5 On It is a feature that looks at five of the best under-the-radar rap findings from the past week, highlighting new or recently discovered artists, or interesting obscurities.
Saba – “401k”
Saba may remain under-the-radar of most, but with each release leading up to his upcoming mixtape #ComfortZone, the Chicago rapper (who you might know from Chance the Rapper’s “Somebody’s Everything”) continues to build a case for being one of the city’s more promising young voices.
“401k” may be his most compelling single yet, built around a simple, urgent concept: “I trade a 401k for an AK/And bet I’m not hungry the next day.” It’s an ably drawn portrait of desperation, a continued reminder that Chicago remains a city embroiled in violence, often offering citizens of its more dangerous areas an untenable choice–as Saba puts it, “I went to school everyday, learned shit didn’t matter/N*ggas shoot every day/I had a 3.9, that shit didn’t matter.”
JuegoTheNinety – “American History IX”
In the post-Yeezus landscape, much rap that skews towards darkness and features distortion gets lumped in as derivative of Kanye. Indeed, a lot of it is, but the sound may mark the carving of a nascent sub-genre–spearheaded by Death Grips a few years back, opened to the public by Mr. West.
The difference between Baltimore’s JuegoTheNinety and everyone else breaking out the distortion and god references is that he’s actually trying something really strange here with the help of producer Ralph French. “American History IX” feels, in part, like the successor to long-forgotten piece of rap trivia New Kingdom and their blend of hip-hop, psychedelia, and sludge rock. The comparison isn’t a sonic one, but rather that both New Kingdom and Juego pull from various genres and ideas both aesthetically and structurally.
Amidst all its buzzing basslines and hellish sound effects (themselves experimental in their Lex-Luger-through-a-blender’s-blade mixture), “American History IX” packs two excellent refrains–an element seemingly forgotten by all who wish to pull purely from Kanye’s movement led by the drum. It’s brazenly confrontational, a song about racial inequality so unhinged (“I’d cry if I didn’t get high all the time” goes one chorus) it will be too unpleasant and uncomfortable for many casual listeners.
For the rest of us, few though we may be, it’s an exciting transmission from the fringe.
Heyzeus – “Ghetto Queens”
Rapper Heyzeus’ “Ghetto Queens” sounds like “Brenda’s Got A Baby” and “Brown Skin Lady” for the Based generation, an ode to its namesake slowed to a 52 bpm crawl, draped in echoing, expansive synths and layered with vocal effects that give the rapper’s unexpectedly sharp observations and subtle humor a heavy dose of the surreal.
If this is what conscious rap could sound like in 2014, it might be time to dust off the old Rawkus compilations and pass them to fans of Lil B to speed up the cross-pollination. And maybe I’m the only one that wants that, but if someone out there wants to heed my call, my inbox is eternally open.
Prospectt ft. Ace Hood – “A.I.” (Prod By. Dun Deal)
Dun Deal isn’t yet at the level of ubiquity that Mike Will Made It and DJ Mustard have enjoyed over the course of the past three years. His tag has yet to grace a Miley Cyrus song. As 2013 drew to a close, he began an impressive run with Young Thug’s “Stoner” that continues with interesting tweaks on his sound like Rome Fortune’s sneakily memorable “Come & Get It.”
Recent DJ Khaled signing Prospectt gets another winning backdrop from Dun Deal for single “A.I.,” building on the producer’s horns (reminiscent of Organized Noize) and haunted carnival synths to make something surprisingly catchy.
Ace Hood also shows up. Say hi to him.
Evan Holt – “Murder”
For whatever reason, the pulse of this week’s 5 On It seems to be violence, or, at least, the responses it inspires.
San Diego rapper Evan Holt’s “Murder” plays like an impressionistic blend of reality and fiction, mixing references to iconic scenes from Boyz in the Hood with personal reflection, while appearing alongside a link to an article about the shooting of Holt’s friend Kamren Halfacre in San Diego in April 2010. Inspired by Holt’s tragic experience, “Murder” doesn’t feel solely wedded to one time and place, a portrait of a horrific crime that afflicts every American metropolitan area and the wake it leaves (particularly for the young and ill-equipped to deal with).