11 best rap albums of February 2020
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 eleven great rap albums from February 2020 (and one from January) all in one place. Some of these have been reviewed in Notable Releases, but an album's appeal doesn't always reveal itself the day it comes out so a bunch of these are getting reviewed on BV for the first time right here. All things considered, 11 isn't even a very big number for one month, so if your favorite rap album of February isn't here, let us know what it is in the comments.
Pop Smoke - Meet the Woo 2
Man, this one hurts to write. Meet the Woo 2 would've made this list regardless, but after Pop Smoke was tragically shot and killed at just 20 years old, it became not just one of the best rap albums of the month but THE rap album of the month. Pop was an ascendent star whose life was cut short as he was just getting started, and even if posthumous releases are in the works, Meet the Woo 2 will always remain the final offering from Pop himself.
The Brooklyn native took his city by storm with his 2019 single "Welcome to the Party," which took a clear influence from UK drill but was as New York as it gets. Pop Smoke had a low, booming delivery, a thick Brooklyn accent, and he pronounced his words clearly and firmly like New York rappers always have. As Pop proved in a freestyle over 50 Cent's "U Not Like Me," he can rap in the traditional sense, but unlike New York's other recent exports like Young M.A and Joey Bada$$ and even Cardi B, Pop chose to diverge from traditional New York rap on purpose and proved himself to be one of the city's freshest and most unique new voices in the process. When he crowned himself the king of New York on his second mixtape, it didn't even feel undeserved.
By the time "Welcome to the Party" rose to Song of the Summer status, Pop put out his debut mixtape Meet the Woo with that song and eight others, making good on the promise of "Party" and proving it was no fluke. And this year's Meet the Woo 2 is still cut from basically the same cloth, but it's an improvement upon the form and it finds Pop joined by some famous guests like Quavo and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, further proving himself as someone who could fit right in with the pop-trap on the radio without sacrificing the style he won everyone over with last year. Not only did Meet the Woo 2 continue to prove "Welcome to the Party" was no fluke, it beat that song and Pop's first mixtape at their own game plenty of times. "Christopher Walking" is an even better single, and the run from that song through "Element" already feels like a mini greatest hits.
We'll never know what Pop Smoke could have achieved and how far he could have gone. Meet the Woo 2 is a very good mixtape, but It feels like he was still sharpening his tools and that his first truly great album was still yet to come; it and and its predecessor will forever leave us wanting more, but if the cusp of greatness is as far as this world was going to let Pop Smoke get, we'll have to be grateful that he managed to give us any amount of music at all.
Bad Bunny - YHLQMDLG
Bad Bunny was already one of the biggest and best singles artists in Latin trap before he dropped his late-2018 debut album X 100PRE and became one of the genre's biggest and best album artists, and he's remained unstoppable since then. Last year, he released the great collab album with J Balvin Oasis, and this year, both of them performed at the star-studded Super Bowl Halftime Show and Bad Bunny managed to briefly steal the show from long-established headliners Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. His meteoric rise remains unstoppable and his music is everywhere; he isn't just one of the biggest and best artists in Latin trap, he's one of the biggest and best rappers in the world in general. He's also one of the most distinct and one of the most consistently enjoyable. Whenever you hear Bad Bunny, you know exactly who it is, and he rarely fails to impress. When he dropped 20 new songs in the form of YHLQMDLG on Saturday night (2/29) at midnight, it was no exception.
Bad Bunny had only announced the album 48 hours earlier as a guest on Fallon (where he performed with rising R&B singer and YHLQMDLG guest Sech), so it was a semi-surprise release, and it came out during a weekend instead of on the usual Friday (so far Bad Bunny has yet to release a solo album on a normal release day), but of course none of those things are obstacles for an artist like Bad Bunny and the album has already taken the world by storm. When X 100PRE first arrived, there was still some curiosity about whether or not the singles-oriented Bad Bunny's sound could translate to the length of a full album. At this point, we all know it can, and the semi-surprise drop of YHLQMDLG was like spraying gasoline at the fire that X 100PRE and Oasis started. It delivers exactly what you want from Bad Bunny, and it continues to reveal more and more gems with each listen. If there's any downside at all, it's the length (20 songs in 66 minutes). Even as an artist who continues to casually defy genre, Bad Bunny's songs on YHLQMDLG still overall sound more similar to each other than you might want from an album of this length, but each song is so effective that this still feels like a minor complaint. And even if it takes a while to get there, getting to the end is rewarding every time. The album's hardest banger is saved for track 18 ("P FKN R" ft. Kendo Kaponi and Arcangel), and I don't know if the hard rock of "Habalmos Mañana" would work so well if it didn't come as the penultimate track. YHLQMDLG finds subtle ways to take you on a journey, and that journey is better each time.
