8 Best Rap Albums of May 2022
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 8 rap albums from May 2022 that stood out to us most. We also probably still missed or haven't spent enough time with some great May 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).
Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
Kendrick's first album in five years is stunning, complex, complicated, and already feels like his fourth consecutive masterpiece. It's a musical and lyrical triumph, and though some of the choices Kendrick makes on the album come off as provocative in ways that don't always feel productive, no album released this year so far has made me think and feel as much as this one has. For more, read the first-listen review that we published the day the album came out.
Bad Bunny - Un Verano Sin Ti
After putting out three projects in 2020, Bad Bunny slowed down a bit in 2021, save for a few non-album tracks and collaborations, but now he's back with his first album in 18 months, the 23-song Un Verano Sin Ti. Save for the inclusion of "Callaíta," which came out as a single back in 2019, the album was released without any pre-release singles, and once again, Bad Bunny has offered up a sprawling, immersive album with so much to like about it. Plenty of songs recapture the Latin trap magic that Bad Bunny has become best known for, and there's a lot of other stuff too. About a quarter of the way into "Después de la Playa," he breaks out into lively mambo. The calm, acoustic "Yo No Soy Celoso" flirts with bossa nova. After a tribal-y intro, "El Apagón" does a 180 and turns into thumping house music. "Me Fui de Vacaciones" is full-blown reggae. "Tarot" reconnects Bad Bunny with Jhay Cortez, who aided him on his massive breakthrough song "Dákiti," and fellow Urbano giant Rauw Alejandro lends starpower to "Party," while the album also brings in The Marías to help Bad Bunny go synthpop on "Otro Atardecer," Buscabulla for the Latin dream pop of "Andrea," and Bomba Estéreo to add their art pop twist to "Ojitos Lindos." He also tips his hat to his forebears with appearances from longer-running reggaeton artists Tony Dize and Chencho Corleone. The album earns its 82-minute running time by accomplishing so much, connecting the traditional to the futuristic, the alternative to the pop, and coming out with another collection that is sure to birth multiple blockbusters.
Leikeli47 - Shape Up
Brooklyn rapper Leikeli47 began a planned trilogy with 2017's Wash & Set and 2018's Acrylic, both two of the best and most unique rap albums in recent memory, and now she finally completes the trilogy with Shape Up. She probably didn't mean to wait four years to release it (she revealed the title and released the lead single back in 2020, but, well you know), but it's here now, and it just might be her best yet. It takes everything that was great about the first two -- the singular rapping style, the memorable hooks, the loudly eccentric production, the fashionista punchlines -- and amplifies it exponentially. It makes sense that she considers it the finale of a trilogy; it's the logical conclusion of everything she's been working towards, and the album she was always destined to make.
700 Bliss - Nothing to Declare
It's hard to think of many musicians who remain as prolific across multiple styles of music as Camae Ayewa does. Last year, she released the great abstract rap album Black Encyclopedia Of The Air as Moor Mother and the great free jazz/spoken word album Open The Gates as a member of Irreversible Entanglements, and now she's doing something entirely different with 700 Bliss, her duo with producer DJ Haram. It kind of qualifies as a rap album, but DJ Haram's production owes more to underground club beats than hip hop beats, and even within the context of niche electronic music, it manages to be noisier, more experimental, and more flat-out fun than several of the duo's peers. Its unique cast of guests ranges from art pop artist Lafawndah to R&B singer Orion Sun to Alli Logout of post-punk band Special Interest to beatmaker Ase Manual to Palestinian DJ Muqata'a to author M Téllez, and all of those artists' various specialties fit perfectly within 700 Bliss' niche-yet-vast world. Like she does in Irreversible Entanglements, Camae often repeats lines like mantras, drilling them into your head even on the most avant-garde songs. But while that group's songs are long, sprawling, and free, 700 Bliss' songs are concise and claustrophobic. Like just about all the music Camae makes, Nothing to Declare is magnetic even when it's pushing you out of your comfort zone.
