In a moment of philosophical banter, my friend recently pointed out that doing a task 90% of the time is a chore while doing it 100% of the time is easy. His advice reminded me of how a wise man once noted that “discipline is freedom”. Both of these delicious morsels of knowledge would have been better wasted on someone who actually gave two shits! Or rather someone who had suddenly discovered the power of routine, which only now am I beginning to comprehend. Doing something consistently turns it into a natural habit and fits conveniently into your day-to-day world. Unfortunately routine has been far from my world over the last four months. My prolonged hiatus from In Steady Rotation has been a product of an intensive grad school search and a series of work shakeups. I found myself barely able to make any time even for the thought of perusing good hip-hop music: sometimes I would struggle to keep up on SoundCloud or have any idea that some piece of hip-hop gold was just a few clicks away. My poor headphones lay there collecting dust…or were wasting on listening to podcasts (dare I even say that?).
However life has a tendency to slow down when you most need it to. Hip-hop is still the life blood that courses through my musical veins, and I need my fix regardless of what obstacles or time-sucking commitments come my way. With that, I finally return to my favorite releases of recent memory. A number of these albums were released more than two months ago, and that makes this post a bit unconventional. And a number of albums didn’t make the cut because I haven’t fully listened to them yet, such as Wara From The NHBD’s new album If Guns Could Speak PSA or Goldlink’s first proper album And After That, We Didn’t Talk. However I can say that the below recommendations are some of my favorites from the last few months. You’ll be sure to find plenty of soulful and head-nodding gems from the the artists featured. And aside from My Brother’s Keeper, from the always dope Philly-repping GrandeMarshall, they’re all free downloads.
So, Happy 2016 everyone. More posts to come soon, including a new In Steady Curation playlist, a dedicated response to Macklemore’s controversial new single “White Privilege II” and a more official round-up of my favorite albums from 2015. I may even throw some fun articles and random finds if I’m feeling generous. Now roll down those car windows and bump that shit like you were driving through southern California and not the chilly New England winter.
“My Brother’s Keeper”
GrandeMarshall jumped on the hip-hop scene over three years ago when he dropped the self-released mixtape 800, the musical equivalent of a stroll through a dark Philly alleyway while being enveloped by plumes of the dankest weed smoke. GrandeMarshall was since signed to Fool’s Gold Records and released Mugga Man, building upon his success and maintaining his laid back flow and North Philly sound. My Brother’s Keeper, his latest release, finds GrandeMarshall even more laid back and cooly confident than he was on his original mixtape, casually riding over beats and repping North Philly harder than ever. The lead single, “PullUp’s Theme”, captures the spirit of his self-assuredness as he belts out “Don’t sit with me if you can’t stand up/This shit reserved for the family/You aint gon get it with yo hand out/We put in work and made it happen.” As the album title suggests, GrandeMarshall understands that beyond the confines of his homies, his family, his neighbors, that he’s also the keeper of his hood of North Philly, and Philly in general. We all come from somewhere and although he may not constantly shout out the 215, you can feel his energy and pride as he rhymes over fourteen stellar tracks.
I’ll be the first to admit that I slept on Allan Kingdom bad when he dropped the absolutely stellar Future Memoirs last year. Kingdom, much like Chance The Rapper, has elevated himself to underground preeminence through a unique flow, interesting album track list and his penchant for singing on his songs. Hailing from the northern kingdom of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Kingdom certainly becomes slightly more experimental and concept-oriented on Northern Lights. There’s a deeper honesty and vulnerability that Kingdom presents as we shift through his brief ethereal intro of “Forest” and move into more profound songs like “Fables” and “Hypocrite”, where Kingdom grapples with his move into the limelight and maintaining his authenticity. The sounds conjure up the synths of the 80s and help capture Kingdom’s jaunt into the forest of his introspection. Future Memoirs definitely requires a number of listens to glean all of the messages that Kingdom has buried within his tracks. Be sure to spin it using the download button or SoundCloud feed below.
It’s always tempting when writing rap reviews to immediately compare the artist you’re reviewing to other hip-hop artists you’ve listened to previously. Allan Kingdom? Well he certainly sounds like Chance The Rapper. Action Bronson? Why isn’t that Ghostface? It’s a natural human inclination to find commonality through comparison. That’s why I was extremely self-conscious when I started to feel that Jay IDK had the familiar sound of Kendrick Lamar. But after a number of listens, I’ve realized that Jay IDK may capture the raw emotional energy that Kendrick often channels on his tracks, but has a unique sound and perspective of his own. On the mixtape’s intro, Jay separates himself by noting: “To basically sum it all up, SubTrap is the art of trap music from another perspective.” Rather than take us through an autobiographical journey of his trials and tribulations, Jay guides us through the album as a handful of different personas that he encountered during his time in prison. I was a little confused by this on my first listen, but quickly found the approach to be refreshingly creative and amplifying the replay value substantially. From stereotype drug-soaked trap music to your more standard beats and rhymes, Jay IDK really flexes his lyrical muscle over the album’s fifteen tracks. But he still captures the self-doubt and paradox that afflicts all of these characters. Rather than explain further, cop your copy below by clicking the link.
I only stumbled across the immensely talented Daye Jack because he happened to be teaming up with rapper Pell on an upcoming tour of the Northeast. I figured I would check out his SoundCloud page, and was totally blown away by the unique beats and sound that Daye Jack commands. His first mixtape, Hello World, which I haven’t fully listened to, was met with much critical acclaim which only accentuates the profound depth of my hip-hop REM cycle. As a Nigerian-born, Atlanta-raised student studying engineering at NYU, Daye Jack seems to incorporate a deeply digital sound into his tracks, crooning gently during the chorus and then launching into introspective bars. From what I’ve jammed to, we find Jack moving from his first album’s come-up rap style into something a bit more philosophical. Less rap-heavy than Hello World, Soul Glitch is more about Daye Jack’s attempt to fend off any self-doubt or concern and speak deeply from the heart. Be sure to grab both of the tapes and give them a thorough listen, or enjoy the stream below.
“Best by Far”
With a title like Best By Far, I was incredibly skeptical to even give Stro that first rotation. The raw bragadocio and hyperbolic superlatives of come-up hip-hop are not usually my favorite part of the culture; I can often do with something a bit more subtle and content-driven than simply saying you’re the best. However after my first listen, it became apparent that Stro is asserting his top-tier status in the game as a refreshing throwback to the early 90s sound when straight-up rapping was all it took to showcase your bonafides. Similies, metaphors, crazy flows, weird voices–the dude does it all on the 10 track tape. As he scrolls through the channels of musical influence throughout the album, often lacing interludes and tracks with obscure quotes from the likes of Method Man to The Boondocks, Stro is having just as much fun on the album as he is spitting rhymes left and right. He ends the album with insightful bars on “Love or Doe” but also stands out on satirical tracks like “That Time I Got High” or “Cocky Shit”. The standout track of the album hands down is “Live At The BBQ ’16”, which is a not-so-subtle nod to Nas’ first big rap cameo on the Main Source’s classic early 90s joint. Be sure to give Stro a spin by clicking on the download link below.