The fall season is upon us. Months have passed since our last Album Of The Year, J. Cole’s KOD, was handed the crown. New albums have arrived, emerging talents have staked their claim. Though the harvest hasn’t quite been as fruitful as 2018, there have been plenty of strong projects across the board. Seeing as we’re a little over the halfway point of 2019, we figured it’s time to celebrate some of our favorite releases of the year...so far.
Rather than attempting to place them in numerical order, and thus sparking a debate we’d prefer to save for the end of year edition, we decided to go on an editor-by-editor basis. As such, each writer has chosen to highlight some of their favorite, most-played albums. With that in mind, check out what we have deemed to be some of the most enjoyable albums of the year, and be sure to weigh in accordingly. And more importantly, which one of us are you handing the AUX Cord?
MEGAN THEE STALLION - FEVER
If I were basing my Best Of picks solely on social impact, Megan Thee Stallion’s Fever would top the list. She drew an outline for the project, then she crumpled it up. True inspiration eluded her for some time, but eventually, a 10-year flashback of Latarian Milton crashing his grandmother’s SUV came upon her on the operating table like a visualization of biblical proportions. That is, at the very least, my interpretation of the process.
With Milton, the pint-sized troll, condensed into a soundbite, much of the heavy lifting on her debut mixtape had already been accounted for. She was now free to use her gender, and most importantly, her incredible talent, as an instrument for social change - and she did so without shedding the wow factor, her latex fit, or her likeness to Latarian Milton, forever ingrained in our minds as a hefty 7-year old up to no good.
Beneath the burden of social responsibility, lies a genuine interest for Megan to uphold her musical lineage in Houston. Yet, in true Hot Girl fashion, Megan undermines that power by eliminating the background noise, by casting herself as the heroine, and by setting the story in a historically conservative milieu. Take “Simon Says," where she encourages double play, but only once the imagined suitor is completely submitted to her authority. Fever exceeded the expectations that were placed upon her, but the best is yet to come.
- Devin Ch
SOLANGE - WHEN I GET HOME
Solange’s When I Get Home finds itself in a bind with no fixed point of origin. How could this happen to a purposeful character like Solange, who just yesterday it seemed, forced herself to watch from the sidelines while she rid her mind of last album’s subject material?
When I Get Home is indubitably a homecoming album; it’s also a marvel of synesthesia, a project with a visual repertoire that is confounding to the senses. So, when I speak of being in a bind, in relation to Solange’s work, I’m actually referring to the subjectivity of the audience, and the risk of overthinking the album experience, from a middle of the road perspective.
Think about it this way: why waste a perfectly good table setting on a bumpkin audience? The challenge that Solange faces on When I Get Home isn’t rooted in musical integrity or her sovereign appeal, but the effect the album has on your mood. Beyond that, Solange has succeeded in rendering a very earnest portrait of her hometown. Most importantly, she avoids the cursed reputation that follows even-numbered albums, as When I Get Home operates on a signal frequency altogether different than her Grammy-lauded A Seat at the Table.
- Devin Ch
MAXO KREAM - BRANDON BANKS
Maxo Kream’s Brandon Banks album can be viewed in one of several ways, but the main themes of faith and forgiveness are hard to dismiss. Half of his father’s face is absconded from the cover, while the other half remains, representing a person with conflicting interests and muddied up thoughts. Pops is ever-present throughout the album, in the form of interludes and didactic note-taking.
Upon hearing his father’s voice for the first time, you wonder, "how could a person named Brandon Banks be so damn Nigerian" or vice versa. This conundrum lasts for about as long as you let it before a measure of truth sets in: BB is the pseudonym a father has chosen for his son, to protect him from the glare of American children in the schoolyard. His father’s vices take up a lot of space, but Maxo is careful to end each passage on a forgiving note, stringing everything together.
There’s one more thing that separates Brandon Banks from his previous works, and Maxo from the rest of the herd. While Maxo remains indebted to storytelling, by force of habit, his latest work benefits from an overall jump in production quality. It’s as if RCA granted him the resources others couldn’t.
