Welcome to the inaugural edition of 30 Thousand, 100 Million. Every month, Wondering Sound contributor Meaghan Garvey will scour the internet for the best rap tracks, mixtapes, labels, Vines and other dorky ephemera you have probably missed. She’ll tag-team with a Wondering Sound staffer or contributor once a month, but for the first installment, she’s led the charge on her own.
As I’ve flailed to sort out designations for this year’s “best of” over the past few weeks, I’ve been struck by how often there’s the temptation to describe an artist or release as “slept-on.” I guess it’s noble enough, sort of, to highlight works that may have slipped through the cracks. Then again, isn’t it kind of our job as critics to make sure that stuff is duly appreciated in real time, rather than offered retroactively as a badge of how deep our cuts run? In this column, my aim is to offer a spotlight, and a little context, on rap releases that may have been overlooked elsewhere but deserve more shine, on a month-to-month basis. This month, selections span from Houston to Chicago to Adelaide, Australia and beyond. Let’s catch ourselves sleeping.
Ca$h Out f. OG Maco & Flippa, “Violent”
Ca$h Out had “one-hit wonder” written all over him when “Cashin’ Out” exploded in 2012. Though the single has been certified platinum, you likely haven’t heard anything from him since. But even though he hasn’t been able to replicate the success of his break-out hit on a national scale, he’s still got a strong presence in Atlanta (“Juice” and “Let’s Get It” are regionally huge), and his music has only gotten more interesting over the past couple years. He’s dialed back the energy significantly, whittling down his sound so that only the bare essence of a hit remains. His recent Kitchens & Choppas tape is full of these murmured imprints of trap music. I don’t know if Ca$h Out’s newfound minimalism is high-concept or just energy-efficient, but either way, it’s really working for him. “Violent,” featuring OG Maco and Flippa, is my favorite; there’s barely a beat here, just a lonely-sounding flute and some gun shots, but all that empty space is what gives the track its structure. I could’ve easily picked any of a handful of other excellent negative-space compositions on Kitchens & Choppas to highlight instead: “Did That,” “Go Get That Doe,” and especially “Just Letting You Know” are all worth checking out.
Tkay Maidza, Switch Tape
Zimbabwe-born, Adelaide-raised Tkay Maidza is crazy young (16!), totally badass and stuck with the presumably-annoying burden of inevitable, unfounded comparisons to that other Australian rapper. But her debut mixtape, Switch Tape, is more spiritually akin to the cool, kitchen-sink campiness of Azealia Banks‘ redemptive Broke With Expensive Taste. A couple songs on the tape — which is presented as a continuous 33-minute mix, more like a DJ set than a traditional rap tape — stand out in particular. The Bok Bok-produced “Finish Them” borrows liberally from Banks’ patented flow. But I think a better point of comparison for Maidza’s snappy “brat rap” (her words) is the mid-2000s blog-house era, which, like it or not, is probably due for a resurgence. Fittingly, Australians were always best at that sort of Hype Machine-friendly dance pop, and though she’s still a rapper first and foremost, Maidza could be considered within the lineage of acts like Bag Raiders, PNAU and Cut Copy. The stadium-sized “MOB” captures that same synthy retrofuturism. Elsewhere, she evokes golden age Mad Decent — I can’t help but hear Rye Rye’s “Shake It to the Ground” cadence in the clubby “Brontosaurus.” Bottom line, Switch Tape is a blast, and a bombshell of a debut.
SD, Truly Blessed
Earlier this year, the Chicago Tribune declared that, “Drill is dead.” Though the piece jumped to some unnecessarily extreme conclusions, there was some truth to it, too: Chicago street rap in 2014 is nowhere near as popular as it was in 2012 (on a national scale, at least — at home, it’s doing just fine). But it depends your metrics: If drill’s vitality relies on its flagship artists delivering on their major label deals, then Interscope dropping Chief Keef this fall speaks volumes. But Chicago street rappers have been releasing quality music all year, though you may have had to dig a little deeper to find it. Lil Herb and Lil Bibby’s lyrically-oriented drill takes the sub-genre to its logical next level, Welcome To Fazoland especially; King Louie hit a new stride on Tony, committing to darkness after a few years of experimenting; Katie Got Bandz’ Drillary Clinton 2 took her already massive sound to the rafters; and Keef himself has been making some of the most interesting music of his career, gravitating towards abstraction rather than hit-making. The most persuasive argument for drill’s enduring relevance, though, is SD’s Truly Blessed, his debut album that follows his underrated Life Of A Savage mixtape trilogy. Though he’s distanced himself from Keef and the rest of GBE over the past year, SD was always the crew’s secret weapon. Where guys like Ballout and Tadoe often appear to be simply going along for the ride (though, not without occasional moments of brilliance), SD can rap, and he knows how to write a song. Truly Blessed balances blistering, experimental drill sounds (“Circles” channels nu-metal melodies, and “Clockwork” falls down a rabbit hole of harsh chimes) with the light-hearted bop, the sound that rules the city’s west side. It’s hard not to feel like this was the album Interscope may have wanted from Keef all along, but I’m happy it was SD who made it happen.
