Image via E the Profit/Instagram
Steven Louis once shotgunned a Red Bull in the Summer Jam parking lot.
Sabana Grande de Boyá is a small Dominican municipality that has been used as an all-purpose exploitation arena throughout modern history. It’s where the Spanish empire genocided the last of the Taino people; it’s where dictator Rafael Trujillo brutalized Haitian immigrants and nationalized sugar cane extraction; and it’s where Elly De La Cruz, one of the most thrilling baseball players of the last century, was sold for just $65,000 to a notoriously-cheap American pro sports franchise.
Perhaps it’s discomfiting to see such an electric talent rounding the bases in a post-industrial metro like Cincinnati, but isn’t that the point? Engaging with brilliance only in spaces designated for traditional notions of brilliance is our path of least resistance. It doesn’t require much imagination to find traces of superstardom in the next hot rapper out of Brooklyn or the next ace with the Red Sox, because we’ve seen it before and we know what it’s supposed to feel like. But to watch De La Cruz flip his bat in a half-empty southwest Ohio ballpark and still catch the aura of greatness is its own reward. If we’re already rushing to see what it hits like on the bigger stage, we’re deeply missing the point.
“Reds Hat” sounds like it should be careening off velvet Atlanta club walls or fuzzied by car subwoofers down Miami’s stretch of I-95, in the same way that Elly De La Cruz “should” be adorning billboards in downtown Los Angeles. But this two-minute jam is sourced from Northern Kentucky, making its swaggy spaciness all the more alluring: E the Profit hails from Elsemere, KY, a drive from Cincinnati and fewer than three square miles in total area.
Kentucky rap breakouts have been few and far between, and previously relied on either hyper-locality (Nappy Roots crooned about how the whole damn world country from their back porch) or location-less mainstream appeal (the music of EST Gee and Jack Harlow could really come from anywhere in the country).
With “Reds Hat,” Elsemere’s finest confidently slurs his raps perched atop Venus with a Bluegrass twang. The ladies come from the 513, but they are almost certainly ending the night in the 859. Maybe E will eventually sign to a major label and cut verses from North Hollywood studios, and maybe Elly De La Cruz will end up oversaturated in Yankee pinstripes. For now, let’s appreciate this as the stand-up triple that it is.
Memphis hearthrob and recent Quality Control signee Gloss Up used to rap battle the same dude from high school every day, while ripping open mics and recording freestyles over Meek Mill and Future beats. Feast in her well-earned reward: a sun-drenched mansion pool party with her Tennessee day 1s and the CPC (cheeks per capita) of a small nation-state. Ripping the minimalist beat by force of cornmeal, flower, sugar and salt, the mode of operations here is beautifully simple: “if we gon fight, hoe then we gon fight / Glo[rilla] will bless me with bail money so I might bust your shit.” Gloss Up is a commanding and dexterous rapper on recent joints like “Stamp Dat” and “BestFrenn,” but this is light work for her coronary summer without breaking much of a sweat. She swears that there are diamonds in her underwear, and we implore you to watch the whole video to find out.
LeBron James and Calmatic contractually going through the motions to remake House Party in 2023? Not great. Lit Papi and Killa Twan touching up the iconic opening Luther Vandross jam? Yes, totally great. For these two Los Angeles emcees, ensuring a smooth summer function is less about beating the heat or the freeway traffic than it is about negotiating unarmed détente. Papi’s airy vocals sound like they were sourced directly from a West Side barbecue, while a turnt-up Killa Twan effortlessly slides past security. “Za za smoking, big bottle popping / Turning down is not an option,” the All Money In soldier finally sounds at ease, like he’s unloaded the weight of a thousand worlds that we’ll never occupy. And formerly recording as Show Luciano, Crenshaw’s Lit Papi has an approachable flow comfortably recognizable to anyone south of the 10. True to the beat flip, “Summertime n LA” is gorgeously straightforward, never too much. The party continues Sept. 2 at El Rey Theatre.
We first heard this in person with an awful lot of Purple Summer congregators, as 03 Greedo opened a homecoming show five years in the making with an unreleased song that no one could chant back with him. From June:
Greedo pops out, walking across the stage like a victorious gladiator. Cartier frames, Denim Tears jeans, a white and gray Louis Vuitton-by-Virgil mink that runs for $50K. He looks relieved, grinning and pacing around while occasionally peeping behind his shoulder for his folks. Amid the wall of sound, it seems most people here underestimated just how herculean this performance would be: Greedo was not only physically present, but a commanding and inviting performer betraying his years in isolation. That the man started off with an unreleased song is the most patently audacious part of all this, and though of course no one knows the words, “Rich On Grape Street” is heavy artillery. “Wockhardt spill on my Margielas / I got rich now all y’all jealous,” he wails through black and purple minor synths that sound almost like the “Never Bend” beat was uncoiled. It recalls a recent admission from Lil Wayne to Andre Gee that his favorite song is whichever his next song is. It reflects a mind deeply committed to prolific output, but it also makes sure things are positioned straight ahead. After everything Greedo’s been subjected to, and in a robe this fly, why would we look in any other direction?
Here is our August follow-up with a necessary caveat: this site somehow undersold “Rich on Grape Street,” as it’s deservedly on the short list for both Song of the Year 2023 and Best Greedo Song Ever Released. Soaked in earned paranoia and spiked Pepsi, the Watts star’s latest makes isolation sound fly and fame sound torturous. Weaving through plumes of amethyst smoke and DrummerGang/Stinc Team chains, Greedo does his thing and makes the extraordinary seem regular: seemingly every feeling known to humankind is sliced through with hypervelocity, yet the man himself appears wholly and shockingly unaffected. He wails out “all that shit don’t phase me” from the corner of Grape and 103rd as the bass tangles up. We’ve never been so convinced of something so downright unbelievable.
Shedding the chainlink and removing the commander’s helmet, Earl Sweatshirt emerges once again looking characteristically fed up with our nonsense. His hair has grown out longer and his arms bear new ink, but Earl’s dead-eyed flow still brims with dense magnetism. Snoopy has been camelized; the ghost has been witnessed inside its shell; the denim has been stained with red clay and ancestral bloodshed. Earl acknowledges his Khoikhoi Tswana tribal lineage with both metaphysical pride and tonal reluctance, on par with the best of the emcee’s output. MIKE comes through with a syncopated seven-syllable rhyme scheme that will undoubtedly require a few listens for orientation. Alchemist channels both American jazz musician Freddie Hubbard and Martinique political playwright Aimé Césaire for a wide-open, formless canvas. “Sentry” serves as the first release from Earl and Alc’s forthcoming collaborative album, VOIR DIRE. Jury’s out on why one of the most anticipated releases of 2023 is coming via NFT platform Gala Music, but we know for certain that the blockchain has never before been this grimy.
Is it time to talk about Gotdamnitdupri as the best producer out West? The beatmaker’s esoteric jazz flips are frequently in rare time signatures, yet loaded with enough rattling percussion to lace braggadocious rappers like G Perico and AZ Chike. And in releasing a second full-length with Baldwin Hills ascendants Baby Stone Gorillas, Dupri solidifies his place as a deceptively complex musician capable of bringing the very best out of Los Angeles. The four members of BSG each find their own peculiar pockets to rhyme in, and if you’re not vibing with the “Energy” after the first four bars run back, you must be alleeegeeey to the vibrant Black arts renaissance incubating in this city right now. If that’s somehow not your thing, there’s a Justin Tucker reference worth grinning for. Baby Stones 2 is jazzy, mercurial and dusty like an LA September. The only thing slowing this group and this producer is the speed limit.