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.
YOMI – “Tryouts”
More often than not in the quest to assemble each week’s 5 On It, I come across a lot of artists who might not yet be able to fill a project with intriguing ideas, but are capable of small, exciting doses of the unusual.
Meandering and autobiographical, Florida rapper YOMI’s “Tryouts” feels like a little revelation. Packed with pop culture references and often quirky, real-world detail, YOMI’s strings together a floaty, amorphously structured narrative stream of consciousness, twisting across its deceptively bright, cartoonish beat. It’s a head-and-shoulders standout from YOMI’s Free Agent EP, a reminder that the development process in 2014 has been almost entirely unearthed, but there is often gold to be found amidst the soil.
Lazy Ass Specialist – Lost In Silence
For a time in the early/mid-2000s, it seemed that underground hip-hop was dominated by high-concept, often oddball albums. Roughly traceable to Dan the Automator and Kool Keith’s 1996 sci-fi rap opus Dr. Octagonecologyst, the era encompasses projects and aliases like Madlib brainchild Quasimoto and his album The Unseen, Prince Paul’s slightly more earth-bound A Prince Among Thieves, Aesop Rock’s abstract Labor Days, and Dan the Automator and Del the Funky Homosapien’s Deltron 3030, the magnum opus spiritual successor to Dr. Octagonecologyst.
There was balance (if you want to call having high-concept rap albums on one side and battle rap, true-schoolism, and whatever the fuck Jedi Mind Tricks was doing balance), but many of these releases form a sort of core curriculum of this loosely defined era, fan favorites that still inspire intense debate, adoration, and occasional hatred in rap nerd circles.
Palmdale, California resident Lazy Ass Specialist’s Lost In Silence feels like a relic of the era that birthed Deltron and Quasimoto, full of characters, pitch-shifted vocals, ambitious, often obtuse concepts, vocal samples, and a retro-futuristic blend of break-beats, hazy samples, and ample, thickly layered sound-effects. It’s a far denser and more intricate project than the few cursory listens set as the barrier to entry for 5 On It can fully reveal; raw though it certainly is, Lost In Silence speaks to the sort of boundless, bizarre imagination that typified a specific era of underground hip-hop.
K. Rudd ft. Shayne Don – “Jesus Yeezus”
Los Angeles’ Innovator Co. continues its intriguing brand lo-fi hip-hop with “Jesus Yeezus,” the rather clumsily titled new single from member K. Rudd and collaborator Shayne Don.
Over hazy, clattering production that sounds creatively cut from Clams Casino’s often imitated, rarely duplicated cloth, Rudd and Don weave their particular brand of loose, freely associative raps, trading verses and bars in a sort of post-modern cypher. It’s not a formula dissimilar from Clams collaborators Main Attrakionz, and one that proves as enjoyable now in its whimsical haze as it did at the inception of “Tumblr rap.”
Cult Mountain – “SMFDB”
UK hip-hop has pretty much been pulling out all of the stops this year to stop being so embarrassing, but it feels like we’re only just getting started. If you asked me a few years ago to name a bunch of UK rappers worth noticing, I probably would’ve just ignored your question. This was around the time I was religiously listening to El-P, insisting that anyone who can’t understand what he’s saying isn’t paying close enough attention, but it was even evident to little ol’ pompous me that the UK was just a bit lacking when it came to hip-hop.
Through the legions of UK rappers wearing shit hats and copying dusty boom-bap circa twenty years or so ago, a small handful of notable acts are really pushing to get themselves noticed. Filtered through lo-fi surrealities not too dissimilar to that of Bones, Piff Gang’s Cult Mountain project really stands out in the new wave of UK hip-hop by ignoring all of the rest. Unapologetically British, the foreboding “SMFDB” trudges along with a laid-back swagger few can pull off. There’s no stiff political correctness or pledges to overturn the man here, just a group of guys making nocturnal nightmare rap for the ignorant and not really caring about what’s coming next.—Joe Price
Topiq the Smooth Prophet – “King of America”
As we hurtle towards 2015, the notion of making “conscious” rap feels laughable.
On the one hand, all rap music, no matter how ignorant or turn-up oriented, is conscious of some reality; on the other, it seems that we’re moving (back?) to a place in hip-hop where social and political statements don’t need to come from artists who strictly make social and political statements—and are often more effective for making them because those making the statements aren’t purely “conscious” artists (Kendrick comes immediately to mind).
Of course, certain artists will still strive to make “conscious” music because of a perceived need for commentary on our current condition. Much of the time, it’s a fool’s errand; some of the time, it results in artists like skipp coon, who make vital, incendiary music that only wants for a larger platform.
In spite of a rather unfortunate name that feels stuck in the ’90s locker with rappers like Smooth the Hustler and Trigga tha Gambler, Fayetteville, North Carolina rapper Topiq the Smooth Prophet raps with the sort of urgency, anger, and insight that give what could otherwise be tired, didactic raps real blood and brimstone. A welcome addition to a year in which the best rap album (and maybe the best album period) brought ample fire and fury.