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 August 2021 that stood out to us most. We also probably still missed or haven't spent enough time with some great August 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).
Ka - A Martyr's Reward
Storied New York rap veteran Ka has been both prolific and consistent since his late 2000s/2010s resurgence. The former Natural Elements member released one of last year's best rap albums with Descendants of Cain, and now he's already back with a followup. Like on its predecessor, the production on A Martyr's Reward is dark, minimal, and psychedelic, and Ka's vocals are muttered in a deep monotone. Try to put A Martyr's Reward on in the background, and you might miss the lyrical depth, but give it the close attention it deserves, and you'll hear one of Ka's most personal albums yet. The album was largely self-produced, save for one song made with his Dr. Yen Lo partner Preservation and one with Navy Blue (who also provides the album's only guest verse), making for an insular-sounding backdrop that perfectly suits the lyrics. Ka sounds like he's rapping lines straight out of his diary, as he talks about various struggles that plagued his upbringing, be it violence, poverty, or racist cops. It doesn't necessarily feel like an explicitly political or socially conscious album, but Ka leaves a macro impact by bringing firsthand knowledge to issues he's experienced on a micro level.
Boldy James & The Alchemist - Bo Jackson
Detroit rapper Boldy James had been an underground rap staple for years before achieving crossover success in 2020, a year that saw him release not one but four albums. One of the very best of those albums was The Price of Tea In China, which was entirely produced by The Alchemist, who also helmed Boldy's 2019 EP Boldface and 2013 album My 1st Chemistry Set. Alchemist -- whose presence in the fast-growing post-boom bap world is massive -- knows exactly what kind of production best suits Boldy's unique delivery, so it's exciting news that they've made yet another project together, Bo Jackson. Like on their previous collaborations, Alc puts a psychedelic, laid-back twist on boom bap, and Boldy delivers ruthless lyrics without ever raising his voice. If you're not paying close attention, you could miss all the attention to detail, but once Boldy's songs reveal themselves to you, there's no turning back.
Like Boldy James and Alchemist's other collaborations, this one's got great guests, all of whom are staples of the corner of the rap world that Bo Jackson occupies. Frequent Alchemist collaborator Earl Sweatshirt returns on "Photographic Memories" alongside boom bap-noir trailblazer Roc Marciano, and Earl's verse reminds you how much he's grown since he appeared on Boldy and Alc's debut eight years ago. Alchemist's Fetti collaborators Freddie Gibbs and Curren$y join forces with Boldy on "Fake Flowers," and they both sound as good here as Freddie did on The Price of Tea In China. Another Price of Tea guest, Benny the Butcher, reprises his gritty guest role on "Brickmile To Montana." And rising '90s-style Syracuse rapper Stove God Cooks shakes things up on "Diamond Dallas." This whole extended family of rappers has really been making the case lately that the sound of mid '90s rap is still alive and well, and it's a thrill to hear them always hopping on each other's albums, making each one feel like a small piece of something much greater.
Pink Siifu - GUMBO'!
Pink Siifu cannot be pinned down. He broke through in the late 2010s with some lo-fi rap records, before going full noise-punk on 2020's NEGRO, and then exploring a more straightforward boom bap vibe on his collaborative album and EP with Fly Anakin. Now he's back with another new solo album, and it's a bigger, cleaner rap record than his early releases -- one you can often dance to -- but still mind-bending and psychedelic. It features a handful of equally boundary-pushing collaborators, including Georgia Anne Muldrow, Liv.e, Maxo, Nick Hakim, Big Rube, Lance Skiiiwalker, The Alchemist, Butcher Brown, iiye, Ahwlee, Turich Benjy, BbyMutha, and more, and Pink Siifu often puts four or five guests on the same song, coming out with a sound that's multi-layered and multi-faceted. With 18 songs that clock in at nearly an hour, it's a real journey of an album, and it's one where your patience will be rewarded.
Flee Lord & Roc Marciano - Delgado
The extremely prolific Flee Lord put out one album per month in 2020, followed by the DJ Muggs-produced Rammellzee earlier this year, while fellow New York rapper Roc Marciano put out his own great album Mt. Marci last year and also produced Stove God Cooks' 2020 debut LP Reasonable Drought. Now, Flee Lord has released another new album, this time entirely produced by Roc Marciano. Roc, who helped pioneer the type of noir-ish post-boom bap that's taken off in the Griselda era, does what he does best across these ten songs, and Flee sounds as fiery and charismatic as ever. Even with this being Flee's 14th album in less than two years, he still has a lot to say, and he never sounds like he's running out of a steam as a performer. Guest verses come from three other rappers within Flee Lord and Roc Marciano's inner circle -- Ransom, Stove God Cooks, and Conway The Machine -- and each one is a show-stopper. With a lean ten-song tracklist, a clear intro and outro, and Roc's production giving the songs a consistent vibe throughout, Delgado feels like one of the more cohesive albums that Flee has released in the past two years. His catalog is already tough to penetrate, but this one stands out as a strong entry point.
Chynna - drug opera
Philly rapper Chynna tragically passed away in 2020 at age 25 from an accidental overdose, just as she was finishing up work on her first full-length album, drug opera. In the time since her passing, her family arranged to have the album released, and they wanted the music to be unaltered from the way she had envisioned it, including the projects name. Only minor production edits were made due to some sample clearances. Knowing Chynna's fate, it's not always easy to listen to, but the choice to keep Chynna's original vision intact was a crucial one. It's a portrait of an artist who was struggling with pain and mental health, and its honesty resonates deeply. Chynna's delivery is low and somber, but it's also cold and hardened, tougher in a subtle way that plenty of rappers who brag about how tough they are. It's also intentionally anti-pop, with guest appearances from other rap outsiders like Junglepussy and A$AP Ant and production from electronic wizards and underground rap beatmakers like Jimmy Edgar, Suicideyear, Nedarb, and Pro Era's Kirk Knight. It's an album that was built to exist in its own world, one that we're lucky to be getting a peek into.
Abstract Mindstate - Dreams Still Inspire
Back before Kanye West was famous, he contributed production to a track on underground Chicago rap duo Abstract Mindstate's (aka E.P Da Hellcat and Olskool) 2001 debut album We Paid Let Us In!, and also to two tracks on their planned sophomore album Still Paying, which never ended up seeing the light of day. Abstract Mindstate disappeared after that, but Kanye has helped coax them out of retirement for their first new album in 20 years, Dreams Still Inspire. Kanye produced the entire album himself, and he also sings the hook on "The Brenda Song." While Kanye's own music career has recently been full of elaborate pranks, delayed albums, and musical duds, Dreams Still Inspire reminds you that Kanye can still kill it when he buckles down and produces a straight-up rap record for someone else. (Pusha T's 2018 album DAYTONA reminded us of this too.) The record doesn't find E.P Da Hellcat and Olskool straying very far at all from their classic sound, and two decades later, it's refreshing to hear an album in that early 2000s backpack-rap style that hardly exists anymore, especially one that's done this well.
Benny The Butcher - Pyrex Picasso EP
The very prolific Benny The Butcher is back with a short-but-sweet EP, including appearances by Conway The Machine, Elcamino, and Rick Hyde (who are all on two songs each). It's not easy to keep up with all the music that Benny releases, but don't miss this one. It may not be as vast as Benny's full-length albums, but he sounds especially fired up.
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