You can’t Thizzle dance like Matt Moretti
Down 2 Earth – Wildfire
The rap scene can be a lot like Hydra: If one falls, two more shall rise. Despite the losses that The Bay experienced at the beginning of February, the month ushered in the next generation of artists from the region. Down 2 Earth, a group consisting of Azure, Clyde Shankle and Dayvid Michael, seemingly came out of nowhere and dropped their impressive debut project, Wildfire.
The trio surprisingly sounds like a mixture of equal parts Living Legends and HBK. Most of the beats are sample-heavy, yet they feature more than enough bass for the group to fit in alongside their contemporaries. The lyrical output features a similar balance in which tales of smoking blunts and macking on girls fit seamlessly alongside songs with a more aspirational approach to them. Not to mention that they also have support on both sides of the isle: While IAMSU!, Jay Ant, Kehlani, and The Invasion all provide features or production on Wildfire, Tajai of the Souls of Mischief starts the record by stating that he was passing the proverbial torch/blunt to the Down 2 Earth crew.
That’s not to say that this project is perfect. The production definitely outshines the MC’ing, and in order for the group to grow, that will have to be improved. All three rappers will likely need to develop something about their delivery and their lyrical content that allows them to stand out more from the rest of the hip-hop masses. Yet at the end of the day, they put together a debut record that’s consistently solid from start to finish. They seem to be developing a sonically warm and inviting style, which is more rare in The Bay than it should be. Down 2 Earth has real potential, and it’ll be fun following where they go from here.
IAMSU! – Eyes On Me
Each time I see IAMSU! get bigger on the national stage, I think back to this New Bay interview I saw in 2011. Around that time, the short-lived #NewBay movement started to take off. As the name would make it sound, the New Bay was a collective of young artists who decided to band together to draw attention to new talent from the region. It was relatively successful in terms of putting some fresh faces in the local spotlight, but it unsurprisingly ruffled more than a few feathers from within the old guard (some of whom ironically participated in a very similar New Bay Movement 5-6 years earlier).
Long story short, this disconnect led to San Francisco’s Big Rich deciding to interview the New Bay, and let them explain in their own words who they were and what they were about. Something like 30 rappers all crammed into a small room to fight for camera time, and they seemed to express impenetrable confidence. Except one person who humbly stood all the way in the back, a head taller than anyone else, and made little effort to speak. As a result, he was largely ignored throughout the vast majority of the 45 min. conversation. That was IAMSU! Four years later he’s excelled to a level no one in that room has come close to.
While most of the newer Bay Area artists hope they have enough fans to put together a worthwhile show in Sacramento or San Diego, in March, Su! is headlining his own 30-stop U.S. tour that will touch down everywhere from New York to Florida. That’s not to knock any other artist and their grind, but it does give some perspective in regards to how far Su! has come. To build some hype around the upcoming shows, Young Sudan dropped a 7-song project titled, Eyes on Me.
To be honest, the project feels more like a collection of loosies than a cohesive album or EP, which is somewhat problematic when considering that the title clearly references Pac’s longest and arguably most ambitious album of his career. Yet Su!’s ha all of the bass-heavy, party-ready music that his fans have become accustomed to. Despite production from DJ Mustard on “Nothin Less” and an homage to The Pack in “Bandz,” “FTB” has got to be the highlight from the collection.
Zion I – The Sun Moon and Stars
The beginning of February was filled with a lot of heartbreak for fans of Bay Area music. It started with the tragic killing of the Jacka, and then the very next morning Zion I announced that they were breaking up. Sample-based, boom-bap music has always been somewhat of a limited commodity in The Bay, and for years Zion I were some of the few torchbearers of that sound. They are arguably The Bay’s best performers from the rap community, and their Hella Fresh Fest and Paid In Full concert series were some of the few Bay Area moments in which hip-hop fans from all ends of the spectrum got together in one place. This loss means a lot.
To coincide with this announcement, the group dropped an EP entitled The Sun Moon and Stars. While it may have been released to provide some closure for fans of Zion I, it also serves as a preview of what’s to come. Zumbi has stated that he will continue with the Zion I name, even though Amp Live will no longer be the exclusive producer for the group. Therefore it’s not entirely surprising that Amp Live didn’t produce any of the tracks on this project. Zumbi instead got beats from local producers Jeffro and Mksmth, as well as Houston’s The Are. “Unity ft. Bambu & D.U.S.T.” is definitely the highlight of the set. Sharp, socially-relevant lyricism over crisp horn stabs, vibrant rhythms and some hard-hitting drums is a lot of the foundation that Zion I was built from. After years of growth and explorations in sound, Zumbi seems to still know how to deliver the type of music that made people Zion I fans in the first place.
G Val – Join The Race 4
G Val’s “Facts Straight” was arguably 2014’s biggest song coming out of San Francisco. It propelled him from being just another rapper from Hunters Point, to being someone that people in The Bay are legitimately looking out for. It also earned him a spot on Thizzler’s last-ever class of The Bay Area Freshmen 10, as well as a few sold-out shows sprinkled throughout The Bay. So there was a lot of anticipation for his first cohesive body of work since dropping the song.
This month he released Join The Race 4 (honestly I didn’t know there was a JTR 1-3). Don’t expect a lot of lyrical wizardry on this one, but it is full of aggressive street music with plenty of trunk value. The production is on point, the angst in the lyrics are relatable to a lot of people, and the feeling of an artist basking in his new-found attention that permeates throughout the project has an endearing quality to it.
Adrian Marcel – 50 Shades of Adrian: Unplugged
Valentine’s Day coincided with a bunch of Bay Area rappers dropping their romantically themed albums. On the real, no one is trying to listen to any holiday-themed rap record. Smokers barely support 420 mixtapes, let alone rap fans wanting to listen to MC’s spitting for Valentine’s Day. Now, an R&B Valentine’s Day record? That’s something completely different, and much more acceptable. Cue Adrian Marcel’s 50 Shades of Adrian: Unplugged.
Despite personally wanting to avoid anything and everything having to do with Fifty Shades of Grey, I couldn’t help but give Adrian Marcel’s project a listen. He’s Raphael Saadiq’s protege, and that should be more than enough. Luckily, the Fifty Shades connection on this project is somewhat minimal. Marcel chose to cover a selection of songs from the movie’s soundtrack while accompanied by nothing more than a guitar. It’s a pretty great medium for him to really show off his vocal chops, and the minimalist approach makes the music accessible in a lot of situation. The guitar work on this EP is solid as well, despite a lack of credits for who was doing the actual playing.
Nothing will ever top Screamin’ Jay Hawkin’s original version of “I Put A Spell On You” (not even Nina Simone’s cover), but I appreciate Marcel’s version, especially for the guitar solos interspersed throughout the track. At the end of the day, if someone’s going to record an album for Valentine’s, this is the type of music that most are expecting and looking for. Plus it has enough merit on it’s own to deserve repeat listens well after February.