A Slice of the Underground: April 2018

To the sound of “scoopity-woopity” and far too many Post Malone songs, April has come to a close. North and South Korea may have finally agreed upon peace, but after the painting debacle a truce between Money Miz and Tha God Fahim doesn’t seem likely anytime soon. While Kanye wilds out about Trump and cultural appropriators continue to seize the Billboard charts, the underground (as always) has kept advancing. Westside Gunn dropped the release date for Chris Benoit, Big Ghost Ltd continued to take no prisoners on social media and a myriad of EPs, mixtapes, and albums satiated the ears of those wise enough to seek. In case you slacked, here are some of the month’s top releases.

Fast Life – Distribution Derby

Roaring out of the gates with arguably the month’s best project, New York’s own Fast Life showcases gritty street bars peppered with car references and dope tales in equal measure. Influenced by the likes of Mobb Deep and Roc Marciano, the MC is quickly finding his lane in the grimy East Coast underground. Amidst samples of 1940s gasoline propaganda and old racing clips, Fastlife spits from the heart. Street life’s made him wiser, but he uses music as a means to distance himself from his past. “I dont wanna sell dope no more” rings the hook on El Camino-supported “Dope No More” a simple yet poignant message from a man tired of the hustle. Makes no mistake though, stepping to the MC either on the mic or in the street is inadvisable. Whether it be aggressive lyricism on joints like “Tango & Cash” or meandering rhyme schemes on “Goodfellas”, Distribution Derby demonstrates the best of both the ‘new New York’ and Fastlife himself. Crackling instrumentals give the project a warm, analog feeling, no doubt a callback to the sounds he grew up on. Supplied with Wacky Race-inspired artwork from Trevor Lang the tape has a distinct air of nostalgia to it, bringing back memories of waking up to golden age cartoons and Yo! MTV Raps.

ANKHLEJOHN – ANKH NASTY

The heir apparent to DC’s underground throne, ANKHLEJOHN’s meteoric rise to the top echelon of MCs arrives on the back of a laundry list of stellar EPs and albums. After linking up with Lordy for the album/soundtrack Lordy By Nature in February, ANKH NASTY is the rapper’s second full length project since the start of the year. Departing from the aggressive, at times industrial soundscapes that dominated his previous releases, the softer instrumentals serve to instead accentuate ANKH’s lyrical prowess. Though recruiting a host of underground rappers throughout the tape it’s Vic Spencer who steals the show with his impeccable verse on “Marlo From The Wire”, painting Spencer and ANKH in turn as the upstart Baltimore drug kingpin (“I’m Marlo from the Wire, leave you niggas wired, niggas tired, take yo ass home, sh, not a survivor”). Close listeners might even catch some jabs at Tha God Fahim on this album, extending the list of individuals whose favor he’s fallen out of in recent months.

Denmark Vessey – Sun Go Nova

This new project from Mello Music Group signee Denmark Vessey is particularly unique as it is the culmination of two EP’s, the first featuring raps from Denmark himself over production from Earl Sweatshirt & Knxledge, and the second half being an instrumental EP self-produced by Denmark. Featuring smooth flows over excellent sample flips, this project manages to sound soulful at points, yet more melancholy at others. With extra help from Adad, DrxQuinnx and Vic Spencer, Sun Go Nova will keep you engaged entirely through its concise runtime of ~30 minutes. A particular standout is the last track on the first part, “Sellout”. Spitting over a vintage Earl Sweatshirt beat, the trio of MCs absolutely murder this track to create one of the better underground hip hop songs of the year. The beat tape portion of the record passes by significantly quicker than the first. Each track is only roughly 60-90 seconds, but it is a welcome addition to the EP as it allows Denmark to show off his producer chops. If you’re a fan of Denmark or alternative style rap with a bit of an edge, this project is for you. [written by Carter W]

Young RJ – The Detroit Project

Slum Village member and Detroit veteran Young RJ drops off his latest offering, The Detroit Project, featuring Guilty Simpson and Phat Kat. Appearances from fallen heroes of the D, Proof and Dilla, captures the essence of the Detroit sound that made us love JD, Slum Village, and others way back in the early 2000’s. Over signature sounding drum loops they take us back in time to a day when Dilla was still chopping–this shit sounds like you waited in line at the record store anxious to pop it into your Sony Discman. Painting pictures of what life is like on the streets of Detroit, Guilty, Phat Kat and RJ all handle their own. “Ribs is showing, the kids is knowing, baby need some new shoes his little feet still growing, it’s snowing outside the wind still blowing, mind focused on hitting that lick, this world is cold life’s a bitch, ain’t no middle class nowadays you poor or you rich,” gems of truth like this are littered all over the 8 track project. 16 years later and RJ still doesn’t miss a step, proving once again that there’s still room for the underground and veterans in the game. [written by Mickeybfresh]

