12 Best Rap Albums of February 2021
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 12 rap albums from February 2021 that stood out to us most. We also probably still missed or haven't spent enough time with some great February 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)...
MAVI - End of the Earth EP
New York Lab/UnitedMasters
MAVI's breakthrough moment came in 2019, when he appeared on Earl Sweatshirt's Feet of Clay and released his debut project Let The Sun Talk, which featured contributions from Earl and MIKE. His hazy, abstract rap was frequently compared to theirs, but Let The Sun Talk had something unique about it, and MAVI continued to carve out a path of his own on the string of singles he put out in 2020. Now he finally put out his first new project since Let the Sun Talk, the five-song End of the Earth EP, and it finds him continuing down the appealing path he's been on for the last few years. It's brief, and like Let The Sun Talk, it gradually draws you in rather than ever jumping out at you, but repeated listens prove to be rewarding and this EP continues to reveal more and more about itself. The production is formless yet focused, pulling from glistening jazz keys and psychedelic atmosphere, but MAVI's lyrics read like in-depth poetry. (It makes sense that the artwork references Shel Silverstein and that the full name of this EP is "End of the Earth, the poems and compositions of Mavi.") MAVI's overall sound will probably still get compared to Earl and Mike, but boiling these songs down to comparisons minimizes how carefully thought-out they are.
Pooh Shiesty - Shiesty Season
Memphis rapper Pooh Shiesty is among the new class of rappers signed to Gucci Mane's 1017 label that he showcased on last year's So Icy Gang, Vol. 1 and So Icy Summer compilations, and he's quickly emerging as the label's latest breakout star. His debut project Shiesty Season boasts big-name features from Lil Durk, 21 Savage, and Gucci himself; it's already birthed a handful of breakout singles; and it quickly and deservedly established Shiesty as one of the most promising new forces in mainstream rap. It makes sense that Gucci Mane took interest in him; Shiesty is definitely cut from the melodic trap cloth that Gucci helped pioneer, and he already sounds ready to take over. Shiesty Season probably owes at least some of its popularity to the big names that were involved, but Pooh's own subtle hooks, vivid lyricism, and magnetic Southern drawl are what make you come back for more. Shiesty Season's most common criticism is that it's front-loaded with its best songs and starts to blur after a while -- which I agree with -- but in the seemingly endless sea of promising new trap upstarts, the highs on Shiesty Season are already high enough to position it as a cut above the rest.
slowthai - TYRON
slowthai arrived fully formed on his 2019 debut LP Nothing Great About Britain, the kind of bold, fearless debut that demands to be heard and truly feels like something new. It's a rap album that owes as much to punk as it does to hip hop, and as its title implies, it has a political angle that hit hard in the era of Brexit and the election of Boris Johnson. slowthai instantly took off, playing bigger and bigger shows and landing collabs with artists like Gorillaz and Disclosure, and now he follows his debut with his sophomore album TYRON, an expansive double album that proves Nothing Great About Britain was only the beginning.
The album is split into two distinct halves; the first half is full of aggressive, chest-puffed rap songs that pick up where the debut left off, and the second half is calmer, more melodic, and more lyrically introspective. It makes sense that the album title is TYRON, slowthai's real first name. When the first album would look outwards, this one looks inwards. Even on the harsher first half, there's nothing as straight-up punk as NGAB standout "Doorman." The album is unmistakably the work of slowthai, who was able to quickly craft his own distinct style, but it marks a noticeable progression from its predecessor. slowthai takes his music in all kinds of new directions, and many of the album's best moments come on the more somber songs on side two. For an artist who established himself with loud, raucous music, he is pretty damn good at the exact opposite.
slowthai also continues to prove himself as a versatile collaborator. In addition to an appearance by Skepta, who was also on Nothing Great About Britain, TYRON features James Blake, Mount Kimbie, Denzel Curry, A$AP Rocky, Dominic Fike, and Deb Never, and slowthai and his guests always bring out the best in each other. slowthai has created a vast musical world on TYRON, one where in-your-face rappers, indie-R&B crooners, subwoofer-rattling rap beats, and ethereal electronics all fit in neatly. The album aims to make an even grander statement than slowthai's debut and establish him as an artist who can't be pigeonholed, and it does so without losing sight of why people fell in love with his music in the first place.
