So much rap music comes out all the time, and especially with frequent surprise releases, it can be hard to keep track of it all. So, as a way to help keep up with all of it, here’s a roundup of the 10 rap albums from September 2021 that stood out to us most. We also probably still missed or haven't spent enough time with some great September rap albums that aren't on this list. What were some of your favorites of last month? Let us know in the comments, and read on for the list (unranked, in no particular order).

Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
Age 101

The multi-talented UK rapper/singer/producer/instrumentalist Little Simz made one of the most ambitious rap albums in recent memory with 2019's GREY Area, a genre-defying album that connects the dots between Civil Rights era psychedelic soul and gritty '90s rap. It's not an easy album for anyone to top, but Simz is clearly dead-set on doing just that. Its followup Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is twice as long, and even more ambitious, with a genre-fluid approach to rap, funk, soul, jazz, R&B, rock, Afro-fusionism, and more, fleshed out by string sections, choirs, interludes, and other majestic-sounding embellishments. As gigantic as GREY Area felt, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert somehow manages to make it feel small in comparison.

Simz co-produced the album with her frequent collaborator Inflo, and their distinct approach to hip hop is intact, with organic, hard-hitting instrumentation fueling these songs rather than the computerized beats that the genre tends to favor. Simz matches the thrilling musicianship with a vocal delivery that would stop your favorite rapper in their tracks, and lyricism that's just as show-stopping. Throughout these songs, she questions the idea of artists feeling pressured to leave a legacy, but whether or not that’s actually important to her, a swinging-for-the-fences album like this is bound to leave her with one. She tackles the current political climate, exploring the racism and sexism and other forms of injustice that plague it, and she also looks inwards and contrasts her socially conscious songs with deeply personal ones. Her lyricism is just as multi-faceted and impossible to pigeonhole as her instrumentation; the whole thing is a journey, one that's unpredictable at every turn. It has the makings of a magnum opus, but knowing Little Simz, she'll probably figure out a way to top it next time.

 

Moor Mother - Black Encyclopedia of the Air
ANTI-

Last year, the jazz/hip hop/spoken word/avant-garde/etc artist Moor Mother released the new album Circuit City, which was made with her bandmates in the free jazz collective Irreversible Entanglements and was largely a jazz album. Since then, she's moved from Don Giovanni to ANTI- Records, and her ANTI- debut Black Encyclopedia of the Air is much more of a rap album, fueled by hip hop beats and guest verses from underground rap greats like Elucid, lojii, Pink Siifu, Nappy Nina, Maassai, and more. For the average pop music listener, it's easier to digest than Circuit City, but it's still not conventional by any means. Moor Mother is an innovative, experimental artist, and this album is a mind-bending, outré piece of art. Within the rap world, the closest comparison I can think of is something like Shabazz Palaces, but Moor Mother's resolute songwriting transcends any surface-level comparisons. It's admirable how she can make such drastically different albums within a short period of time, and sound like such a natural within multiple contexts. (And Irreversible Entanglements have another new album on the way too.) Black Encyclopedia of the Air registers as some of her most direct, most instantly-satisfying work yet, but judging by the way she's always worked, it's probably just one stop on her ever-expanding musical journey.

 

Injury Reserve - By the Time I Get to Phoenix
self-released

Moor Mother isn't the only artist with a futuristic, mind-bending rap album out this week. In a totally different way, Injury Reserve's blown-out sophomore album By the Time I Get to Phoenix walks a similar path. It follows their very promising 2019 self-titled debut album, which -- while very experimental -- was still firmly a rap album. This one's closer in practice to something like Tyler, the Creator's IGOR, a hip hop/art pop fusion so genre-defying that it feels like a disservice to call it a "rap album." It's a major artistic accomplishment, but it's also bittersweet, as it comes following the tragic, untimely death of group member Stepa J. Groggs. The album was largely completed before he passed and it features his contributions, and when the surviving members did have to add to the songs, they say they "stayed true to his constant insistence while recording to simply 'make some weird shit.'" That mantra sums up the album well. You can dive into all of the specific sounds and influences and genres and themes that make up this album, but above all else, this is the sound of three creative friends making some weird shit.

 

Lil Nas X - Montero
Columbia

When Lil Nas X became one of the first artists to achieve actual fame from TikTok virality with "Old Town Road," he seemed like he'd either use the moment as a launching pad for a career, or quickly dissolve into one hit wonder status. When he hastily followed "Old Town Road" with his major label debut EP 7, the latter scenario seemed a lot more likely. The unfocused EP was split between two alt-rock songs, three trap songs, and one attempt at recreating the country/rap crossover of "Old Town Road," and all of it felt half-baked. The Cardi B appearance, which could have been a highlight, felt just as tossed-off and seemed to exist just to help sell the record. Only "Panini" proved to have any semblance of staying power, and mostly because the melody was lifted from a Nirvana song.

But Lil Nas X didn't throw in the towel, and in the time since 7, he finally figured out a recipe that works. Across a string of singles with "Panini" producers Take A Daytrip -- including "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)," "Sun Goes Down," and "Industry Baby" -- Nas began crafting a maximalist, rap-infused pop sound that's more serious than "Old Town Road," more accomplished than 7, and more suited to his abilities than anything he'd released prior. He's definitely not a one hit wonder now -- "Montero" is his second chart-topper, and "Industry Baby" didn't come in far behind at No. 2 -- and even if some people initially spoke more about his videos than his music, the songs themselves have continued to hold up.

All three of those songs appear on Nas' proper debut album Montero, and Take A Daytrip either produced or co-produced the bulk of the album. They've become a great team, and Montero is full of songs that scratch the same itch as those lead singles. Features from Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, and Miley Cyrus feel well-placed and well-executed, not just chosen to throw some other big names on the record. (Elton John is also apparently on "One of Me," but I don't hear his voice -- maybe that's him on piano at the end. And I guess Jack Harlow's verse on "Industry Baby" is alright.) "One of Me" directly addresses the critics who claimed Nas would never top "Old Town Road," but most of the album just goes ahead and tops that song without talking about it. The album is much more of a pop album than a hip hop album, and it's not necessarily the coolest or most groundbreaking thing ever released, but it's an impressively solid release that proves Lil Nas X has found a sound that works for him. For the first time in his career, he has a clear vision.

 

Baby Keem - The Melodic Blue
pgLang/Baby Keem LLC/Columbia

Kendrick Lamar has been taking his time with his much-anticipated followup to DAMN., but meanwhile he's also been directing his attention towards his recent protégé (and cousin) Baby Keem. Kendrick delivered a comeback verse for the ages on Keem's recent single "Family Ties," and today Keem releases his new album The Melodic Blue, through Kendrick and former TDE president Dave Free's new company pgLang. It includes "Family Ties," as well as Keem's recent Travis Scott-featuring single "Durag Activity," and it also features Kendrick on "Range Brothers" and "Vent" (he's uncredited on the latter). The Melodic Blue is Keem's third album, but it's his first since Kendrick took him under his wing. The two also worked together on Kendrick's Black Panther: The Album and Beyonce's The Lion King: The Gift, and Keem contributed production to Kendrick's TDE labelmates Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q on 2018's Redemption and 2019's Crash Talk, respectively. (He also just appeared on Kanye West's Donda.)

It's easy to see why Kendrick has taken a liking to Keem's music. Like his more famous cousin, Keem is invested in constantly changing up his flow, experimenting with new ideas, and making rap that has pop appeal but doesn't sound like "pop rap." This is evident all over The Melodic Blue, a strong offering that suggests Keem won't be living in Kendrick's shadow for much longer. Largely self-produced by Keem (alongside a few other contributors, including longtime Kendrick collaborator DJ Dahi), The Melodic Blue affirms that Keem's rapping and production are both inventive. And powerful songs like new single "Issues" prove Keem can be an intense lyricist. With Kendrick saying his next album will be his last for TDE, it seems likely that he'll be building a new empire with pgLang, and if that;'s the case, The Melodic Blue makes for a strong foundation.

