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  • Last Night at the Loxy: How Underground Hip-Hop Was Experienced

    Dew, stained into the very infrastructure of the concrete pipelines. Lines that paint the city a web. Lines that however neutral, organise the inhabitants above. The underground becomes the heartland of the city. The grime, the hustle, the hardened shell - originates beneath the city streets. The subways not only move the people but encourage those people to participate in the city itself. For the homeless, the underground is shelter. As metaphor, the underground remains home to even more. Black markets, organized crime and subculture all root their identities in this imagined space. For most of the world, the underground represents death and decay. In the urban reality, the underground facilitates life, but of a variety not far removed from the cemetery's grim. For hip-hop, this underground has always been home. As the divisions between hip hop's corporate and the culture's grass roots grew - the very aura of hip-hop was dug deeper and deeper beneath the concrete slabs that made it. Before hip-hop had an identifiable 'underground,' the culture itself understood that it was this environment that spoke to them - over that of the sunlight above. When we started seeing the recordings, a lot of us in the Zulu Nation stayed away from that at first because people thought once it got into vinyl it was going to kill the culture. - Afrika Bambaataa. In Flemingdon Park, Toronto - these imaginations were realized. Although hardly a unique story, by the late 1980s, Flemingdon Park (or Flemmo as it is commonly referred) had incorporated hip-hop into its literal underground terrain. With underground pathways connecting building complex to building complex, through underground parking, and nearby subway routes - Flemmo had an underground that the youth felt particularly fashionable, alluring, and more importantly; hip-hop. There's no better example of this than the Loxy. The name given to an underground storage room for the duration of one summer, sometime near the turn of the decade - when hip-hop turned from Public Enemy to The Wu-Tang Clan and when African Medallions were being traded in for martial arts VHS tapes. The sheer obscurity of the space demands a sense of allurement - of myth. 'It was Johnny B's step-mother,' Chris Jackson remembers. She was the one who owned the joint. Deep in the basement of a Flemmo apartment complex was a regular storage room. However, to kids with access, this was an imagined hip-hop playground. A meeting spot for heads - a privatized community hub that catered to the hip-hop tradition. Furthermore, this was a space that felt, despite the opposing legalities, owned and operated by the hip-hop community - their own space, with their own name and identity attached to it. To many, this is just what kids do. But if we wish to understand how hip-hop was engaged, then we must admit, that we are speaking of the activities of the youth. 'They were the older kids,' Jackson remembers of Johnny B and his friends. They would bring boom boxes, cassette tapes of their favourite albums, food and drinks - all the ingredients for a good night. For Jackson and his friends; Fathead and Headquarters, they had an invite. The Loxy was basically an interpretation of what we thought New York hip-hop was, and what we wanted Flemingdon and Toronto hip-hop to be. [...] It was like a half door, so you had to scrouch down to get in. I was only there twice. But it was something that some of the older guys [would occupy]. We were all part of the hip hop scene in the city. In Flemmo. We had rap crews, and dance crews, and DJs. The older guys turned that room into The Loxy. They turned it into a space where they would just go hang out, play music, do some freestyle sessions. - Chris Jackson. Far too often a history is drawn from memories. Capstones of success within the timeline of a particular person, region, or industry are isolated and used exclusively to formulate a history. Yet remembering a highlight reel chooses to forget the mundane. The day to day lives that make a culture what it is. Hip-hop was, and still is, a youth movement. Although there's value in a macroscopic viewing of the culture, moments like the Loxy represent much of what hip-hop had been made of. Kids being kids; engaging in the culture that they love in the most authentic ways that they know how. The Loxy was shut down by the end of a summer. Johnny's step-mom discovered the enterprise and the operation was put to a halt. But Chris and his friends, Fathead and Headquarters, they continued. I'm sure in some capacity, so did the older kids that frequented the space. They found new ways to incorporate hip-hop into their lives. New spaces to occupy to build community, friendships, and art. For them, the Loxy was just a moment. For everyone else, it was forgotten. Underground subcultures, particularly of the New Yorkian variety, often take this shape. Hip-Hop, the Beats, the Fairies of Chauncey's 'Gay New York' - articulations of underground, sometimes literal, sometimes figurative, but always tinted with the identity of the culture itself. For the Loxy, this literal underground was not vandalized into a hip-hop aesthetic, but for the hours of the night that it was the Loxy, it was hip-hop through and through. From the music, to the clothing, to the dialect and to the mood - it was hip-hop. We don't want no trouble we just came to hang. Maybe sip a little something and shoot the breeze. Some of us high on life, others use the trees. No bloods no Crips, no guns no clips. Just a bunch of fellas running off at the lips. Cause hanging with your friends be the thing to do. Let me see if I can explain my gang to you. - Masta Ace, Me and My Gang