Duke Deuce - DUKE NUKEM
Quality Control/Motown/Made Men Movement.
Memphis rapper Duke Deuce shook the rap world with his 2019 single "Crunk Ain't Dead," which single-handedly made the case that crunk really wasn't dead, and it eventually attracted three of the genre's pioneers -- Lil Jon, Juicy J, and Project Pat -- who appeared on a remix of it. The song wasn't a fluke, as Duke proved on this year's "Soldiers Steppin," another over-the-top crunk song (and video) that put an entirely fresh spin on the genre, and now he returns with his new album DUKE NUKEM, featuring that song and 13 others. This time, he's recruited a handful of big-name current rappers -- including A$AP Ferg, Offset, Young Dolph, Mulatto, Lil Keed, and more -- and the album, finds him continuing to fuse his love of '90s/early '00s crunk with modern-day trap. It's a savvy move, one that rappers like DaBaby and Megan Thee Stallion have already had a lot of success with. Like both of them, Duke Deuce clearly loves Y2K-era rap, and he's finding ways to introduce that stuff back into today's rap mainstream, rather than being full-on retro or full-on catering to modern radio. Sometimes he lets himself get a little too sucked in to generic trap-pop (the best songs are definitely the most in-your-face, abrasive ones), but if this album proves to be a breakthrough for Duke Deuce, it'll be a much-deserved one.
Conway The Machine & Big Ghost Ltd - If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed
Big Ghost Ltd
Conway The Machine (who seemed to recently shut down rumors that he was leaving Griselda) is gearing up to release his Shady debut God Don’t Make Mistakes this year, but first he reunited with producer Big Ghost Ltd (who helmed last year's No One Mourns The Wicked EP) for a new 10-song project, If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed. As on their last collab, Big Ghost Ltd blesses Conway with some of the most ominous production he's ever rapped over, while also finding plenty of time for the kinds of warm, soul sample-fueled beats that exist right at the center of Conway's comfort zone. Ghost knows exactly how to deliver in both cases, and Conway remains an A+ spitter who still has plenty of detailed stories to tell.
Ghetts - Conflict of Interest
UK rapper Ghetts has been a staple of grime since the genre's initial mid 2000s boom, and as UK rap continues to evolve and morph with other sounds from all around the world, so does Ghetts. His latest album and Warner debut barely qualifies as grime and if you didn't know any better, you might mistake it for a new artist just going by how hungry and fresh Ghetts sounds on it. Sometimes the album reminds you of the brash spitter that the world met 15 years ago (back when Ghetts was still known as Ghetto), but it often owes a lot to moody American R&B, and Conflict of Interest is as effective when it's somber and introspective as when it's aggressive and in-your-face. It's stacked with impressive guest appearances, from fellow vets to promising newcomers, including Skepta, Stormzy, Pa Salieu, Dave, Giggs, Emeli Sandé, Miraa May, and more, and the guests all fit in naturally and don't just feel like they're there to boost sales of Ghetts' major label debut. Even when Ed Sheeran shows up on "10,000 Tears," the album resists catering to the mainstream. It's long, but it's also an album you can't judge from just one or two songs. Even all the pre-release singles couldn't quite prepare you for the album's lyrical and musical depth.
Your Old Droog & Tha God Fahim - Tha YOD Fahim
Tha God Fahim and Your Old Droog's recent collaborative album Tha Wolf On Wall St is one of the year's best '90s boom bap style albums, and just three weeks later, they're already back with another collaborative LP. The two rappers are still taking cues from the same era on this one, and it's still largely produced by Tha God Fahim, who handled all of Tha Wolf On Wall St's beats (plus it has some production by Quelle Chris, Preservation, Nottz, and more), but it's a noticeably different album. Its predecessor was dark, somber, and deadly; in comparison, this one feels brighter, louder, and more lively. It makes sense that this album has artwork and song titles that are full of basketball references, and its predecessor was named after a Scorcese film full of crime, corruption, hard drugs, and extravagance. These new songs have the same energy as a buzzer shot.
