It was an eventful summer for rap.
The genre’s stars and mega-stars released albums left and right. Kanye West and GOOD Music’s hit-or-miss five-album sprint was almost over by the time the summer solstice technically started, but those albums—from Pusha T, Kanye himself, Kids See Ghosts (Kanye and Kid Cudi), Nas, and Teyana Taylor—nevertheless felt like the kickoff of an exciting season.
By the end of the summer, we would also have chart-topping new albums from Eminem, Drake, J. Cole, and Travis Scott, which all reached No. 1 on theBillboard 200, as well as Nicki Minaj’s divisive return Queen. Other notable, if lower-tier, names also dropped new projects, from Young Thug to Mac Miller, whose shocking death on September 7 seemed to devastate the entire rap world.
Of course, if you know where you’re looking, the sprawling spectrum of rap circa-now offers a seemingly infinite amount of music that doesn’t generate millions of streams or dominate social-media conversation. Here are seven worthwhile albums, mixtapes, and EPs you might have missed.
Armand Hammer – Paraffin
Together as the duo Armand Hammer, NYC MCs Billy Woods and Elucid are rooted in a familiar ’90s New York sound, but they like to stretch in arty and abstract directions, resulting in rap that can bring to mind old Def Jux classics but ultimately sounds like its own thing. It also helps that as MCs, both Woods and Elucid, who have recorded solo efforts and been in other groups, sound like they’ve each finally found their perfect foil.
E-40 – The Gift of Gab
E-40’s consistency can be a double-edged sword; he has the Curren$y-like problem of releasing enough quality music that he’s easy to take for granted. On The Gift of Gab, his 25th studio album and 15th of this decade (!), Earl Stevens injects young blood into his pioneering Bay Area style via up-and-comers half his age, including SOB x RBE sing-rapper Yhung T.O. (“These Days”) and Detroit’s gloriously raw Sada Baby (“The Pack Attack”).
Goonew – Big 64
Maryland’s Goonew remembers the exact day he started rapping: September 15, 2017. Yes, it was that recent, but the newcomer is already one of the leading artists emerging from the bubbling DMV scene. (He already had some level of street notoriety, giving him a head start.) Goonew has a lot of fans but a lot of haters, too, who criticize his unorthodox, whispery style, inviting comparisons to guys like 21 Savage and Hoodrich Pablo Juan. But it works for me, especially on Big 64.
Ivy Sole – Overgrown
Philadelphia’s Ivy Sole reminds me of the Rapsodys and Nonames of the world, but across the 25-year-old’s new album, Overgrown, her versatility is so evident that comparisons to other artists almost feel disrespectful. Ivy both raps and sings, and she’s inherited Philly’s neo-soul tradition, even dabbling in hip-house and Afrobeat. However, on Overgrown, which she’s described as “one big-ass love album,” Ivy impresses most during her introspective, straight-up rap moments. Fortunately, there are plenty of those.
Retch – After the Verdict
The title of New Jersey rapper Retch’s latest project, After the Verdict, refers to his acquittal of armed robbery charges from 2016. “Going to trial, that’s the toughest shit I ever did/ Nigga pointed from the stand right in front my kid,” he snarls on opener “Dubs & Losses,” which features New York’s Roc Marciano. Those two things alone tell you a lot about this entirely Grimm Doza-produced outing—Retch is in a dark place here as he embraces the insular East Coast underground style that Roc epitomizes.
Starlito – At WAR with Myself Too
Starlito and Trapperman Dale – Trapstar
For years, Nashville rapper Starlito has reliably been one of the South’s best lyricists. His mid-summer effort At WAR with Myself Too, the sequel to his 2011 mixtape, is the latest in a long line of solo tapes that put his lyricism on full display: trap memories that emphasize vivid details (the flip phones, the vacuum-sealing, the suspicious neighbors) alongside reflections on his struggles with addiction, depression, and paranoia. Naturally, it’s the heavier of Lito’s two most recent releases. The other, Trapstar, is a collaboration tape with Nashville’s faster-rapping and more hook-oriented Trapperman Dale. While it’s not as strong as Lito’s Step Brothers tapes with Memphis’ Don Trip, I’d happily check out a Trapstar 2.