9 best rap albums of April 2020
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 ten rap albums from April 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 April 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 (in no particular order)...
Headie One & Fred Again - GANG
UK drill rapper Headie One had his biggest breakthrough yet with last year's Skepta and Dave-featuring Music x Road, and as good as that project is, GANG might be even better. It's a collaboration with producer Fred Again, who has worked extensively with Brian Eno (and Stormzy, Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding, and more), and Eno remixed a song off GANG soon after its release. And Music x Road had impressive features too, but the features on GANG look outside of the rap world entirely, roping in memorable contributions from FKA twigs, Sampha, and Jamie xx. (Slowthai and Octavian have uncredited backing vocals too.) That is quite the all-star cast for an album by an artist who's still on the rise, but Headie One never lets anyone overshadow him on GANG. He's a great rapper who knows how to sneak hooks into his rhymes without going pop, and even if you come to GANG because of the guests, you'll leave with Headie One's voice stuck in your head.
Chucky73 & Fetti031 - Sie7etre3 EP
Latin trap is having a huge moment thanks to superstar Puerto Rican rappers like Bad Bunny, Ozuna, and Anuel AA, and adjacent artists like Colombian reggaeton singer J Balvin, but right here in New York, Bronx crew Sie7etre3 is offering up a noticeably different type of Latin trap. Sie7etre3 members Chucky73 & Fetti031 dropped this EP, which is the debut project for their own Sie7etre3 label (which recently inked a distribution deal with Caroline), and compared to the breezy sounds of Latin trap's superstars, these Dominican-born, Bronx-based rappers make a style of Latin trap that's much more sinister, owing more to the dark, hard-hitting sounds of New York rap than it does to the stars from Puerto Rico. The face of New York rap is constantly changing, and it doesn't feel crazy to suggest that the Sie7etre3 crew might be the sound of the city's future. This wall-to-wall great EP is the most New York-sounding shit in the world. If we weren't all stuck at home, you can be sure you'd be hearing "Dili" blasting out of every car window.
Kari Faux - Lowkey Superstar
I don't know who lit a fire up under Kari Faux's ass, but she went in like never before on this new project. Last year's Cry 4 Help found her in pensive, laid-back soul territory, which would not prepare you at all for the loud, brash, in-your-face rap of Lowkey Superstar. Kari tells NYLON that working with London producer Danio (who helmed all of Lowkey Superstar) inspired her to make a more "fun" project than Cry 4 Help, so Danio surely deserves credit for this project too, but she's made fun music before (like her breakthrough song "No Small Talk"), and she never rapped like this. She also told NYLON that she and Danio have a full-length album ready to go. If it's anything like Lowkey Superstar, we're gonna be in for a treat.
Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - >Innocent Country 2
Mello Music Group
We said: Almost every guest from the first Innocent Country is on this new one too (Cavalier, Denmark Vessey, Big Sen, Fresh Daily), but this time the duo also roped in some exciting bigger names like Earl Sweatshirt, Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus, and Homeboy Sandman, as well as some other underground rap figures who are having a moment right now like Pink Siifu and Billy Woods. The new album also sounds bigger and brighter than the first one. Chris Keys' warm, jazz-inspired production sounds as lively as walking into a jazz club, and that's at least partially because Chris played and recorded the instruments himself. And Quelle Chris is an increasingly commanding rapper, who sounds even more effortlessly great than he did five years ago.
Smino - She Already Decided
We said: There's a lot of genuinely great songs on this thing. As ever, Smino tends to favor warm, jazz/soul-inspired production ("O'HighO" makes especially good use of psychedelic soul), and his delivery tends to hop seamlessly between rapping and singing or fuses the two entirely. It's pretty damn impressive for something he quickly put together at home, and if these are songs that aren't making his new album, I can't wait to hear what does.
Westside Gunn - Pray For Paris
We said: WSG's gritty, '90s-style New York street rap sounds as great as ever on this LP, as do his fellow Griselda members Benny the Butcher and Conway the Machine on their multiple guest appearances, and it's loaded with exciting likeminded guests like Freddie Gibbs, Roc Marciano, and Boldy James. But on top of all that, big names like Joey Bada$$ and Tyler, the Creator lend their talents to this record (they're both on the song "327"), and coming off last year's experimental soul album IGOR, it's been a while since we've heard Tyler rap like this. Griselda made the mainstream come to them by just being themselves for years, and now they're even bringing out the grittiest sides of actual mainstream rappers.
Shabazz Palaces - The Don of Diamond Dreams
We said: It's Shabazz Palaces so it still sounds like an outer space acid trip compared to most rap music, but it's the most compact and fat-trimmed thing Shabazz have released since Black Up. As much as I appreciate the sprawling epics, Shabazz are at their best when they channel all their ambition into a more tightly-packed album like this one.
Pink Siifu - NEGRO
We said: It's one big, dense sound collage that brings free jazz, noisy punk, spoken word, and rap music together, and Siifu tells DJ Booth that working with producer Slauson Malone was part of the influence for that. "When we wanna go in on a DJ mix, that’s how Slauson’s albums be sounding," he says. It does sound as much like a DJ mix as an album, and Siifu stuffs in as many ideas lyrically as he does musically.
You can purchase NEGRO at Bandcamp (but it isn't streaming right now).
Rod Wave - Pray 4 Love
We said: Rod takes his sound in a few new directions on this one. Ghetto Gospel saw Rod pulling from brash, raspy Southern soul, but Pray 4 Love sounds more sentimental and R&B-tinged. He still sings with rap-like cadences, but he's definitely more of a singer than a rapper and it sounds like he has widened his singing range even more since his last album.
And here's a playlist of 34 rap songs we like from April: