5 On It is a feature that looks at five of the best under-the-radar rap findings every two weeks (previously weekly), highlighting new or recently discovered artists, or interesting obscurities.
What began as a Saturday stopgap has since become a ritual for me. To recap: In the beginning of 2014, I was doing a piss poor job of fulfilling my duties at P&P due to a bit of personal and professional turmoil. I stepped back for a moment and returned with an idea to center my scattered brain: A weekly column highlighting, as I described in an email to Jacob and Constant Gardner, “5 rap submissions or things I find that are raw but have potential.”
Every two weeks (though that’s a recent change—until October, 5 On It was weekly), I gather my favorite new (or new-ish) rap obscurities and blabber for roughly a thousand words or so about the internet, regions, distinctiveness, and feeling. In a dense musical forest that often feels unnavigable, 5 On It gave a spine to my constant seeking. There are no real metrics, no quotas. Though I do like each edition to represent as broad spectrum as possible, I follow my gut over desired optics. At its core, 5 On It is an attempt to set a barometer for what I consider “great” or “interesting” while also trying to make sense of the world through other people’s efforts to make sense of the world.
With another year behind us, here’s a look at some of the wild, weird, wonderful treasures from 52-ish weeks of 5 On It. In the spirit of last year’s round up, Henock Sileshi (fka HK Covers), primary designer for P&P favorites Kevin Abstract and the Brockhampton crew, returns this year on lead image duties.
To refer to KAMAU solely as a rapper is to do injustice to his voice, an instrument in its own right capable of fits of melody and percussive explosions that season his rapping with an exhilarating unpredictably and musicality. Though he’s shown his potential in motion on single “Jusfayu” and his engrossing reinvention of Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” my earliest brushes with KAMAU’s music still stand out.
“The Sun King” (featured in the first 5 On It of 2015) brims with KAMAU’s raw talent and seems to burst out of him like a necessary transmission, not some manicured studio creation. It is the dizzying crossroads of many rappers, singers, and traditions, resonances of different genres and eras conjured by KAMAU like some sorcerer pulling spirits from deep inside.
Raised around drugs and gangs, homeless and rapping in parks in his 20s, bumping elbows and trading rhymes with some of his city’s legends, and fighting off persistent suicidal thoughts, the largely self-educated and fiercely inquisitive Johnson also happens to be a uniquely gifted rapper, capable of crafting densely coiled verses with seeming ease. Though his rapping stands on its own as a great gift, his biography adds undeniable weight to each song, every lyric a fight for survival and understanding in a world that would just as soon see him dead or move on as though he never existed at all. As is true of any deeply personal music (and perhaps any music at all), Johnson’s songs attempt to make sense of the cold and random universe that saw him abused as a child and on the street by his late teens.
For this year’s Best of 5 On It, we’re premiering “Exodus,” a new song from Johnson that he sent to me with a very simple message: “Just some shit that’s been on my heart. I hope you fuck with it.”
Jayaire Woods has the sort of voice that adds a layer of meaning to his melodic raps. Charmingly untrained and rugged, Woods’ vocals color each of his words with a depth of experience and observation most powerfully experienced through non-verbal expression. While standout “2SHOES” would likely connect on the strength of bittersweet autobiography, it gains tremendous emotional gravity from Woods’ expressive performance.
Long gone are the days when Outkast had to speak up on behalf of the South’s hip-hop relevance. Southern sounds and styles have dominated commercial and underground rap tastes alike for the better part of the last ten years, if not longer.
Still, there are certain strains of southern rap that don’t receive the bulk of the love that gets thrown around.
Chattanooga, Tennessee’s TUT feels like a direct descendant of Scarface, a mournful hustler understanding the necessity of his actions and the terrible, inexorable consequences, the thin line between tribulation and salvation that often blurs in struggle to simply feed your family.
California-born, D.C.-based rapper/producer Corbin Butler’s Rolling Ridge defies neat classification, a blend of rock, funk, old school hip-hop aesthetics and new school techniques that feels like a more cohesive whole than the sum of its parts would suggest. It’s a rough, layered body of work worth repeat visits, occasionally busting at the seams with sonic ambition, held together by Butler’s eye for personal detail and guiding hand as producer or co-producer on 13 of the project’s 17 songs.
Standout and lead single “23” serves as a good gateway into Butler’s style and thinking. Built around hypnotic, serpentine guitars and an unexpected, clever Blink-182 interpolation, “23” feels like the cohesive product of an artist for whom DIY punk shows and the Dungeon Family feel like they hold equal importance and don’t preclude a love of pop. It’s a potentially confusing first listen for all its density, but one that reveals considerable depth and wit with each repeat play.
Some songs hit like deja vu, striking as if born from memories forgotten or experienced in another life.
Los Angeles-based rapper Dez’s “noose” crept up like slow intoxication, a ghost in surround sound.
