This month of hip-hop releases wasn’t as loaded as June, but we still got plenty of strong offerings. Drake’s Scorpion technically came out on June 29th, but the double-album basically broke the Billboard charts, Spotify, and all other measures of metrics throughout July so we’ll evaluate it for this month. After a long absence, Future dropped Beast Mode 2 — and also had his hand in curating the Superfly soundtrack, which stands atop the recent soundtrack heap next to the Black Panther soundtrack. Along with those major releases were debut projects from Buddy and 88Rising as well as the long awaited returns of Meek Mill and Queens collective World’s Fair.
It feels like The world has only just begun spinning again after Drake stopped everything with Scorpion, his latest album. On the heels of a massively successful string of hits — and a massively damaging diss track by Pusha T, of course Drake encapsulated his binary 2018 with a double album. The first part of the album, comprised of “rapper Drake,” had harrowing moments like “Sandra’s Rose,” but was mostly steeped in a pensive paranoia typified by “Mob Ties” and “Is There More.” That sullen moodiness only gave way to a different kind of gloom on the second half of lovelorn R&B tracks, including fan favorites like “In My Feelings” and “Nice For What.” It bears noticing that even the seemingly party-starting tracks on Scorpion showcase remnants of heartbreak (“In My Feelings”) and antagonism (“God’s Plan”), denoting that Drake is pretty lonely at the top.
The Toronto artist enjoys the most vast, diverse fanbase in hip-hop, which means there are fans who were only here for the “God’s Plan” vibes, or the “Emotionless” vibes, or the “In My Feelings” vibes, and are fatigued by everything else. While most critics and fans agree that Scorpion is bloated, few can agree on which songs to take off, because none are outright bad, but moreso, less preferable. A 27-track Drake album is bound to be polarizing because of his versatility and wide cross-section of fans, which, to quote The Wire’s Chris Partlow, is one of those “good problems.”
Future, Beast Mode 2
Speaking of good problems, Future forever has the world turning up to his inner turmoils, a circumstance that continues on Beast Mode 2. Though the appetizer for his upcoming album doesn’t have immersive moments like “Commas” or “March Madness,” it shows Future working his mojo over murky, thumping, trap burners produced by Zaytoven. The last Beast Mode was part of a triumvirate that reinvigorated his presence after the lukewarm reception to his Honest album, and Beast Mode 2 may prove to be a similar reclaim-the-throne moment for the artist who recently found himself off the Billboard chart for the first time in years.
Trap music needs a shot in the arm, and while Future’s tried and true formula may not be a breakthrough, songs like “Wifi Lit” and “DOH DOH” (with Young Scooter) are enough to keep the genre alive.
Meek Mill, Legends Of The Summer
The world is still awaiting Meek Mill’s full-length comeback to the game, but unfortunately he and his team are probably reticent to take that plunge based on still ongoing legal woes in a case that everyone, including his Judge Genece Brinkley’s own lawyer, thinks is open and shut. In the meantime, Meek offered his Legends Of The Summer EP, which matched his introspective “Stay Woke” track with uptempo bangers like the Swizz Beats-produced “Millidelphia” and the impossibly frenetic “1AM” — on which his flow harkens to his pre-MMG days with the Flamers series. If Meek is digging deep and taking it back to the essence like this, his album should definitely jump into contention for best of the year — whenever he’s able to comfortably put it out.
88Rising, Head In The Clouds
88Rising is a California-based hip-hop label whose entire existence speaks to hip-hop’s international breakthrough. Primarily comprised of Asian artists, the label is host to a range of talent, from the polarizing Rich Brian to Keith Ape and vocalist Joji. The crew’s versatility is on display throughout Head In The Clouds, their collective debut. With tracks like the breezy “Midsummer Madness” and the rock-influenced “Lover Boy 88,” they position themselves for future Top 40 success, while bangers like “Disrespectin,” “Japan 88,” and “Red Rubies” show off their knack for bangers with unique drum programming and funky synth play.
Head In The Clouds is a strong collection of tracks that smartly introduces many of the crew’s members in their wheelhouse and stokes anticipation for their eventual branch out into solo work.
Buddy, Harlan & Alondra
Compton is slowly becoming just as known for thoughtful, coming-of-age poetics as it is primal G-Funk from Dr. Dre. Buddy is a big part of that equation with work like Harlan & Alondra, his debut album which deftly explores how his Compton upbringing molded him. His tremendous talent is evident throughout the album, tongue-twisting with A$AP Ferg on “Black,” then melodically riding the dreamy, funky canvas of “The Blue,” which features Snoop Dogg. On “Trouble On Central,” he manages to make his wistful lamentations sound butter smooth, exemplifying that the Compton streets like Harlan & Alondra were tough to get through — but he just did, while groovin’ on the other side.
World’s Fair, New Lows
Seven-man Queens collective World’s Fair recently released their New Lows album after a five year hiatus. They didn’t suddenly get back together and piece New Lows together, however. After crafting three other albums, they got with producers NOLIFE and, headed to Grangeville, New York, and resolved to meld their collective influences into a truly unique sonic experience. The beauty of New Lows lies in its percussion. The expertly crafted drums lead the way for melodies to hypnotically float along like on “Win4” or creep around the crevices of thumping kick drums like “Denny Devito.” They radiate an understated menace. They’re stilted. They unfurl with intrigue throughout the 13 tracks, allowing the perfect canvas for the group to weave verses in and out and keep the proceedings fresh.
The squad made a smart curatorial decision to limit certain tracks to just three members, as each track feels whole without the bogging down that can happen with such a large collective. World’s Fair member Nasty Nigel noted in their recent interview with us that they longed to “transcend and become artists” on New Lows — and they hit a high mark.
Freeway, Think Free
Quiet as kept, Jay-Z and Kanye aren’t the only Roc-a-fella relationship where the protege favorably compares to the master. Freeway has arguably surpassed State Property general Beanie Sigel with a catalog full of introspective, lyrically spectacular albums that show off his mastery of flow. Think Free is the latest project from Philly Freezer, and it may be his most impressive effort given that it was recorded in the midst of him taking dialysis as he waits for a new kidney.
The blood-cleaning process can be exhausting, but Freeway’s artistry and ferocious delivery comes across as it always has throughout the 13 track project, on songs like “Blood Pressure” where he lets the youth know the risks of carrying anger, and resolved that through it all he’s “Blessed” to be able to share his story with the world. Freeway has always had a spiritual quandary as a Muslim partaking in a rap industry that’s the antithesis of what Allah wants for his followers, but Think Free is a positive effort that can serve to educate and invigorate the youth of in Philly and beyond.
ReTcH, After The Verdict
In March, New Jersey rhymer ReTcH aka Retchy P officially beat an armed robbery case that could have effectively torpedoed his rap career. Luckily for him and his fans, he’s securely out on the pavement, and released his After The Verdict project. While his abrasive, choppy delivery may be hard for some to decipher, it works amid After The Verdict’s sinister production. On “Made It Out,” he celebrates freedom along with fellow recently released Jersey rhymer — and recuperating battle rap standout — Tsu Surf. The project doesn’t delve too deeply into his feelings post-trial, but serves to re-institute ReTcH’s unique, poetically nihilistic presence in the rap game.
Future-Curated Superfly Soundtrack
After what seems like a dearth of strong album soundtracks, we got hit with two this year. Earlier this year, TDE’s masterfully curated Black Panther soundtrack met the expectations of the massively anticipated and consumed Marvel film. This time, Future helmed the formation of the sprawling soundtrack for Director Little X’s Superfly remake, featuring a hoard of and in-demand artists. From the melodic “No Shame” featuring Future and PartyNextDoor to the retrospective “That’s How I Grew Up” with G Herbo and 21 Savage, Future (and project co-MVP Young Thug) help create the perfect 808-driven soundscape to channel the high-stakes, high-risk depiction of modern Atlanta that Superfly presents.
Freddie Gibbs, Freddie
Don’t get the ‘70s soul-channeling artwork of Freddie confused: He’s as grimey as ever on what could be his penultimate offering. Freddie’s atmospheric, trap-influenced beats are the ideal foil for him to double and triple-time flow gritty street tales. Freddie excels at being one of the few rappers with a melodic flow that’s still heavily centered in the craft of rapping and lyrical precision. He’s not entirely sing-songy, but he’s not losing listeners by trying to drill you in the head with monotonous bars. His N.W.A-sampling “Death Row” (featuring 03 Greedo) is a prime example, as he gets the party going — but still lets his lyricism shine.
Other Freddie standouts include “Set Set,” “Triple Threat’ and “2 Legit,” which employs a majestic Mary J. Blige that subtly nestles under his thick, gravelly voice. While Gibbs fans may have longed for the more traditionalist production that he also excels on, Freddie is yet another strong exhibition of Gangsta Gibbs at his best.