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Guardian Of The Rap: Underground Releases From Zed Kenzo and More

On July 2, 2019

Aight, dig this right quick: you know July usually comes with the drought in this rap shit. Well, I clearly didn’t check the forecast of my inbox, cuz the streets were NOT flockin’ to the boy this time around. Early growing pains for a nigga who decided to blog in 2019? I dunno, dog, we could just blame the algorithms again? (Stale, but true.) Anywho… you know some shit I hate? How music’s disposable in the public’s imagination after a week of existing. We not goin’ for that at Guardian of the Rap: here’s a roundup of some underground shit that I know y’all missed on the radar this year. We sell late passes as well as $12 plates in the church parking lot after Sunday Service. Catch up to this fie shit and enjoy your window unit while you got it. One. - MPII

A reminder: If you got that fie, hit for a chance to make it in next month. Read this post before you send that shit

Zed Kenzo - “Fresh”

produced by Zed Kenzo

from Baby Swag - released 04.05.2019

directed by Andrew Nordstrum

available on all streaming platforms

A longtime staple of the Milwaukee DIY rap scene, Zed Kenzo embodies all the explosive qualities a superstar must possess: tenacity, technicality, and the chic to make it move. They’ve had all those things as long as I’ve known them, and their recent Baby Swag EP symbolized a career rebirth while easily being their best, most diverse work yet. All the facets of their personality are distilled in six records that filter through a zany brightness of pop-rap, the darker underbelly of trap, and well-calibrated nods to the punk and emo background Zed wears proudly on their fishnet. There’s a chaotic harmony that’s alluring and inviting, so long as one submits to the whims of Zed’s dominance whether they’re seducing for a good time or smiting for pissing them off.

“Fresh” starts Baby Swag with the right amount of bang for the range Zed showcases. In time, it could become a smash. It slathers their spirit all over the 808, immersing the listener in a world of bad bitches who have no time for shenanigans. You see it in the way they switch outfits on a whim, the way they pace along the park with ice cream for the shorties, the way their rap hands come standard with the acrylics. You hear it in the way they detail the caliber of cuties they surround themself with, how quickly they’ll send your boyfriend a nude, and how they remind you not to be pressed. And that’s completely fair, like, why be pressed?

Qari & greenSLLIME - "What I Want"

prod. greenSLLIME

from *Operation Hennessy *- released 02.13.2019

available on all streaming platforms

Operation Hennessy is a severely-underrated EP from the Chicago duo of Qari (formerly of Hurt Everybody) and greenSLLIME on the boards. It came out under Broke Ass Records, if that’s any indication of the ethos that went into this shit. It’s purely a fire rap tape for the sake of it, birthed from the same vein of the underground rap records that directly influenced the way it moves through murky, soulful territories with the “everything and nothing” mentality. The work of Daniel Dumile immediately comes to mind; it’s further confirmed by the title, and the sampling of “The Illest Villains” for “Argonaut.” (That’s not snitchin’, that’s just payin’ attention, yadig?)

SLLIME leans into the haziness of his mood by selecting samples that feel like deep blues and dark greys, drums steamrolling along without asserting their dominance. There’s plenty of space for Qari to lay his abstractions down, pivoting from rare fashions to street survival to not fuckin’ with these rap niggas at all. “What I Want” showcases both rappers over a graceful jazz loop, pondering desires both luxurious and nefarious. Plot twist: the luxury is another day, and free reign to smoke the blunt wherever. Not to mention having moms up out the struggle. Don’t sleep on greenSLLIME’s raps, neither: he nimbly dashes across all the folks who’ve doubted him, and swerves hard past the man he could’ve been for other people’s satisfaction. Qari channels his stream-of-consciousness to rattle off a laundry list of harmed opps and expensive salad, fading off into the distance as he flicks the ash.