“They ask me what I want from it/
I tell ’em just to find the truth/
I swear I’m trying to find my youth/”
On full display, everything I believed—of my writing, of my listening, of my consumption of culture. All this exploration and collection amounts for a search for my truth, at once a narcissistic quest and the essential human experience. For a listener also obsessed with mortality and legacy, Dez’s words felt like transmutations of my own thoughts.
That’s music at it’s most powerful: One stranger writing something that resonates so deeply with another stranger as to become an emotional truth and a connection beyond physical presence.
“noose” continues to haunt me and pop up in my listening, a melancholic reflection on what it means to be a young person striving to make something that lasts beyond your moment on this earth.
Connecticut’s Tedy Brewski possesses a rare, chameleonic ability to explore varying rap subgenres and identities with alarming, schizophrenic rapidity—like Lil B with a classicist’s eye for rap technique.
It seems a bit self-defeating to share only one song from a rapper so acutely adept at inhabiting different on-record personas, but “Kolonopin” probably serves as the most logical starting point to Brewski’s labyrinthine discography. Witty and oddly catchy (its hook feels cut from the woozy, underused Chief Keef school of choruses), “Kolonopin” showcases Brewski as a satirist and an appreciator of the very behaviors and culture he’s making light of. Of course, none of that humor would matter if Brewski wasn’t also an engaging rapper capable of completing each character with the skills and stylistic tics to match.
Easily one of the most hypnotic 5 On It entrants in 2015, Atlanta rapper Turls’ “My Plug” quickly became a P&P staff favorite after initially popping up on my radar. Hypnotic and utterly memorable in its droning, groaning hook and gently swirling beat, “My Plug” is precisely the sort of Soundcloud gem you hope Drake happens upon so he can elevate yet another obscure rapper to the commercial frontline (one of the societal benefits of wave-riding: more average people learning about more weird, awesome rap). Catchy and distinct, “My Plug” feels much larger than its humble habitation on Soundcloud.
In February, rapper/producer Sedroc, member of buzzing Brooklyn collective Sleepercamp, snuck “27” onto Soundcloud. It remains the only original song on his page, save for a few shared songs and projects from Sleepercamp crew-member Jimi Tents.
“27” is an odd beast, its first verse a sort of fever dream that sees Sedroc rapping from within a party surrounded by dead rock stars, its second verse a reflection from an artist trying to turn creative dreams into a sustainable life. Its hook—”And I’ll be grateful if I only live to 27″ repeated for four bars, followed by, “Cause right now it seem like everybody dyin’ ’round here/And usually security is mighty tight around here/Unless you’re great then it’s your fate that you end right around here/Got me thinking that I should end my life around here”—plays off of the party of deceased greats (the infamous 27 club) and takes on great resonance cast against the beautiful piano-driven beat.
“27” feels perfect in its small, mournful way, a painfully self-aware reflection that colors dreams and reality with the sort of weariness glimpsed on faces across America but so hard to express. An unusually affecting song that will have to hold me over until Sedroc puts something else out.
While its ascent is still far from reaching requisite speed for saturation, Baltimore rapper Tate Kobang’s “Bank Rolls” feels like an easy pick for sleeper hit of 2016 (since its slow build means it likely won’t become a big hit in the five days between the publication of this column and the end of 2015). Recasting an early 2000s regional favorite, Kobang showcases his bubbly, melodic rapping against the immediately memorable beat, sparse and warm in equal, alternating measures. Hopefully, it’s a small glimpse at a talent about to bloom from one of hip-hop’s less nationally celebrated cities.
Few artists come out of the gate with a style quite as unified and singular as Dylan Brady. Surfacing out of nowhere earlier this year, St. Louis’ go-to hip-hop weirdo has been garnering a cult following of sorts over the past year for his distinct and stark sound. Rather than taking the sounds of others and morphing them into something his own, Dylan has built a new sound entirely from scratch, with as few materials as possible. The music on his debut album, All I Ever Wanted, is stark, cold, and absolutely captivating. Nowhere is his pitch-shifted drawl put to better use than on the sparse “Gold Teeth,” an undeniably unique vision from a post-internet madman intent on disrupting.
In conjunction with its surreal, and quite honestly, utterly bizarre video, “Gold Teeth” stands as the defining track in Dylan’s brief, but stellar discography. It doesn’t have the shining outsider-pop qualities of some of his other tracks, but it does possess all of the elements that make his music stand out so much. There’s a desire at the heart of the track to create something no one else has before, and Dylan even out-right says so in the song itself: “Come up with something new bitch I’m bored.” It’s hard to name another track this year that manages to be as weird, hilarious, confusing, and brilliant as “Gold Teeth” is. OUTRO OF DARKNESS.—Joe Price
As subgenres go, “future bass” still feels like it’s got room for a few more outspoken purveyors than standard-bearer GoldLink. To that end, Portland’s Aminé feels like a solid champion, an agile rapper with a Kaytranada cosign and a sensibility that blends old and new in the pursuit of a constant party—sometimes uptempo and dance-oriented, others geared towards a mellower mode of hanging out. While he still seems to be figuring out his voice and particular perspective as an artist, Aminé possesses the sort of ample, agile talent that’s fun to watch blossom.