  • 'Hip-Hop, It Started Out in the Park': How Unity Park Created John Creasy

    "Urban renewal means negro removal." - James Baldwin 'My area? Niagara? Everybody wanted to be a rapper,' the emcee notes during an interview in August, 'everybody wanted to be a star and to come back and give back to their community where they grew up.' As an emcee, John Creasy has made quite the splash in recent years. With more projects than I can count with my hands, Creasy has contributed his fair share to the onslaught that this renaissance has created. Within the Western New York rap scene that has dominated modern underground waves, Niagara has received little attention. However, artists such as G4 Jag of Lord Mobb, TRUST's Jynx 716, Jamal Gasol and Creasy are just a few examples to indicate the significance of Niagara's contribution. This story follows that of John Creasy and Unity Park; a housing project near Highland Avenue in Niagara Falls, New York and subsequently, John Creasy's childhood residence. Creasy has publicly represented his roots before. Last year, the emcee recorded and dropped the song, aptly titled 'Unity Park' which illustrated the influence that the area had in shaping his identity. Exploring the history of Unity Park revealed patterns of government neglect, systemic racism and struggle; a story that finds itself woven into Creasy's lyrics throughout his catalog. My aim is to communicate the meaning of those threads. Unity Park 'N****s slight me. That's why I give them extra bars. They didn't think a n**** could do it out of Niagara Falls' - John Creasy, Bomb First. James Baldwin had once stated that urban renewal was equivalent to Black removal. A read through The Color of Law or The Origin of the Urban Crisis will prove just that. The story of Unity Park exists as one of a handful of anecdotes the city of Niagara has contributed to this failure of Americanism. The project, originally developed under the name 'the Lehigh Project' in the early 1970s, was a response to what Michael Boston describes as a demand for housing among Black Niagarans. In the late 1940s, America, under the Truman administration, developed the 'Housing Act of 1949,' an effort to fund urban renewal projects, highlighting a need to eliminate 'blight' and clear slums. This 'slum clearance,' as it is referred to in the act, allowed many municipal governments to secure funding that they hoped would better their community. As Niagara Falls began to enter a period of decline in the early 1960s, efforts were put in place to request federal funding for a series of urban renewal projects in the city. These projects, as Boston notes, predominantly affected the regions Black community. Areas that housed the Black community were often deemed 'slums,' which allowed for the government to clear the land and construct new units to house the now dispersed population. By 1971, after a series of these projects had taken place, the city of Niagara felt necessary to construct additional housing units to house many of the dispersed (often Black) members of the community. The topic of race was not ignored during the creation of Unity Park. Unlike the past urban renewal projects that the city had undergone, Unity Park was designed as an integrated housing complex, meaning it would house a mixture of low income and moderate-income residents. The aim was to diversify the demographics of the project, in hopes to prevent decay in future decades and appease much of White Niagara's racially motivated concerns with concentrated African-American neighbourhoods. In a meeting that took place in March of 1971, a resident of the neighbouring McKoon Avenue, stressed to the planning board, asking if 'Unity Park would be totally black?' The response from those in charge was clear; 'no one can guarantee one way or the other, but considering the rent structure the danger is that it will be all white.' Additional comments during this meeting proved, with hindsight, to be of note. Anne Myers of DeVeaux St. noted that she had 'never seen a public project that didn't fall to pieces in 10 to 15 years.' In this, she was asking who would be responsible for the upkeep. Charles Baker, who held the office of the president at Wright and Kremers, the developing corporation selected to construct the units, claimed that the units would be maintained by Wright and Kremer, and that rent money would be sufficient for any maintenance. Speaking directly to Mrs. Myers, Baker claimed, 'you're visualizing something that's never going to happen.' Two decades later, both of the objecting citizens’ concerns had been validated. Unity Park, had went from a mixed demography to a nearly all Black housing complex. Additionally, the units had begun to fall apart. By the late 1990s, the city was already beginning touch-up jobs and band-aid operations to help with the deterioration of the Highland Avenue project. This is the Unity Park where Creasy was raised. When I was younger, I would play basketball a lot. So, I had to go to different neighbourhoods and different community centers around, so I seen it all. The first time I ever held a gun in my hand I was seven years old. I was riding my bike, going across the street to Ms. Doominsting's house. That was our candy lady in the neighbourhood. She sold penny candy back in the day. I was riding my ten speed to her house to go get some candy, and thought it was a rock but I hit something and fell off my bike. I picked it up, and it was a big ass [gun.] I'm seven years old, right? it was an all-black joint, had the leather handle on it. So I wasn't sheltered at all. I seen everything. I seen crackheads overdose in front of me. All types of shit. So, I wasn't really sheltered at all. Just being around it, you become accustom and used to it. But yeah, me just seeing a gun and holding it in my hand at seven, I could have almost killed myself. But my cousin seen me - I had it in my hand - he like ran over to me. It was loaded and everything. It was a glock too. He ran over to me, grabbed it from me. So, I wasn't sheltered. I had seen needles; we'd be playing around the playground. There was used needles in the playground, empty weed bags, empty crack bags, empty crack pipes everywhere. So, I seen everything. Creasy was raised in 14 E Peace Walk in Unity Park I - an area of the units that was labelled 'Last Court.' South Gate, Center Court, Last Court, and the neighboring Jordan Gardens were all distinct sections of the Highland Avenue neighbourhood. These sections, consequently helped define the territorial borders for local gangs. A fact that the Niagara Police repeatedly emphasized when reporting to the press. As Creasy notes: You had people beef with different territories even though we all lived in the same apartment complexes. You could walk across a little pavement and you're in a whole different apartment complex. I mean, it was your average neighbourhood. It was gritty grimy, people selling drugs out there, doing what they gotta do to make a living. But [gangs] were prominent as you had older people out there showing you the rope. Younger kids trying to do what they see the older dudes do. [...] You had your top people. You had your captains; you had your bosses under them, you had your workers under them. Unity Park in Niagara Falls was on the west side. We had a different apartment complex over which was called Jordan Gardens. And Center Court was like down the street from Unity Park. So, you had these three different sections. Within Unity Park [you had] everybody beefin' with each other. By 2002, conditions had continued to worsen. From 1995 to 1999, the vacancy rate for Unity Park had increased by sixteen percent, with nearly forty-five percent of all units vacant by the turn of the century. The vacancy had become a means to nest further crime. Vacant buildings represented opportunity. 'You're giving people an opportunity to come to the buildings and do their thing in the vacant building,' Creasy spoke, 'when I was growing up, everything was coasting. I was a little kid, having fun. But by the time I got up out of there, it was definitely time to go. There was more drugs being sold out of there, there was fiends being hanging around out there.' Crime in Niagara had escalated. From issues of petty theft to gun violence, citizens stressed feeling unsafe with where they lived. Even larger displays of violence seemingly had the ability to fade in and out of the weekly news cycle. Perhaps the most grotesque example occurred on New Years Day 1997 at 3M's bar on the corner of College and Highland Avenue when a gunman entered the facility and 'opened fire' causing hundreds to flee the premises and six injured. The 1997 New Years mass shooting disappeared out of the media in a week, it simply wasn't shocking enough to the city of Niagara Falls for a permanent scar to be felt. As predicted in the 1971 meeting, Unity Park had come full circle. Within three decades, decisions were made to demolish the units and build anew. The process of urban renewal had failed - and the circumstances the process had intended to fix had returned. It's important to stress the feeling the city had in 2002 regarding Niagara's blight. Though the Niagara Beautification Commission was fighting the problem, community members were vocally fierce, frequently addressing their concerns in local papers. One citizen described Niagara Avenue and 18th Street (outside of Unity Park) as sprinkled with 'graffiti-stained eyesores, overgrown yards and blighted buildings.' To those in Niagara, Unity had become the worst of the worst. On August 24 of 2002, the residents of Unity Park wrote a formal complaint of their conditions and published it in the Niagara Gazette, the cities most widely distributed paper. The headlines read 'Neglected at Unity Park,' 'Residents complain apartments owned by state are falling apart,' and 'Unity Park II in disrepair.' The call for action was bold and powerful. 'Welcome to Unity Park II, the 35-year-old apartment complex where boarded-up windows, broken glass and peeled siding are the rule, not the exception' the statement read. The article raised several complaints with the maintenance of the properties. Residents had reported the neglect from management for issues ranging from broken screen doors and leaking roofs to pipes freezing and falling down cupboards. In one instance, residents received notice that the fuel company was soon to be turning off their power, a utility that was the responsibility of the landlord. For one house alone, the government was in arrears for nearly four thousand dollars in today's currency. A 1999 letter sent to commissioner Joseph Lynch from the State Comptroller revealed that Unity Park had been in mortgage arrears for an excess of two million dollars and that foreclosures were imminent. At this point, over sixty percent of the units were vacant. For those forty present that remained, they wrote 'something needs to be done out here. It's terrible.' The response should read as familiar. In light of the public outcry, just one month after the August write-up, headlines were made again as the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency and the Niagara Falls International Airport had agreed to 'renovate' the housing projects. In assessment, they determined that eighty-six of the apartments were unable to be repaired and had planned to demolish them. The remaining one-hundred-and-twelve would be renovated. Forty-three percent of all units were destroyed. The demolition and renovations began in 2006. The neighbours presently occupying Unity Park II experience improved living conditions, however a decline has already begun to be felt. Interviews in the community revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic was felt particularly hard in the neighbourhood - as jobs diminished and the appeal of illegal money became increasingly enticing. The cyclical nature of urban renewal does not appear to be over. John Creasy Raised alongside three brothers, Creasy was born in Niagara Falls and raised within Unity Park. His mother was a nurse from North Avenue and his father, a factory worker from Jerauld Avenue near Hyde Park. As a child, Creasy was into sports and idolized the great basketball legends of the 90s like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Rap, would come later. 'I wanted to be a basketball player growing up.' Creasy reflects. As basketball became more serious, music was beginning to resonate. As a middle child to twin older brothers, Creasy's musical influences were readily accessible in his home environment. Youth in the Highland Avenue region identified with street rap in New York City, primarily that which was coming out of Queensbridge. Havoc and Prodigy's apocalyptic vision of New York street life was powerful and intimate and reflected the circumstances Unity Park residents seen at home. QB area. I would say that's how Niagara Falls is set up. So, Nas, Mobb Deep, all those people from the Queensbridge, so I definitely related to that. The first song I ever heard was 'Trife Life' from Mobb Deep on The Infamous joint. I fell in love with that song. Everything they was going through, we was going through too. It may not be New York City, or Queens New York, but it's still Niagara Falls New York. It's still part of New York. We upstate, but the same thing that they was writing about, I was living the same thing too. As Creasy grew, priorities in basketball began to decline in substitute for rap music, weed, video games and having fun. Once again, Mobb Deep played a critical role, as Creasy claims it was Prodigy that ultimately made the choice clear in his identity; John Creasy wished to be a rapper. Prodigy man, he made me want to be a rapper. When I first heard P, he reminded me of myself. I'm a short dude in stature but I got a commanding voice. When I first heard Prodigy on 'Trife Life' I'm like; 'who is this?' My brother rewinds it back, I got to hear joints like 'Right Back At You', 'Survival of the Fittest', all of them joints. That's what made me want to be a rapper. Around that time, I should have played basketball, but I kept listening to music more. I'd say Mobb Deep had a heavy influence on my area, my hometown. That's all anybody was playing in Unity Park. Rap music was popular in Niagara Falls. As Creasy notes, everyone he knew in Niagara either wanted to be a sports player or a rap star - however it proved difficult for Niagara talent to be recognized on a world stage. As a result, Creasy and his friends began a rap crew called, 'Wild Squad.' While still in high school, this was an opportunity for friends to better their craft and take a plunge into hip-hop culture. As a unit, Wild Squad went through various iterations and names. 'Homicide Crew' was the active namesake for some time, then ultimately to H.O or 'Helluva Outcome.' Creasy's first performances were with H.O. and helped him come more comfortable with the idea of being an artist. Like most local rap groups, individual growth and life circumstances prevented the group from reaching their aspirations. Although some members had become disinterested, the brand was still loosely used in 2015 when Creasy decided to step away to focus on an alternative path for his artistry. Creasy remembers: We're still all cool, but we all kind of stopped. I personally, stopped repping the Helluva Outcome brand probably around 2015. That's when I thought I'd go off on my own and let my name speak for itself. A lot of people had their own vision and went and did their own thing. I figured I might as well do the same thing. But we all still talk. We're all family. That's one thing I can say. We may not all still do music together, but a lot of people I was doing music with before, that's my first cousin, or I grew up with this dude, so we're all still cool. They still check out my music. They still rooting for me. But as far as us being a group, and us being known as that - I would say around 2015-2016. That's when I decided to go my own way and do my own thing. In 2018, outside of Niagara Falls, emcees Pro Dillinger and Snotty were tossing strategies back and forth over the phone. How to make it in the underground rap space? The Umbrella came about from a necessity for resources, and the belief in an almost artistic socialism. The Umbrella was envisioned as a space for artists of a similar discipline and ethos to share resources and develop, grow and prosper as a unit. As a super group, the Umbrella has been responsible for some of the most exciting music to be coming out of the underground hip-hop landscape. When Snotty and Pro Dillinger were considering who to grab, John Creasy was in the initial roster. Dillinger recalls: I got cool with John Creasy. But Creasy was with Jamal Gasol and Piff and all that so I didn't think he would go with it, but he came with us. And that was like our first immediate roster. As Dillinger described to me, Creasy was 'an OG member made from the first cut.' The affiliation with The Umbrella had proven successful for Creasy. From rapping at talent shows over Mobb Deep instrumentals, Creasy reached a point where selling out vinyl units was the norm - built off name alone. From 2018 to present, John Creasy has dropped a barrage of releases and has written guest verses at an even more impressive rate, all of which had been under the Umbrella brand. In the past four years he has released over a dozen projects; a mixture of both LPs and EPs; ranging from works with Jamal Gasol, Wavy Da Ghawd, Ol' Man 80ozz, to the Unity Park producer Prxspect. A rapid fire release schedule that is only appropriate for this brand of underground rap. His latest vinyl drop; a deluxe edition to his 2018 project Power with producer Enrichment, is out through I Had An Accident Records, a label which has consistently released vinyl for artists within this new wave. The album, with bold and hardened artwork by C Dyer will undoubtably sell out as his other releases on the label have. Creasy has, at this point, solidified himself as a significant contribution to the rap renaissance. To Creasy however, his work is not over. Recently, John Creasy announced that he would be departing with the Umbrella brand but made it clear he wished to continue to push forward and further his own name within the industry. For Creasy, there's a more important mission at stake. Recognizing that his artistic output has had impact, there's a sense of urgency to 'put on' for his hood and do bigger and greater things. It's a big weight on my shoulders. I think of that every day. I want my hood to be a legendary spot in my city. Where one day I can go back and they may have a mural put up of me out there. So, I feel a big pressure and I want people to understand when I do my music, where it comes from, where I grew up and all the lessons I learned and everything. So, it's definitely a big weight on my shoulders. I think about that shit all the time when I do music. I feel like I've been a good representative. But there's still more work to do. I'm definitely not done yet. But as a representative of where I'm from, and where I grew up at? I feel like I'm doing a hell of a job of that right now. There's nobody that grew up with me, or grew up in my area, ever been on Shade45 before, just building relationships off of this music. Unity Park is my heart. I believe in that shit with every pump of my heart. Every breathe I take is always Unity Park. For me to be able to put on for my city, that's a major accomplishment for me. Once it does happen. Last year, the emcee wrote the Prxspect produced 'Unity Park' for much of these reasons. Creasy remarks that "when I do music, I don't want people to get it confused. I like to let people know where I'm from. Where my upbringing is from.' To Creasy, he figured the song would let himself 'paint a picture' of his childhood residence, to give fans a vantage point, some context, for the lyrics he raps. 'When I got that beat from Prxspect, to me, it talked. The horns on there, the loud rock joint, the drums, everything talked. It was Unity Park.' The song features video shot and directed by Nova Vision and was released on March 27 2021 on the Paka the Plug YouTube channel. Much like the story of Unity Park itself, John Creasy's story has come full circle. Today, he's able to return to Unity Park with love, support and a feeling of youthful nostalgia. 'It's a good feeling. Even though it don't look the same, it's still that same feeling. I get a warmth in my heart. I feel comfortable there,' he reflects. Through every lyric and every action, John Creasy is a product of Unity Park and the failures of the Americanized process of urban renewal. The struggles reflected on by Baldwin, or scholars like Sugrue and Rothstein, have renewed themselves in the twenty-first century and will be remembered in time through the stories of those that endured and the art that they create. John Creasy, is that art. It effects it a lot. How I grew up. The lessons I was taught. The shit that I've seen. The shit that I've done. The people that I've been around. The lessons that got talked to me. Looking up to my older brothers, my older cousins, I got taught a lot of game living there. If I didn't grow up there, I'm not saying I wouldn't have been a rapper, but my presence, my cadence on a track? Everything comes from me growing up in Unity Park. I'm very much thankful to Cecilia, Kevin and Richard at the Niagara Falls Public Library, Jeff at the Book Corner, John Creasy, as well as Ashley and Mike of Niagara who agreed to be interviewed for the article. The Origins Of Urban Crisis by Thomas Sugrue - The Color Of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein - Housing Act of 1949 - Blacks in Niagara Falls: Leaders and Community Development, 1850-1985 by Michael B. Boston - "Falls Planning Board Approves Unity Park After Public Hearing [March 23, 1971]" by Laura Winchester for Niagara Falls Gazette via Niagara Public Library. "Unity Park II: Complex Problems" by Rick Pfeiffer via Niagara Gazette - John Creasy Photo by 1000words - Power (Deluxe) by John Creasy x - C Dyer Artwork -

