Brandon Callender is from where the hammers rung, news cameras never come.
ZELOOPERZ — DYN-O-MITE
ZelooperZ’s Dyn-O-Mite kicks off with “JayJay-Z,” a retooling of Jay-Z’s “Where I’m From.” Black Noi$e, the album’s sole producer, puts his touches on the the song’s recognizable instrumental: he slows it down, deepens its bass hits, makes them ring and adds rumbling 808s. The song just like the original, ZelooperZ imitates all the “g-g-g-geahs,” and mumbles “how real is this?” to himself, invoking the spirit of Hov himself.
But it’s no longer about the Marcy Projects. It’s not about Hov either, the song references him in title (and instrumental) alone. ZelooperZ uses the song to introduce both himself and the city of Detroit to those that don’t know what they’re about. He dramatically switches flows. Going from ones imitating Jay-Z, to ones with cartoonish vocal inflections to spitting in short, rapid bursts to showcase how comfortable he is different styles.
Dyn-O-Mite is the Bruiser Brigade rapper’s second project of the year, following February’s Wild Card. He takes listeners on a sarcastic, humorous journey through his childhood and Westside Detroit over boom-bap beats. He’ll go through his checklist of comedic insults (“These n*****s is looking like licks / They look like frosties),
On “Bigger Than Me,” ZelooperZ, who stands at 6’7, he takes a step back to realize that some of the problems of his childhood are larger than him. He remembers having to wear his dad’s pants to school as a result of growing up poor. “Didn’t wanna be home because this shit was bothering me / Fuckin’ with me, nothin to heat, nothin to eat / Mice only thing that’s making a peep,” he raps. He’s come to realize that those issues aren’t isolated moments in his life. He vividly depicts what it looks like to grow up poor with a violent home situation. It’s an issue he’s opening up to and uses this song to process that experience.
It’s a bittersweet end for an album like Dyn-O-Mite, which has so many moments of brightness, like the nostalgic “Easter Sunday,” featuring Earl Sweatshirt, where he reminisces on happier times, like his first girlfriend and calls himself a “drunk superhero.” Dyn-O-Mite is the audio equivalent of flipping through a scrapbook — each song is a different page of the Detroit rapper’s childhood and him trying to find ways to make sense of his life.
70TH STREET CARLOS X SAUCE WALKA — “DRIP ON 70TH STREET”
Every 70th Street Carlos song needs to be accompanied by a live marching band. It’s Rebirth Brass Band meets New Orleans Bounce. “Drip on 70th Street” is no different. The Alamo Records-signed rapper dropped this single ahead of his upcoming project, Win or Lose, set to release in June.
Houston’s Sauce Walka fills the song’s dead air with OOOWEE!’s and 70’s! Carlos sets the pace, talking the most shit he can. He talks about how his women are so fine people think they’re foreign, but they’re “just mixed.”
In one half of the song, you have Carlos threatening to blitz you with a full team of shooters. Then you have Sauce Walka screaming out rumors that your girlfriend only has three toes. Neither of them are trying to hear any of your excuses and leave you stuck between a rock and a sauce-filled place.
Carlos bookended his 2018 by releasing his debut mixtape, 777, which was filled with the bouncy and brassy sound Baton Rouge is known for. He combines his absurd sense of humor with a stinging threats. Carlos fills in a generational void — he’s the Webbie of Baton Rouge’s newest generation of rappers. There’s no true equivalent to “Wipe Me Down” in his discography yet, but he’s steadily working to perfect his sound.
POLO G — “DEEP WOUNDS”
Polo G has become the quintessential part of the soundtrack to way too many car rides and late night talks with my friends. The Chicago rapper was featured on Calboy’s “Caroline,” which Harley Geffner covered in May 13’s Rap-Up. He’s part of a larger scene of melodic rappers from Chicago, including Lil Zay Osama and El Hitta, who all pay homage to Lil Durk. Polo G is creating ballads deeply rooted in trauma from gun violence and poverty in the city.
“Deep Wounds,” a single for his upcoming album, Die A Legend, released Friday and the video features Polo G cruising through a desert valley. He’s riding solo, remembering all the loved ones and homies he’s lost.
