Welcome to Shiftee’s Boom Bap & Beyond Bazaar. In this monthly column I will explore the intersections of hip hop with new-school production styles. I look for good raps and good beats. I want that gas-face, neck-snap, something-smells, mind-expanded, credit-score-approved, new-waist-size, found-love-at-a-BBQ feeling.
I’m also particularly looking for artists who are at least a little bit under the radar. You don’t need me to tell you that Jay-Z has a new album out. But this line can be blurry. I’ve excluded Tyler The Creator this month for being too famous, but I have kept in Vince Staples, who can be found in Sprite commercials.
As a numbers man, I first wanted a rigorous metric. Play counts? Social media following? Festival headlines? At the end of the day, only one criterion made sense: Has this person met Elton John?
Sorry, Thugger. You’re officially too famous for BBBB.
So here we go. Check my picks and listen to all ten tracks, artisanally hand-mixed by yours truly.
Aminé – “Blinds”
Aminé might be my favorite new artist. He’s the full package, with a crazy personality and unique style. He can rap and sing, plus he has a tremendous ear for production. Just look at “Caroline” and “REDMERCEDES”. He has hilarious music videos, and can rock live. He can get silly (check that album cover), but he can also get emotional and political (like his appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon).
“Blinds”, the latest cut from his forthcoming LP Good For You, is quintessential modern-day boom bap. It’s got an organic swing, feel, and instrumentation, but still bangs and reads 100% fresh. At the center of it all is Aminé’s undeniable flow and charisma.
Great Dane – “Dirty Daddy”
I recently caught Great Dane opening for Cut Chemist and Invisibl Skratch Piklz on Boiler Room, and was blown away by the range and vibrancy of his productions. His song “Yeezy” was a staple in my sets, and his new work is even more impressive. His latest project Beats For Days (Vol. 2), a collection of instrumental singles, contains several tracks featured in that Boiler Room set.
“Dirty Daddy” is awesome and showcases a producer with tremendous talent. The palette is largely electronic, but the vibe I get from almost every tune is hip-hop. I could have picked a number of the songs to be included, but eventually settled on “Dirty Daddy” since it fits best in my mix peace sign emoji
Heems – “Blades”
Heems has long been one of the most engaging and irreverent voices in rap. His latest offering “Blades” is a battle cry for anyone who wants to come at him for his ethnicity, religion, or anything really. The song is fittingly part of the compilation Philia: Artists Rise Against Islamophobia, which is raising money for Unity Productions Foundations, a non-profit looking “to combat bigotry and create peace through the media.”
There are lots of quotables on this, including: “I’m obsessed with the space between spaces aaaaaaand fucking racists.” The production from WILLS drives with an energy that matches the aggression and swagger of the vocals. I’m also still a sucker for beats that include “hey”, “wut”, and have pitched-down vocals. Call (hey) me (wut) old (hey) fashioned.
Mura Masa – “Nuggets” ft. Bonzai
Mura Masa’s new self-titled album shows that he is one of the most creative producers in all the land. Coming out of the electronic world, Mura Masa’s work is exceptionally musical. He’s also especially adept at working with a variety of vocalists, from Desiigner to Jamie Lidell, in order to create songs that are fun and bouncy with a bit of quirkiness.
“Nuggets” is a party jam that would fit well next to anything by Kaytranada. Bonzai, an emerging artist in her own right, convincingly jumps between singing pre-choruses and rapping hooks. Her performance and the song itself just feel fresh. Extra points for including scratch samples!
Zion I – “Wake Up” (Remix) ft. Sa-Roc
I was into Zion I back when I started getting into hip hop in the late 90s/early 2000s. I was all about that indie hip hop lyfe. I had the backpack, the Rawkus Records slipmats, and two copies of every Afu-Ra single from Fat Beats. The Mind Over Matter LP really exemplified this sort of conscious, lyric-driven hip hop that made me fall in love with the genre in the first place.
What makes Zion I — now solely comprised of Zumpi — a bit of an anomaly is his ability to evolve along with the twists and turns of new production styles. “Wake Up” sounds like today, and not like someone disingenuously trying to jump on modern trends. Everything fits while feeling natural and new. I particularly love the Sa-Roc version – despite her huge catalog, I hadn’t heard of her until this song. She embodies the track, giving it great voice and power.
Towkio – “Drift”
OK, this song is nuts. One second we’re listening to Towkio spit menacing rhymes over a distorted bassline, the next we’re in the middle of a wild drop that stands up next to the most leftfield of club jams. Now there’s a chorus of female rappers chanting in Japanese over a rap beat. Oh yo, a bunch of car screech sounds, honks, and brake noises. This song is as high octane as it gets.
“My only friend the ATM,” raps Towkio.
josh pan – “give it to ya” ft. ABRA
OWSLA’s internet firestarter josh pan, and Awful Records’ R&B queen ABRA get futuristic on “give it to ya”. If they were to remake the second Matrix movie, this is the music that would play when Neo and Trinity snuck away from the dance party celebration to get busy: Dystopian baby-making music. Fittingly the visualizer for the song is a trippy “virtual simulation” by Quentin Deronzier that could very well pass as a trailer for a new Blade Runner.
Vince Staples – “BagBak”
Yes, at this point, Vince is pretty famous. But I had to show him love for making a whole album with a production that lives in the realm of cutting-edge electronic music. So let me live a little. Also I couldn’t find any photos of Vince with Elton John.
Vince might currently be THE artist most dedicated to pushing the sonic boundaries of hip hop. His album Big Fish gives hope to all of us producers who like to get weird, but still want to make rap music. The production line-up is awesome: Jimmy Edgar, SOPHIE, Flume, GTA, Christian Rich, Zack Sekoff, Ray Brady, and Justin Vernon.
I went for “BagBak” – one of the more straight-ahead songs on the album – mainly because I love its energy AND, like I mentioned, I’m a sucker for pitched-down vocal hooks.
Lunice – “Distrust ft. Denzel Curry, J.K. The Reaper & Nell”
I find Lunice to be inspirational. Not only is his music dope and distinct, but he is a shining producer and dynamic artist. Lunice is as electric a performer as anyone. Just watch the video for “Mazerati” or any YouTube clips of his live sets. Beyond his songs, his personality and energy also undeniably radiate. In an age where electronic music is often associated with dehumanized massive stage productions, I find life in watching an artist whose performances are unmistakably human.
“Distrust”, a cut off his forthcoming CCCLX full-length, finds Lunice teaming up with 2016 XXL Freshman Denzel Curry and his crewmates J.K. The Reaper and Nell. As the title suggests, the song is about distrusting relationships and institutions, and all three vocalists are engaging. The star of the show might be the final, wildcard instrumental drop, which has a true “oh shit” factor in its precise minimalism and sound design.
Tsuruda – “Interlude”
Tsuruda’s album Move on Nosia’s Division Recordings is a true masterclass in modern-day beats music. It’s got dark electronic noises, hip hop swing, boom bap drums, trap swag, jazz samples, synths, bleeps, riffs, chords, and heavy bass. It’s simultaneously natural and angular, organic and technical. And even though all the tracks stand up on their own, I would love to see rappers tackle beats like these in 2017. Props to Tsuruda.
Shiftee’s latest EP New Bap & Beyond is out now on Hot Mom USA.