  • Top Canadian Hip-Hop Albums of 2022

    There's a lot to be said about Canada's presence in the hip-hop landscape this past year. On one hand, the Toronto camp of Daniel Son, Futurewave, Asun Eastwood, Finn and others have been steadily gaining notoriety south of the border and making waves in the dominant underground hip-hop thread of the culture. At the same time, new movements from the likes of Raz Fresco and BKRSCLB are beginning to solidify; terraforming their roster from 6th Letter, Brisk and Raz to a powerhouse of some of the most creative and promising emcees the country has to offer. Montreal's Nicholas Craven has continued his run with projects from the usual suspects in Fahim, Mach-Hommy and Droog, but has furthered his position in the game with the joint Fair Exchange No Robbery with Griselda's Boldy James. It wasn't a bad year for Canadian hip-hop royalty either. Toronto's Thrust released Broken Arrow as well as Like It's 1994, both under a new moniker "Thrust OG" and entirely produced by BoFaat. Saskatoon Folk Rap Records have continued the Prairie rap tradition with releases from Rove, a fun music sampler and the long overdue re-release of 8:30 in Newfoundland by Epic. Moka Only continues to fail his retirement efforts by giving us project after project. This year Moke gave us the vaulted Summer 2002 Vol. 2 as well as the next installment in his Martian Christmas series Martian XMAS 2022. Perhaps the biggest surprised-return this year was Buck 65, a staple in Halifax hip-hop lore who's been absent in recent years. In 2022, he released three projects. One of which, he teamed up with Tachichi for their collaborative Flash Granade album; giving Tachichi an album with both Sebutones artists in the past few years (the Sixtoo joint was old material, never released). Additionally, Buck 65 put out The Last Dig with Canadian legend Birdapres. Lastly, Buck's solo joint King of Drums is exactly what you'd expect from Buck 65; 21 tracks without track-names and just as odd and adventurous as he's ever been. Hand'Solo Records, URBNET and Black Buffalo have continued to supply the demand of the Canadian sound and giving a viable home to much of the indie rap scene that has defined Canada's since before the turn of the century. From The Dirty Sample, Mickey O'Brien, Primal Winds, Ambeez x Uncle Fester, Ghettosocks x DK, DJ Moves, Fresh Kils, and Moshiri of Sweatshop Union to two albums from Swamp Thing. Peanuts and Corn have also made an impact, with mcenroe dropping multiple projects and Pip Skid releasing his album, A Really Nice Day with mcenroe on the boards. We cannot end this discussion without acknowledging that Backburner has delivered their third studio album release with Hand'Solo Records, Continuum. Dropping earlier in the year, the Canadian supergroup features: Thesis Sahib, Jesse Dangerously, Ghettosocks, Toolshed, Wordburglar, More or Les, Ambition, Fresh Kils, Frank Deluxe, Savillion, Ginzu and Mister E. If you've never heard of Backburner, they've been around from the early 2000s and represent much of what the East Coast hip-hop scene has been since their formation. Now scattered across the country, crew albums are rare. Continuum is a record many have been waiting for. Lastly, this is my list. Of course, these things have some subjective qualities to them. I'm a supporter and a fan of Canadian hip-hop and I hope that a list like this puts people on and celebrates what we have. My intent is not to divide. A note on the list: Canada has a wide array of hip-hop artists; producers, rappers and DJs. I've decided to allow entries onto the list which only reflect Canada in one part of the record. Essentially, if a Canadian is named in the artist credits, then it qualifies. This means that projects like DNTE and Onaje Jordan's, African Medallions can feature despite it being produced by Chicago native Onaje Jordan. This also means that Your Old Droog and Nicholas Craven's, YOD Wave can see inclusion, as Craven, the beatsmith, is from Montreal. Oh, and lastly, alphabetical by project name. Sorry but not sorry. Listen to them all. It's worth it. African Medallions DNTE x Onaje Jordan This year I've grown to love cats like Hus Kingpin, Willie Da Kid and Smoovth who all have adopted this laid back, pimpish, cigar smoking rap music modelled after cats like Roc Marciano. Unfortunately, the criminal fate of hip-hop culture has led to a severe lack of appreciation for Toronto's addition to this camp: DNTE. DNTE, previously Al-Sham from the group Al-Sham and KP (they released Street Visions in 1999, check it out) has been on a roll the last handful of years with some of my favourite cuts. This time he links up with producer extraordinaire Onaje Jordan for a full album. Conscious street rap with that suave persona that I have grown to love. Don't miss this. And add DNTE to your list of favourites, his back catalog is well worth exploration. A Really Nice Day Pip Skid Mcenroe and Pip Skid are back together for a whole album. What's not to love? Or hate? The grumpy but comical Pip Skid is an absolute gem as always. The album starts off with the title track "A Really Nice Day" with a hook that chants 'What a shitty day,' but hey, at least he's white. None of these guys take them themselves too seriously. Peanuts and Corn never really has. These aren't street dudes, but they are mad hip-hop lovers and fun and quirky personalities that you just grow to love. It's hard to sell this with an honest description, but out of all of these albums? This might be my favourite release of the year on a Canadian tip. Listen to this, and enjoy the little Farm Fresh reunion we got on our hands. As the Crow Flies Futurewave x Daniel Son x 36 Cypher I had never heard of 36 Cypher before this album. Hell Sweet Home was released elsewhere in the year also entirely produced by Futurewave, however, As the Crow Flies with the wav.god staple Daniel Son, is easily the preferred project of the two. Songs like "Riot" and "PTSD" are some of the hardest anthems of the year. If you like dirty, grimy, and sludgy hip-hop. This is what you need to listen to next. Apocalyptic gutter rap and my favourite joint from all three personalities this year. Blood on the Bills UFO Fev x Finn Step aside Futurwave! You are no longer such an anomaly in the Toronto production space. Finn has been on the rise in the coming years working with the same cast of characters as his contemporaries: Asun Eastwood, Lord Juco, Daniel Son, Family Gang Black, etc. Recently however, his name has expanded. This year he dropped with HWY 308, UFO Fev and his Gold Era brethren Saipher Soze and Sibbs Roc and he's already planning an upcoming release with Umbrella's Snotty in the new year. Out of all of these, Blood on the Bills stands out. A modern staple in underground hip-hop, Fev delivers some of his most polished verses yet as he continues to build as a song writer. This is a standout of the year even outside of a Canadian context. Listen to it. Bokleen World Mike Shabb I heard a lot about Mike Shabb this year and it took the release of Bokleen World to finally pull the trigger and check him out. This is something special. From the jump, the track "JB Speaks (RIP)" cements the audiences comfort. You're in good hands here, this is going to be quality. And it is. Features from Raz Fresco and Chung, this is poetic, adventurous boom bap. For fans of Mach Hommy, Raz Fresco, and something brand new. You'll become a fan of the emcee after first listen. I certainly did. Mike Shabb might just end up being Canada's next star in this thing. He's THAT good. The Bush Doctor Daniel Son Two projects with Futurewave. An EP with MichaelAngelo, an LP with Kostia AND a solo album? Yep, Daniel Son absolutely buried another year. The Bush Doctor represents growth for Daniel Son's discography. As an emcee known for the grimiest beats and rhymes known to date, this album shows maturity in beat selection and a new brand of confidence for the emcee. Even the album cover is proof that Daniel Son is confident in his brand, departing from the imagery of his genre in place for a collage of his personal life. Tracks like "Don Sonzarelli" show the Toronto emcee experiment with new patterns and backdrops, while songs like "Cartel Wheels" with Eto show you that Daniel Son is still the dude you fell in love with. Because that's the thing, this album may show maturity, but it's not an overt departure from his sound - this album is GRIMY. There's no mistaking. I'm excited to see the direction he goes for 2023. That BBM shit! Burgonomic Wordburglar If you're not already up on the Wordburglar, then you should change that. It may sound silly, but it's rooted in a real authentic hip-hop aesthetic. And hey, there's nothing wrong with a bit of silliness. Wordburglar is one that just gets better with time. I first heard this album deep into a chess game at the house. Rapid chess immerses you in the tangled adventure of the board, when the Buck 65 joint "Wordburglair" kicked in, we both looked up from the board and smiled. The song had changed the setting of the game. That may not resonate with anyone, but it's a huge compliment, trust me. This whole album sparked frisson from beginning to end. Fantastic, fun and just really really dope music. Wordburglar is always creative with the concepts and rhymes, this is no exception. Just give it a listen, become a fan. Burial Plots x Pyramid Schemes IM'PERETIV IM'PERETIV has been on a run ever since he released "Bricks" and later Under the Scope with Benny and Rick Hyde. These were some of the hardest anthems of 2021, both of which made it onto his 2022 solo producer album Burial Plots x Pyramid Schemes. This is no joke. Hard hitting rhymes from the likes of Daniel Son, Falcon Outlaw, Pro Dillinger, Starz Coleman, Asun Eastwood, Benny and more. If you're looking for a new beatsmith to add to your favourites, look no further. He also dropped an album with Chayna Ashley during the year called The Precedent. You don't want to miss these. The Complex Asun Eastwood x Wavy Da Ghawd Asun Eastwood released two albums this year that got heavy rotation on my end. This, and the new album with DJ Merciless and Benny the Butcher (I need to return to Don't Reach). That's right, Asun Eastwood did a joint with Benny this year. Well, kinda. Benny's not on the title, but Benny's on 7 of the 12 songs. Anyhow, check that too, but this album with Wavy Da Ghawd is maybe my favourite joint that Asun has ever put out. Features from Rigz, Smoovth, Rim, Daniel Son should give you a hint of what we're getting. The grimy, twisting beats by Wavy Da Ghawd are exactly what the recipe called for. Favourite joint off here is "Fish Fry" with Daniel Son. Peep it. Continuum Backburner Backburner returns in 2022! It feels like we've been waiting for Continuum for ages. As Canada's largest collective matures, they've become swampier! Slightly darker, slightly more moody, but the personalities still carry that throw-back boom bap fun that Backburner has always fucked with. Favourite cut on here is "Mystery Machine" with the Thesis hook or maybe "Press Eject"... or maybe all of it. Have fun with this one, it was worth the wait. Craven N' 3 Nicholas Craven I missed this when it was first released. Thank god for mid-year lists because I was quickly made aware of this gem. The Montreal producer has become a favourite in recent years for his work with Ransom, Droog, God Fahim and Mach-Hommy. Well, here is the third installment of his producer album series. No skips. It starts off with a Stove God solo track. Can we wish for more? This is my favourite producer (non instrumental) album of the year; with Buckwild's Diggin in the Tuff Kong Crates being a relatively close second. As Stove God says... 'We wonnnnnnnnnnn.' This is Craven's victory lap. Ducking Indictments HWY 308 x Finn I never heard of HWY 308 before this release. Later in the year he dropped the S As in Slime EP with Jesse Green Beats which was also dope, but this Finn release is MAD dope. From the jump this is some of the hardest music of 2022. HWY 308 made me an instant fan the first 30 seconds of the album and he's someone I'll be checking for in 2023. 