Alphonse Pierre wears all camo.
Czarquan– Hunting Season
It’s that time of year again, when all across New York City the Marmot bubble coats are slowly being brought out; the time of year when the earmuffs and gloves you bought from the bodega turn out to be extremely shitty, and instead of investing in better ones, you avoid the Manhattan wind by stepping into a McDonald’s every couple of minutes. It’s the time of year when despite the cold being unbearable, your coat is still unzipped because it’s New York and what’s the point of having an 100 dollar hoodie if nobody can see it? It’s the time of year when the only music you want to hear is rap that sounds like it was recorded in the New York sewers. It’s the perfect time of year for Uptown New York rapper Czarquan’s new mixtape Hunting Season.
I’m not sure when I became so infatuated with the grittiest of New York rap. Honestly, I credit Ka’s The Night Gambit for making me appreciate the darker and more secluded side of the city’s rap landscape. Bringing up Ka when speaking about Czarquan is unfair because there aren’t many similarities besides tone, as Czarquan not only embraces modern trends but, when stacked up against Ka’s minimalist approach, there is a lot going on in Czarquan’s music. The production, which is mostly handled by the inescapable Tony Seltzer and Czarquan himself, is fitting for the New York winter with its steady gloom and sparse moments of vibrance splashed in.
Czarquan’s voice pairs seamlessly with the production as his gravelly voice doubles down on the moodiness. “Green Braille,” one of the most haunting songs on the project, is produced by British producer Rago Foot. The beat gives Czarquan a lot of space to shine lyrically (“Chopped Cheese on a hero I don’t eat kale”). But where Czarquan is at his best on Hunting Season is where, despite his voice sounding like he is preparing for inevitable doom, he still seems to be enjoying himself, like on the Tony Seltzer & Terror produced “Mickey.” This track finds Czarquan exploring different variations of his voice, which is necessary on a featureless project. The bouncy beat gets him into a groove that allows him to let loose and introduce us to a slight high pitched melody (“Mask on no phantom/That’s a BB not a handgun”). Czarquan is similarly free on “Remix,” which also happens to have the strongest hook on the project (“You acting watery we don’t do remix”).
Czarquan uses the mixtape to speak at length about his love for the city, from the Yankee hat he refuses to take off (“Yankee hat on getting love in Massachusetts”), to the outsiders trying to claim the city as theirs (“I can tell from the first words you not from round here/Outer staters should need Visa’s/Yeah that sound fair”). If there’s any weak spot on the project it’s the times where the songs seemingly blend into one another as Czarquan gets into these monotone ruts, but thankfully he usually picks himself up through a new flow or a long production build up on the following song. But even at his worst, Czarquan is still interesting and I look forward to a winter of frostbite as I hear Czarquan say, “I don’t care about Coachella bitch/All I really care about is keeping my Margiela’s crisp”).
Envy Caine & Skrell Paid– “Spice’n & Twirlin”
We’re now at the point in this column where rappers are starting to show up again. I previously mentioned Skrell Paid when he was featured on Nas Blixky’s “All Of My Life,” but I pretty much wrote him off as secondary. Yeah, I was wrong to do that, because it turns out he’s extremely good at this rapping thing too.
On “Spice’n & Twirlin,” recently freed Envy Caine and recently incarcerated (c’mon) Skrell Paid team up for a track as good as anything out of Brooklyn right now. The far too rare duel hook is done to perfection as Envy and Skrell bounce off of each other better than most duos that have been doing this for years (“Spice’n and flexing get murdered said she wanna fuck with a twirler/I’m so drippy she stuck in my whirlwind every bitch think they my girlfriend”).
Not only do they bring it on the hook, but both of their verses are solid, using the rapid fire flow that somehow makes everything sound better and riding the The Beat Plugg (the prolific “type beat” producer) production with ease. Nas Blixky once said in an interview with Zack Tv, “When me and my brothers hop on a track together it’s competition,” and Envy & Skrell definitely follow that here. And doing it all while twirling in front of a Lamborghini posted outside of Ebbets Field makes it all the more special.
Nas Blixky– “Differences”
Speaking of Nas Blixky, he has pretty much become the face of The Blixky’s since 22Gz’s imprisonment (who in major news was surprisingly released this month) and he hasn’t squandered the opportunity. Nas has had to deal with the rare teenage problem of having to maintain a presence in Brooklyn’s rap scene—where music is expected almost weekly—while balancing high school and record labels loudly knocking on his door, but so far he’s handling it well.
“Differences” isn’t his best song but it’s worth noting his progression as an artist as he tries to figure out a sound with more crossover appeal. The track, which has a major presence of piano keys (A Boogie must be jealous), has Nas going through his typical shtick which is rapping very well while throwing shots at rival rappers (“Who is Sheff G/Who is Sleepy”). The second half of the song is the most intriguing because it features Nas’ first venture into autotune and it sounds pretty amateurish, but the attempt at expanding his sound is commendable and it’s only going to get better. Nas Blixky is becoming a fleshed out artist right in front of our eyes, and with 22Gz’s return imminent (I hope he has a 2002 Triple H level return), Nas’ profile is only going to rise.
Young M.A.– “Walk”
Okay, I’m just as surprised as everyone else. Young M.A. did it. She made a song better than “Ooouuu.” And yes, the song has no chance to be as big as “Ooouuu” was, but regardless, it’s a success for an artist who was written off by pretty much everyone after her underwhelming EP.
The hazy beat produced by 1Mind and DJ Burn One gives Young M.A. free reign to fill the space with a never ending barrage of puns (“Louis scarf for my right side/Yeah nigga that’s the right side”). She is also flowing the best she ever has with a flow so laid back and cool it’ll leave you scratching your head about why you ever doubted her. But let’s get to the real star of the show, the quotables.
“Take that beef shit to Five Guys/Start shit got five guys, with five 9s, hit you five times”
“Didn’t mean to fuck her/She had a cramp, so I rubbed it out/Kick bitches out, wave bye with my rubber out”
“Never boujee we on vacay pouring Henny in our Mai Tai’s/Never change I’m still the same/Drinkin Minute Maid with the Hot Fries”
Sheff G– “Welcome Home”
It’s about time Sheff G dropped a solo track and “Welcome Home” doesn’t disappoint. If you want to explain to someone what the sound of Brooklyn is right now, just show them this track as everything is there: the church bell chimes, the drill drums, the gruff voice and threat filled lyrics. If there is anything to complain about here it’s that this song seems like a safe choice for Sheff, because as he knows, this sound will obviously go over well in Brooklyn (which is probably all a teenager cares about), but he’s continuing to box himself in.
While some of his peers are starting to broaden their sounds, Sheff is content in staying true to his roots. And so far it’s working fine for him—he’s far and away the most popular rapper in this movement and focusing on building a loyal fanbase over a countrywide one ready to abandon him at any moment may prove more fruitful. Regardless, I’ll sit back and enjoy a true talent like Sheff G rep New York to the fullest (“Brooklyn bitch/Only with gremlins who run the city/NYC my niggas gettin busy”), because for me there’s nothing better than that.