Lil Wayne’s in a custody battle with Birdman over his soul, Jay Z’s bricking with Tidal instead of rapping about pushing bricks, Kanye’s taken the spring off to see if he and Paul McCartney could sample the sound of a single Louboutin heel snapping in an infinite void, and Drake’s been rendered rap’s big dog by default. So there hasn’t really yet been a rapper to plant a flag in 2015 and assert, this is how hip-hop sounds now. Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, and Young Thug — three ascendant talents whom we’ll doubtlessly still be talking about 20 years from now — all put out excellent (and wildly disparate) records, but quiet ones, whose brilliance unraveled after multiple listens. They weren’t albums that were special because they signaled a paradigm shift in rap, they were special because they couldn’t have been made by anybody other than the artists who made them.
Still, it’s rap’s rebuilding years, when there are no clear winners or people to set the trends that everyone else follows, that are often its most interesting. One of the reasons the genre is so great is because it’s constantly in flux, and hip-hop’s totally transcendent, vital records can come from anybody, whether it’s a veteran whom time seems to have forgotten, or a secret genius hiding in their bedroom that ten people have heard of. But here are the best bets you may have missed from the last six months.
Future, 56 Nights (Freebandz)
The Future of 56 Nights is no longer blissfully on Pluto. Instead, he’s piloted the Millennium Freebandz into the outer reaches of the universe, boldly trapping where no man hath trapp’d before. He’s rhyming tighter than ever here, turning phrases with a flick of the wrist (“I scream out to God in the sewer / The streets turn a boy to a man,” he laments on “Never Gon’ Lose”). He sounds haggard and warbled, like if you ran Vybz Kartel through Satan’s pasta strainer. On “Now,” he howls with the misanthropic despair of a church-burning black metaller. And with “March Madness,” Future looks down the barrel of a portal to another dimension, cherishing the chaos.
Father, Who’s Gonna Get F—ked First? (Awful)
Sometimes the most obvious joke is also the funniest. That’s the M.O. of Father, the most visible figure in Atlanta’s talented Awful Records clique. It’s there when he raps, “15 deep go ‘head bitch nigga run up / That’s 30 hands if you tryna know the sum of” on “On Me,” or when he reworks J-Kwon’s “Tipsy” into his own “Everybody in the Club Gettin’ Shot,” which is about, well, everybody in the club getting shot. Father’s a student of Lil B as much as he is Dem Franchize Boyz, and when he’s not trying to single-handedly revive snap here, he’s making the sex-rap equivalent to Make Love Not Porn.
Jazz Cartier, Marauding in Paradise (Self-Released)
Toronto isn’t just the city above America where Drake throws his dad-bod around looking for strippers he can say embarrassing things to. As Jazz Cartier renders it, Toronto is the promised land where you don’t have to bridge the gap between the streets and the art gallery — it’s nonexistent. Jazz’s high-low reference points ooze of artsy journeymen like Travis Scott, Theophilus London, and A$AP Rocky, but unlike those jokers, Cartier displays an understanding of the material he draws from that extends beyond artifice.
Chief Keef and DP Beats, Almighty DP (Self-Released)
Chief Keef took the left-hand path following Finally Rich: lathering his vocals in Auto-Tune, producing his own abstract beats, and generally making music that was the sonic equivalent of this selfie he took with his dog. Much like Lou Reed or Lil B, Keef’s one of those guys you have to accept whole hog even as his advanced ideas whip past anything our puny brains might be able to process. On Almighty DP, he and North Carolina producer DP Beats (who assembled this tape) give Keef’s ideas the room they need to spread their knotted wings.
YFN Lucci, Wish Me Well (TIG)
Imagine that Young Dro and Skooly from Rich Kidz had a baby, and somehow that baby immediately became a full-grown man with depth, gravitas, and a sort of totally amazing singing voice. Then imagine that baby made a mixtape, and that mixtape was dope as f—k. That baby would be YFN Lucci, and that dope-as-f—k mixtape would be this one.
Bankroll Fresh, Life of a Hot Boy 2 (Self-Released)
Atlanta’s Bankroll Fresh scored regional pay dirt with the Cash Money-referencing “Hot Boy” on last year’s Life of a Hot Boy, so for the sequel, he says “f—k it” and doubles down on the same trick. This time he and Zaytoven take on peak Master P and No Limit with “Bout It,” and the results are nearly as fantastic. Bankroll Fresh is one of the most fun rappers in his city right now; his arsenal of goofy voices and off-kilter boasts (who else is bragging that girls are chewing on their dick?) are counterbalanced by one of the most punishing sets of beats this side of a black hole.
Rich Homie Quan, If You Ever Think I Will Stop Goin’ in Ask Royal Rich (Self-Released)
Undoubtedly, Rich Homie Quan’s late-April surprise mixtape was overshadowed by his (ex?) Rich Gang partner Young Thug’s Barter 6. But don’t write him off; like a shark, if Quan stops going in, he dies. He’s got melodies for days, and as he develops as a writer, his eye for detail becomes odder and more finely honed. Young Thug might be the mind-expanding Lennon of Rich Gang, but RHQ’s hooky McCartney is what holds the whole kit and kaboodle together.