Rap is meant to be declarative, to be bold. Regardless of whether an emcee is speaking on love, shunning his or her haters, paying homage to a fallen comade, or confronting the racism that looms over and seeps into every corner of America, the performer means to hold court with the listener via song. This month’s volume of Special Delivery focuses in on a group of emerging and established rappers who use their music to present a resolute viewpoint. Because above all, rap is about making a statement.
Z3ro the Comet—“More Campbell’s!”
KRS-One addresses police brutality with “Sound of Da Police,” Mos Def speaks on racism in “Mr. Nigga,” and Kanye and Jay Z’s “Murder to Excellence” focuses on inner-city struggles. With “More Campbell’s!”, Z3ro the Comet tows the same line of self-expression as these lauded emcees. Over a minimal, horn- and adlib-fueled beat, he gives a transparent retort to the inequities that plague our nation, asking the listener to open their eyes to the situation.
A$AP Ferg, A$AP Ant, and A$AP Twelvyy—“Young Nigga Living”
This week, A$AP Mob finally returned as a full group, releasing Cozy Tapes Vol. 1: Friends, a musical memorial to their leader A$AP Yams, who passed suddenly in early 2015. Yams was A$AP Mob’s glue and creative nexus; his death was a huge blow for the group. “Young Nigga Living” hones in on two of the group’s less heard-from emcees, Ant and Twelvyy. While the two spit on how they’re living well, Ferg’s ending verse closes the song on a bit more of a melancholic note, creating a disparity between his point of view and his A$AP cohorts’.
Jimi Tents was the first rapper from the three-piece Sleepercamp Collective to make noise, releasing his debut 5 O’Clock Shadow in 2015 to much fanfare. Since the LP, Tents has continued to release a handful of loosies, the latest of which is “400.” Matching his delivery to the beat’s pointed rhythm, Tents’s intention is to stress the fact that slavery and racism continue to endure in the U.S., despite what the naysayers maintain. “400 years, 400 tears / 400 years, 400 tears / 400 more,” he raps during the hook.
Joey Bada$$, “Front & Center”
It’s been five long months since Joey Bada$$ released his track “Devastated.” While that song has more of a pop influence, his latest, “Front & Center,” is spurred by a robust bassline and a sample from the theme song from Narcos. Indeed, Joey’s last record B4.Da.$$ upholds more of a classic boom-bap texture, but “Front & Center”—like “Devastated”—is a major deviation. In keeping with the Narcos theme, Joey continually gestures toward Spanish sounds, the light guitar riffs standing in stark contrast to the bass.
While we’ve been hearing a fair amount from Sleepercamp rappers Jimi Tents and Special Delivery alum Jay Bel, the group’s third member Sed has been fairly quiet. But a few weeks back, we got “Red Shirt,” the first song he’s released in a year. The self-produced tune hovers around a downtempo, subdued beat, waxing poetic on a missed connection he has with a girl wearing—what else?—a red shirt. It’s a nice introduction to Sed, whose aesthetic diverges from his comrade Tents; with “Red Shirt,” Sleepercamp’s vision continues to progress and finally encompasses all three emcees.
Staking your claim and remaining fierce can be difficult for a budding emcee—and sometimes, as reductive as this story is, it can be an even more difficult position for women in rap to sustain. Women rappers are constantly torn down, and though Chelsea Reject’s “Escape” doesn’t specifically speak to this narrative, for her, it’s innate. “My soul is mine and you will never take it / Never take my energy, no it’s not for sale / You cannot appropriate it.”
Ol’ Soul x GoodluckYahweh—“The Color Yellow”
Tinged with longing, Ol’ Soul’s “The Color Yellow” takes turns between soulful melodies and equally soulful raps. He draws his bars out, across the verses, his voice luxuriating in its desirous sing-song. This track is is another reflection of how music is moving towards genre-blending and bending.
Richard Pigkaso ft. Ace Clark—“Through The Eyes Of A 6 Year Old”
Richard Pigkaso uses his latest song to take us through his childhood memories, recounting events he saw when he was young and living in the Bronx. It’s his attempt to teach his listeners a lesson. He presents an outline of the things you shouldn’t do, and echoes of Z3ro and Tents’s comments about social injustices in America resound in the interlude between Pigkaso and Ace Clark’s verses.
DJ Rude One ft. Shirt—“1,000 Dutches”
On “1,000 Dutches,” Queens rapper Shirt exhibits one trait only: Sincerity. He sits down with the listener and has an earnest conversation, dropping knowledge throughout the track, telling the listener to “believe in possibilities.” Though seasoned hip-hop DJ and producer Rude One is from Chicago, he’s now New York-based and able to intuit the spirit of his second home well, allowing Shirt’s gruff voice to recline over a muted, tranquil beat. From the song title (New Yorkers passionately prefer dutches over any other blunt wrapper) to the song’s lyrical content—Shirt tells it like it is—”Dutches” is infused with a New York swagger that you can’t overlook.
This track is beholden to a Soundcloud aesthetic, the production addictive and driven by reverberating 808s and ringing, repetitive chimes. It’s one of those cuts where you’re more or less indifferent to exactly what the rapper is saying because it’s so catchy (though if you care, “Quentin Tarantino” is a warning to ATM’s haters and the fakers to stay out of his way).