In rap, showing gratitude for the culture — especially if you’re from or based in New York — is a requirement that goes without saying. Whether you’re living in Flatbush, Astoria, or Spanish Harlem, the weight of those who came before you is everywhere, showing up on street corners, like Big L’s famous mural on West 140th Street; or on street signs, like Hip Hop Boulevard, which runs through the exact spot where the genre was born in the Bronx. In this month’s edition of Special Delivery, we bring you a crop of new rappers who reveal an appreciation for the whole breadth of hip-hop, from borough to ethnicity and race, and to the genre’s forefathers; an appreciation for where rap is going and where it’s been.
Jaquell ft. Indigo General, “Uptown”
You have a lot to live up to if you’re from Harlem, both historically and currently. Though Jaquell doesn’t have much experience, with “]”Uptown,” the second cut from his latest project, Next Level, he’s got a good start on living up to his neighborhood’s standards, starting with the title; he never lets us forget that he’s a Harlem boy. Jaquell employs producer Blank Body — who most recently worked with emerging Canadian rapper Night Lovell — to create an ethereal foundation for some long-winded verses; you wouldn’t think such wordiness would suit the beat’s busy, celestial sonic qualities, but somehow, it does.
$tar, “6 Rings”
This one came before the Cavaliers clinched the NBA Finals in June. While $tar makes no mention of the Cavs, Golden State Warriors, or either of his hometown teams, he does manage to compare himself to Michael Jordan, also using the Crying Jordan meme for the single’s cover art. The track is a study in braggadocio, which, of course, isn’t unfounded in rap or basketball: $tar compares himself — and in a way also pays homage — to Jordan and Jay Z, their respective arts’ MVPs. $tar isn’t quite there yet but, with “6 Rings,” he seems to be speaking his future victories into existence.
G Two ft. J.R., “Jackie Brown”
With Brooklyn transplant G Two, it’s clear from previous releases, like his 2012 project, Trillmatic, that his main concern is the intersection of art with social and racial politics. Trillmatic focused on the effect that the Mason-Dixon line had on East Coast and Southern hip-hop; G’s forthcoming project Neo-Noir is steeped in the idea of the new blackness. Backed by heavy 808s and layered instrumentation, “Jackie Brown” — which evokes Quentin Tarantino’s film of the same name — clarifies G’s perspective on the new black.
Gloss Gang ft. Aaron Rose, “GLOSS DAY”
Crown Heights natives 700Stackzs and Swook are collectively known as Gloss Gang, a concept that for them means radiating your best self. On “GLOSS DAY,” the two team up with Pro Era’s Aaron Rose, and from the start, it’s clear that none of these rappers are beholden to a purely East Coast sound. The track shows Gloss Gang’s range of influence from coast to coast, weighted down by a neo-trap aesthetic that historically has a hold in Atlanta. But even if the beat doesn’t speak to their city’s past, all three emcees’ lyricism and rapid-fire flows sure do.
LeVarsity is from Brooklyn, and growing up in the same borough as some of Brooklyn’s finest — The Notorious B.I.G, Jay Z, Mos Def, and half of the Wu Tang Clan, among others — definitely provided the model for a successful rap career. While LeVarsity follows suit in talent, he deviates in sound, instead pursuing a bouncier, more spry aesthetic compared to some of his predecessors. But he still defers to them, appropriately, quoting Busta Rhymes’ feature on the Tribe Called Quest track “Scenario.”
Chazmere ft. Niko Is, “24k”
As part of the artist collective Colours of the Culture — helmed by Talib Kweli and his Javotti Media imprint — Chazmere (f/k/a Chaz Van Queen) takes a cue from Kweli: Chaz teaches music production at the New York–based youth education program Building Beats, serving as a mentor for Bronx teens. On “24k,” Chazmere reflects on his own earlier experiences as a Bronx teen. Fellow Colours of the Culture member Niko Is hops on the hypnotizing, orchestral track, his vocals gritty in comparison to Chazmere’s, whose accent curls around the bouncing bass.
Chris Cartier, “San Diego”
Chris Cartier broke through his own ceiling at the end of 2015, when he dropped “Salute,” a track that showcased a more laid-back flow paired with a menacing beat. His latest offering “San Diego” is fixated on that eerie aesthetic but shows a progression in the Bronx emcee’s flow and wordplay. On previous songs like “Min Wage,” Cartier presented his financial stress; on “San Diego” he’s boastful. Maybe (hopefully) things have gotten better in the last year since “Min Wage”; or maybe, like $tar, Cartier is also speaking positivity into existence.
Anik Khan, “Renegade”
Though not an emcee in the traditional sense, Anik Khan can still spit. He set out to prove it last summer with his EP, I Don’t Know Yet, a project knee-deep in raps. But with songs like “Renegade,” Khan approaches this goal in an entirely different way. “I am the voice for the immigrants,” he sings on the first verse, speaking for a group that largely remains unspoken for, especially in rap. He flips between the contemporary sounds of his main cultural influences — Caribbean, South Asian, and hip-hop — flawlessly, the rhythms of each melding into one another.
Caine Casket, “Bil·lows”
“Bil·lows” is atmospheric both in sound and content, grounded only by Caine Casket’s vocals. With its soothing melodies and heaven-like metaphors, the track sounds almost similar to gospel, but when, two thirds of the way in, the beat switches and his flow picks up, we’re reminded that, yes — this is still a rap song.
see.francis, “Watch It”
On “Watch It,” see.francis flaunts his lyrical dexterity, his higher-pitched cadence laid over a skeletal beat driven by thudding bass. The track is something of a street anthem, a detail of his day-to-day activities hitting the plug and the block. While the song doesn’t necessarily present a lot to chew over, it’s a continuation of francis’ narrative. His forthcoming project All We Did Was Us is slated for a July 14 release.