Dee Aura– FreePromo
The first time I stumbled across A$AP Rocky’s “Peso” music video, it was a revelation. I felt like I knew him and I pretty much did because there were thousands of Black teenagers scattered throughout the busy streets of Soho just like Rocky. Turn right amd you see a Blvck Scvle t-shirt. Turn left you see a Y-3 headband. Walk down Spring Street and feel the jealousy run down your spine as you watch an army of kids storm through waving their Supreme towels.
Rocky was also slightly rebellious. I watched in awe as he strangely broke rules that I never thought about breaking: turning his A’s into V’s, abandoning the letter S for a money sign, wearing tees with the word “Fuck” on them, and lowering his vocal pitch. Rocky was no visionary; he was the accumulation of everything you wanted to be and look like if you were 14 years old in New York and I fell in love with his music because of it.
Just like everything mildly cool that happens in New York, Rocky’s initial wave was quickly co-opted by rich teenagers whose parents’ six-figure JP Morgan salaries aided their transition into Rocky carbon copies. He then quickly moved onto his next phase. A sad end to a movement that for a second felt like some non-preachy shit exclusively for the Black Kids.
Queens rap group YTo3 have been on the New York radar for a minute. In the past couple of months, group member Dee Aura has settled into a groove that much like Rocky did in 2011, encapsulating a New York aesthetic yet to be nailed on the head. From the second FreePromo begins Dee Aura is off and running, hardly leaving a moment for a breath from here until the project’s finale. It’s scatterbrained, erratic, and somehow still calm.
On “OZ intro,” Dee jumps from topic to topic at a pace that you would have trouble keeping track of even if you paused the song after each line to make a note. There’s a confidence that makes you believe Dee when he’s surely lying to you (a feeling that you will encounter in nearly every conversation you have in New York) and you’re never certain where exactly he’s going, but he usually drops it before we ever reach a conclusion.
Two of the project’s essential tracks, “No Heart” and “Fairfax,” describe New York fashion better than any GQ style journalist could. On “No Heart,” Dee Aura paints the complete fashion picture in under a minute and a half: Adidas joggers, silkies with the flap extended, BAPE Animal Kingdom hoodies (zipped up, of course), and Champion pullovers. “Fairfax,” on the other hand, represents the lifestyle. One where you can pop up in an Airbnb in Los Angeles the day after you were in one in Miami.
If none of that appeals to you, producer Cash Cobain’s “And this beat is from Cash not from Youtube” producer tag is some quality ass shade at “Type beat” producers.
Tommy TwoPhones– “Block Stars”
East Harlem rapper Tommy TwoPhones is a New York hidden gem. The melodic rapper has a SoundCloud chart topping songwriting ability that I immediately noticed on his previous single “Bag Boy”, and he carries it just as strong on “Block Stars.” The only concerning thing about Tommy is that he only has two tracks easily accessible which puts some reasonable skepticism on the table about whether they are flukes or not. I’m leaning towards saying that Tommy’s talent is legit and having a producer as capable as RanVanDam in his corner makes me confident in that choice.
Lou Smizzy & Traktahbeam– False Capital
Admittedly, I don’t know much about Lou Smizzy & Traktahbeam’s False Capital project. I was first introduced to the duo through a pretty music video shot partially on the Staten Island Ferry, so when I came across a full length project I was intrigued. The tape as a whole is extremely experimental, which is a nice way of saying that there’s a bunch of bad shit on here. That’s okay because there’s also shit that is legitimately great, too.
One of my personal favorites is “On Sight,” which despite some unnecessary vocal effects, is an energetic effort that will definitely get some bodies thrown around at a live show. ECW’s Shaqqy pops in on “Cutthroat” for a brutally honest show stealing verse: “I promise a nigga get on I’m probably gonna switch/ I’ll probably act different.” Despite being difficult to deal with at times, the singing finds its footing on tracks like the mellow “Grit” and the bouncy “Letcha In.” Overall, a promising mess.
Sheck Wes– “CHIPPI CHIPPI”
If we were to compare this current crop of rising New York rap stars to the 2018 NBA Draft class, Sheck Wes is Luka Doncic. He’s the sure thing. The current anthem of New York is the 16 year old produced “Mo Bamba” and the phenomenon is starting to trickle its way across the country.
A couple of months ago, Sheck Wes inked a deal with both G.O.O.D. Music and Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack, and I initially feared they’d change his sound because it’s probably not the easiest thing for a young rapper to say no to the high profile beats at his disposal. As of now, though, that hasn’t happened and Sheck Wes is beginning to become the mainstream standard-bearer for an extremely overlooked Harlem sound. “CHIPPI CHIPPI” embodies the spirit of Harlem rap at this very moment: it’s angry, gritty, and without a single fuck given. Producer Redda’s melody feels like it never ends; it’s as if you’ve been stuck on a level of a horror video game for days and the music on this stage is just a haunting loop. The best part of it all is the “Bitch” ad libs Sheck Wes sprinkles throughout the track.
Sheck Wes’ debut Mudboy will be the most important project to come out of Harlem in a long while. It’s been years since a new star has descended from uptown but it looks like that’s finally about to change.