We all know that guy (used gender-neutrally). The one who will cease to speak about or acknowledge the existence of any artist as soon as they fly into the radar of mainstream, no longer under the umbrella of ‘cool’.
But we shouldn’t let that stereotype ruin alternative artists for the rest of us. There’s plenty to choose from but this is just the first batch of rap which will make you feel like you’re from the streets of Brooklyn as you trek down your sheltered suburban road.
I once met this guy in a club who had listened to Drake once and now thought he was in the mafia- he wanted to take me to a strip club after the club because “it was the only place to get a drink at 4 AM”. His favourite artists included Travis Scott and the Weeknd and I’m sure he viewed me as nothing more than a pretty ‘bitch’. Although that has little to do with anything, I thought it was important to distinguish between the types of individuals who think for themselves and those who let Instagram, Kylie Jenner and American Pie movies do the thinking for them.
My boyfriend definitely influenced these vibes and introduced me to some of these chill, funky and sultry tracks. The atmosphere these songs create tend to be akin to that of a room dim at noon, lying under fresh sheets and dozing off to the sight of your man as the sun gradually stops penetrating through the blinds.
No, I’m not referring to the volcano ‘Saba’- that’s the highest point in the Netherlands. This is Tahj Malik Chandler, otherwise known as Saba- an American rapper and producer born in Chicago.
He found acclaim through his feature on Chance The Rapper’s mix tape ‘Acid Rap’. Playing piano and handing out mix tapes from a young age, he grew up in a musical family which nurtured his current style- chill jazz and groovy, laidback beats.
His breakthrough mix tape ‘The Bucket List Project’ is a lyrical journey which combines personal struggles with philosophical and theological notions that hit a deeper chord: he asks “why you lonely in a room with God?” and relives struggles that touch on mental health and depression.
The beauty of The Bucket List is that the songs finish with fragments of people’s bucket lists- many Chicago musicians including Chance the Rapper include their own personal wish. One wants to fuck Kylie Jenner, another smoke a blunt with Beyoncé and de-gentrify Chicago neighbourhoods.
Ultimately, his lyrics have a deeper meaning of endurance, resilience and positivity amidst a sea of negative feelings and oppression. There are resonances of theological imagery in the album utilised to catalyse his commentary on social inequality, the inadequacies of the US education system and the bleakness of city life. These themes remind me of Langston Hughes’ poem ‘From the inner city to the suburbs’.
“You know the bucket list: I finally climbed the rock, made it to the top of the precipice/I came from the pessimism of inner city as it is” (‘California’).
Stoney – “city ain’t short, ballin’ on a budget”
Westside Bound 3 – ” “on my bucket list I want ten million dollars in my bank account”
Photosynthesis – “I just wanna be the plug so my people could eat”
The Billy Williams Story – “Comin’ down off a high/ Feel you with my third eye”
Life – “They want a barcode on my wrist/ To auction off the kids that don’t fit their description of utopia (black)”
Also from Chicago, Fatimah Nyeema Warner (alias Noname) is not only a rapper, but a poet-. She began performing slam poetry and placed third in one of Chicago’s largest slam competitions.
When transitioning from poetry to music, she started off with the stage name ‘Noname Gypsy’ before abandoning the latter part due to its racial connotations, although she initially chose it for its “nomadic” allusions.
Her debut album ‘Telefone’ is astounding in the rich tones of despair, destitute and pain she wraps up with a bow of soothing, child-like tones and melancholic instrumentals that beautifully capture the delicacy explored in songs addressing black womanhood, pain and hope.
Yet her art is also something you can, albeit very gently, dance to- more in lulling freedom than in energetic ecstasy.
Diddy Bop – “run run run”
All I Need – “If it’s not how I want/ It’s just how I need it”
Shadow Man – “Bless the nightingale/ Darkness keeps you well”
Simmie Sims III (stage name Buddy) is a man of many talents- a rapper, singer, dancer and actor from Compton who recently toured with the likes of Joey Badass and A$AP Ferg.