- Devin Ch
FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB - BANDANA
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib kept fans waiting for five years before they followed up their critically acclaimed 2014 collaborative project, Pinata. In a way, the two waited for the perfect moment to reconnect for the sequel. Although the rawness of Pinata is what made Gibbs and Madlib perfect collaborators, they equally refined their respective tools going into Bandana.
The beauty of Bandana, especially in comparison to its predecessor, is the musical and personal growth between Freddie Gibbs and Madlib. As their relationship with one another became stronger, so did their chemistry on wax. Madlib’s production is still based in eccentric jazz samples but he tailored the production to specifically fit Gibbs’ style. Through that, Madlib tapped into a comfort zone where Freddie Gibbs was willing to open up and provide a certain depth of character that’s been scarcely explored in previous work.
Even with the expertly curated feature guests, which include Pusha T, Black Thought, and Yasiin Bey, Freddie Gibbs holds his own among the giants while Madlib proves, once again, that he’s a magician when it comes to producing.
- Aron A
SKEPTA - IGNORANCE IS BLISS
Aging gracefully is a task that not many have succeeded in doing within hip-hop or grime. Both are driven by young people, innovators of the game. And it’s hard to win if you’re reluctant to embrace it. Skepta’s latest album Ignorance Is Bliss finds the U.K. rapper settling into the role of an elder statesmen without bringing too much old head energy into the equation.
It’s often hard to follow-up a critically acclaimed album but Skepta proves that every time he challenges himself, he succeeds. Ignorance Is Bliss is rooted in the same grime sounds that made him a prominent force in the U.K. music scene but his art is rooted in innovation. Collaborations with Lancey Foux and Nafe Smallz tread closer to the controversial U.K. drill sound, while “Glow In the Dark” with WizKid and Lay-Z finds Skeppy heading to the motherland as he digs deeper into his Nigerian roots.
Even with nearly 15 years under his belt, Ignorance Is Bliss showcases Skepta’s fearless approach to creating and reinventing his sound, regardless of his age.
- Aron A
DAVE - PSYCHODRAMA
A debut album is an important moment for any rising artist. It’s proof of whether someone can is limited to a hot song or if they’re capable of creating a body of work that might withstand the test of time. Off the strength of singles like "100 Ms," Dave has been a prominent act in the local scene for a few years. On his debut album, Psychodrama, he solidified himself as the next up out of the U.K. and a voice for a generation.
Dave’s deep observation on societal issues has been what differentiated him among his peers. But that’s also what allows him to adapt to his surroundings. Psychodrama explores a variety of topics often shunned from being discussed, especially in the Black community. He shares a realistic and often darker perspective of the world from his eyes. Dave discusses his first-hand experiences in Streatham, from growing up as a second-generation immigrant in the U.K. to becoming the man of the house and providing for his family through music.
Dave breaks up the project with skits of him talking to a therapist while fluidly transitioning into each song. The project does maintain a dark, moody vibe throughout, one that reflects the gloomy weather of London. Psychodrama is an excellent debut project, arguably one of the best of the year. It’s a glimpse of the star status that Dave’s slowly entering into while he stays grounded as an important voice in the U.K.’s music scene.
- Aron A
RICO NASTY - ANGER MANAGEMENT
Rico Nasty is not an artist for the masses, but she doesn’t even pretend to try to be. Her unique sound and style set her apart from most every other female rapper in the game right now, yet she doesn’t attempt to filter her eccentricity into something with greater mainstream appeal. Anger Management arrives as a joint project between the 21-year-old New-York born rapper and Kenny Beats, the chameleon producer who’s lent his talent for beats making to distinct artists like Freddie Gibbs, Vince Staples, and the more obscure JPEGMAFIA.
