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 11 rap albums from July 2021 that stood out to us most. We also probably still missed or haven't spent enough time with some great July 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).

Vince Staples - Vince Staples
Blacksmith/Motown

Vince Staples' new self-titled album is his most relaxed, laid-back, and personal yet. It's unlike anything he's done before, and it's great. You can read my full review of it here.

 

Dave - We're All Alone In This Together
Dave/Neighbourhood

Dave released one of the best UK rap debuts in recent memory with 2019's Psychodrama, and from the first few bars of its followup We're All Alone In This Together, Dave makes it clear that he's intent on avoiding a sophomore slump. He kicks the album off with stories of growing up as a young, first-generation British Nigerian and the hardships that he, his family, and his community faced, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album. We're All Alone In This Together favors minimal production and is largely void of hooks, as Dave leads the way with his lyrical diatribes. It could start to get boring if Dave wasn't such a great storyteller, but he leaves you hanging on every word. The album has a clear focused sound throughout, with production mostly coming from Dave himself and Psychodrama collaborator Kyle Evans (alongside some contributions from James Blake, Jae5, and Mount Kimbie's Dominic Maker), and even when other UK rap stars like Stormzy, Ghetts, Giggs, and Fredo show up, nothing distracts from Dave's vision. It's not until later in the album that Dave gives you anything remotely pop-friendly, with a couple P2J-co-produced forays into Afrobeats (the Wizkid-assisted "System" and the Boj-assisted "Lazarus) and an offering of R&B (the Jae5-produced, Snoh Aalegra-featuring "Law of Attraction"), but the way the album is sequenced, it asks you to commit to the pensive, dead-serious songs before letting you in on its more easily digestible side. We're All Alone In This Together's most show-stopping song is one that lies right in the middle of the album's pop side and non-pop side: the eight-minute "Both Sides of a Smile," which finds Dave waxing poetic alongside gorgeous James Blake vocals and some bars from the promising new UK rapper Sha Simone. That song feels like the album's climax, but Dave wants the comedown to be as cold and hard as the opening, and he closes the album out with two of its most emotionally bare songs: "Heart Attack" and "Survivor's Guilt." On the former, which clocks in at 10 minutes, the beat drops out and we're left with nothing more than Dave rapping. Even without any cushioning, his voice alone proves to be as commanding as the album's most melodic moments.

 

EST Gee - Bigger Than Life Or Death
CMG/Interscope

In the past year or so, Louisville street rapper EST Gee has become one of the fastest-rising and most promising rappers around. His 2020 project and first release for Yo Gotti's CMG label, I Still Dont Feel Nun, stirred up some buzz and got an extra boost from its standout single "Get Money," which features Gee's label boss and got a video earlier this year that's racked up around 12 million views. Gee continued to rise following appearances on songs by Lil Baby and Jack Harlow, and now he keeps the momentum going with another very good new project, Bigger Than Life or Death.

The new album features 15 new songs, including recent singles "Bigger Than Life Or Death," "Lick Back," and "Capitol 1." It also features a handful of big name guests, including Future and Young Thug on a new remix of "Lick Back"; Lil Baby, 42 Dugg, and Rylo Rodriguez (all on "5500 Degrees"); and his label boss Yo Gotti on two songs (one of which also features 42 Dugg); as well as Lil Durk (on "In Town") and Pooh Shiesty (on "All I Know"). The guest appearances are well-picked and well-executed, and they should hopefully draw in some new listeners, but the feeling you get from Bigger Than Life Or Death is that EST Gee himself is on his way to the forefront of rap. He's got a cold, hard delivery and he knows how to wrap his gritty storytelling in an accessible package without toning down the pure venom of his street rap roots.

