Tag Archives: Hip-Hop

A Guide to the “Unorthodox Flow” of Rapper Heem Stogied

Heem Stogied

The main attraction of Heem Stogied’s music is his genuinely “unorthodox flow.” The Atlanta underground rapper is a master of nested lyrical patterns, regularly rhyming eight or more bars at a time until his verses accumulate a bulletproof momentum. His voice is an instrument, with tone and inflection conveying as much emotion as his actual words, and the echoing syllabic cadences lend an extemporaneous quality to his impassioned conviction and peerless technique.

Continue reading

On His Latest LP, Donwill Takes Stock of His Career

Donwill

It’s a balmy spring afternoon in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and Donwill is taking a break between his second and third loads of laundry to chat about his new album, One Word No Space. The 12-track project brims with the sort of concept-focussed songs that characterize the rapper’s previous releases, including 2011’s Don Cusack in High Fidelity, based on the John Cusack movie name-checked in the title, and the run of albums he recorded as part of Tanya Morgan, a group whose music radiates the clear influence of Native Tongues. But this time around, the 42-year-old’s gotten more vulnerable in his songwriting, penning verses that document his journey to figure out his identity and his place in the world over soulful but sturdy production delivered by his bandmate Von Pea.

Continue reading

On “Big Shoes,” Big Tone Takes Listeners on a Journey

Big Tone

“I was becoming a father around the time we finished recording this album,” says the rapper Big Tone, talking about his latest LP Big Shoes. “What started out as a project designed to preserve the music changed its purpose. It’s not just about me any more, it’s about my family. The tone of the record reflects being in that new space in life, and the responsibility that comes along with it.”

Continue reading

MH the Verb Brings a Future Jazz Aesthetic to His Music

MH the Verb

In the music of the Philadelphia-based rapper Marcus Harris, aka MH the Verb, introspective and socially conscious lyrics occupy the same space as party-ready hooks and jazzy instrumental passages. Alongside ArtHouse95, the interstate artist collective that he co-founded in 2015, Harris has quietly amassed an impressive catalog that traverses a wide range of sound and subject matter—anthemic boom-bap jazz on 2014’s The Balloon Guide, 2017’s political and futurist epic Afronaut, and the new improvisational LP Ninja Turtle: Live From Philadelphia.

Continue reading

Lifetime Achievement: ShunGu

ShunGu

“I wouldn’t be making music if it wasn’t for J Dilla,” says ShunGu, a hip-hop producer based in Brussels whose music hooks post-Dilla beats around the head-nodding combination of woozy, melodic synths and thumping drum patterns. “For me, in hip-hop, Dilla’s like what John Coltrane is to jazz. Dilla’s choice of samples, his choice of drums—it all comes from Dilla for me.”

Continue reading

Album of the Day: Psalm One, “FLIGHT OF THE WIG”

Back in the early 2000s, Psalm One pivoted from pursuing a career as a biochemist to paying dues on Chicago’s underground hip-hop scene, eventually signing to the Rhymesayers label after Eyedea caught wind of the dexterous MC’s music. Her latest release, FLIGHT OF THE WIG, is a thoroughly modern hip-hop outing that bristles with metallic rhythms and timely socio-political quips. Recorded in Minneapolis, where Psalm One relocated in search of creative change, the project’s beats are served up by a roster of producers including Optiks, who’s previously worked with Talib Kweli and Homeboy Sandman, and fellow Twin Cities representer Icetep. Collectively, they deliver bass-heavy backdrops that smartly veer towards the minimal, allowing Psalm One’s voice ample space.

On FLIGHT OF THE WIG, the rapper tackles identity politics—”I’m knowing some legends got penises / But I’m standing right here and I pee when I sit,” she raps on “WWIV”—and, on “Rock & Roll McDonaldz,” social media (“Ignorance is bliss and ain’t no fun being Twitter woke”). These big-picture takes contrast with nuanced tales of relationship woes. On “The Impossible Lover,” she laments a tryst that doesn’t allow her to be true to herself. Her rhymes flow in a swinging, scat-like fashion, as she declares: “I love you but I need to let it be / I gotta change, it’s really killing me.” FLIGHT OF THE WIG is a poignant, punchy hip-hop record, a sharp portrait of one of hip-hop’s most emotive and incisive voices.

-Philip Mlynar

Turkey’s Hip-Hop Scene is Home to Defiant New Voices

Ethniqe Punch

Ethnique Punch

Turkey’s hip-hop scene started in the 1990s, but only recently has it begun to make inroads into the country’s mainstream. Deploying globally popular trap-inspired beats, Turkish rappers have topped streaming charts in the country, producing a fresh wave of genuinely famous artists—controversial figures like the 28-year-old MC/producer Ezhel from Ankara and Server Uraz from Istanbul. Given the country’s uncomfortable relationship with popular music—singer Selda Bağcan was imprisoned three times in the ’80s for singing banned Turkish poetry, or singing in the banned Kurdish language—the pushback from President Erdoğan’s increasingly-authoritarian regime against this new wave of mainstream rappers comes as no surprise. In May of last year, Ezhel was arrested for his lyrical content, while Server Uraz was recently sentenced to four years in prison for a similar offense (both purportedly encouraged drug use in their songs).

Continue reading

Album of the Day: Seba Kaapstad, “Thina”

Much of Thina, the new album from Seba Kaapstad, plays out like a neo-soul jam session. The South African group’s songs combine resonant piano, hip-hop beats, and spoken word passages for songs that balance liveliness with gravitas. “RFRE” opens with a quiet, deliberate piano passage, to which Ndumiso Manana and Zoe Modiga add sweeping harmonies that feel equally inspired by ’60s jazz as they do ‘90s R&B. “Breathe” is bigger, looser, and more playful, with taut, descending vocal harmonies tripping their way down crackling rhythms. “Playground” edges toward experimentalism, with ripples of electronics, a distorted beat, and stop-start construction that clears room for wobbly bands of synth.  Seba Kaapstad made Thina as a way to “use music to inspire unity and heal.” That optimism and purity extends to the music, which is clear-eyed, freewheeling, and bursting with joy.

-Shanice Brim