Quelle Chris - Deathfame
Mello Music Group
Quelle Chris returns with his first new album since 2020's Chris Keys-produced Innocent Country 2, and the prolific rapper/producer has done it again. Chris has spent the last decade-plus becoming a staple in underground rap, both with his own music and as a very busy collaborator (he's on recent albums by Armand Hammer, billy woods, Homeboy Sandman, Preservation, Mach-Hommy, and Your Old Droog, and co-composed the Judas and The Black Messiah score, to name a few things), and Deathfame is yet another triumph. Quelle Chris produced most of it himself, with some contributions from the aforementioned Chris Keys on a few tracks and Knxwledge on one, and it features appearances by Navy Blue, Pink Siifu, Denmark Vessey, and more. Throughout Deathfame, Chris tends to rely on vintage jazz and soul, but sometimes he goes for something noisier and more futuristic, like on "The Agency of the Future" and "Excuse My Back." His rhymes are both pensive and tongue-twisting, resulting in an album that immediately scans as "alternative rap" but never feels abstract for abstraction's sake. Underneath all those dizzying inner-line rhymes, he's really got something to say.
Boldy James & Real Bad Man - Killing Nothing
Real Bad Man
Boldy James' extremely prolific 2020 included four full-length projects, the most talked-about ones being his Alchemist-produced The Price of Tea In China and his Sterling Toles-produced jazz-rap album Manger On McNichols. But at the very tail-end of that year, he also dropped the underrated Real Bad Boldy, an album entirely produced by clothing designers, production team, and record label Real Bad Man. Boldy's first project of 2022, Killing Nothing, reunites him with RBM. Like on Real Bad Boldy, RBM's production gives classic boom bap a hypnotic update, which is the perfect backdrop for Boldy's cold, hardened storytelling. Though he's been at it for over a decade, these past few years have really cemented Boldy as one of the best '90s-style lyricists around, and virtually everything he touches is top-tier, this project included. Guest appearances come from CRIMEAPPLE, Knowledge the Pirate, Rome Streetz, and Stove God Cooks, the latter two of which both appear on "Open Door." As a triple threat of today's best boom bap revivalists, that song is a clear standout, but it's just one of many things to like about Killing Nothing.
Black Star - No Fear of Time
In 1998, Talib Kweli and Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) released their debut album as Black Star, which took the jazzy, socially conscious style of hip hop that groups like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Digable Planets pioneered earlier that decade and revitalized it for a new generation that was in need of an alternative to the shiny suit era. Since then, both rappers pursued solo careers, appearing on each other's tracks every now and then but going in increasingly different directions over the years. Talib has remained highly prolific, while Yasiin Bey's output has significantly slowed down during the past decade, and when he does release music, it isn't very easy to get your hands on. He put out a collaboration with producer Ferrari Sheppard under the name December 99th in 2016 (which was a TIDAL exclusive but appears to be gone), and in 2019 he put out Negus in Natural Person, but the only way to hear it was if you went to the "listening installation" at the Brooklyn Museum that lasted for just 10 weeks. Now, 24 years after their debut, Black Star have released their second album, No Fear of Time. This one also isn't a wide release -- the only way to hear it is on the podcasting platform Luminary, which you have to be a paid subscriber to use -- but it does feel like the most widely-anticipated release that either Yasiin Bey or Talib Kweli have put out in a while. It's hard not to compare it to the A Tribe Called Quest reunion album, and like that album did, it finds Black Star leaning into their roles as elder statesmen, making hip hop the way they think it should be made, regardless of trends. But it also doesn't really sound anything like the music they were making in the '90s. It was entirely produced by Madlib, and that's the biggest change here; Madlib's experimental, futuristic production style makes No Fear of Time a far cry from the dusty boom bap of Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star. The album features two guests -- likeminded rapper Black Thought and R&B singer (and frequent De La Soul collaborator) Yummy Bingham -- and it's actually very short, with nine songs clocking in at 33 minutes. It has moments that reignite the flame these two had 24 years ago, but it also has moments where they stumble or fall flat. It's an exciting comeback regardless, but sometimes it's a little more exciting in theory than in execution.
Listen to the full album on Luminary and stream one track below.
Dreezy & Hit-Boy - HITGIRL
Chicago rapper Dreezy and in-demand producer Hit-Boy have put their heads together for the new album Hitgirl, and they prove to be a great pair. She raps her ass off, and she does just as well with the album's more sentimental, R&B-tinged slow jams too. Appearances come from Future, Jeremih, Coi Leray, and INK.
They Hate Change - Finally, New
IDK & Kaytranada - Simple
Your Old Droog - Yod Stewart
Kamaiyah - Divine Timing
Wilma Vritra - Grotto
Knucks - Alpha Place
Flee Lord & Mephux - Pray for the Evil 3
Sideshow - Wegahta Tapes Vol. 1
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