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 September 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 September 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)...
Conway the Machine - From King to a GOD
"Lotta albums are suddenly starting to feel a little more Griselda-esque / Talk to Ebro, ask Sway in the morning / about the impact of this movement, sure they'll say it's enormous," Conway raps on the Griselda posse cut "Spurs 3" (with Westside Gunn and Benny the Butcher) off his new album From King to a GOD, and it's a boast that'd be very tough to argue against. They've been working towards this moment for years, but 2020 has been the year of Griselda. Not only is Conway, Gunn, and Benny's gritty, psychedelic, vintage-yet-fresh sound infiltrating the mainstream and influencing several other artists, but the Griselda team have been more prolific than ever this year and basically everything they touch turns to gold. Conway already released two very good EPs this year -- the Alchemist-produced LULU and the Big Ghost Ltd-produced No One Mourns The Wicked -- plus plenty of projects in previous years, but he considers FKTG to be his first official album and it's not hard to see why. In comparison, LULU and No One Mourns The Wicked sound like projects where he was working out his muscles and warming up. FKTG is the culmination of years of hard work, a capital-A album that takes you on a journey and keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. There were already a few Griselda-related albums released this year that are on track to be called classics one day, and FKTG is yet another.
Conway worked well with the one-rapper, one-producer format of this year's two EPs, but FKTG finds him working with an array of producers (Alchemist, Daringer, Hit-Boy, Beat Bucha, Havoc of Mobb Deep, Murda Beatz, Erick Sermon, DJ Premier, Khrysis), and the musical variety works to this album's benefit. All the guests rise to the occasion too. With a mix of guys who paved the way for Conway (Method Man, Havoc, Lloyd Banks) and his peers (Freddie Gibbs, Flee Lord, El Camino, Armani Caesar), everyone's accustomed to the menacing sonics of the Griselda universe, and everyone knows how to play their role. Conway is the album's star, but a star needs the right supporting cast and this album has it. A lot of those names have appeared in Conway's liner notes many times before, but the song that stands out most is "Fear of GOD," where Conway crafts a more accessible version of his sound with two key collaborators: Hit-Boy and DeJ Loaf. Hit-Boy -- the increasingly versatile producer who got famous working with huge names like Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kanye, and Kendrick; who's fresh off working on the new Nas and Big Sean albums; and who's also got an album with Benny on the way -- gives Conway a triumphant, stadium-sized beat and Conway knows exactly what to do with it. And when DeJ Loaf comes in singing, the song is brought to a whole other level.
The depth and diversity of the music on this album is matched by that of Conway's lyricism. He deservingly boasts about Griselda's fame, he tells detailed autobiographical stories, and he takes on the times we've been living through this year. In June, in the midst of all 50 states protesting police brutality at once, Conway dropped "Front Lines," a powerful takedown of America's broken justice system, racial profiling, and murder at the hands of police. That song appears on From King to a GOD, and though it's the album's most overt protest song, it's not the only time this album takes issue with the police. These songs often find Conway responding to the world around him right now, but he also leaves them open-ended enough that we can assume they'll still sound relevant in five or ten or fifteen years.
Though 2020 has been a huge year for Griselda despite the chaos going on around them, it's also been a year with a very personal tragedy. DJ Shay, who produced several songs for the label/collective, sadly had his life cut short at age 48 this past August. In honor of Shay, Conway made some last-minute adjustments to his album. He added in three interludes with recordings of Shay speaking about Conway and Griselda, and he mourned his death and paid tribute to him on the powerful "Forever Droppin Tears." Shay played a crucial role in helping to develop the Griselda sound, and even if he didn't produce any songs on this album, his influence could already be felt on it. So it's fitting that now his voice is on it too.
Also, along with the release of this album, Conway announced his Shady Records debut, God Don't Make Mistakes.
