Welcome to the reboot debut of the Guardian of the Rap column here at Vinyl Me, Please.
Tl;dr for newcomers: I’ve recently surrendered myself to the floodgates of Blog Hell in an effort to shine VMP’s light upon independent MCs who need a look. I got tired of blurbing about rich niggas every month, and now we here. If all continues to go well, I’ll be shining light on five MCs a month in the spirit of the blogs I read when I was a teen backpacker incessantly clogging my hard drive.
I came across ZekeUltra (pictured in the top image) and his last EP from a homie’s high praise upon its release. The Delaware MC not only surpassed expectations, but left me transfixed after a slow burning into the atmosphere he curated on (The Power Of) The Will Of Man. It wasn’t an immediate click, but left many traces for why I should continue to burrow further in: the samples felt warm and worn, like walking through evening rain in film noir. In fact, my first encounter happened during a silent early spring ride from LaGuardia into Prospect Leffert Gardens; I was cold, but not Wisconsin cold; the Texan heat kissed me goodnight and left no number as I decided to spend my spring vacation hemorrhaging even more money. I waited damn near an hour for any rideshare to find me. I made peace with the $40 I’d blew off the plane, and Zeke’s biting candor sunk into me as the buildings blended into one another.
It took no time at all for “Hurts” to become my standout: the Brenda Holloway slurred and warped to texture, left spare and numbing until being met with a thunderous sub that hit the gut. I know how people say certain records “vibrate differently” or whatever the fuck, but Yonqi’s simple flip tactic let Holloway’s opening words — “Every little bit hurts…” — loop and vibrate into eternity until the mood spoke for itself. By the time Zeke arrives, it takes but one verse to cut through the fat and weight of whatever’s on his shoulders; the record sounds like empathy, that’s it. “Your pain is my pain / and your loss is my loss” is it! Zeke brought the bounce to the chopped soul in a manner few can, and in that instant, his pain became mine. He even croons into the night like the fourth wall doesn’t exist, left raw flesh on this slab of earth as he fades into the sounds of the rain.
produced by ovrkast
I think it’s unfair how high mavi’s set my expectations, to be honest… the only thing I associate with this young nigga is his ability to kill shit! Like, that’s all I’ve known him for since his “One Foot” record popped up onto my radar several months ago. I’m still a new disciple, but he’s bodied literally ** everything ** I’ve heard him touch… Don’t y’all miss when that was enough of a cosign? The nigga’s ** GOOD **! He’s a young Black man from Charlotte with Howard University ties, which makes this record’s quip about a professor chastising him for hittin’ lecture with the kush cologne on him even funnier to me. I’m from Maryland, but I’ve never been to Howard. (That’s an aside, though.) If you’ve been privy to his recent SoundCloud spree of unhinged, engaging raps that bring life to the most mundane or average details of his existence, you’ve been in for some gifts that continue to give.
The visual for “willpower” surely continues this trend, and takes mavi through home cleaning in a dingy house with portraits that keep coming to life. The home personifies how I’ve heard many mavi songs in my head: bleak, but purposeful. Insightful, even in the bleakest moments. mavi sweeping the floor with his headphones in… he looks the way I looked when I hit the dishes in 10th grade, mint green iPod nano on full slap. He doesn’t read superstar, and he doesn’t have to. He glides over a gorgeous ovrkast beat that sounds like magic leaking from a cauldron, and fluctuates from a barren face to a vibrant smile in the face of his potential. But is he spraying his reflection out of fear, or confirmation? Fitting how the record reads like an unending scroll of reassurance and self-validation to walk the path one was placed here to walk. mavi spits nimbly, tucking gems in plain sight. I’m just fortunate to tune in.
I must say, this one was a WILD surprise: after combing through the many bricks in my inbox, I came across a gentleman named Naledi SKYES from Johannesburg, South Africa, with 108 followers and a handful of SoundCloud joints. This twitter shit is A1 sometimes because Naledi SKYES laced me with that FIE! Lay the xenophobia and the diaspora wars to the side on this one, “Makaveli” is certified stateside if I have ** anything ** to do with it!
