5 On It is a feature that looks at five of the best under-the-radar rap findings each week, highlighting new or recently discovered artists, or interesting obscurities.
(In tune with the spirit of the column, the above image was designed by HK Covers, whose work you may have seen accompanying releases by Kevin Abstract and other P&P favorites from the last couple of years).
5 On It started because I was fucking up.
While transitioning into a new job and a new home city, I struggled to figure out my role on the P&P team. I still wanted to write interesting features (or at least things that one or two more people than my mom and dad would care to read), but I couldn’t consistently conceive of and execute the sorts of lists and articles I once used to concoct in late night Gchats with P&P team-members.
“Had a little idea while I was showering this morning thinking about rap as usual…Think it’d be cool if I did a weekly/bi-weekly feature collecting 5 rap submissions or things I find that are raw but have potential…Could be good to slot in on Saturdays as well. Obviously don’t want to make it too struggle-y, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff out there that doesn’t necessarily merit its own post and won’t do as well on its own.”
The initial title? I Got 5 On It. Constant responded with a bit of Justin-Timberlake-in-The-Social-Network branding brilliance:
“Maybe just: 5 On It as a name?”
So 5 On It was born, a corner of the P&P universe dedicated to various intriguing rap findings that crossed my computer screen. After almost a year’s worth of discovery, here’s a look at 20 of the best things featured in 5 On It.
Washington, D.C.’s Chaz French exploded onto my radar with “Came Down,” a passionate transmission from desperation’s corner and as much a statement of purpose as bubbled out of the independent scene in 2014.
“Came Down” announced French as a fiery presence, an energetic rapper with a gift for compelling autobiographic bursts and a flow that, while not overly technical, impressed in its ability to communicate urgency (while still managing to sneak in a few intricate pockets of rhyme here and there). It is that back-against-the-wall intensity combined capacity for embedding personal narrative in boasts and songs about nothing in particular that make French such a compelling talent.
Kevin Abstract is, in many ways, the poster child for 5 On It. A digital native, a tremendous proponent and intelligent user of the Internet, and a talented rapper with a propensity for melody and a pop sensibility, Abstract is the crossroads of web culture, Kid Cudi, and a generation steeped in roughly a half decade of genre seepage. He’s representative of this column and its aim of unearthing some of the rap internet’s most intriguing talents to the point that it seemed like a good idea (and it was) to give him a guest shot in the hot seat.
I’d written about Kevin Abstract a few times before putting the video for “Drugs” in a June edition of 5 On It. At that point, I’d known him primarily as a talented but exceedingly raw affiliate of ambitious Connecticut rapper Dom McLennon.
The “Drugs” rollout pushed Kevin into an intriguing new space. With the video living on a now defunct Tumblr page that simulated a desktop, viewers could experience “Drugs” as part of a virtual reality. Abstract aimed for a piece of the same experience Childish Gambino (and too a less pretentious, slightly more sprawling extent than Kanye West) intended with the digital world created around his album Because The Internet, crafting a sort of home-brewed off shoot of the Roscoe’s Wetsuit online funhouse that Gambino and his team built.
“Drugs” reinforced Abstract’s budding talents as a rapper and songwriter; the video and its rollout signaled him as one of the most interesting young thinkers in hip-hop.
It’s hard to precisely define what exactly makes Long Beach, California’s Boogie so intriguing.
His particular selling points begin—for me, as for many of us at P&P—with his standout song “Bitter Raps.”
A relaxed flow and capacity for infusing melody into his cleverly observational rhymes make Boogie the sort of rapper who can breathe life into the every day, turning vignettes from his own existence into relatable parables. It’s a rare ability that cuts across the best hip-hop, whether “conscious” or “gangsta,” a pedestal on which some of the most compelling new West Coast rappers (Cozz also comes to mind) as we enter the first generation of emcees raised in the wake of TDE’s rise to power.
Hot Boy Major
If Drake or the Vine community had set their sights on Baton Rouge, Louisana’s Hot Boy Major, we might all be singing “Where You From” in clubs across America instead of talking about Tuesdays or throwing our hats and having them never come down.
(Don’t get me wrong, “Tuesday” and “Hot N*gga” were two of my favorites from 2014, but we can’t ever forget the grand randomness of the proper cosigns and virality in their respective narratives—those elements are part of what makes each song’s success so modern and thrilling.)
“Where You From” sounds like it could be an outtake from Juvenile’s Solja Rags, adding a hint of current heaviness to the classic, bounce-inspired production that Mannie Fresh and Beats by the Pound perfected in the late 90s and early 2000s. It’s one of the best Southern rap songs you probably didn’t hear this year and an excellent bolt of nostalgia for anyone raised on Cash Money and No Limit.
Part of the fun of 5 On It (which you’ll see revisited a few times throughout this particular edition) was attempting to pick songs with potential to rise beyond their particular corners of the Internet or the map. Once upon a time, the notion of being a “one hit wonder” consigned major label artists first to the top of the charts then to the laughingstock then to the 99 cent bin then to the land of VH1 specials.