The collaboration is a perfect marriage of Electro-trap that allows Rico’s unique amalgamation of genres like punk rap, nu-metal and trap metal to really shine through. Rico’s work is not for the faint of heart, and this album especially weeds out the true punk fans from the rest; the songs leave nothing behind in terms of frenzied intensity and, almost violent, vigor. The shining track from the project is surely “Big Titties” which features trap producer Baauer, as well as EarthGang, but other standouts include the manic, scream-heavy “Cold” (a personal favorite of mine), as well as “Hatin,” and the more vulnerable “Sell Out.” With each song Rico proves her ability to be versatile, yet remain on brand, and reminds everyone that though she brings out all the bells and whistles, her mastery of lyricism is not to be slept on.
- Nada Mesh
SCHOOLBOY Q - CRASH TALK
At this stage, ScHoolboy Q has definitely earned himself a name as one of the most respected names in hip-hop, with a lyrical command and rapid-fire flows like no other. The artist’s bass-heavy work and fervent style of spitting verses have landed him a reputation of creating mean-mugging raps, which he certainly delivered on in his 2016 Blank Face LP. This album, however, shows a slightly softer (if you could even call it that) side of Q, as he embraces the fact that he has less to prove to the public regarding his ability and style, and can proceed to delve into more obscure parts of his artistry.
In terms of credentials, the album still managed to debut at number three on the US Billboard 200 chart, despite mixed reviews. With features like Travis Scott 21 Savage, Kid Cudi, 6lack, YG, Ty Dolla $ign, and Lil Baby, it was sure to produce some hits, and indeed the 21 assisted “Floating,” Lil Baby’s “Water,” and, of course, the Travis collaborated “CHopstix,” all managed to earn their own successes. Personally, “CHopstix” seemed like a throwaway song to me, more focused on collaborating with the likes of Travis Scott than actually producing a track which showcased the ability of each artist. Perhaps Q has set too high a bar for himself with his previous work, that others felt “CrasH Talk” did not exceed, but I see it as a comfortable affirmation from Q that he is able to put out bangers without necessarily trying to outdo himself. My standouts from the project (other than the obviously popular “Water” and “Floating”) include the previously released “Numb Numb Juice,” as well as the slightly more obscure “5200” and “Black Folk.”
- Nada Mesh
GOLDLINK - DIASPORA
Only his second album to date, DMV rapper Goldlink truly outdid himself on this piece of art. People who didn’t necessarily follow his work before, surely became fans after listening to this album. But despite the fact that, at first glance, Diaspora just seems to - albeit intelligently - combine genres and artists in a way so cohesive it demands your attention, upon looking deeper you may catch on that this project arrives as a celebration of R&B and hip hop as a whole, paying homage to their roots by incorporating elements of Afrobeats Reggae fusion and Dancehall.
With calculated features from Pusha T, Tyler The Creator, Khalid, WizKid and Maleek Berry, Goldlink strategically draws listeners in; he keeps them intrigued with the quality of each and every track, proving he has paid very close attention to every detail. An album that provides a song for almost every mood you might find yourself in, the project has 14 tracks, almost each one genius in itself. With near perfect production, absolutely fire flows and lyricism on Goldlink’s part, and a very well-balanced variety of tempo to give the listener the privilege of diversification, there are few shortcomings to point out.
Besides proving his growth as an artist (and ability to comfortably accentuate a number of different styles), Goldlink managed to elevate the talents of Khalid on their trap collaborated “Days Like This,” which most can agree was a definite favorite from the album. My other personal favorites (though I think I can confidently say I loved nearly every song on the tape) include “Zulu Screams,” “No Lie,” “Maniac,” “Rumble,” and “Yard.” Delivered at the perfect period in the year, this project will forever remind me of sun-dazed days by the pool in the summer of 2019.
- Nada Mesh
TYLER, THE CREATOR - IGOR
Since bursting onto the scene back in the late 2000s, it’s been apparent that Tyler, the Creator is a different type of artist. His abrasive flow, unorthodox production, and peculiar subject matter had fans intrigued for what was to come. After albums like Wolf and Cherry Bomb, nobody could predict that Tyler would do an absolute 180 and opt for more melodic sounds on 2017’s Flower Boy.