20 minutes, features from Juco and Asun Eastwood. You're in for a treat. Gold Era. Eight Quarters Bigmcenroe Ft. Yy Yy and mcenroe! Or shall I we say bigmcenroe... This is great. Fun throwback boom bap hip-hop, all dope. For real, Peanuts and Corn makes some of the best music. And maybe this is a controversial take, but I think these cats are getting better? Yy's second run of albums since An Uneven Eleven has been absolutely top notch, and I can say the same for mcenroe. Burnt Orange might be my favourite mcenroe release and that's way late into his career. This album holds up to both of those modern Canadian classics. Every song is golden but my favourite cuts are "Compound Interest" and "Carry the One," both with Yy. ePIFFany The 6th Letter & ALS I've been a fan of 6th Letter for a minute now and ALS has been a staple producer in the BKRSCLB camp for some time. This LP however, blew me away. This might be my favourite BKRSCLB release yet, and that includes all of Raz Fresco's discography. The song "Too Much" is quite possibly my most listened to song of 2022. If you haven't heard it, stop this, and check it out. Classic boom bap hip-hop but made by perfected songwriters. This BKRSCLB is more than just Raz Fresco, and this proves it. Say they got drip but it ain't the same fluid. Fair Exchange No Robbery Boldy James x Nicholas Craven Boldy back at it again! He released four albums last year, and although Fair Exchange No Robbery is not exactly my favourite of the bunch, it's undoubtably one of the biggest looks for Canada this year. The cut back, soulful production stands out amongst a discography of hard Alchemist and Real Bad Man beats. Instead, Nicholas Craven elevates Boldy's position on the mic. The melancholy backdrop emphasizes the pain in every syllable the emcee spits.. There's something special about this one. True art. "Stuck in Traffic" is my favourite track. That vocal chop? A+. Grim Day Allah Preme x Uncle Fester Allah Preme had one hell of a year in 2022. Releasing dozens of projects and dumping more music on the culture than Tha God Fahim in 2017. Two of those projects were produced by Nova Scotia beatmaker and DJ Uncle Fester. Fester, known best for his role in the Backburner collective, also produced albums for Ambeez and Swamp Thing this year, but his work with Allah Preme stands out. Not only is it a departure for Fester into a new terrain of underground rap, but it's one of Allah Preme's best albums of the year. And that says a lot. Grim Night A.P. Da Overlord (Allah Preme) x Uncle Fester Where to begin. This is the follow up to Grim Day earlier in the year. Preme and Fester are a match made in heaven and a great look for both artists. "String Beans" with TYRNT is one of my favourite cuts of the year, so is "Grim Night," also with TYRNT. So is "Ice Tea" with Indigo Phoenyx. Damn, another stellar project from AP Da Overlord and Halifax's Uncle Fester. Pure excellence. Do a deep dive into both of these cats' discographies and you'll see two vastly different careers, but you'll find a ton of new gems. Do it, you're welcome. Griptape Gritfall Another new addition to BKRSCLB. Where to begin? This cat is young but one of the nicest you'll find. Remember that feeling when we first heard 1999 by Joey Badass and it felt special? Like who was this KID who had that 90's sound so authentically, but pressing for mainstream attention? Gritfall feels that exciting. Without perhaps the commercial push of Joey, Griptape is a debut album to be proud of. Super jazzy, dusty production handled by Raz Fresco and Eric Right. This cat is nice. As an emcee, Gritfall is promising. I'm excited to see the directions he takes and I can't help but encourage that exploration. BKRSCLB is really onto something. Always. Marvelous! Her Loss Drake x 21 Savage This might be my first Drake project I ever truly loved. I heard the first four songs of this joint when it was released on my way home from campus. I was loving what I heard but had to pause it. By the time I would have resumed the album, I had been inundated with reviews and opinions on the joint which all claimed that the album got wack after the first four songs, complaining that there wasn't enough 21. Well, it took me nearly a month to listen to the rest of those joints due to that feedback, and I'm left dumbfounded by the response. I never knew I wanted anything from Drake, but apparently, this is what I needed. Drake is talking shit on here and actually sounds good doing it. Did Drake have more shine than 21? Sure, but did Drake out perform 21? He sure did. This was a Drake album and it was for the best in my books. If Not Now Rove Oh damn, this was cool. A producer album from Rove that flew completely under the radar. A fun, diverse collection of interesting ideas. 2Mex, Subtitle, AWOL One, Sole, Jihad the Roughneck MC, Epic, Megabusive... Real gems on here by a cast of absolute legends of indie rap. My favourite cut on here is "Pieces of Blue" with Epic. BTW, Epic also re-released his 8:30 for Newfoundland tape this year. Check that out too. Desperately waiting for a new Epic LP over here. I'll take another from Rove too. Saskatoon Folk Rap, pay attention. The Introduction EP Axel & E.J. The Introduction to two new cats from BKRSCLB. Stepping into Toronto underground royalty is big shoes, but these cats, and Gritfall have all nailed it. This is 6 songs, full of creativity, and DOPE hip-hop. Raz comes in on the intro "Macatia" with perhaps my favourite Raz Fresco verse of the year. "Tonight" with Mike Shabb, and "Liminal Sound" are some of my favourites. Oh and "GODAMN" too with Kevin Na$h. I like this whole thing, it's 10 minutes, add it to your list. And follow BKRSCLB. They are not disappointing and are ACTIVELY expanding their roster. Raz seems down to track down the illest talent. No idea where he finds em, but he does. Life and Times of BriskInTheHouse BriskInTheHouse Apparently Brisk is out of BKRSCLB. But that shouldn't stop you from following the dude. BriskInTheHouse is continuing a strong run of releases with the Slick Rick inspired cover Life and Times of BriskInTheHouse. Produced partly by Raz and partly by Max Melanin, a producer which I was not familiar with prior. This dude is clearly inspired by Dilla and embraces the chaos on the beats - but is waaay dustier and filthy. Brisk sounds dope on here and there are a lot of highlights for a short run project. 26 Minutes, with my favourite cut being "Aloha" with The 6th Letter. The MacGuffin Device Wordburglar More Wordburglar! Are you familiar with Ugly Duckling? The rap group with Dizzy Dustin and Andy that was on Fatbeats in the late 90s early 2000s? That quirky, fun, silly yet boom bap and authentically hip-hop group? Yeah, Wordburglar is like that, but way more eccentric, and he embraces both ends of the spectrum. The McGuffin Device might even be better than Burgonomic. Actually, I think it is. This album is loud, bombastic, energized and epic. With the same witty rhymes that Wordburglar is known for. Unapologetically Burgie, someone should give this man his flowers. Favourite cuts are "Input Blitz," "Barter in Nostalgia" and "Verbserker." All with DJ Irate, who laced numerous cuts on the record. Magnetic Raz Fresco MARVELOUS! This is a thing of beauty. Years in the making, this exclusive piece of vinyl was unlocked only for those who had purchased Magneto Was Right volumes 1-9 through Tuff Kong Records, with each piece representing a puzzle piece with all nine forming together like Voltron. Magnetic however is more than simply a sum of its parts. The 13 song LP is entirely new, and works as both a celebration of the series to date, as well as a continuation of the grind that brought Raz to this point. This is an exemplar piece of art and is exactly what we can expect from the BKRSCLB unit. Mr. Ten08 Boldy James x Futurewave Boldy! Futurewave appears elsewhere on this list, but can we take a moment to appreciate Boldy's adoption of Canadian talent this year? Between the projects with Futurewave and Nicholas Craven, Boldy James has legitimized a Canadian production scene in an impactful way. Heads were aware of Futurewave before, especially with his work with Rome Streetz for both Razor's Edge and Headcrack - but despite the underground's fandom, nothing yet has quite competed with the level of notoriety and weight that Boldy James carries. Maybe the Pitchfork fans will start eyeing the Toronto scene now, we'll see. Anyhow, this album is great and is my second favourite Boldy album of the year (behind the Real Bad Man Joint.) Hard beats and hard raps, delivered in the typical monotone fashion that Boldy has been celebrated for. Futurewave also laced this with some of his most colorful and eccentric beats yet. Pam Grier's Kids DJ Moves Another full length Moves produced album. One of the most impressive discographies for any producer in hip-hop and Moves is still killing it in 2022, some thirty plus years after his beginnings in Hip Club Groove. A lot of diversity on here, but a LOT of greatness. Just dope shit. The Blaq Poet track "Loyalty" is a standout of the year, plus we get some classic Stinkin' Rich material on "StankinSpechledSocks" with Jeff Spec and Ghettosocks. Also, Governor Bolts! When's the new Bolts album coming? I want that. Great album, and my favourite thing from Moves of the year. Pocket Operations Raz Fresco I first heard the instrumentals to this joint and didn't realize there was another version with Raz on the mic. This thing was entirely made with a Pocket Operator, a drum machine that literally looks like a calculator. I thought the novelty of the gimmick was interesting enough to check it out but was instantly surprised when I started hearing some of my favourite beats that Raz has produced. Creativity at a high. The fact that Raz is a fan of cats like Dibiase, shows on this album. All this said, listen to the OG version with raps. Raz carries the 18 songs with just two guest verses. One of which being a particular favourite from Lord Juco on "Toothpaste." Fantastic. Check it. BKRSCLB. Son Tzu and the Wav.God Daniel Son x Futurewave This started the year off. We don't often get this kind of stellar material the first few weeks of the year, but Son Szu and the Wav.God was an exception to that rule. Daniel Son and Futurewave were back at it again. This got overshadowed I think by Bush Doctor later in the year, but this is arguably even more of a highlight. "Field Trips" with Rome Streetz, "Death & Taxes" with Pro Dillinger and "Stove Dance" are strong takeaways for the year. Yet another high-quality release in the discographies of both artists. The best rap music out of Toronto you can hope for. Supervillain Team Up: Injustice for All New Villain x Onaje Jordan One of my favourite discoveries of the year was New Villain. A recently established part of High Heat Records alongside Falcon Outlaw - New Villain has proven this year that he is hungry and willing to compete with the rest of them. Joining forces with Onaje Jordan is a good look. Not only is Jordan's production exciting and as hard hitting as ever, but the brand of Onaje Jordan brings the necessary weight and credibility to a project such as this. Along with dope art work, I think this album introduced many to what New Villain has to offer. Other albums from the emcee this year included Evil Flowers in Full Bloom, Exquisite Villainry (a stand out), and Supreme Villainz. Don't sleep on this cat. He's here to stay. Velvet Hammer Saipher Soze x Sibbs Roc Don't let Finn's uprising shade the quality of his Gold Era brethren Sibbs Roc. Roc and Slang Hugh are among the great producers of this new wave of underground rap and are often overlooked by heads. Not no more. Sibbs Roc did two projects with Saipher Soze this year. This album, as well as the EP Tres with the help of Finn. Saipher Soze, a member of Brown Bag Money, is also not to be underestimated. Long time collaborator with Daniel Son, Soze's production pallet is typically slugdy hard drums and dark sample pallets. This album on the other hand, is a complete 180. Think what Finn did with Lord Juco. This is a bit more jazzy, a bit more soulful, but Soze's voice has weight on the mic. This is heavy music. If you're a fan of Guilty Simpson, Daniel Son, and Big Twins, check this. A favourite of the year no doubt. YOD Wave Your Old Droog x Nicholas Craven Droog has followed in the tradition of the Dump Gods this year by releasing five albums in the YOD series; The Yodfather, Yodney Dangerfield, YOD Stewart, YOD Presents: The Shining and lastly, YOD Wave. Although Nicholas Craven is present on a majority of these releases, YOD Wave is the only album of the five that is entirely crafted by one producer. Easily my favourite of the series; Craven supplies Droog with these calm and reflective piano loops that sound good in any environment. The features add to this elegance with cats like Mach-Hommy and Tha God Fahim. Game also has a track on here with "Purple Rain Freestyle." My favourite cuts include "Scooby Snacks," "Lost Love" and "Body Right, Mind Right." No skips. 18 Minutes. All dope. This will be remembered as a hidden gem among the ever-growing library of Canadian rap in years to come. words by Alex Kuchma

