The Weekly Coo’s – Top 15 Hip-Hop Albums of 2021

All reviews are linked to the album title.

Baby Keem came from under the shadows of his superstar cousin Kendrick Lamar to properly define himself after a few test tapes in swampy waters. Hip-Hop isn’t always the kindest, but the niches have allowed any artist to strive – to a certain point, sometimes – and Keem seemed to have something that may not have given him staying power. I’m talking about his vocal tendencies, melodies, and production. The Melodic Blue strives by subverting our thoughts and giving us a proper debut that rolls out monstrous hits, catchy hooks, and a multi-faceted Baby Keem.
Teetering between finding himself spiritually and finding himself musically, DMX’s career over the last decade has been forgettable, to say the least. Listening to Exodus, it was refreshing to hear DMX revert – sonically – to his roots. He whips up a whirlwind of songs that deliver nuances to the old while keeping itself modern – from a classic posse cut with The Lox, a classic triad with Jay-Z and Nas, a standout performance alongside Moneybagg Yo, who does the same, the path is limitless. Unfortunately, I thought so from looking at the tracklist. However, the few rough patches come with artists that tread into poppier sounds – his originality still holds it together tightly.
It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe Donda, and so I implore you to click the link above and read my review as it explains my true feelings.
Gotham took a chance with a sucker punch, and it lands firmly on your face. I can attribute that to Diamond D’s masterful production and rhyme skills alongside another NY veteran and master lyricist in Talib Kweli, which takes me back to that classic gritty boom-bap style of the past you sometimes want now and then.
LP! is raw. It is filled to the brim with interpersonal raps and linguistic gymnastics as JPEGMAFIA delivers how he feels like a creator. The visceral imagery on both sides of the coin continuously glows in front of the many aspects that make the music great, especially in Part II of “TIRED, NERVOUS & BROKE! (SICK, NERVOUS, AND BROKE!),” where JPEG and Kimbra create a melancholic unison. It may not be my favorite JPEG album so far, but it packs enough punch to be a solid follow-up to his last album, All My Heroes Are Cornballs.” From Review. 
One thing that I’ve always admired about Joell Ortiz is his hunger. Amongst prominent New York rappers, he has never stood out like his contemporaries – The Lox, Cam’ron, and Fabolous, to name a few. But that hunger gives us a potent personal reflection on his career and life in an excursion through great production and multi-faceted layers of character depth in his verses.
Nas improves his craft heavily on King’s Disease 2, from the lyrical depth to stylistic constructs. He still fails to find his footing when creating “hits,” though Nas isn’t the one who fails, his features sometimes don’t bring that same energy like A Boogie on the song “YKTV,” or they are underused like Blxst on “Brunch On Sundays.” But most of the album hits as Nas takes everything by the horns and delivers us some heavily introspective work that drops knowledge bombs like on “Death Row.” It’s an overall fantastic listen.
"I Died For This?! is far from your typical debut, similar to Kendrick Lamar’s GKMC; it is about telling his story and upbringing. The only difference is the universal appeal that comes from the music. Grip’s debut takes us through his upbringing and everyday situations burdening him and his community. Grip’s creativity sounded limited in the past, with simple bounce production weighing his style down from growing." From Review.

