Bully Preston, ‘Tony Iommi’: Rapper Dwell teams up with low-key boom-bap unraveler Jumbled for Bully Preston (named after an iPhone autocorrect fuck-up of Billy Preston). The two keep it simple, stupid, and occasionally zooted with a loop of The Young-Holt Unlimited’s ‘Sombrero Man’ (thanks to Jumbled for the tip) and a whirl of rhymes and references to among other things Brand Nubian, “Doctor Who” superfans, Prince, and Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi: “Show me you know me and tell your girl to blow me homie you phony-baloney, yeah I’m Tony Iommi, I’ll rip shit, yeah I’ll admit it sometimes what I spit is explicit.”
Chaz Monroe, ‘The State We’re In’: The visionary behind the short-lived, totally legendary Imaginary Hockey League—imagine a trans punk My Chemical Romance with a more lived-in love of showtunes and black metal—returns as an apocalyptic troubadour on “This Suffering Shall Not Be In Vain,” a dented EP of fateful acoustic threnodies. ‘The State We’re In,’ the enraged, afraid closer, diagnoses the past year of Trump fuckery and offers the obvious, immediate way for the most vulnerable to deal with it: “Won’t defend their hateful speech/ I guess I’m gonna have to punch a Nazi in the teeth/ And yet I’m scared/ But I’m always be prepared/ To do what’s right.”
HI$TO, ‘Let Me Know’: Aaliyah’s ‘We Need A Resolution’ gets a horrorcore footwork treatment. Samples of Timbaland’s bro-y “I’m tired of arguing girl” semi-come-on and demands to “hollaaaaaaa,” that clarinet cry from the soundtrack to the 1998 movie “Incognito” starring charismatic void Jason Patric (which grounded Aaliyah’s original) interrupt an attack of treated Aaliyah vocals and tripping, trippy drums. From “Psych’d Out,” available for download and limited run cassette, which is the best way to hear these tracks—with too many ideas and a cacophony of sounds threatening to overcrowd the magnetic tape.
It’s Tadoe, ‘Back To It’: Less of a song and more of a nearly three-minute vibe, West Baltimore’s Tadoe raps like Migos’ Offset in slowed down “The Matrix”-style bullet time, whispering askew rhymes that often meander back to the terror of living and hustling in Baltimore: “Too much hatin’, shit ridiculous/ My niggas shooting, no witnesses”; “In my city, shit be crazy/ Got shooters with guns like the Navy.” These rhyming asides nag Tadoe’s statement of purpose (he’s back, duh) and the rainy lullaby of a beat is a modest contrast to Tadoe’s nervy, swaggering song from last year, ‘Project Shit.’
Lex Chapo, ‘.38 Baby’: The late Lor Scoota’s assistant turned insistent MC Lex Chapo offers an oblique refix of NBA Young Boy’s 2016 song of the same name (though this isn’t a freestyle) to reveal another way in which women rappers best the dudes these days every damn time—it is deeper than the delightful Cardi B and always has been. Meanwhile, Infamous Rell’s beat offers up a replacement to Hans Zimmer’s dopey, tasteful score to “Blade Runner 2049” through its bleeps and bloops amid the echoing emptiness of space shifting Lex’s swift and effective street tale and ode to a gun into a grand, brooding piece of neon-noir.
Lor Choc, ‘Fast Life’: “What’s better than one billionaire?” aging-out neoliberal rap icon Jay Z asked earlier this year. “Two,” was his answer. The correct answer is “no billionaires.” But hey, I’ll take Lor Choc of Gilmor Homes’ chirp of solidarity and wealth redistribution at the beginning of ‘Fast Life’ when she declares, “There’s enough paper out here for everybody,” and subsequently sing-raps like a dancehall Boosie about hustling however you gotta, giving sound advice (“Run it up, call the plug, grab everything for the low”) over a “Soothing Sounds For Baby”-like beat. As Noisey’s Lawrence Burney wrote last month, “Lor Choc’s ‘Fast Life’ is the financial optimism we all need.”
Maxine, ‘Boo Hoo’: A cajoling shoegaze-y riff (the sort you didn’t think could be conjured anymore because all the good jangly guitar parts had been taken decades ago), drums that hide in the background then lurch forward and back jazz-like (think Beat Happening’s Heather Lewis meets free and then fusion percussionist Tony Williams), and reticent, placeholder-like vocals leads to ‘Boo Hoo’—like some ’60s Marianne Faithfull pop song reimagined by a few 4AD-obsessives. “Possibly america’s only lesbian dreampop band,” declares this lackadaisical trio on their Bandcamp and well, factually I’m not sure about the “only” part, but let’s just say they’re surely one of the best lesbian dreampop bands around?
Pale Spring, ‘Proud Of Your Poison’: Named after a “Lord Of The Rings” quote (“Like a morning of pale spring still clinging to winter’s chill”), Pale Spring makes shame-dogged slow jams culled from influences tied together by feelz more than genre (“The musicians I look up to and respect most are Chelsea Wolfe, Patsy Cline, CocoRosie, Aaliyah, The Knife,” she said in an interview with the blog The Witzard). “EP 2” highlight ‘Proud Of Your Poison’ is a Future Islands ballad at half-speed, a Beach House song contorted into a sci-fi waltz, and an intimate word-nerdy confessional (appropriately, Pale Spring also performs as Anna Notte, an arch sort of serpentine rapper).
Voyager & Liz Downing, ‘Lying On Thorns’: Borne out of a performance at Normal’s Red Room earlier this year, this collaboration between Liz Downing (of Mole Suit Choir and many, many other projects) and Tennessee’s Voyager (short bio: “I am Josefine W. W. Parker. I am Ruby L. L. Voyager. I am Voyager”) whirls Mortan Feldman-like noise out of banjo along with some haunted, some comforting howls over a reading by Voyager of the essay “To Bear Hair Removal.” The result is an incorporeal, trans transmission: “Transgender people turn to bodily invention like laser hair removal in a contemporary system of medicine that we largely have not devised—these techniques seldom are on our own terms.”
YBS Skola feat. Young Moose, ‘YBS X OTM’: A recent cosign by Philadelphia’s Meek Mill complete with a deal with Meek’s Dreamchasers label (free Meek Mill, by the way, about to serve a few years at least for decades-old probation violations because the system devours young black men) makes YBS Skola local rap’s big hope right. On ‘YBS X OTM,’ he maintains some continuity by joining up with Young Moose (who along with the late Lor Scoota made street rap viable in Baltimore again) and delivers his strongest verse yet, a compelling, aggressively on-beat scene-stealer—all thoughtful, meter-sensitive spitting. Moose meanwhile remains flailing, angry, unhinged, and always compelling.