The Underground Report will be undergoing some tweaks this year, but its spotlighting of slept-on music won’t be stopping anytime soon. For the first of the edition of 2019 though, I’m taking it back to 2018.
A relatively quiet start to this year’s album release schedule provided me with an opportunity to revisit some great projects from the previous 12 months. These albums/EP/mixtapes/etc. didn’t make waves on the Billboard charts or get widespread recognition on year-end lists, but they absolutely deserve the acclaim of Hip Hop heads.
So before the musical floodgates open in 2019, the Report is here to celebrate some of 2018’s most underappreciated work. Although a countless number of projects could fit that description, I’ll be highlighting five releases that will go down as some of my personal favorites of the year.
Huey Briss & Nikobeats – Black Wax
If I could only champion one new artist to readers, other rappers, producers, friends and anyone else who’d listen, it would be Long Beach’s Huey Briss. As mentioned in a previous edition of the Report, Huey converted me into a fan with his brilliant song “Gil Scott Never Lied.”
The song comes from his equally dope Black Wax EP with producer Nikobeats (the son of Dilated Peoples’ DJ Babu). It’s a brief project, clocking in at just 20 minutes, yet it’s incredibly potent. The rapping, songwriting, production and sequencing couldn’t have been any better. Black Wax got constant play from me last year and hopefully is catching on with others. It’s a perfect introduction to Huey (and Niko), so hop on the bandwagon while there are plenty of seats open.
Evidence – Weather Or Not
The overwhelming amount of music dropping in the streaming era can make a January release seem ancient by the end of the year. In my mind, that’s the only reason Evidence’s Weather Or Not wasn’t routinely mentioned as one of 2018’s best by the time December rolled around.
My effusive praise of this album can be read in HipHopDX’s review, but the LP’s closing song “By My Side Too” particularly connected with me like few songs have ever done. My own experience with a family member’s illness made it resonate on another level throughout the year. It was incredibly sad when real life turned the track’s happy ending into a more melancholy experience, but I’ll forever be thankful to Evidence for having the courage to make a song about something so personal.
Megan Thee Stallion – Tina Snow
I suspect a lot of rap fans will become Megan Thee Stallion fans in 2019. She’s my pick for Hip Hop’s next breakout star and signing a deal with 300 Entertainment could provide her with a launch pad into mainstream status. Regardless of her standing in the overall landscape, Hip Hop heads need to recognize Megan’s a monster on the microphone. After making a name for herself through cyphers and freestyles, the Texan proved she’s got bars for days on last July’s Tina Snow mixtape.
The project is a sex-fueled rhyming exhibition that commands your attention with an in-your-face attitude. Tina Snow is a blessing for anyone who loves to hear an MC spitting with a vengeance because Megan raps with the ferocity of Bun B in the 90s. The Texan’s also got a swagger reminiscent of the late Pimp C (unsurprisingly, he’s her favorite rapper) and that’s a winning combination for a UGK diehard like myself.
Quadry – Malik Ruff
My hometown of Baton Rouge is brimming with talent, yet its biggest names are the only ones that get much attention on a national scale. While Boosie Badazz, Kevin Gates and YoungBoy Never Broke Again continue to define BR, a whole different style has proliferated in the city and produced a growing list of skilled MCs. One such artist is Quadry, who is working under the watchful eye of A&R extraordinaire Brock Korsan (known for his work with Kendrick Lamar and Mike WiLL Made-It).
Quadry came up in a more soulful and jazz-influenced scene, which is evident on his latest album Malik Ruff. The LP is his best work to date and a major step forward in his craftsmanship. Quadry has always been an excellent rapper, but Malik Ruff is the work of a fully realized artist. Collaborators such as DJ Dahi and Steve Lacy help Quadry reached new heights while still maintaining Louisiana flavor (look no further than the standout cut “Bluegrass”). Give Malik Ruff a spin and you’ll understand Baton Rouge Hip Hop is much more diverse than many may think.
Benny The Butcher – Tana Talk 3
Griselda Records are the current flagbearers for gritty, East Coast boom bap. Westside Gunn and Conway The Machine typically get the lion’s share of praise and that’s only increased since they signed with Eminem’s Shady Records. But the secret weapon of Griselda is Benny The Butcher. In fact, Benny might just be the cream of the crop after the release of Tana Talk 3.
The Butcher lives up to his name on the LP, killing every track with expertly crafted bars about the life of a hustler. And frankly, Griselda’s in-house producer Daringer deserves as much credit for this album as Benny. The prolific beatmaker shapes its sound with the help of The Alchemist. One of the project’s best moments comes when Daringer and The Alchemist connect on “97 Hov,” allowing Benny to maneuver over two contrasting beats. Prior to Tana Talk 3’s release, Benny told HipHopDX that he “went crazy on that shit.” He wasn’t lying. In fact, it may have even been an understatement.