March’s most vital new hip-hop projects on Bandcamp include an Afro-Chicano MC’s coming-of-age story set to by sweet soul samples, a hardcore Nottingham-to-New York collaboration inspired by Chekhov’s gun theory, and a svelte EP from a Chicago rapper that drops feisty commentary on identity politics. We also spotlight the latest rap figure to represent the increasingly vibrant scene in Rochester.
Blu and Oh No
A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night
Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, 2 x Vinyl LP, Vinyl
Since blessing the world with 2007’s Below The Heavens, Blu has prospered as a smart and insightful rap storyteller. His latest full-length project, produced by Madlib’s younger brother Oh No, imagines the MC’s native Los Angeles as a scenic, inspirational stalking ground. The gritty, snare-powered “The Lost Angels Anthem” sets a dramatic tone for the album through the use of an ominous vibraphone riff and a chorus that culminates in Blu warning that out-of-towners “better watch your chain.” Elsewhere, on “Liquor Store,” Blu showcases his inventive approach to relaying sentimental rap tales by evoking The Firm’s Dr. Dre-produced “Phone Tap,” with the host punching in and out of conversations with guests Donel Smokes and Ca$hus King. It all adds up to a super fresh West Coast rap outing.
Rob Cave and the Other Guys
Compact Disc (CD)
Last time we checked in with The Other Guys, the DMV production duo were laying down beats for Tanya Morgan rapper Von Pea’s I’m Good Luv, Enjoy. This time around, they’ve teamed with Brooklyn wordsmith Rob Cave for a seven-song project characterized by rugged, snapping drums and woozy melodic touches—a combination best exemplified by the spacey synth textures woven into “Smoke Something” and “Only Your Opinion Matters.” For a snapshot of Cave’s cocksure but worldly lyrical scope, check out “Accidentally On Purpose,” where he attempts to parse out out the relationship between fate and self-determination, ultimately vowing, “We all got purpose / No rabbit’s foot, no four leaf clover / No horoscopes, just focus.”
Choosey & Exile
2 x Vinyl LP,
You’d be hard-pressed to come across a more soulfully-produced album than Black Beans, a collaboration between San Diego MC Choosey and beatmaker extraordinaire Exile. Complementing Choosey’s autobiographical raps, kicked from his Afro-Chicano perspective, Exile mines from a stash of sun-kissed soul and oldies records. Standouts include “No Routine,” where Choosey tells back-in-the-day stories over a warm ‘60s Chicano soul loop, and “I Did,” which is hooked around a bittersweet sample source and the rapper revisiting the ups and downs of his formative years. Closing the album on a sweet, nostalgic note, “Familia” celebrates the resourcefulness and resilience with which Choosey’s parents steered the family through hardscrabble times, saluting his mom and pops as “meal magicians” who “made something out of nothing with an oven mitten.”
Fans with sharp memories might remember Audessey from his role in the creative Atlanta indie crew Mass Influence back in the late-’90s, before he teamed up with Ninja Tune producer Jonny Cuba to form Soundsci. Now operating under the guise of Jack Jones, The Fix adds a new cast of collaborators to the MC’s resume that includes Prince Po, Supastition, and Eddie Meeks. Encapsulating the vibe of the album, early jump-off track “Jack Jones” fuses a funky, psych-tinged beat with the rapper’s polished flow and nods to BDP’s golden era anthem “Jack Of Spades.” Bringing a soulful touch to the proceedings, the vibraphone-infused “In Rewind” adds rousing vocals from Deborah Jordan to verses about the importance of learning from mistakes in order to “emerge from the darkness with a sense and a purpose.”
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Last Sons consist of MC Duke01 and DJ Furious P, who hail from Nottingham in the U.K. For Chekhov’s Gun, they’ve tapped into the production talents of New York City scene staple Uncommon Nasa to produce a heavy mental underground experience. Over the thick, dystopian ambience of introductory track “Dope Springs Eternal,” Duke01 compares his rap style to like “wild style burners” before the album builds with rampant ferocity: “Megaton Test” assaults the synapses with spiky scratches, “Welcome To Corporatonia” depicts an oppressive sci-fi future, and the title track snarls with deep murmuring guitars and sinister snatches of piano. If the intensity of the Bomb Squad’s sonic walls of noise mixed with the futuristic bent of Cannibal Ox lyrics sounds appealing, investigate Chekhov’s Gun.
M.A.V. x Hobgoblin
Angelz and Demonz
Compact Disc (CD)
Following top notch releases from Eto and 38 Spesh, heavyweight rhyme slinger M.A.V. is the latest to push home Rochester, NY’s rap credentials. Backed by noir Hobgoblin beat creations brimming with maudlin minor key loops, the MC from the DaCloth clique runs the gamut of street-level rap scenarios, asserting his rep on the moody opener “Resume” and confessing a thug’s lament on the bluesy “Half Empty.” Solidifying connections across the modern underground rap scene, “Shark Week” features Tragic Allies member Estee Nack joining up to help M.A.V. devour a track spiked with spine-chilling percussion.
Don’t Get Lazy Now!
Don’t Get Lazy Now! is a punchy three-track EP that stars veteran South Side Chicago spitter Psalm One tackling topics in her patented no-holds-barred fashion. The production, which is handled by Optiks, zips around to keep the vibe fresh: The abrasive, stripped-down “Non-Binary” hosts verses about identity politics; the hyphy-style bass tones of “Thick Thighs Save Lives” are paired with sentiments about learning to love your own body; and “Kolorblind Ambrosia” is all defiant soul topped with Psalm One delivering a lambasting to people who “don’t see color”: “Yeah, yeah, you color blind / Well I don’t have that luxury when it’s my color that’s fuckin’ dying.”
Following last 2018’s Everything’s Fine collabo with Jean Grae—which snagged Bandcamp’s best album of the year accolade—the unceasingly creative Brooklyn-via-Detroit MC and producer Quelle Chris returns with a bold new concept album unpacking how everyday people weaponize everyday objects and attitudes against those around them. “Kelly lit her school up like it’s 4th of July / Where she from them 22s more patriotic than pie,” observes Quelle on the title track, going on to lace the warped funk of “It’s The Law” with lines underscoring how religion and patriotism feed into the festering: “Another tongue-in-cheek ode to democracy / To help normalize the day to day atrocities.” Guest commentary from Denmark Vessey, Mach Hommy, and Jean Grae round out this intricately-layered project, an early shoe-in for 2019’s best-of lists.
billy woods & Kenny Segal
As one half of Armand Hammer, billy woods’s commanding bark is often heard battling a brilliant cacophony of willfully discordant beats. But this collaboration with Kenny Segal—whose production has most recently been heard backing Milo’s breezy poetics—is a lesson in granting an MC’s voice room to breathe. The extra sonic space places woods’s sardonic streak center stage: Over the woozy fuzz of “spider hole,” he raps, “I don’t wanna go see Nas with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall/No man of the people—I wouldn’t be caught dead with most of y’all.” Naturally, woods also delivers a healthy dose of grimly mocking political commentary across the project, like on the forbidding “bigfakelaugh,” where he updates a classic Public Enemy lyric to vent, “I got a letter from my insurer the other day/ I opened and read it/ Said the treatment wasn’t covered/ Turned to the family like, I guess just forget it.” Then comes the dour punchline: “Big fake laugh.”