In these early parts of the year I’ve been making an effort to backtrack my listening a little bit and spend some time with projects I missed out on in 2017. I thought last year was a particularly strong 12 months for rap, especially on the underground scene, so I came up with a short list of a 5 albums that I highly recommend all hip-hop fans to check out if you haven’t already.
Lou the Human – Humaniac
I recently came across the debut mixtape of New York’s Lou the Human, Humaniac. He plays the character of a young hip-hop schizo on an east coast tip. His debut is coated in grimy production, tight rhyme schemes and sinister meditations that are Slim Shady esque. Some may write him off for the fact that we’ve heard this style done before, but either way you look at it, the dude has bars. People said the same thing about Joey Bada$$ and 1999. “Lou’s Dead” and “Brink” are my favorite cuts. Shock value doesn’t last, but I think Lou’s skills will translate into another great project soon.
Quelle Chris – Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often
Quelle Chris is one of a kind. His rhyme style finds a balance between introspective, clever and downright silly. His latest release is an expressive display of rap skills and honest self-reflection. A bunch of his buddies come along for the ride too, making for some awesome collaborations (“Fascinating Grass” and “Pendulum Swing”). Despite it being a little long, the record has a pretty cohesive feel, making it easy to listen to; Chris is also a deceptively good storyteller, which only adds to the enjoyment of this album. To top it off, the instrumentals are pretty quirky and fun, even when they take a grimier direction. Add another solid project to the Mello Music Group archives.
Uncommon Nasa – Written At Night
Continuing the trend of underground albums on this list, Uncommon Nasa’s latest effort, Written at Night, is one I just wasn’t able to spend enough time with at the end of last year. Now that I’ve sat with it for a while, I’ve really been able to soak up how creative and cleverly assembled this project is, both lyrically and instrumentally. There’s so many points in the production, like the dwindling electronic effects on “Small Change (It’s 2AM)” or the eerie bass line on “Looking Back (It’s 3AM)”, that give the record a uniquely abstract feel. Salute to Uncommon Nasa for making one of the rawest hip-hop albums of the year, and damn – that Open Mike Eagle verse on “Extra Lives” is crazy!
Wiki – No Mountains In Manhattan
Wiki’s full-length debut, No Mountains In Manhattan, is one of the better produced rap albums I’ve heard from the New York scene in a while. Sporting beats from big names like Kaytranada (“Baby Girl”) and Earl Sweatshirt (“Wiki New Written”), this project is a significant step up for Wiki, sonically speaking. I loved Ratking as a full group, but since they split, Wiki’s definitely carried their sound and ideologies on as a respectable solo artist. I feel like this album sums up what they would sound like if they were still together. Songs like “Chinatown Swing” bang like modern trap anthems, but never compromise that signature New York edge.
Princess Nokia – 1992 Deluxe
This list is full of unique MCs, but perhaps the most distinct artist is Princess Nokia. Not only is she a force on the mic, she’s also been a legit Calvin Klein model. Her newest release, 1992 Deluxe – an expanded version of a previous EP – is a raw, thoughtful, street-influenced composition that portrays the ethnic diversity and multicultural makeup of New York City. She wilds out on “Kitana” and “Different”, and then takes things back to the ’90s on boom-bap cuts like “ABCs of New York.” The best part about the vocal performances though isn’t just her slick delivery. Nokia has a lot of different flows, but it’s the thought and detail she puts into embracing topics like goth and Latino culture that make this album worth returning to. Oddly enough, she dated Wiki (mentioned above) for a while in recent years too. Similar interests maybe?