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 7 rap albums from April 2021 that stood out to us most. We also probably still missed or haven't spent enough time with some great April 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).
The Alchemist - This Thing Of Ours
The Alchemist has been a consistently great hip hop producer since the early '90s, and he's pretty much always cooking up something great, but he's especially been on a roll lately. In the past 14 months alone, he's produced entire top-tier projects for Boldy James, Freddie Gibbs, Conway the Machine, and Armand Hammer, along with standout tracks on albums by Jay Electronica, Westside Gunn, and more. When Alchemist brought his laid-back jazzy production style to the forefront of underground rap last year, I made the case that he first began perfecting his current sound on his 2018 EPs Lunch Meat and Bread and his 2019 album Yacht Rock 2, albums with different guest rappers on every song but that clearly had Alchemist in the director's chair. Now he finally releases a new EP in the spirit of those records, This Thing Of Ours.
Like Lunch Meat and Bread, This Thing Of Ours has four songs, including an instrumental version of each one. Earl Sweatshirt is on two of them ("Nobles," alongside Navy Blue, and "Loose Change") and there's one with Sideshow and Boldy James ("TV Dinners") and another with Maxo and Pink Siifu ("Holy Hell"). It's short, but it's immensely satisfying and very much lends itself to replays. Alchemist and Boldy James show off as much chemistry on "TV Dinners" as they did on last year's The Price of Tea In China, and it's great to hear comparative newcomers like Navy Blue, Maxo, Pink Siifu, and MIKE collaborator Sideshow entering Alchemist's world. But perhaps the biggest treat is that 50% of this EP is with Earl Sweatshirt, an artist who would be perfect for an entire collaborative album with Alchemist. They've worked together a handful of times in the past (on "E. Coli," "Wind In My Sails," "45," "Whole World," "Warlord Leather," "Mtomb," "Play It Cool," and "Falling Out the Sky" off the new Alchemist/Armand Hammer album), and every time they do it's a treat. Earl's booming, stream-of-consciousness delivery contrasts so well with The Alchemist's lush, psychedelic production, and the two tracks on This Thing Of Ours are among the best they've made together yet.
Brockhampton - Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine
Brockhampton only released their first proper mixtape five years ago, but they've already put out more music and gone through more career ups and downs in that time than some artists do in 10 or 15. At this point, they're basically veterans. They hit the scene as a rowdy, Odd Future-inspired group before attempting maximalist My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-esque art rap on 2018's Iridescence, and they mellowed out a bit on 2019's largely R&B-inspired Ginger. Now they're back with their first album in over a year and a half -- which, because of how prolific they were at first, feels much longer -- and Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine brings back some of the energy of Brockhampton's early days but puts a psychedelic, matured spin on it. It feels like a natural progression for the group (similar to the one Odd Future members Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt made on their recent albums), and it also feels like a bit of a course correction after the often-lackluster Ginger.
Probably because they have so many members, Brockhampton haven't usually relied on big-name guest verses in the past, but after including a standout slowthai verse on Ginger, they've brought more familiar faces into the fold on Roadrunner, including Danny Brown, A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, and JPEGMAFIA. Those are all smart choices; Danny and A$AP Mob helped pave the way for the kind of futuristic psych-rap that Brockhampton deliver on Roadrunner, and JPEGMAFIA has spent the past few years as a rising artist within that same subgenre. Like their guests, Brockhampton are currently making music that's catchy enough to be mainstream-friendly but still too weird to actually sound like "mainstream rap," and they're also learning to progress musically without forgetting what made them so unique in the first place. Roadrunner has hints of just about every previous Brockhampton era -- the loud, in-your-face sound of the Saturation trilogy ("Don't Shoot Up the Party"), the arty Iridescence (the string arrangements on "When I Ball"), and the R&B-leaning Ginger (the Charlie Wilson-assisted "I'll Take You On," "Old News") -- and it also takes noticeable steps forward. For a group who have talked about breaking up on several occasions, Roadrunner makes it sound like they're in it for the long haul.
Topaz Jones - Don't Go Tellin' Your Momma
New Funk Academy/Black Canopy
It's been five years since Topaz Jones released his breakthrough album Arcade, and he's finally back with a followup, which is the most ambitious and personal project he's done yet. The album is accompanied by a film of the same name that Topaz co-wrote and directed, which won the Short Film Jury Award: Nonfiction at Sundance, and both the music and the film pull from Topaz's personal stories and experiences more directly than his art ever has. "There’s so much of me in the album that I was maybe not ready to communicate in all the music I’ve released prior," he told L’Officiel. "I finally found the story that is mine to tell, and I finally found the confidence to tell that story. Those aren’t easy things to come by."
Like Arcade, the new album is a funk/soul/rap/R&B hybrid that fits as nicely next to George Clinton as it does next to Anderson .Paak and Kendrick Lamar, and in the five years since that album, Topaz has gotten better at just about everything he does. He's blurring the lines between those genres more seamlessly, his singing is stronger and his harmonies are more complex, his rapping is tighter, and the production is richer. The album also features some great collaborators -- Levan Kali, anaiis, Phonte, Maxo, Floyd Fuji and Gabriel Garzón-Montano -- and it feels like a very communal record. You often hear multiple voices and multi-layered instrumentation at once. It makes sense that Topaz was the only person pictured on the cover of Arcade but the cover of this album has a spiral staircase full of multiple people. It may be Topaz's most personal album, but it also sounds like the work of an ensemble.
Conway the Machine - La Maquina
Conway the Machine remains insanely prolific. Last year, he released two EPs and From King to a GOD (one of our favorite albums of 2020), and now he's back with his second project of 2021, ahead of his highly anticipated Shady Records debut God Don't Make Mistakes. La Maquina follows February's If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed (a collaboration with Big Ghost Ltd), and this new one was helmed by various producers -- including Alchemist, Daringer, Murda Beatz, JR Swift, Bangladesh, Don Cannon, Cosmo Beats, and Cardiak -- and it features some big name guests like 2 Chainz, J.I.D, and Ludacris, as well as Conway's Griselda pals Benny the Butcher and Westside Gunn (marking the first time all three of them have been on a track together since rumors that Griselda was splitting up). Given the amount of music Conway puts out, you'd think his hunger would start to curb, but he sounds as fired-up on this new project as he ever has. The overall vibe of La Maquina is what you'd expect (gritty, noir-ish, '90s-style boom bap) but no complaints about getting more of a good thing when the songs are this effective.
Various Artists - Bushido
Mello Music Group
If you follow underground rap, Mello Music Group needs no introduction. It's one of the best -- if not the best -- current labels in the entire genre. They take influence from veteran indies like Loud, Stones Throw, Rhymesayers, and Def Jux, and they're as crucial today as those labels all were in their primes. I can say, without any exaggeration, that every single album MMG has released in the past who-knows-how-many years is worth checking out. They also sometimes apply their curatorial skills to compilations, like the new Bushido, which is just as essential as the label's albums by a single artist.
Bushido isn't a "label sampler"; all of the songs are exclusive to this disc, and it's full of exciting collaborations that you won't find anywhere else, with a mix of staples from MMG's roster and underground legends like Kool Keith and B-Real. Production comes from The Alchemist, Apollo Brown, Georgia Anne Muldrow, The Lasso, Oddisee, L'Orange, Quelle Chris, !llmind, Nottz, and more, and verses come from Open Mike Eagle, Homeboy Sandman, Oddisee, Quelle Chris, Namir Blade, Skyzoo, Joell Ortiz, Cambatta, Murs, Solemn Brigham, and more, and the result is song after song of captivating left-of-the-dial rap music. It's still a compilation, but it's sequenced well and there's a good flow to it; it's not the kind of comp that makes you wanna skip around. It functions as a showcase for so much of the great rap music happening outside of the mainstream right now, and it also just functions as a great album in its own right.
Cordae - Just Until... EP
"See you soon, album almost done," Cordae wrote on the cover of his new Just Until... EP. But while we patiently await the followup to his great 2019 debut LP The Lost Boy, he dropped off these four songs, and they suggest that he's spent the past two years continuing to hone his craft and that he's only getting better. Guests include Q-Tip and Young Thug.
DJ Khaled - KHALED KHALED
We The Best/Epic
DJ Khaled's presence in pop culture or even on his own songs may be questionable (he's usually just yelling his own name, his label's name, or an ad-lib), and his albums don't really successfully function as start-to-finish albums, but he roped in a lot of extremely talented people for KHALED KHALED, and there are too many good songs on this album to leave it off this list. Disappointedly, one of the least good songs is the collaboration from longtime frenemies Jay-Z and Nas, but some of the comparatively newer artists sound as good on this album as they do on their own recent hits. Cardi B's "BIG PAPER" is basically Cardi in shit-talk mode for an entire song. "Mixtape Cardi like I ain't a millionaire" is right. Megan Thee Stallion and DaBaby always sound great on songs together, and "I DID IT" is no exception. Lil Baby's verse on that song is great too. So is Post Malone's hook and the "Layla" sample. It feels like it should already be a hit. Jeremih, who thankfully recovered from COVID, gives a stunning performance on album opener "THANKFUL," which recounts his life-threatening experience over a sample of Bobby Bland's "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City" (famously also sampled on Jay-Z's "Heart of the City") and reunites him with "All The Time" collaborator Lil Wayne. H.E.R. continues her reign as one of our best current soul singers on "WE GOING CRAZY" with Migos. Both Drake songs were previously released as singles and they're already enduring hits. Album closer "WHERE YOU COME FROM" with Buju Banton, Capleton, and Bounty Killer ends the album with a nice dancehall twist. Again, the album doesn't really warrant repeated start-to-finish listens, but about half of these songs belong on your latest rap playlist, and it won't be a surprise if some of them turn into this summer's biggest hits.
Lakeyah - In Due Time
Bankroll Freddie - Big Bank
Bronze Nazareth & Recognize Ali - Season of the Seven
Cadence Weapon - Parallel World
For more new rap, listen below or subscribe to a playlist of 35 rap songs we like from April 2021.