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: Medhane – “Apartment 2A”
Brooklyn rapper Medhane’s greatest current strength as an artist is a palpable sense of purpose. Each word sounds like the product of concerted effort and choice, attempts to express inner monologue with precision even when that might come at the cost of elegance.
New single “Apartment 2A” feels like a step forward from Medhane’s last appearance on P&P, “ALFI,” increasing the ambition while maintaining the intense inward gaze that made the latter compelling. The hook—on which he shout-rap’s “everyday is the best day of my life” with increasing intensity—sees Medhane capturing a vein-popping intensity that feels of a piece with some of Saul Williams’ darker moments, adding angry irony to positive words and an introspective performance woven across the shifting, jazzy instrumental.
Bankie iZ – “MR. HOWL”
Charisma is one of the pillars of great rapping you can’t force on an artist. It can be learned by observation and repetition, it can be groomed, but often it’s an amorphous, autonomous quality. Even in an age of infinite information when we can analyze things within an inch of their life, intangible energy still accounts for so much of what attracts us to the music and artists we love.
When I first loaded up Bankie iZ’s “MR. HOWL” late last Sunday night—following a long, Fatburger and faulty GPS-delayed trip from Coachella back to L.A.—I attributed a state of hypnosis to my exhaustion and the song’s choir-sampling beat. As I let it run, Bankie’s sharp flow perked up my ears, alerting me to shades of that hard-to-define charisma in his voice—the changes in inflection, the pronunciation of certain words, the brief forays into melody, the turn mid-way through that replaces bragging with flashes of harrowing honesty. It’s difficult to grasp precisely what makes Bankie compelling, but a certain “it” factor shines through on “MR. HOWL.”
RobOlu – “The Epilogue”
I trust Kevin Abstract. A lot. So much so that I gave him the reigns to his own 5 On It. The first entry in it was Atlanta rapper RobOlu, who Kevin described as “a mix between Robb Banks & Tyler, The Creator. I would imagine this is wild at a show.”
A few weeks back, RobOlu hit my inbox with “The Epilogue” and a reminder that he’d been featured by Kevin some months back. No other context necessary.
As one of my favorite rappers of the last two years wrote on my office wall when he came to visit me last year: “Do more drugs.” “The Epilogue” is a soundtrack for your drug trip of choice; RobOlu busts the door wide open for all but hallucinogens with the song’s first lines: “I been off that Adderall/Codeine, a Xan, and some alcohol”—what he doesn’t cover, the eye-bleeding, seizure-level visuals more than make up for. RobOlu has the sinister energy and charisma (a theme this week) to venture into well-worn territory without making it feel like he’s tracing the steps of others.
Frank Lion – “Shadows”
Frank Lion’s “Shadows” sounds like Lil B covering Underground Vol. 1-era Three 6 Mafia. It’s exactly the sort of fascinating, certainly-not-for-everyone crossroads of Internet-spurred influences that I love discovering for 5 On It. Songs like “Shadows” flatten time in a way peculiar to hip-hop, but more specifically to an era of hip-hop where the history of recorded music is almost entirely available regardless of your geographic confines. “Shadows” is the present encompassing the past and probably suggesting little bits of the future, as rappers continue to find new ways to apply the teachings of the Based God.
So…basically…time doesn’t exist.
What did Pell say above about doing drugs?
Oh yeah: Do more drugs.
Abrax Phaeton – ☁ #THUGLIFE ☁
Many listeners are discovering El-P for the first time through his career rebirth as half of Run The Jewels—the duo’s blistering blend of politics, shit-talking, and diabolical glee leading to the sort of creative (and quietly commercial) resurgence that isn’t supposed to happen to rappers in their 40s, previously decorated or otherwise.
My love of El-P and Definitive Jux, the label he co-founded and captained for just over a decade, began around 2002 when I discovered his seminal rap group Company Flow, their lone album Funcrusher Plus, and his first solo album Fantastic Damage. Both albums are typically celebrated for their claustrophobic, dystopian takes on the boom-bap that raised El-P, ’80s influences filtered through the brutal, broken prism of an artist reacting to the increased commercialization of hip-hop.
Two of the standouts from those albums are also two of the most personal moments in El-P’s catalog, Funcrusher‘s “Last Good Sleep” and Fantastic Damage‘s “Stepfather Factory.” Both songs deal with El-P’s abusive stepfather, difficult to listen to in their rawness and honest rage.
“Last Good Sleep” and “Stepfather Factory” feel like the genesis of rapper Abrax Phaeton’s ☁ #THUGLIFE ☁ (a curious title which almost turned me off from listening to this project entirely, but makes more sense when you discover that it’s an acronym for “THE HATE U GIVE LITTLE INFANTS FUCKS EVERYTHING”), a four song EP that he describes as “a child’s perspective growing up in a dysfunctional family and how it effects him and his daily activities.” It’s an intriguing listen if for no other reason than the fact that these topics are rarely broached in hip-hop. ☁ #THUGLIFE ☁ feels at least lightly indebted to the sound of Definitive Jux and its era (particularly EP standout “Saturday Morning Cartoons & Domestic Disputse”). A project that won’t be for everyone, but one well-worth exploring for those who don’t mind a bit of discomfort.