Cantrell – “Keep Yappin”
Albany, GA → Los Angeles, CA
You can tell from the ominous bells in the first moments of “Keep Yappin” that Cantrell is not here to play. But when he starts to rap, it’s clear that the Georgia native and LA transplant has much more than bravado. He’s a storyteller, a technical poet, and a hard worker. His lyrics immerse the listener in calm, understated confidence (“got a long way to go but I feel I got it”) and contain both societal criticism (“too many wanna know where their dads at / too many wanna know where the cash at”) and quirky wit (“I make that shit bounce like Zoboomafoo”). Check out his entire album, Stardust 2 Angels, for more of his story.
Ivy Sole – “Backwoods” feat. Anyee Wright
You can tell Ivy Sole has experience as a spoken-word poet in her technical style and narrative composition. On “Backwoods,” she gives us a slow ride through the scenery of where she came of age (“ain’t no stoop, it’s a porch ’round here”) and also meditates on survival–not just her own, but that of her generation. This track, featuring an impressive verse from fellow Philly rapper Anyee Wright, is one of many thoughtful, candid chapters on her excellent new collection, OVERGROWN.
Neak – “Legacy”
Neak’s “Legacy” probably sounds best blasted at full volume in a convertible on Lake Shore Drive, but if you can’t make it out to Chicago (or afford a convertible), it is also good enough to take you there. Neak spits fiercely as he muses about society and how his legacy fits into it, and it sounds like he could go forever. Meanwhile, he also demonstrates his knowledge and respect for those who came before him, not only through direct references to the lyrics of Phife Dawg and Nas but also in the throwback style of his flow. Listen to his new song, “For My City.”
Phat Kat – “World Premiere”
Detroit’s Phat Kat has been around since the mid-90s and is best known for his extensive collaboration with J Dilla, but this year’s re-release of “World Premiere” will surely gain him new fans. If your hip-hop preferences skew old-school, you will appreciate how he expertly navigates this stripped-down beat featuring upright bass, drum, and piano. For more, check out his re-released album, Carte Blanche.
aj iaN – “Recipe”
College Park, MD
If you yearn for old-school Kanye (as many do), you will likely love the apt chop-up-the-soul production on “Recipe.” Clocking in at one and a half minutes, the actual song is a bit of a tease, but the one verse we get from aj iaN shows that his gospel influence runs deep. It’s a joy to hear him think aloud about what life might bring, and the gospel sample at the end of the track further illuminates the guiding light in his life. Keep aj iaN on your radar by following him on Instagram.
Young Troubled Minds – “Rolling Stones”
Cleveland’s rap duo Young Troubled Minds evokes the Old West in their music video for “Rolling Stones.” The two MCs’ styles complement each other well: Pro’s half-sung flow lulls the listener into a deep groove in preparation for Ayu’s faster, more staccato approach. Beware of the elusively catchy hook, which will stay in your head for the entire day. For more, listen to YTM’s full album, Energy in Motion.
Magna Carda – “2 Legit”
MC Megz Kelli and producer Dougie Do possess a rare chemistry as Austin’s Magna Carda. Megz begins the track sounding like Missy Elliott after a massage: no stress but no hesitation, clearly enunciating every word with blasé confidence. As the track continues, Dougie becomes increasingly known as he adds elements like piano and saxophone with beautiful timing throughout. Get on their mailing list and hear more tracks on the duo’s official website.
David Twist – “SCELESTIC”
San Diego, CA
Old-school hip-hop fans won’t have to wait until the sample of “Life’s A Bitch” to understand that David Twist is a massive fan of Nas; in the first minute, he gives tribute through his flow as well, ending lines with connecting words like “I’m a” with classic Illmatic-style enjambment. His word choice reveals even more depth of study: with lyrics like “super savvy smart spitter / 4 S’s like Mississippi,” he proves he possesses some of what Nas once called “understandable smooth shit that murderers move with.” You don’t have to know that David is 15 years old to appreciate his skill level, but it puts it in perspective. Spend a few minutes browsing his Soundcloud and dive further into the commendable breadth of his old-school knowledge.
astralblak – “Sand Houses”
The Minneapolis ensemble astralblak, known until this year as ZULUZULUU, creates a unique fusion of soul, funk, and hip-hop that recognizably echoes the past but decidedly sounds like the future. “Sand Houses” is built on a solid foundation of vocal harmonies and funky production and closes with a powerful verse from Twin Cities rap veteran Greg Grease, delivered quickly and sharply a la Blackalicious’s Gift of Gab. Check out astralblak’s eclectic new album, Seeds, on Bandcamp and other streaming services.
De’Wayne Jackson – “Top Man”
Houston, TX → Los Angeles, CA
Rapper De’Wayne Jackson takes a little punk guitar with his rap on “Top Man,” a track that discusses the paranoid mind-state that can spawn from toxic experiences and how to begin to escape it — or, as he puts it, “where to go when you don’t wanna feel.” The first two minutes of fuzzy Ramones-style guitar introduce De’Wayne as a capable experimentalist and MC. Still, he reveals the extent of his well-roundedness in the final minute, when he finally escapes to “the top of the hill” in a self-reflective, screwed, and syncopated breakdown. To keep up with his current tour and future releases, follow him on Instagram.