5 On It is a feature that looks at five of the best under-the-radar rap findings from the past two weeks, highlighting new or recently discovered artists, or interesting obscurities.
Sir Astro – “ALEXIS SILVER”
Though seemingly infinite rap varietals exist in the murky depths of Soundcloud (to say nothing of the real world happening beyond the bounds of the internet), one that doesn’t often rear its head: porn rap. A market mostly cornered by Kool Keith, Necro, and Non Phixion (the seminal underground trio headed by Necro’s brother Ill Bill), porn rap made most explicit hip-hop seem practically Christian by comparison (Cage, The Smut Peddlers, Louis Logic, and a few others also dipped a toe in this KY Jelly-filled pool).
Necro wrote songs like “All Hotties Eat the Jizz,” “Get on Your Knees,” “We Fuck Virgins,” albums such as The Sexorcist, and even released his own pornographic videos. Kool Keith put out an album called Sex Style, which should have cleared up any lingering confusion about his particular hobbies from his time spent rapping about being an intergalactic gynecologist.
Sir Astro’s “ALEXIS SILVER” (an ever so subtle nod to the adult star) is a song about fucking. Lots of fucking. There’s not really much more to it than that. It’s well done for what it is, entertainingly salacious and a welcome throwback for an underground rap completist (There’s even a sound in the beat reminiscent of the high pitched alien synthesizer whooshing past in Non Phixion’s “The Future Is Now,” which is more about conspiracies and a dystopian future than fucking, but still lives adjacent to the porn rap canon).
Javon Johnson – Windows Media Player
This spring is a lot different than it was last year because I now realize that I’ve survived.
Just over a year ago, Houston rapper Javon Johnson first appeared in 5 On It. His unique brand of tensely coiled, measured rapping opened a window into a life story in which every tribulation seemed to out do the last—abuse as a youth giving way to homelessness as a young adult, underpinned all the while by a battle to maintain sanity and build a stable life out of constantly shifting pieces.
Johnson channeled his pain and intense observation into almost every line, colliding tales of Houston gangs, nights spent on park benches, and socio-political commentary with intense psychological exploration and anguish.
Johnson’s journey continues on new EP Windows Media Player. Extending the sonic bedrock of previous EP’s, Johnson continues to weave personal narrative with external observation, a spectre floating through the lives of others attempting to make sense of his own haunting. Windows Media Player is perhaps Johnson’s most strictly narrative project, presenting a loose timeline from late teenage years through young adulthood.
The EP comes to a head on penultimate song “A Story About A Hustler,” a throwback to the type of grim, inglorious street tales rappers like Scarface and Ice T executed with chilling excellence and vitality in bygone eras.
“Windows Media Player is my mother’s Dell computer from 2002,” says Johnson of the project’s inspiration. “My life inside of the software. Each song represents a different chapter of me or a lot of things that I’ve witnessed. Besides…I feel like people forget about how important that software was. It changed my life…Taught me a lot about song credits and the whole nine. It’s everything I know about life and music blended.”
Dez – business as usual
L.A.-based rapper Dez delivered one of the stand-outs from 2015’s 5 On It class, “noose.”—an affecting exploration of mortality that posed him as an old soul, turning a keen eye to his surroundings, his peers, and his own flaws in a quest to make sense of our time on earth. Heady stuff on paper, but in practice Dez’s honesty gave emotional weight to “noose.”—it’s a quarter life crisis rooted in real existential questions, not in the groan-worthy reflection of the Thought Catalog generation.
On business as usual, Dez uses his razor writing to pump blood into a variety of well-worn topics—religion, Los Angeles and its surroundings, achieving your potential, weed, and being a creative loner all take on entertaining life in Dez’s able charge. Like “noose.,” business as usual succeeds in its execution. It’s a brief window into Dez’s daily life, but one that further showcases his particular gifts as rapper.
Quarter Key and Black Cherub – “Party Pack”
So much rap on the internet has grand aspirations—either expressed in forced mirages of drugs and luxury, or otherwise codified in self-serious I-am-an-artist-and-I-make-art-and-therefore-it’s-important posturing. These circles (not necessarily mutually exclusive) tend to make rap impersonal, un-fun, homogenous, or simply tone deaf to climate and needs, whether the needs of the marketplace or the hunger of listeners hoping for something more than what’s out there.
Sometimes rap succeeds most when its casual, when it stays small and sheds aspirationalism for honesty in style and substance.
Black Cherub and Quarter Key’s “Party Pack” sounds like a stoned exercise in rapping from two friends who got baked and decided to see if they could out rap each other before melting into a couch. It alternates between lackadaisical and sharp, clever all the while and filled with personal detail. It doesn’t want to be more than it is, content to float for three and a half enjoyable minutes before fading out.
Zarin Micheal – “Best Friend”
If we broke down all of categories of rappers featured in 5 On It over the past two years, one of the most prevalent would be the rapper who raps very well, but doesn’t necessarily have things to rap very well about yet.
Add Kansas City, Missouri rapper Zarin Micheal to the list. It’s hard to blame him—he’s 17 years old. Some 17-year-olds have lived a thousand lives, but most have hardly had enough time on earth yet to have their hearts broken, to fail at a dream and then rebuild, to travel, to grapple with mortality—to do many of the things that sprinkle the seasoning of lived experience across songs.
Micheal’s “Best Friend” showcases a dynamic rapper boasting of his confidence, talking about money, and current doubters regretting the fact that they’re not on the bandwagon early. Familiar topics to be sure, but Michael’s charisma and technical gifts make it worth sitting through a show you’ve probably seen before. His flow and intonation bear hints of Drake (and briefly A$AP Rocky), but he shines most when rhymes come in waves, like the deluge unleashed at 2:20, a flurry of syllables that seems to dance through the beat’s rhythms of its own accord.
“Best Friend” feels like the tip of the iceberg for a talented rapper to watch. The next step is telling his story with detail worthy of his polished craft.