Introducing Special Delivery, a New Village Voice Column About Rap
Jeff David Beardsmith
The Village Voice has covered hip-hop since 1979, when the paper first reported on graffiti artist FAB 5 FREDDY. In 1982, our writer Steven Hager was the first to use the term "hip-hop " in a major article, "Afrika Bambaataa's Hip-Hop." Back then, hip-hop had a defined sound, but now the genre's original mecca is no longer beholden to a single style. Rap's boundaries are hazy, typified by genre-bending and -blending: Singers are rappers, rappers are producers, and producers are more than just beatmakers. Still, the Voice is here for all these moments, in the trenches with hip-hop through its many incarnations. And with that, we present: Special Delivery, a new monthly roundup of must-listen songs by some of New York hip-hop's leaders and newcomers.
Salomon Faye, "1984"
Born in Paris but raised in Harlem, Salomon Faye is first and foremost a lyricist. A decade ago he might have been called "conscious" — the now-passé term for rap that dwells on social and political issues — but now, he is what we call "woke": Not preachy, but aware of his surroundings. His latest track, "1984", pushes past his 2015 debut EP, Stimulation, still lyrically flanking the pioneering wordplay of Public Enemy and intuiting the spirit of Black Star. But Faye has a wider scope, and by pulling back the production by little more than a sparse bassline, he makes radical headway.
Wiki ft. Antwon, Sporting Life, and Skepta, "God Bless Me" (Remix)
Ever since Ratking, which Wiki fronts, delivered their debut studio album So It Goes, the trio has been neatly sitting at the top of New York's hip-hop revival. In comparison to So It Goes, Wiki's first solo project, Lil Me, is almost peppy, and "God Bless Me" is perhaps its most energetic moment. He originally tapped beloved British grime artist Skepta and fellow Ratking member Sporting Life for the mixtape version; now, he's recruited San Jose, California, rapper Antwon for a remix. Wiki's verse still stays true to the playfulness of Lil Me, reflecting the trimmed-down writing found throughout the project.
Skeeter Manny, "Cold"
Like the Weeknd, PartyNextDoor, and Tory Lanez, Skeeter Manny backs indie music's bid for R&B — or "PBR&B," as some derisively call it. Though the rest of his music is tinged with more hip-hop influence, "Cold" is an effortless, fizzing pop record, its lyrical content hovering in the same sex-fueled space this kind of music tends to occupy (though nothing nearly as explicit as Abel Tesfaye’s now-legendary antics). Instead, Manny remains light and buoyant, his sincerity resting openly and comfortably on the song's surface.
Dave East, "Money"
Make no mistake: Dave East is from Harlem, and wholly inspired by his city. His newest track, "Money," is proof that he’s a rap purist and a historian, the sampling taking a cue from Nineties styles. The track is reverent and nostalgic, a tangible gesture to the era when Dipset reigned East’s neighborhood. But pure imitation of that prodigious group would easily lose a listener's ear, and East is successful in straddling the line between admiration and novelty.
Nasty Nigel, "Groundhog Day"
"Groundhog Day" is an eerie anthem. Fueled by stark keys and trap beat, Nasty Nigel lays claim to the less glamorous side of his city, waxing poetic about the ways New Yorkers survive and have fun in their pricey homes. Couch surfing, parties, strip clubs and endless bar crawls can get the best of you, especially if they're cheap; Nigel’s got an itch for all of them, and the flow to say it better than any of the rest of us.
Justin Rose, "I Got It"
This polymath is exactly what I meant when I said, "Singers are rappers, rappers are producers, and producers are more than just beat-makers." Justin Rose is an autonomous musician (something the ever-shrinking record industry craves these days) and while he sings less on "I Got It" than on other tracks, he still merges a commanding melody with punchy raps and production. This tune is explicitly a tribute to Pharrell — another man who can do it all.
DyMe-A-DuZiN, "Blunt Raps"
Signing to Warner Bros. when he was twenty gave DyMe-A-DuZiN an early spotlight. The following year, he parted ways with his group Phony Ppl, which was part of the Beast Coast Movement that also includes Pro Era, The Underachievers, and Flatbush Zombies. Though DyMe sometimes edges around the old-school New York flavor that Joey Bada$$ and The Underachievers endorse, he's more drawn to experimentation; rarely do two of his songs sound alike. What’s particularly magnetic about "Blunt Raps" is its hypnotic bass, which propels the Brooklyn rapper forward through the song.
KOTA The Friend ft. Zarz, "Urban Oasis"
"Urban Oasis" is the latest offering by Clinton Hill native KOTA The Friend. The track is New York hip-hop through and through, characterized by thin drum loops that stick to an off-beat rhythm, its cadence and production evocative of fellow Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$. Not all of KOTA’s cuts have a tendency toward the boom bap–like sound of "Urban Oasis," though; this is just something he did to bring it all back home.
Latasha Alcindor, "HeadRaps"
Save for Nicki Minaj, women’s role in the revival of New York hip-hop has appeared modest; "appeared," because the women who do rap usually don’t get the recognition they deserve. Hopefully, Latasha Alcindor’s formidable presence can push more women into the spotlight. With "HeadRaps," she uses her mesmerizing flow and skillful wit to explain what it’s like to be in her position: dismissed, objectified, and generally not taken seriously. We don’t hear this narrative often enough, and she does it so well it’s beyond reproach.
Jay Bel, "Groovemeister" (Freestyle)
Sometimes you have to flaunt your lyrical arsenal straight out of the gate, and with his freestyle "Groovemeister," Jay Bel does just that. And that’s what so good about this: With his opaque writing and searing flow, he’s basically daring his audience (and maybe his rivals) to try and keep up. Like Salomon Faye, Jay advocates for the woke lifestyle, piecing together braggadocio and pop culture commentary with glimpses of his reality in the rap game. Just as Bel shifts into his final figurative verse on basketball, the bass breaks for his last word, then tears off into a dizzying deluge of whirring sonics and percussion.
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