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.
Since joining the Pigeons & Planes staff, I always felt like my closest parallel in terms of taste was Jon Tanners. In fact, he represented a lot of what I aspired to be as a writer upon joining the team, so when he asked me take over 5 On It for the instalment due to go up during SXSW, the suppressed fangirl in me screamed internally a little bit.
It’s a feature that’s personally helped me discover some of the most exciting new artists over the past year it’s been going, and getting the chance to write for my favorite recurring feature going right now is pretty much an honor. Here’s to a year of under-the-radar rap.
Mari – “Birth of a City”
Chicago is easily one of the most important cities in hip-hop, but this isn’t exactly news to anyone. From chipmunk soul to drill music, the city has pretty much always been on the cutting edge of rap music. It only seems fitting, then, that a tribute to one of hip-hop’s most important cities and richest cultural pocket of the past fifteen or so years. Mari’s “Birth of a City” lives and breathes Chicago, referencing not only the city itself but some of the most important tracks and artists to come out of the city pretty much every other bar.
His love for the city is very real, and this comes through sincerely in both the video and the song. There’s no better starting place than making your own city proud, and “Birth of a City” certainly does that in spite its short running time. Chicago deserves all the love it gets, and it deserves someone like Mari to do it justice, too.
Dylan Brady – “Little Bando”
When I was talking to Nok from the Future not too long ago, he casually mentioned his friend Dylan Brady in passing. I didn’t think much of it at first because at no point was his music shoved down my throat, but I quickly remembered something Tanners so poignantly pointed out: when a rapper you like recommends music to you, you listen. Despite sharing a few sonic similarities with Nok, especially on his savage “Gold Teeth,” Dylan’s music is in its own world entirely.
Look past the internet-friendly exterior and it’s evident that what Dylan is doing with his music is remarkably accessible and yet delightfully avant-garde at the same time. With “Little Bando” Dylan has found himself, or at the very least, shown us what is he’s truly capable of. Blending the best of weirdo hip-hop and weirdo pop, sounding a little something like Silent Shout-era The Knife combined with Young Thug alongside a hint of Yung Lean, Dylan’s sound really does defy categorization and any semblance of norms.
Taking every influence conceivable and throwing it into a theoretical blender rarely works, but somehow Dylan makes it look achievable, if not easy.
Cyrax – “I Like”
There’s no shortage of rappers paying tribute to Mortal Kombat, but it feels like Cyrax’s approach goes a little further than a simple tip of the hat to one of the most recognisable characters from the series. His hypnotic cadence on “I Like” isn’t all that dissimilar to Lil B at his most condensed and based, mimicking the mesmerizing hold Mortal Kombat had on so many of us growing up. It might seem like a weird comparison to make, but “I Like” sounds like Cyrax on auto-pilot in the best way possible akin to pulling off an effortless combo.
Call me stupid if you want but “I Like” is just one long fatality, as if a low-key braggadocio that feels no need to do anything flashy. It’s kind of like showing off without feeling the need to prove something, providing very little beyond a catchy melody. But you know what? That’s all it really needs.
Mewlips – “H8”
As someone that’s always been into old-school emo, my appreciation for those strange but immensely appealing spoken word tracks so many artists in the genre seem to make is pretty high. Mewlips kind of takes the concept of those very particular tracks, adds a modern hip-hop influence, and expands it into a whole project. Initially introduced to his music through his work with Ten Diamonds, who even makes an appearance on this EP with a slick hook, there’s a thread between the two artists that seems to stem from their knack for creating something truly original.
His rapping never really offers anything more than storytelling or poetic pondering, but Mewlips’ H8 EP isn’t exactly about bars or contemporary beats. This is mood music for a mood that can’t be described any better than nostalgia and rainy windows: it’s depressive but it’s also strangely optimistic. Mewlips’ singular brand of happysad may have its limits, but there really isn’t anything else quite as surreal yet so indebted to real feelings as his idiosyncratic aesthetic.
Lund – “MJ”
Few artists sound quite as polished as Lund does without any promo pictures. Every release of his is accompanied by a simple, low-poly model of a skeleton, and yet he’s making music that could easily find its way in DJ set alongside DJ Mustard-produced bangers. Obviously it’s not that big of a deal or anything, but it feels like Lund isn’t quite ready for the prime-time just yet, even if his music could very well find itself competing in a bigger space in the nearby future.
His lyrics might not be the most wildly original ever heard, but his punchy production and surprisingly smooth vocals more than make up for that. Listening to all of the tracks on his Soundcloud, “MJ” in particular, it’s like peering in on an artist on the cusp of perfecting themselves musically. He might not quite be there yet, but at the rate he’s going there’s no doubt he’ll be reaching the heights he so frequently hints at reaching relatively soon.