When the first-week numbers came in for Kevin Gates' debut album, January's Islah
, many were surprised to see him sell 112,000 album-equivalent units. That total, whopping by 2016 standards, shouldn't have popped eyes, though. Before Islah
, the Louisiana rapper piled up mixtapes and EPs that vividly described his Baton Rouge upbringing, detailing gunplay and trap houses with raw, stark intensity (see: "4:30 AM," "Out the Mud"). He's always had heart, but he's never been without internal conflict: "The streets love me but fuck 'em / They tryna take me down," goes a line on his recent cut "Lil Nigga." Gates' capable singing voice and preternatural sense of melody fully emerged in recent years, leading to legit pop success. Consider Islah
single "2 Phones," which would practically warrant a Kidz Bop
version if not for its R-rated subject matter. Always productive, Gates, 30, quickly followed up Islah
with his Murder for Hire 2
mixtape in May.