He remembers his friend “who got shot on the same block where they used to play.” He remembers Lil Joe, “who’ll make you give your chain up.” But most importantly, he remembers how unbearable the pain of losing these people.
At 20 years old, he showcases his ability to grapple with violent tendencies and the permanent outcomes of gun violence. “Everything could change, depend on what you do today / You gotta live with each decision that you chose to make / I used to hustle to survive, I found a newer way,” he raps.
His closest comparison is Baton Rouge’s NBA Youngboy — someone who covers the same subject matter with the same passion and urgings for revenge. They fall on opposite sides of the same coin, when Youngboy would confidently make the call to follow through with plans of vengeance, Polo G is more hesitant, trying to find a way to make things right without continuing a violent cycle. These split decisions make Polo G stand out. He wants to find ways to cope with his feelings of grief that don’t involve picking the gun back up.
XANMAN — “7.62 INTRO (PT. 3)”
After getting locked up in November, Xanman returned home this earlier month. He dropped “Pink” the night he was released and “First Day Out” with Yung Manny the day after. Now, he’s released “7.62 Intro Pt. 3,” the intro to his upcoming mixtape 7.62 Vol. 3. The Maryland rapper is glides over the the piano keys playing in the instrumental, opening the song with his melodic Ooo-Ooo-Ooo’s and sings about a time when he could’ve ended up dead because of someone snaking him on the hook.
He brags about a girl hitting him up because she saw his Apple Music page while he traps out of an AirBnB. Xanman’s the funniest rapper in the DMV, it’s clear he has fun making music. In his collaborations with Manny, he’s always smiling and playfully dancing while making unbelievable threats.
Xanman came home prepared to bring back the comedic and absurdist edge DMV Rap was missing. He has another snippet with Manny floating around, where they drop Endgame spoilers in their punchlines.
INJURY RESERVE — Self-Titled
Injury Reserve has never been afraid of saying what needs to be said or sounding however they want to, and on their self-titled debut album they remind us of that. The Arizona trio started the year off with “Jawbreaker,” featuring Rico Nasty. On that track, Nathaniel Ritchie fearlessly calls out the fashion industry for turning a blind eye to its abusers, calling out Ian Connor specifically.
The song features on their Loma Vista-released debut, whose tracklist reads like the Pitchfork Music Festival lineup: Rico Nasty and Pro Teens, JPEGMAFIA and Cakes Da Killa, Freddie Gibbs, Amine and DRAM. It’s a feature list that should scream randomness but that’s not the case here. Even while working within the label system, the group has continued to make the rebellious music they’re born to make.
“Rap Song Tutorial” satirizes the process of creating a rap song. Microsoft Samantha guides Ritchie through the seven step process, starting off with beat construction: creating a drum loop and layering a melody on top of it. Then she gives Ritchie some breathing room to write out a hook and a verse.
“What a Year It’s Been” has Stepa J. Groggs and Ritchie spilling everything about their experiences over the last year. Groggs touches on the ruts of his depression and how he deals with it, rapping “Got out of my funk, and now I feel alive / Writin’ verses with a smile while my daughter’s by my side, like / Look, mom, I made that! Look, mom, I made that.” Ritchie picks up right after that, where he raps about people who tried to use him and the group’s recent rise.
A similar tone is carried in “Best Spot in the House,” where Ritchie opens up about some of his regrets. He believes that he has the best seat in the house, because only he is able to deal with the grief involved in losing a friend to overdose. He asks himself, “Shit was juvenile, like how was I too cowardly to go to your fuckin’ funeral / But still feel like rappin’ about your death was fuckin’ suitable?” He’s the only person that can bring himself to be at peace in dealing with the overdose of his friend and won’t let anyone take that opportunity away from him.
While at times melancholy, Injury Reserve makes for a triumphant return for the group, being their first full-length release since 2017’s Drive it Like it’s Stolen. Ritchie and Groggs flex their growth as songwriters, showing that they’re more than a group of sardonic jokers — they’re one of the best rap groups out today.