This year, Tyler came through with his latest album Igor, the logical artistic evolution to Flower Boy. On this record, Tyler provides all of the production while paying homage to his biggest influences like Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. Tyler’s production helps tell the story of a man trying to work his way through a break-up with someone he loves dearly but can’t seem to detach from. On this album, we hear Tyler singing more than ever, while also providing some bars here and there to prove he’s still got it. The features on this album are impeccable, all the way from Solange to Kanye West. Not to mention, who can forget the way Playboi Carti effortlessly fits in on “EARFQUAKE.”
All of these elements come together to create one of the best concept records of the year and perhaps Tyler’s most ambitious work to date. Igor will certainly be a contender for some Grammys this year.
- Alexander Cole
LIL WEST - VEX PT 1
Lil West is one of the most interesting and genre-bending up-and-coming artists right now and his project Vex Pt. 1 is a prime example of that. From the opening track “2 Pennies” all the way down to the closer, “Barn,” Lil West blesses listeners with short and to the point melancholic bangers. The Delaware rapper isn’t afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve with this project, something that is evident in the song “Help.”
The true highlight of this project is the lead single “Somedays” which sees West merging hip-hop with emo rock. This may be one of the catchiest songs of the year and a hidden gem for those who haven’t been paying attention to West’s movement over the past year or so. Features like Yung Bans on “No L’s” and Tommy Genesis on “2 Pennies” shine as well as they help complement West’s unique voice.
At 7 tracks and 18 minutes, Vex Pt. 1 is a perfect album to throw on if you’re looking to set a mood and just vibe out. Lil West’s follow up, Vex Pt. 2, is also on the horizon so be sure to look out for that in the near future.
- Alexander Cole
JUICE WRLD - DEATH RACE FOR LOVE
When you think of some of the biggest up-and-coming hitmakers, Juice WRLD would have to be one of the first people you think of. With hit singles like “All Girls Are The Same” and “Lucid Dreams,” Juice WRLD has established himself as an artist to watch moving forward. Over the last few years, emo-inspired hip-hop has taken the world by storm and no one embraces and perfects that sound better than him. With his debut project Goodbye & Good Riddance, the Chicago artist was in the midst of developing his sound. On his latest project Death Race For Love, that emo hip-hop aesthetic becomes fully realized in one of the best pop-rap albums of the year.
Throughout the entire album, Juice WRLD opens up about falling in love and heartbreak that comes with being vulnerable with your emotions. Songs like “Empty,” “Hear Me Calling,” and “Fast” are a stark reminder that even the rich and famous can go through the exact same things we do. Meanwhile, Juice WRLD is able to change up his sound and implement elements of 2000s pop-punk on songs like “Ring Ring.”
Whether you like this particular type of hip-hop or not, there is no denying that Juice WRLD is a master at this particular sound. We can only imagine what kind of emotional rollercoaster his next album will subject us to.
- Alexander Cole
DABABY - BABY ON BABY
Before releasing Baby On Baby, North Carolina spitter DaBaby was bubbling hard under the radar. He was known in underground circles as a fiery giant who snapped on every beat he hopped on. After the project dropped, the 27-year-old’s status was solidified in the game, and thus, his reputation validated. Not only is DaBaby one of the most exciting new rappers in the game -- he’s one of the most entertaining rappers out, period.
Linking up with JetsonMade on a series of tracks for Baby On Baby, DaBaby had a clear plan in mind when creating this album. The goal was to pop off with consistent bangers, allowing the listener to stroll through the tracklist without skipping a single song. With standout tracks “Suge,” “Baby Sitter,” “Carpet Burn,” and more, the Charlotte-based rapper came through strong with a ton of replay-worthy songs. This project was enough to name DaBaby to the XXL Freshman List and it’s enough for him to keep one of the Albums of the Year. Baby On Baby could very well stand the test of time.