Boldy James & The Alchemist - The Price of Tea in China
Detroit rapper Boldy James already had a few collaborative projects with The Alchemist dating back to 2013, and if you're unfamiliar with Boldy, he's got exactly the kind of throwback style that rappers who work with The Alchemist tend to have. And this new album comes with guest verses from Vince Staples, Freddie Gibbs, Benny the Butcher, and Evidence, and if you like any or all of those guys, The Price of Tea in China is not to miss. Boldy and Alchemist kinda stick to just one sound -- Alchemist provides hazy, psychedelic beats and Boldy raps over them in a solemn, plainspoken, and subtly effective style -- but they do that sound very well and the songs on this album really start to pop out at you the more you listen to it. The guest verses are all on point too, and they help shake things up and stop the album from ever getting too samey, but that's not a slight at Boldy James, whose thoughtful, captivating rhymes make some of the best songs the ones that don't have guests at all ("Carruth," "Run-Ins").
Duke Deuce - Memphis Massacre 2
Last year, rising Memphis rapper Duke Deuce released the single "Crunk Ain't Dead," an homage to the music genre that Three 6 Mafia helped establish in the '90s and Lil Jon helped make famous in the early '00s, a genre which you probably did think was dead. But Duke Deuce said it isn't, and now he's got a remix of the song out featuring none other than Lil Jon, Three 6 Mafia's Juicy J, and frequent Three 6 collaborator (and Juicy J's brother) Project Pat, and it's one of the best rap songs of the year. Crunk is truly not dead.
That remix is featured on Memphis Massacre 2, Duke's followup to his 2018 debut mixtape Memphis Massacre, and it's far from the only good song on this tape. For a recent comparison, Memphis Massacre 2 reminds me of another brash, loud, Dirty South-loving rapper, DaBaby, whose 2019 album Baby On Baby also capitalized on the success of a breakthrough single ("Walker Texas Ranger") and quickly proved he was no one hit wonder. But sound-wise, Duke probably reminds me most of Big K.R.I.T., who shares Duke's deep love of all kinds of Southern rap classics. K.R.I.T. was (and is) the kind of guy who would put a nearly-forgotten duo like 8Ball & MJG on a track just because they were such an obviously huge influence on him, and Duke is doing a similar thing by bringing back a genre that most people haven't thought about in years. But Memphis Massacre 2 is also more than just crunk. It sounds like all different kinds of Southern rap, from '90s Dirty South to current-day trap, and Duke does it all without ever feeling retro. Like the aforementioned DaBaby or fellow Three 6 Mafia devotee Megan Thee Stallion, Duke Deuce raps his ass off like they did at the turn of the millennium, but he makes it work in the context of what the radio plays today.
Princess Nokia - Everything Sucks / Everything Is Beautiful
Princess Nokia released not one but two new albums in the last week of February: Everything Sucks, a dark, hard-hitting rap album with little more than booming beats and Nokia’s knife-like rhymes; and Everything Is Beautiful, a more melodic, lively, and soulful album that features live instruments and contributions from jazz musician and Kendrick Lamar producer Terrace Martin, NYC jazz group Onyx Collective, and the great NYC neo-soul group OSHUN. I just reviewed them a few days ago, so I don't really have new perspective to add yet, but you can read my full review here.
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats - UNLOCKED
When UNLOCKED first arrived, I said its brevity, surprise release, carefree attitude, and the fact that it was recorded in three days shouldn't make it seem any less essential than the landmark albums Denzel Curry recently released, and that already feels like an understatement. Now that it's had time to settle in, it just feels like Denzel Curry has yet again made some of the best new rap music around. UNLOCKED pays obvious homage to a lot of turn-of-the-millennium rap music, from its Matt Doo-like artwork to the MF DOOM style production to the DMX style cadences, but Denzel and Kenny make it all their own. "I came through like a bastard - nobody father my style," Denzel raps, and even on an album that reads like a love letter to Denzel's faves, you still believe him.
Royce Da 5'9" - The Allegory
Eminem's latest comeback attempt came out earlier this year, and as much as I want to like it, as much as his impeccable skill remains undeniable, he just continues to sound out of touch. It's not the weirdest thing -- a lot of artists lose steam or fail to keep up with the times -- and it's impressive enough that Em already released three classic albums. It's actually probably more expected that an artist whose breakthrough was over 20 years ago would be out of creative juice by now. That's why it shouldn't be taken for granted that Royce Da 5'9", who had his own breakthrough as a guest on Eminem's ''99 album Slim Shady LP and has been a frequent Em associate ever since, released a genuinely good album this month.
