August’s round-up of the best new hip-hop to hit Bandcamp includes a funky superhero-themed U.S. to U.K. collaboration, emotive spoken word poetics broadcast from the Bay Area, and a project that recaps a Brooklyn MC’s rap industry ups and downs. We also spotlight a surprise album release from a profound west coast wordsmith.
DiVE is Black Milk’s most mellow and nuanced release to date. Moving on from the feisty sample chops and abrasive drum patterns that marked his breakthrough beats in the early 2000s, the Detroit MC and producer has ushered in a small cast of live musicians to help create an introspective, dusky vibe that seamlessly complements his thought-provoking raps. On hazy opening cut “Save Yourself,” Black Milk reflects on the way fake friends, drugs, fame, and money can taint the soul; the bass-saturated “Swimm” deals with family matters; the bluesy “Relate (Want 2 Know)” is hooked around the sentiment, “Let the people put you on a pedestal / Legacies live longer than legends do.” As a telling snapshot of the times, Black Milk bares his political teeth on “Don’t Say,” where the snares hit with real menace to support the rapper calling out people prepared to keep quiet in the face of racist fuckery.
Blu & Damu the Fudgemunk
Ground & Water
It’s a banner time for hip-hop projects structured around the exclusive pairing of one MC and one producer over an entire album—and this surprise release from Los Angeles rapper Blu and Washington, DC beatmaker Damu is a sterling addition to the vault. Blu is his usual enlightened self across the eight songs. On the title track, he effortlessly moves from riffing on references to trap kid Lil Pump and underground icons Company Flow to weaving in religious imagery and finishing the song in grounded terms: “I’ve gotta write a new song to a beat this week / To put my feet right back on the street, once mo’.” Mystical sounding closing cut “Grey Heaven” delves over to the spiritual side, as the MC holds a conversation with God in the face of “these final days of survival.” Throughout Ground & Water, Damu’s beats take form as intricate layers of crunchy drums and subtle melodic infusions that he tops with scratches of lyrics that mirror the content of Blu’s savvy bars.
Chali 2na & Krafty Kuts
Adventures of a Reluctant Superhero
“Way before the President had a fake tan and a bad toupee / Touché / Introduced to a like-mind individual / Now we fight crime using audio and the visual / Coming to a theater near you,” raps baritone-voiced Chali 2Na on the scene-setting intro to his full-length collaboration with U.K. beat scientist Krafty Kuts. Casting themselves as the Purple Assassin and Scratchman respectively, the MC and producer set their sights on saving the world and hip-hop across an animated project brimming with meticulously-sourced loops and a sense of humor. The lounge music vibes of the “Superhero Kit” interlude mock the average crime-fighter’s gear, while “Superheroes Anonymous” is themed around a bunch of washed-up heroes at a self-help meeting, complete with role-playing cameos from Ang 13, Dynamite MC, Mista Spyce, Harry Shotta, and Jake Detonator. The whole shebang culminates with the jubilant “Hands High,” where upbeat brags, a funky piano-propelled beat, and sharp cuts bring to mind 2Na’s old Jurassic 5 days.
Deca x Neon Brown
The Donner Party
On the liner notes for The Donner Party, rapper Deca describes his collaboration with producer Neon Brown as like “a cocktail party where the hosts run out of caviar and hors d’oeuvres and things take a dark turn.” The summation rings true. The MC’s cynical view of the modern world is backed by dusty and often static-flecked production. Rapping in a style that shares something of a similarly to Aesop Rock’s deep timbre and free association tendencies, Deca packs “War Games” with talk of a “zombie land,” populated by serpents in suits ready to launch megaton H-bombs on a public distracted by 5G smartphones. The crusty drums of “Donner Bell” prompt Deca to warn against complacent consumer culture—“If there’s a cure for the lethargy it won’t be in your self-help books”—as he tries to shake people out of their stupor and “adjust the antenna.” But it’s not all total doom and gloom: Highlight “Charlie’s Fix” is a wry concept track that tackles vinyl and music production gear obsession over a rolling, jazz-tinged backdrop.
