Summer 2021 represented a return to normalcy for many in the wake of falling COVID-19 cases and the widespread distribution of vaccines. During that time, many musicians came out of hiding and began releasing music again, with the hip-hop genre receiving a surge of excitement.
While younger talent began to cement itself in the form of rising stars like Sleepy Hallow, mainstream stars like Migos returned with their long-awaited album, “Culture III.” Most surprisingly, however, was the release of the DMX album “Exodus,” arriving less than two months after his tragic death on April 9.
With a wide range of beats hitting Spotify and Apple Music, the past few months represented an intriguing change for hip-hop, reminding fans who’s up next and who’s still got it.
Here’s a list of rap’s latest and greatest projects from the summer:
After a three-and-a-half-year stretch without releasing an album, Atlanta trio Migos returned in full force with the next entry in their “Culture” album series, “Culture III.”
Maintaining the loveable confidence that first made them famous nearly a decade ago, the 19-track album starts with a bang with “Avalanche,” where Quavo, Offset and Takeoff open with some exceptional bars:
Quavo: “Nobody judge you but God / You can watch us beat the odds / This is no cap, no façade / Young, rich and black, and we gon’ beat the charge / I'm spendin’ cash, no card / I’m likin’ her natural a--, no fraud.”
The features from Drake, YoungBoy Never Broke Again and the late artists Pop Smoke and Juice WRLD provide enough energy to hype up any hip-hop fan.
While they may not be the same young trio listeners heard in 2017’s “Culture,” the Migos helped kick off the summer with a confidently laid-back album which proves they’re still cooking with gas.
Never one to stay quiet for long, Bay Area rapper Larry June released dreamy sounding “Orange Print” back in June, keeping underground rap fans satisfied and appearing as relaxed as ever.
On 13 relaxingly positive tracks, June touches a wide range of subjects, from his rise to popularity to his past relationships to even harder tracks that remind listeners that he is not a man to be trifled with , which he best shows on “Organic Respect.” Songs like “6am in Sausalito” assert that even with some darker tracks, Larry June is as happy as ever.
While some casually rapped bars demonstrate Larry June’s lyrical ability, the real star here is the production, with producers like DJ Mr. Rogers and Jake One expertly crafting beats that would easily pair with a nice day on the beach.
Showcasing an underappreciated consistency not often seen in the rap industry, “Orange Print” is easily one of the best and most cohesive rap projects of the year.
After his tragic passing earlier this year, fans wondered if they had seen the last of Yonkers rapper DMX. Luckily, Earl Simmons’ longtime friend and collaborator Swizz Beatz had a surprise for fans, revealing one more album from the departed star.
“This album was done while he was living. I know they’re saying ‘the album after he’s gone, ‘but really he did the album before he was gone,” Swizz told Apple Music upon the album’s release.
Acting as one last hurrah for the late legend, “Exodus” presents a barrage of exciting features, including Snoop Dogg, Buffalo crew Griselda, Bono, fellow Yonkers group the Lox and, most notably, hip-hop legends Jay-Z and Nas.
Despite being in his late 40’s at the time of recording, “Exodus” is living proof that age is just a number, with X showcasing that same energy which made him a household name back in 1998. While many songs on the album deserve mentions for showcasing X’s energy across a variety of subjects, “That’s My Dog,”” Hold Me Down” and “Dogs Out” are among the project’s best.
While he is sorely missed, “Exodus” is the perfect sendoff for one of hip-hop’s pioneers and cements his memory in the industry.
Long Term Effects of SUFFERING
As their grim name hints, the $uicideboy$ have always been outsiders in hip-hop, rapping in an artistically aggressive manner about gloomy subjects paired with equally otherworldly beats.
Without any features, “Long Term Effects of SUFFERING” is one of the darkest releases of 2021, with the eerily titled, “If Self-Destruction Was an Olympic Event, I’d Be Tonya Harding” containing the horrid sounding sample of Nancy Kerrigan screaming “Why?” during her gruesome attack before the 1994 Winter Olympics.
With a variety of futuristic beats, the New Orleans duo raps of men who have lost all hope and care in the world. In doing so, they effectively establish their signature style, making “Long Term Effects of Suffering” one of rap’s best new releases.
New York rapper Sleepy Hallow continues his steady climb to the top in his new album, “Still Sleep?” where he showcases his ever-widening range of styles across 14 tracks.
A natural storyteller, Sleepy provides a relaxing blues feel that perfectly anchors his somber stories of growing up in New York City while further establishing his status as one of the hardest in the game. On standout tracks “Equal” and “1999,” Hallow utilizes beautiful instrumentals to provide listeners with a reminder that real friends are the only ones that can be leaned on in tough times and reflect on those who have betrayed him.
As he says on “Equal”: “When you down and you out they ain’t showin up.”
Staying as original as ever, Sleepy Hallow’s “Still Sleep?” is one of the best projects of the year, as it features an up-and-coming rapper who could easily become “King of New York” following Pop Smoke’s death.
Alex Falter is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Falter is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum.