All types of Hip Hop artists descended upon Austin, Texas for SXSW 2018, trying to make a lasting impression on fans and industry-types alike. But HipHopDX readers don’t need a festival to find quality music because the Underground Report is back, spotlighting another batch of under-the-radar artists who deserve your listening attention.
This edition of the Report looks back at seven of the best indie Hip Hop cuts that dropped over the course of February. There’s tons of music to keep up with these days, so let me make it a little easier for you by singling out some of the hidden gems.
Spark Master Tape – “Game Plan”
There are very few enigmas nowadays since most artists are broadcasting their lives on social media. Spark Master Tape is one of the exceptions, carving out a career without revealing his identity or true voice to the public. The mystery is obviously part of the appeal, but his skills are what makes him more than a gimmick. Seven Sekkonds Of Silence, Spark Master’s latest project, dropped in February and continued a hot streak of releases that began in 2012. “Game Plan” is a highlight of the tape with its retro aesthetic and sampled-hook setting the stage for his modulated lyrical gymnastics. Who needs to need to hear his “true” voice when the music’s this dope?
Topaz Jones – “Toothache”
Montclair, New Jersey doesn’t spring to mind when thinking about cities keeping funk alive. That might need to change since one of its natives, Topaz Jones, is doing a damn good job at it. Jones has cultivated a funk-centric sound straight out of the genre’s glory days in the ’60s and ’70s. His new single “Toothache” is a shining example of his capabilities as he and co-producer Kashaka concoct a voluminous production that’d make George Clinton proud. Jones’ flow is a seamless fit too as his vocals glide on the beat in the smoothest fashion. And with slick lines such as “No accountant, I can Count like Basie though” in the mix, this record is the total package.
Sa-Roc – “Forever”
Sa-Roc’s been grinding on the independent scene for years, and her hard work paid off when she became the second woman to be signed by Rhymesayers Entertainment. As evident on her single “Forever,” the deal was well-deserved. Sa-Roc is a tremendous talent on the microphone, oozing with confidence as a rapper and as a person. In her rhymes, she makes it clear that she cannot be denied for much longer. “Went through too much hell to not be fire, but they still feigning ignorance/So now I came to collect my just due with remaining interest,” she spits in the incredible final verse of “Forever.” The Sol Messiah-produced track is a fitting introduction for new listeners and a refreshing reminder of her aptitude for fans patiently waiting for her Rhymesayers debut.
Ciscero – “Function” f. GoldLink, April George & Cheakaity
In a previous edition of the Report, I mentioned how the DMV area has become a hotbed for Hip Hop. In yet another example of its rich talent pool, Ciscero secured a spot on this month’s entry with his single “Function.” The Maryland artist got his biggest look to date by appearing on GoldLink’s At What Cost — HipHopDX’s Most Slept-On Album of 2017 — and Link has given him another assist by helping out on “Function.”
Although they share some musical sensibilities, Ciscero has an intensity that sets him apart from being a GoldLink clone. On the Supah Mario-produced “Function,” both men deliver entertaining verses, bolstered by a catchy hook from April George and Cheakaity. If this is what listeners can expect to hear on Ciscero’s upcoming Devil’s Pie EP, it may only be a matter of time until he has his own breakout single like “Crew.”
Warm Brew – “Same Page” f. Niko G4
I became a fan of Warm Brew after hearing their excellent Diagnosis EP, which I’d argue is one of the best projects from 2016. Anything they put out has been a must-listen for me ever since, and their February release “Same Page” is no exception. The trio of Manu Li, Serk Spliff and Ray Wright teamed up with fellow Los Angeles artist Niko G4 for a track that’s dripping in Cali flavor. All four MCs are adept rhymers, quickly settling into the pocket of this breezy production. Producers Polyester The Saint and Al B Smoov really capture the L.A. vibes with a beat that brings out the cool summer atmosphere in audio form. With this sound, Warm Brew could follow in Dom Kennedy’s footsteps as the go-to source for Hip Hop’s summer soundtrack.
K.L.U.B. Monsta – “Pre Season”
Alabama’s Hip Hop scene has been slept-on for decades. G-Side‘s slow fade to the background and Doe B’s death certainly didn’t help the state’s wider recognition, leaving Yelawolf as the one big name to represent Bama rap. New artists like OMB Peezy and YBN Nahmir could change the tide (pun intended) on a mainstream level, but the underground has been holding it down for years.
Birmingham’s K.L.U.B. Monsta are a fine example of the unsung talent in Bama, releasing a series of excellent projects during the 2010s. The trio recently made their return by dropping a new single titled “Pre Season.” J-Dotta, Kel-Ricks and Joshua’s first release since 2013’s Canvas is a triumphant comeback, unleashing a furious array of bars over Rafeal “Anthem” Brown’s hard-pounding drums. The song is just a teaser of what’s to come as the group preps their next album, the aptly-named When Gawd Ready.
Chen – “The Allegory Of The Hood”
There are plenty of artists that we as Hip Hop heads only know due to our local scene. Chen is one such artist for me. A good friend in my hometown of Baton Rouge would often mention this little known MC to me. Chen — a dual threat on the mic and boards — hadn’t made any major mark in the city, but this trustworthy source always sang his praises. Although I too came to appreciate Chen’s artistry, I maintained a “show and prove” attitude since he hadn’t dropped a project.
That changed in February when he released The Man Wit One I EP. It’s brief — clocking in at just 11 minutes — yet packed with some astonishing storytelling and intriguing production. “The Allegory Of The Hood” is just one of the intricate narratives on the six-track project, but it’s the most evocative. I’ll avoid spoiling the plot and simply say this track is a great illustration of the hidden jewels that can be found in your local scene.