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  • Writer's pictureJameka



Below you’ll find a selection of hip-hop projects from the first quarter of 2023 that sparked my personal engagement with the genre on various levels. These works transcended mere enjoyment, prompting me to re-evaluate my own artistic interpretations and grapple with broader social and cultural themes.

The featured projects hail from diverse geographical perspectives, encompassing the lyrical prowess of New York artists like donSMITH, Leeky Bandz, and Malz Monday, the soulful inflections of New Orleans through Ferris Blusa, Hxndrx, and Lil Iceberg, the sun-drenched realities of Californian artists Mani Draper and ICECOLDBISHOP, the smooth rhymes of Georgia's Silky Southern, and the introspective lyricism of North Carolina's Sincere Hunte.

This exploration is grounded in appreciation rather than critical analysis. It acknowledges the multifaceted nature of artistic appreciation, which extends beyond the confines of verbal discourse. The projects' potency manifests not only through lyrical articulation but also through their capacity to evoke movement, inspire creative expression, and stimulate self-reflection.

Ultimately, these works contribute to the ongoing cultural discourse surrounding Hip Hop / Rap, challenging the superficiality of "perceived timelines" and the rapid churn of media trends. They invite us to engage with music as a dynamic force, asking not how many "good" songs a project contains but rather how it makes us move, think, and feel. Does it trigger introspective inquiries into our own artistic practices? Does it resonate with broader societal currents? By fostering such contemplation, these projects propel us beyond the limitations of fleeting trends and engage us in a meaningful dialog with the genre itself.

While the projects highlighted below represent a curated selection, the accompanying playlists, Q! - ‘23 and CROWN VIEWS 002, offer an additional comprehensive panorama of Q1's rich tapestry of Hip Hop / Rap sounds. I encourage you to delve into these playlists and discover your own sonic treasures within this ever-evolving art form.

Q! - ‘23 - Spotify playlist with 140 songs highlighted from the first quarter of 2023.

CROWN VIEWS 002 - consists of about 100 music videos from the first quarter of 2023. The visual playlist is compiled of an array of videos from various artists, directors, producers, etc in different regions, sub-genres of Hip Hop / Rap.


33 Mani Draper x Steven King

Mani Draper's music is a constant ascent, each release building on the last while hinting at new artistic peaks. This is especially true for 33; here his mastery of wordplay seamlessly blends poetry and Hip Hop, creating a soundscape that's both introspective and infectious.

33, is a guidebook for finding balance and embracing personal growth. Motivational snippets weave through tracks, with themes of self-alignment, evolution, and appreciating one's blessings. 33 radiates positive energy and gratitude, a testament to Mani's own journey and source or inspiration for listeners.

Fellow Bay Area artists C Plus and Iamsu! add their own verses to the mix, their styles effortlessly complementing Mani's flow. Track's like "WWND" and others shimmer with luxurious soul and carefully chosen lyrics. It's a celebration of hustle and independence, urging listener to chase their dreams on their own terms.

33 is a rich tapestry of love, confidence, vulnerability, and raw Hip Hop / Rap. An audio experience where introspection meets celebration, and where self-discovery guides the way.

City/State: Richmond, CA Released: March 3rd, 2023 See Also: Every Blue Moon by Mani Draper x Kevin Allen, Communion: Book 2 by Mani Draper, Coordinates (Deluxe) by Brookfield Duece + Flowers by Passwurdz


No More Free Game

donSMITH x Leeky Bandz

donSMITH and Leeky Bandz latest project, No More Free Game, is an immersive experience that transcends mere music. It's woven from lyrics, hooks, melodies, and a soundscape that makes you feel like you're privy to some of the flyest contemporary Hip Hop / Rap being made.

The album's title hangs heavy in the air, prompting introspection as it intersects with the content. Interwoven clips of Meta World Peace add another layer of intrigue, his words briefly touching on various topics, creating the illusion that donSMITH and Leeky Bandz are in direct conversation with him - this metaphorical connection adds depth and complexity.

Throughout, a delicate balance of energies reigns. Gratitude and bravado dance, generosity and boundaries coexist. donSMITH and Leeky Bandz' distinct vocal textures and deliveries complement each other, each adding their unique perspective to the album's overarching themes, even when their stories differ.

No More Free Game is more than a collection of tracks; it's an allegorical journey, a sonic exploration of identity, growth, and intricacies of navigating the world. An album that rewards repeated listens, unveiling new layers of meaning with each spin.

