Stuck at home? Already tired of your Spotify favourites? Here are some brand new releases to spice things up.
Please note, some of these videos feature explicit lyrics.
1. Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony (Released on 13th March)
The wait is over, and the mythical Jay Electronica album finally appears. He has been restrained to say the least when it comes to releasing his music, since 2007 there are only around 20 of his tracks available. This mysterious, once homeless artist now has billionaire Jay-Z as his boss, and right hand man for his latest project; who thankfully has improved greatly since his disappointing 4:44 album. A Written Testimony is packed full of references to religion, which in unsurprising following Jay Electronica’s co-sign from Louis Farrakhan (the leader of the Nation Of Islam). He has also travelled to, and worshipped at both Hindu, and Buddhist temples during his personal pilgrimages. These themes are prominent from the very beginning, starting off with The Overwhelming Event, an epic, haunting introduction that features a speech regarding Israel and Islam; the album art also features arabic text. Christianity is mentioned heavily on Fruits Of The Spirit, words and phrases like Nazareth, the holy spirit, and a crown of thorns stand out.
Out of the 10 tracks on offer, our favourites include the dusty Ghost Of Soulja Slim, as well as the vintage, seventies vibe and translucent drums of Fruits Of The Spirit. The Binding also deserves a mention and steps away from the spiritual sonics. Instead a hard trap beat and a snare drum that hisses like a snake, are joined by an African chant. References to Zion are still there, and if you don’t pay attention you might miss the crucial Travis Scott appearance. Ezekiel’s Wheel also deserves a mention, with its minimal, foley-filled beat, glimmering chords and blissful hook from The-Dream. This was definitely worth the wait, even if it is lacking a bit of weight.
2. Benjiflow – BENERGY (Released 13th March)
Another artist who has been fairly slow with regards to his release schedule is north Londoner Benjiflow. A student of classical piano from the age of seven, he ditched the keys for a mic in his teens, citing D’Angelo and John Mayer as influences. Before becoming an artist himself, he was busy as a producer working with the likes of Avelino and Wretch 32. In an interview with Dummy Mag he admits that his most successful track to date, Deep End, was made casually one afternoon with Ragz [Originale], after a game of Mario Kart and a box of KFC. It seems as if friends are an important part of his journey, something that is clear when you watch his Boiler Room set; where he is joined by an excitable group of mates.
BENERGY is still really all about the insanely catchy, groove of Deep End (which hasn’t aged a day since its release last year). It of course made the album and is in good company, but in comparison these new bits don’t quite measure up. Wonder Girl is well worth a listen for the horn section alone, and Somebody will also get some hips moving with its latin-american flavour. On Can’t Lose we pick up some African influence, and Broken Parts is held together by what sounds like an analogue synth bass. Try not to compare everything to Deep End and this project is a winner.
3. Lil Baby – My Turn (Released 28th February)
“Big house, I can really be braggin’” If you still haven’t heard of Lil Baby, that may be about to change. As his 2nd studio album arrives, featuring everyone in the game from Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert, to Future and Lil Wayne; all ears are on this young rapper from Atlanta. Over the course of this 20 track feast, his usual hard, auto-tuned trap / rap stylings dominate; although the album’s highlights tend to be when Lil Baby shows his sweeter side. Throughout My Turn he appears unphased by sharing the studio with such big names, and maybe after his recent Grammy nominations and Platinum record sales, could it be time for a new alias?
During the first chapter of this project, the tracks are definitely lacking energy, but as Lil Baby gains momentum, the whole album follows suit. Grace is a plain and simple number, and Heating Up is ironically built from luke warm strings and tepid verses. Out of nowhere, Same Thing injects some energy, and lightens the mood; a vibe that is topped later on Catch The Sun (From “Queen & Slim: The Soundtrack). You can almost hear the sunset in the distance, whilst casual electric-guitar and soulful vocal slices complete the picture. Forever feat Lil Wayne, on the other hand, plays a very different role in the story. Full of grandeur and gravitas, it’s choral samples, low bells and brass are also quite cinematic. During the intro of Gang Signs we slip momentarily into 90’s hip-hop “Throw ’em up, throw ’em up!”, but the chanting promises something that unfortunately is not delivered. The album’s biggest surprise is easily Emotionally Scarred. Not only does it have a heart wrenching instrumental introduction, it also showcases Lil Baby’s best storytelling yet; a real song in a sea of tracks. Give this album a little time to warm up, and it will reward you with a some great music.
4. Royce Da 5’9” – The Allegory (Released 21st February)
The Detroit wordsmith dropped his eighth studio album in late February, and we are still finding new punchlines today. Royce showcases multi-layered rhymes and flows that will keep you guessing, and the mainly self-produced beats are equally as sophisticated; often sampling Motown, jazz and soul. The Allegory is a classy, grown-up affair that deals with themes of race and inequality regularly. Royce’s anti-establishment/ anti-Trump/ pro black rhetoric is heard throughout, he is clearly a smart, conscious lyricist. The album’s content has been inspired by Greek philosopher Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave, which makes a lot of sense when you begin listening.