Now, many rappers are finding that first “hit” to be a sort of crowbar, a launching point that sounds the alarm for a wider world and invites the curious to dive into often deeper catalogs. The hit single has always been the tool of the rising star artist, but in 2014, hits come in all forms and fashions, they take time to percolate, and they allow “overnight successes” like ILoveMakonnen and OG Maco to rack up dozens of songs worth listening to while the songs that become their calling cards gain notoriety.
Oakland’s Ezale was one of the stand out entrants in 5 On It to release a song that felt like it had that slow-burn hit potential. “Too High,” you might be shocked to discover, is a song about doing drugs. Lots of drugs. It’s clever. It’s reckless. It’s bouncy, unabashed fun, the right remix away from popping off beyond its 188,000 views on YouTube and 113,000 plays on Soundcloud.
Atlanta’s COMMAND might be one of 5 On It’s most interesting (and loose-fitting) entrants so far, a rapper, singer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and engineer with a penchant for Madlib-esque sound collage and a style almost entirely his own.
COMMAND’s debut project WATERMOUTH practically bursts at the seams with sounds and ideas. As with many of his Atlanta contemporaries, genre conventions seem more like inspirational suggestions for COMMAND than strict color-by-numbers edicts. WATERMOUTH could certainly use trimming, but its overall cohesion of voice, concept, and sound (simultaneously diverse in breadth of influence and unified in execution) make it one of the more exciting projects from an up-and-comer this year—and one of my favorite albums of 2014, in spite of and, in some instances, because of its rough edges.
It’s better to let you experience it than babble on about why it’s worth exploring.
Though he may have missed his boat by not striking at the beginning of the epidemic that never truly was, Brownsville, Brooklyn’s I.O.D wrote one of the catchiest, most ridiculous rap songs of 2014 with his single “Ebola.”
At surface, it’s absurd enough to make average listeners reach for the skip button faster than you can say, “bitch, u guessed it,” but repeat listens reveal slyly intelligent humor woven into a dynamic flow. I.O.D’s talents don’t announce themselves with the ceremony of the emcees we put on traditional pedestals. He rides unhinged energy, but his real spark exists in packing seeming insanity with unusual images and a chorus that drills its way into your brain—even if (and perhaps especially) against your will.
I’m torn between bloodshed and shed blood
The cross and cross hairs/Revolution or Nike Air
Gun powder or the power of prayer
Angels or arms
Psalms or a gun in my palm
Though precious few people heard it, Jackson, Mississippi’s skipp coon made one of the most urgent rap albums of 2014. Miles Garvey is a nine song transmission from within a smoldering fire, released with a blunt, singular purpose: “Meant To Spark Our Revolution FEARLESSLY & UNAPOLOGETICALLY!”
It will undoubtedly be too abrasive and overtly political for some casual listeners, but coon’s intricate rhymes and an almost unparalleled, desperate passion (listen to his voice crack on the second verse of “Torn” and try not to feel something) make Miles Garvey an important album, a continued wake up call to a country facing its burning time.
Chicago’s parade of talented young rappers marched on in 2014 with Pivot Gang member Saba emerging as one of the most skilled, insightful emcees broadcasting from Chicago—still a war zone, even if national attention doesn’t warrant it due coverage. Though many listeners learned of Saba through an excellent guest verse on Chance the Rapper’s “Everybody’s Something,” the past year saw him develop his voice through the release of his sophomore mixtape ComfortZone.
Songs like ComfortZone standout “401k” balance the urgency of a young man attempting to survive in a city wracked by violence with the incisive observation of an old soul. Tragic and distressed, “401k” channels the plight of many through a 20-year-old’s powerful perspective.
Austin, Texas rapper DT Blanco’s “Flexa$” was the first song in the pages of 5 On It to exhibit the aforementioned surprise hit potential. An immediately memorable hook, a hypnotic beat, and an overall don’t-give-a-fuck aura, “Flexa$” is attitude music, the sort of song you want to hear when you’re drunk in a club at 1:30AM searching for your second wind (or another drink to spill on someone’s head).
Easily the most Based rapper to grace the pages of 5 On It, Baltimore’s Flash Giordani caught my attention by combining Bone Thugs-esque melodic rapping, an off-kilter sense of humor, ample emotions, and healthy helpings of pop culture reference (both in his lyrics, beat-selection, and his often anime and video game-inspired artwork).
“Wedding Day” is as good a place to dive into Giordani’s catalog as any, a snapshot of his style in just over three minutes.
While a handful of rappers have explored house music (and its relatives and derivatives) in the last few years, few have toyed with it so unusually as Virginia’s SIR E.U does on his infectious, glitchy “Nike Boy.”