Grip’s raw energy and determination to prove his worth only embolden his strengths to mask some basic chorus deliveries – it’s sometimes common for new artists, especially for rappers privy to his style of lyricism. Unfortunately, a few tracks don’t stick the landing – it derives from Grip’s breather from different angles of his craft.
"Of the four projects Boldy James and The Alchemist have made together, Bo Jackson is the best. It never creates friction allowing everyone to breathe on the track in their distinctive ways." From Review.
It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 2, and so I implore you to click the link above and read my review.
"Tempus exceeds beyond the parameters of the walls it imposes on itself for a marketable reach, but Issa Gold has never been one to glamorize success as his mental health still hits him in strife. These recurring themes have been a looming shadow on the rapper as he comes to grips with the way life changed. He may not have the appeal of New York rappers who encompass, the currently trendy, New York Drill sound and expand it to fit the unique niche of their verbal artistry." From Review.
4. Blu – The Color Blu(e)
"The Color Blu(e) isn’t as profound and tightly wound as Miles, but Blu doesn’t take shortcuts. He still comes at full force with diverse subjects and verses that are as memorable as the production. From the various samples, some of which are as luscious as “Mr. Blue Sky,” you’ll still find more pieces to dissect and enjoy. In terms of hip-hop, this is one of the best projects this year, and it earns one of my more earnest recommendations." From Review.
"Call Me If You Get Lost shows Tyler, the Creator consistent ascension toward greatness as he continues to surprise us with new sounds, album after album. After a slew of great releases that didn’t always come together tightly, Tyler finds an equilibrium that highlights his strengths as an artist in what could be deemed his best work of his career and creating a landmark within generalized nostalgia trends going about these days." From Review.
"Vince Staples gives us Vince delivering his most personal work to date in a melancholic and depth-filled album. For some, the album may deter you due to its length and others may be deterred due to the uncanniness of the sound. Though it isn’t uncanny as Vince has been everywhere and on different instrumentals, that this subdued direction isn’t anything new. It is an album that is as fresh as they come, especially with the wrought trend going on in hip-hop today and I highly recommend you give it a listen and more than once." From Review.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is Little Simz’s best work – it’s introspective, clear-headed musically, and offers a mix that gets us her lyrical best. The production never wanes into becoming a distraction, as it only amplifies her strengths. From incorporating sounds that bridge hip-hop and Afrobeat to luminous hip-hop with soul and electronic undertones, the music has a consistent path where the switches are fluid without hindrance. 

Check out the review by clicking the link above.

Blu – The Color Blu(e): Review

As a rapper, Blu has had the consistency of the rollercoaster Nitro at Six Flags; the highs are grand, and the lows muddle your emotional attachment to the ride. This consistent hustle mirrors rapper Curren$y; there are moments of greatness in the bad, and when Blu hits, the album stands out between the independent and major label rappers in the respective year. Last year he did so with the perfectly coifed epic Miles, which also saw him reuniting with producer Exile — who produced his more notable album, Below the Heavens and Don’t Sell Me Flower While I Can Still Smell Them. Exile returns, along with producers J57 and Sirplus, to produce his new album, The Color Blu(e) — it is a personification of Blu reflecting through various subjects, particularly his career, and shifting the different connotations of the word blue, despite falling a bit short of perfection.

Keeping with the boom-bap-influenced production (now involving more vinyl scratches), Blu continues to deliver at peak form. Blue is used broadly on the surface as Blu builds upon it with thematic complexities, all of which derive from sentiment or thought when they impart the word on you. In some aspects, Blu looks at the bigger picture and speaks on blue being an understatement toward feelings about social-political issues and one’s mentality. Other times, blue becomes a personification of himself through his career — finding a happy medium between being pop and an established rapper who delivers words with purpose.

“Mr. Blu(e) Sky” sees Blu discovering that rewarding feeling like when a fan speaks on the influence his music has had on them in life, whether it got them out of a funk or the spark toward their artistic growth. He is overwhelmed with happiness through this connectivity, that in-turn influences his being outside of music. It gave him an understanding of the normality that comes with having flaws, which looms over the song “Because the Sky Is Blu(e).” Miles took Blu through a journey of self-discovery outside of LA, and The Color Blu(e) is an elegant update a year later. The intricacies of “Because the Sky Is Blu(e)” speak through his life and any turbulence that comes his way — you can’t expect each step to go by smoothly. It speaks as an intro to the following song, which acts as the supporting body of an essay where Blu scolds those who say he has no right being blue.

Through Blu’s worldview, his continuous world-building is on display as the songs bring reasoning to back some of his feelings. With “You Ain’t Never Been Blu(e),” Blu lays on the table various reasons that attribute to external predicaments that affect generations — or simply the race card. He goes deeper into distinguishing the nature of which a setting can impose constant dread or despair, like those who, unfortunately, witness gang violence in some middle to lower-class areas of a city. Furthermore, the external influences may lack judgment due to perception from past people — it isn’t always true, but Blu is implementing the nature vs. nurture argument. It reaches few tipping points, but Blu continues lyrical potency by digging into complexities.

