We're still over a month away from the first official day of summer, but the new albums that arrived in April did everything they could to prepare us for the warmer months. Naturally, the majority of the month's notable releases came from California, including Schoolboy Q's long-awaited Crash Talk, 03 Greedo's Still Summer in the Projects, Kevin Abstract's solo project ARIZONA BABY, Anderson .Paak's Ventura, and SOB X RBE's Hit-Boy collab Family Not A Group. And while it didn't come from California, Beyoncé's HOMECOMING live album also helped ease us into the warmer months, as the recordings from her iconic performance at Coachella 2018 arrived on streaming services alongside the unofficial beginning of this year's festival season. Need more options? OK. Khalid, Rico Nasty, and Lizzo also dropped must-listen projects worthy of staying in rotation until next winter. These are the best new albums of April 2019.
Schoolboy Q, 'CrasH Talk'
CrasH Talk may not have the moody cohesion of Blank Face, but it’s still an impressive showcase for ScHoolboy Q, both as banger craftsman and an introspective wordsmith. Never one for wasted bars, Q is an artist built for the modern era of shorter releases; something that’s proven with lean, brutally efficient anthems like “Numb Numb Juice” and “5200.” But he’s also fearless and perceptive, chronicling his battles with drug addiction on the woozy Kid Cudi collab “Dangerous,” sussing out enablers in his midst when he asks, “How many friends around me helping me lose?/How many excuses until I'm excused?”
“Attention” is another standout that sees Q take stock of his rise in hip-hop with head nods to JAY-Z, Dr. Dre, and The Alchemist, which all feel organic and earned, never gratuitous. A few duds like the Travis Scott-assisted “CHopstix” aside, CrasH Talk is another stirring set from Quincy that cements him as both an L.A. gangster rap torchbearer and a valuable voice in the modern era, capable of owning up to his failures (“Black Folk”) and making incisive points about the wayward generation coming of age in his shadow. It may ultimately be viewed as a minor entry in his overall discography, but CrasH Talk at its best reminds us of the caustic, inimitable voice hip-hop has been largely missing since his last record. —Grant Rindner
03 Greedo, 'Still Summer in the Projects'
03 Greedo is gone right now but he won't be forgotten. Ahead of a lengthy prison sentence, the enigmatic L.A. rapper apparently recorded multiple projects including this one, which finds him locking in with DJ Mustard. Greedo moves on his own frequency, but Mustard's alternating high-energy and laid-back production style proves to be a thrilling combination with the rapper’s signature flow. It's a few months early, but true to its title, this is a perfect summer spin, with Greedo's unorthodox melodies ringing off across turnt up jams like “Wasted” and “Change Your Mind.” But the highlight is “Bet I Walk,” which finds 03 mentally preparing for his bid almost triumphantly. Head held high, he's not sweating the sentence, reassured that he'll have the game on lock notwithstanding: a sentiment he doubles down on in a prison call tacked onto “Visions.” So far, so good. —Frazier Tharpe
Kevin Abstract, 'ARIZONA BABY'
Brockhampton frontman Kevin Abstract has spent years constantly experimenting and creating, peeling back layers of himself and bringing new collaborators in to perfect his unique take on hip-hop. Whether he’s with the rest of the group or solo, there are many sides to Abstract. Sometimes he’s rowdy and proud, making art in a space that has not historically been particularly kind to young gay men such as himself. Other times, he’s somber and pensive, as he reflects on the difficulties that have shaped him (and consequently his music). All of that and more is on display on his third studio album, ARIZONA BABY, co-produced by Brockhampton’s Romil Hemnani and Jack Antonoff. The album opens with “Big Wheels,” a 96-second track punctuated by raucous percussion that concludes with a lazy, psychedelic guitar riff a la Lana Del Rey’s “Venice Bitch” (Antonoff produced the Del Rey track, which Abstract has named as an inspiration for ARIZONA BABY). That same guitar appears throughout the album, along with synths and horns, all of which help to personify the 22-year-old’s emotional highs and lows. He expresses regret and resentment, gratitude and yearning; he remembers and tries to forget, all in a span of just 32 minutes. Standouts include the aforementioned “Big Wheels,” “Use Me,” and “Peach.” —Carolyn Bernucca
Lizzo, 'Cuz I Love You'
There’s a reason that Lizzo has, after years of grinding, become a full-blown pop culture sensation with Cuz I Love You. The album features songs that straddle the perfect line between retro and modern (see the title track, with its hints of 1950’s-style balladry; and the Stax-channeling “Jerome”). Cuz I Love You benefits from her uncanny ability to set off exciting raps with powerful sung, infectious hooks. And yes, the lyrics are inspirational. “Like a Girl” turns the common titular insult on its head and into a point of pride, while “Soulmate,” makes efficient use of its “I’m my own soulmate” refrain. But all the positive messaging in the world wouldn’t matter if the record didn’t sound great. It’s alive, exciting, and expertly arranged. Cuz I Love You proves that it’s Lizzo’s world now, and we’re all lucky to be living in it. —Shawn Setaro
Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats, 'Anger Management'
In recent years, rappers and producers have teamed up for a flood of joint projects. But only a handful of these collaborations (like 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s Savage Mode; Offset, 21 Savage, and Metro Boomin’s Without Warning; and Future and Zaytoven’s Beast Mode) have found a space where both parties are given an equal opportunity to shine. Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats' latest project, Anger Management, is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the some of the best rapper-producer collaborative projects of the last few years. After the DMV rapper and Kenny Beats came together several times on the former's 2018 Atlantic debut album, Nasty, it was only right that the duo followed-up with an entire full-length. Released on a bed of high expectations, Anger Management delivers thanks to their signature sound, which is nothing short of electrifying chaos. —Brad Callas
Khalid, 'Free Spirit'
With his second album, Free Spirit, 21-year-old crooner Khalid has emerged as one of the biggest R&B crossover stars of his generation. Sure, the LP doesn’t sound like conventional rhythm and blues; there are dance tracks (the Disclosure-produced “Talk”), acoustic guitar-laden ballads (“Saturday Night”), and even features from John Mayer (“Outta My Head”) and superstar hip-hop producer Hit-Boy (“Self”). But the charts tell a different story. Khalid became the first artist to ever occupy the entire top 5 on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs Chart, when “Better,” “Talk,” “My Bad,” “Saturday Nights,” and “Outta My Head” vaulted into the top spots for the week of April 20. And for good reason: Full of Khalid's intoxicating vocals and wise-beyond-his-years songwriting, Free Spirit is one of the month's must-listen releases. —Brad Callas
Anderson .Paak, 'Ventura'
After spending nearly three years working on the follow-up to his breakthrough 2016 album, Malibu, Anderson .Paak has released Ventura only five months after dropping his third LP, Oxnard. And while .Paak says he created the albums at the same time, you get a feeling that he was in a different space when crafting his latest project. Following the hard left turn of Oxnard, Ventura is a return to form for .Paak, who settles into a pocket built on the soothing soul grooves that penetrated his earlier work. The best analogy used to describe the difference between Oxnard and Ventura was offered up by .Paak himself, during an interview with Zane Lowe on Beats 1 earlier this month: “One you could play on your way to Vegas, and one you can play on your way back after you do all those horrible things and you can reflect on what you’ve done.” If you’ve listened to both projects, it’s clear which LP is meant for the return trip home. —Brad Callas
Beyoncé, 'HOMECOMING: THE LIVE ALBUM'
Six years after she perfected the secret album drop in 2013, three years removed from the release of her groundbreaking LP Lemonade, and one year since she dropped Everything Is Love with JAY-Z, Beyoncé surprised fans once again with HOMECOMING: THE LIVE ALBUM, the companion to her headlining set from last year’s Beychella. The album, which arrived alongside a Neflix special, breaks Beyoncé two-hour Coachella performance into 40 tracks, from solo hits (“Get Me Bodied,” “Baby Boy,” and “Formation”) to Destiny’s Child songs (“Say My Name” and “Soldier”) to interludes of Southern rap classics like Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” F.L.Y.’s “Swag Surfin,” and TRU’s “I’m Bout It, Bout It.” HOMECOMING catches Beyoncé at the peak of her powers, giving further evidence as to why we should never expect anything less than greatness when Queen B is involved. —Brad Callas
SOB X RBE & Hit-Boy, 'Family Not A Group'
Hit-Boy earned his place as a legitimate superproducer in the first half of the decade. His resume from this period is littered with hit singles: “N****s in Paris,” “Backstreet Freestyle,” “Clique,” “Trophies,” “Goldie,” and more. Though the 31-year-old producer’s fingerprints have been on a handful of bangers in recent years (“Sicko Mode,” “Wow Freestyle,” “Racks In The Middle”), he’s often steered away from A-listers in favor of working with developing artists. Hit-Boy’s latest muse is SOB X RBE. On Family Not a Group, his collaborative project with the Bay Area rap collective, the California-bred producer displays his true genius by taking a back seat to rappers Yhung T.O., Slimmy B, DaBoii, and Lul G. Even so, Hit-Boy laces them with a dazzling pack of beats (from sunny cuts “Chosen 1” and “WYO” to grimy slappers “Both Sides” and “Young Wild N****s), that expertly enhances the group’s mechanics. What they ended up with is a fun nine-song album that's thoroughly enjoyable from top to bottom. —Brad Callas