Spillage Village - Spilligion
Spillage Village is the soulful Atlanta hip hop/R&B collective featuring EarthGang, J.I.D., 6LACK, Mereba, Jurdan Bryant, Hollywood JB and Benji, who debuted in the mid 2010s with a couple increasingly good EPs and the even better 2016 full-length Bears Like This Too Much. In the time since then, 6LACK's solo career blew up, and EarthGang and J.I.D. signed to Dreamville and continued to take off, as did Mereba who signed to Interscope. With enough newfound hype behind them to reframe this collective as a "supergroup," Spillage Village returned in 2020 with "End of Daze," one of the year's best songs (and videos) so far. It's a rich, melancholic blend of rap, R&B, and soul that looks at the injustice we've seen in the news every day this year with an equal amount of anger and exhaustion. That song set the bar high for Spilligion, and now the album is here and it very much delivers. As good as the music these members have recently released individually is, Spilligion may very well be the best thing any of them have done. "End of Daze" is a great example of what to expect from this album, a genre-clashing opus that was very much made for these times. Retro meets futuristic, electronic meets organic, multi-layered harmonies meet razor-sharp rapping, and anguish meets love and hope. It's an album that won't pretend everything is gonna be alright, but that won't let itself stay down either. It's inspiring, even spiritual music, and not in a way you'd ever call cloying. The large ensemble of musicians makes for a colossal, communal sound that you just can't get from a solo artist or a small combo, and they invite in well-matched guests like Chance the Rapper, Buddy, Lucky Daye, Gallant, Dungeon Family's Big Rube, and others to add even more ingredients to the album's sonic melting pot. It's an album that feels too big to be ignored, like their underrated debut often was. If you're not listening to Spillage Village at this point, you're truly missing out on one of modern music's most talented and compelling groups.
Armani Caesar - The Liz
Conway's From King to a GOD wasn't the only great album the Griselda camp released in September. The label's newest signing, Armani Caesar (who appeared on "Anza" on Conway’s album) released her Griselda debut The Liz too. And like Conway's album, DJ Shay's shadow looms over this one. "I want to dedicate this to Demetrius 'DJ Shay' Robinson," she said. "The first person to ever take a chance on me musically. He believed in my talent long before anybody else knew my name. There would be no 'Armani Caesar' if it hadn’t been for him."
Armani signed to Griselda earlier this year, and after inking the deal, she delivered a show-stopping verse on Westside Gunn's July album Flygod Is An Awesome God 2, which set the bar high for her own first Griselda project, and The Liz delivers. The core Griselda trio (Gunn, Conway, and Benny the Butcher) all rap on the album alongside production from frequent Griselda collaborators like Camoflauge Monk, Denny Laflare, and the legendary DJ Premier, so The Liz very much sounds like a Griselda album (gritty rhymes, psychedelic beats), but Armani doesn't need the group's more established names to boost her up. She's already a great rapper in her own right with menacing bars, airtight rhymes, and charisma, and she proves that again and again on this tape. Griselda frequently recall the '90s New York rap era, and Armani told The Source that Gunn envisioned her as Griselda's "first lady" in the spirit of Eve with Ruff Ryders, Lil' Kim with Junior M.A.F.I.A., and Foxy Brown with The Firm, and like all three of those rappers were in their early days, Armani Caesar sounds like a star in the making.
MC Eiht - Lessons
As a member of Compton's Most Wanted and then as a solo artist, MC Eiht was one of the leaders of '90s West Coast rap, but his career faded away a bit in the 2000s, until Kendrick Lamar helped bring him back into the mainstream consciousness by tapping him for a show-stopping verse on "m.A.A.d. city" off Kendrick's generation-defining 2012 album good kid, m.A.A.d city. Eiht followed that verse with his own new album, Which Way Iz West (his first in 11 years), which was executive produced by East Coast legend DJ Premier and featured tons of Eiht's fellow West Coast peers. That same year, he publicly ended his long-running feud with DJ Quik by appearing on Quik and Problem's Rosecrans album. Eiht was officially back, and thankfully this time he decided to not go away for as long. Earlier this year he released the 27-song double album Official and now he's already back with another 20-song album, Lessons. Once again, DJ Premier is involved, as is his former CMW groupmate Tha Chill (on five songs), B-Real of Cypress Hill, Noble of The Outlawz, Havoc of Mobb Deep, Kurupt, Kokane, Talib Kweli, and more. But Lessons isn't just about inducing nostalgia. He's got two key newer rappers -- Conway the Machine (who released his own great new album last week) and Dave East -- who have both launched successful careers that take after the hard-hitting sound Eiht and his peers helped define in the '90s. It's mutual admiration (and mutually beneficial) at its finest; Eiht helped pave the way, and now guys like Conway and Dave East are creating a space for this kind of music to thrive and attract younger audiences today. And not only is the stage properly set for Eiht to put out an anticipated album 30 years into his career, but Lessons delivers. He's just as sharp of a rapper today as he was on "Streiht Up Menace"; if anything, he might sound even more menacing with age. He's a true lifer and a legend, and if you don't believe us, believe Conway: "Eiht is one of my all-time favorite emcees," he said. "It was an absolute honor to work with the legend."