  • INNERVIEW 019: One Year Anniversary of Houston Artist OQ's Album '94

    INNERVIEW 019 was conducted by Jameka in August 2022 following the release of OQ’s recent project ‘94. The interview is truly an inner view of the artist, his creations, processes and community that helped create a soulful ode to the Northside Houston community of Acres Homes. After a year in the tuck INNERVIEW 019 has surfaced right in time for the one year anniversary of ‘94. | CROWNTHEM ENT. x SDE. I really enjoyed ‘94 and wanted to learn more about it and about your artistic process. Yeah, for sure. It definitely was a process for me, and definitely was something that I had to dig deep to correlate. I could feel that because it's a very soulful project - from every aspect, from your production to the skits that you chose, the little clips and your hooks and your verses, it's so soulful. Yeah, that's the feeling I definitely want to give. What was your process? What I was mainly trying to do was kind of really reiterate my last project, which was Do or Die. It was kind of like, I guess you can kind of say my debut album. It was my first big album, a long project that I did, and I just felt like it was a lot of dated songs that I had that were great songs, but it didn't feel new to me when I dropped it, so I kind of wanted to do something fresh. I want to do something with a storyline or more of a perspective all the way through. Each song kind of, like, takes you to a different corner of my life. And that's kind of how I tried to write the songs and produce the beats and just really paint a picture. That’s the reason I chose my album art. It was me painting a picture with my words, and you see that with the album art as well. Yeah, that's one of my favorite aspects; how it all syncs up like that. I saw the album art, I was like, okay, cool. This is some cool art, you know what I'm saying? And then you go through the song titles and you go through the different stories that you're telling in each song, and it all aligns with that album art. Like the “O-Lan O” and the “Acres Homes” and all that. It's all there. I thought that was really creative on your end. Yeah, and I'm really big on my community. I'm really big on, like I said, storytelling and where I come from, because I think your influences help you get to whatever point in life that you're trying to get. So the things that I was able to experience, good and bad, had a lot to do with my community. I try to kind of bring that side to the light. I try to bring it with me. And a lot of rappers do it. They talk about where they're from and whatever, but that's one of the biggest things I want to do with me getting bigger and getting on a bigger platform. I want to shed more light on my community because when it comes to music in Houston, it's never a big thing for the Northside of Houston to be a picture of music. Everything is more so the Southside. You see a lot of the bigger artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Travis Scott and even the Geto Boys, everybody's from the Southside. So it's never been, I guess, a national superstar from the Northside of Houston. I just kind of keep that in my mind as I continue my journey. I see where you're going with it - that's important. What was it like for you growing up in Acres Homes? It's pretty much a typical low income community/neighborhood or project, you know what I'm saying? A lot of poverty and lower class families. But from my day to day, like I said on a lot of songs, like “O-Lan O,” is kind of like a staple in my community, which is like a meat market, a grocery store, and even like a fast food spot. I also have a song called “Will-Be-Force” and that’s like a play on the street name Wilburforce, which is right across from O-Lan O. Those things remind me of what it was like growing up as a kid and my early childhood stages being with my uncle and he let us run free. We started off on one street and by the end of the night, we done hit six streets. We was just running around Acres Home and taking in the community. We would start at one of my cousin's house then we'll leave and go to another cousin's house and then we'll end up being at somebody else’s. It's really just being all over Acres Homes and being in every place we could. Because in every hood or in every city, a certain part of a neighborhood could be a clique. You have certain parts of Acres Homes where other parts of Acres Homes don't like that side. I've been in all those territories and all those places to where I'm more of a neutral person, a lot of people know me and vice versa. I still play ball with a lot of them to this day. I've never really been a gang member or anything, but it was, and is, always just the ultimate love and respect between myself and a lot of them. When you're a kid, obviously you don't really understand hood politics and all of that stuff. But as I grew older, I kind of started to understand the culture of that “clique lifestyle.” I guess you could say there's nothing about lifestyle that I was really into or was able to get drawn into. I guess you could say everything that I did, I was just around the right people at the right time. It's so easy to get influenced and do the wrong thing, I understood that we walked a very thin line and one slip left could’ve changed my life completely. But yeah, I could say really just hanging out, whether it was playing sports or being at the park with my family, that’s what influenced and guided me. I know that was a big thing in Acres Home in the 90s and I was also born in 1994, hence the project being called ‘94. So I'm just playing off of those 90s vibes at the park. Everybody, all the cousins at the park and playing chase and football, that's the vibe that the project gives me and that's how I try to kind of reiterate it without having to go back to the actual sound. But I'm giving you that feeling at the same time. How did your community receive the project? I think for my inner circle, I think it definitely was received well. A lot of people, even in my family, were astounded to hear themselves in my songs or me dropping their name in a line or something. It's almost like they're famous or something. But as far as outside of my circle, people that I wouldn't even expect to were liking it. Because my sound is so Hip Hop, I'll be honest, a lot of people in my community really wouldn’t gravitate or run to that sound. A lot of people tell me I sound like Cassidy when I rap. That's an interesting comparison. And I feel that I was in high school, even when I was freestyling on the bus on the way to the basketball games, people would say, you sound like Cassidy. And I never just really took it as a slight because I've always known Cassidy as a rapper you know what I'm saying? Real MC. Right? But it's not the sound that's popular in my city or in my community. But you have to respect what I'm saying. When I play a song for somebody like “Fire” off of my project, it's like it might not be a song that you can turn up and party to, but when you turn it on you can see that I really write, you know what I'm saying? So they can kind of tell the difference between what I'm doing and I guess what they listen to on a daily basis. But I guess that's just how it is, everybody listening to it. A lot of people always say that, like the people in your city not going to mess with your music until somebody else in another city or other places give you that stamp. But, I mean, I think it's working this way around. Like people still hit me up to this day and be like, “yeah, I checked out that one song, or I checked out the album and I liked it.” I mean, it does pretty well. It does well. But, you know it's still a sound that's unfamiliar to the people in the culture because everything that's from Houston is slowed down. That’s the popular sound down here. But of course, you have other people that listen to the trap music and the turn up and all that. And even that is something that I dabbled in, I can't lie. I have a project called 25 Summers that's more so in that area. Hip Hop is my core. That's what I want to be noticed for. And I also make beats, so whatever sound that I'm making is kind of what I'm going with at the time. It just happens to come out that way. Yeah, that was another aspect of the project that I really enjoyed - hearing the clips of different people from [I'm assuming] they're like, dear family and friends. And there was one, I think it was on, like, “Riles Corner (Interlude by Kay.)” I thought that was a really cool interlude that served as a reflection or an ode to Acres Homes, geography wise, content wise, story wise – and so for her, she's breaking down, like, how to get somewhere these directions over by and it just gave the project so much more authenticity and played into the theme even more. I'm curious - how did you gather those clips? Were they random[?], planned? Well, that’s something that I always wanted to know, and Kay is my mom and whenever you ask a question that's like back in the day or historic question she knows everything about it. I dedicated a song to her on the project too called “December 8th.” So at that time, when I actually knew I could kind of get something for ‘94, I really wanted her to kind of narrate the project without narrating the project. I started getting clips of her talking and rambling about these facts about Acres Homes. I asked her about our family and the neighborhood and that’s when she started talking about [Riles Corner], which was a corner in Acres Homes that her dad's brother, her uncle, owned. So we had a corner in Acres Homes that our family owned. It had all of the stores and she was just telling me about the history of it and I was like, man, that's amazing. I actually drive by that place often, [Riles Corner,] to go get my haircut. She was telling me about it and how it's abandoned or whatever, and I was telling her how it was a goal of mine, [that once I made it] I wanted to buy that piece of land back, start some kind of business or something along those lines. She was just giving me the inside scoop on it, and was telling me what family member was running it and who was running the shop and how it came about. It was just like a piece of my history and a piece of Acres Homes history as well, so it made sense. And then right after that, of course, you got the song “The Corner.” So I kind of try to do those things like that to kind of, like you said, give it more an authentic feel, you know what I'm saying? Taking the music in a different view. To hear you say that, I really felt like I did what I was trying to do. You know, got the job done on that. Yeah, you did an amazing job. And I like it even more [after this interview,] I know for sure I'm going to go run it back again because talking to you about it, it's lifting some layers for me to be able to see it in a different light as well. I know that you produced and wrote the whole thing. What is your process with being the producer and the writer? Do your beats come first / does your hook come first? Tell me more about that. It’s definitely an interesting process, but I kind of let it flow naturally. What I would do is I would sit down with an idea of what I'm trying to do and start there. A lot of people would say, okay, I want a song called this or that. The name of my tracks probably come after the verse is written or the hook is written. And as far as beats, it's just whatever feels right at that moment. A lot of times when I'm making beats, I never try to force it. If I like it, I would loop it up enough so I could write to it and not fully make the beat. I just make a partial version of the beat and then I'll put that beat on my phone, and as I'm going out throughout my week, like when I'm going to work, coming from work or on the weekends, wherever I'm riding to, that's when I normally finish my verses. My writing process reminds me of something I said on one of my songs. I'm running through these lines, trying to write this song. I kind of use that to get everything out. I might experience something on the drive. I might be driving through Acres Home. The process is always different for every song and that's the unique thing about it. Because listening to every song, I can think back on the process. I was at this place or I was going through this light or I stopped hard at this red light when I was writing this song. It’s very unique and it's very different. But I find that's where I get better verses and my best songs. When it comes to things like that, I can't just sit down and write a verse. It’s very rare when I do that, I have to just be stuck in that mode. But most of the time I have to take the song with me. I have to really get out. I have to ride around. I have to see things, experience things. And then that's how it all comes together. I hear the process is different for everybody. I guess it's my unique process and how I do it. Do you ever battle or have challenges with your process? You mean as far as writer's block? Yeah. Or just like, thinking or assuming that maybe it would come to you in a different way than it did? Yeah, definitely. I think “Power of Prayer” was like that. When I'm doing what I just told you, the process I have, and it’s just flowing out, it’s all good. Then sometimes I have to adjust that process. I know what I want this song to be about. I know I need to rap to this, I just have to figure out how to get it out. And sometimes when I write a verse, it's not the IT verse. Sometimes I have to be like, I'm going to record that and then I'm probably going to change it, because I need to see where to take this. Every song that I put on ‘94, I wouldn't go back and change a thing. I felt like I said everything I needed to say and didn’t waste any bars. I don't want to be like, I should have said this or that after the fact. Everything was a permanent feeling. So that's kind of how, like you said, if it's not giving me that feeling, I can’t be satisfied with that... I have to make sure that it's the right word, right flow, right cadence, right pocket, things like that. So sometimes it calls for adjustments, but like I said, it's just I might have to do one or two things differently and then I'll get the final result that I expect from myself. It's always so interesting hearing how different artists persevere and make it happen. If someone comes up to you and asks you [like they ain't heard your music before,] and they ask you, how would you describe your sound? Hip Hop. I would ask, do they like Hip Hop. There’s music connoisseurs, one of my closest friends, my business partner, Vo, and he's a music connoisseur. He probably has a sound that he keeps in his pocket permanently, but he listens to everything so I respect his opinion.. If I can make a song or project or whatever and it moves him in a certain way, then I know it's something special because he takes in music in a different way than the average person. So that’s what I would ask somebody, you know, what's the sound you prefer? You know what I'm saying? Cause I'm more of a backpack/boom bap Hip Hop type of person. Like, I listen to Young Thug and Future and other big name artists, but that's just not traditional Hip Hop in my opinion, even though it’s hard. When it comes down to the sound that I produce, that's what you're going to get. A lot of people compare me to like Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole and they call it conscious or whatever, but that's what I'm going to make the best out of. I can make a song that you’d want to hear in a club or party, hard 808s and high hats, but you're not going to get a better song than me making a song on a real Hip Hop beat. So that's just what I tried to tell myself. Like, yeah, that's the popular sound right now and everybody wants to listen to that, but you can make that song and be considered somebody riding a wave or you can do this sound that not everyone gravitates to, which also happens to be what you're great at. That's probably how I have to explain it to them. I have that unpopular Hip Hop sound right now. So, if you want something that you can, you know what I'm saying, just vibe out to, then I have songs that's more up-tempo and it's not just all in your head music. But then I also have things that you got to really listen to and it stands the test of time. Art always caught me, Lil Wayne Jay-Z, people that use a lot of metaphors in their songs and like triple or double entendres. That's something that always caught my attention, because in order to understand it, you had to really listen. That’s one of the biggest things that really got me into rapping, to being able to do that. Because my favorite subject in school was always reading and writing. So it was always something that I was able to correlate with the music I love. That kind of leads me to my next question. I love to ask - when you were creating this, what was your intake? What were you watching, reading, listening to? That's a good question. What I try to do whenever I'm in that mode of writing something, I think of a project, or rather I try to listen to my biggest influences a lot. Before I made ‘94 I listened to like 444 - for me that was the last project where Jay-Z was going through something in his relationship and being honest and vulnerable in his music. He was able to basically do what I'm trying to do; paint a picture for you and tell you what happened without telling you what happened. You