2020 is already off to a phenomenal start within the hip hop genre. January featured some stellar releases all-around, particularly from the booming shit-talkers in Detroit and the feisty up-and-comers in Massachusetts. Other releases from more established artists also made headlines throughout the longwinded first month of the year. In lieu of this excitement, here are some of my favorites from the inaugural weeks of the decade; in no particular order.
$ean Wire – Internal Dialect
I’ve talked about the Massachusetts rap scene through extended length in my last hip hop roundup, so I won’t spend much time harping on this stellar project (though Mass. will make an another appearance later on). $ean Wire dazzles on his second official album, and constitutes a wide variety of human emotions across a short and concise 30-minute experience.
He captures moments of love, lust, and solitude through repeated phrases of fragmented thoughts. Despite his constant ambiguity, Wire glides across these serene landscapes with the grace of an Olympic skater, never ceasing to fully embrace the unpredictable aspects of life.
Notable tracks: “Portrait,” “Sliced Lemon/Outlandish,” “Freedom” and “Pull Up”
Mac Miller – Circles
Mac Miller’s impressive evolution from backpack stoner rapper to neo-soul enthusiast unfortunately reached an unlikely apex on the posthumous album “Circles.” Super-producer Jon Brion subjects listeners to a surreal panorama filled with melancholy synth backdrops and glittering piano keys.
The most devastating portion of the album obviously comes from Miller’s transparent mental roguery. He sounds simultaneously peaceful and tortured throughout, with the most agonizing moment coming in the form of “Good News,” a desolate call for help wrapped in frustration (“I hear they don’t talk about me too much no more/And that’s a problem with a closed door”). This is Miller’s most heartfelt performance yet.
Notable Tracks: “Good News,” “I Can See,” “Woods,” “Blue World” and “Once a Day”
Luke Bar$ – GoodEvil
And now we’re back to our regularly-scheduled programming of Ryan Feyre’s recent infatuation with the Bay State’s hip hop scene. On this episode, listeners are subjected to Luke Bar$’ cavernous approach to finding spiritual complacency in the midst of family upheaval and personal affliction.
Luke toils with his own bi-polar disorder in relation to the universal themes of good and evil, hoping to find some type of self-actualization in the process. His songwriting carries a lightweight feel to it, even when his voice is blackened underneath a rigorous vocoder on “Robber.” He’s still able to effectively welcome listeners into his tormented world. Mass. is on a roll right now.
Notable tracks: “Robber,” “Gangbanger,” “Guidance,” “Luke, He a Good Kid”
Lil Wayne – Funeral
Every one of Wayne’s recent projects grew on me tremendously. Funeral is no different. In fact, I think it is his best project in almost a decade. The mix-tape deity continues to prove that he exists within one of Rick & Morty’s alternate dimensions; only re-surfacing when he feels the need to absolutely destroy his unprepared offspring. I mean, why else would he have thought 21 Savage was a band? And why else would he continue to rap like a fire-breathing dragon who never runs out of fire?
For someone who seemingly hides under a rock most of the time, Weezy sure knows how to keep things modern. He can still bounce around like a bowling ball on “Mahogany,” sensualize slowly with The Dream on “Sight and Silencers,” and detonate the entire hip hop landscape in three minutes with songs like “Mamma Mia.” Some of this shit is honestly jaw-dropping (Drive-bys in a Winnebago/Snipers never hit a baby, crib or cradle/Sit tomatoes on your/head then split tomatoes/From a hundred feet away, now it’s a halo”). Not all 24 tracks are fantastic, but that doesn’t matter when 90 percent of it is entertaining. Wayne can still effectively do the one thing he’s best at; rap his ass off.
Notable tracks: “Mahogany,” “Mama Mia,” “Stop Playin With Me,” “Bastard (Satan’s Son),” “Piano Trap”
Akai Solo and BSTFRND – Like Hajime
Akai Solo and Pink Siifu’s Black Everything project was a harrowing yet fulfilling experience about racial trauma, self-commitment, and whatever else came to Solo’s existential mind. It ended up being one of my favorite projects of 2019.
Fast-forward to 2020, and Akai has hooked up with multi-talented producer BSTFRND for another contorted journey beyond the walls of one’s intellect. Akai’s poetic excerpts are launched into lawless percussion loops and dense jazz instrumentals. Once again, he rarely takes a breath when portraying these hazy particles from his otherworldly imagination. The anime-inspired passages are a nice touch for another ebullient experience. This requires multiple listens.
Notable Tracks: “Eye a God,” “Wildman,” “Halcyon Company,”
Sada Baby – Brolik
I had to choose at least one Detroit mix-tape from last month. It was either between this or Icewear Vezzo’s Drank God. While both include vicious street talk, it’s Sada who’s had the greater influence on not only his home city, but the YouTube music scene in general.
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Sada Baby has had music blogs in a frenzy over his steady dose of music video releases every few days. It’s truly magical seeing Sada boogie and side-step his way through different sectors of Detroit, rapping with the breakneck speed of a race car. It’s crazy too because almost none of his music videos are songs from his Brolik mix-tape (which can only be listened to on DatPiff). He recently left the Grizzly Gang label, so he’s had a lot of studio recordings that he just wants to get out. And boy has he gotten them out. If you love menacing piano keys, wrecking ball-808s, and good ole’ underground debauchery (with a hint of sadness honestly), then this is the place to visit. Jump on the Skuba bandwagon before it’s REALLY too late.
Notable tracks: “Triple Threat Match,” “WWF,” “7 Mile Shuffle,” “Baklava”
Special Shoutout – Kafar Myers
Rising hip hop artist Kafar Myers is a part of a burgeoning New Jersey label titled Garden State Hip Hop. The founder of this institution recently reached out to me about promoting Myers’ brand. I respect the hell out of anyone who’s trying to live out their dream while simultaneously exuding passion and respect for such a classic art form.
Myers and his team just premiered a new song tilted “Hopeless,” and it features the 20 year-old rapper spit global quotes about perseverance over a neon-drenched backdrop. His liberal use of auto-tune is clearly utilized as a tool to hide his unforeseen pain.
When he’s not penning universal bars, Myers is dropping poetic knowledge on his peers. His publicist also sent me a link to one of his senior year poetry performances. In that video, Myers reads two passages from his new poetry book titled “Soulful of Me.” Just based on what I’ve seen, he’s got a keen understanding of the daily marginalization that surrounds him. He takes a shot at our flawed education system and calls for societal reformation on all fronts. Check out links to these videos below. There’s also links to his new project, as well as the place where you could purchase his poetry book. Keep an eye out for this guy.