5 On It is a feature that looks at five of the best under-the-radar rap findings from the past two weeks, highlighting new or recently discovered artists, or interesting obscurities.
Caleb Brown – “Nothin”
“Its kinda crazy how as I’m replying to you I just got word that one of my friends was killed at 3AM this morning in the neighborhood I literally just left last night.”
Baton Rouge, Louisiana teenager Caleb Brown raps with the gravity and depth of a far older artist.
New single “Nothin” begins as an examination of violence and fearlessness in a city visited by constant death, quickly devolving into a nightmarish ride through Brown’s psyche as he deals with depression, the weight of his hometown cracking whatever adhesive held him together through hard times. It’s a difficult listen at times particularly in light of the above quote, the opening sentence from an email Caleb sent me when I told him how much I appreciated the song (it feels odd to say I “liked” something so dark and personal—”appreciated” feels a bit more appropriate).
Though he’s still developing as an artist and certainly doesn’t have an established platform yet, Caleb feels capable of bearing witness to the horror gripping his city in a way that could eventually inspire listeners to fight for change.
she.go – “Bane (Siren)”
One of the overarching regrets I have for 5 On It in its first year and a half of existence is a general lack of female voices. Certainly there are talented female rappers out there, but the column typically ends up looking like a sample size of rap’s history: male dominated. When female rappers do catch on, they tend to turn heads quickly, hopes of the next Missy Elliott or Nicki Minaj whipping the hype cycle to an impossible frenzy. New hip-hop “it girl” is typically an unenviable position, one that can be navigated deftly (Little Simz comes to mind as a recent example), but tends to savage its subjects with unfair scrutiny (Azealia Banks, Angel Haze).
It should go without saying that a good rapper is a good rapper regardless of gender, race, sexual preference, or any number of other identifiers beyond rapping, but the world is rarely so simple.
Tampa rapper she.go has the gift of a smoky, alluring voice and ample technical ability. Her demeanor and delivery create an intimacy uncommon of most rappers. Her style feels conversational, an invitation to personal thoughts and observations. Her style makes “Bane (Siren)” a standout amid her other output (though her mellow Thoughts Of EP also merits a listen), written as a diary entry about a former fling. It’s an excellent snapshot of she.go’s intriguing style, a blend of sensuality and honesty. Her music feels unfettered by the suffocating, dated expectations of what a female rapper should be, a refreshing female perspective in a landscape that too often lacks variety and strong voice.
Roosevelt the Titan – “Bitch Made”
In the infancy of 5 On It, I featured Roosevelt the Titan, a young Chicago rapper who seemed to have a particular gift for personal expression; his song “Desire” caught my ear with its detail, urgency, and intricacy. Roosevelt used measured craft and dynamic performance in service of content that felt born of lived reality.
Though he’s released music in between last March on the present, nothing piqued my ears quite so much as “Bitch Made.” In a curious case of “what’s old is new again,” Roosevelt squeezes shifting meaning and double entendre out of the word “bitch,” engaging in a hip-hop exercise reminiscent of songs by Big L, Ghostface, and GZA where the rappers explore single words or themes in depth. “Bitch Made” isn’t quite as in depth as GZA’s “Animal Planet” or Big L’s “Ebonics,” but Roosevelt’s smart writing and impassioned delivery pair perfectly with hypnotic strings for something surprisingly cinematic by the standards of Soundcloud rap releases.
A reminder that it’s ok to disappear for a year (or more) and fine tune your craft.
S’natra – “Feelin’ Good”
While “style over substance” usually describes things pejoratively, sometimes a dose of good style is satisfying substance in and of itself.
Such is the case with Harlem rapper S’natra’s energetic, excellently produced “Feelin’ Good,” jazzy party hip-hop replete with horns, soulful vocals, and impressive, tightly plotted rapping. It’s reminiscent to the earliest gasps of Goldlink tap dancing across Ta-Ku and Kaytranada instrumentals. Though very different in tone and technique, S’natra recalls Goldlink in his impressive proficiency, ability still searching for compelling, personal content. “Feelin’ Good” flashes glimmers of inner monologue, but it’s generally a song built to embody its title—had it come out four months ago, it would have made a perfect anthem for carefree summer evenings.
Nappynappa – “MUMBOSAUCE PRINCE II”
One of my golden rules: “when a rapper you like recommends music to you, you listen.”
No rule holds hard and fast across all contexts, but I’ve found more often than not that many of the artists I speak with often appreciate music for purer reasons than bloggers, A&R’s (armchair and real alike), managers, and PR people. The fandom of peers at a certain level doesn’t stem from vested interests, rather taking root in a genuine appreciation for creation.
An email with the subject “possible 5 on it feature” from old friend Kendall Elijah with an amusing R. Kelly paraphrase—”now usually i don’t do this but uh gone give em a preview of this real shit,” he wrote—piqued my interest. Kendall described rapper Nappynappa as “a young kid from DC with potential,” someone he knew through peripheral connections, not personally.
What Nappynappa’s Solbiato Sports Music EP lacks in polish it makes up for in moments like “MUMBOSAUCE PRINCE II,” a jazzy, energetic blast that celebrates the rapper’s city and its musical tradition in name, but recalls the sort of experimental hip-hop that typified the Los Angeles underground scene throughout the ’90s.