5 On It: Degree and Kind

Need to know rap from beneath the surface.

Jhon Myquale
Direct from Artist

Image via Jhon Myquale

Jhon Myquale

5 On It is a feature that looks at five of the best under-the-radar rap findings from the past month, highlighting new or recently discovered artists, or interesting obscurities.

Jhon Myquale - "While You Were Sleeping"

Jhon Myquale

Last week, I wrote an article entitled "Jhon Myquale Makes Rap Music For People Who Love Rapping." 

I would quickly be made to realize the sloppiness of my title and the error implicit in its particular vision of what "people who love rapping" entails. Almost immediately after hitting the terrifying "publish" button, writer and keen rap thinker Sheldon Pearce made my error clear to me. He tweeted at me: "coming from a place of constructive dialogue: this headline & some of these ideas are sus."

We continued the conversation via DM, where Sheldon shared some spot on critiques of my piece and a more respectful, clear-eyed vision for evaluating rap (shared, in part, below with his permission):

"I understood your intent which is the only reason I reached out. I'm not looking to put you on the spot. Wouldn't have done so if I didn't think you weren't coming from a good place, or couldn't be reasoned with. The main premise of the article is built on false equivalency: that 'lyricism' as an ideal is what makes rapping good and that technicality is the cornerstone of lyricism. I can tell that happened by accident, but in framing it this way, you totally diminish Young Thug, who doesn't uphold the ideal of 'lyricism' championed by fake okayplayer message board types who remember the '90s as all RZA beats and don't know who the Fu-Schnickens are...I know your point was 'this guy appeals to people who want ~this~ kind of rapping, and he's rly good at that,' but the way it's written, it implies that that is the 'good kind' of rapping, or the 'purist kind' of rapping. And both are simply untrue."

I agree with Sheldon (though I still think that Myquale carries on the lineage of a certain kind of rapping). In the shortsightedness that occasionally occurs when the tendrils of a loose idea take hold, I left aside my favorite self-designation as a "rap omnivore" for something less nuanced and accidentally more dogmatic.

In this case, I put Myquale's style of rapping—which prizes dense, internal rhymes, poetic devices, and more traditional wordplay over vocal expressiveness or invention—on a pedestal above other equally valid and exciting kinds of rapping. Perhaps a more fitting title would have been "Jhon Myquale Makes Hip-Hop For People Who Need A Break From Mumble Rap," or something to that effect. That feels too judgmental and needlessly divisve as well—you can, of course, just enjoy both.

Even still, I grapple with whether or not this kind of discourse or critique (the notion that one kind of rapping could, in some ways, be "better" than another) is valuable in the sort of competitive spirit it could foster for up-and-coming artists. Maybe, as Sheldon points out, it's just a damaging false equivalency that doesn't really move the conversation about what makes great rapping great and bad rapping bad forward—and, more importantly, doesn't really push the creative spirit of the actual artists in question along. That's a matter for deeper exploration at another time. 

The real core of my piece on Myquale, though, was the assertion that he represents part of an incidental reaction to rap music that confounds and infuriates traditionalists. Myquale is a Rapper with a capital R, but he doesn't hate the current landscape.

"I've always been a fan of ATCQ," he says via email. "I grew up listening to Erykah a lot and Kanye. He was the first CD and vinyl I've ever bought. More recently I like Kendrick, 21 savage—he's dope and Kodak [Black]—Anderson Paak, Hiatus Kaiyote, Chance... I like a lot of different shit honestly bro. I'm a super hip hop head, but I've got mad love for artists like Migos or Kodak Black."

Enjoy Myquale's rapping for what it is, a testament of tightly intertwining syllables and introspective thoughts. Listen to his newest release "While You Were Sleeping" below.

Young - "Sensitive Savage"

young

For the last two years, I've kicked tires on a piece about drugs and drinking in the modern age—a time stripped largely of the idealism that accompanied earlier experimentation, characterized by an escapist bent that manifests as gleeful hedonism for some, numbing agent for others (and often both, a reaction to the world's absurdity and adversity). I've not yet managed to coalesce the chaos of thought into something coherent and well-considered, but I'm constantly collecting music and art that speaks to this evolution of modern excess and anesthesia.

