BEST HIP-HOP The Best Hip-Hop on Bandcamp, February 2024 By Phillip Mlynar · February 28, 2024

February’s spotlight on the best new hip-hop releases to hit Bandcamp includes a Buffalo MC’s spiritually-inclined block corner parables; a Philly veteran’s rap confessionals; and a Richmond producer’s journey into the soul of hip-hop music. We also dig into a jazz-centric project themed around the magic mid-tempo number of 74 beats per minute.

Che Noir
The Color Chocolate Vol. 1

Merch for this release:
Sweater/Hoodie, T-Shirt/Shirt

At the start of Che Noir‘sThe Color Chocolate Vol. 1, the Buffalo lyricist drops a series of lines that capture her ability to infuse street-savvy observations with spiritual overtones: “I been through hell, had an angel throwing me ice/ A free thinker, but a rich man sold you advice,” Noir raps on opener “Peaches & Herb” over the sort of bittersweet, soul-centric backdrop that has become her home turf. “Heard it cost to be a boss, well I tell ‘em show me the price/ You can always tell what’s real when exposed to the light.” Noir gets an assist from solid features throughout: ICECOLDBISHOP brings an agitated presence to the ‘80s synth attack of “Greek Scholar”; heavyweight spitter Ransom drops bars about money and religion on “Peaches & Herb”; and Evidence and Your Old Droog get nostalgic about school days on standout “Junior High,” with the latter MC reveling in his role as “a hero to all the weirdos and the anti-social.”

Coke Bumaye
They told us this was love… but are we really sure?

On “TRAUMA BONDS,” which arrives at the midpoint of Coke Bumaye’s They told us this was love… but are we really sure?, the MC and producer explores the simmering resentment and distrust that low self-esteem can bring to a relationship. “It’s like the rent’s due, the light’s due/ Don’t wanna spite you/ I scuffle with the world then come home and have to fight you/ It’s draining me/ So I respond so angrily/ Need you to be proud and all the while you’s ashamed of me,” Bumaye confesses over clipped snares and teary-eyed piano. (The track also boasts R&B-influenced production touches from Charles Palmer.) Bumaye’s relationship struggles form the heart of this soul-leaning release, but the album also finds room for the motivational “I NEED YOU HERE NOW” and the wistful “50 CENT VS JARULE (RAP BEEF),” where the MC engages in smart wordplay inspired by revisiting a classic hip-hop beef from the early ‘00s.

CRIMEAPPLE & Preservation
El León

El León is the first installment in a planned trilogy of collaborations between New Jersey MC CRIMEAPPLE and New York producer Preservation. “If I’m too quiet for your taste then I don’t care/ You must not be familiar with Voltaire,” the MC shrugs on the album’s title track, over the sort of bluesy piano loop that recalls the casual swagger of Kool G Rap’s “Ill Street Blues.” Across El León, CRIMEAPPLE’s contraband-rooted fables are spiked with moments of rumination, like on “Camino Solitario,” where the MC peers into the mirror to try and make sense of the demons that have consumed him. The plaintive guitar that carries “Bulevar” inspires CRIMEAPPLE to journey back to his hardscrabble days growing up in squalor. And adding a sense of East Coast heritage to the LP, Brand Nubian MC Sadat X brings his gravitas to the rousing, brass-heavy “Don’t Mention It.”

Duncecap
Pay Or Dispute

Next up from the mighty Backwoodz Studioz comes Duncecap, an MC and producer whose latest LP offers a modern portrait of New York City life. There’s an amiable appeal to the MC’s writing, which cuts introspective monologues with self-deprecating humor. “Swiping on dating apps on Thanksgiving like we could have a family,” Duncecap recalls on “Thanksgiving”; it’s not long before he’s doom-scrolling his way into existential panic above deliciously woozy synths. On “Am I Cool Yet?” the MC tempers a hangover with black coffee, and drops a string of charmingly scattershot quick-fire couplets: “Do crafts with glue guns/ I say things you can chew on/ Learn slang from new songs/ Anxious with the news on.” The firebrand duo of Curly Castro and PremRock—aka ShrapKnel—light up the murmuring digi-funk of “Ambitious,” while album closer “Boundaries” brings together Denmark Vessey and Googie over a mélange of kooky cartoon loops.

IAMGAWD & Clypto
Bloodstained Suede II

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP, Vinyl

Chicago spitter IAMGAWD has been steadily building a reputation as one of deadliest MCs in the game. Reunited with California beatmaker Clypto, the duo’s sequel to last year’s Bloodstained Suede opens with a dose of high impact hip-hop. “It’s a problem for every rapper breathing when GAWD focused/ They all hopeless/ I flow the dopest and y’all know this,” the MC raps with brawny finesse on the title track, sounding charged-up amidst amplified production carried by wailing electric guitar. “Creative thoughts mixed with shit I witnessed in these heinous parts/ Verbal images burning villages when the flame is sparked.” Clypto’s behind-the-boards work frequently dwells in deliciously melancholy territory, exemplified by deft use of the heart-rending ‘70s soul sample that inspires the MC’s cautionary narrative on “Must Go On.”

