5 On It is a feature that looks at five of the best under-the-radar rap findings from the past week, highlighting new or recently discovered artists, or interesting obscurities.
PREMIERE: Write Brothers – “Come Back”
I fell in love with rap when I heard Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” at the age of seven.
I knew rap would, in some way, be at the core of my life when I hit my teenage years and discovered what then constituted “the underground”—a loosely interconnected web of artists, labels, and, on a larger scale, ideological equals attempting to create a viable alternative to mainstream sounds and ideas. Rawkus, Definitive Jux, Rhymesayers, Quannum Projects, Project Blowed—the list runs deep into the catacombs of Sandbox Automatic.
This era led to my initial involvement with Pigeons and Planes. Confusion and I connected over a shared love of Aesop Rock and the wider underground scene, manifesting in the first feature I ever had a hand in, The 30 Best Underground Hip-Hop Albums.
My tastes have changed significantly over the years; I can’t listen to some of that music without cringing now. I’ll always have an appreciation for the mentality and much of the finer output—it encouraged me to explore the entire history of rap and seek out the fringes for the most interesting ideas.
Vermont-bred, Los Angeles-based hip-hop duo Write Brothers deftly channel the ethos and sound of the underground that solidified my relationship with rap. New single “Come Back” is vaguely reminiscent of Blackalicious and Lyrics Born, rapper Learic building an ode to bygone years and a now fleeting mentality atop a driving, sitar and tabla-based beat by producer Dante Davinci. It won’t work for every rap listener (I had to temporarily turn off the side of my brain that loves Young Thug while listening), but it should satisfy fans of this particular strain of underground hip-hop. Hopefully it inspires unfamiliar listeners to adopt the same sort of exploratory mentality that typified the era to which it pays homage.
Listen to “Come Back” below.
IshDARR – “Nothing”
Milwaukee’s IshDARR has an ability to channel the feeling of classic rap without getting too caught up in the limiting space of nostalgia.
New single “Nothing” is a fine display of rapping over a beat that recalls the aforementioned Rawkus years, keeping things current with a melodic hook that has a certain catchiness in cadence and writing—it is an element that would come as a pleasant surprise on a Lyricist Lounge compilation and points to, at very least, an awareness of what it takes to grab attention in the current rap landscape. “Nothing” isn’t precisely groundbreaking (thought its anti-label sentiments are as relevant as ever), but it feels like table-setting, the promise of things to come from a passionate, able rapper.
Meet Orlando rapper KT, another reason to watch Florida’s rap scene
A quick barometer for a song’s worth (at least as far as coverage and contemplation go): I was playing Orlando rapper KT’s “Last Days” yesterday as a friend got to my apartment.
“What is this?” he asked. He turned up the volume on my laptop.
It’s that simple—whether a song is good or bad, if it has the power to inspire the question “what is this?” it’s probably worth writing about in some capacity.
KT cuts a figure on beats reminiscent of one of the more overlooked major label refugees of the last half-decade, Don Trip. “Last Days” in particular recalls some of Trip’s remorseful street tales, with KT passionately rapping about his experiences, warning by way of a life lived. He is compelling in his urgency and the honesty relayed by his voice—it bears the weight that words can only sketch.
And, of course, what would a rapper be in 2014 without a little riot music? For that, listen to “No Clutchin.”
Cousin Stizz – “Shoutout”
Boston rapper Cousin Stizz’s “Shoutout” is absolutely hypnotic. Whether intentionally subtle or a mistake in balance, the low end on “Shoutout” is soft enough in the mix that it’s almost non-existent in laptop speakers and comes across as more of an accent in headphones and better speakers. As a result, the focus falls on the bubbly, sparkling synthesizers and Stizz’s unhurried, melodic rapping. It’s unusual and ear-catching, a welcome antithetical thought in an era of ear-splitting volume and obvious bass.
Wes Wax ft. JuiceBox and Jay-R – “Find New Love”
In my quest to assemble 5 On It each week, I typically seek out songs that have a larger significance—whether they’re indicative of a trend, stylistically noteworthy, or somehow forward-thinking. Sometimes, however, songs just hit a sweet spot that doesn’t demand wider context for enjoyment.
“Find New Love” by rappers JuiceBox and Jay-R (of teenage Virginia crew BreezePark) and producer Wes Wax is absolutely a sentimental guilty pleasure, a song that appeals to the early 90s jazz-inspired rap fan in me. It isn’t a new take on an old sound, it isn’t going to push hip-hop into new dimensions; it simply works, warmly rooted in the past and buoyed by a breezy guitar sample. “Find New Love” appeals to my memories, momentarily pushing my usual anti-nostalgia and analytical mind to the side in favor of kicking my feet up in the past (a seeming theme this week).
Nothing wrong with that.