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.
Caleb Brown – “BatonStan”
When words like, “I am a 16 year old hip hop/rap artist from Baton Rouge, Louisiana” hit my inbox, I’m almost guaranteed to pay attention.
As much as we might overvalue talented artists when they’re younger than, say, 21 years old, there is an undeniable intrigue to those who emerge before they can legally drink—for grand example: Illmatic would be just as incredible were it made by a 24-year-old, but its mystique springs in part from Nas writing and recording it as a teenager.
Baton Rouge’s Caleb Brown is not Nas and “BatonStan” is not “The World Is Yours.” It is, however, a world-weary and well-executed look at a violent city through the eyes of a young man struggling to make sense of his surroundings. Caleb sent it with the accompanying message:
“I came about this song while just seeing how so many people don’t know where I’m from and with what has happened in the city this year I feel people really need to know about Baton Rouge, LA. I wrote this song while sitting on the sofa while feeling a little depressed about the environment as a whole. I titled it ‘BatonStan’ because with all of the recent killings the city is looking more and more like Afghanistan.“
Even to the most jaded, that sort of emotional underpinning gives the 16-year-old Brown’s words an added weight.
Kweku Collins – “Zion”
With a taste for melodic rapping that seems to take root in a stylistic trend in the greater Chicago area, Evanston, Illinois’ Kweku Collins raps with the sort charming sing-song bounce that burrows its way into your brain—even if you can’t always remember (or fully understand) Collins’ words. His online catalog feels less like the work of a rapper who can also occasionally sing and more that of someone who uses melody and rap cadence as equal weapons in a developing musical arsenal.
“Zion” exemplifies his raw, infectious style. “Zion” isn’t the song, but it is indicative of the aesthetic and ability that seem only a stone’s throw from delivering a low-key hit (as I write, Tunji Ige’s “Day 2 Day” keeps coming to mind as an example of a kind of song that Collins could make: genre-bending, hook-y, and imminently memorable without being incessant or derivative).
As a bonus, listen to Collins’ surprisingly poignant “Lonely Lullabies,” a song that speaks to the above point by leading with Collins’ charmingly limited, well-harnessed vocal range, letting rap rhythm guide and only take over as the song unfolds.
Shout out to the eternally excellent ears of my buddy Matt Colwell.
Jonah Cruzz – Ordinary N*gga EP
I came from the middle of the darkness/That’s where my heart is
Atlanta’s Jonah Cruzz is cool. Not cool in the sense of seeing some sort of unusual phenomenon like a comet or an aurora borealis, but cool in the sense of rap’s classically styled players—Pimp C, Ice-T, and the grandfather of them all Iceberg Slim.
With an effortless, even-keeled flow that still manages to sneak in dynamic pockets and a voice laced with calm disdain, DJ Toomp protégé Cruzz injects what would otherwise be tired hustler rhymes with a cleverness and dark energy, that kind of cool that speaks to both composure under fire and danger simmering beneath the surface. Ordinary N*gga (and particularly songs like “Gangsta Gangsta” and “Saturday Morning”) build a foundation of the aura that rap’s prototypical players mastered.
Fly Anakin – mirrors_episode.1
A few months later, group member Fly Anakin drops off the equally enjoyable mirrors_episode.1 EP, keeping the oddball nature firmly intact alongside a well-curated selection of dusty, jazzy beats.
In the case of hip-hop that could be negatively labeled “nostalgic,” taste and curation are key—anyone can download a Dilla drum kit and try to chop a sample like Primo; not everyone can understand the importance of groove and mood in the work of great producers (so often better left un-imitated). Anakin pulls off that difficult trick, crafting a project planted directly in the past without allowing precedents to bury what makes it enjoyable.
Also, anyone who samples recordings of Charles Bukowski gets bonus points in my book.
Phresh James and JNICS – “Southside Players”
Florida is full of weird, excellent rap music and nothing says “weird, excellent rap music” like slowing Ice Cube’s “Friday” down to a syrupy crawl and rapping on it for a minute and a half over it while excellent director Unkle Luc serves up a fittingly hallucinatory video clip.
Listen to Phresh James and JNICS’ “Southside Players.”
Put the video on full screen. Tune in and turn off.