- Alex Zidel
JADEN - ERYS
We all know that Jaden Smith, son of Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, is extremely talented in his own right. The 21-year-old can sing, rap, dance, act, and do so much more. He’s also taken steps into the fashion world by establishing his own brand and bending gender norms by rocking a skirt for Louis Vuitton. For much of this year, the young star had been teasing his ERYS album via unconventional means. He commissioned billboards in Calabasas, hung posters around town and painted temporary tattoos onto his face for promotion. Now that it’s out, we can confidently say that ERYS is one of the strongest bodies of work that Jaden has ever released.
While it may drop off in energy near the end, Jaden’s ambitious album ERYS marks a fearless jump for the rapper. As Will Smith has said in the past, his son is generally not afraid of anything so when it comes to making music that’s different and unlike anything else in the mainstream, Jaden is your guy. He blends elements of rock into his sound, starting off the project with four consecutive songs that compose “PINK,” an over-ten-minute track that brings us through a range of emotions. Elsewhere on SYRE, Jaden links up with Tyler, The Creator for the boisterous “NOIZE” before his collaborations with A$AP Rocky, Kid Cudi, his sister Willow, and his alter-ego SYRE.
- Alex Zidel
YBN CORDAE - THE LOST BOY
The most lyrically-skilled member of his clique, YBN Cordae is one of rap’s fastest rising stars. He’s incredibly confident, knowing full-well that he can end up being one of the best artists of all time. He still has a long way to go to reach that point but he's off to a good start.
The Lost Boy is the Maryland rapper’s first-ever project and it includes a lot of what you’d expect from the freestyle king. Cordae starts things off by establishing himself as a serious contender for the new school throne on “Wintertime” before heading into the groovy single “Have Mercy.” Lasting forty-five minutes, The Lost Boy gives us a good idea of what we can expect moving forward from Cordae: clever bars, smooth instrumentals, and relatable stories brought out on a regular basis.
Even taking a look at who Cordae was able to nab for the tracklist, you can tell that his industry peers believe in him. Anderson .Paak delivers a standout verse on “RNP” while Chance The Rapper, Meek Mill, Pusha-T, Ty Dolla $ign and others jump in for some fun elsewhere on the project.
- Alex Zidel
TEE GRIZZLEY - SCRIPTURES
Robbin season has commenced. When Tee Grizzley first arrived on the scene, a promising Detroit talent, “First Day Out” left no doubt of his pedigree. Unfortunately for the dexterous lyricist, Grizzley’s subsequent releases appeared to cool; though he never lost favor with the streets, he felt slightly unfettered insofar as creative direction goes. Yet somewhere along the line, Tee crossed paths with Timbaland, and a partnership was struck. One that proved mutually beneficial for both parties; legendary though he may be, it’s been a minute since Timbo made an impact on the hip-hop spectrum. On Scriptures, however, he helped create the perfect soundscape for a revitalized Grizzley, who held nothing back on this go-around.
The opening track “God’s Warrior” sets the tone, a masterstroke of G’d up humor. “And I'm not gon' snatch your chain, I'm gon' take it off politely,” he raps, convincingly enough to be believed. “So when I go back to sell it, it's not damaged, not even slightly.” The grit continues across standout tracks like “Scriptures” and “I Had To,” the latter of which finds Grizzley exploring darker storytelling avenues, laying down bleak scenarios with an underrated author’s touch. Concise in runtime and sonically pleasing throughout, Scriptures comes to a triumphant close with the powerful “Young Grizzley’s World,” an adventurous and melodic ode to the road thus far.
- Mitch Findlay
DENZEL CURRY - ZUU
Coming off the ambitious and conceptually dense TA13OO, it was difficult to predict Denzel Curry’s artistic trajectory. Since first catching my eye on his classic mixtape Nostalgic 64, Curry proved he had much to offer, brilliantly toeing the line between geekish intellectualism and unapologetic raw energy. And while he certainly came to exemplify a new wave of Floridian hip-hop, an arguable forerunner in a sound that continues to impact the youth to this day, his formative roots were seldom overtly evident within his music. That’s not to say one should wear their influences on their sleeves, but it’s always interesting to see an artist pay homage to the ones that came before.