His groundbreaking single ‘Shine’ gained mass acclaim both on YouTube and Apple Music and he describes it as “a ghetto hymn acknowledging inevitable death while showing gratitude for abundant life.”
This positive existential duality between embracing your lifetime and accepting its end is prevalent in the ethereal tones of his rap, which seemingly transcend all the shallow drifts of mainstream artists who often prefer to allude to money and senoritas. He has been compared and contrasted with rappers like YG by The New York Times in his rich divergence of soul and hip hop as he narrates both the good times and the bad. With a twist of funk he marries singing and rapping to follow in the footsteps of legends such as Childish Gambino.
Shine – “And we can’t help but shine”
That Much – “I ain’t even movin’ that much”
World of Wonders – “Baby look like Naomi/ Say she wanna run a play on me”
Love or Something -“I’m making my way to heaven/ While all my homies facing the devil”
A Lite – “Aye, do you got a light?”
4. Terrell Morris
A sometimes smoky, otherwise raspy, tone caresses your ears as the Toronto based artist transforms into one to watch. In ‘Me 4 Prez’ he presents a subtle social commentary to the tune of an organ and soft bass, winding down with neo-soul in his synthy soundtracks.
My favourites from his EP ‘Molasses’ are ‘Toi’ and ‘Pretty Life’ as they seduce the listener with the warm groove and flowing verses.
Pretty Life – “Standing still is perfect, yeah I love a mellow moment”
Toi – “Get lost in the thick of it”
Me 4 Prez – “vote or die”
Field Test – “Boppin’ like she Betty call me Papi”
Oak – “Truth is I grew from the gutters/ Rules they was useless among us”
5. Free n Losh
Having produced Terrell Morris’ entire EP, this duo also hails from Toronto. They are producers, singers and songwriters who have crafted ‘The Right Song’- one which makes you want to take your tights off, turn the lights off and talk to the guy next door with the deep voice until 4 in the morning.
Although they’re genre falls under electronic, their voices branch under the sound of neo-soul and RnB both lyrically and acoustically.
The Right Song – “I wanna feel you show me honesty in life form”
Runnin – “you’ve been trapped inside of my absent mind”
Rose – instrumental …
Having written her first song by age eight, the Birmingham based singer and actress is a budding talent following in the likes of Jorja Smith.
‘Sober’ is a heart-rending song for those who are going through heart break- I remember listening to it in the bath melodramatically in gothic candlelight while crying- yet is also so catchy that you’ll find yourself swaying to it even if you’ve never been on a date.
Her voice is like honeyed caramel and sings lilting poetry with soulful hues and sporadically placed reggae tones which, like patches of blue in a grey sky, pleasantly surprise the listener. But it comes as no surprise that she was signed by Atlantic Records at age 13, mentored by Ed Sheeran and singing sultry background vocals for Rudimental.
Sober – “one plus one is none”
I Wish I Missed My Ex – “I can tell you everything you’re gonna say”
No Pressure – “They’ll never give you something from nothing”
Proud of Me– “13 and with a dream/ Daddy said I could be anything”
He also goes by Felly the Kid or Rob Fel and stemmed from both YouTube and Soundcloud. His ‘Young Fel’ EP was a breath of fresh air which, while seemed influenced by the likes of Drake and Kendrick, is both melodic and individual.
His newer debut, ‘Wild Strawberries’ samples the dance hall theme which has been popularised in main stream music of late.
“Slim Thick” was initially what drew me to him- while he does seem to have one repetitive theme (girls and, erm, girls) , the beat was chill and perfect background music which hypes up your sex appeal.
Slim Thick – “is you passing up on your passion, getting mad drunk with the black lung”
Mackdaddy – “21 years of nostalgia”
Language – “my time can’t be wasted”
Chicago Nights -“Different condiments in my clique”
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