12 best rap albums of May 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 the ten rap albums from May 2020 that stood out to us most. Some of these have been reviewed in Notable Releases, and some of these are getting reviewed on BV for the first time right here. I also probably still missed or haven't spent enough time with some great May 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 (in no particular order)...
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist - Alfredo
Gibbs has spent his whole career rapping his ass off and not worrying about pop crossover, but he himself has helped bring more attention to his style of raw, gritty rap, and lately he's been busy lending verses to other albums that are cut from a similar cloth and getting a pleasantly surprising amount of attention, like Boldy James' The Price of Tea in China (entirely produced by The Alchemist) and Westside Gunn's Pray For Paris (featuring production by The Alchemist). And Alfredo really feels like it has more of a kinship with those two albums than with Freddie's own last album, Bandana (with Madlib), or even Freddie's last project with The Alchemist (and Curren$y), Fetti. Westside Gunn and Boldy James aren't on this album, but WSG's two Griselda partners are (Conway the Machine, who put out the Alchemist-produced LULU EP this year, and Benny the Butcher, who's on both The Price of Tea in China and Pray For Paris), and it also features Tyler, the Creator in the same cold, hard street-rap mode that he appeared in on Pray For Paris. Read more here.
Ka - Descendants Of Cain
Ka has done it again. His ominous, plainspoken delivery is in its usual fine form, but the production (which was mostly handled by Ka himself, along with some contributions from Animoss, his Dr. Yen Lo partner Preservation, and Roc Marciano, who also raps on "Sins of the Father") is some of his most psychedelic music yet. Just going by the beats, Descendants Of Cain is almost more like Shabazz Palaces than like the last few Ka albums, but Ka's clear-eyed delivery works in smooth contrast to the head-trip production and keeps things firmly grounded. He remains a great lyricist too, weaving clever rhymes and one-liners into his web of narrative-driven storytelling ("Was dropped in Gotham, I had to blossom to grow roots / Chase the product, got up on his shoulder with no boost"). Read more here.
Preservation - Eastern Medicine, Western Illness
Speaking of Preservation, he also put out his own new album this month (and it also features Ka and Roc Marciano). He recorded the album in Hong Kong and dedicated it to the people of Hong Kong, and he also featured some local artists on it: rapper Young Queenz, opera singer Michelle Siu, and guzheng player Chin King. He also is clearly tapped in to the current underground rap scene and featured a handful of artists who are either new and rising or who have been around but are having more of a moment now than ever, including Navy Blue, Mach-Hommy, Your Old Droog, Billy Woods, Quelle Chris, and more. All of those artists are different, but they all share a love of both golden age rap tradition and experimental futurism, which makes them perfect for a Preservation record. Preservation also really knows how to tie it all together and make Eastern Medicine, Western Illness sound like one cohesive record even though there's a different rapper on every track. It's more a concept album than a compilation, and if you like your rap on the psychedelic, left-of-the-dial side, you should not sleep on it. Read more here.
Medhane - Cold Water
Speaking of rap on the psychedelic, left-of-the-dial side (and albums that feature Navy Blue), Medhane's Cold Water is another fine addition to the current underground rap scene. Medhane's been insanely prolific lately -- this is his second full-length of 2020, following Full Circle, and his third in the past six months, including last fall's Own Pace -- and for some artists that would be over-saturation, but Medhane just keeps getting better. The production on Cold Water is some of the most stunning in Medhane's discography yet, and his rapping is louder and clearer and more purposeful than ever. Read more here.
Jay Worthy & Harry Fraud - Eat When You’re Hungry Sleep When You’re Tired EP
SRFSCHL / GDF
Jay Worthy originally hails from Compton and -- along with frequent collaborators like Kamaiyah and G Perico -- he's part of a new crop of rappers that keep the sound and feel of the '90s G-funk era alive, but he recently moved to NYC and upon doing so, he linked up with NYC producer Harry Fraud (Smoke DZA, Curren$y, Meyhem Lauren, French Montana, etc) with whom he released this collaborative EP. Fraud is a real New York kinda guy, but it turns out he's also really good at crafting the kind of West Coast-style bounce that Jay Worthy is perfect for. This EP is just six songs (and a remix as a bonus track), but it feels complete. And besides, better to demand replays than overstay your welcome.