have to listen to the songs. I might tell you a couple of things in this song and then go to the next song and I might say a couple of things in that song. I go back and listen to a lot of old Drake songs and how he put certain things together. J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and then really listening to my old songs. A lot of times I'll go back, listen to my old songs to see where I was at, think about how much better I've gotten and how far I've come. That kind of motivates me too. Then I'm able to use bars and different subject matters to kind of use for the newer music or the newer project because I'm able to see the difference now. As far as what I was watching, I'm not sure, but I know a lot of times, I'm watching something like a documentary. I think around that time the Kanye documentary had just came out, (he's like one of my top five producers of all time) so that might inspire me to make one or two of those types of beats. Things like that would be what triggers me to get on the computer or pick my phone up and hit my notes and try to figure something out because it'll get my juices flowing. There are little things I pick up on like that sometimes. But certain situations, other situations, it might be a feeling of complacency in my life or I’m tired of working a 9-5 grind. I might just be like, okay, when I get off work, I'm going to make a beat and I'm going to make a song and it's going to take me out of here and that might be a song that I might use. So, certain situations come from those scenarios too. Let it flow. That's a difficult thing to do for a lot of artists is to naturally let it flow. Because depending on what kind of artist you are, you very much like to control the way your stuff comes out or not, you know what I'm saying? It feels like magic. The magic of it all is really just being like water and letting everything just really, like, influence you and pull you in the way that you're supposed to go. That's what you're givin’ every time you're saying something, and it's just like it just feels so natural. Yeah, it honestly did. I try not to force anything. A lot of times, like Jugg, Nadarian, he knows it could be days I haven't talked to him, and then all of a sudden, I would just text him a song. All he'll get is a song. He'll know how I'm feeling, or he'll know what mood I'm in and a lot of times, that's just how it happens. Like, I tell them, you can be at home eating a bowl of cereal, and then I have 5 songs done out of nowhere. You just don't even know what happened. But that's just how our process has always been since we started doing this. It's just always been a burst of whatever. And my first project came like that in a day. It was 5 songs. I made 5 songs in one day. And it was just like a burst of creative juice and creative energy and that's just how I like it to happen. I don't like sitting at the computer every day searching for a radio hit. And I know it's a different lifestyle you live in once you in the lifestyle, you're pretty much living in the studio, but when you're not already there, I feel like you said the experiences and things happened to kind of ignite that fire, because other than that, you'll just be just making things that are bad. I try to, like you said, let it flow and let it come to me. In that way I can get the best out of it whenever I'm doing it. You can’t rush the process. That's what I say. You can't. You can't at all. You can't slow it down either. No, for sure. You definitely got to put in the work. I've never been the type of person to try to just work for the sake of working, you know what I'm saying. It's not in me. I'm the type of person when I know I got something in the palms of my hands, I get active. I have always been like that. So if I'm not getting that feeling and if I'm not in that mode, then I know it's not nothing. I think I've done well with my process. I was just telling myself on my way home like, man, this year has been some of the best work, I've probably rapped the best I ever have in my life. And I've been in higher places in my life, like, I've been in higher planes and modes. Sometimes I don't even know how I just rapped the way I have and I'm just taken aback by it because I don't know where it comes from. That's why I think when it happens like that, people write every day. People always say you got to write every day. But for me to make ‘94 and as good as I was rapping, I wasn't rapping every day, it wasn’t an everyday process, it just came out of me and it flowed naturally. So. that's what I mean by just let it flow. The words that come to you, the ideas that come to you, you just got to open your mind and just let it come. Yeah, I think that's a good point though, because, you know, as being a writer too. I always heard that too. You have to write every day and that shit would stress me out. I don't want to write every day. I want to write when it feels right and when I feel like I'm actually going somewhere with it. And I think that just points to what you were saying. Everybody's process is so different. Yeah, it was like that for me at first. I was stressed out and it just became a moment to me where social media wasn't helping me because I would see people on social media and they might seem further in a rap career than I am. Somebody's on, somebody's thinking like they are higher than they really are. And it became so much to me and I know I really wanted to drop a project. I really wanted to drop ‘94. I cut myself off of social media for like six months, seven months, and that's how I was able to really get majority of ‘94 done. Once I had the skeleton already built, I kind of poked my head back on social media and I was able to get a few more vibes from social media. A few of my beats came from different song ideas from social media. Some ads that came across my Instagram where I was able to find some drum loops and some samples. I'm not saying it was fully, you know what I'm saying, beneficial, but it was definitely useful as far as the writing process. I was really able to just really just hone in on my craft and really get it done. Like block it all out. Because I feel like when we are on social media, we're hearing/reading everybody's thoughts and they’re going thru out mind. And it's not even like when we're getting a lot of time to sit with our own sometimes, you know what I'm saying? Like, what is really my thought and what is really what I'm trying to say, you know? Yeah, see, that's a big one. What is really my thought? Am I writing this song or somebody else's writing it? You know what I'm saying? Yeah, I think that's cool that you were able to take that much time off - that shows a commitment to the craft. Off of ‘94, do you have any favorite songs or moments right now? I think my favorite moment or my favorite song, [and that's only because I enjoyed both processes the most] was “Left The Nest.” That beat was one of my best. I do a lot of chops and samples in my beats and you see that on display in that song. I love sampling and a lot of people may say it's cheating or it's not original, but to me if you're able to take something and scramble it and make it into something brand new, that’s original. It’s like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It's a magic trick. You're taking something that's good and you're potentially making it great. Some of the best songs that we ever heard in life were samples. I just really enjoyed the process of making that song. Then I was able to write such a good verse. I was done with the first verse. And then the second verse came the day before I went to the studio the first time and I literally wrote it on the limb. Like I was writing it on my way to the barber shop. And then I came home. And I had an hour until I was going into the studio. So I'm just sitting in the car. My girl was calling me on the phone. I'm just sitting in the car writing the song because it was flowing like crazy at that moment. That process was pretty much the whole reason, well not the whole reason, for why I love that moment. That one scenario is basically the whole project. I think I enjoyed that process the most, and it's one of the processes that I remember the most. Like, every time I listen to that song, I remember what it took to make that song. So that song was very unique to me. I think “Fire” definitely had a similar concept to it, where I kind of wrote the song in increments. I would write, like, I probably say, 16 bars, and then I send it to Jugg and I'll be like, what do you think about this? And he's like, man, that's hard. And then I'll be like, I feel like it needs some more. Then I write a little bit more. Like, what do you think about this? That's even better. And then I keep going. That's what I remember about “Fire.” It was just kind of like a three step process where it just needed more and then I finally got to the conclusion, and it came out pretty dope. I agree that's one of my favorite ones when I first listened through that was the one that really I felt in my soul. I mean, all of them after a while, you know what I'm saying? But our first listen, “Left The Nest” - I was just like, yeah, this is the one. Yeah. And that's kind of how I wanted it to be. That and “Fire” was one of those songs where I named dropped a lot, you know. I said my mom's name, I said my aunt's name for her business and everything. When I sent that song in the family group chat, it went crazy. Everybody was like, “oh my God, you heard what you said.” When I sent it to my cousin, that's when she sent me the voice memo and was like,” oh, my God, you really go hard.” It's like, yeah, I have been for like three or four years now. You all just thought I wasn’t there yet. But people don't know ‘til they know. Right, You know what I'm saying? You don't know until you ride in the car and you got the radio on. Oh, my God, that's my cousin on the radio. I've been doing this for a while, but, I mean, it's not unique to me. It's a process that almost every rapper goes through. Your family not going to just fully believe until you're making some money from it or you're on TV. I don't hold it against them. But I still use those unique situations that I've encountered in my life, and I kind of try to highlight moments in my life, like the second verse of “Left the Nest.” That was pretty much about me and my other three cousins. That’s also why I like “Left the Nest,” too, it's so unique to me that I can remember exactly what I'm saying and how I put those words together. It's amazing to me. That's all I listen to. I only listen to my music and that’s no slight to anybody, I just know what I can do and what I’ve done. Like those songs I definitely hold dear to me and everything else. All the other songs, like you said, are really good songs. I think that was definitely just chips that were puzzle pieces that were put together to kind of make the picture of ‘94. So, yeah, I think I did pretty well with it. I think it's going to be like that music that gets better over time, so I'm excited. I'm excited for you, as well. So I just got a couple more questions for you. What is SDE? SDE stands for Still Dreamin’ Entertainment. It's something we came up with when we were in high school. It was primarily me, Jugg and Vo. It initially started out as us just having fun and making songs together, then we all got home from college, everybody came back from wherever they were, and we started to take it a little bit more seriously. Then everything started to elevate a little bit, different from what we could imagine. We haven’t gotten there yet, but we can definitely see the bigger picture more now than we did back then. We started at Nadarians, Jugg’s, house in the closet, just rapping. We were using a first responders mic, his dad used to work for the 9-1-1 call center so we had one of those headphones set up with the aux card. It was very bad quality, but it was something that was ours and that made it special and dear to us. That blossomed into what we’re doing now. How long ago was that? This was probably in 2011. We were either in the 10th or 11th grade when we actually started rapping. We were friends way before then, but we got comfortable as friends to the point where we started spending the night at each other's house and getting close with each other’s families. And that's when I started figuring out, oh, this person knows how to rap. Oh, this person is funny. We kind of started learning from each other more and then obviously I was the one that was always rapping and beating on the tables. That was kind of more so my character, what I brought to the friend group. Yeah, it came out the way it came out. That's really cool. What do you hope people get from listening to your music? I really hope that they just really understand that I can really rap. Because like I said, it's Hip Hop and when people think of Hip Hop, they think of East Coast boom bap. So, I think it's a good lane to be in, as far as my position, because nobody's really doing it here in Houston. I have a sound that derives from [that era] of Hip Hop, but I’m from the South and you can hear those influences in my music. Where I'm at when they listen to ‘94 or any of my music, I want people to understand that it's a different sound here. I'm from Houston, I say it in my music, I don't hide from it. I don't try to sound like I'm from New York. I say I'm from Houston, I'm from Acres Home, so you know where I'm at. I just want you to understand that and take the music and understand that I'm making these beats I'm rapping on it. I'm writing these songs, like 90% of the songs that you ever would hear from me, I made the beat. I have a hard time buying beats from other people because I'm like, I can make a beat that's similar or the same beat or whatever, but I have bought a few beats that I was proud to rap on. When someone listens to my song, I really want them to understand that I really can rap. So that's kind of like everything in a nutshell. I can really rap and not just know ABCDEFG, nursery rhyme rap. I really put thought into my raps, and like you said, time into constructing my projects and skits and all. I really just wanted to take it in and just live with it. That's the biggest thing. I imagine and hope that’s what people would think when given the opportunity to listen to your music. I think they will hear you. I sure hope so. But hopefully through this interview we'll get a few more ears on it, for sure. When I was writing down notes, when I was listening to the project, I didn't even put, like, rapper. You know, I can only really refer to you as an artist because you do so much of it. You're a storyteller. And I felt like the more that I listened to this project, I almost felt like I could draw a map of what you were speaking on. The music creates a map of where you're from. I just think that that's very unique in itself as well, because like you just said, there's not many people coming out of the South at large that are doing just strictly Hip Hop music [although there is a growing number,], but especially out of Houston. You're not only able to give a different sound, but also provide that production and give a different type of storyline than what we're used to, I feel like this is a very catalyzing project if and when the right ears get on it, if it's not already catalyzing for yourself. But you know what I mean? Catalyzing outside of just you. Yeah, that's my goal, too. Like you said, shed that light on it and make sure it's perceived as that, because I think it's a sound right now that's going around. - and you can see that it's not trap, but it's that middle wave of, I guess you could say hip hop or pop or whatever. But I think what I'm doing is very 90ish - like the songs that I'm making are very similar, in that sound front. But I mean, it's just how I feel. It's just, you know, like you say, it's the feeling. And that's all I want for the project, is for you to kind of, like, get a grasp of what I'm saying with all 12, 13 songs. I know I said that was my last question, but are you planning on putting out some more videos? Yeah. Right now we're in the process of doing that, which is very big for me because I think that'll be the next step of really putting the painting to the music and actually being able to see it because people can hear it if they see it a lot of times. So that's the process that we're in right now. Like I told Jugg, I really want to map it out because the videos can't just be a video of me in front of a car, it really has to capture the sound. If I'm going to do it, then I want to do it to the best of the ability of the song. I don't want to waste the opportunity. I don't want to pay no money, and I don't really get it because I critique my stuff hard, so I don't put out any visuals and it's not the visual of the song. So we're in the process of mapping some things out. I got a photo shoot, a photo spread that I want to do. It kind of brings light around the project as well. Going back to the old staples - other staples in the Acres Home community that I grew up in and kind of capturing those moments. I got a whole plan for the second half of the project that I want to do right now that's probably going to get ready to hit the social media sites in a little bit. '94 AVAILABLE ON ALL DSPs. ALL PHOTOS ON EDITORIAL [WEB / GRAPHICS] BY CORY HILL + NADARIAN. INNERVIEW, LAYOUT + DESIGN BY JAMEKA. OQ: + Still Dreamin' Ent.: + +