It benefits Blu that the production streamlines with a consistency that equips it with a quality that lets it flow as one straight DJ Mix — meaning the tracks connect smoothly without having any pausing drawback from the production. But it doesn’t always bode well with some. The consistency comes from the producers, who never seems to fail on the album. However, some may not like socio-political allusions in the music they enjoy, and Blu delivers with cadence. In “We Are Darker Than Blu(e),” Blu brings these notions of past events that have created riffs, like the shooting of John F. Kennedy and the Rodney King verdict. Over the lush jazz-funk-influenced production, Blu hams the references by sticking to the apparent events instead of digging into more extensive history. It didn’t work for me as much as the rest of the songs.

Sometimes, Blu takes the word and centers it directly back on himself, playing off common phrases to establish a different point or meaning. In “Everyday Blu(e)s,” he shifts the meaning of the word from something negative to a derelict focus on Blu’s bluisms, like how he spends his days, either working on his craft or with his kid, and in some cases, chilling while smoking a blunt. Similarly, he follows a similar path with “Blu(e)r than Blu(e),” where the focus becomes on eclipsing his status as an artist, at times creating allusions to being semi-super-human. Like “Everyday Blu(e)s,” “Blu(e)r than Blu(e)” shifts the meaning of the phrase while continuing to deliver cohesive and intricate production.

A contributing factor to the production is the different horn and string arrangements that change on a whim to match the sample instead of the percussion. “Mr. Blue Sky” uses ELO’s (Electric Lights Orchestra) song of the same name to tremendous effect. It’s Blu’s more pop-centric song, specifically, with the captivating production that brings focus from the strings on the ELO song. A lot of the songs have this kind of transfixing quality that I find myself returning for the lyrics as the production took the spotlight the first time around. And if you’re a fan of this kind of hip-hop, you’ll find it easier to return.

The Color Blu(e) isn’t as profound and tightly wound as Miles, but Blu doesn’t take shortcuts. He still comes at full force with diverse subjects and verses that are as memorable as the production. From the various samples, some of which are as luscious as “Mr. Blue Sky,” you’ll still find more pieces to dissect and enjoy. In terms of hip-hop, this is one of the best projects this year, and it earns one of my more earnest recommendations.

Blu – Her Favourite Colo(u)r & Cinema

Indie Rapper Blu has always shifted the paradigms of his sound, going from mixtape to mixtape and album to album; however, before I ever heard his debut Below The Heavens, there was Her Favorite Colo(u)r. His projects have enveloped consistent themes on multiple levels, sometimes digging beyond conceptual equilibrium. Her Favorite Colo(u)r is told through the duality of expressionism and artistic representation, as the film dialogue samples become a representation of Blu’s character — in most cases inadvertently since these films are also part of Blu’s struggle with hip-hop.

Blu has never been a show-off emcee, declaring so on the song “Amnesia”: “Fuck a rapper/I’m an actor in a film called/Leave me the fuck alone til’ I find a real job.” To him, this is a job and aspiration. And it becomes conflicting with these external situations weighing on him hard, further becoming an existential distraction. It is why “Amnesia” represents his character as a rapper — mirrored by consistent output over the last decade-plus. Interestingly, Her Favorite Colo(u)r is one of the few Blu projects where the samples guide the trajectory of the moods and sounds.

On Her Favorite Colo(u)r, Blu breaks down walls and barriers using a style not seen as often. Mac Miller did similarly with K.I.D.S. as it used a film and some of the quotations and meanings to dictate the kind of story Mac wanted to share. Instead, Blu builds upon it by equating his favorite movies to the moods that have befallen him — based on his life to this point. Most times, it’s the emotional imbalances that happen as he struggles with his partner’s infidelity. His emotions shift on a paradigm, and in the intro, he questions why he keeps things stored, especially in love. In “Morning,” he uses the scene from Closer where Clive Owen discovers his wife’s infidelity, and the argument they have is reflective of some of the songs where Blu focuses on their fights.

Her Favorite Colo(u)r is Blu’s “I Used To Lover H.E.R.” The song by Common broke down the intricacies of rap and the broader range it can reach, which in turn flips into dissing gangster rap and the purview it delivers on the music, even though this problem comes from a separate barrier to film subtitles, which people can’t get through. Her Favorite Colo(u)r, in particular, is referential toward this notion, as Blu speaks on music as his significant other, explaining through relationship-based terminology. He brings these allusions in his verses, like in “When(Terlude),” where raps: “Happy just to be with Classy as a drink/Ink pen separation, been a minute since.”

