The past few weeks saw plenty of releases; while some were highly anticipated, others were unforeseen gems. As promised, here’s a list of seven of my top-rated picks for Feb-March. Enjoy the vibes! (Note: Songs are in order from oldest to most recently released.)
1. Find Me, Pt.2 – Ivan Ave
My latest obsession hails from Oslo, Norway. Ivan Ave is a rising emcee with a knack for lyrical composition coupled with a meticulous ear for exceptional production, as Stone Throw’s Mndsgn provides the soundbed for Ave’s latest project Helping Hands. “Find Me, Pt.2” is the darker, more reflexive sequel to it’s predecessor: Ave explores the virtues as well as the drawbacks in life. He ends on a somber note by recalling his first memory of death, ironically over a soothing melody.
2. The Mack Book – Curren$y
“Another one!” *DJ Khaled voice* Luckily for us, Curren$y and Alchemist team up once more to pull off a masterpiece: Carrollton Heist. One of my favored tracks includes the simplistic, yet classic “The Mack Book.” Alchemist builds a nostalgic atmosphere that’s only accentuated by Spitta’s laggard-sounding “la la la’s” and smooth rhymes. The collaborative effort demonstrate with this track that sometimes less is more. As the title implies, the song is a small shout out to the blaxploitation movie “The Mack.”
3. Ready – Joey Bada$$
At the age of 21, Joey Bada$$ has made a name for himself by repeatedly delivering impressive work. The New York rapper shows no sign of slowing down, in fact he comes hungrier than ever on this upbeat Static Selektah-produced record. Young Jozif emerges as uncompromisingly direct on “Ready.” Throughout he lists his various accomplishments, from sitting with Jay Z at the age of seventeen to the success of his debut album. While lyrically, Joey reveals nothing new to his cult followers, he does however demonstrate refinement and control over his sound. The joint is raw, catchy and invigorating.
4. Live For – Bas
Fiend Bassy fulfills his promise to share a personal and vulnerable piece of himself on his sophomore drop Too High to Riot. The intro to the track “Live For” especially does this as Bas clues us in on the devastating health of a close relative. It’s a melancholic beginning, but one I found myself really resonating to at the time. The Dreamville signee hones in on feelings of guilt and absolution for self-serving behavior. He’s strikingly self-aware; this is made evident through earnest verses and occasional harsh critiques.
5. untitled 08 – Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar’s unexpected Untitled Unmastered caught many by surprise, but perhaps most surprising was the fact that these were the 8-tracks that didn’t make the cut onto the Grammy-winning rap album To Pimp A Butterfly. Originally called, “untitled 02,” K Dot premiered a passionate rendition of the song on “The TonightShow with Jimmy Fallon” earlier this year. Much like TPAB, the track radiates a jazzy-funk tone and calls attention to social issues pertinent to Black America. Specifically, Kendrick raps about the economic struggle many experience, hence the play on the phrase “blue faces” which is representative of someone who’s unhappy as well as symbolic of $$$$ (hundred dollar bills to be precise).
6. XYZ – Jean Deaux ft. Smino
Jean Deaux is joined by her beau Smino to deliver a sensual earworm titled, “XYZ.” The slow-tempo sets an unwinding ambience, typical of THEMpeople production, while Jean’s hazy voice naturally compliments the steamy record. She’s proven her ability to switch back and forth effortlessly between vocalist/rapper time and again and “XYZ” is no exception. Most memorable is the ever so entrancing hook, where she declares to “lay you down to sleep.” St. Louis rapper, Smino, gives the track an edge by responding with clever, sometimes humorous references.
7. A Spike Lee Joint – Flatbush Zombies ft. Anthony Flammia
After keeping quiet for quite some time, the Flatbush Zombies have finally put out their debut album 3001: A Laced Odyssey. Picking one track from the project was more difficult than imagined, so you’ll definitely want to give it a listen. “A Spike Lee Joint” caught my ear mostly for it’s groovy aesthetic. It has a soulful influence developed in large by the saxophone and vocals from Anthony Flammia. Eric the Architect and Zombie Juice spit their fair share of hard-hitting bars in the tribute to independent film director Spike Lee.