The Memphis Rap Renaissance: A look at the city’s best works of 2020 so far

With an already stellar lineup of releases so far in 2020, Memphis hip hop is surging

Two months into 2020, Memphis, Tennessee’s hip hop scene has been heating up. The region, mainly known in hip hop for the incredibly influential Three 6 Mafia, is seeing a surge of great young talent and starting the decade off with some very strong releases.

Yo Gotti: Untrapped

Unlike the other three artists on this list, Yo Gotti is an elder statesman in the genre. The self-proclaimed “King of Memphis” is over 20 years into his career, with Untrapped being his tenth studio release.

While the album doesn’t break any new ground sonically, Gotti himself displays some real growth. There are a handful of moments on here, such as on “Big Homie Rules,” where his reflections on life and his stature in the industry display a new, more mature side of Gotti.

The album also has a lot of crossover appeal. After 20 years in the game, it’s clear that Gotti knows what makes a hit. With consistently great production, some genuinely catchy hooks and a star-studded feature list, this project is solid throughout.

Moneybagg Yo: Time Served

Since signing to Yo Gotti’s CMG record label in 2016, Moneybagg Yo has been building a strong buzz as an artist to watch from Memphis. On his third studio album, he has mastered his formula, delivering arguably his best effort yet.

On Time Served, Yo’s ability to create fun, bouncy and boisterous bangers is on full display. The production throughout is filled with rattling hi-hats and thudding 808s that match Yo’s energy perfectly.

The incredibly deep roster of features on this tape range from solid to fantastic. Future’s verse on “Federal Fed” is a standout as his influence on Yo is extremely apparent, resulting in the two meshing very well together. 

This is an extremely solid project; what it lacks in content, it more than makes up for with fantastic instrumentals and catchy hooks. While the few attempted “love” songs are obvious lows, they are not enough to take away from how consistently great the album is otherwise.

Key Glock: Yellow Tape 

From the opening lines on the album’s intro “1997,” Key Glock’s Yellow Tape is an all-out show of confidence and charisma.

Laid over instrumentals that take heavy influence from his hometown’s rich hip hop history, Glock’s verses command the attention of the listener. The level of conviction in his vocal delivery makes even the simplest of hooks catchy and captivating as well.

The only real negative is the repetitive nature of the content through the project. Still, this is a great album and it’ll be exciting to see where Glock goes from here.

Duke Deuce: Memphis Massacre 2

There’s something to be said for Duke Deuce’s admiration for the southern legends that came before him. The sound of Memphis Massacre 2 bounces between reviving the crunk era, revisiting the dark and atmospheric sound popularized by Three 6 Mafia/Hypnotize Minds and a few autotune-drenched trap bangers for good measure.

The project kicks off with extremely high energy, and Deuce carries it throughout the entire runtime. With a variety of flows in his arsenal and a knack for aggressive yet infectious hooks, the rambunctious bounce in his delivery is absolutely contagious.

Tracks like the remix of the viral hit “Crunk Ain’t Dead” exemplify these qualities. The song features Three 6 Mafia co-founders Juicy J and Project Pat as well as crunk pioneer Lil Jon and is an absolute firecracker, exploding with high energy performances from all parties.

Overall, this is one of the year’s most entertaining and enticing hip hop projects. Its ability to sound contemporary while revisiting sounds from past eras gives this album an identity that is all its own and makes for an extremely entertaining listening experience.


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