This isn’t a definitive list of the best 25 albums of the decade, that would be impossible. It’s 25 albums I loved this decade. Some I’ve come back to again and again. Others had their time and place and they live there now. However, for whatever reason, I continue to think about them. These are 25 albums that I want to talk about, no order, no ranking, not even necessarily my personal top 25. Here they are:
Album: Monster (2014)
Favourite Songs: “Throw Away” / “Codeine Crazy” / “My Savages” / “Gangland”
It’s hard to compare anything to Future’s run from Honest (2014) to DS2 (2015). By now we all know the story. Between those two studio albums, his relationship with Ciara deteriorated and ended, and he dropped three of the most important mixtapes of the decade: Monster, Beast Mode and 56 Nights. Honest was a great record that was spread thin in its attempts to chase pop trends and reach for the top of the charts. On Monster, and throughout the mixtape run, culminating with DS2, Future gained laser focus and shaped the sound of pop music to come. All of that is reason alone for this tape, the tape that started it all, to be talked about, but it’s not why I want to talk about it. There’s no way to listen to Future’s music honestly and remain removed from its toxicity. This is a record that is so angry, so sad, drug-fuelled, vengeful, spiteful and petty. There isn’t a moment that doesn’t come bearing baggage. “Celebrate like a championship” Future croons on the closer (and potential song of the decade) “Codeine Crazy,” and we’re left to wonder not just what we’re celebrating, but why we’re so fucking sad about it. The tragedy of Future is that not a single win was for him, it was all in spite of someone, it was all to prove a point. His music is often described as numb because his music describes a need for numbness: he drinks lean to numb his feelings; he stacks money and buys Audemars he doesn’t need to numb his feelings; he became one of the biggest artists of the decade to numb his feelings. There’s nothing numb about the sound.
Artist: Young Thug
Album: Barter 6 (2015)
Favourite Tracks: “Constantly Hating” / “Check” / “Halftime”
While I’m not ranking these records, this is for sure my favourite of the decade. Thug has a voice that’s able to contain every single emotion possible in one bar, even one wail. Every song is joyous; each song is a lamentation. Thug raps/croons/sings/wails the same lyrics we’re used to (money, guns, clubs, drugs, women, etc.) and yet leaves you feeling like you’ve just had one of those out-of-body experiences you see other people have at art galleries, tears streaming down their face as they look at a Van Gogh and you’re left wondering about the authenticity of their emotional response. Well, question the authenticity of my response to Barter 6 all you want, but I’ve danced to this record, cried to this record, partied with my friends to this record and loved every second of listening to this record every time I’ve put it on.
Artist: billy woods
Album: Terror Management (2019)
Favourite Tracks: “Western Education is Forbidden” / “Windhoek” / “Dead Birds”
Of all the albums on this list Terror Management most accurately captures the complexity of our present moment: politically, socially, and personally. This album is about the struggle of living with all of your personal struggles while the world is crumbling around you. woods describes the pains of surviving the demise of relationships, struggling to pay rent in Brooklyn, all while the doomsday clock ticks closer to midnight and POTUS seems set on seeing what happens when it does, all with a grin like a Cheshire cat. “The blackest laugh as the crackers crash, that’s schadenfreude.” woods is obsessed with the narrative style presented by Vonnegut on album opener “Marlowe“: “Man in a hole… somebody gets into trouble, gets out of it again.” He seems to be arguing that we’re the man in the hole, only we’re digging further down without even stopping for a second to consider how we’ll get out of our hole. woods is laughing through it all. woods’ music is often called bleak, overly macabre, but it has always been about the ways people are able to persevere, to snatch their dignity and humanity back from those who would subject us to the most horrific of humiliations.
