Steven Louis trusts Jalen Brunson and only Jalen Brunson.
Beginning south of Miami and running all the way north for more than 1,900 miles, the Interstate 95 highway holds a clandestine legacy spot in hip-hop’s topography. It’s how the packs moved from shipping containers off Caribbean shores to Malthusian street operations in The Mecca. It’s how the Thornton brothers Got It For Cheap. It’s also how we’ve come to know the career of Niontay, a Florida-born, Brooklyn-based ascendant who popped up earlier this year icily mumbling “Thank Allah” into the security camera.
On “Ridewimmie,” Niontay takes circuitous paths to arrive at dense, precise rhyme schemes, as if pockets in the beat were magnetized to his syruppy flow. “Take that ride wimmie, come get high wimmie / my flight at 9:50, it’s only 5:50,” he swaggers, like a man who regularly twists time and has never been late in his life. H
is latest release, Demon Muppy EP, features Earl Sweatshirt, Surf Gang and MIKE, but Niontay maintains a neon glow swerving solo in the express lane.
It’s been an incredible year for The Alchemist. He took a collaborative cruise to Sausalito with Larry June trumpeted his return to emceeing on some First Infantry shit, released a years-in-the-making joint album with Earl Sweatshirt, and dropped the definitive Fuck Eric Adams jam with Wiki and MIKE. Then on his second Flying High EP of 2023, he rebooted Gangrene, his subterranean duo with Los Angeles’ Oh No.
“Swimming in a sauce container / electric current flowing through me I’m an oscillator,” says the alleged part-time rapper and definitive producer of the year on “Royal Hand.” Bass and snares crumple into each other like flame to foil; this beat seems precariously close to detaching from its raps at any moment, teerting on a rusty axle. Four decades in and Uncle Al still hasn’t lost his fastball.
Packaged in the micro-surrealism of Boots Riley and the collectivist spirit of overall Town Bidness, Rent Check operates as an album and a vignette show, by hyphy artists and for hyphy audiences. “No Service” is a three-minute condensed acid hit in the attic of the commune house function. The mirror is a door, the staircase is made of air, the wind is chanting back at you and that melting sensation is just the homie’s party trick. “
Off an Aderrall script and an Aperol spritz / in a world where Kaepernick kneels and Kavanaugh sits,” Frak raps his way through the Victorian funhouse-rowhouse. The leadership has turned octogenarian and there’s a new Sweetgreen in the Mission, but if you know where to look for it, the Bay Area remains a bastion of radical weird dopeness. Rent Check is worth checking for.
Down the coast, LA’s “nervous music” gets a suntanned rerock off the strength of Paramount’s Swifty Blue and Watts’ ProjeckBabyTwin link up. This is both a warm-blooded warning shot and a celebration for no longer needing to snatch purses for a living. With these two, getting money out of rap is a big flex but also a prayer answered and a Street Dream realized. They’re lapping the opps — literally doing laps around them because they’re scared to leave the house. The shells are delivered curbside, the uchies are enormous.
The state’s “Three Strike Laws” are still nonsense, and the eses are still posted out back in case Los Angeles’ insatiable jealousy streak rears its ugly hue. Released on OTR Records, “Last Day” luxuriates in its city’s woozy piano creep and paranoid wailing synth. No other place on the planet makes nervousness look this smooth.
It should be declared a public holiday each time the prodigious and monkish Mach Hommy descends the mountainside to rap circles around everyone else. The Haiti-by-Jersey wordsmith has fashioned a mythos of elusive solitude — he rarely grants interviews, holds most of his catalog from streaming services, is fluent in all Romance languages and sources from Dostoyevsky, Hansberry, Fanon and Nietzche — but he’s now having his most fruitful stretch since 2016-17 with the help of pick-and-roll partner Tha God Fahim. “No Golden Calf” comes on the heels of the duo’s Notorious Dump Legends, Duck Szn and Dollar Menu collabs, and the two once again specialize in density through lightness. Saxophone with sunsets hues, back-and-forth ciphering: this is comfortable, even as the two Knowledge Gods bar out over truth, greed and seismology.
As the Raiders and As chase the dirtiest money Las Vegas has to offer and community investment flees across the bridge wholesale, it’s time to acknowledge The Tonite Show as Oakland’s most important and organic institution. DJ.Fresh has been putting these tapes out for 18 years now, but their consistency in production and variety show format ensure that returning guests don’t feel stale or uninspired. Kansas City’s Rich the Factor, West Oakland’s J. Stalin and Denver’s Young Doe each have solo Tonite Show installments but sound alive as ever on their self-described “retro blacktop anthem.” Three veterans running the DJ.Fresh offense, bringing in pounds of wedding cake at the border in well-tailored suits. Funky time machine music when we arguably need it most.