Some may have heard the name already, possibly through his works with Eminem as Bad Meets Evil; and although Mathers does not rap on the album, he does show up to give a speech on the Perspective skit. There are possibly one too many interludes, but the Mr Grace introduction, (which is based around a conversation between father and son about business and life), sets the tone for the album brilliantly. There are actual features from WestSide Gunn, Benny the Butcher and more. Ashley Sorrell appears more than once, but Pendulum, with its minimal beat, subtle electric guitar, piano, and confident rhymes got to be one of the album’s best “All my people goin’ be eating what they kill, rob the rich and leave them with the f***ing bill”. There is usually venom when Royce spits, but the Allegory is wrapped up in such pretty samples that you may not always clock his anger. There are tracks like Dope Man, I Play Forever, On The Block (produced by DJ Premier) and Overcomer that are soulful, but there are also a handful of darker, more sinister pieces. I Don’t Age and Thou Shall are definitely meaner, then FUBU is leaning towards evil; with Conway The Machine holding his own lyrically. Royce is never overshadowed by his collaborators, and on Upside down we hear some of his best bars to date. Later on Rhinestone Doo Rag we return to a more summery instrumental, and more memorable bars “Pac and Biggie died for you rappers so you don’t have to, Martin and Maclom died for your blackness, peruse your masters”.
At times, this album could come across as self-indulgent, maybe even preachy, but that’s what you get from a rapper as intelligent as Royce. The project is well researched, complex and intricate, and with jams like Young World feat. Vince Staples and G Perico, it will surely be a firm favourite for many.
5. Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – UNLOCKED (Released 7th February)
Miami based Denzel Curry is quickly becoming one of rap’s most exciting artists, and if you haven’t yet dug through his discography, Clout Cobain from his 2018 album is a good place to start. His follow up release in 2019 turned even more heads, and even featured a guest verse from Rick Ross (our pick is RICKY).
Now, onto 2020’s collaborative project which was produced with Kenny Beats in his L.A studio. He is a beat maker who seems to be able to do it all, and his varied approach is one that matches Curry’s unpredictability. The first thing you see before even pressing play is the oddly formatted track titles, which give the impression of the project still being a work in progress. Take_it_Back_v2 appears early on, demanding attention from start to finish. Like much of the project there is a definite modern aesthetic here, without forgetting what has come before them “Okay, after dark the riot starts, way uglier than Bubba Sparxxx, still tryin’ to raise the charts so I don’t have to push a shopping cart”. Curry’s voice is pitched up and down to give the impression of multiple rappers performing the hook, a trick that could perhaps be used more sparingly on UNLOCKED. We hear lots of references to both 90’s and current popular culture, from Mario, rumble packs and Goodie Mob, to the Avengers movies and Grand Theft Auto video games. Much of Curry’s previous work has been aggressive, almost menacing at times; with Pyro (leak 2019) and DIET_ being no exception. This is an album that does not really need features, as sometimes he sounds as angry as DMX, then before you know it he sounds more like like Quasimoto.
Kenny’s productions on UNLOCKED are generally not that musical, but So.Incredible.pkg shows a different side to him with it’s slap bass and light keys. Elsewhere the vibe is rougher, and this rawness is where the magic really happens. You have to be in the mood for this one, but we think its a very strong album indeed.
6. Pop Smoke – Meet The Woo (Released 7th February)
Pop Smoke aka Bashar Barakah Jackson, was murdered just after the release of Meet The Woo back in February. He was a prominent star within the drill scene, and this project was set to propel his fame even further. Drill music actually started in Chicago, before being picked up by many young London based rappers. The sound has since been championed by English radio presenters such as Charlie Sloth, before returning to U.S soil with acts such as Pop Smoke.
Drill is a genre that follows strict rules when it comes to the beats, but we don’t mind that many tracks on Meet The Woo sound very similar. Even Pop Smoke’s delivery and flow can remain fairly stagnant throughout, before we tire of it. Tracks like Invincible, or Christopher Walking showcase his talent best, with his unique tone and ridiculously catchy cadence, over the top of emotive violins being a winning combination. His red hot single Dior made its way onto the album too, and is even referenced in another track (as well as 50 Cent’s window shopper). Meet The Woo has a definitive sound that is in danger of becoming dull, but it manages to hold your interest thanks to features from Quavo, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, and NAV. Elsewhere on Element there is a much needed change of pace, utilising more of a trap vibe and tempo “I had the Lambo’, switched to the ‘rari, I’m a gangsta, but I like to party”. The album finishes on a bit of a low unfortunately, Like Me is a throwaway, slower, and more commercial hip-hop beat with corny auto-tuned vocals; the album was crying out for something other than drill, but this is not what it needed…
Drill’s UK and U.S.A connection is blatant on the Charlie Sloth freestyle, which is actually one of the project’s strongest tracks. Pop Smoke’s story has unfortunately ended very early, but the tale of drill seems to only just be getting started.