9 Best Rap Albums of May 2021
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 9 rap albums from May 2021 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).
Mach-Hommy - Pray For Haiti
Mach-Hommy is one of the most elusive, intriguing voices in experimental underground rap, and Westside Gunn and his Griselda label have been at the forefront of the noir-ish boom bap revival, and -- after letting the world know that they were friends again at the end of 2020 -- they come together once more on Mach's new album Pray For Haiti, which Westside Gunn executive produced and released on Griselda Records. Gunn also appears on three songs (along with a standout verse from frequent Mach-Hommy collaborator Tha God Fahim and some spoken word by Griselda's Keisha Plum), but his presence is felt throughout. The pair brought in a handful of regular Griselda producers (Conductor Williams, Camoflauge Monk, Denny Laflare, DJ Green Lantern, and more), and the songs really exist somewhere between the classic Griselda sound and Mach-Hommy's more mind-bending approach. Mach fills the album with memorable punchlines, but Pray For Haiti is an important album for more reasons than just uniting two of the strongest minds in underground rap. 20% of proceeds from the album will go to the Pray For Haiti Trust Fund, "which will be used to finance computer science education in Haiti—more specifically coding."
"Pray For Haiti is not catering to anyone’s preconceived notions of what something artistic should look like," Mach says. "I am exercising my own indelible right to whatever the fuck it is that I want to do. I want to help Haiti build a strong future with this contribution. I believe that we can make something happen, even if it's brick by brick, and school by school."
J. Cole - The Off-Season
If you've been following rap criticism for the past decade or so, you probably know how J. Cole's new album is going to be received. Critics often tend not to like him, but he's extremely popular without really being "pop," and he's highly respected by countless other respected rappers. Cole can lean cheesy, so it's easy to see why so many critics turn their noses up at him, but he's also dedicated his life to perfecting the art of rap as it existed in the Illmatic era -- and gotten pretty good at it -- so it's also easy to see why he gets so much respect. As he continues to have a diehard fanbase, influence, longevity, and consistency, even his haters start to admit that maybe there's something there; he seems to get re-evaluated and re-debated with each new release. His last album, 2018's KOD, was considered a high point of his career by fans and critics alike, and at least on my first couple listens, The Off-Season feels like it's of a similar quality. From clever punchlines ("I got more M's than a Real Slim Shady video") to open-hearted introspection ("l e t . g o . m y . h a n d"), Cole's rapping is in fine form, and having produced about half the album himself, so are his beats. (Other producers include Timbaland, T-Minus, DJ Dahi, Boi-1da, and more.) He maintains his status as rap's middle child by turning the spotlight over to younger stars with standout verses from 21 Savage and Lil Baby, while honoring the vets with cameos from Cam'ron, Lil Jon, and Puff Daddy. He probably didn't need to brag twice that he'll do better numbers than rappers who overstuff their albums with 20+ songs, but it does work in Cole's favor that he continues to release concise albums. The Off-Season is a tight, well-sequenced 12 songs that clock in just below the 40-minute mark, leaving no time for any noticeable filler. Over ten years and six proper albums into his career, Cole isn't necessarily full of surprises at this point, but if nothing else, he continues to maintain his consistency. In a genre where even some of the best to ever do it have fallen off after LP2, that's a merit that can't be ignored.
MF DOOM & Czarface - Super What?
Before MF DOOM's life was sadly cut short at age 49 last year, he and Czarface completed a followup to their 2018 collaborative album Czarface Meets Metalface called Super What? which they intended to release in April 2020 but halted the release due to COVID. Now, that album has been released. It features DMC, Del The Funky Homosapien, Kendra Morris, and Godforbid, and it serves as a reminder that DOOM remained at the top of his game up through his very last days. Read more about it here.
Wiki & NAH - Telephonebooth
After emerging from rap's underground with 2017's masterful concept album No Mountains In Manhattan (on XL), Wiki decided to reel it back in and he released the lower-stakes OOFIE on his own Wikset Enterprise label in 2019. As great as NMIM is, Wiki seems more comfortable staying out of the mainstream spotlight and doing something more niche, and that's even clearer on Telephonebooth, his most experimental album yet. The entire album was produced by NAH, the industrial rap project of Mike Kuhn, who used to drum in the emo revival band 1994!. NAH provides Wiki some of the darkest, most psychedelic production he's ever rapped over, and Wiki knows exactly what to do with NAH's beats. He sounds alive on these songs, and more fired-up than he did on OOFIE. With No Mountains In Manhattan, Wiki sounded like he was shooting for the stars. Now, he's in the deepest, darkest corners of outer space, and he sounds like he belongs here.
