Big K.R.I.T., "Mt. Olympus"
Here is Big K.R.I.T. pouring out more of that platonic country rap thing he does very, very well, with some added collegiate strings on the beat and important, if not exactly entertaining inside baseball industry talk. In short, he is frustrated with the goal post-moving nature of next big thing hip-hop, as defined by the major labels that signed him and then didn't do that much for him after that: "Rap shit's about as real as Santa / Now I'm lyrical all of a sudden?/ Well, last year they claimed they didn't understand me!" And hey, he's certainly allowed to indulge this for a little while because he kind of got a raw deal, you know? What with making five pretty great capital R records in four years, and still having to remain hungry and beholden to a fickle, hip-hunting mainstream that, when it comes down to it, is still gonna swipe its Southern vibes from dabbling A$AP Rocky types anyways.
Bloody Jay, "Betta Be Kareful"
The less immediately attention-grabbing half of tricky trap duo Black Portland (Young Thug being the one your ears can't help but gravitate towards first), Bloody Jay does have an earthy, Gunplay-like quality, rapping about small little shitty details of street life with high-stakes urgency. His hooks sound like verses and his verses sound like hooks, which means he manages to be both incredibly compelling and very easy to ignore (you decide). The knotty, all-over-the-place "Betta Be Kareful," off Jay's latest mixtape, Free Bloody Jay: The Mixtape, and powered by a beat from bobbing and weaving ATL producer Ferrari Smash, does that Bloody Jay thing of slowly sneaking away from confident declarations towards an off the rails ranting that's not even really rapping but hey, certainly isn't afraid to get really funny with it. "Molly got me farting," Jay admits before making gushy fart sound, and going way, way, way, out of his way to tersely demystify idyllic, rollin'-obsessed street rap.
No Gang Colors, Among the Thugs
Presumably named after the classic soccer hooligan exploration Among the Thugs, by Bill Buford, this genre-pummeling, porous, sonic borders-celebrating mix from Ft. Worth, Texas laptop mean-mugger No Gang Colors (NGC began a few years ago as Grindcore Karaoke-approved punk-metal, with hip-hop samples project and has exploded into something totally uncategorizable since then) layers Atlanta dancehall rapper Zuse over Araabmuzik's gabber-sampling "Underground Stream"; interrupts Memphis hero Project Pimp's "Getting Crunk" with gorgeous notes from the Beach Boys' "Let's Go Away For Awhile"; connects the sonic dots between Don Caballero and Green Day, much to the chagrin of post-rockin' beardos everywhere, one imagines; and luxuriates in the recently passed DJ Rashad's spaced out, screwed up footwork jam, "Pass That Shit." This one's a doozy, folks. Be prepared.
The Roots ft. Raheem DeVaughn, "Tomorrow"
The first single from the Roots' upcoming album, ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, re-frames Pharrell's "Happy" as though that inescapable slab of self-help section pop made listeners work hard for all the good feelings it elicited. Raheem DeVaughn slips sympathetic somethings ("We all fall short sometimes / It costs nothing to help sometimes") under an insistent, soul-jazz-classical instrumental complete with a frantic, Cecil Taylor-does-Chopin coda. After 2011's super serious and incredibly sad undun (in scope it was an underrated record that kind of predicted Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city, sounding like K. Dot's major label debut if it sighed instead of screamed), the Roots deliver something that's damn near sunny while avoiding mad corny territory like that sophisto-snooze they made with Elvis Costello last year.
ZMoney ft. Danny Brown, "Jug N' Finesse"
ZMoney's the next Chicago guy to be a street buzzy big deal because he just raps like he's from Atlanta circa Gucci Mane's reign and actually has some of Gucci's word-nerdy neediness in his delivery. Danny Brown drops by to keep up his reputation as oddball regional-rap tastemaker (recall, Danny was on the Young Thug train very early) and to hopefully push his more closed-minded traditionalist fans in the direction of well, taking a pointilist MC like ZMoney seriously. And look man: They should! At one point, Z's verse blurs into an expanding and contracting blob of "an/am" rhymes that'll have your head spinning. They'd certainly scan as "lyrical" coming out of a less mealy-mouthed, more tediously on-point type of MC.