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.
Uno The Activist – “I Doubt It”
In 2016, predicting a “hit” based on anything other than Vine statistics and radio spins is a fool’s errand (and even when you’ve got the data in hand, every incessant dance song doesn’t turn into a multi-platinum “Watch Me Whip”). Prediction is always a silly game, though one made less meaningful by a world in which Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame shrinks to six seconds and many of our internet phenoms are gone no sooner than they’ve arrived.
Some songs feel and sound like hits, a refrain you’ll hear early and often (both in the affirmative—”this sounds like a hit—and the negative—this doesn’t feel like a hit to me) should you ever have the particular and occasionally dubious honor of sitting through a modern A&R meeting. Any number of qualities can contribute to this hit factor: Repetitiveness (sometimes entailing real catchiness, sometimes masquerading as memorable due to blunt force), familiarity (a timeless melody, a memorable sample like Ariana Grande’s use of Big Pun’s “Still Not A Player”—itself sampling Brenda Russell’s “A Little Bit of Love”—for “The Way”), intangibility (the tone of Fetty Wap’s unmistakable, warbling voice; the baby noise in Timbaland’s beat for Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody”). In your predictive efforts, you try to place a finger on which of these characteristics (or, in the best cases, how much of each facet) contributes to a song being a hit. Even then, your compass might be faulty, because your ears are your own and no one else’s.
I say all that to say that Uno The Activist’s year-old “I Doubt It” (a week old to me, as I discovered it in a DJ mix last Monday night) feels like a hit—catchy chorus, intangibly enjoyable way Uno says “I doubt it,” a hypnotic beat—but, of course, who knows if it will actually be a hit. For any number of reasons, it could remain in the murky backwaters of the internet. Or if the Vine gods have any mercy, it could burst out of Soundcloud like the alien in Alien and wreak havoc on rap radio this year—once the wheels are greased, the path from internet obscurity to real world impact is shorter than ever, as seen in Fetty Wap and Post Malone’s meteoric ascents.
In the end, don’t over think it. Catchy is catchy. Fun is fun. “Good” is in the eye of the beholder and hits rise from the ether like storms: Sometimes you see them coming, sometimes you don’t, but, regardless, you can’t really control them. So just press play on “I Doubt It” and let it get stuck in your brain.
FXXXXY – “Ever”
Rapper FXXXXY presents the sort of fun enigma that the blogosphere warped years ago. FXXXXY seems legitimately bizarre, not strange for affect or attention. His Tumblr addresses (the second of which, drippinCUMM.tumblr.com, leads to a dead page) and Bandcamp are all overtly pornographic and give little context for his music or identity. His location is “xnknown.” The cover art for many of his projects and the song titles on each point to an aesthetic language that might seem gimmicky but is, at very least, consistent. FXXXXY’s universe doesn’t feel like the sort of forced mystery used to build intrigue around Hypem hits and moody alt R&B artists. Instead, each element adds a layer of intrigue to the music which, candidly, seems to have little to do with its accompanying world.
Case in point: “Ever,” a collision of fascinating influences for students of rap and hip-hop omnivores. Like mixtape era 50 Cent covered in codeine, “Ever” implicitly and overtly references Notorious B.I.G. and Junior MAFIA with its dark spin on classicist New York hardcore. FXXXXY’s flow channels elements of nemeses Biggie and Pac, while throwing in echoes of Devin the Dude’s knack for daily detail, and a desperate energy that seems autonomous. “Ever” mesmerizes because it references so many things but sounds like so little else coming out right now, driven by autobiography imbued with back-against-the-wall energy.
Loaf Tembo ft. Nostalgia Online – “waking up on the floor isn’t so bad”
Loaf Tembo’s “waking up on the floor isn’t so bad” is a curious thing: An acoustic, drumless rap song with a name like an old emo song, that’s actually more of a folksy duet than a rap song. On paper, it sounds pretty horrible, like the sort of thing a misguided white rapper might do in an attempt to win a crossover audience. In practice, it’s pretty, delicate, and heartfelt, Tembo moving away from the TeamSESH sound of past song “Zen” for a kind of utopian dream that feels indebted to certain strains of late ’90s/early 2000s indie hip-hop (in an alternate reality, it’s not hard to envision this as the cheeriest single Rhymesayers ever released, for example).
Slayter – “School of Hardknocks”
New York rapper Slayter’s “School of Hardknocks” is a soundtrack for the end of days, its beat like a rallying cry for Valkyries riding into battle. Slayter’s rapping recalls classic New York hardcore with dashes of the style that recent crews like the A$AP Mob and the Tan Boys injected into the city’s flagging scene. The beat gives his raps menacing life, a symphonic wave crashing against his measured monotone.
Owen Bones ft. THIRSTY & High – “Forecast”
Hip-hop has allowed itself to go to some pretty bizarre extremes over the past five years or so, but if there’s anything the legions of rappers and producers on SoundCloud have proved, it’s that there’s plenty left to explore. Chicago-based producer Owen Bones recently linked up with fringe genre provocateur THIRSTY and High for the thunderous “Forecast,” filling in just a little more of that uncharted hip-hop map. Finding itself somewhere between rap and punk, the collaboration makes the best use of all three involved, resulting in a track that hits so fast it’ll leave you wondering what the hell just happened.
It’s not exactly the most complex of listening experiences, but it more than makes up for it through sheer force.—Joe Price