Dark Time Sunshine - LORE
Fake Four Inc
Underground rap duo Dark Time Sunshine (Seattle rapper Onry Ozzborn and Chicago producer Zavala) are back with their first album in nine years, and it features R.A.P. Ferreira, Homeboy Sandman, Hail Mary Mallon (aka Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, and DJ Big Wiz) and Ceschi. The long gap between albums has left the duo sounding totally refreshed, and if you're unfamiliar with DTS, the cast of guests on this album should give you a good idea of what to expect. LORE connects the dots between Aesop Rock's early 2000s alt-rap classics and R.A.P. Ferreira's current version of left-of-the-dial rap music, and it's no surprise that both of those greats fit in perfectly here. Read more about the album here.
Rome Streetz & DJ Muggs - Death & the Magician
Rome Streetz is a Brooklyn rapper who's been on the rise for the past few years and who has become a frequent collaborator of the Griselda crew -- with whom he shares a knack for gritty, '90s-style New York rap -- and now he's teamed with legendary producer DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill to helm the entirety of his latest project, Death & the Magician. Muggs (who also has an instrumental album coming in March via Sacred Bones) provides Rome with the kind of sinister production he's been honing for decades, and Rome proves to be a worthy collaborator, with a deadly delivery that's up to par with the hometown heroes that paved the way for him.
Stunna Girl - STUNNA THIS STUNNA THAT
A year after releasing the viral-on-TikTok "Runway," Sacramento rapper Stunna Girl has released her major label debut project, STUNNA THIS STUNNA THAT. She told Hip-HopVibe.com that the mixtape came together quickly because she's "a freestyler at heart," and you can definitely sense that from how raw and urgent this whole thing is. The music's as Gen Z-friendly as you'd expect from a 22-year-old rapper who first found fame on TikTok, but Stunna Girl clearly takes influence from hip hop's past. She spends 11 of these 12 songs shout-rapping in a way that hasn't been mainstream since the early 2000s, only resorting to trendy auto-tuned rap&B on album closer "Where You Belong," and there's some definite New Orleans bounce on this record too. Like Megan Thee Stallion and DaBaby, she has a knack for bringing a Y2K-era rap influence into today's radio rap world, but she doesn't necessarily sound like them. She has her own vibe. and it's no surprise that more and more people keep getting drawn to it.
Fat Ray - Santa Barbara
Fat Ray has been a staple of underground Detroit rap since his mid 2000s days as a frequent collaborator of Black Milk, but for such a long-running rapper, he doesn't have a very vast discography to show for it -- he's done tons of guest verses over the years, but only put out a few of his own projects. Now, as part of Danny Brown's label Bruiser Brigade's 2021 takeover (which began in January with J.U.S' album), he's returned with Santa Barbara, and it hits as hard as the stuff he was doing over a decade ago. Danny and Black Milk both show up on "Dopeman Heaven" (the former raps on it, the latter produced it), so that song quickly emerged as a standout, but the bulk of the album was produced by Bruiser Brigade affiliate Raphy, who suits Ray's bold, bassy rhymes as well as Black Milk did when Ray was breaking through.
Fred The Godson - Ascension
South Bronx rapper Fred The Godson was having a career resurgence in 2019/2020 before his life was tragically cut short by coronavirus in April. He left behind unreleased music, at least some of which has now resulted in the new posthumous album Ascension, and it reminds you that Fred was at the peak of his creative powers when he was taken from us. Throughout its nine songs are homages to such legends as Biggie, Nas/Jay-Z, and Aretha Franklin, and Fred does them justice.
For more new rap, listen below or subscribe to a playlist of 36 rap songs we like from February 2021.
10 Best Rap Albums of 2020
See the full top 50 here.