    CROWN VIEWS 002 is a visual playlist of 100+ music videos from Q! that were found notable or worth sharing for various reasons; illuminated a song off a project, color palette, textures, unique frames/POV, aesthetics, editing, etc. While making CROWN VIEWS 002 a few questions arose: In the social media era – 1) what is the significance of the music video? + 2) what does the future hold for the music video? When I posed/posted the latter question on CROWNTHEM’s socials a few different replies were given. Some think that it will inevitably look like tiny snippets/chops of full music videos and reaction videos to said videos. Fragmentation due to decentralization platforms for artists. Immersive videos, 3D experiences noted by a few others. Glass Protocol was mentioned. One artist in particular stated that impactful videos will take more creativity and time while also figuring out new ways to roll out the video – but, will the snippets receive more views than the actual video itself? What will make the audience follow-up on YouTube, Vimeo, etc. and watch the full video? In the social media era the music video will and is undergoing a significant transition. A lot of transformations we will be able to predict but a vast majority of the transformations that will take place for the music video will venture into the unknown of innovation and vision. Additionally, there has been chatter trivializing the impact of the video for an independent/underground artist; some say they aren't as important as they seem and that artists should spend their resources and time on other aspects of their art. On the other hand, some view music videos as an undeniable and pivotal aspect of an artists' trajectory. There is an equilibrium to be met - realize the truths on all sides - but, essentially, it all comes down to how creative, out of the box / forging of news paths an artist is, coupled with execution of those visions. To engage with the conversation noted above view here or comment below. Without further ado – The words came out differently this time. The poetic blurbs may not fully analyze the music video in a traditional sense - but, if you watch the videos you might catch the moments of intertextuality, imagination and where the words and visuals coalesce. “BIG DEBO” by Shady Blu | directed by madebyJAMES Already there - already where she placed her intention, where she puts her attention. Maybe they ain’t listen; maybe they’ll wait ‘til they see the star glisten. Burns blue, luminous hue, massive talent comin’ thru. “ALLAT” by Mark Lux | directed by Dhyaan Patel ALLAT, al-Lat, personification of the Sun out the slums. Gods, Goddesses and androgyny is worth sumn. Radiance of the L.A. gradient; creativity is Heaven Sent, Heaven’s Scent. All that. “Close” by Bocha x Corey G | directed by Zach Olson Close, close enuf. To run up - to throw the stone 'n hide the hand. To go to war or forfeit your land. Endeavors + bands. You must understand, close the door, open the window to be grand. “Free!” by Maxo | directed by Vincent Haycock Free! What does it mean to Be? Some openings close yet still need entry. Conversations of adversity with Me ‘n Me. In healing, to bring warmth and burn out disease. Creative energy flows with ease. R.I.P. Uncle Jerry. “Broken Glass” by Passport Rav | directed by Future Industry A big tooth broke all the ceilings in the room. Swinging on cut outs of creation formed w/ strings + glue. I've inherited the Spirit of Buddha - found a way to laugh as my unorthodox passport is stamped. “D.A.R.E” by ICECOLDBISHOP | directed by Erik Rojas Dare to be different + dare to have life feed into you instead of what you consume. They put it in our face, crippled to their various ways OR jump to another page - still with rage. Destruction only means the beckoning of a new age. "for your EYES” by theOGM x Elete | directed by EYEDRESS FOR - YOUR - EYES, no I’s. Time works for you when you find your pace, inside. Living by Truths ‘n crossing out lies. Hills in the hoopty, on my life. CROWN VIEWS OO2: (no particular order except the first 7.) ARTISTS FT'D: KAMEO, FUNERAL Ant Bell, Bryce Savoy, Radamiz, Yoshi Vintage, SONNY, Monday Night, 3WaySlim, Asun Eastwood, Kamaiyah, Sada Baby, Donnie Waters, Da Gilly, Apollo Brown, Aj Snow, Jansport J, P1, ALLBLACK, MeechBOLD, Trent The Hooligann, BoriRock, CRIMEAPPLE, Starz Coleman, GodBlessBeatz, Maze Overlay, SadhuGold, JNX, Shun Gawd, Alex Bond, YOH, CARRTOONS, FrankieOG, MacArthur Maze, RTC Profit, Jyou, Isai Morales, ihateyouALX, Smoke DZA, Sleepy Loco, Jonathan UniteUs, Reuben Vincent, Rapsody, Hugh Augustine, Walt Mansa, Shloob, B. Cool-Aid, Devin Morrison, Pher Turner, MoRuf, Pink Siifu, UFO Fev, Spanish Ran, Los Kemet, Times Change, Mike Shabb, Nicholas Craven, Payroll Giovanni, 2 Eleven, Problem, League, Donavan Ransom, Larry June, The Alchemist, G Perico, DJ Drama, Lord Sko, Andy Savoie, Jesse Desean, Ahmir, Malz Monday, O Dawg, Thunderous Caption, RIPXL, Bucky Malone, Innanet James, Big Jade, Che Noir, 7xvethegenius, SZN, Kash Doll, Icewear Vezzo, Swooty Mac, Devy Stonez, Freddie Gibbs, Rucci, Bankroll Got It, Deniro Farrar, Huey Briss, KeMarilyn Chanel, Archibald SLIM, Lola Brooke, Hit-Boy, Rim, FINN, Shootergang Kony, Jireh, DaBoii, C Plus, Heno, Elujay, J.Robb, Lord Apex, Slumlord Trill, Nym Lo, Statik Selektah, Curren$y, AvenueBLVD, Chase N. Cashe, Mello Buckzz, Latto, Jae Skeese, Da$H, Silky Southern, Sincere Hunte, Recognize Ali, Sibbs Roc, Will Hill, Slim Guerilla, Genshin, YeloHill, Airplane James, Young Nudy, Isaac Castor, Ricky Mapes, Jim Jones, Hitmaka, Don Quez, Rahiem Supreme, Nappy Nina, Tafia, Ferris Blusa, Jah Monte Ogbon, Young Drummer Boy, Bizarre, Charlie Smarts, DJ Ill Digitz + Toosii. WORDS / CURATION / DESIGN BY: JAMEK

  • 2nd Kings by HXNDRX

    2nd Kings is the follow-up to HXNDRX’s first release of 2022, 1st Kings. Different from the first one as there are no features and HXNDRX is going purely off his own energy and thoughts. 2nd Kings is a highly spiritual project meant to connect with the listener in intimate and vulnerable ways that aren't always present in today's artistry. This is a genuine spiritual offering from the New Orleans’ artist. There’s history, mantras, motivation and light — it’s an honest and transparent reflection of Soul, intent and the energy he’s using to make his visions and dreams tangible (while also being aware of the fact that Spiritual blessings aren’t always bestowed in physical materialism.) The project begins with, “Sovereign Business,” and the intro of the track starts with an audio clip from Al Green. The esteemed pastor and musician gives a few words about not fusing too many genres (especially if they're in opposition) at once because it may, confuse the Lord and the devil, and therefore speaking on the hypocrisy that’s often found in music. The clip highlights that an artist can be preaching about something relating to the Higher Self but in actuality living through their Lower Self. It’s a sovereign business, in the sense that it’s your business but is it a business that gets you free and allows for a sovereign lifestyle — are you really the one in control? And if not, how do you gain control of your Being? Lowkey profound way to lay out your intent as an artist before getting into your art. 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. After “Conquer” the project moves into one of the first songs that received video treatment, “Forgiveness,” which is exactly what the title states. Another personal song that finds it way into the universal — he’s speaking to a past or present lover and their ups and downs, support of one another, the worth they recognize in each other and possibly how to forgive and move on or forgive and move forward together in strength and faith. The wanting to find new ground with someone that makes their way back into your life. “My Realm,” is a track where HXNDRX expresses a bit more about some situations that his energy had to repel in order to evolve spiritually. Personal accountability coupled with knowing what not to accept and work with. Some references are abstract and without context but still allows for the listener to fill in what might be referenced or the listener's own personal relation. “Let me bring you in my realm where Soul not for sale and we acknowledge what’s real. There’s an immense amount of great lyrical content, ideas and experiences that can sit with your Soul and mind from this project. 2nd Kings is essentially a guidebook or journal of how to maintain, sustain and cultivate a truly healthy life — mind, body, spirit. This is another significant project along the journey of greatness by HXNDRX. Times are changing and its imperative to really live the life you’re meant to lead. I’m only speakin’ on the business, that’s the mission / I can’t be rockin’ with no goofy, they be senseless / I rub shoulders with the Royals, they be listenin’ / tribal blood in the vein, how you miss this ? / tribal blood in the vein, we the remnant / tribal blood, I got mixed thru the mud / crossed that boat in the ocean thru the flood / doesn’t matter about blood we related just because. He then also goes into the lack of true and transparent education for the youth and communities at large. To finish the project out, “David’s Outro,” begins with the importance of allowing the testimonies of others (whether you’re involved or not — good or bad,) to be an inspiration for you to give your testimony with utmost truth and accuracy. Listen for yourself. This is neither a project to miss nor an artist to ignore. Words by Jameka Released: March 2, 2023 Region / City: New Orleans, LA

  • Malice At The Palace by Ty Farris x Machacha

    Malice At The Palace Ty Farris x Machacha ”These rappers cornballs, shame on the engineer that’s recordin’ it/ That sh*t’s trash, when you post it, I’m reporting it” - Dope Sales To Vinyl Deals Ty Farris releases his 3rd release of 2023! Part of me is like what is going on, how is this humanly possible, and the other part is welcoming the pace and quality of these drops. Malice At the Palace (completely produced by Machacha) isn't as chaotic as the real life event but it does hit as hard as Ron Artest did on that infamous night. “Flagrant Fouling” is a standout track with it’s haunting Darringer style production and gutter verses from Ty Farris and Mickey Diamond. The project also hosts DJ Grazzhoppa (Scratches), Marv Won, Guilty Simpson, Dango Forlaine, WateRR, Ty Farris makes sure he lets the homies join in on the fun, Detroit what! Favorite tracks: Flagrant Fouling, 4 Point Play, Strong Arm Aggression Words by Monk Released: March 17, 2023 Region / City: Detroit, MI