Enter Zuu. From the onset, it was clear that Denzel was on his hometown energy, culminating in an album as conceptual as its predecessor, albeit in a different fashion. “I was raised off of Trina, Trick, Rick and Plies,” he raps, on Zuu’s “CAROLMART.” Both lyrically and musically, the Florida vibes are damn strong. Highlight track “Wish” sounds like something straight outta the sun-kissed eighties, while “Shake 88” pays a well-executed homage to the bounce scene, the perfect backdrop for your next strip-club adventure. And to make the package all the more enjoyable, ZUU clocks in at an insanely listenable twenty-nine minutes.
- Mitch Findlay
DREAMVILLE - REVENGE OF THE DREAMERS 3
I was lucky enough to witness two days of the Dreamers 3 studiosessions, during my time writing our DIGITAL COVER STORY on J.I.D. and EarthGang. For that reason, and many more, Revenge Of The Dreamers 3 felt like a truly special experience. With two weeks on the books, Atlanta’s Tree Sound Studios became a haven of unbridled creativity, of healthy competition, of camaraderie and no shortage of hilarity. Unfettered by the baggage of expectation, Dreamers 3 resulted in spontaneity at its most organic; case in point, walking into the studio at night, only to find J.I.D, Buddy, and countless more vibing to a low-key instrumental, chanting a zombie-esque refrain of “she got a big ole’ ass.” Next thing you know, “Oh Wow...Swerve” is sitting on the album.
At this point, the high points of Revenge Of The Dreamers 3’s musical arrangementhave been long documented - you can read my thoughts at length in this official album review - but its overall impact is what makes this one so special. Emerging with a compilation album that somehow feels like one cohesive unit, it’s incredible what J. Cole and his talented roster were able to cultivate in such a confined timeframe. A love letter to the fun side of making music, Dreamers 3 serves a tangible reminder of what a passionate and driven team can achieve.
- Mitch Findlay
FUTURE - THE WIZRD
Future’s The WIZRD played a pivotal role in setting 2019’s tone. One of the year’s first high-profile releases, delivered amidst an icy January, Future’s darkest album since DS2 is an intriguing journey to unpack. Though many were immediately drawn in by the bangers, Future’s penchant for delivering vivid imagery and abstract reflections of his emotional state were the album’s true foundational pillars. Given everything we’ve come to learn about Future, his depth continuously remains a selling point; those who have bought into his mystique understand that part of the enjoyment goes hand-in-hand with the demystification process.
Is he the poster-child for lyricism in its purest form? Not exactly. But Future gives enough clues to make the discovery of his inner psyche a process worth undertaking. The WIZRD doesn’t disappoint in that department, as Future slides over chilling trap production with a disassociated charisma. “I’m a well-known nuisance and my bitch bad,” he declares on “F&N,” a statement that might have made a fitting yearbook caption. As the album progresses, Future forsakes a particular thematic throughline, instead opting to let fly a stream-of-consciousness. Typical themes of opulence, hedonism, and indulgence are all present and accounted for, with additional subtext added through an array of mischevious and haunting instrumentals.
- Mitch Findlay
LIL DURK - LOVE SONGS 4 THE STREETS 2
Durkio has moved more to the background in the past couple of years. While he may not have "OG" status as of yet, he’s definitely become one of the forebears of sound for the latest-latest generation, alongside cult-clout names like Young Thug and Future. Yet, in comparison to those two, Durk has even less credit than he deserves when it comes agility with melodies, autotune, and relaying the story of the trap-- and how all of this has influenced a whole new crop of rappers. We’ll save that for a thinkpiece though.
Love Songs 4 the Streets 2 is yet another beyond-solid offering from Durk which contains everything we love about the aforementioned sound he’s cultivated. From the hard-hitting moments that have become immediate stand-outs and fan-favorites, like “Die Slow” with 21 Savage, to deeper cuts like “Wooh” with Key Glock, Lil Durk simply cannot miss when it comes to his releases-- it’s worth noting that Signed To The Streets 3 and Lil Durk Presents: Only The Family Involved Vol 2, both released in 2018, still require replay on the daily. Basically, Durk’s hot streak won’t let up, and Love Songs 4 the Streets 2 is validation of that.
- Rose Lilah
CALBOY - WILDBOY EP
Calboy had a breakout year with the single “Envy Me,” an incessantly catchy, prayer-turned-trap-gold. As the rapper tells it, he was really just sleepy (af) in the studio and started mumbling the prayer that makes up the hook, before it became a full-fledged melodic masterpiece. While WILDBOY EP isn’t Cal’s first release, it’s his most refined and shows the scope of his talent -- an exciting precursor to his impending major-label debut album. It truly “whets the appetite” (seemingly the intention of most EPs), leaving room for growth and further sound experiments-- which, judging from his latest unreleased snippet on Instagram, is the case.
Don’t sleep on WILDBOY. Calboy takes us down a dizzying 10-song trip, delving into matters of the heart and matters of the streets. The artwork for the EP finds Calboy perched atop a skull, with roses growing out of its orifices, a black raven sitting to his left looking up at him curiously. The image is encased in a border of flowers; but the artwork as a whole is muted and grey. This imagery encapsulates Calboy’s aesthetic-- love is juxtaposed with the darkness and demons that are clawing at him. He uses select features to help prop him up in this journey-- of course, Lil Durk makes an appearance twice (rightly so - see: Love Songs 4 the Streets 2 write-up), as well as Young Thug (see: previous brackets), his on-the-come-up accomplice Polo G, Meek Mill, Yo Gotti and Moneybagg Yo. If these features tell you anything, it’s that Calboy knows his lane, his audience, and sound. It’s only going to get better.
- Rose Lilah
KEVIN GATES - ONLY THE GENERALS GON UNDERSTAND EP
We’ve been treated to many a strong EP this year (so far). Kevin Gates was among the most exciting releases, with Only the Generals Gon Understand serving as his second project post-prison project-- with Chained to the City only containing 3 songs, this release felt more satisfying and proved that Gates is as hungry as ever, if not more. While it stood at 6 tracks long, each song was pure fuego, as the kids say.
Although Gates has dipped his toe into the mainstream pool, offering his softer side from time to time (namely on his first studio album Islah, which debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200), this EP was a reminder that first and foremost Gates is gritty and gangsta. It showcased those elements of Gate that encouraged his come-up in the first place-- some crazy bars about his sexual escapades (looking at you, “Luv Bug”), and equally, about his drug-dealing adventures (looking at you, the rest of the EP). Another successful appetizer that has us even hungrier for his upcoming album, I’m Him.
- Rose Lilah
POLO G - DIE A LEGEND
Perhaps our new cats are learning from the mistakes of recent rappers’ past, choosing to release shorter tracklists instead of overloading fans with tracklists verging 20+. Polo G’s full-length release, Die A Legend, has a comfortable 14 songs, more than enough to satisfy you, strong enough to not have to hit the skip button once. He’d already developed a loyal following thanks to viral hits -- the most viral, of course, being “Pop Out” with Lil Tjay, but “Finer Things” and “Battle Cry” should not be overlooked -- and this release just solidified his place on the ever-growing rap-map.
Polo G follows in the footsteps of fellow Chicagoan Lil Durk, using his experiences as fodder for his lyrics and using his melodies to fuel the beats. All of this is showcased on Die a Legend, where he reflects on some of his bleakest moments as a youth, not in any sort of celebratory or glamorized fashion, but in a more mature matter-of-fact way. Putting it all into wax not only seems to be a form of therapy for Polo, but likely for those in similar circumstances who latch on to the music. This fact, coupled with his penchant for choosing the right beats, makes the music resonate on a much deeper level than your average street anthem.
- Rose Lilah