 

Lakeyah - My Time
Quality Control

Tyler, the Creator isn't the only artist bringing awareness back to DJ Drama's legendary Gangsta Grillz mixtape series this year. Rising Milwaukee rapper Lakeyah has just dropped a DJ Drama-hosted tape, My Time, her third full-length in the past 12 months. It features Tee Grizzley, Tyga, and Bankroll Freddie, and they and Drama all play supporting roles -- it's clear that they all know they're in the presence of a rising star. As on 2020's Time's Up and this year's In Due Time, Lakeyah feels like she's testing the waters, putting out relatively brief projects while she hones her promising sound. She's experimented with tough, shit-talking rap songs, somber, inward-looking ones, and pop and R&B, and this mixtape is largely focused on her shit-talking side. She sounds like she's out for blood on these songs; getting in her path would be foolish.

 

Gift of Gab - Finding Inspiration Somehow
Nature Sounds

Underground rap great Gift of Gab tragically passed away at age 50 this past June. Before that he hadn't released a full-length album since 2012, and Blackalicious -- his duo with Chief Xcel -- hadn't released one since 2015. But after his passing, we learned that he had completed an entire new album with producer Nick Andre called Finding Inspiration Somehow, and that album arrives today. As the title implies, Gab was able to find inspiration, even after such a long break between albums and the ongoing battle with kidney failure that ultimately ended his life. Maybe part of the inspiration came from seeing new rappers emerge who carried the tongue-twisting torch that Gab kept lit in the early 2000s (his 2018 EP is called Rejoice! Rappers Are Rapping Again!), but whatever the cause, Gab does indeed sound inspired on this album. He raps with the same urgency and determination that he had on classics like 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up, and he proves that his moment hadn't passed. Finding Inspiration Somehow isn't a misguided attempt at a comeback; it truly adds to his legacy.

 

Lukah - Why Look Up, God's In The Mirror
Raw Materials

Memphis rapper Lukah already released the very good album When The Black Hand Touches You earlier this year, and now he followed it with a second album of 2021, Why Look Up, God's In The Mirror. Produced almost entirely by Walz, it's a darker, more minimal album than its predecessor, closer to the gritty, post-boom bap of an artist like Boldy James, who has a great verse on this LP. He doesn't rely on radio-friendly hooks or samples to carry these songs; he drives them with his in-depth storytelling alone.

 

Solemn Brigham - South Sinner Street
Mello Music Group

After making a name for himself as one half of the duo Marlowe (with producer L'Orange), North Carolina rapper Solemn Brigham has stepped out on his own with his debut solo album, produced by Supa K, L’Orange, The Lasso, Krum, Scud One, Kuartz, & Frank Drake. With no features, Solemn delivers an array of tongue-twisting, in-the-pocket flows, and he always matches his technical prowess with real substance. He's got a good ear for beats too -- the album goes from soul/jazz-based boom bap to future funk with lots of other detours in between, and the album has a focused vibe, but every track sounds distinctly different than the last.

 

DJ Muggs & Crimeapple - Cartagena
Soul Assassins

It's been a good year for DJ Muggs, who's produced entire albums for Flee Lord and Rome Streetz, and now he's produced an entire album for underground New York rapper CRIMEAPPLE, the followup to their 2019 collab LP Medallo. As on their last album, they've got great chemistry, and they know how to put a fresh spin on '90s-style New York rap. Guests include Stove God Cooks and RLX.

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Honorable Mentions
Blu - The Color Blu(e)
Curly Castro - Little Robert Hutton
Kari Faux - Lowkey Superstar Deluxe
Mozzy - Untreated Trauma
Westside Gunn - Hitler Wears Hermes 8
ZillaKami - Dog Boy

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