Mano Sundaresan rocks a mask like Richard Hamilton.
Boldy James – Boldface
Some rappers make selling drugs sound thrilling. Others render it bleak and disheartening. Boldy James treats it as his 9-5. These are the opening bars on his new EP Boldface:
A penny saved is a penny earned, got a son that I gotta raise
It’s his turn to to turn up, so I be workin’ on my holidays
Tryna get that dollar made, slappin blocks off the promenade
18 whole ones, I been teeing off at the driving range
What makes Boldy so compelling is his ability to turn the standard drug-dealer narrative into his own. The content never feels abstract. You’re peeking into Boldy’s life.
Boldy James held the attention of the rap internet at the start of the decade with an honest voice that felt relatable, even if you couldn’t always relate to the subject matter. He’s written songs that toy with clever concepts (see: “Moochie,” wherein he breaks down all of his slang) but his best raps are subtly textured with poetic flair. On Boldface, he steps back, reconnects with The Alchemist, who produced the entirety of his 2013 debut album My 1st Chemistry Set, and rekindles that blog-era flame.
Mozzy – “Big Homie From The Hood”
It’s not even the new decade yet and producers are flipping 2000s R&B hits relentlessly. Thankfully, when it works, it works. Mozzy spills his soul over this “Let Me Love You” flip, recounting the hopelessness he once felt growing up in the hood he’s now celebrating in. TE P. has a chilling line in his interview with Mozzy where he describes the rapper’s tracks as “crying.” You hear that on full display here, in the way he delivers these verses. Even Mozzy’s catchiest tracks are overcast and heavy.
Wifigawd – “Ashanti Foolish Remix”
Another on-the-nose 2000s R&B sample (if we’re playing along with the title). Tony Seltzer has a way of turning even the brightest melodies into cold, industrial hums. Never has this sample sounded so menacing. And Wifigawd eats it up. Props to him on a great year.
Poundside Pop – “Off Top”
Heads are turning to a new wave of young rappers in Philadelphia, but in rap years, some of them have been doing this awhile. Poundside Pop, who’s lumped into this group, had a moment back in 2017 with “O.S.S,” a local hit that was a tribute to his deceased brother, rapper Trap Street Saddi. Since then, he’s narrowed in on his style, which now sits somewhere between Shy Glizzy and NBA YoungBoy. He has a penchant for choosing strange, syrupy beats and firing off haunting threats over them. “Off Top” sounds like the Minecraft OST with drums.
Don Toliver – “Can’t Feel My Legs”
Sources are telling me that in the months since I wrote about Don Toliver’s “No Idea” in this column, a chopped-and-screwed version of the song has become a TikTok hit, joining thousands of other songs that are shamelessly turned into bits and mined endlessly for Content. This one’s dance challenge is particularly horrendous. I highly suggest you don’t go looking for it so that you can still enjoy the song. Don Toliver and his label boss Travis Scott are probably loving it, though, and to capitalize on its unexpected success, they’ve put out his next single “Can’t Feel My Legs.”
Like “No Idea,” this one is a wobbly, intoxicated trip through a club under pounding strobe lights. It feels like something Travis Scott would hop on, down to Mike Dean’s indulgent synths. But instead of the Auto-Tune chameleon we get Don Toliver, one of the more intriguing rap-singers working, and once again, he delivers.