From here in Los Angeles, it feels like summer won’t leave: The beach is packed, the Dodgers are braving 90-degree weather, and YG still doesn’t have a release date. But make no mistake, this is the fourth quarter, and the blockbusters could still be coming. While at press time the slate is relatively light (save for Def Jam, which plans to drop full-length efforts from Rick Ross, Jeezy, and Logic, the latter two on the same day), the trend toward surprise releases and truncated promotional periods suggests we could still have a crowded holiday shopping season.
Whether or not we get Drake at Halloween or Kanye West for Hanukkah, the last handful of months have given us some of the year’s best rap records. You might have missed them: The dense, heady exercises from Milwaukee, the soul-baring sessions from Long Beach, the cold calls from 2007. We’ve collected them here.
Young Thug, Slime Season (self-released)
Young Thug’s decision to start Slime Season with his year-old Lil Wayne duet “Take Kare” feels somewhere between a taunt and an homage. Thug’s long been vocal about Wayne’s influence on his own music; he’s also been named in PeeWee Roscoe’s indictment in an alleged plot to kill the Louisiana legend. (Georgia authorities believe Roscoe is behind an April shooting that targeted Wayne’s tour bus; neither Thug nor Birdman, who is also named in the indictment, have been charged.) But what that opening number really is is a reminder that Slime Season exists outside of space or time. Where this April’s Barter 6 was carefully constructed and ends with a five-song bloodletting, this is simply rap’s foremost stylist mouthing off ferociously on all cylinders.
The emotional arcs are just as fresh and just as gripping, but here they’re confined to songs, and sometimes to single verses: “Calling Your Name” winds its way from heartbreaking loneliness to “When I hit the club, them strippers smile, I give them hope.” “Rarri” and “Be Me See Me” and “Draw Down” and a half-dozen other standouts pack clever writing turns into what sound on first pass to be warbled reference vocals. Other times — “Udiggwhatimsayin” and “Best Friend” come to mind — Thug works with razor precision, attacking different parts of the drum programming with different voices and cadences. The spotlight is only temporarily wrestled away by the still-incarcerated Gucci Mane, who turns in one of the year’s finest guest verses.
G Herbo, Ballin’ Like I’m Kobe (self-released)
Last week, G Herbo turned 20 years old, and next year he’ll be 60. While the national press has mostly moved on from Chicago’s drill scene, some of its practitioners have continued to push the sub-genre’s formal limits. But the artist formerly known as Lil Herb is less concerned with aesthetics; he instead leverages his breathless, world-class bar-for-bar rapping in a journey to the bottom of his psyche. From opener “L’s” (“In the streets, ditching school, murder, drugs around me / Rapping — it just found me, thank God it wasn’t the county”) to “Bricks and Mansions” (“I gave my mom the whole deposit for her pain and suffering”), the young MC spends the tape grappling with his past and his mortality. Named for a friend who was slain in his early 20s, Ballin Like I’m Kobe makes a case for Herb as gangsta rap’s foremost realist. “Don’t Worry,” one of two songs that feature long-time partner Lil Bibby, digs deep to sample Kristin Chenoweth’s voice from Wicked.
milo, So the Flies Don’t Come (Alpha Pup / Ruby Yacht)
So the Flies Don’t Come, milo’s third full-length album in just over a year, ends with a love letter. “Song About a Raygunn (An Ode to Driver),” written for the legendary underground motormouth Busdriver, includes an extended, disarmingly sweet tribute to the mentor: “He only raps for a good reason and getting rich isn’t one of those.” But the song’s A-part is a frighteningly close imitation of Driver — who is one of the hardest vocalists in the world to imitate. That’s emblematic of the rest of Flies. Where he was once known for his languid flow, which often flirted with spoken word, milo’s raps here are tightly wound and technically dizzying. From “Going No Place,” which features New York’s best-kept secret, Elucid: “You were used to me rapping my book list / Indeed a nigga might look bookish / You could be next in line to catch a hooked fist.”
Hurricane Chris, Hurricane Season (self-released)
If you think of Hurricane Chris as a one-hit wonder, it’s time to repent. The Shreveport, Louisiana native has indeed never matched the success of 2007’s “A Bay Bay,” which hit No. 7 on the Billboard. But he has put out mixtapes with Boosie BadAzz and rapped a song named after Halle Berry in front of the Louisiana State Legislature, which is more than can be said for Unk. More importantly, Hurricane Season shows Chris has continued to sharpen a style that marries Boosie’s nasally drawl to horror-movie maximalism. But he really shines in the record’s quieter moments, like on the soulful “Monster,” where self-parking technology really feels like a gift from God.
T.I., Da’Nic EP (King Inc.)
Between 2003 and 2008, T.I. gave Atlantic an unheard-of five consecutive platinum-selling albums. (The pre- and post-jail copy-and-paste jobs that followed each went gold.) But by last year, he had left Atlantic for Columbia; on Paperwork, it sounded as if his considerable skills had atrophied, and the album was kept afloat by an unending slew of guests. The one exception was the stunning Young Thug collaboration “About the Money.” On Da’Nic, Tip goes back to the well, tapping Thugger as well as Tip’s own mid-2000s protege Young Dro for “Peanut Butter Jelly,” and comes away sounding meaner and more nimble than he has since “What Up, What’s Haapnin’.” This time, the energy carries over to the rest of the EP — just check “Ain’t Gonna See It,” which sounds like the most valuable thing you left in 2006.
Boogie, The Reach (self-released)
Halfway through “Make Me Over,” from new Interscope signee Boogie’s The Reach, a child’s voice wishes blessings on his mother, his cousins, and his father. Then: “That’s my 5-year-old kid, he’s still got crayons in his cupboard / Now how I’m supposed to tell him I got shot over a color?” When he realized what it would take to keep that son safe, Boogie moved from his native Compton to Long Beach, honed his lisp-heavy raps, and became one of Southern California’s most incisive young artists. “Make Me Over” gives way to “Oh My,” a surprise summer hit that still rattles in many of L.A.’s crevices. The rest of The Reach is populated by sometimes sneering, always soulful cuts that position Boogie as one of the coast’s most promising.