 

Bizzy Banks - Same Energy
Atlantic

One week after appearing on a song on the posthumous Pop Smoke album, Bizzy Banks -- a bright new voice in the Brooklyn drill scene who associated with Pop Smoke before his untimely death -- has released his own new mixtape. Pop Smoke's influence looms large over a lot of Brooklyn drill rappers, but what separates Bizzy Banks from the pack is that he doesn't sound like Pop Smoke (or Sheff G or Fivio Foreign or really any other prominent Brooklyn drill rapper). In a recent interview with Alphonse Pierre for Pitchfork, Bizzy cited early 2000s New York rappers like Fabolous and Juelz Santana as influences, and you can feel that more classic New York vibe coming through in the way Bizzy tells his stories and crafts his rhymes. And Same Energy reminds me of the New York mixtape era that Juelz Santana and the rest of Dipset came up in. Like those early Dipset mixtapes, Same Energy is a tough-as-nails record that feels built for the streets, not the radio. The only ploy for mainstream acceptance seems to be "Adore You," a softer, R&B-tinged track with a hook from PnB Rock, but Bizzy Banks feels like the kind of rapper who could infiltrate the mainstream of the strength of his rapping alone. On songs like "City Hot," "My Shit," and "Bandemic," he sneaks subtle hooks into his rapping, and his words get stuck in your head even without the assistance of an in-demand guest singer.

 

Tkay Maidza - Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3
4AD

Australian rapper/singer Tkay Maidza concludes her Last Year Was Weird EP trilogy, which began with Vol. 1 in 2018 and continued in 2020 with Vol. 2, which was also Tkay's first release for 4AD. Tkay has always fallen on the "indie" side of hip hop, which makes 4AD a great fit for her, but on Vol. 3, she sounds like she could be on the verge of a mainstream breakthrough. Lead single "Kim," which pairs her with Yung Baby Tate, is a two-headed monster in the same vein as "WAP" and "Best Friend," and it's one of the year's best pop-rap songs. Elsewhere on this EP, Tkay navigates rap, pop, and R&B seamlessly, rivaling chameleonic superstars like Doja Cat and Nicki Minaj in the process. And before you accuse her of selling out or whatever, Vol. 3 still finds time for the weirder stuff too. It's both mainstream and indie friendly, and it's some of her best and most immediate music yet.

 

Isaiah Rashad - The House Is Burning
TDE

TDE has been relatively quiet lately, and while most eyes have been on the long-awaited new albums from Kendrick Lamar and SZA, the label has given us an even longer-awaited album: Isaiah Rashad's first album in five years (and second overall), The House Is Burning. It's been a long time, but Isaiah's Sun's Tirade followup finds him sounding just as sharp as he did on that album. A few tracks veer into danceable, party-friendly territory like the Lil Uzi Vert-featuring "From the Garden" and the Duke Deuce-featuring "Lay Wit Ya," but moments like those are outliers. It's an album you really need to immerse yourself in, with laid-back production, airy R&B hooks, and deep, conversational lyricism from Isaiah. Joining him for the ride are TDE labelmates Jay Rock and SZA (but not Schoolboy Q, who's on new single "Runnin'" which actually doesn't appear on the album), as well as Smino, Jay Worthy, 6LACK, Aminidi, Kal Banx (who also produced much of the album, alongside Devin Malik, Kenny Beats, and others), and more. It's a great sounding album, one that scratches the itch even if you aren't focused on Isaiah's lyrics, but when you do tune in, you're reminded that he has a story to tell, and he knows just how to tell it.

 

Skepta - All In EP
Boy Better Know

Skepta follows his 2019 album Ignorance Is Bliss (and his collaborative 2020 album with Chip and Young Adz) with a new EP, All In. It's just five songs, but it finds the grime icon covering a lot of musical ground. It's bookended with its two most menacing tracks, "Bellator" and "Eyes On Me" (the former of which includes a lyrical tribute to Pop Smoke), and in between, Skepta explores lighter sounds and looks outside of his home country's hip hop scene. "Peace of Mind" connects Skepta with Kid Cudi and Nigerian Alté singer Teezee, and it sounds like an amalgamation of all of their styles. "Nirvana" is a reggaetón-tinged slow jam with an A+ assist from J Balvin, and "Lit Like This" finds Skepta dabbling in dancehall. It feels like the songs are flowing out of him effortlessly, and he sounds hungry and inspired on every one of them.

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Honorable Mentions
ZeeloperZ - Van Goghs Left Ear
Dave East & Harry Fraud - Hoffa
Ransom & Big Ghost Ltd - Heavy Is The Head
Drakeo The Ruler - Ain't That The Truth
Blxst & Bino Rideaux - Sixtape 2
OMB Bloodbath - Blood Sample EP

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Past monthly rap album roundups here. For more hip hop, stay up to date with our weekly rap and R&B song roundups, and read our daily hip hop coverage here.