Son Raw rang the alarm.
My interest in Jamaica’s burgeoning hip-hop scene surrounding The Council continues unabated, thanks to the crew’s rapid release schedule and unique approach to the newest wave of sampled-based hip-hop. Whereas Five Steez’ Pantone EP sought to make international connections, Nomad Carlos’ latest, BLXVK DESERT, keeps things in house, with beats provided by the crew’s Inztinks. The result is a darker release, owing not only to the production but also Carlos’ conversational approach to street tales.
Carlos, much like his American counterparts that came up in the wake of Roc Marci, doesn’t stray far from the topics covered by today’s trap-minded artists. Instead, it’s his approach with the pen and the style and detail with which he conveys his stories that set him apart from the pack. Take “Crhyme” for instance, which flips a dramatic prog rock sample worthy of RZA to create a patois inflected reflection, heavy on paranoia and doubt, with lines like 16 having flashes of prison jumping out as particularly vivid.
While dancehall and Jamaican trap has never been short of gunman talk or aggression, its high-energy vibe and need to make an impact in the dance has mostly obfuscated the intricacies of street life in Jamaica in favor of big hooks and good times. Here, Carlos goes in the exact opposite direction, assigning emotional peaks to specific moments and painting a grim and novelistic picture of life on the island. “Duppy Mecca,” complete with a video shot in a cemetery, doubles down on this intensity, with a hook and vibe straight out of rap’s Mafioso era, at least until guest Falcon Outlaw brings a yard flavor to balance out the darkness.
Ultimately, the EP succeeds off this creative tension between underground East Coast hip-hop’s writerly detail and Jamaican music’s patois, vibe and historical signifiers (Ring Di Alarm sample anyone?) What’s most exciting about this stuff to me is how the rules have yet to be written, and as Carlos bounces between accented English and full on Patois, the language he uses never strays from the goal of talking about a very real slice of Jamaica that rarely gets shine.