  • Bears Vs Pitbulls by Starz Coleman x Ched

    Bears Vs Pitbulls Starz Coleman x Ched “I’d rather rap or culinary baby this is what I do/ I’m dodging taxes and prison, naw I can’t live by the rules” - Sir Sarzalot Colemanson The 3rd Hip Hop's favorite music video auteur is back with another dope musical offering. He teams up with frequent collaborator Ched on Bears Vs Pitbulls and the results are as impressive as they've always been. Starz Coleman is as witty and funny as ever, while displaying the skill and dexterity of a spitter's spitter. This is mostly a solo affair until we get to the song “Paid In Full” which features Alma Ave Writtens who delivers some potent bars about wisening up and living to one’s potential. Put on your helmet get in line for this ride with one of New Jersey's finest! Favorite Tracks: Bears Vs Pitbulls, Paid In full, Himmel Musik Words by Monk Released: March 3, 2023 Region / City: Newark, NJ

  • Hot Shot: Gangsta Grillz by G Perico x DJ Drama

    Hot Shot: Gangsta Grillz G Perico x DJ Drama “The mo’ that I make, the crazier I feel/ I thank God everyday, I can believe this sh*t is real/ Gotta get a bigger bag cuz my ni**as need appeals/ I got 700k from my negotiating skills” - Everything G Perico teams up with DJ Drama for a ride through the LA streets on Hot Shot: Gangsta Grillz. Full of street action, and LA vibes, this project is a testament to G Perico's work ethic and independent spirit. I also like that the production isn't riding any waves, it's modern but it keeps the classic Cali Hip Hop elements that let you know what the coast is! G Perico rolls mostly solo on this lick but Steelz, and RJMrLA show up to lend some assistance. Everything combines to make this is one shot you don't wanna miss! Favorite Tracks: Ask G4, Action, No Do Overs Words by Monk Released: March 10, 2023 Region / City: South Central, CA

  • Old Tales by Last Rhetoric

    Old Tales Last Rhetoric High Energy, in both contexts is the best way I can describe Old Tales. The new album from Last Rhetoric. From lyrical delivery, to the overall messages of hope in the lessons of life across the album's 12 tracks. The standout tracks are the effortlessly metaphor-laden “Black Metal” with a hypnotic guitar riff that you just can't escape. Lines like, “Death-metal, dead singers, heart brings us, harbingers, hard nickel, dark steel, killers finger, cramp real, movie clippings, plot thickens, oatmeal…” Reign has the vocal range, vocabulary and sheer ability to rhyme that rivals some of the very best, it's only elite names that can come to mind when you can speculate on who would sound at home with him on the same track. It can be absolutely brain bending to analyze this album and realize the gritty and punctuated rhyme spitter on “Toolz” is the same distorted yet jazzy melodic voice on “Madboy” and “Timelapse”. An absolute stylistic ANARCHY on this album (the very best kind). To call it experimental doesn’t do it justice, that would imply a level of unpolished or unfinished. This is an extremely well-produced and polished album from top to bottom, a bespoke masterwork from veterans in musicianship. Old Tales is a concept album capturing the past, present and future of a journey. It is a story of multiple perspectives viewed from the highs and lows of life’s path told with a collection of traveled ideas and sounds gathered from varied upbringings serving as the backdrop. Last Rhetoric is a hip-hop music collaboration created by two multi-genre artists, David Bruce aka Armanni Reign and Nick Weiller aka Bro Safari. Armanni Reign, former battle rapper turned US Drum and Bass artist,respected EDM vocalist and festival host. Touring the planet with some of the biggest names in the culture from DJ Craze, Goldie, Andy C, DJ Snake Hip Hop, Drum and Bass, Dubstep, House and more. The production for Last Rhetoric is written and arranged by Nicholas Weiller, an artist/DJ, and lauded veteran of bass music. From the stateside pioneer-like Drum and Bass beginnings of the collective known as Evol Intent to the mash-up community’s highly-requested Ludachrist, and most recently the undeniable solo rise as Bro Safari. Words by Xlo Released: March 10, 2023 Region / City: Austin, TX

  • Noir Or Never by Che Noir x Big Ghost Ltd.

    Noir Or Never Che Noir x Big Ghost LTD. “Yeah I sip from barstools in Miami / If you ain’t felt the pain I felt it’s hard to understand me / My cuz Juwan got killed, it’s hard losing your family / I was so young I still had cartoons on my panties” - Resilient Che Noir starts Women's History Month off by making history with another flaming hot project, Noir Or Never. (Also I wanna put my vote in for album cover of the year, Noir Or Never is a top contender.) Che flows effortlessly over Big Ghost LTD soundscapes, and there's some great features with 7xvethegenius shining the brightest among the pack with her assist on "Veracruz", which happens to be my favorite! This is definitely a group project and Che Noir enlists the help of Flee Lord, D-Styles (Scratches), Planet Asia, 7xvethegenius, Skyzoo, Ransom, and 38 Spesh. It’s fun for me to see who’s collaborating with a rising artist, seeing certain names on a features list has always been an affirming stamp, Che Noir is in great company. Give Noir or Never it a listen now rather than later. Favorite Tracks: Veracruz, Quiet Moves, Sleep Paralysis Words by Monk Released: March 3, 2023 Region / City: Buffalo, NY

  • The Great Escape by Larry June x The Alchemist

    The Great Escape Larry June x The Alchemist In professional sports a player usually makes their mark in their respective league after a “breakout” game or season. In music this happens after a “breakout” project. This is a project that takes an artist from a relatively recognized performer, to a household name amongst the so called casual listener. This is exactly what Larry June teamed up the legendary Alchemist to produce. The Great Escape is just that, an escape from the underground and into underground stardom! Boasting big features from the likes of Big Sean, Action Bronson, Wiz Khalifa, Joey Bada$$, etc. Larry was able to thread the needle between having big names but still staying true to the sound that got him this far in the first place. The Alchemist laid out the perfect backdrop for Larry’s high class lifestyle lyrics that can be evidenced simply by glancing over the track listing. Titles like "Turkish Cotton," "Porsches In Spanish," "Art Talk," and "Ocean Sounds" let you know exactly what you can expect. The two artists come together so seamlessly it’s hard not to assume they’ve been working together since Larry’s start. The Great Escape is a great example of sticking to your bread and butter but finding a way to still elevate it to the next level. A wide range of feature artists are sure to get Larry heard in many unfamiliar spaces, and create an array of new fans. Next time you plan on taking a drive, grab a fresh squeezed orange juice, take the scenic route, and make your great escape with The Great Escape, NUMBERS! Words by Flynt Nixon Released: March 31, 2023 Region / City: San Francisco, CA

  • ROADMAN by Sincere Hunte

    ROADMAN Sincere Hunte Unexpected. There’s a huge number of underground and independent artists from out the South and higher concentrations as you move from state to state and city to city. From Fayetteville, NC, yet based in Nashville, TN, Sincere Hunte delivers his project, ROADMAN. The project follows the story of a young rolling stone and how he traverses love, family and life at large through forward movement. Some hooks resound like mantras. Life don’t got no brakes, we keep pushin’ / I don’t waste time, I take what they couldn’t / Pray before I sleep, we keep pushin’. There’s a grainy, basement aspect to his delivery that is represented on “EXOSHAPER” with a feature from Ronin Black where they take turns flipping words similar to a cypher. Remnants of what we used to get from Tyler, The Creator, Earl Sweatshirt back in the early/mid 2010s. A distortion in production and voice allures the listener to get a deeper glimpse. It’s not a lazy delivery but a nonchalance that comes off as a, “this is just what I do and I do it well.” 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 and 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. When more ears hear this I can’t imagine them not wanting to elevate this artist and sound further. Future is very bright for Sincere Hunte. “TIL THE END” featuring Mike Floss is another standout track - the lyrical content and pace of the production coupled with one of Nashville’s finest. A journey with flavor, fly and not too much flash. “SUN RUNNER” is a beautiful track. devin. has a great feature but it’s in the soul of the production and content of lyrics. “ANYTHING I CAN GIVE” another notable track purely off the production and the manner he raps over / with the track. There’s also a switchup mid-song that is brilliant because of the interlude before the production morphs. It works so well that you think that the song changes but it’s all the same track. Made me reminisce about the 2000s where artists would put 2 tracks as 1 song or just create a drastic change up. “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” Words can only convey so much. In order to get the full essence spin it a few times. True diamond in the rough. Words by Jameka Released: February 17, 2023 Region / City: Fayetteville, NC / Nashville, TN

  • Painting Houses by UFO Fev x Spanish Ran

    Painting Houses UFO Fev x Spanish Ran “New Barkleys, steppin’ over the body, as I walk out the lobby/ I had a hustle before I had me a hobby” - Dead Rappers Sell More (Big Locks) UFO Fev combines with Spanish Ran for Painting Houses to mark the start of his 2023 releases. UFO Fev continues to push through and cultivate a solid catalog. He's only looking forward while leaving banger after banger in his wake. Now is as good a time as ever to check out what he has to say. Features from Tree Mason, Ty Da Dale, DJ Ill Digits, Bloo Azul, Mad Hattan, and Al-Doe make this a house party, but you’re not gonna see John Witherspoon complaining about having to listen to “Public Enema”. Painting Houses is in the lane of what I like to call Crime Noir Hip Hop, the title is a reference to an organized crime term for killing a man and the way blood splatters walls during a shooting. Spanish Ran does a great job providing sounds for UFO Fev and company to shine a light on these dark and gritty spaces and situations. But it’s not all about the ugly side, there’s hope, resilience, and a strong message about making an effort to strive, even when facing an environment and circumstances that are working against you daily. Powerful stuff, check it out! Favorite Tracks: C’mon, Dead Rappers Sell More (Big Locks), One Luv Words by Monk Released: Feb 28, 2023 Region / City: Harlem, NY

  • A Moment's Notice by Gary Junior

    A Moment's Notice Gary Junior Since the 1980’s Vallejo, California has been home to some of the brightest stars to come out of The Bay Area rap scene. From E-40 & The Click to Mac Dre and Thizz Ent. Fast forward to 2023 and pretty much nothing’s changed, LaRussell, DaBoii, Nef The Pharaoh, etc are still spearheading the new age sound of the region. But around many bright diamonds are always the hidden gems, Gary Junior is definitely one shovel away from stardom! His latest project entitled A Moment’s Notice is a collaborative effort with producer JMO CORLEONE. Like any good collab album the two are able to hone in on Gary’s style and offer the best version of himself. His laid back easy going delivery paired with JMO’s upbeat vibey production is a match made in heaven made apparent within the first two tracks. My personal favorite song "Potential," has Gary’s distinctive flow stabbing in and out of high hats and keys guaranteed to have you involuntarily bobbing your head. The real showcase on this project is the range, to be only 7 tracks the flows and cadences show you that he is capable of creating a masterpiece no matter what canvas he’s painting on. It won’t take you more than a moment to notice that A Moment’s Notice is something special. A universal sound that kind of sounds tailored for the Taylor Gang-esque audience. Nevertheless if you’re a fan of the Wiz Khalifa’s and Curren$y’s of the world then that’s even more reason to dive into Gary Junior and JMO CORLEONE’S, A Moment’s Notice as soon as you have a spare 15 minutes and 20 seconds to do so. Words by Flynt Nixon Released: February 21, 2023 Region / City: Vallejo, CA

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