Joell Ortiz has experienced almost every level of the music industry. The Brooklyn rapper broke through by turning street-level buzz and hand-to-hand mixtapes sales into a self-sufficient career; he also spent an unfruitful stint signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label. Reflecting on these ups and downs is a recurring theme throughout the emotive Monday. “I don’t make records that the radio be playing a lot,” Ortiz confesses on the Apollo Brown-produced “Sip Slow,” before jabbing, “I’m on the way to my spot in a Benz truck / Just bought my lady the drop.” There’s a nostalgic tint to many of the songs: The melancholic Heatmakerz-crafted title track reminisces about days when slanging mixtapes and snagging print column inches were the way to spark a rap career; “Screens” contrasts Ortiz’s childhood days to a generation tethered to smartphones. Bringing the project full circle is “Grammy,” where the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s dramatic piano loop and classic breakbeat inspire Ortiz to celebrate how he’s turned rejections and failures into the motivation to strike success: “Life turned into this story that my hands wrote / Man, I’m ’bout to world tour for the third time / All because of how crazy I made these words rhyme.”
noise kandy 3
There’s a real lyrical swing to Brooklyn rapper Rome Streetz’s voice. It’s an ear-catching inflection that comes to the fore on “Voodoo,” a standout stripped-down Sadhugold production on the third installment of the rapper’s Noise Kandy series. Backed by little more than a haunting guitar loop, the MC posts up late night on Vandervoort Ave and reports from his corner: “Been through hell and back / Felon raps / Selling packs / Fiends rip the bag open and smoke it until they melon crack / Never lack / Black MAC-11 for the devil / Trying to rise up a level / Only find me where the cheddar at.” Elsewhere across the 11-track project, Streetz’s flow captivates most impressively on the grime-sodden “Rotten.com” (which co-stars Al Divino) and the hypnotic, piano-infused beat Messiah Muzik delivers for “Seizure.” Consider noise kandy 3 a potent primer on an MC who’s fast becoming an essential new voice on the scene.
Tenesha the WordSmith
Peacocks and Other Savage Beasts
Bay Area poet Tenesha The Wordsmith has a voice that can kill you softly, whether she’s rattling off sharp political barbs or conveying family memories. On cornerstone cut “Why White Folks Can’t Call Me N*gg*,” she weaves her spell over gently pulsing, Afrofuturist-leaning production provided by Khalab: “I was raised at the intersection of Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey / The village warned the children to be careful of what they said in front of white folks so we became bi-colloquial.” Tenesha counters the patriarchal and misogynistic elements of Disney movies on “Corny Ass Poem”; builds on a recollection of accompanying her mom to the corner store to dig into her family’s history on the title track; and ponders relationships and love songs over the heady, brass-spiked backdrop of “Again.” It all adds up to an album that brilliantly channels the energy and verbal smarts of the breakthrough early-‘90s hip-hop-influenced spoken word scene heralded by poets Tracie Morris, Reg E. Gaines, and Willie Perdomo—but Tenesha updates the style in her own totally contemporary fashion.
YUNGMORPHEUS & Fumitake Tamura
This month’s most unabashedly blunted project pairs L.A. rapper YUNGMORPHEUS’s grainy-voiced rhymes with slinky, minimal production courtesy of Tokyo beatsmith Fumitake Tamura. “Last Days // Ashtrays” sets a woozy tone for the album, with synth lines sliding in and out of the mix and the MC flipping between pro-weed and anti-cop sentiments. It’s a combination YUNGMORPHEUS repeats on “Stray Thoughts,” where he goes from wondering if his phone is being tapped to venting, “I wanna see pigs dead in my lifetime / I should be on the motherfuckin’ cover of High Times.” Bonus instrumental versions of all 10 tracks round out the package, with “Stay Twistin” shining brightest by virtue of Tamura’s flip of a beloved ‘70s jazz sample.