Little Simz - Drop 6 EP
While stuck at home in quarantine, Little Simz decided to bang out this new EP. It's just five short songs that clock in at 12 minutes and she put the whole thing together in about a month, but it doesn't sound like an off-the-cuff project. It's brief, but it's a great listen and it often rivals GREY Area. It's full of innovative production, gut-punch one-liners ("You ain’t seen no one like me since / Lauryn Hill back in the ’90s, bitch"), and the same type of edge-of-your-seat intensity that last year's GREY Area has. Read more here.
Sheff G - One and Only
Even before Pop Smoke's tragic, untimely passing, he had become the face of Brooklyn drill, but Sheff G was one of the subgenre's originators before Pop took off and he's been continuing to hone his sound and further solidify a brand of drill that's strictly New York. One and Only is Sheff's second full-length project following last fall's The Unluccy Luccy Kid, and like on that project, Sheff continues to take his booming delivery in a more sing-song direction. It makes him increasingly accessible (recent single "Moody" is at least as catchy as when Drake borrows Brooklyn drill), but Sheff manages to do it without losing the grit of his earliest material. Read more here.
Bad Bunny - Las Que No Iban a Salir
Bad Bunny's hot streak cannot be stopped. Las Que No Iban a Salir is his second album of 2020, and -- counting his collab album with J Balvin -- his fourth full length in under a year and a half, and like all the other music he's released in the past 16 months, it's effortlessly enjoyable. This one was presumably a bit more effortless for Bad Bunny to make too -- it's ten songs (half the amount of his last album), including a freestyle and a remix of Jhay Cortez's Como Se Siente -- and much of this album was very likely recorded during quarantine, without a proper studio. Still, he managed to rope in some major guests -- including veteran artists Don Omar and Nicky Jam -- and the whole thing sounds nearly as pristine as Bad Bunny's more polished works. Read more here.
Conway the Machine - No One Mourns The Wicked
Conway's second EP of 2020 (following the Alchemist-produced LULU) is the Big Ghost Ltd-produced No One Mourns The Wicked. The EP is bookended by two heavier tracks -- the rap/doom metal hybrid "Dead Flowers" and the almost horrorcore sounding "Sicarios" -- but mostly it's what you expect from Conway: hazy, psychedelic production matched in intensity by Conway's gritty bars. The only two guests are Griselda associates El Camino and Flee Lord, but Conway has no trouble carrying the bulk of this EP on his own. He still finds ways to make familiar music sound fresh, he loads this EP with memorable punchlines, and really it's worth listening just to hear him rhyme "paraphernalia" with "Arabic tailor." Read more here.
Kota The Friend - Everything
Brooklyn rapper Kota The Friend has been on the rise since stirring up buzz for his 2019 album FOTO, and now he's back almost exactly a year after that album's release with his sophomore album, Everything. Kota had Saba on his last album and he's got Joey Bada$$ on this one, both of whom have fanbases who should definitely be tuned in to what Kota's doing. Like those artists, Kota is a fan of the jazzy production and slick rapping of '90s rap, but he also employs modern production techniques -- it's less "revival" and more using the past to shape the future. Read more here.
Problem - Coffee & Kush Vol 1
Diamond Lane Music Group/Rostrum Records
This album was executive produced by his real-life cousin (and frequent Kendrick Lamar collaborator) Terrace Martin, and it features a touching Nipsey Hussle tribute (over a Janet Jackson sample) and nine other tracks that toe the line between '90s throwbacks and current trends. And as a rapper, Problem continues to display an immense amount of skill. He's been making music for over a decade, but he still sounds like someone who's hungry for a breakthrough. Judging by these ten new songs, he continues to deserve one. Read more here.
Bishop Nehru - Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts
If you haven't been paying attention to Bishop Nehru lately, it's worth changing that, because he's continued to hone his craft and his new album Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts is genuinely great. He reunites with DOOM who raps on the song "Meathead" and he also tapped the legendary DJ Premier to produce "Too Lost," but Nehru produced most of this album himself and it turns out he's just as good at making beats as he is at rapping over them. Now 23, Nehru is still a very young guy, but he's been around so it's no real surprise that he has the wisdom of a vet and sounds like an elder statesman on this LP. Read more here.
And here's a playlist of 38 rap songs we like from May: