Album of the Week: NoCap – Steel Human
Kobe Crawford’s life officially changed after the release of his emotional 2019 eulogy “Ghetto Angels.” The Mobile, AL rapper quickly morphed into a local messiah who was touching old-school southern roots. He was creating a soulful podium for auto-crooned revelation, a mechanism that briefly provided national attention in the middle of last year.
Like most songs from NoCap, “Ghetto Angels” functions as a cautious ode to those he’s lost, as well as inspirational drive for a better future. This specific song however took on a life of its own. The video’s garnered over 45 million views on YouTube, and the song itself has been remixed with Lil Durk (another legendary street crooner). My first ever hip hop roundup included a different iteration of the track from KC Ruskii, and I’ve heard assorted versions of the song at my local basketball court (with many singing along). It’s been virtually unavoidable to anyone who’s tapped in. Even my Call Of Duty chats have lead to a “Ghetto Angels” conversation at one point or another.
After running into some legal trouble at the end of 2019, Crawford’s been re-branding himself as a Steel Human. The basis of his new album is similar to past projects, particularly 2019’s The Hood Dictionary. NoCap sings and raps in the same superhuman vein as a Durk and Boosie. The latter gives his usual herculean performance on “Gangsta Cryin’, a song that sees Crawford ruminating on his own vulnerability in the midst of outside judgement.
Another apt comparison to NoCap’s warbled delivery is Lil Baby. Both ricochet between conscious remembrance and designer clothing fetishizing. I’d argue that Crawford is one year away from breaking out fully. If he can extend his musicality beyond the guitar-laden production, we could be looking at a My Turn type of album in the near future.
In the meantime, NoCap continues to puncture the hearts of listeners with stinging one-liners like “Only way to beat me is make me stop breathing or put the police on me,” or, “he gon’ keep going to jail if he don’t get out of Mobile.” Tracks like “Jail Time” and “Instagram Models” represent a stark insistence on approaching each topic with equal authority-whether it involves girls, money or past imprisonment. This is his strongest effort to date thanks to transparent confidence and desolate songwriting. NoCap undoubtedly has one foot in Mobile and one foot out.
DJ Lucas – “Give Us Lucas Back”
The music of DJ Lucas rarely sits on one spectrum of the hip hop canon. Western Mass in general doesn’t carry a distinct sound, so Lucas works in his own dynamic headspace of fast-paced industrial trap and electro pop. But even then, you really don’t know what instrumental he may cook up. Massachusetts inherently doesn’t have a distinct sound, so Lucas uses sounds from other regions as a backbone for his own maniacal compounds.
When he raps, the mixtape legend usually operates in a lane that’s simultaneously satirical and hard as hell. His second project this year Big Bleep Music, Vol. 4 is emphatically entertaining and organically underground.
On “Give Lucas Back” the charismatic DJ is in full force, making the best out of Western Mass’ banal situation. Over a jittery synth-heavy beat, Lucas chronicles his day-to-day debauchery and own origin story with lyrics about buying every crazy lighter at a store, or how he’s happily dealt with his own image (he said he was the underground Justin Bieber at one point).
I personally love when he drops references associated with Massachusetts. He blatantly does this on tracks like “Masshole” but also takes subtle jabs at places only real locals would know. On “Give Lucas Back” he drops the line, “it’s either this, or be a responsible adult in Saugus/And I don’t want to do that.” He’s right. Fuck being a responsible adult, especially in Saugus. Lucas would much rather make 12 different Beatles punchlines (“Man they should put me in The Beatles how I let it be”) and 50 other humorous one-liners, all while drinking an iced coffee from a New England staple.
Baby Smoove – “The New Smoove”
The Franchise is back and the starting quarterback is Baby Smoove. I’ve never heard someone so fluid yet so uninterested in any high-end material that comes his way. The production sounds like it could soundtrack the next Spiderman game, while the Detroit rapper sounds like he could care less about where life goes. It’s truly depressing quite honestly. Much like Unotheactivist’s new album, Smoove carries a subtle sadness underneath the drugged-out melancholy. Can’t say I blame him.
Shelf G and Rich the Kid – “Say That”
In the same vein as “We Getting Money,” the Flatbush native glides over these airy horn loops with polished conclusiveness and fearless poise. Great John and Sheff G have proven to be the coolest producer/rapper duo to come out of the area. Every song finds them perfecting their craft. Check out Sheff’s recent EP Just 4 Y’all and his full length project One And Only on all platforms. Him and Pop Smoke continue to carry the mantle for Brooklyn drill.
SME Taxfree and Chicken P – “Drop the Visors”
Most iterations of Milwaukee rap includes island keys and high-BPM 808s. The entire landscape sounds summery on the surface, but guys like Chicken P have a knack for turning these instrumentals on its head. Songs like “Fuck Donald Trump” and “Fast Cash Babies” are frenzied anthems. This is no different. SME Taxfree and Chicken do the classic back-and-forth, and a memorable chorus acts as the cherry on top. I advise anyone looking for something outside of traditional rap regions to watch as many TeeGlazedIt videos as possible. These guys have to go global.
Freshy Da General – “Party/Rage”
An equally great rap channel on YouTube is New York’s Raps and Hustles. It features some of the best drill music coming out of the area. The entire movement is very confined and genuine. Freshy Da General stands out here with a sinister voice that’s slightly more low-key than Zillakami’s. The second part of this song is pure head spinning ecstasy. It’s not even danceable.
Bonus: Joey Bada$$ – “The Light”
Fans have been antsy for new Joey Bada$$ music. We finally got some last week in the form of a new 3-song EP called The Light Pack. It’s a slight disappointment for me, especially since we’re five years removed from All-Amerikkkan Badass. The lead single feels like it was building up to something that eventually never came to fruition. Joey trades timely introspection for bland mumble rap attacks and mundane braggadocio. Aside from the gorgeous video, the whole experience appears anticlimactic. Hope this leads to something bolder.