This record came with its own learning curve for me: SKYES merged Zulu and English so effortlessly, only further proving how rap’s energy remains transferable across continents and dialogues. “Makaveli” is definitely some flex shit, SKYES jabbing at the beat as he details the various liquors he’s acquiring for the evening and eventually reminding the listener that he refuses to do it Americano. In the song’s context, I presume many SA rappers in his vicinity are quick to emulate what works in the U.S., and SKYES goes vehemently against that? Either way, the hook struck me immediately with the earworm quality and I don’t even know what the refrain means all the way. Langie Biitz popped their shit on this one, I’m tempted to slide this into the nearest party queue to see how folks respond in the states. This was such a welcome surprise, it’s lit!
For the record, Storf went up in the office when I told him Big Baby Gandhi sent me some new shit. (Gandhi, when you see this: chirp him on Twitter, it’s been a minute.) Last I heard, BBG quit rap completely to finish pharmacy school; granted, I wasn’t up on Das Racist and all their affiliates back when the blog scene was still thriving. We Live in a Society was my first venturing into Big Baby Gandhi’s work, and the online mess collage artwork alone had me intrigued. From the opening moments, we hear BBG over a flip of “New Slaves” that focuses on the Frank Ocean outro. Thus, it’s an opening song called “Yandhi” — the Kanye West album that never came — where a rapper named Big Baby Gandhi flipped a Yeezus record… it’s this breed of hypertextual meta-mindfuck that makes me dive even further in, I’m sold. (Didn’t Gandhi not fuck with the Blacks, though?)
The whole BBG EP carries this energy: raucous and noisy with a hyper unpredictability about it. Gandhi mad dashes in and out of character while littering history and pop culture factoids over the beat like a trail toward a Queens bodega he once called home. This relentlessness made me gravitate toward the paranoid boom-bap of “V for Vendetta” in an instant: It’s Gandhi being concerned, then being concerned about how concerned he is, then being engulfed by the expectation to be concerned again. “Either way, everything make me feel bad about!” Gandhi embodies guilt, then sheds it by admitting he doesn’t care; it’s honest and impactful without overrapping. My jaw dropped when he reminds us how we never saw Bin Laden’s body. I’m also open to hearing his strategies for overthrowing capitalism if rap becomes less important to him. I mean, he said rapping’s the most important shit to him and I’ma take his word.
According to the submission email, the Greenville, NC rapper Chinaman was slated to record with DaBaby after winning the Gorilla Glue Challenge last year. The day before the two were scheduled to meet in Charlotte, Chinaman was detained for an alleged probation violation. He’s gone unheard from up until a jail transmission last month detailing how he plans to take these new charges to court. His team released the Kontaminated mixtape last month, and standout record “The Lessons” was released almost two years prior to that. Once Chinaman’s music hit my inbox, “The Lessons” easily emerged as a pivotal record that not only symbolizes his ongoing journey between the streets and the legal system, but plays back like a Sunday confession and a vow to move forward.
With all eyes on North Carolina — given DaBaby’s national breakout year, with Stunna 4 Vegas following close behind — Chinaman may easily blaze his own path should he be released in a timely manner. It’s easy to see why he won DaBaby’s challenge: His gruffness is coated with an earnestness that gives more warmth than initially anticipated. The Ricky Racks production may be disarming as well, favoring stirring cinematic horns over the eccentric melodies found on his more popular efforts. In tandem, “The Lessons” gives a new flair to the rags-to-riches redemption arc by being plain-spoken and understated; when Chinaman speaks of his street activities, there’s no extra dramatization or glory behind the weight of his words. When he speaks of his conversations with God, he carries his verses like he’s finally listening. It sounds like the first chapter of a film that got left on the cutting room floor, and I sincerely hope that doesn’t remain the case.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.