Kemastry X Jazz T
A Delusional Guide for the Disillusioned

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

A Delusional Guide for the Disillusioned explores the idea of politicized population control. Produced by UK stalwart Jazz T, the EP opens with the brooding “Mind Control,” where a slow-motion backdrop of thudding drums and smoggy keys hangs behind sampled vocals sketching out the shadowy agenda: “A mass psychosis can result when a population of weak and vulnerable individuals is driven into a state of panic by threats real, imagined or fabricated.” On “Delusional,” Kemastry sets out to storm Scotland Yard police headquarters while dodging forked-tongued characters; on “Apocalyptic Flows,” he revels in his role “shouting over ambient music while the world ends” over slow-dripping piano notes. The EP comes packaged with instrumental takes of all five cuts, including the mellow respite of closer “Stay Grounded.”

Ohbliv
Life Infinite

Life Infinite is an exploration of hip-hop’s musical soul. Richmond producer Ohbliv employs a gentle pitter-patter of percussion to soothing effect on “Snake Charmer,” while “Spin And Step” is all zesty ’80s R&B synth work, and “Made” is an airy dose of future-soul underscored by purring bass. During the first half of the eight-track EP, there’s a palpable sense of nostalgia, but the project climaxes with a deft demonstration of Ohbliv’s ability to embrace an open-minded musical sensibility. On “Miracle Maker,” organic-sounding drum & bass rhythms mingle with strings in a style that recalls 4hero‘s pioneering late ’90s forays, while final cut “Synergistic” relies on a combination of mellow Tropicália guitar lines and broken-beat percussion, bringing Life Infinite to an optimistic end.

Ol’ Burger Beats
74: Out of Time

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Vinyl, Cassette, , T-Shirt/Shirt, Sweater/Hoodie, Hat, Bag

74: Out of Time is an extended ode to the specific charms of hip-hop production that bobs along at a rate of 74 beats per minute. Crafted by Oslo-based beatmaker and crate-digger Ol’ Burger Beats, the project is hypnotic and jazz-y; over staticky loops, an impressive roster of guest MCs channel the world-wise side of their songwriting. Early on, Pink Siifu lights up “Running,” Quelle Chris slinks through the dusky atmosphere of “The Last Of Us,” and YUNGMORPHEUS blesses “Peace” with ruminations on the way that fate can impact a person’s life. Ol’ Burger Beats’s sample-centric production is enhanced by select infusions of live instruments, including saxophone, flute, and trombone, bringing an appropriately warm and weathered texture to the LP.

Reef The Lost Cauze
The Triumphant

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP, T-Shirt/Shirt

Philadelphia MC Reef The Lost Cauze’s latest solo album is full of sharp bars that express humble sentiments about entering middle age. It’s a lyrical agenda the battle rap graduate sets out on album-opener “Eulogy” where, over a blanket of hushed organ and bluesy electric guitar, Reef wonders if you realize when you’ve veered from a dream, before ragging on those “inside all day screaming at screens.” Album highlights include “Fences,” a raw and harrowing commentary on growing up with a physically abusive parent; “In Dreams,” which explores religion, superstition and self-motivation; and “Tangerine,” which fuses metaphysics with MC braggadocio. Taking an earnest look at the relationship between a hip-hop artist’s ego and their dwindling creative inspiration, late-album cut “All Be Over” summarizes the mood of The Triumphant: “I still do music but that’s because I love it/ I still have a dream, I just had to readjust it/ So as long as the world turns/ I’ll be going out on my own feet on my own terms.”

Sunya Morikawa x Apo
NEK098: Ruroni Ronin

Merch for this release:
Cassette

NEK098: Ruroni Ronin project begins with a series of questions posed by Sunya Morikawa, the Ontario MC who’s also a co-founder of the Revolt Motion activist collective. “Are you still a kid inside or are you a youth that’s mired by these adulterous times?/ Are you kidding?/ Do you think that I am when I tell you that we’re living the greatest genocide in history?” That same mix of poetic, politicized bars peppered with existential asides repeats throughout the project, which is sequenced to play out like a single 19-minute tape, complete with ambient bird sounds that act as a segue between songs. Behind the boards, Danish beat wizard Apo complements the host MC’s free-form adventures, serving up a series of hip-hop dreamscapes built on classic drum breaks and topped with honeyed swaths of melody. On “(r)evolution,” Morikawa takes shots at corporate globalization and monarchies, before signing off with steely determination: “Nevermore shall any of these liars prosper or live in this era of time—I promise.” (Bonus beats: The cassette version of the release contains instrumental takes of all eight Apo productions that are unavailable elsewhere.)

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