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.
Phil The God – “Broad Day”
This past March, I made my first pilgrimage to Austin, Texas for SXSW. I ate barbecue. I drank beer. I collected a lot of wristbands that amounted to little in most cases (because looking and acting like you belong is usually a better strategy than actually belonging). I watched the birth of Brockhampton. I saw a strange, late night Iggy Azalea set. Alexander Spit slept on my hotel room floor.
Through it all, the most memorable moment was an unplanned, scene-stealing performance at Pigeons and Planes’ Texas edition of No Ceilings by Philadelphia rapper/director Phil the God. In between sets, Phil did on stage what so many of us aspiring superstar DJs drunkenly do at house parties: He stole the aux chord.
No one seemed to know what was going on. No one seemed to know who he was. Anyone within earshot was almost immediately won over (if perhaps a bit perplexed). It felt like a moment of genuine inspiration and intrigue at a festival that so often felt corporate and controlled—fun, but sponsored fun.
On new project Son Of Man, “Outbreak” remains the standout, but Phil flexes his versatility, a raw talent occasionally crafting truly compelling moments like “Broad Day,” a song simultaneously mournful and detached. It’s as nuanced and pained a response to embattled America as rap has produced in the past year (with the exception of Kendrick’s large-looming album and skipp coon’s far less known but no less intelligent and impassioned album Miles Garvey).
As a bonus, here’s “Outbreak” because it’s a fucking Saturday and you should probably be out causing trouble instead of reading about rap music on the Internet.
Akoko – “Front To Back”
Washington, D.C. duo Akoko’s “Front To Back” sounds like a seed planted on a pre-2010 Diplo mixtape—like Rye Rye’s cousins all grown up, slightly more mature (and even moderately socially aware) without losing their riotous, basement party edge. “Front To Back” is cut from the same cloth as dead prez’s classic “Hip-Hop”: A song that lures you in with its beat, but begs closer listens to its lyrics.
Duke Da Beast – “Ron Barceló”
Duke Da Beast’s video for his song “Ron Barceló” is mislabeled “Ron Barcello.”
“Ron Barcello” forced me to Google “Ron Barcello.” Because I took French and German instead of Spanish, my unrefined brain didn’t realize that “ron” means “rum” and that “Ron Barcello” is not some guy for whom Duke Da Beast’s drink of choice is named (or that “Barcello” is a slight misspelling of “Barceló,” the rum’s actual name). Part of me wishes there was an actual Ron Barcello who named his distilled liquor of choice after himself years ago and thought “someday, if all goes according to plan, I will be immortalized in a lo-fi rap video by a rapper from Chicago who drinks my rum because, god damn it, my rum is the best rum.”
In short: I’m a dumbass.
The song? It’s awesome, a booming ode to getting fucked up (shocker) that sounds like it samples a few seconds of a ghost popping out of one of those musical Halloween cards. Duke’s energy rises to match the tall task of making yet another song about drugs, drinking, and generally being the man enjoyable.
theWHOevers – “Sideways”
Chicago duo theWHOevers’ “Sideways” succeeds largely on feel—airy pads, warm bass, and swung drums tastefully plucked from the sea of Soundcloud sound-alikes.
“Sideways” is the strongest entry from the group yet, at its best when the duo raps melodically, focusing less on attempted verbal pyrotechnics and more on the emotional core that a beat like this inspires (and a reminder, albeit one that should be unnecessary, that melodic rapping need not purely be a technique for engineering pop hits or Drake knockoffs).
Dewy Sinatra – “Bubble”
London rapper Dewy Sinatra’s “Bubble” sounds like a British relative of L.A.’s beat scene and its affiliated crews (most notably Brainfeeder and cornerstone label Stones Throw). Over subtle, densely layered synths, Sinatra spins half-sung rhymes from the brain of a loner, life lived with headphones and inner thoughts as a defense against the outside world. It’s a theme that feels of piece with the outsider sentiments at the heart of so much of the best music cut from this cloth.
As an added bonus this week, check out legendary producer RJD2 talking about the making of his song “Games You Can Win” on the podcast Song Exploder, a short show that takes a peels the curtain back on the creation of certain songs. While “Games You Can Win” (and much of RJD2’s post-Definitive Jux output) isn’t strictly hip-hop per se, if you listen you’ll see that the DNA of hip-hop production is always close at hand for RJ.