14 trapdoors - Eileen
Hitmaker Music Group
Griselda isn't the only exciting rap group coming out of Buffalo right now. 14 trapdoors is the trio of rapper/producers Short Moscato, Wza and Bendyface, and their new album Eileen is yet another fine rap album from that city. It was entirely produced by frequent Griselda collaborator Camoflauge Monk and it features Griselda's Benny the Butcher, Benny's Black Soprano Family groupmate Rick Hyde, Detroit-based Griselda signee Boldy James, and another '90s-obsessed Buffalo rapper, Che Noir (who recently released a great Apollo Brown-produced album) -- as well as Smoke DZA, Skyzoo, Royce Da 5'9", and more -- but 14 trapdoors aren't just another group of Griselda soundalikes. They've got a much more abstract, third-eye-open style that recalls early 2000s alt-rap like Deltron 3030 and the Def Jux crew or more modern psych-rap like Flatbush Zombies. When they clash with the colder, harder sound of artists like Benny, Boldy, and Che, it makes for a thrilling meeting of the minds, and Camoflauge Monk knows exactly how to sew it all together. Eileen is already their third project of 2020, and if you listen to all of it, it seems like they're only getting better and further diversifying their sound.
Mozzy - Occupational Hazard
Having already released one album this year (Beyond Bulletproof), Sacramento rapper Mozzy followed it with a second one, Occupational Hazard, in September. "This is my favorite project to date out of all my EPs, mixtapes, albums," he said. "I had to get back to the old me, the Hellgang Mozzy and bring people that heat that talks directly to the streets. My last album Beyond Bulletproof was something catered to the masses, but Occupational Hazard is for those who live a certain lifestyle." You can definitely hear how Occupational Hazard finds Mozzy fully embracing his street-smart side, but it's not all tough songs. Some of these tracks find him at his most mournful and melancholic.
BERWYN - DEMOTAPE/VEGA
Multi-talented UK artist BERWYN is a rapper, singer, producer, and instrumentalist, and he first caught our ears when he appeared on four songs off XL Recordings co-founder Richard Russell's new Everything Is Recorded album and then again when he was commissioned to do an official remix of Headie One and Fred Again's "GANG," and his talent became even clearer when he released his debut solo single "GLORY." That song now joins ten other tracks on BERWYN's debut full-length DEMOTAPE/VEGA, which continues to make good on the promise he's been showing all year. The songs fall somewhere between the crackling R&B of early James Blake, The xx's minimal pop, and the mournful UK hip hop of someone like the aforementioned Headie One, and BERWYN sews these sounds together seamlessly and makes them his own in the process. The album can be deeply personal as well as boldly political, and in both circumstances, BERWYN's powerful delivery leaves you hanging on every word.
Action Bronson - Only For Dolphins
A$AP Ferg - Floor Seats II
Kamaiyah & Capolow - Oakland Nights
Problem - Coffee & Kush, Vol. 2
Curren$y & Harry Fraud - The Director's Cut
GQ - A Midsummer's Nightmare (prod. 9th Wonder)
Namir Blade - Aphelion's Traveling Circus
Elzhi - Seven Times Down Eight Times Up
For more, listen below or subscribe to a playlist of 38 rap songs we like from September 2020: