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Mano Sundaresan doesn’t really get Easter either.
SYBYR – “Bla Ck Screensaver” (prod. Lord Landfill)
SYBYR is the sort of tortured, subversive genius who, in another universe, would be a superstar. In this one, where the innovators perpetually take a backseat to the trend-hoppers, he’s more likely destined for cult hero status, which bodes well for the daring music he’s making. The DMV rapper’s SoundCloud page is a never-ending thrill that wanders into dark corners of the abyss, ranging from difficult rap metal that grates against Satan’s frozen lake to more accessible rap singing that resides a few circles of hell higher. The through line here is his versatile growl, which works as well for raw shrieks as it does for processed melodies and his penchant for genre mimicry (see: “A,” in which he says nothing but “Aye” for 4 minutes straight).
Already his legacy seeps strange lore. Last year, SYBYR, then known as Syringe, went missing for a month in Colorado. He revealed in his Masked Gorilla podcast that he bounced between different psychiatric hospitals all month after an “epiphany” that may have been triggered by smoking a blunt dipped in Vick’s VapoRub.
“Bla Ck Screensaver” has been on SoundCloud for a year, but the accompanying video, released by SYBYR’s rap collective anti-world, makes it worth revisiting. SYBYR at his tamest is still compelling. He settles into triplets over Landfill’s gothic expanse that sounds like a beat ASAP Rocky would’ve wasted on TESTING. If you want something closer to a distillation of SYBYR’s unfathomable range, try Rap Game Satan.
Najii Person – “Used To” (prod. Najii Person)
I hate the term “conscious rap” almost as much as I hate the term “mumble rap.” It’s an overwhelmingly vast and unnecessary signifier that, when taken literally, swallows up everything from Open Mike Eagle to YG. The term is fuel for the elitism rampant among hip-hop’s Real Rap connoisseurs and is too reductive of regional styles to be useful as a critical tool.
However, there’s something endearing about the music that, for whatever reason, we associate the most with conscious rap. Little Brother, early Kanye, Common – rapping that’s so blunt and sincere that you can usually ignore the occasional lyrical miss (note: this is not a validation of Common’s “remote” bar). It’s incomparably accessible, the type of rap music that a casual listener can appreciate as much as a person who spends all day digging through SYBYR’s SoundCloud page.
Najii Person’s music fits squarely into this category. Like the artists I mentioned, the St. Louis rapper aims for interesting song ideas. His music evokes the everyman themes of The College Dropout, the album that motivated him to pursue rapping. “Used To” is about appearance versus reality, learning to unfurl someone’s personality at the onset of a relationship. The beat feels a little too busy at first but develops into a smooth blend over time. Najii’s a cool, conversational rapper. His wordplay and imagery at the start grabs me the most:
Black hoodie on, he either robbin’ or the Reaper
Nigga I’m both and neither
That don’t make sense but neither does Easter
Playboy Bunny in front of the preacher
Pimp Pimp P – “Time I$ Money” (prod. ThankYouFizzle)
While Desto Dubb spits game on getting your bands up selling juice, his younger brother Pimp Pimp P is committed to more worldly self-help. “Time is money” is the central aphorism of this song, and his argument here is that he’s allowed to mack on your girl because he can’t waste time waiting for you to move on. Who said business advice has to be relegated to timid old-man raps over No I.D. beats?
This song is such a weird, hyperactive joy that could only be the product of hyper-regional LA street rap. Pimp Pimp P’s raspy, pubescent voice sounds like it’s constantly about to cave in on itself, like a 45-year-old smoker’s croak. There’s an Elmo-like character squawking ad libs like “phenomenal sensation!” in the background. Pimp Pimp P’s best brag is about having his future planned out. Here’s to more wisdom from Mr. Smooth Flavor.
Young Thug – “Gain Clout” (prod. Keyyz/Smoke)
There’s an irrational obsession with the “Young Thug fell off” narrative. This take seems to be more a case of I Miss The Old Thug traditionalism than legitimate criticism. Sure, he hasn’t dropped a Barter 6 since Barter 6, or a Slime Season since Slime Season, but to expect a generational talent like Thug to stick to the same formula is naive. It’d be reasonable if the experiments didn’t work, but his pop ventures have been stunning; Beautiful Thugger Girls was irresistible, one of Thug’s most fully-realized projects to date.
Slime Language is a compilation album that looks and sounds like a compilation album, so fitting it into Thug’s career arc is meaningless. It retains some cohesion through Thug’s piloting and generous swaths of production from Wheezy, but for the most part, it’s a fun, low-stakes showcase of YSL’s burgeoning talent. Amidst the torrid guitar beats (that Gunna tears apart) and the flashy pop excursions, the one that will satisfy everyone is “Gain Clout.” In the context of Slime Language, “Gain Clout” feels vintage. There’s the virtuosic flow-switching, the 580-horsepower rapping, the call-back to “Hercules,” even the undercurrents of commentary on the state of rap. It’s Thug at his most familiar and unbeatable.
Cousin Stizz – “Shop” (prod. Lil Rich/Tee Watt)
In the eyes of most rap fans, Stizz is a solid rapper who consistently delivers good projects, but to Boston, Stizz is this generation’s hometown hero, the rap game Jayson Tatum. Stizz is the rapper that other Boston rappers look up to, the one who demonstrated that it was possible to make it out of this neglected scene. To hear a sold-out House of Blues crowd chant “Shoutout to the money, love the drugs” last fall was glorious, but also novel – Boston’s never had its Boosie or Kodak or Greedo to rally behind.
Stizz has mostly relied on the same blueprint for his music—sticky, sing-songy choruses and unadorned raps about excess and selling drugs—but paired with excellent quality control, it’s a good one that has led to a catalog with very few misses. His new EP All Adds Up continues that trend, with opener “Shop” the clear highlight. The song is produced by Boston’s own Tee-Watt and Lil Rich, both of whom have had an outstanding year—Tee-Watt has credits on the Mac Miller and Aminé albums, and Lil Rich produced two beats on STAY DANGEROUS. “Shop” is leering and addictive and full of Stizzian proverbs (“People want what you got, once you get it just be careful sir”). It’s probably already blaring in Bodega.