iver’s i,i record, RAMONA PARK benefits from its lengthy runtime (for Vince Staples standards). Last year’s self-titled effort didn’t click with me like the rest of his work, but RAMONA PARK effortlessly toes the line between that record’s self-seriousness and the lighter vibes found on FM!.
Best of the bunch is Aethiopes by the prolific New York rapper billy woods. Last heard working with Elucid as the long-running Armand Hammer on last year’s excellent Haram, here woods elects to collaborate with producer Preservation, who pulls samples from a global treasure trove to give the record its eerie undertones. It’s a fantastic pairing with woods lyrically exploring the scars of slavery, immigration, and ideas of both new and old Africa. At the same time, Preservation provides an almost hallucinogenic yet minimalist pallet full of traditional African percussion. The front half deliciously slithers, but Aethiopes' b-side keeps me coming back. Beginning with the claustrophobic Rembrandt album cover, there are references to Dutch colonialism throughout, and woods elects to give “Haarlem,” the Dutch settlement spelling for the neighborhood that would become Black America’s cultural mecca with erratic jazz sampling. The dubbed-out “Versailles” through closer “Smith + Cross” is one of the most captivating runs of the year, as each song flows to the next. If this universe of abstract hip-hop is your thing, you can’t miss the features on Aethiopes from Boldy James, Quelle Chris, El-P, and more. This is one that keeps giving - a complex record full of multiple timelines and narratives that will have you digging up something new with each listen.
Have a hip-hop record from this year that you want to recommend? Let me know if any have fallen through the cracks.