Mano Sundaresan is a scholar in the religion called Instagram.
Hook – Crashed My Car
Hook’s latest album Crashed My Car opens the only way it could have: somewhere in Riverside, CA, moments after a car crash, our mermaid-haired antihero on the line with a police officer asserting that she’s “Hook, bitch.” Then, sirens. And then, NEDARB’s tar-melting, earthquake bounce — the first of 10 — and Hook’s first breathy mantra: “Walk in. Who is she. Not Hook. Wannabe.”
Hook bottles up a concoction of paranoia, irreverence, and menace on “Wanna Be” and just keeps selling it for the album’s duration. She pens many more capsule-choruses that read like fragments of Instagram scripture:
“I crashed my car, and I’m like damn.”
“He still fall in luh.”
“I’m so awesome.”
She matches NEDARB’s numbing beats with similarly brute-forced verses, filling every ounce of space with dense clouds of threats and ad libs. Sometimes she’s just mumbling something totally different underneath her raps. This is incredibly chaotic music. Listen responsibly.
Luke Bar$ – GoodEvil
Since his teenage years performing at high school assemblies and shooting videos around his hometown of Brockton, MA, Luke Bar$ has always chased heady, metaphysical concepts. Now 21, his pen game has improved and his technique has sharpened considerably, thanks to feeding off the energy of the talented, multifaceted Van Buren crew he’s part of. He approaches every beat with the light-footedness of a ballet dancer — Kendrick Lamar on helium, Smino with more balance. That skill earned him an invitation to J. Cole’s Revenge of the Dreamers sessions in early 2019, after which he put out a solid EP with fellow Van Buren member Jiles called 2 Sides.
On his debut album GoodEvil, Luke is more focused than ever, tapping into his gift for autobiography to spin a personal narrative around duality and his own bipolar disorder. It starts with “Robber,” where his voice is scorched through distortion as he raps about being a good kid, then about threatening to kill the person who robbed him.
He’s constantly flipping between the careening highs and crushing lows, all while weaving in family, spirituality, and aspirations. The beats serve these ends, grounding Luke’s writing with an earthy grit. Mostly by newcomer Kiron Akil, they’re vibrant and soulful and wouldn’t sound out of place on a TDE record. “Gangbanger” lurches through sliced-up keys; “Die With Pride” is so Kendrick that Luke lifts a Kendrick flow for it.
Of the tracks here, “Luke, He a Good Kid” cuts deepest. Luke sounds like he’s breaking, his words cracking and spinning out. “Tired of spreading the love when the love ain’t spread around,” he sighs, before recalling his home burning down, his auntie trying to kill his grandma, taking money from the studio to pay bail. He’s trying to keep his cool in a world that has rarely been kind to him.
By the time the album has reached its conclusion with “God,” it’s evident that Luke Bar$ has a deeper story to tell, and that this is just a slice. These songs may ultimately stack up as seedlings compared to the more ambitious work Luke seems capable of down the road, but they serve as an effective preamble.
Shordie Shordie – “FDP”
Shordie Shordie’s penchant for melody feels vintage and bluesy, more Boosie than anyone from the current moment. His voice is raspy, authentic, untouched by any processing. That, combined with his earworm hook-writing, makes his music constantly refreshing, even if songs like “FDP” aren’t breaking new ground formally.
Marlo, Future, and Lil Baby – “1st N 3rd”
It’s easy to forget that this one is by Quality Control signee Marlo; not only does Future fly solo for the first two minutes, he unleashes a vintage DS2 flow that still sounds ahead of its time. This is Future’s real entrance to the new decade after that spliced-together Drake collab that the internet continues to lie about.
Rylo Rodriguez – “Yesterday Blues”
When Leon Bridges released “That Was Yesterday” as part of the Big Little Lies soundtrack, I doubt he imagined that less than a year later, a Mobile, Alabama street rapper would throw 808s on it, harmonize in Auto-Tune with the chorus, and mush-mouth lines like “I told her she cannot suck my dick, ‘cause she just ate onion rings” over that delicately strummed guitar. I love rap so much.