Boogie, “Bitter Raps”
It’s hard to get too worked up over music videos, whether it’s a bunch of dudes standing in a room or flashes of various Beats™ Pills every 15 seconds. But Boogie’s “Bitter Raps” video (directed by Jack Wagner) stopped me in my tracks. There’s nothing explicitly exciting about it: The 24-year-old Long Beach rapper is just hanging around the apartment with some friends and some babies, drinking some room-temperature 40s and skimming Instagram. But there’s a mundane tension here, a casual, hovering paranoia as toddlers play around stashed guns and a snake languidly wraps around a woman’s thigh. Nothing is really happening, but it will. It’s gorgeously shot, and it feels real — just like his conversational, in-the-pocket flow. “Bitter Raps” appeared on Boogie’s debut mixtape, Thirst 48, this summer. He raps he hates how “every LA rapper try to make a song like YG — like, be creative” and I’m excited to see what Boogie’s got in store.
MPA Shitro, “Work”
It can be initially off-putting that MPA Shitro, aka Shitty Montana, has one of the worst names in rap. Set that aside, as he’s the most promising of Peewee Longway’s MPA crew, channeling Longway’s playfulness in a more melodic direction. A good entry point is Young Thug-featuring “No Games,” off Shitro’s Son of a Bricc Lady tape from May. (But ignore the collab with Lil Debbie that’s floating around YouTube.) “Work” is his best single yet, and I’m not sure it makes sense to call it a rap song at all. It’s more like the brittle husk of a pop song that breaks down into a lean-muscled club banger. Shitro’s been touring Europe the past couple months as part of Kid Ink’s My Own Lane tour, partying with guys like Brodinski and DJ Slow, and the change of scenery seems to have inspired him.
Sauce Twinz, In Sauce We Trust
Formed by the city’s Moe Gang and TSF (the Sauce Factory) crews earlier this year on collaborative tape Saucemania, the movement has been buzzing like crazy in Houston — “Flava In Your Ear” and “Super Soakers” are local radio staples — and basically entails liberal use of the word “sauce” and the water-drop emoji. The duo, Sauce Walka and Sancho Saucy, just dropped their In Sauce We Trust tape, and it’s a fun collection that brings together the city’s new wave of rappers, as well as more established guys like Slim Thug and Kirko Bangz. There are a lot of mumbly instances in which repetition causes words to temporarily lose meaning, a la Migos. If you like hooks that are fun to roll around in your mouth and mutter aimlessly, even if they’re not the most profound, “2 Legited 2 Quited” and “93″ are for you.
Montana of 300, “Ice Cream Truck”
It’s always fascinating how songs that are designated “under-the-radar” by national media are actually massively popular on a local level. The poll doesn’t exist online anymore, but last year, WGCI, Chicago’s primary rap/R&B station, ran one in which Spenzo dwarfed Chance the Rapper in the popular vote — stats that probably would’ve confused anyone paying attention from outside. Chicago rapper Montana of 300 might be a new name to many, but the video for his latest single “Ice Cream Truck” has accumulated over half a million views in less than two weeks. Montana (no relation to Keef, he’s made clear) likes a good metaphor, and they’re particularly disturbing here, comparing drive-bys to your friendly neighborhood ice cream truck. But even if a van full of terrifying clowns isn’t your thing, it’s hard to deny these melodies that burrow into your skull. There’s a cutesiness to the beat (by Jay Storm, who produced this super-skuzzy cut on King Louie’s Tony) that makes me think the horror-flick antics here are a little tongue-in-cheek, lending a bit of camp to drill’s typical stoniness. Montana also dropped a tape recently. If you’re into “Ice Cream Truck,” check it out here.