Noteworthy Hip Hop

Noteworthy Hip Hop – October 2019

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #120. 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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I love fall! The cool breezes and smell of decomposing leaves reminds me that the stupid, hot summer is over and the bright, crisp air of winter is coming soon. Fall has the best weather to watch horror movies, the best air, the best holidays and, as it appears this year, the best hip hop. Just like a white girl’s cup filled with pumpkin spice, my ears runneth over. And next month is looking even better. Truly, fall is the greatest.

Sampa the Great – The Return

When I started writing this column last spring, there were a handful of people who I knew I wanted to write about when they released their next album. Sampa the Great was at the top of that list, and her newest album, The Return, exceeds my expectations. The Zambian-born, Botswana-raised, Australian-based MC is a shining star in the international hip hop scene. Her aesthetic draws on her rich African heritage, but mixes in the traditional elements of US hip hop, with a hint of Australian aboriginal sounds. Sampa is a dexterous lyricist, flowing nimbly across jazzy beats with a distinct R&B flavor, discussing her blackness and femininity in the frame of the international music scene. At 78 minutes the album runs a bit on the long side, but I still want to hear Sampa flow more and more!

JPEGMAFIA – All My Heroes are Cornballs

JPEGMAFIA is unapologetically experimental. On All My Heroes Are Cornballs, Peggy, as he is affectionately known, constantly switches between soft, elegant melodies and aggressive, industrial productions that I guess count as beats, but often feel like they lack structure. As he sings, the production glitches, and suddenly you’re in the middle of a song you don’t recognize. This tracks with the gender-bending imagery in his lyrics and album artwork. At times this jostling of tone and texture across the album feels like a coherent worldview of an Iraq war veteran with an MA in journalism who makes noisy hip hop. Other times, it feels like Peggy is just trying to piss off white people on the internet. To be honest, these are both great reasons to make an album.

Hua Li – Dynasty

Dynasty sounds like a ‘90s R&B singer got stuck in an ‘80s cyberpunk movie that has a soundtrack produced by Lil Ugly Mane. Now, I know that sentence sounds ridiculous, but I feel like it accurately sums up the new album from the Montreal MC/DJ, Hua Li. Li is half-Chinese and draws on her ethnic heritage to produce a synth-heavy soundtrack to her diasporic life in Canada. She likes to play the traditional hip hop tropes – she’s a bragadocious pimp who’s going to steal your man – but she also exposes her vulnerable side and lets the listener into her world. Li blends her singing talent with a strong lyricism over deep, hypnotic basslines from Alexander Thibault. I really hope that when they recast Tron with an all-female cast, they look up Hau Li and Alexander Thibault to make the soundtrack. Also, if they recast Tron with an all-female cast, I demand royalties.

Earthgang – Mirrorland

OutKast’s influence on hip hop is undeniable, but it feels especially pronounced on the new LP from Atlanta-duo, Earthgang. Loosely based on The Whiz, Mirrorland not only echoes OutKast’s iconic chemistry, but also the musical-ness of their collaborations. Olu (aka Johnny Venus) and WowGr8 (aka Doctur Dot) navigate an ethereal Atlanta cityscape, transitioning between sing-song rapping and surreal, rapidfire verses. They take the listener down the surreal yellow-brick road of Atlanta, showing us all of the ups, downs and just plain weird that evolves in one of the most creative cities in the US.

Danny Brown – U Know What I’m Sayin?

I’m know that I’m not the only one to say this, but Danny Brown might be the best rapper of his generation. On U Know What I’m Sayin? Brown blesses the mic with his trademark flow and punchlines for days, but he also shows us that he’s matured as an artist and a person. The drugs and women are sidelined in favor of lessons that he’s learned from a lifetime of living on the edge. With beats from (among others) Paul White, JPEGMAFIA and Flying Lotus, the production across the album is as eclectic as you would expect from any of Brown’s work. However, executive producer Q-Tip keeps the album cohesive and tight, handing Danny the limelight. As he doles out life lessons on U Know What I’m Sayin? my cousin’s words echo in my ear: “Danny Brown is for the children.”

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Noah Springer is a writer and editor based in Boston. You can follow him on Twitter @noahjspringer.

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