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. All other rap seems pretty inconsequential now that Gucci’s home, but we’ll try to carry on as usual anyway.
Derrick Thomas Jr. – “CROSSFIRES”
As our attention spans get shortened by the assault of too many glowing screens, too many songs, too many apps, too many podcasts, too many think pieces, and probably too many articles about rappers you’ve never heard, artists like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Vince Staples seem like odd creatures in the hip-hop landscape. They’re artisans, and while they might occasional stumble because of ambition or attempts at popular appeal, their music invites and often demands repeat listens and deep dives. To Pimp A Butterfly is precisely the body of work Genius was invented for—the sort of sprawling, multi-layered art that divides opinions and requires context to be fully appreciated.
While Derrick Thomas Jr. still has a few years and globally acclaimed releases to go before entering the same air as Kendrick and Cole (or even Vince), he seems built from similar DNA—an artist as concerned with what he says as how he says it.
Single “CROSSFIRES” dances across topics and ideas with dizzying, dense rhymes, efficient even as Thomas stacks one multi-syllabic couplet atop another. With a Nina Simone interview about the definition of an artist as a frame, Thomas delivers a single verse, a salvo of self aggrandizement that poses survival as a victory couched in continuous struggle, a bravado snatched through scars and dark days. A compelling early step from a young rapper to watch.
Get Familiar with Zarin Micheal
The age of Tumblr and blog rap ruined our expectations and decimated our patience as listeners. In the early days of rap, young prodigies like Nas stuck out because no one was supposed to be rapping the way Nas was rapping at 19. While anomalies like Earl Sweatshirt and Joey Badass, to name a few, still impress with their combination of unusual skill for their ages, we’re more used to hearing about teenage rappers than listeners might have been in past eras. We’re consistently looking for the next shiny, young star-to-be, ready to write off rappers who haven’t set the world ablaze by 21.
On “Mad Man” and “Blackface” from his new EP Fuck You, 17-year-old Kansas City rapper Zarin Micheal shows how fast improvement can occur at a young age—and how awe inspiring it still is to hear such a young artist with a firm, fluid command of his craft. Earlier single “Best Friend” displayed Micheal’s ability, style trumping substance. “Mad Man” points a compelling way forward, fiery raps balancing self-aggrandizing rage with occasional moments of pathos (Micheal admits of seemingly meaningless trysts: “I break ’em off and I break the bank, do that break the rules?/They always leave and the break my heart, man, I’m such a fool”). Far from perfect, “Mad Man” and “Blackface” exhibit a young rapper playing with his technique and revealing pieces of his inner monologue in the process.
Rayne – “On!”
So much rap feels neutered by laptop speakers and earbuds.
I want to hear Providence, Rhode Island rapper Rayne’s “On!” in a disgusting warehouse party with distorted speakers and cheap beers. I want to hear it late at night in the midst of a hypnotic hip-hop set. I want to see some kids dancing like Chief Keef and his shirtless army in the “Don’t Like” to it.
“On!” is simple and catchy, memorable after one listen (or immediately hatable when you press play, probably a depending on your age and general rap predilections). It succeeds on its skeletal production and Rayne’s energetic monotone.
TOBi – “iNDECiSiONS”
When Fetty Wap exploded into the popular sphere, the soon-to-be consistent hitmaker was largely labeled a rapper (a designation made easy by his production choices, by occasional rap verses, and, in all likelihood, by the fact that a warbling black dude from the hood of Paterson, New Jersey was easier to classify as a rapper than a singer, let alone a pop singer with the capacity to land four Billboard top 10 songs at the sam time).
Calling Fetty a singer doesn’t account for the times that he raps; calling him a rapper obscures the fact that he spends most of his on-record time singing.
Artists as disparate as Anderson Paak, Bryson Tiller, Jeremih, Drake, Young Thug, and myriad others blend rap cadences and melodic delivery in ways that blur the traditional understanding of what constitutes a rapper.
Much of TOBi’s “iNDECiSiONS” would lead you to believe the Ontario native is a singer. At the end he refers to himself as a rapper. The sum total points to bits of both, melody grafted to the sharp cadences of rap, occasionally giving way to less dynamically sung moments. However you classify it, “iNDECiSiONS” is hypnotic in its twisting stream of consciousness, snaking across topics and ideas.
“It’s essentially one long rant about life,” TOBi says of the song. “I needed to get some things off my chest, and music is the perfect platform for that…”
WunTayk Timmy – “Again”
In keeping with one of this week’s mini-themes, Louisville, Kentucky rapper WunTayk Timmy provides a modern version of what Ice Cube once described as a pyroclastic flow, stacking and snaking rhymes together to create a sense of inexorable momentum from one line to the next. “Again” is as good a place to dive into his catalog as any, a comet careening across a hypnotic beat, dancing around thoughts as they pass through Timmy’s head and take rhyme form. He’s a compelling talent well-equipped for the modern market, made even more interesting by the precision and passion guiding his presumptive one take songs.