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This year has been an overwhelming one for music, hip hop in particular. When the Drakes and the Kanyes of the world weren’t beefing, they were dropping albums. Migos dropped nearly two hours of material in January, and we’re now in the midst of their run of debuts as solo artists. Lil Wayne released his first proper album in five years. You’d be forgiven for letting some 2018 releases slip by you amidst the bombardment of material from A-listers. That said, here’s a few projects you might’ve missed from the past year that are worth your time.
In the newest project from The Outfit, TX, the group stakes their claim on what the new wave of an often overlooked Dallas hip-hop scene should sound like. Dorian, Jayhawk and Mel take the candy-painted, gold-grilled ethos common in southern hip-hop to a dark, menacing place. Mel and Jayhawk, who handle MC duties, spit bars housed in hugely atmospheric production, full of ominous synths and seismic bass. Jayhawk’s snarling, adversarial delivery is complemented by Mel’s more laidback, drawled-out cadence as the two trade verses filled with cautionary tales and jovial flexing. This dynamic is enough to make the album special, making the group’s penchant for sticky, inventive hooks icing on the cake, namely on tracks like “Money Truck” and “Hurricane Outfit.”
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Perennially underrated lyricist Roc Marciano has been on an absolute tear this year, releasing three proper albums, among other work. His most recent collaboration with producer DJ Muggs is not one to miss. DJ Muggs, of Cypress Hill fame, throws a variety of sounds at Marciano, seating his words atop choir samples, delicate keys, fuzzed out guitars, and spacy 808 drums. The result: Marciano’s stone cold mafia raps seem to sound good over everything. Simply put, he’s the best at what he does. Roc Marciano is never fazed by the violence or awestruck by the life of luxury his raps narrate. “A cash heap, free Max B, get money tax free/This actually has to be a masterpiece, I’m displaying mastery/They thought I was Robert Greene, my CDs are art gallery,” he raps on “Dolph Lundgren.” Marci’s rhymes paint a villain so slick you can’t help but sort of root for him.
I think it’s fair to say that in 2018, many people do not feel completely “fine.” The latest from artists Jean Grae and Quelle Chris is a discussion of what it means to be fine, and why things are, in fact, not fine. The album is full of the rap duo’s dry wit and satire, and the laughs are reinforced by skits from comedians Nick Offerman and Michael Che, as well as a hilarious rap verse from Hannibal Buress. However, this isn’t a comedy album, nor is humor used to undercut the urgency or gravity of the topics the MCs tackle. Jean Grae’s technical, aggressive bars compliment Quelle Chris’s more blunt, understated style of rapping well, while skewering everything from instagram models to conspiracy theories to police brutality and racism. The album puts humor uncomfortably close to weighty, taxing issues–an apt reflection of the bizarro climate we find ourselves in in 2018.
More than a handful of rap records dropped this year that were over 90 minutes and did nothing to warrant it. 03 Greedo’s God Level is not one of those records. For those uninitiated, 03 Greedo is an LA-based artist whose career had been burgeoning for about two years before his unfortunate incarceration in a Texas prison back in June. This project came out days before that. Across many of its 27 tracks, the dread and uncertainty about his future is palpable in 03 Greedo’s autotuned delivery. Extenuating circumstances aside, the album is a masterclass in moving hip-hop’s mainstream forward, combining the crooning flows saturating popular music today with a west coast bounce that yields something wholly original. Not every second of God Level’s 98 minute runtime feels polished, but it’s justified as Greedo’s creative detours are rewarding way more often than not.
Kenny Beats should be in contention for beatmaker of the year, and his collaboration with Atlanta rapper KEY! is exhibit A. Kenny Beats production is often colorful, even cartoonish with its bright synthlines. However, it doesn’t sacrifice bite in achieving this, the candy-colored melodies float above driving bass and skittering 808s. This pallette suits all the different left field places KEY! goes. “Hater” is an auto-tuned fever dream. “It Gets Better” is an introspective, melancholy-yet-hopeful track with an ad-libbed hook reminiscent of Playboi Carti. “Famous” features the line “We crashing like the bandicoot.” Those are all good things.
Freddie Gibbs having one of the best rapper voices of all time is a hill I would die on, and he and Curren$y are a more natural pair than I would’ve expected. Legendary producer The Alchemist brings his A-game, chopping up soul samples and crafting dark, grooving beats for the duo to drop gritty drug bars over. On “Willie Lloyd,” The Alchemist crafts a nightmarish path which Freddie Gibbs sets ablaze with two minutes of relentless flows. At just 23 minutes, the project is nearly airtight, save questionable and goofy track “Now and Later Gators,” which finds Freddie Gibbs singing over glitzy guitars. That misstep aside, Fetti doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it allows two veteran artists to bring the best out of each other.
Will is a junior journalism major at the University of Texas at Austin. You cannot convince him that Hell Hath No Fury by Clipse isn't the best album of all time.