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An especially strong month in hip-hop saw the release of brilliant albums from, amongst others, Kendrick Lamar, Black Star, 700 Bliss, and Boldy James.
Every month sees the release of some fantastic new hip-hop; however, May featured a substantial share of quality in the genre. Kendrick Lamar’s latest was rightly heralded as a masterpiece, Boldly James continued his incredible hot streak, and 700 Bliss came up with one of the most thrillingly-confrontational albums of the year.
Read about all these and more in our roundup of the best hip-hop albums released in May 2022.
One of the best hip-hop albums released in May was 700 Bliss’ Nothing to Declare. The duo, comprised of Philadelphia artist/rapper Moor Mother and New Jersey producer DJ Haram, craft an exciting and muscular brand of experimental electronica, an intensely-physical style of production over which Moor Mother spits off-kilter bars teeming with charisma and menace. Tracks like “Discipline” and “Bless Grips” epitomize the album’s tough, captivating, and often downright-scary tone, making Nothing to Declare as rewarding as it is confrontational.
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is one of those albums with ‘masterpiece’ written all over it. From its double album length to its densely-plotted structure to its heavy emotional depths, Kendrick Lamar‘s fifth studio album has ‘important work’ coded into its DNA. While a minority have found fault with its unwieldy nature, it’s hard to find much fault with Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. From the emotional weight of tracks like “Father Time” and “Auntie Diaries” to the formal audacity of “We Cry Together” and “Mr. Morale”, this is a monstrous, raw, and simply-brilliant album from the Compton auteur.
Talking of auteurs, Quelle Chris‘ Deathframe is a wonderfully-singular cut of alternative hip-hop. The Detroit native has become something of a cult darling. His discography is rich and eclectic, rife with collaborations and features that range from rappers like Roc Macarino and Navy-Blue, indie act Tune-Yards, and even comedian James Acaster. Deathframe might be his most accomplished album yet, with 14 tracks featuring the requisite collaborations and a distinctly murky and unusual production style. Highlights include the psychedelic “Feed the Heads” and the unsettling “The Agency of the Future”. It is a unique and accomplished album from an artist with a firm grasp of their identity.
This is a gem of an album. Wilma Vritra are a transatlantic duo with London-based Will Archer, whose production credits include tracks by Jessie Ware and Sudan Archives, and rapper Vritra, a Los Angeles-based affiliate of the Odd Future collective. Grotto is their second full-length as Wilma Vritra and marks another chapter in what is becoming a highly fruitful collaboration. Grotto’s tone is hugely idiosyncratic as the instrumentation ranges from the spacious “One Under” to the soulful “If Possible” to the jazz-inflected “Wookey Hole”. Contemplative and frequently-mystical lyrics only further compound the gentle oddities that are to be found within the fascinating Grotto.
Link: Boldy James is a favorite of this column; his album Bo Jackson was our favorite hip-hop album of 2021. Since then, he’s released the Super Tecmo Bo mini-album, and now his collaboration with producer Real Bad Man Killing Nothing. Compared to Bo Jackson or 2020’s The Price of Tea in China, James’ latest seems a little more straightforward and less formally audacious. However, this simplicity works in its favor and makes for a fine example of ice-cold modern boom-bap. Quality guest spots from the likes of, amongst others, CRIMEAPPLE and Rome-Streetz are the cherries on top of another effortless great Boldy James album.
Knucks has quietly maneuvered himself to the top of the UK rap game. His latest full-length Alpha House sees the London rapper come into his own, a place beyond peers and genre boundaries. Alpha House‘s compositional make-up fuses drill, grime, and UK hip-hop into a modern, emotionally resonant, and distinctive mini-epic. These 13 tracks feature lucid and wise storytelling, particularly on the brilliant “Hide & Street”, an alarming portrayal of a youth’s descent into violent crime. Sharp, varied production and a great guest spot from Stormzy on the album highlight “Die Hard” make Alpha House something of a benchmark for this rising UK rap star.
Despite the 24-year wait between the previous Black Star album and No Fear of Time, the album landed with something of a whimper rather than a bang. That’s not a reflection of the album’s quality, more down to the unusual decision to release the record exclusively via the podcast network Luminary. Beyond this unorthodox release strategy, No Fear of Time is a hugely compelling work of Afrofuturist hip-hop. These nine tracks are dense and cosmic, bouncing between ideas and themes with a palpable sense of wonder and exploration. Black Star’s musical universe is an amazing place to be, which makes it all the more of a shame that more people won’t get to join them on their latest voyage.
Deca’s world is always a nice place to be. The New York-based producer and MC crafts psychedelic, sample-based hip-hop that’s vibrant, colorful, and brimming with character. While Deca is a highly-adept MC, as proved by “Crab Apples” and “War Heads”, Smoking Gun also features some interesting instrumental excursions in the shape of “Hive of Industry” and “Tunnel Under”. Both are very different but make for excellent examples of the art of instrumental, sample-leaden hip-hop. Solid guest features from Blu and Homeboy Sandman help make Smoking Gun a must-listen for fans of underground hip-hop.
Hip-Hop Matters: The Best Hip-Hop of May 2022 – PopMatters