Mano Sundaresan is also really into The Fairly Oddparents.
Boathouse x Ajani Jones – ONE PUNCH
In the opening moments of “SAITANA” off ONE PUNCH, Ajani Jones offers a glimpse of his Chicago: “Southside demons born as angels / They learn their manners but how they supposed to say thank you?”Jones is a colorful writer with an acrobatic delivery, zooming into details then springing back like a rubberband. He’s usually operating in that sweet spot of ‘technical but not too rappity-rap,’ revving up not for the sake of revving up but to convey urgency and paranoia. Boathouse’s production zips by with the same velocity.
Jones and Boathouse are signed to Closed Sessions, an independent label that has been an incubator of Chicago hip-hop for the last decade. This kind of push is often necessary in Chicago, a city whose overabundance of talent leaves many artists operating at the scene’s fringes. Michael Kolar, and Alex Fruchter, the co-founders of Closed Sessions, once provided recording time and space to Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa, and have more recently jumpstarted the careers of Kweku Collins and Jamila Woods. Ajani Jones and Boathouse may be next up on their talented roster.
YungManny – “Billy and Mandy” (prod. Captain Crunch, Good Intent)
I’ve started every day of this numbingly cold week with this ridiculous song and it’s made it so much more bearable. There is no better way to deal with genuinely violent weather than hearing the massive transition from YungManny’s barks about haikus and Caillou to Good Intent’s soaring hook that is deeper than you think (the Billy and Mandy relationship is a complex one. Also Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy is the best Cartoon Network show of the 2000s but that conversation is for another time.) YungManny tries this sing-songy formula a few other times on his latest tape Hey Manny 2 (see: the equally-great “I’m YungManny”) to tremendous success. YungManny is already a bigger-than-life, cartoon-referencing savant, but give him pop production and glossy hooks and he’s suddenly the closest thing the DMV has had to a crossover star since Goldlink.
Blockhead – “Slippery Slope (feat. Open Mike Eagle, billy woods, & Breezly Brewin)”
Blockhead’s beats are regal. Regal in that somber, countryside way, never over-the-top or extravagant. For decades they’ve been the scaffolding for many classic underground songs and verses, including much of Aesop Rock’s best material. “Slippery Slope,” off his album Free Sweatpants released through backwoodz studioz, continues the trend of stellar rapping over his production. billy woods, Open Mike Eagle, and Breezly Brewin (of Juggaknots) all check in for verses that perfectly toe the line between heady and bluesy. Mike Eagle’s “Ain’t seen a break since Tiger’s last fist pump” is the most relatable line of the month.
Lord Apex – “EM3” (prod. Toonorth)
I’ve never been to London but I’ve only heard that it’s dark and rains a lot. This music video doesn’t do much to shift the stereotype. Lord Apex has been making an absurd amount of cloudy, meditative music to match his West London backdrop for the past few years, with (by my count) 17 projects to his name. His music is definitely lo-fi but never dips too far into the muffled, subterranean tone of, say, NYC’s lo-fi scene, instead hovering around a clearer, more grounded register. He also has bangers (see: “SSV2”).
This one, from his latest project Smoke Sessions, Vol. 2, is sedated and gorgeous. He hits the Woah on Toonorth’s drunken beat which is remarkable.
Lonnie 2x – “G.iFlow (feat. Bandgang Lonnie)”
Call it mainstream erasure or my sheer ignorance but I haven’t heard of a rapper from Denver, CO, until now. This is also the most Lonnies I’ve seen credited on a song. Lonnie 2x trades verses with Bandgang Lonnie in the sneering style of the latter’s Detroit scene. It’s smart and menacing and makes you want to count money.