Mano Sundaresan is ill without the cotton swab testing.
Quando Rondo – Diary of a Lost Child
Across the country, rising stars are churning out somber, minor-key rap that conveys whole worlds of pain and anxiety in plain, economical language. Polo G says the word “trauma” countless times on his last album. Rod Wave constantly sings about “the bottom.” Sheff G, in one of his most stirring recent moments, simply raps, “I don’t really want nobody near me.” This speaks to the power of the voice, which can imbue words with depth and color, but also to the value of simplicity. These are writers who prioritize rhythm and tone and narrative detail over verbiage.
Another common, though not universal, thread among these rappers: They love 2Pac. Polo G sampled “Changes.” Rod Wave told Billboard that Pac “laid the blueprint.” And Quando Rondo, a bluesy rapper from Savannah, GA, called his debut album QPac.
In the first song off his brooding new tape Diary of a Lost Child, Quando asks a divine being, “Why it seem like I got all these problems?” Then, he wanders around town, buys some Newports, and starts to unfurl. He pours out some Hennessy for his cousin. He name drops another deceased friend. He compares his father to Big Tookie Williams. He says that he has depression.
Quando Rondo writes in a loose, visceral style, like every song is a personal free writing exercise. The tracklist to Diary Of A Lost Child contains song titles like “Pain & Process,” “Materialistic Pain,” “Pain Inside Of Me,” and “Depression.” This might feel on-the-nose, but really it’s radical sincerity, a trait that defines the blues and propels Quando’s gloomy rap into sharp, brutal territory. His voice is a somber, bleating instrument, his beat selection is indulgently dramatic, and his writing is all guttural thoughts, feelings, memories stacked on top of each other and sung like hymns.
Like his label boss NBA YoungBoy, you won’t find Quando Rondo on many blogs, but you will find him racking up millions of plays on YouTube and blasting out of systems in the Deep South. A large part of the appeal is his voice, a soulful alchemy of his Baton Rouge mentor’s grit and Rich Homie Quan’s buttery tenor, but it’s also the way he unspools detail, as though he’s reading from a Notes app entry that just keeps going and going.
Nowhere is that more apparent than on Diary, where Quando constantly conjures vivid images in small chunks of stanza. On “Downfall,” for several lines, he plants himself in the mind of a friend who’s behind bars. Cut off from the world, his friend is losing faith in his day-ones; he’s mad that Quando isn’t checking on his kid.
These knotty relationships — family, friends, girlfriends — pervade Diary. Naturally, so too do love and loss, plainly and directly, and in Quando’s hands, as spiritual entities in themselves. When he talks about heartbreak, he literally talks about his heart, how it’s “torn” or “getting colder” or “cryin’.” By writing about his abstract feelings in the same, stoic way as he does people and places, Quando flattens his internal and external worlds down to one. There is no prejudicing of observable detail or private feeling. It’s all Quando, and it all matters.
SieteGang Yabbie – “Gift Of Gab” & “Never Trust”
SieteGang Yabbie is one of the most inventive rappers I’ve come across this year. He’s one of the West Coast’s most unpredictable stylists, deploying an unorthodox mix of relaxed flows and dizzying passages in a constant sneer. His rambly style recalls Suga Free and E-40, but his textures and beat palette dwell within the swampy, sedated sound of San Diego street rap. Also, I don’t think any rapper rolls their R’s quite like Yabbie.
On “Gift Of Gab,” Yabbie practically scats like a jazz singer over the saxophone loop, volleying threats and boasts in flourishes. He’s effective in these group contexts in the way that Sada Baby is in Detroit posse cuts, as a sort of unhinged foil. But, like Sada, he’s also able to hold his own, carry a track and divulge deep feelings. He uses his urgent style to convey anxiety, for instance, on “Never Trust,” his voice rising, breaking, and thinning out considerably as the track progresses. Not many approach rap with the same freedom and spirit as Yabbie.
Jay Critch, Vendetta & Mari Mac – “The Line Up”
The year is 2065. The world is a mess of flooding and climate change-accelerated pandemics, the U.S. is being commandeered by X Æ A-12, and most disastrous of all, Rich Forever still exists. Rich The Kid is somehow parasitizing his way onto the hottest AI-generated rap records, Famous Dex is still making the same song, and Jay Critch is still a world-class rapper trapped in label hell.
This can all be avoided. Rich The Kid, if you’re reading this, free Jay Critch. Please.
Ghostie – “Drill Ghostie”
Ghostie infuses the gothic sounds of drill into Anti-World’s deep-space vortex of synths, ice pillars and demons. The concoction whirls and twirls like a Fivio Foreign song, swells and progresses like Self Hate Wraith, and Ghostie himself towers over it all with cavernous, crystalline vocals. This was meant to be.
Chief Keef & Mike WiLL Made-It – “BANG BANG”
The thing about Chief Keef is that he’s pretty much universally hailed as a generational talent, and people are quick to deem him “important” and “influential,” but rarely do I see actual discourse about his approach to the craft and how he’s still growing and evolving before our very eyes. Like, forget the narrative for a second: His latest, “BANG BANG,” is just incredible rapping. Even as he mellows out a bit at the ripe old age of 25, Keef is somehow getting even funnier, wittier, and more interesting. With a totally straight face, he says that you can tell he’s getting money by his “tummy, tummy, tummy, yummy yummy.” He’s “the alley cat and you the rat that run around with coppers.” He’s balling so hard he needs a Fiji water. Money’s his baby; the paternity test came in, he’s the father.
Keef is also getting sharper, more enveloped in language. For most of the first verse, he digs into a winding, knotty passage about Xbox and A and B buttons and buying a Plan B because Plan A didn’t work. It’s exhilarating stuff, buoyed by Mike WiLL Made-It’s sparse, pristine production, and the video is a whole action movie. They allegedly have a joint album on the way, and if it’s going to be more Keef in his clean-edged, Dedication-era rap bag, I don’t envision it being anything short of great.