Houston rapper Young's "Sensitive Savage" feels a worthy addition to the conversation. Where some rappers parade drugs as accessories to be worn and shown off to an adoring, imitating audience, Young treats narcotics as the escape portal that can prove just as horrifying as the world being escaped, subtly capturing the creep and control of addiction.

"This song is literally who I am...my issues, my emotions and my fucked up way of thinking of things sometimes," said Young to us via email earlier this month. "I was trashed and in my feelings when I wrote this TBH lol and I just needed to get some shit off my chest."

"Sensitive Savage" doesn't directly address its creator's reasons for using drugs and drinking—nor, thankfully, does it extrapolate some sloppy social theory from its personal perspective (as this writer perhaps foolishly attempts to do from anecdote and observation)—rather embodying the fright of modern existence and presenting an implicit case for why you're probably going to go out and get fucked up tonight.

Monster Florence - "Resourceful"

Monster Florence

While I'd like to maintain some veneer of exploratory authority in my 5 On It findings, too much of discovery relies on chance to ever take that much credit. Of course, you need to know where to look and recognize what you've found when you've come across it (perhaps when others are not ready or able to recognize it), but in an cluttered age where algorithms, blogs, apps, and friends all vie for the same waking hours, finding new music you love often boils down to the uncomfortable serendipity of "right place, right time."

I found British rap group Monster Florence's "Resourceful" on my Spotify Discovery Weekly playlist while driving to play basketball one Saturday morning a few weeks back. I typically skip most songs on my Discover Weekly after a few unsatisfactory seconds, either because I know the song/artist already or because I haven't been sufficiently hooked. Perhaps an unfair listening method, but the one developed in direct response to a world with too much music in it.

"Resourceful" doesn't hit all at once. In fact it didn't really hook me until 30 seconds in, when menacing bass finally accompanies the haunting keys that announce the song's arrival like the score of a black and white horror film (you'll need something better than laptop speakers for full effect, unfortunately).

It's sheer attitude music, brazen like a drunkard picking a fight in the darkest bar in London for no reason other than a little bloodshed sounds "fun." "Resourceful" is probably a bit irresponsible, but that's part of its pitch black charm (and, of course, the power of art to place us in safe proximity to different, occasionally dangerous mindsets).

Rex OC - "Uno"

Rex OC

Strictly speaking, Rex OC isn't a rapper. On "UNO" he raps self-deprecating, honest verses like some hybrid of Birmingham legend the Streets and more recent artists like Only Real and much celebrated King Krule; his tone is dry and conversational, never rising much above a wry monotone. 

No animation, no verbal acrobatics, no ad-libs, no auto-tune. 

Scan the rest of his Soundcloud, and you'll see that Rex OC, more than anything, is a singer dedicated to a kind of guileless autobiography, each song a window into the world of a teenager's boredom, sadness, love, and loss. On "Uno," genre classifications matter little as the 19-year-old ambles across jaunty, lo-fi production in search of sunny days, rapping lackadaisically like a British version of early Beck (right down to the lovable loser aura, replacing Beck's sardonic mischief with navel-gazing observational wit). 

starfoxlaflare - "Hot Spicy Chicken Ramen"

starfoxlaflare

I kicked 5 On It off this year with Ugly God's "Booty From A Distance", sharing an astute reflection along with it:

"The internet is fucking awesome and I just needed you to know that this song exists if you didn’t already."

File starfoxlaflare's catchy (or incessant, depending on how your ears work) "Hot Spicy Chicken Ramen" to the list of songs that you should know exist if you didn't already which reaffirm the notion that the internet can be fucking awesome and a source of great joy when it isn't assaulting your hopes, dreams, free time, self-esteem, and sanity from all angles like Scylla and Charybdis.

Don't overthink before you hit play on "Hot Spicy Chicken Ramen." Its title is its chorus, like Lil B got stoned and wandered to the bodega with one mission in mind. It's woozy and lazy, hilarious and heavy and...that's enough adjectives, you've probably got a sense by now whether you're going to like it or not. With all of this week's talk about what makes rap great or not, sometimes its best to set the analysis aside and allow the music to be whatever it is.

Also, hot spicy chicken ramen sounds fucking delicious. It's difficult for me to be upset with this as the core concept of a song.

Listen to 5 On It on Spotify

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Listen to some of our favorite entries from artists who've been featured in 5 On It in one convenient location. Check out the best of 5 On It playlist below and follow it on Spotify for updates.

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