Image via HoneyKomb Brazy/Instagram
“Grimy. Gritty. Smirkish.” That’s how Stockton’s Young Slo-Be described his icepick flow and morphine delivery to our Yousef Srour last year. We published that interview just one day before the 29-year-old ascendent was found dead from a gunshot wound in Manteca, CA. The loss of Slo-Be feels both wholly senseless yet harrowingly predictable for an impoverished city bankrupted by California’s political class. Slo-Be was less of the Central Valley’s sprouting concrete rose than its tatted-up torchbearer; he made it in lockstep with the enveloping darkness, not in spite of it.
When we last saw Slo-Be, he was sliding through premonitions of death from the pews to the tombstone linings. “Don’t Kome 2 My Funeral” is understandably hard to watch in the wake of tragedy, but it also brims with everything that made Slo-Be a star. Slippery entendres, pistol talk under the beat-hard sun, steely muttering scythed through pitched-up rhythm loops, bass that slaps souls out of bodies. His first posthumous release, “Lonely Gangsta,” follows that recipe precisely to top-shelf results. His 2100 block waves rags, rolls blunts, lights candles and throws up the set at Slo-Be’s memorial – as well as the gravesites of Rickquese McCoy (18) and Phillip E. D. McCoy (26). “I know you watching, how could you save me? I don’t think you can,” he opens with, before the camera cuts to his young children’s empty stares. A cocktail of heartbreak, paranoia and sedation, “Lonely Gangsta” will lead off the posthumous Slo-Be Bryant 4 mixtape. His BAH BAH BOWWWW adlib will percussively ring from Nightingale to the ends of the earth.
To be a fan of this boundless art includes getting uncomfortably crossfaded off hype and grief. The latest Big Scarr album is concise and fantastic, which makes his physical absence from the world all the harder to reconcile. Along with Foogiano and his cousin Pooh Shiesty, Scarr signaled a new era for Gucci Mane’s 107 Records – the young trio got stamped in 2021 with an incredibly successful triptych of “SoIcyBoyz” singles. By his own admission, he began recording in 2019 with a $250 budget, yet Scarr quickly became a touring artist, XXL Freshman and standout performer in a crowded Tennessee renaissance. He had a rare ability to rap breathlessly without ever betraying his cool or even raising his voice, making him a thrilling partner for fellow Memphian Tay Keith. Scarr had juked the reaper multiple times in his short 22 years – he took a bullet to the hip in 2020, and his namesake comes from surviving a car crash in 2017 – but he was tragically found dead of an accidental drug overdose on December 22, 2022. His second posthumous album, Frozone, begins with a 90-second glide orchestrated by BandPlay. “I do this shit for my momma, the struggle, the hustle, thank God it got me out the slums.” Wherever he is now, Scarr’s flow still has the power to air condition the whole club and turn ice out of thin, cold air.
No newcomer took 2023 like BigXthaPlug, the Dallas colossus who spits like a chopped & screwed prime-era Pimp C. After missing his son’s first birthday due to a bid for aggravated robbery, X made a pledge of self-improvement that has now culminated in undisputed Rookie of the Year status. His debut album AMAR did numbers, drew critical enthusiasm and made a fan out of Erykah Badu. The deluxe drop was even better. And his latest EP is an affirmation of what’s working, a candy paint chariot lap around Texas to dispel any lazy “one-hit wonder” chatter. On the opening track, appropriately titled “Back on My BS,” the lineman-turned-hustler controls a beat that sounds like it’s emanating from a casino lounge in distant timespace. Everything he raps here is a declaration of fact. These peons ain’t steppin’ how this man is steppin’. BigXthaPlug is indeed Rap Game Zion Williamson. We cannot get caught associating with the loose-lipped. In a year with seldom few things to celebrate, BigXthaPlug was a spiked oasis buzzing through the Fanta bottle.
Straight off multiple stints of incarceration and surviving the grisly double-homicide of his grandparents, we really must take HoneyKomb Brazy at his word when he says he’s “straight up and down like 06:00.” The Mobile, AL rapper searingly detailed his mistreatment at Limestone Correctional Facility at the hands of racist and bloodthirsty COs, and has since been accused of indecently exposing himself to said tormentors. But “6 O’Clock” is upbeat and flamboyant, a slight turnup and dedication to keeping on. The gang is very much outside and suited in Auburn orange. Straight out the mud and into a $20,000 outfit. Like fellow statesman NoCap, HoneyKomb Brazy’s blow up has been steady, organic and frequently marred by the depravity of the prison system. Here’s to an easier 2024.
Siddhartha Gautama in a tech fleece and sweats; turbo mode curdling the faces of Himalayan onlookers; poisonous darts as formal invitations to Malaysian ceremonies. Welcome to the surreal world of multilingual Montreal rapper Loe Pesci, whose latest with Pro-V sounds like it was sourced from the back room of Umberto’s Clam House. Pesci is best known as one of Canada’s OG battle rap punchers, but he sounds eminently comfortable on wax with a grimy delivery and four-bar misdirects.
Detroit’s Quelle Chris and New Orleans’ Cavalier are “young Bobby Brown meets Bobby Seale” on Death Tape 1: Black Cottonwood, their latest of many collaborative projects. Fake Rastas get their wigs blown off; reports come live from the Grassy Knoll; we watch life go “from ashy…to kinda ashy.” Though the whole tape is hypnotic, “Sniz and Woop” stands out for its particularly psychedelic textures. From The D to Brooklyn to Baltimore, Chris has remained one of the most criminally underrated artists of our time. And Cavalier, originally from Brooklyn but now repping the Crescent City, lives up to his billing as a self-described “urban shaman.” The ciphers of death and rebirth never end, and if it sounds this good, why would we want them to?
Just as Brueger the Elder drew Bethlehem.