City/State: Harlem, NY

Released: March 10th, 2023

See Also: In Loving Memory by donSMITH (2022,) The Album Of JOB (Deluxe) by Leeky Bandz + LET ME SPEAK by Leeky Bandz


Keys Open Doors Keaze x World Be Free

There's something special about Keaze and World Be Free's collaboration, Keys Open Doors. It's an album that lingers, drawing you back even months after your first listen. It's a conscious journey, packed with thought-provoking content and beautiful production.

The intro itself, "Reintroductions" throws down the gauntlet with a powerful KRS-One clip - reminding us that knowledge comes from lived experience, not just textbooks. It's a call to action for both the artists and listeners, urging us to walk the walk before we talk to the talk.

Similar gems are scattered throughout the album. On "Numbers Man," Nipsey Hussle speaks wisdom about investing and building something lasting - echoing the album's message of responsible action over fleeting materialism.

Beyond these impactful interludes, Keaze and World Be Free create a rich variety of sounds and themes. Authentic lyrics tackle vital topics like community building, guiding youth, and celebrating the beauty in Blackness. Keys Open Doors resonates on multiple levels - it's a hopeful vision of unlocking possibilities with acknowledgement of the complexities of true freedom.

City/State: NY

Released: January 5th, 2023

See Also: From Niggas To Gods, Pt. 2 by World Be Free 


Look Both Ways  Malz Monday

Malz Monday's music walks a familiar path - one shadowed by a melancholic haze. Not a crashing darkness rather a gentle mist born from weathered experiences. This introspective energy infuses, Look Both Ways, where Malz masterfully paints the universal struggles of the human condition. Beneath the surface of this pensive soundscape, flickers of light emerge. His lyrics visit valleys of hardship, ultimately reaching plateaus of peace and acceptance.

Additionally, released January '23, the album resonated with the mood of the winter season. Look Both Ways meets listeners in the midst of reflection, amidst memories, anxieties, and desires for change. The music embraces this solemn atmosphere, while the lyrics offer solace and strength, finding the lessons and gratitude simultaneously. Look Both Ways serves as a poignant message; a call to awareness, a reminder to navigate life's challenges with caution and purpose - ultimately - to keep moving forward and embrace whatever lies ahead and beyond.

City/State: Ossining, NY

Released: February 20th, 2023 See Also: Where There's Smoke by Malz Monday




ICECOLDBISHOP's debut album, GENERATIONAL CURSE, doesn't shy away from the rawness that once defined "gangsta rap." It channels the spirit of those who laid the tracks; unapologetically presenting real-life struggles and contradictions with an aim to spark change or thought. GENERATIONAL CURSE is not a throwback; it's a contemporary evolution that infuses classic West Coast Hip Hop / Rap with ICECOLDBISHOP's own creative fire.

The album pulsates with the energy of Los Angeles, both it's beauty and harsh realities. The soundscapes, lyrics, and vernacular all pay homage to the legends who came before, yet reshaped with a modern edge. Each track evokes questions and stirs emotions. Who else crafts music with such raw texture and potent velocity? GENERATIONAL CURSE is a statement, a challenge, and an example of the enduring power of West Coast Hip Hop / Rap.

City/State: South Central L.A., CA

Released: March 24th, 2023


City Blues

Lil Iceberg

City Blues grabs attention instantly with it's vibrant artwork. The colored pencil and marker scene of bustling New Orleans - two-stories, balconies, palms against the sky, gators and diamonds - is a stunning prelude to the music within... although, the true marvel of City Blues lies in Lil Iceberg's unmistakable artistic identity. His influences, namely No Limit Records, Hot Boys and New Orleans bounce, are evident but not simply mimicked. Lil Iceberg channels their energy and spirit, crafting a sound distinctly his own. He's not just influenced; he's a descendant, carrying their legacy forward with a present-day twist.

The infectious beats urge you to move and get lost in the moment. And while not everyone enjoys some of the realities in raps, Lil Iceberg delivers his stories and reality in ways that are almost impossible to resist. The production plays a key role, driving the energy even higher. City Blues is a captivating journey with an infectious soundscape, distinct voice and clear connection to his musical heritage make Lil Iceberg an artist to keep your eyes - and ears - on.

City/State: New Orleans, LA

Released: March 24th, 2023



Sincere Hunte

“I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.” - Kahlil Gibran, The Madman Sincere Hunte reads / recites at the end of “ROCHAMBEAU”

It’s an interesting album that caught my attention because there are so many aspects of it that were like charting uncharted waters. It was illuminating in the sense that it goes from an underground/punk feel that meets Hip Hop in the South to moments of dance like, “CARRIED AWAY (4U).” It works well for Sincere Hunte because the various fusion of sounds absolves any soundscape expectations. Even with, “DJ GIRL” it starts off sounding like a song that is almost a modern Beach Boys track with a feature from $avy. There’s a lot sonically to keep the listener entertained and wanting to know more about the artistry and the mind that created this body of work.

