Between one thing and another, I haven’t had time to check out a lot of new rap and hip-hop albums this month. Hell, I still haven’t found time to spin Kanye West’s Jesus is King. Based on the typically divided reaction, I suspect it’s either his worst album ever or his greatest — or both at once. Which would not be a first for him. If and when I get a chance to hear it, I’ll let you know what I think. Meantime, here are a couple of great albums I did get the chance to review. Click on the cover art to read the full review and hear the album.
WHO ARE THEY? The experimental underground Los Angeles hip-hop trio of rapper Daveed Diggs — better known for his acting roles in everything from Hamilton to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes.
WHAT IS THIS? Their third studio outing in five years is also a deeply creepy, multi-layered concept album inspired both by the horrorcore rap of acts like Geto Boyz and Gravediggaz, and bloody ’70s cult movies like Ganja & Hess.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? On the surface, these skittery beats, ominous basslines, plinky keyboards and gruesome tales could be the soundtrack to an independent horror movie. Dig deeper and it’s impossible not to see that these depictions of looming danger, relentless terror and sudden violent death are also the story of contemporary African-American life. Which is scarier than any horror movie around.
WHO IS HE? The idiosyncratic and bizarre Detroit rapper who broke through to the mainstream with his third album Old in 2013, then took a trip to the dark side with the paranoid 2016 followup Atrocity Exhibit before getting his act together.
WHAT IS THIS? His fifth disc overall and — if you believe Danny Brown — his version of a standup comedy album. “Most of my close friends now aren’t rappers — they’re comedians and actors,” he has said. “So I wanted to create something that mixed humour with music. Something that was funny but not parody.”
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Not a damn thing like a standup comedy album. In fact, it’s not even as overtly funny and outrageous as Old. That does not mean it’s a downer. Far from it: Brown’s spectacular vernacular, rapid-fire flow, demented images, twisted couplets and celebrity name-drops (who else would rhyme rental car with Pat Benatar?) are still second to none. The big difference is that now he presents them in a more straightforward and less manic fashion — all the better to allow Q-Tip, Jpegmafia, Flying Lotus and the other high-wattage producers to strut their stuff.