Madison, Wisconsin’s Ra’Shaun has a gift for catchy melody that makes his rough hewn “Deja Vu” feel both like an honest bedroom recording and the raw clay for an artist capable of crafting a surprise hit. From the moment I heard it, I couldn’t get the song’s hook out of my head—I couldn’t remember the lyrics, but the cadence and melody stuck with me. Even months after its release, in a world filled with noise and far higher profile releases, I still find myself humming “Deja Vu.”
While he still hasn’t nailed a song that delivers completely on his potential, Milwaukee’s BANKX traffics in the sort of effortless, melodic rapping that makes overnight stars and desired hook-men in the current rap ecosystem. At only 18 years old, he’s certainly got time to live and experience things to pair with his ample ability. For now, songs like “4SHO” offer a glimpse of his strengths—memorable hooks, a gifted ear for beat selection, and a consistency of aesthetic that leads one to wonder what sort of things he’d create with expanded resources.
The following is no slight to Boston’s Big Leano.
If you like hypnotic, straightforward rap music about drugs, listen to Big Leano. If you’re looking for something a bit more “conscious” or “sophisticated” or really anything other than hypnotic, straightforward rap music about drugs, don’t listen to Big Leano.
There is, of course, a strong possibility that the catalog hidden behind the curtain reveals a far more complex character than the three songs currently available to the public. For now, rejoice in “Lean For Sale” and don’t think so goddamn hard.
Cleveland-born Slim Slater makes gloriously disrespectful rap music, the sort you feel a bit guilty for liking at times, but that you justify listening to by telling yourself your awareness of its sophisticated ignorance makes everything ok.
A line from standout single “Airport” that puts Slim’s sly, player’s wit on display: “I pick my bitch up from the airport/Bad bitch, I make her pay for it.” “Airport” is smooth and languorous, a unique midwestern spin on southern cool that showcases Slim’s ability to stylishly say things that would probably make my mom blush.
Milwaukee rapper/singer/producer Mic Kellogg’s music seems like it sprouted from the phrase “easy like Sunday morning,” a relaxed brand of hip-hop uses that concept as a sort of zen philosophy for approaching life: As long as you’ve got your creativity, good music, and a little cereal to eat, you can tackle the problems on your plate. That vastly oversimplifies Kellogg’s music and, of course, doesn’t completely account for life’s tragedies and complications; songs like “Tune Out” and “Breakfast (Intro)” make a compelling case for this sort of casual mysticism, a fitting modern philosophy for tackling a world that could otherwise cripple us with its insistent onslaught of horrors.
Seattle’s Mackned conjures nostalgia for a moment not so far removed from our own, though one that feels like an entire evolutionary cycle away from the current hip-hop landscape. With an ear for woozy, atmospheric beats, and rhymes that blend mysticism, internet culture, and street narrative, Mackned would have fit comfortably among the ranks of turn-of-the-’10s Tumblr rappers like Main Attrakionz and even a nascent A$AP Rocky.
“Crystals In My Aura,” a highlight from Mackned’s considerable output, feels like a transmission tailor-made for the remaining cloud rap fans and appreciators of Based philosophy among us.
Atlanta’s J.I.D. will likely have to deal with Kendrick Lamar comparisons for the early part of his career, so let’s get the part that every artist hates out of the way first: J.I.D.’s serpentine, densely worded raps and high-pitched vocals often bear a resemblance to those of a certain celebrated Compton rapper. If you’re going to be compared to a human being who raps, you could do a lot worse.
J.I.D. often raps as if he’s one with his backing tracks, his voice effortlessly inhabiting rhythms both obvious and hidden in every inch of sonic space. “Underwear” provided perhaps the clearest articulation of J.I.D.’s considerable skills, a combination of timing, dynamism, and an impressive command of multi-syllabic rhymes that make for rewind-worthy pyrotechnics.
Though I can’t recall hearing too many people actively clamoring for the a Das Racist-like group to fill the hole created by the dissolution of Das Racist, trio Injury Reserve does a fine jump of carrying on the irreverent, one-eye-to-the-past, both-feet-in-the-present style that earned the former trio a devoted fan base after the initial viral success of “Combination Taco Bell And Pizza Hut.”
Injury Reserve are more than Das Racist mimics, but their standout single “Everybody Knows” does feel cut from their predecessors’ cloth. It’s clever, rooted in an older school conception of good rapping, and built on a beat that feels like a 17-year-old on a message board got his hands on a real sampler and made the 2015 version of a Boogie Down Productions beat. “Everybody Knows” feels like the thesis for the group’s sound, matching the in-your-face urgency and visceral rush of hip-hop’s past with a thoroughly current sensibility.