Eminem is on the album (delivering a well-meaning spoken word interlude about how hip hop brings so many races of people together), as are all three members of Griselda (Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, and Benny the Butcher), the gritty '90s-style street rappers from Buffalo who are currently the most exciting part about Shady Records. And the album's also got Royce's PRhyme partner DJ Premier, Vince Staples, T.I., G Perico, Cedric the Entertainer, and more. That's a guest list that should get anyone's attention in 2020, but really Royce Da 5'9" is pulling his own weight on The Allegory. The album is named after Plato's allegory of the cave, and it's a rich-sounding, soulful concept album about racism and injustice in America. It's a little long (22 songs, 68 minutes) but the payoff is worth it. Royce doesn't sound like an aging, out of touch rapper at all; The Allegory feels as sonically and lyrically relevant as a lot of recent albums by rappers half Royce's age. If you didn't know any better, you'd think he was someone still on the come up.
Kamaiyah - Got It Made
GRND.WRK / EMPIRE
Kamaiyah made one of the best rap albums of the 2010s with her 2016 debut mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto, which offered up a fresh, reinvigorated take on the G-Funk era and (along with her collaborator YG) helped kick off a G-Funk revival that we're still feeling the effects of today. Kamaiyah never became the huge star she seemed like she'd be (she signed to and departed from Interscope without ever releasing a proper album) but she's still damn good at what she does. Got It Made is cut from a very similar cloth as A Good Night in the Ghetto, which does mean you've pretty much heard Kamaiyah do all this stuff before, but if it ain't broke don't fix it and in Kamaiyah's case, it definitely ain't broke. Listening to Got It Made results in the same type of endless-summer joy that listening to Good Night does, and I for one am happy to get more songs from Kamaiyah like this.
ShooterGang Kony - Red Paint Reverend
Like his current tourmates SOB x RBE and fellow West Coasters Mozzy and Nef the Pharaoh (who both guest on this album), Sacramento rapper ShooterGang Kony is clearly in love with the West Coast street rap sounds of yesteryear, but he makes them sound fresh and he’s got endless energy and an attention-grabbing delivery that keeps you hooked even when it’s not the most original thing in the world. He frontloads the album with the obvious bangers, but tracks towards the end like “Dearly Departed” and “Black On Black Crime” reveal a more sentimental, contemplative side of Kony and prove he’s no one trick pony.
Navy Blue - Àdá Irin
Navy Blue hails from New York's currently thriving underground rap scene, the one that's been getting a little overground attention thanks to local breakthrough MIKE and the love that Earl Sweatshirt has been showing the scene. Navy Blue appears on Earl's Some Rap Songs and MIKE's War In My Pen (among other cool recent records), and this month he followed a four-year run of EPs with his first full-length, Àdá Irin. If you dig Some Rap Songs and War In My Pen but haven't checked out Navy Blue yet, you should change that. Similar to both of those albums, the production is full of soul samples that melt into each other and sound like they're literally being played on warped vinyl, and Navy Blue's delivery is meandering and stream-of-consciousness, with the words just rolling off his tongue with no clear end in sight. The amount of albums in this style seems to be increasing every year, but Navy Blue is clearly very good at what he does, so if you're craving more where Some Rap Songs and War In My Pen came from, don't sleep on this one.
Medhane - Full Circle
On a very related note to Navy Blue, Medhane (who featured Navy Blue and MIKE on his November 2019 album Own Pace) also put out a new record this month. Production-wise, Full Circle is a lot like Àdá Irin, but Medhane is a much different type of MC than Navy Blue. Navy Blue's rhymes are as trippy as his beats, but Medhane's got a more clear-headed delivery and veers more in the direction of firm, traditional New York rappers. (As does Maassai, whose guest verse on "I Was Just In The Mara" is one of my favorite verses on Full Circle.) It's tough to say he's "in the pocket" because the hazy production kind of erases the existence of any pockets in the first place, but if there was one, Medhane's the kind of airtight rapper who would surely be in it.
AND ONE MORE FROM JANUARY
ovrkast. - Try Again
One more album that's very related to Navy Blue and Medhane but came out January (and was admittedly not something we caught wind of right away) is the latest from Oakland's ovrkast. You might remember he was on Earl Sweatshirt's great 2019 project Feet of Clay alongside Mavi, and Mavi's also on Try Again, as is Navy Blue. (Demahjiae and Pink Siifu appear as well.) ovrkast's production has more of a head-nodding jazzy vibe than the warped soul of the Navy Blue and Medhane albums, but it's still in that same world of trippy underground rap and it's one of my favorite rap records this year so far.