Artist: Earl Sweatshirt
Album: I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (2015)
Favourite Tracks: “Faucet” / “Grief” / “DNA”
Earl’s decade has mostly been spent regaining control of his narrative. Exile, fame, self-imposed isolation, return to his Motherland, loss, grief, letting old relationships die and the forming of new ones. No one could have guessed, after the unprecedented rise of Odd Future and his exile to Coral Reef Academy in Samoa, at Earl’s trajectory. The artist who seemed dead set on packing as many words into each bar on Earl, Doris and I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside would go on to be more inclined to let the beats breath, to find meaning in the noise and silence between words on Some Rap Songs and Feet of Clay. I Don’t Like Shit is Earl’s “5 beats a day for 3 summers” moment. It’s Earl coming to terms with the fact that Odd Future’s rise set him on a path he didn’t choose for himself, left him with fans he was both grateful for and angry with. On one hand, he wouldn’t have a career without his fans, on the other hand, they had an idea of what he should be doing with his music and were incredibly demanding and vocal about it. The situation was made worse given that most of these fans were white boys in Supreme hoodies, Dickie shorts, and colourful socks up to their knees attempting to dictate the career of a Black man in America. So, Earl retreated inward on I Don’t Like Shit. This album is the start of Earl regaining control of his story. He took over production duties, making every beat but one, “Off Top” (Left Brain). This resulted in an introspective and claustrophobic record, reflecting the angst and depression of a young man attempting to find his way in life under the spotlight.
Artist: Danny Brown
Album: Old (2013)
Favourite Tracks: “The Return” / “Torture” / “Smoking & Drinking” / “Float On”
In 2013 Danny Brown emerged from the drug haze he’d recorded 2011’s XXX in and, with the realization that this path only led one place, dropped Old. In a way only Danny Brown could – with wit, absurdity, dick jokes, drug lines that would make the pope overdose – he grappled with wanting to grow old enough to see his impact on music while leading a lifestyle that could only end in one place, the grave. At first glance this album might seem like a mixed bag – 19 songs, divided into two sides, songs like “Clean Up” are followed by songs like “Red 2 Go,” throwaway jokes followed by images of poverty in Detroit or insights into addiction – but it all makes sense and flows perfectly because Danny is giving you the entire range of his personality. He’s dealing with his trauma the only way he knows how – sporadic with both humour and insight – because people don’t tell stories, particularly traumatic ones, linearly. “Problems in my past haunt my future and the present.”
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Album: Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (2012)
Favourite Tracks: “Money Trees” / “Swimming Pools (Drank)” / “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”
Because of Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City we’ve had to listen to an excess of concept albums this decade. Some were good, others not, a few were great. None were as good as Good Kid. The difference between Good Kid and lesser concept albums that followed in its wake is Kendrick’s ability to world-build. As a master storyteller, Kendrick is incredibly adept at painting pictures with minor details. Take “The Art of Peer Pressure” for example: “bumpin’ Jeezy first album, looking distracted/ Speakin’ language only we know, you think it’s an accent” is followed up in the outro when one of Kendrick’s friends quotes Jeezy saying “‘Last time I checked I was the man on these streets!’ I’m tryna be the n***a in these streets.” The scene is set perfectly – 2005, a van driving through Compton, Jeezy blasting from the speaker, as Kendrick and his friends do a B&E – without holding your hand or even speaking any language but his own.
Artist: Maxo Kream
Album: Punken (2018)
Favourite Tracks: “Grannies” / “Capeesh” / “Pop Another” / “Roaches”
Perhaps the best storyteller on this list, Maxo Kream released his debut studio album just last year. From growing up in Houston, getting kicked out by his parents, living in his Grandma’s house, stealing his aunty Trish’s car, to being in Vegas for the Mayweather fight while Hurricane Harvey destroyed his childhood home, Maxo manages to tell the story of survival. What Maxo does best is explore the emotions felt when you’re unable to help your loved ones, whether they’re locked in prison or they’re 1000 miles away from being hit by a catastrophic disaster. Guilt, pain, hopelessness, these are amplified by the juxtaposition with the braggadocio of the rest of the record, beautifully illustrating the posturing necessary to survive, the posturing necessary to pretend like you aren’t hurting the way you are.
Artist: Vince Staples
Album: Summertime ’06 (2015)
Favourite Tracks: “Lift Me Up” / “Norf Norf” / “Senorita” / “C.N.B.”
To hear him tell it, Vince Staples had no fun while making his debut, Summertime ’06. That’s because Vince’s concern with what is fun is to analyze the fun people have in an attempt to cope with their struggles. Vince is concerned with things that aren’t fun being seen as fun: gang-banging, living in the hood/ poverty, violence and death. Things that the average Hip-Hop consumer either glorify or ignore. Vince calls into question the audience’s role in artists profiting from their struggle when the audience is doing it from a life of privilege. He’s often called a nihilist, and that seems to be a profound missing of the point. Vince is all about the grey area, he sees the world as a paradox, people are made up of contradictions. “My teachers told me we was slaves/ My mama told me we was kings/ I don’t know who to listen to/ I guess we somewhere in between,” he raps on “Summertime. While tackling miseducation in America, Vince also confronts the fact that no person is one thing. Artists aren’t solely the stories they tell in their music; Black people aren’t white America’s perception of them.
