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 seven rap albums from January 2021 that stood out to us most. We also probably still missed or haven't spent enough time with some great January 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)...
Maassai - With The Shifts
Maassai has been establishing herself as one of the most promising and prolific new voices in underground New York rap, with a handful of quality 2020 releases and a slew of notable guest appearances dating back to 2018, and she kicked off 2021 with With The Shifts, which -- at nine tracks -- is her lengthiest project yet, and one of her strongest. The production (which comes from Laron, Contour, and Nelson Bandela) pulls from freeform jazz and psychedelia, and as an MC, Maassai is equally indebted to stream-of-consciousness poetry and hard-hitting rap. It orbits somewhere between classic Digable Planets and latter-day Earl Sweatshirt, and Maassai's commanding voice and sharp lyricism makes it stand out from other albums in this realm. When Maassai follows a standout verse from Akai Solo (who tapped Maassai for the intro to his 2019 album with Pink Siifu, Black Sand) on "The Shifts," her power becomes even clearer.
Tha God Fahim & Your Old Droog - Tha Wolf On Wall St
Last month, Your Old Droog released his new album Dump YOD: Krutoy Edition, which was produced/mixed by Tha God Fahim and executive produced by Mach-Hommy, and now Droog and Fahim have dropped a new collaborative album, Tha Wolf On Wall St, with guest appearances by Mach-Hommy on two songs. Fahim handled all of the warm, jazzy production, and the way he and Droog trade verses hearkens right back to the classic boom bap era. Droog and Fahim are both obvious students of that era, but Tha Wolf On Wall St feels a little more intentionally vintage than the rappers' own recent projects, and it's fun to hear them tap directly into this stuff. The album feels like a lost mid '90s gem, and its tight eight-song tracklist leaves you wanting more every time.
BRS Kash - Kash Only
Atlanta rapper BRS Kash went viral last year for his single "Throat Baby," a song that's as crude as it is catchy (if you haven't heard it, you can guess its subject matter from the title), and he followed it this month with his debut project, Kash Only. The project features a new star-studded remix of his hit that adds in verses from DaBaby and City Girls, as well as ten new songs, and the other songs prove that Kash has the ability to keep the momentum of his surprise hit going. ("Kash App" featuring Mulatto is another clear standout.) Production on two of the songs comes from frequent DaBaby collaborator Jetsonmade, and DaBaby's mix of early 2000s Southern rap and modern trap is a good comparison for what Kash is doing. Like DaBaby, Kash is good at sneaking melodic hooks into loud, brash rap songs that are easy and fun to listen to. The only downside of Kash Only is that it's a little one-note and sometimes struggles to stand out from other melodic Southern rap, but as a debut from an artist who was virtually unknown six months ago, it's a strong introduction.
J.U.S - GOD GOKU JAY-Z
Bruiser Brigade Records
If you're unfamiliar with J.U.S, the big selling point of this album is that it heavily features Danny Brown, but once you dive into it, J.U.S (who's part of Danny's Bruiser Brigade crew) proves to be a force of his own. Black Noi$e, Skywlkr, Raphy, and a few other producers provide J.U.S with blurry, psychedelic production, and J.U.S' abstract tongue-twisters make the whole thing even more dizzying. GOD GOKU JAY-Z moves more like a series of vignettes than an album of rap songs, and the tracks all flow right into each other, making for a record that's best consumed as one whole piece. (And it's a quick listen.) Danny's guest appearances spice things up, but you'll leave this album feeling like Danny isn't the only good thing about Bruiser Brigade.
R.A.P. Ferreira - Bob's Son
R.A.P. Ferreira released one of our favorite rap albums of 2020 with Purple Moonlight Pages, and he followed it on New Year's Day with the new album Bob's Son, which he produced himself under his scallops hotel moniker. (The album's full title is bob's son: R.A.P. Ferreira in the garden level cafe of the scallops hotel.) The album's an ode to beat poet Bob Kaufman, and it ends with a reading of Kaufman's poem "Abomunist Manifesto," and Ferreira's own lyrics prove to be as surreal and tongue-twisting as when he's quoting Kaufman. The album varies from experimental spoken word stuff to straight-up rap songs, and the scallops hotel production makes for a hazy, psychedelic contrast to the warmer, jazzier sounds of Purple Moonlight Pages. That album felt like a milestone in Ferreira's already-great discography, and this one proves he's still got plenty more to say.
Fredo - Money Can't Buy Happiness
Fredo has long had a collaborative relationship with fellow UK rapper Dave (they topped the UK charts together in 2018 with "Funky Friday"), and now Fredo has tapped Dave to executive produce his new project Money Can't Buy Happiness. He also made most of the beats, and he lent his voice to the song "Money Talks." (The other guest appearances come from Pop Smoke, Summer Walker, and Young Adz.) Dave helps bring out the best in Fredo, and he brings some of the dark atmospherics of his own instant-classic Psychodrama to this album. Fredo was already a great rapper, and with Dave's help, he's able to channel that rapping -- which varies between gritty street tales and melancholic introspection -- into what may be his most meticulously crafted album yet.
Erick The Architect - Future Proof EP
Erick Arc Elliott (aka Erick the Architect) has been making music on his own since before forming Flatbush Zombies with Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice, and he's put out beat tapes in the time since the Zombies' career took off, but he's just now releasing his first "proper" high-profile solo release, the Future Proof EP. You can read more about the EP -- and my interview with Erick -- here.
For more, listen below or subscribe to a playlist of 24 rap songs we like from January 2021:
10 Best Rap Albums of 2020
See the full top 50 here.