Rap is a bit disoriented right now, and while 2015 began and ended with a bang, 2016 has been a blur. In 2015, you knew who to look for, and new artists were welcome — now, good luck catching up if you miss a day on Twitter. Our inboxes and timelines are constantly inundated with new material, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to pick through and find the gems. But one welcome change has been how genres are blurring — artists are embracing jazz, gospel, neo-soul, r&b, and more in hip-hop. In this month’s edition of Special Delivery, we highlight artists who are successfully muddying these boundaries.
Ro Ransom ft. Kensei Abbot, “Donuts”
This MC has continually repped Harlem’s emerging rap scene, and now he’s returned with another track featuring fellow S-Rank member Kensei Abbot. What’s interesting about “Donuts” is how Ro switches up his flow as the song progresses, beginning with a singing voice, then going right into exaggerated, almost forceful raps; when he gets to the hook, he uses a staccato rhythm. All three variants seem to highlight what he’s feeling at that moment in the song — he eases us into the track with a melody, tells us how he sees it in an incredulous tone, and ends in an unusually straightforward declaration.
Take A Daytrip x Treez Lowkey, “I Don’t Mind”
In the past, producer duo Take A Daytrip have done some special collaborations with Atlanta’s Raury, Los Angeles–based rapper Daye Jack, New Orleans’s Pell, and famed dancehall artist Vybz Kartel. Their most recent collab, with Virginia rapper Treez Lowkey, is another bouncy cut, propelled by Daytrip’s trademark thudding bass and Lowkey’s melodic flow.
LIVEFROMTHEEAST, “8pm on castle hill”
The East New York rapper’s voice appears here raw, supported by the same dark, rock-referencing guitar riff on the song (Drake’s “4pm in Calabasas”) that inspired this track. In addition to copping the title — perhaps a nod to the Castle Hill neighborhood in the Bronx — LIVE also mimics Drake’s egoism; “Pardon my bravado,” he says, but he doesn’t need to. He lives up to his own hype.
“Aura” is straight-up celebratory. Spurred by keys, Stro’s cheerful tone dances lightly over the beat, reveling in his bright vibe — “I rock my aura like it’s jewelry in the spot, ho.” He has a lot to feel blessed about: Stro is going on his first European tour, has a new partnership with Monster Electronics, and landed a supporting role in the upcoming war/sports drama Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. There should be a little pep in his step.
Brasstracks ft. Masego, “Melanin Man”
Brasstracks has experienced the come-up over the last year. The duo — Ivan Jackson on trumpet, Connor Rayne on drums — has already touched many corners of the rap world, producing Chance the Rapper’s “No Problems,” adding horns to Anderson .Paak’s ScHoolboy Q–supported track “Am I Wrong,” and working with key musicians in the emerging-hip-hop scene, like rapper GoldLink, producer Lido, and Soulection producer Jarreau Vandal. Now, Brasstracks has released Good Love, a warm, high-spirited seven-track EP filled with a handful of featured artists, who hail from everywhere from England to Norway to New York. Guesting on “Melanin Man” is one of Brasstracks’ original collaborators, DMV-based saxophonist and vocalist Masego. Together, the trio creates a song that inspires and evokes the grace and strength of black men, leaning on Earth, Wind & Fire–esque instrumentals and self-affirming lyrics to advocate self-love.
Since Leikeli47’s (pronounced leh-kay-lee) song “Fuck the Summer Up” dropped two years ago, she’s made splash after splash with tracks like “Heard Em Say” and “C&C.” These songs are imbued with a sense of precision, her style of rapping assured. Still, she celebrates anonymity; whether it’s music videos or concerts, she’s always in a mask, insisting her listener concentrate on her music instead of her race or gender. Her latest track, “Money” — the first single from her forthcoming debut album — radiates self-confidence in every nook, from the high-energy beat to her simple proclamation, “I got money.” Leikeli47 works hard for it, once again proving she’s the master of the summer anthem.
SAINt JHN, “Roses”
There’s an immediate feeling of longing and urgency as SAINt JHN opens “Roses,” his voice strained as he draws out his raps. He sashays between a falsetto and a languid flow, accentuating the first syllable in each word — the sparse beat undulating and driven by a pulsating bass. Indeed, it is all at once powerful and poignant, the song’s intention focused.
Eli Sostre, “Still Up All Night”
Pitchfork contributor Eric Harvey claims to have coined the term PBR&B in 2011 with this tweet, and since then it has become the perfect surrogate phrase for the alt-r&b genre. If you’re lost on what PBR&B sounds like, then look no further than Brooklyn native Eli Sostre’s new EP, Still Up All Night, which is a shining example of r&b and soul-saturated raps. The title song is particularly representative of the subgenre, specifically in the way his slurred speech wraps around the beat’s 808s. The best moment, though, is about halfway through, when background vocals appear over the bass, eerie, gospel-like, and symphonic.
Mike Classic, “Woosah”
Mike Classic got that French Montana cosign a few years back with the cut “Whole Different Lane,” but he’s laid low until the last few months. Resurfacing, he’s dropped off two singles, the latest of which is “Woosah,” a song that shows both his ability to pen memorable hooks and his smooth, buttery singing voice. He sprinkles pointed, staccato ad libs in between verses, a welcome alteration to the flow of the song.
A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie ft. PnB Rock, “IDK”
https://twitter.com/ericdharvey/status/50357404524752896https://twitter.com/ericdharvey/status/50357404524752896 The internet has been sounding off on the Bronx’s A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, whose song “My Shit” — which he’s claimed only took him thirty minutes to write — has garnered him nods by Meek Mill, Drake, DJ Khaled, and Lil Uzi Vert since its January release. On “IDK,” he teams up with emerging Philadelphia rapper PnB Rock — another rapper the internet has fallen for — and together they reminisce about their rising status. While the beat is more leisurely than “My Shit,: it still shows the vigor in A Boogie’s harmonizing, higher-pitched raps, and the sultry tonalities of PnB’s manipulated, alt-r&b vocals.