Artist: Roc Marciano
Album: Reloaded (2012)
Favourite Tracks: “Tek to a Mack” / “Not Told” / “We Ill” / “Nine Spray” / “I Shot the King”
The Long Island rapper, Roc Marciano, exists in a world where NYC never acquiesced its hold on Hip-Hop, having to share it with the West Coast and the South. His world is one where Biggie never met Puffy and never put on a shiny suit, Jay-Z made Reasonable Doubt again and again, and all of Roc’s children – Griselda Records, Action Bronson, Ka, Mach-Hommy, Tha God Fahim, even Earl Sweatshirt to an extent – hold the spots that are held by Drake or Future in reality. This second album, Reloaded, built on everything he’d established with his debut, Marcberg, and garnered him the respect and attention of fans and critics alike. Everything about this album is stripped down to its skeleton. The beats are minimal, there are no drums, his voice is grisly and tired sounding, there are only two features – east coast veteran Knowledge the Pirate and Brownsville, NY’s Ka. “Sip the Henney without the chaser/ piss on the city from the skyscraper,” Marci raps on “Thug’s Prayer pt. 2,” and it all sounds so fruitless and tired as if there’s a freezing cold gale hitting him as he pisses from his penthouse balcony. Marci’s brilliance comes in his attention to detail, his ability to vividly describe everything down to the most minute of details, “I’m back for the crown, baby/ In the Avi’ that’s brown like gravy/ Style’s wavy, lazy eye Tracy McGrady/ Deliver like an 80-pound baby,” he raps on album opener “Tek to a Mac” or “Sitting in the E class Benz/ Black ski mask, black Timbs, platinum mac ten/ that’ll shatter your Cadillac tints/ Strange days, cocaines weighed by the eighth,” as he raps on “We Ill.” This is a man who made a song called “Thread Count,” he cares about the minutiae.
Album: Nothing Great About Britain (2019)
Favourite Tracks: “Nothing Great About Britain” / “Doorman” / “Grow Up” / “Inglorious”
Writing this the week after the UK elected Boris Johnson is about as disheartening as it gets. This album was a direct response to the ever rising movements in the western world that are attempting to hide their racism and xenophobia behind nationalism. slowthai is at his best when it feels like he’s racing the beat, as in “Doorman,” when it feels like the beat is a whack-a-mole and his voice the mallet. slowthai, from England’s Northampton, is concerned with the people left behind by capitalism. He paints, with care and candor, beautiful portraits of the under-privileged and under-represented. “Northampton’s Child,” starts as a biography of slowthai before becoming a love letter to his mother who had him at 16, who did everything in her power to hide her children from the realities of poverty. On his debut slowthai manages to tell the story of those most affected by Brexit and the election of Boris, who also likely helped to elect him. It’s hard to think straight when society is designed to keep you hungry and fearful.
Artist: King Louie
Album: Tony (2014)
Favourite Tracks: “B.O.N.” / “Sheesh” / “Day” / “Live and Die in Chicago” / “God & King” / “Would You Believe It”
King Louie, one of the forefathers of Chicago’s Drill scene, is the immovable object remained static when hit by an unstoppable force. His career was nearly ended twice, first when he had to teach himself how to walk again after surviving a car accident, then again after surviving a shooting in which he was shot in the head. Authenticity is usually a thing you only really notice when something is completely devoid of it, but this album is so authentic it’s impossible to not note it. That was always the story of drill: the mythology blends with the grim reality to the point the two are inseparable. It’s impossible to decipher what’s the typical rap braggadocio and what’s a very real threat. It seems important to note, as New York and the UK now have their own emerging drill scenes, where it all started. Louie doesn’t want you to forget Chicago is where it all started, and he doesn’t want you to forget him at the same time: “My city influenced my country, can’t get away from Chicago/ They ask me, ‘Louie, you gon’ leave Chicago?’ No, I’m gon’ stay in Chicago/ I’m the heart of Chicago.”