Though it bounces along with the pace and rhythm you might imagine of a Goldlink or recent Vic Mensa song, “Nike Boy” bears more in common with the dusty digital textures of a Prefuse 73 or older Flying Lotus. E.U rises to the occasion of challenging production with his entertaining flow, a microcosm of the elastic, intricate stream of consciousness raps strewn across his album Madagascar.
As far as extended metaphors for expressing just how hard you’re killing the game go, “Young Jeff Gordon/I’m flexing so many endorsements” (delivered with maniacal energy) is as entertaining as they’ve come in recent memory.
Shaboozey’s “Jeff Gordon” makes the Virginia rapper a firm frontrunner in the “artists featured in 5 On It who might have a surprise hit” category.
Boston’s Cousin Stizz is the only rapper in world history to be both 5 On It and Drake–approved. One of those accomplishments is probably a bit more important than the other, but what matters more than either is the song at their root. If “Shoutout” is any indicator, Stizz has a bright future of woozily entertaining rap songs ahead of him—to paraphrase the sage warning of Tim Larew, don’t be surprised if you’re hearing “Shoutout” again in 2015.
A late comer to the 5 On It fold, Evanston, Illinois’ Kweku Collins delivered one of the column’s catchiest, most pleasantly personal statements with “Lonely Lullabies,” a sunny crossroads of emotional, sing-song rapping and breezy, guitar-driven production.
Though Collins draws from the style of some of his neighboring Chicago contemporaries, there’s a borderline clumsy honesty to his writing that charms, a quality alongside his ear for production and gift for easy melody that points to his wider potential to write songs that reach wide audiences.
The first message New York’s Stress Gods sent me was inauspicious: “Hey what’s up Jon, we have some craft you may actually like.”
No details. No links. No attachments.
Hell, they said “craft”—they could have been making macaroni picture frames or practicing black magic in a coven (or both) for all I knew.
Nondescript as it was, the email piqued my interest—at least enough to inspire the 10 seconds required to type “Feel free to send.”
The reward for my curiosity was, regrettably, not a macaroni picture frame. It was “That’s That,” a blistering, occasionally unhinged, suitably chaotic introduction to a group that only has two songs to its name and hopes to “[make] you want to damage shit.” “That’s That” is a perfect port of origin for that mission.
Like Kevin Abstract, pizza boy. arose as a sort of mascot for 5 On It: An Internet-obsessed rapper who hides his identity, packs his rhymes with pop culture references, sneaks in poignant observations about race and his generation, all with a sense of dry humor and self-deprecation that make his music charming in its pathos.
pizza boy. is the spawn of a growing corner of the internet rap community (and a part of the world of “URL becoming IRL” to paraphrase yesterday’s excellent piece from our own Joe Price). An intelligent artist whose concerns broader than what rap traditionalists might paint as “real hip-hop,” his aims are not so far removed from hip-hop’s original impulse to shed light on the experience of black Americans—even if pizza boy.’s life doesn’t resemble Grandmaster Flash’s youth..
Atlanta rapper and designer Zeus Trappin is responsible for one of my favorite rap songs of the year, the hypnotic, syrupy-slow “On I,” an ode to self-sufficiency and loyalty that feels like a sort of mission statement for an entire independent Atlanta scene built on collaboration, creative competition, and an intensely do-it-yourself mentality. While it’s not precisely a focused rallying cry, “On I” showcases one aspect of the city’s sound while perfectly encapsulating the worldview that has made Atlanta hip-hop’s capitol.
As 5 On It cohered in its first year, several patterns and “types” emerged.
There was the occasional (and above well-documented) rapper with a standout song whose catalog perhaps didn’t yet otherwise match his or her brightest moment.
There was the ambitious rapper whose talent didn’t yet meet the grandiosity of the vision.
Then, more often than either of these two, there was the prodigious talent, the young rapper with ample technique in search of topics and compelling content to give purpose to budding abilities.
Milwaukee’s IshDARR might be the strongest from that latter camp, an effortlessly capable, classically styled rapper’s rapper, the sort that feels built to murder BET Cyphers and career-making guest verses. Songs like “NOTHING” promisingly point to IshDARR’s ability to escape consignment to the true school dustbin that has buried many promising young emcees in the last half decade. Though it is very much a song about rapping and staying true to yourself, it doesn’t feel preachy or overly trapped in history. It’s a snapshot of a skilled artist figuring out his voice.
Baltimore’s JuegoTheNinety is the most explosive rapper featured in 5 On It, bursting with angry energy to match his ample technical ability and often stark, poignant observations. He sounds dangerous, the human deliverance on the desperate, long-gestating fury that inspires the music of slightly older artists like skipp coon.
“American History IX,” the first JuegoTheNinety song I heard, remains one of the most thrilling entries in his raw catalog, delivering social commentary and righteous rage through personal detail, rather than a stale stale package of pedantic “conscious” raps.
Listen to a year’s worth of 5 On It favorites below or on P&P’s Soundcloud page.