City/State: NC / TN

Released: February 17th, 2023


The Son's Shine

Silky Southern

Caught my attention initially off the album art; a young, brace-faced, 3rd eye beamin’, elated eyes, tendrils of hair falling into face and distorted trees in the background. Embodiment of a Sun ray, a son from the Sun + this is how he shines. The Son’s Shine, a somewhat alteration of Black Boy Joy. 

Part of the brigade of Southern acts that are highlighting / paying homage to traditional Hip Hop with sometimes an acquired evolution of seasoning. Playful delivery and production that often still align with a traditional Hip Hop influence. Feels like a sunny spring day. Pollen, bird, worms, mosquitos, humidity, tall trees. Down to Earth, vulnerable and real while still fun. It’s a good balance of content, sounds ‘n flows.

Could’ve been created in some dark moments — there are places within The Son’s Shine that feel more like manifestations in order to motivate oneself to continue on their path. At the heart of it, The Son's Shine is a celebration of life that also acknowledges life's complexities.

City/State: GA

Released: January 9th, 2023 See Also: Strange Places by Wulf Morpheus, JOINTS by MARCO PLUS x The Smokers Club, Mr. Smo by SMO


2nd Kings Hxndrx

We been blessed another day so what you conquerin’ ? / I’m out here rockin’ that’s for real, so what you rockin’ with / I’m really stylin’ in the field / Out here movin’ spiritual and confident - I wrote this for the conquerin”

2nd Kings serves as a reminder of the expression of one’s Soul and Spiritual nature that represents light and can still grab Hip Hop / Rap by the reigns. Every word is a nutrient and every song is nourishment. There’s not any bragging or making the listener feel as though they’re less than because they don’t quite have the same life, amenities and resources as the artist they’re listening to. This is for the people, the spiritually minded and guided or those who seek to be in alignment with those frequencies and vulnerabilities.

City/State: New Orleans, LA

Released: March 2nd, 2023

See Also: An Appointed Time by Hxndrx


I Hope This Finds You Well Ferris Blusa

This album found me in a time where a good group of underground and independent Hip Hop just wasn't hittin' for me like I wanted it to. Everyone was talkin' about similar things, supposedly living similar lives, having the same artwork and very similar production/soundscape.

I Hope This Finds You Well, shines bright, proving that exceptional Hip Hop thrives in the South. Gone are the tired stereotypes; this album delivers raw talent and lyrical artistry without subscribing to the typical tropes of modern rap. While grounded in his New Orleans roots, I Hope This Finds You Well transcends regional boundaries.

The album's strength lies is Blusa' artistry; his deliberate pace, thoughtful bar setup, and disregard for fleeting trends paint a picture of a confident artist in his own lane. Each track feels intentional, avoiding overhyped aesthetics and lyrical cliches. Raw emotion, clever wordplay and genuine storytelling are sure to resonate with those who find value in those aspects of Hip Hop / Rap.

City/State: New Orleans, LA

Released: March 24th, 2023

See Also: Forever Is Not For Everybody by Ferris Blusa



I Wish You Well by WayneFowler


Church Ain’t Safe by Shootergang Kony 

Flowers Before The Grave by Huey Briss x Walt Mansa

Bride of Bucky by D’Barbie x E MOZZY

FEAR by Swooty Mac

Last Night in Houston by Wes Denzel

Moonrock & Mimosas by Goldie Rebel

Pain In Full by Gaine$



Madden by Dan Nicholson

Experienced by Regular Repty

Born in it (Really) by Chippass


Dead Poets by Eto x Futurewave

F.I.R.E. by Starz Coleman x godBLESSbeatz

Tag Team Championships by Ryan Milla

Family Business by Organized Krime


21 Gun Salute by Lil 2 Dow

In The Meantime by Will Hill

WHO I AM by Wu

Me Against Them by Young Drummer Boy

As It Is In Heaven by FUNERAL Ant Bell x DeevoDaGenius

Thug Child by Young Jr

Back on Dexter: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape by Kash Doll x DJ Drama

Mourning Due by Nappy Nina

LET’S DO A DRILL 2 by Asian Doll

DIY by Bocha x Corey G

The Price Jus Went Up by 2 Eleven

FOD Presents J Money: Baby Money by J Money

Even God Has A Sense Of Humor by Maxo

Flygirl Era by Kemarilyn Chanel


Abolished Uncertainties by Jae Skeese

Ways of Knowing by Navy Blue x Budgie


Evolution Of Existence: Love & Power by Brandon Isaac

Bear Vs Pitbulls by Starz Coleman








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