The Alchemist – Lunch Meat EP

Legendary producer The Alchemist dropped his anticipated Lunch Meat EP last month, with stacked features from some of the best of New York’s hip hop scene. At only 4 tracks we get the cream of the crop both on Alchemist’s end and with every verse, especially Roc Marciano who never seems to deliver anything but absolute gold with his pen. Alchemist’s production is layered and unapologetically gritty, easily making for some of his best beats in the last few years. The features cannot be praised enough, Roc and Action Bronson take on their solo tracks with ease and gracefulness, while brothers Westside Gunn and Conway murder the track of their own, making fans all the more excited for the long-awaited Hall N Nash 2. Finally, we have perfect pairing of Styles P and Benny the Butcher on “Massacre” who bring forth a bar fest with superb chemistry. Hopefully this will lead to more collaborations with those two because, “it feel like Halloween its the ghost and the butcher!” Any fan of grimy New York rap should check out this excellent EP due to the flawless production and stacked features. [written by Kevin S]

Rahiem Supreme – Connoisseur LP

Whether it be vintage rings or his modded out 350z, Rahiem Supreme is a sampler of the finer things in life. Breaking from the mold of his previous release, Connoisseur has a distinctly more uplifting tone compared to the earlier Vintage Fendi EP, a scathing denouncement of street life and the struggles that come with it. Rather than focus on the ailments of his city, Rahiem opts to focus this record on himself. “Primetime”, produced by award-winning duo The Crates, is a brass-backed banger about the struggles he’s had to overcome in his short life. Rahiem knows how precious freedom is and Connoisseur is thus not just an album, it’s a manifesto on how he’ll use it to succeed. Close collaborator ANKHLEJOHN is the sole feature on the album, spitting the final verse in “Right & Wrong”, a testament that the MCs are gonna get theirs regardless of what stands in their way. Orchestral production is commonplace on the album, accentuating Rahiem’s swagger and adding an unmistakable air of royalty to the record.

Joe Blow & 38 Spesh – In The Mob We Trust

In an unlikely pairing, West Coast stalwart Joe Blow linked up with upstate king 38 Spesh for the street album In The Mob We Trust. Coming off the impeccable Stabbed & Shot with Benny, Spesh once again leaves a strong impression on listeners as he & Joe spit game over soulful instrumentals. While the duo splashes trademark bars about moving weight and making money off the hustle, they make no attempts to glamorize the lifestyle. “First Kid” opens with Spesh reminiscing about having his first son at 19, who after growing up with his resentful mother now sees the MC as a check rather than a father. “Fuck Cancer” is a heartfelt tribute to family members who succumbed not to street violence but simple fate, beating street odds overwhelmingly not in their favor yet faced with the same physiological ailments as plague even the richest caste. Featuring guest verses from Benny, Street Knowledge, Bo Strangles and more, this record satisfies not only the dope rap fiends but listeners in tune to the street commentary prevalent in contemporary underground records.

Saba – CARE FOR ME

Chicago youngster Saba’s sophomore album CARE FOR ME is a deep and mature look into his struggles with depression and past traumatic experiences. The young MC details the inner workings of his mind and his surroundings, flawlessly executing concepts on songs like “SIRENS” and “FIGHTER”. He does all of this while consistently impressing the listener with a dexterous and quickly adapting flow that perfectly compliments each and every beat. The album reaches its climax on “PROM/KING” when Saba dazzles you with his storytelling ability and passion, truly one of the most impressive songs this year. Overall the project clocks in at just over 40 minutes making for a concise listen with no filled, definitively marking Saba as one of the best up and comers from the Chi. [written by Kevin S]

Moodie Black – Lucas Acid

On Lucas AcidMinneapolis based noise rap group Moodie Black’s first full length release since 2014, the boundaries of hip hop continue to be pushed. Don’t let the bright cover fool you, because this album is anything but bright. Dark, brooding synths and dense guitar riffs make this one of 2018 heaviest releases yet. Lyrically, this album is extremely poignant, as it largely deals with Moodie Black’s vocalist Kdeath officially coming out as a trans woman and how she is adjusting to this transition, especially in a genre which is not known to be extremely welcoming to LGBTQ members. “I’m scared as fuck, I’ve grown a man inside a woman’s hawking, we go beyond each other’s skin, we stay up late while talking, I love you more than I can barely write, my tears are forming”, Kdeath spits on one of the albums standouts, *Palm Trees”. On more than a few occasions, the album can get chillingly honest and moving. If you’re a meat and potatoes type of hip hop fan, this may not be for you, as some of the dark, shoegazey production can come across as grating to a newcomer of noise rap, but for those of you who are interested in the weird, harsh and dystopian side of hip hop, this record is an absolute must listen. [written by Carter W]

 

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