MIDDIES is a series by the interns dedicated to highlighting the best up-and-coming hip-hop of the week gone by. It’s a midweek pick-me-up, a shortlist of the essentials and a chance to peep who’s next.
Smino - blkswn
Most rappers that blow up quickly have a rich backstory involving long, unappreciated grinds and dozens of discarded mixtapes left to the vestiges of Datpiff. That’s not the case with Smino, the 25-year-old Chicago wunderkind, who has been making eye-catching music from day dot.
blkswn is his debut album and solidifies all the positive words coming his way leading up to its release. Smino has an incredible ability to meld styles of contemporary rap and shine in every one: he can bounce like an early Vic Mensa on Spitshine, he can handle a slow jam on Wild Irish Roses and he sounds entirely fresh and unique on Anita.
Every rap fan is talking about Smino for good reason – he’s the consensus rising star of 2017. This won’t be the last time you see his name popping up on the radar, but a good starting point if you’re not yet familiar.
Freddie Gibbs – Crushed Glass
Gangsta Gibbs is back and ready to pick up right where he left off.
Freddie is one of rap’s smoothest, most mournful voices and is hitting 2017 with a new handful of stories to tell. After a difficult ordeal in Europe in which he was detained and later acquitted of a rape charge, Gibbs enters on Crushed Glass to finally weigh in.
Whilst it’s a little uncomfortable hearing Gibbs disparage his accuser, given the difference between ‘acquitted’ and ‘proven innocent’, the song stands as one of Gibbs’ most artistically forward-thinking. It’s the lead single for his forthcoming album You Only Live 2wice and offers exactly what you’d expect from a Freddie song: some quietly orchestral production, flaming hot bars and a wavy experience.
Crushed Glass is built around a killer stringers sample from Sade’s Fear, flipped the same way Havoc did on Mobb Deep’s Where Ya Heart At. That could steer into biting territory if the Mobb Deep track wasn’t so iconic, and it helps that Freddie does the beat justice by rapping out of his mind.
Spit Syndicate – Hold On Me (feat. Joyride & Solo)
The super-collective One Day is one of the best stories in Australian hip-hop: an ever-communal community of Aussie rappers decided to formalise some friendships and become a mega-charged All-Star team. The resulting album, Mainline, was one of the best releases of 2014 and One Day became a cultural force – touring the nation a few times over, forming national block parties and leaving their fingerprints all over social media.
Now each act in the collective is moving back to their own work. Spit Syndicate’s Hold On Me is the latest single from their forthcoming One Good Shirt Had Us All Fly album and a huge maturation of the group’s sound.
Over lush production, Hold On Me is a reunion with One Day mates Joyride and Solo, best known for his work in Horrorshow. Spit Syndicate’s Nick Lupi and Jimmy Nice are on form, dropping in breezy flows and some really sincere lyrics. Spit Syndicate have consistently been one of the country’s finest rap groups, but Hold On Me points towards the group becoming even stronger musicians. It has some pop sensibilities without compromising everything fans love about the group to begin with.
A.CHAL – To the Light
Quick primer on A.CHAL: born in Peru, grew up in Queens and moved to Los Angeles. Less than 12 months ago, he released Welcome to GAZI which was quietly one of the year’s most promising debut studio albums.
Now onto To the Light: the song is haunting, atmospheric and slowly unwinds. A.CHAL’s voice is spacious and distant, but pipes in personality sparingly enough to make the track have some resonation to it.
A.CHAL is a story-teller who builds up his world holistically. His lyrics are communicative, but his tone and pace is just as important. To the Light is a hazy, trap tinged track that highlights everything A.CHAL has been building over the past few years. His profile hasn’t boomed as quickly as some projected, but A.CHAL is on his way up.
Flatbush ZOMBiES – Babel
One year after Flatbush Zombies debuted with the impressive 3001: A Laced Odyssey, Babel drops as commemoration. In a short span of time, Flatbush have earned their reputation as one of rap’s busiest and most consistent forces. They are the epitome of rapping rappers – guys who have sparse tracks, no catchy hooks and few crossover features.
Whilst Erick Arc Elliot gets most of the shine of this one, Zombie Juice steals the show with a blazing second verse. The song is built around the chilling, subdued organ from Arctic Monkeys’ 505, which is well executed by ‘The Architect’, Erick’s production moniker.
Babel launches with a tightly controlled flow and pounds hard, until it drops off into a heartfelt piano-driven production. Flatbush are a group with a legendary live reputation and Babel already sounds like an essential addition to their setlist.