It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you without a strong rhyme to step to ...
Borrowing a line from the legendary Rakim seemed appropriate since it’s been a minute since the last Underground Report, which looked back at some of the best (and most slept-on) albums of 2018 so far. Now, the Report is back to its regularly scheduled programming of highlighting some of the dope songs flying under the radar.
Since the previous edition was a recap of the year’s first half, this entry is more wide-ranging than usual. Instead of just looking back at the previous month, we’ve put together a grab bag of standout cuts from the last few months.
Consider this catch-up course as we get back into the swing of things for the home stretch of 2018.
Hermit & The Recluse (Ka & Animoss) – Argo
If there was a “slept-on MC” entry in an encyclopedia, it would probably have Ka’s picture next to it. Since his reemergence in 2008 via GZA’s “Firehouse,” the Brooklyn wordsmith has been cranking out some of the most lyrically dense and creative albums of the last decade.
In August, Ka blessed his small but dedicated fan base with a new offering: Orpheus vs. the Sirens. The album was a collaboration with Animoss, released under the moniker of Hermit and the Recluse. “Argo,” one of the many excellent tracks from the LP, is a perfect example of what the MC and producer offer.
Ka raps, “My darts hit the mark on target, never overshot it,” which describes his music in a nutshell. “Argo” and the rest of his Orpheus vs. the Sirens album are expertly crafted works of art worthy of dissection and appreciation, so throw on your headphones and relish it.
B.A.G. (Blimes Brixton & Gifted Gab) – Nasty
San Francisco’s Blimes Brixton and Seattle’s Gifted Gab make good music on their own but combining their talents has upped their game. The duo, together known as B.A.G., connected for “Come Correct” in January and seemed to reach the same conclusion. The song has racked up over one million views on YouTube, yet its follow-up is arguably better.
Last month, the ladies unleashed the Lou Koo-produced “Nasty” and validated the hype of “Come Correct” in doing so. Unlike their breakthrough single, which was nothing but bars, “Nasty” gets to show off B.A.G.’s songwriting skills. A hypnotic hook anchors the track, though Blimes and Gab still deliver plenty of bars in their respective verses.
Hopefully, this is just the beginning for B.A.G. and fans will be hearing a full project from the two soon.
Jamall Bufford – Koool-Aid
I first became a fan of Bufford back when he was known as Buff1. He was part of a collective known as the Athletic Mic League, a group whose most famous member would end up being soul singer extraordinaire Mayer Hawthorne. Buff1 put out a bunch of great music as a solo act and member of AML before beginning a new chapter of his career in TBO.
TBO used to be shrouded in mystery, though fans of the two members could obviously figure out who they were. Eventually, the curtain was pulled back, and it was probably for the best since it’s allowed them to put the TBO brand behind their solo work, such as Bufford’s Time In Between Thoughts album.
The Michigan native’s sixth solo LP reminds me of the first Buff1 project I got hooked on, 2007’s Pure. There’s a juxtaposition of hard truths with bright production, often thanks to longtime collaborator 14KT and Slot-A. The latter is behind “Koool-Aid,” a quintessential cut from the album. Bufford’s opening verse is the type that sticks with you for days, particularly his lines about the water crisis in Flint. “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” but do listen to this single (and album).
Illingsworth f. Open Mike Eagle – Peeves
Producers still don’t get enough love. In the age of streaming, it’s often difficult to even track down the production credits for a song. With that in mind, it’s good to see an instrumentalist like Illingsworth take center stage for an album.
The Detroit-bred beatmaker dropped his You’re No Fun this past Friday (September 28), and it’s largely an instrumental affair. The album’s lead single “Peeves,” which was released a few months ago, is one of the few tracks to feature vocals. Guest Open Mike Eagle is a perfect fit, matching the quirky beat with his humorous musings (“And rappers, I’m calling your names/Pronouncing words wrong to rhyme like Novem-bor rain”).
Illingsworth also displays his skills on the mic, spitting lines such as “I hate tipping waiters whose simple labors/Didn’t cater to my whims and favor, for misbehavior.” You’re No Fun won’t hook fans looking for lots of raps, but “Peeves” is definitely worth some spins if you’d normally skip an instrumental project.
Rome Streetz – Nasal Drip
While keeping an eye on the career movements of Magno Garcia, who was featured in the Report last year, I stumbled upon the music of New York’s Rome Streetz. Magno collaborated with Rome on the latter’s Street Farmacy album, and the guest appearance put the project on my radar.
Thankfully, this collab happened or I might’ve missed out on this quality LP that dropped in July. Rome’s Street Farmacy has lots of good material, and Farma Beats (who produced the album in its entirety) deserves plenty of the credit.
I found myself getting stuck – for good reasons – on the opener “Nasal Drip” though, running through repeated listens of Rome’s gritty yet witty rhymes. It’s oddly refreshing to hear drug tales from the hustler’s perspective again in an era where most artists are rapping about abusing them. There’s a moral dilemma in being pro-pusher, but I can’t deny it’s more preferable from a rap perspective.
Tim Gent – The Lingo
If this edition of the Report is too heavy on the boom bap for your tastes, Tim Gent might be right up your alley. Representing the south via Tennessee, Gent has some silky-smooth records in his catalog. His most recent project, Life Away From Home, arrived in August.
Sonically, the 10-track release falls more in line with the “vibes” sound that’s found a niche amid the trap boom and lo-fi SoundCloud style. Overall, Life Away From Home’s replay value depends on a deep enjoyment of such vibes, but one undeniable song on the project is “The Lingo.”
The Free P-produced track is a particularly catchy offering that could be a breakthrough hit if it gains the right traction. Gent is oozing with charisma on “The Lingo,” which is supremely fun and tailor-made for a party playlist.
Renz Young – Maybe
Renz Young rolled out his Maybe We Should Figure This Out EP in a unique manner. The Milwaukee-bred MC put the songs together in a short film titled Face Of My Father, which caught my eye for its creativity. Since the tracks took a bit of a backseat to the visuals and story, it made the EP worth digging into on its own.
Much of the EP treads through the melodic territory that’s become so common, but Renz is at his best when he sheds the warped vocals and keeps is straightforward. The closer, “Maybe,” allows his true voice to shine through over some simple piano keys. Renz spits a verse full of pride and aspirational attitude for a little less than two minutes, but it gives the listener a wide-ranging view of his mindset.
Based on Renz’s past work, the more melodic shift of Maybe We Should Figure This Out appears to be a stylistic choice for this EP alone. Hopefully, his next project tones it down because a cut like “Maybe” is more fitting and the type that can build a deep bond with fans.