Album: Telefone (2016)
Favourite Tracks: “Yesterday” / “Diddy Bop” / “Casket Pretty” / “Shadow Man”
Noname makes music for overcoming. Overcoming oppression, overcoming anxiety, overcoming false standards, overcoming miseducation. Telefone’s release was prolonged and postponed, creating a fervour around it – sparked by features on songs with Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins, and Saba. Initially announced in 2012, it didn’t drop until 2016, to critical acclaim. Just over 30 minutes of intricate rhyming and jazz and gospel inspired production, Noname explores the healing nature of music and language. This was all influenced by her time practicing spoken word with the YOUmedia Program for Young Creatives, a program that also claimed a young Chance the Rapper and Saba. It’s the kind of record that can be just floated through, moving with the music, or can be studied closely, exploring the intricacies of the language. “This resurrected agony there’s an apathy for caskets/ Everything I ever loved I lost in the magic/ I claim by the river, my body delivered/ When I die there’s 27 rappers at my funeral/ Moses wrote my name in gold and Kanye did the eulogy/ Remember all the bashfulness, understand the truancy/ Here I stand in front of a College Dropout,” Noname raps on album closer “Shadow Man,” packing as much as she can into each line, references to Christianity, Kanye, Chicago, the 27 club, Black death and society’s ambivalence towards it. Her music is equal parts dense yet accessible, sad yet hopeful.
Artist: Sada Baby
Album: Bartier Bounty (2019)
Favourite Tracks: “Hood Rich Skuba” / “Edmore” / “Horseplay” / “Skuba Says” / “Dumbass” / “Bloxk Party”
Detroit’s Sada Baby floats so effortlessly over the Bay Area style bounce that you’d be forgiven for not realizing he’s rapping as hard as he is. Because his venomous barbs are so often hidden by the way he sings it you might completely not realize you’re humming along as he says something like, “You act like a n***a who grew up without a father figure/ I act like a n***a who grew up playing with choppers, n***a/ I know I’m a n***a who address who got some problems with me/ pull up on me if you feel you got one, it ain’t likely, is it?” Sada Baby is a straight-up bully, the type who’ll bust at you while talking the most shit. He’s sleeping with your girl, hanging with your kids, taking a shit on your toilet, you’re at your 9 to 5. It’s totally gutless and absolutely hilarious. Sometimes, however, he crosses the line. There are a few lines (one about Bill Cosby, another about the passing of Mac Miller) that are unnecessary and remarkably unfunny. It’s the cost he pays for walking a line, one he certainly doesn’t mind crossing and it might deter (fair!) some listeners.
Artist: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Album: Piñata (2014)
Favourite Tracks: “Scarface” / “Deeper” / “Harold’s” / “Thuggin'” / “Real” / “Robes”
Piñata marked for me the realization that Freddie Gibbs could rap over any beat. To hear them tell it, Madlib gave Gibbs a bunch of CDs with beats on them and Gibbs chose which ones he wanted to rap over. This wasn’t the case of a master producer coaching a young rapper on which beats would suit him, instead, it’s a case of a master producer giving a rapper the space to explore. It marked a new beginning for Gibbs, after self-releasing a number of tapes and leaving the label he was signed to – Jeezy’s CTE – he released his debut, ESGN, and then followed it up with Piñata to critical acclaim. Gibbs reclaimed his career and was prepared to do it all on his own, without the backing of a label, without the interference of a legend in Jeezy. Gibbs responds to his tumultuous relationship with Jeezy, a man he suggests was afraid of losing his shine to Gibbs, on album standout “Real,” – an acronym for ‘Remember Everyone Ain’t Loyal.’ This is a man who’d be getting it one way or the other, a man who was trapping until the moment he didn’t have to, a man born to rap his way to the top.
Album: SPACEMAN (2018)
Favourite Tracks: “Scared” / “Sleep” / “Build” / “Break That” / “Here is Not Safe” / “Revenge” / “You See It?”
