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.
Manolo Rose – “Run Ricky Run”
A bit of a tangent before diving into “Run Ricky Run” by Manolo Rose, a Brooklyn rapper whose Fame School crew recently signed to Fool’s Gold and who serves as another faint spark in what is otherwise largely a desert as we hurtle towards 2015.
New York purists will probably hate to hear this, but 2014 was one of the more interesting years in the former Mecca’s recent history for one reason, really: It may be on the verge of producing another star. You can say what you will of Bobby Shmurda, but it’s impossible to deny two things: he notched a gold-selling record that will likely go platinum and he got people talking.
Stars don’t need to be liked or likable—ask Alec Baldwin.
Stars also don’t need to necessarily be very good at what they do, or good at anything at all (it’s in this department that Shmurda gets shortest shrift: Were he a rapper from the south or Chicago, the dialogue surrounding his style—derivative as it so often is, but infectiously energetic in its way—and, by extension, his persona as a rapper would likely have been less acidic).
A star just needs to be amplified in 2014 (perhaps that’s always been true to an extent—it feels particularly true today). Whether that amplification lasts beyond a brief, bright moment is at the mercy of larger factors, but it begins with the “amplifiable”: Bobby Shmurda is a rapper from New York (a wasteland) rapping like he’s from Chicago (a hot bed) over distinctly non-New York-sounding production and doing a dance that’s funny when set to random, incongruous music for six seconds at a time. Call that the amplification starter kit.
So, back to Manolo Rose. If you heard the Brooklyn rapper on a song next to Peewee Longway or Rich Homie Quan, you’d readily assume he was from Atlanta. There’s very little about his demonstrative, wordy flow and outlandish ad-libs that make him feel like a New York native (and perhaps that’s the point in an age when regionalism has more to do with how music spreads and how scenes form than actual stylistic tics).
Rose’s latest single “Run Ricky Run” is basically a book report about Boyz In The Hood and Juice (and, briefly, Menace II Society), a cautionary street tale analyzing cautionary street tales—it’s like some sort of gangsta rap Inception. It’s deceptively clever, so much so that it threatens being lumped in with songs like “Hot N*gga” because it ostensibly seems like the northeast impersonating the midwest and south. It doesn’t come with a dance, but it’s further proof of a pulse in New York’s barely breathing rap scene (which may also be resuscitated by a case of Ebola).
Also, Action Bronson firing off puzzled tweets about Manolo Rose. So there’s…uh…that…
KFDOESIT – “Unfortunately”
If you begin a song by melodically rapping “I think I’m dying,” you’re almost guaranteed to have my attention.
Florida rapper KFDOESIT hooked me in with his unusual opener and held me captive for the all-too-short duration of “Unfortunately,” a take on typical money/guns/drugs talk that’s both grim and refreshing. It’s light on form (two choruses book-end one verse before it fades into slowed oblivion), but lines like “Money flow like a river and I’m currently at the bank/Just so y’all remember we is not promised everyday/Take life for granted now, regret it when you’re in your grave” show a certain sharpness in KF’s perception that suggest a hardcore rapper with potential to go above and beyond the expected.
Chris Smith Jr. – “Don’t You Get Tired”
Nondescript names can lead to unfair judgment. To seem like less of an asshole: There’s nothing wrong with the name “Chris Smith Jr.,” it just isn’t an eye-catching name—not the sort that conjures images of particularly unusual talents.
Reading comprehension is the enemy with “Don’t You Get Tired,” a snapshot of Chris’ enthusiastic, elastic rapping, careening through different flows and pockets of melody over a bumping, burbling beat. While it doesn’t feel substantial enough to be a signature song, it’s a stylistic calling card that makes Chris Smith Jr. an ordinary name worth remembering.
Kevin Lavell – “Know Nobody”
A note before we get acquainted with Kevin Lavell. For years now, rappers have used the term “movement” so lightly that it’s lost almost all meaning other than in the literal sense of things physically moving. Often, movements amount to little more than a clever name for your fans and, at best, an ability to sell tickets, merchandise, and music to people who feel like they’re a part of something larger than themselves. At worst, “movements” are the delusions of rappers hoping to speak their importance into existence.
With that said…
If you don’t spend many of your waking minutes trawling the internet for the slightest hint of new rap trends, you are readily forgiven for not knowing about the word “YEET” and the accompanying dance frenzy that hit Vine some months back.
Some information on “YEET” courtesy of knowyourmeme.com:
“While little is known as of yet about the story behind the dance, Houston, Texas-based producer and video blogger Marquis Trill has credited five individuals @1ballout__ @Thefuhkinmann @KronicCaviar @AXXXXJXY @JollyceM @SmashBro_KB as the creators of the Yeet. The earliest known video of someone performing the yeet dance was uploaded by YouTuber Milik Fullilove on February 12th, 2014…”
While the “YEET” movement (and I use the term lightly, though in this instance it makes a bit more sense because it is larger than any one rapper, large enough to take on a life of its own through Vines and instructional dance videos, though not quite large enough to hit “Shmoney Dance” or “Nae Nae” heights) seems to be fading just out of reach of entering the viral hall of fame, it may also produce artists to watch in Neil Gang and Kevin Lavell, two Chicago rappers who rode the wave and star in moderately popular YouTube show “The Generation.”
The point of all this preface? Rappers involved in dance fads aren’t supposed to be very good.
If “Know Nobody” is any indicator, Kevin Lavell is on the verge of being very good.
He writes a great hook. His flow is sharp and deft, typically technically impressive without sacrificing legibility (though he occasionally stumbles on overly wordy bars). He’s clever enough to self-promote without doing so overwhelmingly—he references his addition to the “YEET” universe, “Love No Thot,s” and partner-in-crime Neil’s “Goofy” in passing on “Know Nobody,” slyly inducting newcomers into a wider catalog and world. With a growing platform behind him and the right song, Kevin feels a stones throw (and, regrettable as it might sound, a Vine) away from his moment in the sun; he also feels like someone capable of extending incidental fame with more talent than the average Internet rap sensation.
XVRHLDY ft. Saba and NoNameGypsy – “Black Alabaster”
The “Chicago has a lot of talented rappers” theme of the last three years continues with XVRHLDY and his Saba and NoNameGypsy-featuring new song “Black Alabaster.”
There’s a deliberateness and gravity to XVRHLDY’s rapping that makes even simple phrases and lines feel weightier, more purposeful than they might in the hands of others. His voice and style (an at times intricate one) make perfect complements for the Odd Couple’s mellow production. Saba continues to lay prove why he’s worth watching (and continues to push beyond Chance’s shadow, a place he hasn’t rightfully been for some time now) and NoNameGypsy bats cleanup effectively and insightfully.
As a bonus, check out XVRHLDY’s “Lonely” freestyle, a further example of his reservedly skilled rapping.