The Five Best Rap Albums of February  

February was a short month, but new releases didn’t stagnate in the hip-hop world. A batch of fine albums graced the lands, and XXL has handpicked five best from the crop to recommend for your listening pleasure. Nostalgia—when done right—usually works better than approaching trends. It’s not so much a fear of change, than an appreciation of the past. Czarface made strides as a tyrant of throwback variance, while Ill Bill recruited New York’s finest beatsmiths of the 1990s. Oh No breathed new life into tired TV ads, whereas horror core veteran Brotha Lynch Hung revamped his formula. Past meets present, and present meets past, here are the five best rap albums of February 2013. —Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)

Inspectah Deck and 7L & Esoteric, Czarface

Label: Brick Records

Feels Like: A time traveling experience back to Fat Beats Records circa 1996.

Sample-driven production and rhyme gymnastics to construct a boom-bap album has long become a trade of the past. Those clinging to such method make old-man grumbles, and rehash what they (or their idols) have been doing over and over again. Luckily, ever so often, the throwback formula is properly revamped, which is the case for Czarface. Rebel INS—while known for killing his 16s and guest verses—hasn’t been the most consistent on carrying his own throughout a full project. He flicks a middle finger to such notion by commanding verses laced with old pop culture references, along with Esoteric and a string of new-school artists that stick to the East Coast heritage (Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, and Mr. MFN eXquire). 7L’s production complements the MCs verbal spews, making them run on drum speeds at a steady—yet not monotonous—pace. Check out the full review.

Oh No, Disrupted ADS

Label: KashRoc Entertainment

Feels Like: Tripping out and destroying your annoying neighbor’s apartment.

Oh No creates an assortment of oddly stitched beats from timeworn TV commercials. He gets a cipher of his MC buddies to get crafty on each record. Some slaps you out your socks (“Same Shit” by Rapsody and Psalm One), some get you in the zone (“Jones’s” featuring Blu and MED), and some just trips you the fuck out (“Cleansing”). It’s a short set that runs through like cocoa butter, and Oh No’s recluse studio traits are validated in the album’s astutely arranged selection of instrumentals. The hard work ethic certainly runs in the family, just hope this leads to more solid releases from the Cali beatsmith in 2013.

Joe Budden, No Love Lost

Label: E1, Mood Muzik Entertainment

Feels Like: Troubling emotions over less troubling production.

What Joe Budden does well, he sticks to it. That’s mainly been the success formula behind the Jersey MC’s rise, stumble, and consistency. For No Love Lost, however, he drifts around in several directions. Does it work well? Depends on who you’re targeting. But for those inside Budden’s loyal circle of followers, this album sounds right. It has the lyrical depth, the appealing top 40 attempts, and Joe’s openly obsessive ordeals about romance. Check out the full review, here.

Ill Bill, The Grimy Awards

Label: Fat Beats Records

Feels Like: Downing couple shots of Jameson, bumping 95-BPM Primo beats, and traveling back to Fat Beats Records circa 2006.

With help from some veterans known to give post-millennial boom-bap aficionado wet dreams, Ill Bill treats himself with a set of gritty accolades. There’s nothing extensively progressive about the project, but the job is well done, and the music’s closely suited. Names like Pete Rock, Large Professor, Psycho Les, and DJ Premier are eventful titles that can never do any wrong, and Bill fills the backdrop with adverse topics. Personal tribulations (“Canarsie High”), reflection of his legacy (“When I Die”), and good-old, kill ’em all manifesto (“Severed Heads of State) are classic Uncle Howie at its finest. Not much has shifted for the Brooklynite, musically. He’s just aging with deeper thoughts.

Brotha Lynch Hung, Mannibalector

Label: Strange Music

Feels Like: Pain. Ugh. Daunting.

Brotha Lynch Hung delivers a modern-day horror core rap achievement. Whether or not you’re a fan of this sub-rap-genre, the Sacramento rapper’s choices of haunting production, disturbing skits, and equally cringe-worthy subject choices are all packaged thoroughly under his widely proficient skillset. Yelawolf, Tech N9ne, and Hopsin are well placed for their guest roles, and Lynch Hung’s character stays rich with traits of pure, sinister charisma. It’s a horror core album, sure, but before all, it’s a sturdy rap output. Better recognize that before you get yourself tortured. (Gulp.)