15. EASY YVES SAINT, Don’t Panic
Rapping ass Yves makes it a personal mission to be a step ahead of the next bar that comes out of his mouth. It is proficiency of the highest order and unlike Eminem meticulously peeling away how to rhyme words with orange, it’s actually enjoyable. “The Same,” the most streamlined cut from his summer tape Don’t Panic brought on Jack Freeman for a hook to re-tap into the magic that made “Not At All” a timeless single. Le$ and Dylan Cohl provide the type of backup that made them feel like Hannibal Smith, B.A. Baracus, and company out to save the day.
But Don’t Panic is not about collaboration, it is a pointed dissertation of why Easy Yves Saint not only loves to rap but draw out these hard-hitting, untouchable moments of prose on wax. There aren’t hit singles beyond “The Same” on Don’t Panic and that’s perfectly fine. Because rapping and rapping well is the name of the game. Push him far enough and he’ll still have your DNA in his cuticles.
14. SLIM THUG, The World Is Yours
I thought Slim Thug found a pocket, a self-realized comfort zone throughout last year’s Hogg Life series. He’d fully embraced the idea of an elder statesmen, his infamous drawl and baritone coming down with more inspirational quotes than flat out boasts. There’s a middle ground on his latest adventure in prosperity raps, the aptly titled The World Is Yours. A tape he described as a pseudo-sequel to his 2005 major label debut, Already Platinum, he swapped out the sounds of The Neptunes for a squadron of Houston producers cutting their teeth and challenging themselves to step out of their own comfort zones. Asking “what’s next” on the tape’s closer is typical Slim, even after he’s driven everything and lived life like a rap video 365 days of the year. But in the early spaces of the album, even when Cam Wallace decides to pick up Pharrell style percussion and weirdness for “Mercedes,” Slim wants to level every street corner to label it Boss Life.
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“RIP Parking Lot,” steered by Donnie Houston and co-anchored by Paul Wall is a smash single that doesn’t even need to creep around. “Kingz & Bosses” with Big K.R.I.T. is an all horns affair where Slim affirms you should always stay in your lane, regardless of how you feel. The Mr. Lee distorted carousel of “No Love” carried the all-Houston everything Super Bowl tape Slim dropped in February. Still, letting the world be touched mainly by young Houston producers (Houston, Wallace) as well as his trusty standbys make it clear: Slim Thug has never dropped a disappointing album. Ever.
13. DEVANTE, Still Waiting
Still Waiting found its brightest moments combing through
12. ROCKY BANKS, Trust In Banko
Rocky Banks could tell you the day he was about to die. Lungs failing, shallow breathing, the effects were due to a cocktail of different pills and alcohol. His only salvation seemed to be a renewed sense of faith. Two years ago, In Other News, I Don’t Do Drugs Anymore served as the first steps in sobriety. Trust In Banko, his February follow-up, is the victory lap.
Most will point out “Favor,” the big horn all-star cut with Bee Honey, Tony Amaru, Big Brandon Willis, Tiara Jewel and Michael Manchester as the big sticking point of the album. But Trust In Banko is more than Rocky having a reconciliation moment with himself. It’s a study in how you can try to mend all forces at the same time. His mother, often a source of strife, gets her due as a provider. “I want to thank you for the many seeds you often planted,” he raps on “Dear Mama” before being thankful for tithes. “You was there to make the monsters go away.” Rocky will be here for a while, now that he’s fully aware that his demons can’t chase him down anymore.
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11. ROY O., Ovie
What happens when a master thinker winds up plotting his most expressive release? You get Roy O., another one of those cutting teeth Southside acts compiling one of the year’s more slept-on projects. Ovie manages to circumvent b.s. reaches for radio play and instead saw the Nigerian-American fit as many clever bars as he could between metronome strikes.
Ovie translates to King in American and the rapper found himself to be royalty throughout it. Thin-voiced yet highly opinionated, he transitioned left and right between sustaining an identity of who he is and what his name and lineage means to the rest of the world. "Fluorescent" with Hot Peez merged New Orleans bounce with a slick paced Niger flow. "Find Your Way" with Lee-Lonn works around select percussion to take Third Ward on for a personal spin. There's enough within Ovie to make it simple and plain: Roy O. loves to rap. Even if his song construction isn't hell bent on giving up hits, he finds satisfaction in spilling all of his thoughts out and piecing them together like a large jigsaw puzzle. He hearts taking risks, all the more making sure that every calculated step is a successful one.