April was a great month for hip-hop. Of course, the conversation about this month begins and ends with Kendrick Lamar, who’s album DAMN. dominated the charts in a way that hasn’t been matched by anyone thus far in 2017. Over 600,000 units sold. A full 100 racks more than his nemesis/not-nemesis Drake. Lamar’s pre-release track “Humble,” was also certified as his first overall No. 1 single ever. Every single other song on the album also entered Billboard’s Hot 100 as well, which is just an incredible feat to consider.
As an occupant of planet Earth, you could barely roll down the street, walk through a mall, or eat in a restaurant without hearing the words, “I got, I got, I got, I got / Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA,” or a Kid Capri drop, or Bono crooning about America somewhere in the distance. Kenny Fu Kenny reigned comfortably as King.
Of course, Kendrick is just the tip of the iceberg. There was a ton of great single that came out from all sub-genres and corners of the country. Whether you’re into Trap, vintage-style boom-bap, pop, or something more in the R&B realm, there was a little something for everyone to enjoy this month. There were more flute tracks, a bevy of Frank Ocean loosies, the return of Young Thug, the return of Big Boi, and what might be one of the final new pieces of music we get to hear from Kevin Gates for a while.
Here’s some of the best tracks that April had to offer.
Kendrick Lamar — “DNA”
Like I said, April starts and ends with Kendrick Lamar. “DNA,” was the second single from DAMN., and in my humble opinion, it was the superior cut. Especially coming right after the jarring, woozy opening track “Blood,” this song packs a punch that will get you screaming, “You’s a, you’s a, you’s a b*tch!” at the top of your lungs. That Don Cheadle-starring video was incredible too.
Kevin Gates — “What If”
A reinterpretation of sorts of the classic ‘90s Joan Osborne pop hit, “One Of Us,” Kevin Gates reminded us that even though he’s locked up, he still one of the most compelling voices in all of hip-hop. It’s a real shame that this might be the last we hear of him for a long time, after he was sentenced to 30 months in prison on weapons charges in Illinois.
YG — “Pop It, Shake It”
There’s hardly been a more dynamic pairing in rap over the last few years than YG and DJ Mustard, so it was welcome news to learn that the pair are back in the lab making new music once again. There’s just something about the way YG raps about frivolity over Mustard’s signature handclaps and synth lines that just feels right. Hopefully they drop the new album sooner rather than later.
Calvin Harris — “Heatstroke” (Featuring Young Thug, Pharrell and Ariana Grande)
I don’t know how Calvin Harris has the kind of juice it takes to pull Thugger, Pharrell and Ariana Grande together on the same track, I’m just happy to hear that he isn’t wasting their talents. “Heatstroke” is the perfect windows down, cruising down the highway at 60 MPH on a warm Summer’s day kind of song.
Wizkid — “Come Closer” (Featuring Drake)
A return of the partnership that spawned the best-selling single of all of 2016 “One Dance.” For those that aren’t familiar with him, Wizkid is Nigerian singer-songwriter whose helped Drake inject some serious afrobeat vibes into some of his most recent material. Drizzy returns the favor on this single, singing about familiar themes like being, “too mixed up in drama to go outside.” Who hurt you Drake?
Desiigner — “Thank God I Got It” (Featuring Mitus)
While he hasn’t produced anything that’s come close to achieving the same kind of stunning success he achieved with “Panda,” – “Timmy Turner” has come the closest — Desiigner has rather quietly been putting together some pretty interesting material. The G.O.O.D. Music artist put out two different songs this month this one and another one called “Up.” The latter track is more polished, but I appreciate the unhinged, throw everything into the pot, adlibs for days vibes of “Thank God I Got It” a little more.
Kodak Black — “Patty Cake”
It’s a shame that Kodak Black’s ongoing legal issues have prevented him from enjoying the success of his debut album Painting Pictures, because it really is one of the better rap albums of 2017. The single “Tunnel Vision,” is an obvious banger, but there’s something plainly joyous about this album cut “Patty Cake.” The major key piano chords and upbeat demeanor brings some major Chance The Rapper vibes to this release.
Young Thug – “All The Time”
We couldn’t know it at the time, but this was our first taste of Thugger’s new project, Easy, Breezy, Beautiful Thugger Girl, which is executive produced by Drake. No one in rap today does more with their voice than Thug. From the high-pitched verses, to the low, sly “ooohs,” he uses that instrument in a way that can make even the most boiler-plate productions totally fascinating to listen to.
Big Boi — “Kill Jill” (Featuring Killer Mike and Jeezy)
As an OutKast stan, I’m here to support Daddy Fat Sax in whatever musical endeavors that he chooses to undertake. That being said, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover just how good this new collaboration with Killer Mike and Jeezy turned out to be. While most people are paying attention to the Adam Levine-assisted “Mic Jack,” Big, Mike, and Jeezy are coming with bars over this crazy, samurai-sound tapestry.
Gucci Mane — “Coachella”
I don’t know how it happened, but flutes are the major new trend in rap in 2017. Every since Future added some of the classical pipe instrumentation to his runaway hit “Mask Off,” it seems like everyone is scrambling calling up flautists to come into the studio. Guwop was among the more successful flute convertees, and this ode to the biggest music festival in the world, produced by Murda Beatz and TM88 is a perfect slice of Summertime trap.
Frank Ocean — “Biking” (Featuring Jay Z and Tyler The Creator)
Frank Ocean has been on a tear lately, releasing new songs here and there at a pace that’s honestly stunning for someone who was radio silent for so long. It’s a little bit hard to pick a favorite between “Lens,” or “Chanel,” but you have to respect the pull it takes to debut a Jay verse on any streaming service not named Tidal. Are they prime Jay bars? Meh. The point remains.
D.R.A.M. — “Gilligan” (Feat. A$AP Rocky and Juicy J)
If this really is the first taste of D.R.A.M.’s next project, I’m going to need that entire thing yesterday. Juicy J comes through with the ultimate stunt, “Three Six Mafia probably f**k your mama back in ’98,” before A$AP rolls in with some fire bars about needing vitamins and getting too deep into his feelings.
Lil Yachty — “Peek A Boo” (Feat. Migos)
Old heads – (cough) Joe Budden (cough) – love to hate on Lil Yachty for not adhering to what they call real hip-hop. One of the greatest things about hip-hop as a style of music is the way it continues to evolve. This new collaboration with the Migos doesn’t necessarily push the boundaries in a major way, but as a trap-style, melodic ode to sex, you can help but rock to it. In other words, it’s real as hell.
Joey Badass –- “Rockabye Baby” (Feat. ScHoolboy Q)
Joey might have gotten a little bit slept on in the face of hurricane Kendrick this month which, really is a damn shame because his most recent album All-Amerikkkan Badass might be his most solid, enjoyable projects to date. On this track, which comes with a feature from TDE’s resident evil-doer Schoolboy Q, Badass recaptures that mid-90s gritty Wu-Tang vibe while screaming “F**k Donald Trump!” What’s not to like?
Kendrick Lamar — “Fear”
Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Is two Kendrick song really necessary?” Trust me, I’m exhibiting a superhuman amount of restraint limiting myself to only two. If you respect good storytelling, you have to give “Fear,” a song about three distinct moments in the young MC’s life, its due. Even though it isn’t a single, I think it’s the best song on DAMN.