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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.
New Wave Order brings the weirdness to Toronto hip-hop (and gives you more reasons to be excited about rap’s other capital)
With Drake dropping albums out of the sky and rounding up talented newcomers like PartyNextDoor, The Weeknd continuing his climb as one of music’s unlikeliest stars, and a crop of rising artists like Jazz Cartier garnering attention online, the versatility and quality of the hip-hop coming out of Toronto has turned the city into one of the genre’s most consistent capitals, bested only by Atlanta in terms of prolificness and creativity.
New Wave Order tosses another crop of talent into the already overflowing cauldron. Comprising rapper Ty Senoj and rapper/producers Joe Impala and Lobban (possibly among others, that’s all I could garner from their website and Soundcloud), Toronto’s NWO makes some of the heaviest, strangest music coming out of the city, beats and raucous rhymes designed to bust speakers and make people lose their minds at shows. Songs like Senoj’s “Jealousy” and Impala’s “Cha Cha” demand a live setting to make complete sense. Maniacal, dancehall-inflected “Cha Cha,” in particular, feels a remix away from becoming something much larger.
There’s a certain freedom to the crew’s rapping and production, Senoj careening wildly across Impala and Lobban’s booming, constantly evolving beats. “One A Dem” might be the crew’s early standout, a loosely structured celebration of crew laced with paranoia and built around a hook that tiptoes down that fine line between overly repetitive and catchy, unintelligible in parts but memorable when it matters.
Another crew to watch from hip-hop’s unlikely second axis.
Lais. ft. Skizzy Mars – “Distance”
Previous 5 On It entrant and Toronto native Lais. has a knack for melody and a great ear for beats, two tools that serve an aspiring rapper as well in 2015 as having a clear artistic perspective and interesting things to say (and, more often than not, the former two are far more important for wider success).
Lais.’ “Distance” marks the rapper’s fourth release since his Session One project first caught my ear. On Session One, the blueprint of classic southern hip-hop laid a formidable foundation for Lais.’ hazy, late night confessionals and personal reflections. “Distance,” featuring Skizzy Mars, feels triumphant, blending R&B melodies (listen closely and you can hear Ginuwine’s “Differences” playing somewhere in the depths of producer DrewsThatDude’s mind) with a celebratory hook and a sampled drum break that gives it a sprinkling of hip-house. It’s a solid step forward sonically for another of Toronto’s intriguing talents.
John River – Hope City II
Completing this week’s Toronto trifecta, John River raps about his hometown and aspirations with considerable passion on recent single “Hope City II.” Nothing groundbreaking, but it’s the sort of song that points to a rapper with the hunger to improve and the tools to deliver his story in compelling fashion. One particular highlight—a narrative interjection about looking up to and then meeting J. Cole—recalls a talent that greats like Nas and Eminem (vastly different rappers from River and, it almost goes without saying, legends in their regards) use to great effect, dotting their rhymes with small stories and images that breathe life into what might otherwise be empty boasts or punchlines. Earnestness needs to be balanced with self-awareness in order to avoid the damning realm of corniness (something J. Cole struggled with early and has now mostly comprehended); River comes across a bit too self-serious at times, but his ample energy and able flow pull him back from the edge.
Lil Glo Fendi ft. $ilkMoney – “PS42WW$”
As I sat with a few friends in my apartment last Sunday night, spiraling into a Soundcloud K-hole, Lil Glo Fendi’s “PS42WW$” began to play. The beat immediately grabbed my attention, but one of my friends noticed rapper $ilkMoney repeating a familiar address:
“He’s really quoting Finding Nemo right now.”
“PS42WW$” is one of those great post-Basedgod Internet curios, heavy and hypnotic, blending typical boasts with lines like “I’m on P Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, n*gga, in Sydney/Tryna find Nemo in a mink pink coat 30 clip extension” and “A thousand Australian bitches under my supervision.”
I could go into a longer analysis of the production, the rapping, and the history of weird Internet rap that precedes “PS42WW$,” but that feels a little unnecessary when I remember that the song is basically about a street in a Pixar movie and that time is an illusion.
The line between URL and IRL continues to blur…
NIKO – “Keep Calm”
Even in a week where Toronto takes center stage, Atlanta finds a way to creep into 5 On It.
Rapper/producer Niko samples SZA’s “Sobriety” (a hypnotic send off to an old lover) to excellent effect, exploring the ins and outs of failed romances, addressing his shortcomings with candor: “I’m livin’ out of pocket, but that’s my baby/At least she once was, I knew what love was/but I did some things that would make one hate me.”
“Keep Calm” isn’t an apology; Niko’s introspection points to his faults while acknowledging their necessity in his dreams of succeeding as a rapper. Its a familiar tug of war not only for creators and their loved ones, but anyone in a relationship where one or both partners have considerable drive and goals.
Happy Valentine’s Day, ambitious ones!