Noteworthy Hip Hop – June 2019

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #116. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Fresh hip hop beats

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After a few months of writing for the Unwinnable website, I’m very excited to have my hip hop column transition over to the magazine proper! However, it makes me realize that a lot of readers may not know who I am. So, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Noah and I’m from St. Louis, but I’ve lived in Illinois, Colorado, and Europe. I’m currently based in Boston which is . . . acceptable. I like to write about hip hop, movies, TV and digital culture, but I also dabble in writing things that I think are funny, but nobody seems to want to pay me for that – I guess that’s what a blog is for. I also have a cat named Butters and she bites my wife on the eyebrow every night around 2am, but we still love her for some reason.

Anyway, enough about me for one column. Onto the music!

Pan Amsterdam – Elevator Music Vol.1

I’m a fan of weird things. I like capital W “Weird” books and movies and just regular, old weird people and I like weird hip hop. Pan Amsterdam, while certainly not the weirdest hip hop artist out there (shout out to Kool Keith) can certainly fall into the category of weird and Elevator Music Vol. 1 is definitely a weird album. Its features are certainly eclectic enough (proto-punk icon Iggy Pop, art rap philosopher, Open Mike Eagle and jazz, virtuoso trumpeter Leron Thomas), but it also veers into some nearly post-rock ambiance. However, even when it veers a little too far out of the traditional musical structures for my liking, I can still get into the album because I love the weirdness, and I hope it gets weirder.

Kari Faux – CRY 4 HELP

This is a nice little stoney EP with some sultry verses over jazzy production. Kari Faux’s laid-back delivery seems to contradict the rather aggressive album cover, but she also doesn’t shy away from feeling some anger, particularly on her final track where she discusses her miscarriage. It’s hard to imagine this kind of topic being addressed in a hip hop song even ten years ago, but it’s great to see Kari succeed even while addressing such unusual and difficult subjects.

Choosey & Exile – Black Beans

Exile is one of the top boom-bap producers out there at the moment and Choosey’s clear, lyrical verses compliment his style with ease. Black Beans is a throwback to hot summer days in the Southern California of their youth, but it doesn’t lean into the more problematic aspects of the music of that time. Instead, Choosey and Exile play it nice and fun, keeping the tone light but the lyrics tight.

Tree – WE Grown NOW

Soul Trap is back, baby! Since 2012, MC Tree has blended smooth soul samples with gritty vocals, punctuating his anachronistic sounds with harsh stories inspired by his life growing up in the Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago. After a break, Tree is back with WE Grown NOW, and although sometimes he seems unendingly serious, he also pulls back from the darkness with some of the best raspy-voiced singing this side of Louis Armstrong. If you haven’t listened to Tree, go pick this album up and pay attention to one of the best MC’s out there wrapping tragedy hope, and humor together into the Soul Trap.

Little Simz – Grey Area

I am amazed that I have gotten four columns off about hip hop for Unwinnable without dipping outside of the US. That changes today because you need to listen to Little Simz. Grey Area is an impressive follow-up to her 2016 Alice in Wonderland inspired album, Stillness in Wonderland. Produced in full by her childhood friend, Inflo, her newest album is at once thoughtful and controversial, finding the MC puzzling over the state of the world and confronting it head-on. Grey Area is an album with a deftness of a 25-year old who is already a veteran.

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