SIR E.U - “Cute”

produced by WRECKTECH

from *RED HELLY / TWIN TOWERS *- released 05.20.2019

available on all streaming platforms

The DC polymath SIR E.U has left a near-decade long legacy on the city’s underground scene and several circles on the internet. As he’s come further into adulthood, he’s become known for progressive, thoughtful rap music that traverses stylistic boundaries almost ceaselessly. (He’s also one of my best friends on this dark, lonely planet.) RED HELLY / TWIN TOWERS furthers this experimental tradition as an album that often functions as sonic collage; the thoughts E.U lays to beat are often frantic, but clear. He splatters his observations onto the canvas at will, and makes strides to utilize his silence or omission as a powerful tool. He extends a hand through the multiverse even when you’ll never be damn certain of where he’s taking you. It’s often the future, or his mom’s old business, or somewhere on a D.C. night as the gentrifiers flee.

“Cute” has a transparent quip about a short-haired youth spent coloring within the lines. In fact, the song dabbles with the idea of a past life quite often. WRECKTECH’s synth/rock selection gives the record a spiraling uncertainty as E.U aims to pinpoint the roots of his toxicity, unravel the symbolic victories (failings) of diversity, and thrive under capitalism as he evades “an unknown entity.” He shifts gears from a low-toned grumble to an eccentric, announcer-like voice where he blares these bars into the sky as if they’re the most epic thing. Even when they mean nothing, E.U knows how to elevate his diction towards whichever level he sees worthy for the time being. It’s unclear what the grand mission is; that’s life, as is, which is what E.U knows best even as he doesn’t.

J Bambii - “3PM” (feat. Akenya)

produced by Won Two

from RETROGRADE - released 12.27.2018

Southside Chicago’s J Bambii dropped her debut EP in the final breaths of an exasperating 2018. Across three tracks, RETROGRADE showcases an MC infatuated by the way things are, they way they could be, and which parts of each are even in our control. Once glance across her social media confirms how the tape reflects her practice: Bambii’s an avid tarot reader, cataloguing the way astrology affects her life on a cellular level, and pondering how many shifts and resets we’ll need to get right with whatever non-mortal energies we can’t see. She’s also infatuated by rap, and disappointed in how low our standards can be. That’s where RETROGRADE aims to function: pensive, intentional, and honest.

“3PM” opens the project by grounding its scope in somber roots, towards the project of freedom and healing. As Akenya swoons underneath the piano boom-bap, Bambii’s hook feels at once like an indictment and a reminder, aimed inwardly and at the listener with an immediacy. Her verse weaves through several points of nostalgia before surrendering the old ways to remind us of all the world’s ills that plague us still. Again, she posits that “you don’t want freedom” before later flipping it into the question of “do you want freedom?” There’s an elusive manner to Bambii’s style that leverages an intensely-conversational voice and supports it with bars and musings that hit like body blows. Despite this being her first effort, it’s clear she’s been enamored with rapping long before she decided to let her voice touch the track. The future only provides excitement for what else she can conjure up.

Rhys Langston - “incredibly black and extremely eccentric (in Oregon)”

produced by kató

from Master Fader on Speed Dial - released 04.03.2019

available on all streaming platforms

California’s Rhys Langston - the Jesus of Los Feliz - is a listen to brace oneself for. Merely because he’s so intrinsically infatuated by how to maneuver the written and spoken word, an initial dash into his work would prove warmly overwhelming. This is high praise: his Master Fader on Speed Dial EP lulls listeners into a wavy nostalgia, in thanks to kató’s production, as Langston allows himself to get free while letting absolutely no one off the hook. It’s charmingly free-associative, frequently unpredictable, and the nigga can fuckin’ rap and sing. It feels like (mixed) racial tensions and an untold history as discovered on the other end of blowin’ good out the pen. He thinks too much as praxis, and as weaponry. He also sings of beautiful things.

It proved impossible for me not to float towards “incredibly black and extremely eccentric (in Oregon)” off namesake alone, but an oddball tour story’s tucked in the margins of how Langston exchanges pleasantries as the role of rapper-turned-couch-surfer. It’s a record that feels laughably overwhelmed by… well, Oregon, but also the prospect of being Black and rapping in Oregon for next to no one. It’s easy to tell Langston cherishes the little things - the post-show brunch talk, the Insecure group watch - as much as he adores grandiose ideas to be found between covers. Above all, it’s abundantly clear how much he enjoys rapping: he frolics across this beat, animated in every pocket he finds or sidesteps, crooning at will with an infectious tenderness.

Profile Picture of Michael Penn II
Michael Penn II

Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.

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