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.
Simonez Dega – Gold Caps.
A$AP Yams passed away on Sunday, January 18th.
By the age of 26, Yams had established himself as one of hip-hop’s brightest young executives on the heels of first proving himself one of its best, most vital curators. He quickly became one of Tumblr’s most trusted gatekeepers, not just for new music, but for hidden gems from favorite rappers or artists you only knew if you were a hip-hop fanatic. He was a rap omnivore from New York who translated his taste into the willing, able vessel that was early Rocky and then on to Ferg as he developed and grew more comfortable with his particular brand of weirdness.
Yams had a way of writing and expressing his taste that felt both exclusive (beware if you were a fuckboy or if you liked backpack rap) and inclusive, an invitation to explore hip-hop and R&B classics that the classicists would typically overlook. He was the rarest of gatekeepers, one capable of mixing “high” and “low,” his taste often undefinable save for the fact that it was consistently fantastic (though he did, of course, have predilections for Houston hip-hop, ’90s R&B, and cloud rap). His knowledge was extensive, his humor was over the top and ever-present, his selections were almost always impeccable. He bridged the gap between Tumblr rap and the real world in a way none had before and few have since, helping the A$AP Mob (particularly its front-facing generals Rocky and Ferg) develop a consistent, compelling aesthetic online before jumping into the view of the wider public.
While it’s difficult to properly gauge Yams’ impact, it feels safe to say that he was an innovator in his approach to marketing and sound. Perhaps the world now is too fragmented for him to be remembered as one of hip-hop’s titans, but he will be regarded with great reverence by a generation raised on blogs, Tumblr, and Soundcloud.
Listening to New York rapper Simonez Dega and scrolling through his Tumblr, I thought immediately of Yams. I’m not sure he would have liked Dega’s music and I may be making a big assumption here, but it seems to me that a rapper like Dega—a New Yorker with a serpentine, deadpan flow whose taste in beats dips into the dusty and the lo-fi futuristic—wouldn’t exist as he does without the influence of Yams, even if it was only inspiration passed indirectly through other conduits.
Witty Rock – “Benzo”
I’m always excited to receive a recommendation from a trusted source, especially when it comes with a description like, “a song about stress and drugs.”
5 On It favorite JuegoTheNinety sent me “Benzo” from frequent collaborator and fellow member of his 9BMC crew Witty Rock, a moody, subdued take on the sort of paranoia and world-weariness that Juego delivers with explosive rage—”Try to tell myself it’s gon’ be alright/Been some long days and some lonely nights/But it’s ok ‘cuz we strong we fight/Right now on whatever’s gon’ help a n*gga sleep through the night.” Built on grim resignation, “Benzo” subtly frightens with its look inside the psyche of a young American in a dire environment.
J.A.P.A.N.N DOT ft. Hassani Kwess – “Dear Mary”
Hey Jon i wasnt sure i got the right email before but i guess i did…
Some records succeed more on energy than either content or notable style. DMV natives J.A.P.A.N.N DOT and Hassani Kwess are solid rappers, but their collaboration “Dear Mary” thrives not because of their technical ability, but because of a manic performance by DOT (occasionally reminiscent of A$AP Ferg channeling Bone Thugs-n-Harmony) and beat that mixes southern thump and G Funk menace. It’s a formula cut from the classic cloth of artists like Master P and the aforementioned Bone Thugs.
Salomon Faye – “Luv”
Attempting to describe New York rapper Salomon Faye’s particular charisma cheapens what might best be called a glow. His measured raps and striking appearance lend him a sort of mystical aura, pulling echoes of Mos Def and the late 90s New York underground into a style that engages even if its allure eludes precise description.
New single and video “Luv” do fine jobs in equal measure of encapsulating Faye’s vibe—and perhaps a case in point bolstering the idea that he is an artist whose music is best experienced with visual accompaniment.
Bruce Bayne – “HML”
In the infancy of my rap listening, songs like GZA’s “Labels” and “Animal Planet” that built wordplay around strict adherence to theme impressed me. As I’ve grown older, less earnest, and more inclined to listen to Rae Sremmurd than Raekwon, hyper-conceptual rap music has become grating for me, more of an exercise in an endurance than a celebration of an artist’s intelligence (of course, most of these songs aren’t executed with the skill or novelty of a song like “Labels,” but that doesn’t solely account for how tiresome many are).
When a song promises “some post-apocalyptic commentary on the dangers of technology abuse in today’s society,” my skepticism rears its head and inspires the sort of listening that assumes perverse enjoyment in an impending train wreck around the corner.
Rapper Bruce Bayne’s “HML” verges on corniness with its take on modern interconnection, but its cleverness and execution make it both insightful and self-aware enough (“iPhone dead that’s good riddance/Got rid of it/Threw it, then threw it in the street/On some gangsta shit, no case and shit I’m living dangerous”) to win over even a jaded, seasoned listener.