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.
Mackned – “Crystals In My Aura”
When I first started diving deep into the catacombs of Internet rap in 2010, it felt like there were two clear factions: The Blog Rappers and the Tumblr Rappers (to say nothing of those that broke out of the Internet prison and into the real world). The latter stands in as a more amorphous category of artists who didn’t fit into the conceptions of hip-hop that most rap blogs regularly championed. I had largely developed my taste in new wave underground hip-hop from blogs like 2Dopeboyz, Nah Right, and, of course, P&P, so the world of Tumblr and its ancillaries seemed like uncharted territory in the hip-hop universe, grounds that would occasionally be touched on by the sites I frequented, but that remained largely a mystery.
In the years since, the lines have blurred considerably in some ways (mostly on the listener side), and while, in others, more concrete congregations have formed. Perhaps a longer discussion for another day, but hip-hop feels as open as it ever has and, simultaneously at times, fiercely tribal in its allegiances.
Seattle rapper Mackned’s “Crystals In My Aura” looks back to the brief heyday of Main Attrakionz-style rap, a woozy, vaguely Based stream of consciousness splayed over a dense, subtly shifting beat. It’s a whole greater than the sum of its parts, a vibe that speaks to a particular mentality and, for some, a very specific moment in hip-hop history that’s just far away enough from the present to inspire light nostalgia.
Also, as a bonus, check out “16 Oz,” another highlight from Mackned’s Cyber Magicka album which features what might be my favorite absurd rap line of 2015 so far: “I’m icy as icicles with the mind of a bicycle.” It also features a brutally candid opening couplet: “I be stressing n*gga I’ma need this pint to myself/Creative as hell when I damage my health.”
Salomon Faye – “Did I Do That”
Harlem native Salomon Faye raps with a sense of purpose and presence that make you consider each word he chooses. While he’s not the sort of rapper prone to technical pyrotechnics or multi-layered punchlines, he is impressive in his use of space and his ability to imbue his words with gravity. It’s a quality that makes him similar to peak-era Mos Def—never an overwhelmingly technical rapper who managed to impress with his balance of well constructed, weighty verses and occasional lightheartedness.
Recent single “Did I Do That” maintains a jazzy levity while highlighting Faye’s deliberate rapping. It captures an old-school feeling without tying itself too tightly to the past. Faye is the odd rapper that recalls the Rawkus era without adhering so tightly to true-schoolism that he makes himself seem archaic and inaccessible—there’s a youthful bravado to his rapping that keeps it current. Also, as Confusion noted yesterday, any time a rapper gets on his “fuck everything” game with real conviction and skill, it’s usually pretty awesome.
Steezy Grizzlies – “#Subhuman”
At some point I’ll probably dedicate an edition of 5 On It to all the post-Earl/Tyler rap (which is actually post-Eminem post-Outsidaz rap) I find on Soundcloud in the most glorious display of my own hip-hop obsessive obsolescence imaginable.
21-year-old Washington, D.C. rapper Steezy Grizzlies sounds like a cross-pollination of Odd Future and faint echoes of underrated New York underground great Breezly Brewin. On “#Subhuman,” Grizzlies grabs a beat that sounds like a warped version of Organized Konfusion’s “Sin” and spews all sorts of nihilism with with the slippery DOOM-inspired style that has filtered down, knowingly or unknowingly, through so many talented young rappers.
Aminé – “Not At All – Kaytranada (Aminé Remix)”
You might not have noticed it, but shortly after (or perhaps in conjunction with) Vic Mensa’s surprise appearance on SNL’s 40th Anniversary special, his excellent 2014 single “Down On My Luck” appeared on Spotify and iTunes.
In the U.S., it had only been available on Soundcloud prior to that. Its arrival on commercial platforms is, of course, no coincidence and it may be just the right time to capitalize on Mensa’s rising tide of notoriety. From a sonic perspective (and for fans, like this one, who wanted to hear it on airplanes and in the occasional subway car) it arrives about two seasons late, one of the finest songs of the hip-hop-meets-house boom of the last two years and a song that deserved a wider push in the time before Kanye’s pick-me-up.
The fact that “Down On My Luck” still sounds vital blaring out of car speakers and in comparison to much of its competition speaks both to Mensa’s execution and the untapped potential still latent in hip-house’s second coming.
While it’s typically against the rigid company policy of my sleep-deprived brain to highlight “remixes” or raps over beats that already exist in commercial contexts, Portland rapper Aminé happened to grab one of my absolute favorite beats from the last year—Kaytranada’s “At All,” one of future bass’ finest examples from its lead purveyor, and an instrumental absolutely begging to be handled by an able emcee. While Aminé might draw comparisons to Goldlink for his elastic flow and inflections, his derivation isn’t that simple. Strains of The Coming-era Busta Rhymes influence his rapping while a pure response to the beat itself seems to propel him to hit certain pockets, almost as if compelled by the house-y rhythm rather than outside influences. One to watch, just as Goldlink was before him.
(Hat tip to the ever-vigilant Matt Colwell)
Ishmael Raps – “Creole”
Rochester, NY’s Ishmael Raps is very good at rapping, toeing the edge of a category that characterized a lot of the earliest entries in this column: rappers who rap really well but don’t have anything specific to rap really well about yet.
New release “Creole” is intelligent and touches on interesting ideas of identity and self-worth throughout its runtime, but it skates by without a true structure or core concept, affording it a bit of a floating quality. That’s fine. Raps’ rapping—set deftly against a pleasant combination of a classic break and a mellow horn loop—more than makes up for loose focus with execution.