But this all begins with “Love,” which samples the birthday scene in Punch Drunk Love. In this scene, Barry Egan suffers through typical sibling bashing as his sisters question his relationship status — particularly, the why. They allude to the potential notion that it stems from being gay due to the timidness and never seeing him with a date. The riffing is expressed through a means of normality since they are siblings, and it’s been a thing since they were kids — at this moment, being called gayboy hit his peak, and a mental breakdown occurs where. 

The focus of this scene is love. It starts with Barry’s sisters questioning his lack of a significant other and forcing a meaning that love is crucial for happiness. Unfortunately, Barry’s unstableness reflects some of the more impulsive decisions he makes, despite some kind of clear understanding of his doing. Like music, one’s sound is ever-changing, and sometimes they let pieces of genius slip. Blu, like others, has been told to stop the artistic direction because of one’s margin for error toward heightening success. Hip-Hop has given him the rough end of the stick with songs that detail their issues, like the arguments on “When(Terlude),” which refers to his struggle with writer’s block.

As well, It mirrors the constant directional focus Blu has on the music, retrospectively. At the time, it speaks on his emotional struggle with hip-hop. Before, he had highs with Below the Heavens, before falling into becoming another underground mainstay with projects like Johnson&Johnson, which featured some notable pop artists at the time like John Legend. It’s reflective in the song “Vanity,” where Blu looks at trying to perfect his flaws, despite it being a part of him — both in hip-hop and in life. For him, his flaws related to his reach as an artist. His sound isn’t necessarily pop or radio-friendly, especially in hip-hop stations. Unfortunately, they are still pop. After going through this, he starts to understand that the reach will grow with him as he sticks to his identity and focuses on the words — similar to Postmaster P in Leprechaun In The Hood.

In “Vanity,” he uses the word as a double entendre that focuses on his issues, trying to grow away from them — even when his friends speak on it being a sentiment he is feeling. Vanity, in terms of film, usually relates to the depth of the character. When a critic laments the lack of vanity, they are saying they lack depth due to unrewarding character growth.

Becoming the antithesis of Blu’s persona, the music he bouts with has become a consistent identity of his music. Many of his music has been a remnant — albeit consistently unique variations — of his sound since Below the Heavens and the intricate jazz and soul samples cut between songs and vocal interludes. It’s a sample-heavy project that adds to a traditional stepping stone for hip-hop. What cuts deep is the unique sample of “You And Whose Army?” by Radiohead on “Untitled (LovedU) 2,” interplaying a verse detailing an inner squabble with detail.

Her Favorite Colo(u)r flows with the samples that underline the elegant and calm-like summer-vibez centric percussion. It’s tangential with letting the words retain focus while the backing production creates the flow from start to finish since he constructs a soliloquy. With the interludes and songs that reflect variations of his struggle, like on “Pardon,” Blu is self-aware as he fights with himself about how he will be in the future as an artist (selling out) and how the experiences may reflect his views on others. The song closes with a line from the documentary, Crumb, about cartoonist Robert Crumb — known for his adult-like and satirical comics, like Fritz the Cat and Weirdo — “You think those guys look like they’ll ever be sensitive to my record collection? (laughing)/A bunch of football jocks, ‘What do you got here? A bunch of old albums or something?'” With it, Blu reveals how he compares to heavyweights; he likes the niche, others like the cool.

It’s funny; throughout my years writing about music, movie references have been prominent in creating analogies and scenes in hip-hop music — sometimes dialogue samples would be implemented for the atmosphere or to perpetuate an identity, like Wu-Tang. Others use dialogue samples from films more resonate with their culture and create an identity for the song — see “Success” on the Jay-Z album American Gangster or “Chuckie” by Geto Boys. These films derive from a cave filled with VHS and old LaserDiscs of Gangster, Hood, and Music related films. Like Blu, there are rare and random ones like Gravediggaz sampling Ferris Buehler’s Day Off

On Her Favorite Colo(u)r, Blu brought in a collection of his favorite movies, viewed from a different lens. He guides us through a beautiful soliloquy that remedies his issues with music. Seeing it as another entity lets the project have a broader platform. For Blu, music has been a crutch and a dream. I’ve delivered to you a layout of what consists of this project. And I hope my job continues and implores you to seek this project.