Words by Brian James
Brian James is a former co-host of the Best Song Ever podcast and contributor to Off Shelf and other music publications. As a lifelong enthusiast, he has been a fan of hip-hop since middle school and now enjoys keeping up with mainstream and underground releases, and diving deep on the sampled and influencing sub-genres.
Kendrick Lamar – The Heart Part 5 (Top Dawg Entertainment) – As Kendrick has done with previous album releases, shortly before his new album he drops a new song in this series of songs, which don’t end up appearing on said albums. The Heart Part 5 is astounding and funky and one of the best songs he’s ever released period. It set expectations for Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers even higher than before. Perhaps even too high?
Must Listen Albums of May 2022:
Ravyn Lenae – HYPNOS (Atlantic) – Ever since hearing Ravyn Lenae’s song Sticky in 2017 I’ve been waiting for a full length album and it has finally arrived in the form of HYPNOS. Wow was it ever worth the wait. Yes, this is not technically a hip hop album but I love me some amazing R&B and this is definitely that. It’s a really astounding album with so many jams all anchored by Ravyn’s incredible voice. One of my favorite albums of any genre released this year.
Quelle Chris – Deathfame (Mello Music Group) – Quelle Chris can’t miss! One of the most consistently great rappers today delivers yet again. This is a weird album, with Chris showing off an astounding vocal range throughout, including the absolutely gorgeous and mostly sung second track Alive Ain’t Always Living. One of the absolute best hip hop albums of the year so far.
700 Bliss – Nothing to Declare (Hyperdub) – Admittedly it took me a while to get into Moor Mother’s style. Often more like spoken word poetry and incantations than prototypical rapping my mind had to get more exposure to process it and enjoy; however, once everything clicked it’s clicked hard. This is an amazing team up with DJ Haram and the resulting album is such a strange dance/hip hop album that sounds like absolutely nothing else.
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers (Top Dawg Entertainment) – This is such a hard album to write about, mostly because I’ve only been able to get through it once so far. That one time was an incredible experience, honestly, but for some reason it’s been hard to return. I love Kendrick and was very highly anticipating this album and he has delivered a very technically great and complicated album. I just wish I wanted to return to it and listen to it more. I hope that will change throughout the rest of the year.
Wilma Vritra – Grotto (Bad Taste) – Very interesting team up between producer Wilma Archer and rapper VRITRA (formerly of Odd Future.) It’s a strange listen and definitely in the left field hip hop vein; however, it’s overall a very chill listen and a vibe that you normally don’t find in left field hip hop. This is one I’m excited to spend more time with.
Sideshow – WEGAHTA TAPES VOL. 1 (10k) – Sideshow is a relatively new rapper on the scene, with his first album coming out on streaming in 2020. He’s a super exciting talent that I expect will blow up in the next couple of years. He’ll appeal to fans of MIKE but doesn’t sound like a rip off at all. This is real good stuff.
Boldy James – Killing Nothing (Real Bad Man Records) – Boldy James has been a hot commodity in the hip hop world for the past few years and this proves why. Sure, it may not be quite as strong as his last couple albums with The Alchemist, but this taps into a different sonic side of his and is definitely worth your time.
Flee Lord – Pray for the Evil 3 (LordMobb LLC) – Dark and murky hip hop from a super prolific rapper. This is one of my favorite releases from Flee Lord and has really awesome features.
Your Old Droog – Yod Stewart (Nature Sounds) – Your Old Droog continues his winning streak with yet another great release this year. He’s really coming into his own over the past few years. If you’re into great rapping over nice beats this is for you!
Killah Priest – Horrah Scope (Proverbs Records) – For the past decade Killah Priest has been as prolific as he’s been overlooked. It’s a shame the former Wu-Tang Clan member doesn’t get more respect! His discography is daunting and expansive so it’s hard to know where to start. Horrah Scope is actually a decent point for anyone looking to dive in. It’s very weird but one of his more accessible albums. Definitely a good chance to give it a try and branch out from here!
Bar None Mixtape: May 2022