YG & Mozzy - Kommunity Service
YG and Mozzy are two West Coast rappers at the forefront of the G-Funk revival, and both are incredibly prolific. It's not always easy to keep up with everything they do, but they've now put their heads together for the quick 10-song project Kommunity Service, and you should not miss this one. It opens with "Gangsta," a West Coast-flavored rework of 50 Cent's East Coast classic "Wanksta," immediately connecting the dots between 50's early 2000s world-domination era, his then-mentor Dr. Dre's classic early '90s era, and the recent comeback of loud, in-your-face rappers populating the mainstream. It's a great way to open the album, because you probably know in about three seconds if this record is gonna be up your alley, and YG and Mozzy deliver from start to finish. The two of them sound like they had a lot of fun recording this thing, and it's also a lot of fun to listen to. They bounce off each other as smoothly as that classic-sounding G-Funk bass bounces off the drums, and their styles go very well together. They sound similar enough that it's seamless when one stops rapping and the other takes over, but different enough from each other -- and from most other rappers -- that you always know exactly who you're listening to.
AKAI SOLO & Navy Blue - True Sky
Break All Records/Freedom Sounds
AKAI SOLO and Navy Blue are two of the brightest voices in the psychedelic, underground New York rap scene, so it was very exciting when AKAI SOLO recently revealed Navy Blue would be entirely producing his next album True Sky. That album's release date was never revealed, but they surprise-released it this week, and it very much lives up to anticipation. If you've been following the careers of AKAI SOLO and Navy Blue (or likeminded artists like MIKE, Pink Siifu, Earl Sweatshirt, etc), you probably have a good idea of what to expect: warped, hazy production and poetic, stream-of-consciousness raps that are just as dizzying as the beats. There's been no lack of music like this coming out lately, and as long as the quality is this high, that's a very good thing.
Navy Blue - Navy's Reprise
Not only did Navy Blue entirely produce AKAI SOLO's new album this month, he also released his own new album, the followup to December 2020's Song of Sage: Post Panic!. He's been extremely prolific lately, and it's not always easy to keep up with every new thing he does, but his career has been on a constant upswing and Navy's Reprise is no exception. Earlier on, Navy Blue had a hazy, obscured sound that was frequently compared to some of his more famous collaborators like Earl Sweatshirt and MIKE, but on Navy's Reprise, Navy's voice is pushed to the forefront and clear as day. The greater clarity suits him well, as the songs on Navy's Reprise are some of his most direct and personal. He's continuing to up his game as a lyricist, and he's also continuing to carve out his own space within underground rap. I don't think anyone is gonna compare this album to Earl or MIKE. Right now, Navy Blue is doing his own thing.
Navy's Reprise can only be heard if you purchase it for $20 on Navy Blue's website, but you can watch the video for one song below.
ALLBLACK - TY4FWM (Thank You 4 Fuckin’ With Me)
Play Runners Association/EMPIRE
Oakland's ALLBLACK is part of the recent wave of West Coast rappers bringing back the sounds of the classic G-Funk era (YG, Mozzy, G Perico, Kamaiyah, Vince Staples' FM!, etc), and his new album TY4FWM features Mozzy, Vince, Bay Area vet E-40, and others, plus production by FM! contributor Kenny Beats (among others), who ALLBLACK released an entire project with in 2018. It's not surprising to see him in such good company; ALLBLACK really knows how to channel '90s West Coast rap without sounding overly indebted to his forebears. He's a great rapper with a great ear for beats, and he sounds as lively on these songs as the pioneers did 25-30 years ago. In classic West Coast fashion, there's a toughness to these songs, but they're also warm and laid-back (and often powered by rubbery, funk-derived basslines). It's a fun record, even at its most pensive moments, of which there are many.
Tee Grizzley - Built For Whatever
Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley is staying busy and following last year's great The Smartest with another new LP, Built For Whatever. The Smartest felt like a course correction after Grizzley tried catering to the mainstream, and this new one picks up right where The Smartest left off, with features from the late King Von, Quavo, Young Dolph, Lil Durk, Lil Tjay, Big Sean, Tee's brother Baby Grizzley, and more.
42 Dugg - Free Dem Boyz
Big Jade - Pressure
Young Nudy - Dr. EV4L
Young M.A - Off The Yak
Benny The Butcher & 38 Spesh - Trust The Sopranos
Bruiser Brigade - TV62
For more new rap, listen or subscribe to a playlist of 38 rap songs we like from May 2021.
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.