I’ve had Drake explained to me more times than I can count and I still don’t see it. Then, I heard Octavian and it all clicked. Everything they claimed to hear from Drake, I heard Octavian doing and doing it better. He’s a better rapper, a more interesting singer, and his accent is real. His ‘sad boy, women should adore me but once they do I’m running’ routine is less repugnant for some reason. Drake would kill for a line like “rub off your ex tattoo, bitch,” especially the way Octavian says it on “Build” as if he’s so desperate to erase her past in order to write their new story. Is it controlling? One hundred percent. It also sounds incredible when sang through Octavian’s cigarette singed rasp. “I know you’ve been through it/ I’ve been full, I’ll prove it,” he finishes the verse, suggesting that he’s satisfied and there for his partner. It’s hard not to root for Octavian from the jump when he raps, “Guess what?/ Mummy, I said, guess what?/ My guy looked at me, I was done/ he said I’m next up.” This introverted kid from South East London just wants his mum to know he hasn’t given up; he’s got next.
Artist: Shy Glizzy
Album: Quiet Storm (2017)
Favourite Tracks: “Quiet Storm” / “Get Jiggy” / “More Clips” / “Dope Boys Magic” / “Haters’ Anthem”
In December 2016, the D.C. rapper GoldLink dropped the single, “Crew,” from his debut record At What Cost. The single featured another D.C. rapper, one who stole the show: Shy Glizzy. It served both artists, GoldLink gained clout by putting the veteran street rapper on, while Shy Glizzy got the exposure of a rising star in GoldLink. What also happened, with the exposure, was a forming of two groups: those who thought Glizzy completely bodied the song, and those who thought he tanked it. They said his voice was too strange, his lyrics too simple. It also got him a Grammy nomination. To say people were/are polarized by Glizzy’s music is an understatement. However, the music stands, especially on 2017’s Quiet Storm. The production is primarily handled by Glizzy Gang’s frequent collaborators: Doughboy Beatz and Geraldo Liive, but there are also appearances from trap veteran Zaytoven and “God’s Plan” producer Cardo. You’ll get lost among the sparkle of the keys, the easy synths, Glizzy’s unhurried and relaxed voice. It’s a masterful mixing of his DMV roots with the sounds of Atlanta Trap. The album also marks a growth in subject matter, the street stories took on more depth for Glizzy after the death of his friend and frequent collaborator 30 Glizzy in South Baltimore on September 6th, 2017. The final song, “Take Me Away,” is a beautiful eulogy to his lost friend.
Artist: Mick Jenkins
Album: The Water[s] (2014)
Favourite Tracks: “The Waters” / “Comfortable” / “Jazz” / “514” / “Martyrs”
Mick Jenkins’ voice is clear and authoritative, deep and commanding. It blends with the 808s and sets itself against the hi-hats. One of the best tapes of the decade, the acid jazz influenced The Water[s] found Jenkins at his most focussed, streamlining his raps around the titular metaphor. Jenkins, on the tape, is focussed on cleansing – himself, the music, the youth – he’s concerned with exploring the hypocrisies of the culture, the depths of youth movements. “I doused it with the flow and started talking all this water shit/ It’s like I started drowning/ In truth, the thought is pounding/ I started counting the loopholes in they stories that they tell us,” Jenkins raps over a sample of Carmen McRae’s “Strange Fruit,” flipping a sample used by the ever polarizing Kanye West. “What? You ain’t never seen a n***a on a horse? You ain’t seen Chief Keef’s new Porsche?” another reference to one of his Chicago contemporaries, seemingly bringing into question why the music industry seems so intent to put rap in a box and, taking it a step farther, why everyone seems so intent on pigeonholing Chicago rap even further.
Artist: Tierra Whack
Album: Whack World (2018)
Favourite Tracks: “Bug’s Life” / “Hungry Hippo” / “Pretty Ugly” / “Sore Looser”
In just 15 minutes Philly rapper Tierra Whack gives you self-love anthems, trap ballads, odes to lost friends, and trap bangers for the fuck boys. The epitome of more is less, Whack manages to pack more into 15 minutes than most musicians pack into hour-long albums. Wonderfully imaginative, the album was released alongside a video, Whack revealed herself to be a complete artist with her debut. In a world where the algorithm dictates what we listen to, our attentions are dwindling, and albums are often purposefully made bloated to inflate streaming numbers, Whack created an album designed to be played again as soon as it’s finished. She’s made an album – deep, considered, lyrically dense, and sonically pleasing – for the ADHD generation without compromising substance. She often jumps from idea to idea, concept to concept, but that seems fitting given how scattered our brains have become.
Artist: Kevin Gates
Album: Luca Brasi 2 (2014)
Favourite Tracks: “I Don’t Get Tired” / “John Gotti” / “Out the Mud” / “Talk on Phones” / “In My Feelings”
Love him or hate him, Kevin Gates gives you all of himself. His toxic masculinity comes from a different place than the fragile posturing so typical of men. It isn’t based on pretending he’s harder than he is, or that he doesn’t do things typically “unmanly.” he’s not like Uncle Junior from The Sopranos, pretending he doesn’t eat pussy; Kevin Gates eats ass. His toxicity comes from a place of manipulation. It’s the toxicity born from a person having to lie, cheat, steal, and intimidate to get everything he has. It certainly doesn’t absolve him from his prior violence, but it does go some way to explain him. He is unafraid and entirely open and one of the few musicians of the decade that still managed to surprise me with his lyrics. I can honestly say I’ve never heard any rapper before or since say something like, “Would I be wrong to want to fuck you with one of my n***as if afterwards I promised that I wouldn’t look at you different? as he does on “Wild Ride.” He opens the song with that line, for fuck’s sake! Gates has been releasing since 2007, but it wasn’t until this tape and the success of his single “I Don’t Get Tired” that he emerged as a force in Hip-Hop. In 2014, after releasing 11 tapes, Kevin Gates was named to XXL’s Freshman Class. Is it any wonder he’s got such a chip on his shoulder when he’s been grinding for so long, making the most impeccably catchy hooks, some of the hardest one-liners, the most confessional verses and we didn’t really start listening until 2014? We’re lucky he doesn’t get tired.
Artist: Chance The Rapper
Album: Acid Rap (2013)
Favourite Tracks: “Paranoia” / “Juice” / “Lost” / “Everybody’s Something” / “Acid Rain”
At some point, most of us turned so hard on Chance that it caused me to relitigate my love for Acid Rap. It’s unfair and based on my expectations of where his music would go, what direction his career would take. It’s not really how I want to approach art, but I find myself listening to this record and wishing he’d gone “Paranoia” instead of “Cocoa Butter Kisses.” At some point his music, his joy, became exhausting. It all changed when the narrative switched. When the joy was no longer in the face of grim reality, but instead just the joy of wealth. It was remarkable that this kid from Chicago was rapping about how “down here, it’s easier to find a gun than it is to find a fucking parking spot” was able to find joy and humour. Now, it’s like do I really want to watch this guy dance with puppets and rap about his wife and buying a house and how much he loves God? Maybe I should have seen it coming, but before it always seemed like the corniness was something you took with Chance in order to get to the apposite images of coming of age under systems designed to oppress people of colour.
Artist: Mac Miller
Album: Watching Movies with the Sound Off (2013)
Favourite Tracks: “I’m Not Real” / “S.D.S.” / “Red Dot Music” / “REMember”
Where were you when you started taking Mac Miller seriously? I was walking my parents’ dog, texting a girl I was hoping to make my girlfriend, and listening to another album that had dropped the same day as Watching Movies with the Sound Off – Yeezus. Watching Movies… isn’t in the same league as Yeezus, obviously, nor is it among the best of Mac’s albums, but it felt, to me, like the album that was the beginning of his maturation. It takes more risks than he’d taken in the past – he was working with Flying Lotus and Earl Sweatshirt, experimenting with drugs. Mac had lost the backpack and snapback and quite literally stripped himself naked for this record. It’s not perfect, it’s too long, and there are some throwaway/childish bars, but, at the same time, there’s a deeper introspection and less of a focus on rapping for the sake of it. Instead, Mac’s wordplay is used to investigate his emotions, like on album standout “REMember,” when he raps about his lost friend; “It’s a dark science when your friends start dying/ Like ‘how could he go? He was part lion.” This album was a mark of things to come, a mark of things that would be taken from us just as quickly. It’s painful to go back and listen to this record after losing Mac, the album opens with this line from his alter-ego, Delusional Thomas, “Hallelujah, thank God I have a future.” We lost Mac and it had felt like he was getting better, the music certainly was.
Album: Honor Killed The Samurai (2016)
Favourite Tracks: “Conflicted” / “Just” / “That Cold and Lonely” / “I Wish (Death Poem)”
Some albums are made for cities in the winter, this is one of them. Minimal beats, quivering keys, monotone rhyming, intricate lyrics, deadpan delivery, dark imagery, the Brownsville rapper holds no hands and raps with intense precision. Ka is diligent about his art. He sees himself in the image of the samurai, a man who has studied the art, listened to those who came before him and dropping jewels on those who will follow. He releases music at his own pace, laboured and perfected, for the appreciation of the art and not for monetary gain, “If happen to make cash, don’t let the cash make me/ Regardless, I’m a guarded artist, never graph hasty/ No fame, but became a favourite cause they know I laboured,” Ka raps on”$.” Ka, who earns his living as a firefighter in New York City, is concerned with money for survival and art as virtue.
Artist: Lil Peep
Album: Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1 (2017)
Favourite Tracks: “Benz Truck” / “U Said” / “Better Off (Dying)” / “The Brightside”
Lil Peep died two weeks after his 21st birthday of an accidental overdose of Xanax and fentanyl. His death came three months after the release of his studio debut, Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt.1, and was documented on his Instagram. It’s a horrifying story, broadcast on social media, of the death of a young artist at the centre of a music revolution driven by the internet, specifically Soundcloud. Peep had only just shown himself to be the best out of the emo-rap movement, one of the few who was actually able to blend his emo influences – Brand New, Fallout Boy, My Chemical Romance, Panic! At the Disco – with his rap sensibilities so it wasn’t corny. Peep became a master of writing catchy hooks reminiscent of those emo-pop anthems and crooning them deadpan over trap beats. He also managed, often if not always, to drop the misogyny that was often so engrained in those emo songs, and implicated himself in the heartbreak narrative.
Album: Veteran (2018)
Favourite Tracks: “1539 N. Calvert” / “Real Nega” / “Thug Tears” / “Baby I’m Bleeding” / “Rainbow Six“
Peggy, as he’s called by his fans, is worried people think he’s too online. Peggy’s view, on the other hand, is that he’s online because that’s our reality now. To say you’re not online means either you’re in denial, or you’re out of touch. Peggy is in touch with more than just memes, he sees what white people say when they’re hidden by their screens, when they’re pretending to be someone they’re not, when they’re pretending to be black, and he wants to bring all of that to light. What can be so off-putting about his music, for some – more so even than the abrasive production – is his weaponization of the language of the online alt-right. That’s the point, though. Too often it is people who are already immensely safe and privileged that are arguing for safe spaces when what they’re really arguing for is their right not to be made uncomfortable. Peggy, and artists of his ilk, make music designed to confront this, designed to say it’s the lives of people of colour that are on the line, not the comfort of the privileged that matters. “We don’t fuck with alt-right/ y’all ain’t never been a threat/ If y’all come to Baltimore we gon’ stick ’em for their racks/ We gon’ beat them crackers dead,” he raps on “Rock N Roll is Dead,” issuing his mission statement. There is no talking, Peggy wants to drive the bigots out of their caves and finish them once and for all.
Artist: Drakeo the Ruler
Album: Cold Devil (2017)
Favourite Tracks: “Big Bank Unchies” / “Flu Flamming” / “Neiman & Marcus Don’t Know You” / “Out the Slums”
At the time of this writing Drakeo the Ruler is still in solitary confinement awaiting trial after already being acquitted of all murder and attempted murder charges. The district attorney has refiled charges of criminal gang conspiracy and shooting from a motor vehicle, charges that were dropped after a hung jury in his previous trial, and Drakeo now faces life in prison again. Jeff Weiss, founder of the best rap blog Passion of the Weiss, has covered this story extensively and deserves a Pulitzer, see his most extensive piece here. I say all that because it’s impossible to listen to this record, to hear Drakeo’s icy deadpan delivery, without thinking about a man separated from humanity, largely because of his lyrics and his association with a street rap crew. It’s impossible, for me and anyone with a brain, to hear the lyrics of a song like “Neiman & Marcus Don’t Know You” and realize that any crimes Drakeo may or may not have committed are ones of a petty nature, credit card scamming in order to flip items of high fashion for example, and not murder. Drakeo is a stylist in nature, rarely minimal, he paints scenes while riding the beat any which way he wants, slower, in time, faster. He’s mud walking in Christian Louboutins, easily recognized at Neiman & Marcus, stacking 100 dollar bills on his dashboard, rocking a gun made by FN Herstal as fashion, all while rapping in a flow entirely his own. Free Drakeo; free Ralfy.