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.
bsdjzs – Vxntxblxck
An email from “Hakeem Olajuwon” caught my eye—not because I believed it was actually from Hakeem Olajuwon, but because I loved the idea that someone was using his name to get attention or had the cosmic blessing of being born with the same name as one of the greatest basketball players ever.
Hakeem Olajuwon turned out to be an artist named xxx clvr (according to him) or bsdjzs (according to his Soundcloud page), both of which I’ll let him explain before diving into his project:
“I mean.. it’s been xxx clvr, when i was younger it was kid clever but it’s never been about just me so I took out the I and it was kxd clvr and now i just go xxx clvr or for a bit i produced, dj’d stupid club nights and made another project as based jeezus like bsdjzs but tbh i hate names my nigga I just want it to be bout my music. I know I gotta be the label an shit but aint nothing commercial about me though, I’m tryna get this Danny Brown money you feel me. I wanna be the first rapper signed to Tri Angle Records fr fr.“
xxx clvr’s Vxntxblxck feels like a Drake album with all its celebratory debris filtered out, leaving only distilled darkness and introspection. Vxntxblxck is raw and a bit too long, but it’s also the perfect mood music for those in search of the musical equivalent of drinking alone in your room late at night with the lights off and TV static blaring—variations on a theme played out over 44 minutes (which isn’t actually that long, it just feels long when the aesthetic is so consistent and singular). It’s an intriguing introduction to an artist sharpening his skills around an already clearly defined identity.
Javon Johnson – Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
At the risk of making a statement I’ll later regret but that sounds pretty good right now, Houston’s Javon Johnson echoes one of the most legendary modern emcees, Jay Electronica.
That is not to say that anything on his curiously titled Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is at the level of legacy-making songs like “Exhibit C,” but it is to say that Johnson raps with purposeful measure, the sort of grace a great heavyweight fighter has. Like Electronica, it isn’t so much that Johnson’s rapping is lithe as it is carefully calculated, each word and rhyme seeming to set the stage for the next—just as a great boxer develops a rhythm that predicts his opponent’s moves and reacts accordingly. On “Playgrounds” and “Track 5” in particular his voice and cadences seem drawn from the Electronica playbook. In the spirit of the great enigmatic rapper, Johnson also blends the personal and the philosophical, the local (it’s nice to hear “plexin'” in a rap song in 2015 that doesn’t involve Slim Thug, Paul Wall, or any other old guard Houston rapper) and the global.
(Hat tip to ItssJoey for this one)
M.I.L.F. Mitch – “Don Imus”
Virginia rapper Shaboozey was one of last year’s 5 On It favorites thanks to his riotous, infectiously catchy “Jeff Gordon.” As it turns out, his talents extend beyond his energetic rapping into the realm of directing.
Affiliate M.I.L.F. Mitch (named for the crew he belongs to—”M.I.L.F.” stands for “men in a line formation”) packs a similar gutter charisma to Shaboozey, replacing a bit of the latter’s manic presence with a disdain that makes otherwise expected sentiments a bit more engaging. “Don Imus” isn’t quite as immediately memorable as “Jeff Gordon,” but it’s boosted by an excellent, colorful video that adds funny, askew dimension to Mitch’s brazen rapping.
MEN$A – “Lil Jody”
Atlanta rapper MEN$A’s “Lil Jody” recalls the aura of groups like A Tribe Called Quest, Souls of Mischief, and lesser remembered contemporaries like Lords of the Underground: filtered basslines and energetic drum breaks forming a core for MEN$A’s agile rapping. A unique balance of lighthearted and incisive (the song opens with the couplet: “Juvenile delinquent/When I grow up I’ll probably have more than three kids”), “Lil Jody” gives entertaining life to the character of the struggling rapper (not necessarily the struggle rapper), effectively making light of the notion of an up-and-coming artist in large part because of MEN$A’s skill and self-awareness.
theehof – “Less Money”
A few weeks ago, someone asked me in an email what my criteria were for posting. I responded with “I look for originality in presentation,” but that’s rarely the complete list of criteria. In some instances, originality isn’t even a necessity. No sound can fit every mood, and style can certainly trump substance.
In the case of Miami’s theehof, I love his beat selection and think he’s capable of rapping his ass off. There’s not much originality to the content of his song “Less Money,” but sometimes that’s not the point. There can be enjoyment in the pure aesthetics and execution of good rap music. Not everything has to be the new Lupe Fiasco album (and actually, as great as it is, we’re better off if everything isn’t the new Lupe Fiasco album).