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Rap’s Most Slept-On Releases of 2012’s Second Quarter

Homeboy Sandman / Photo by Eric Coleman

There is an Internet niche for everything, so who even knows what “slept-on” means anymore. Here, my definition here leans towards those releases during the past three months that seemingly came and went with little to no fanfare, or were met by a majority of websites and blogs with a shrug or an, “Eh, pretty good.” It’s my experience that a lot of “pretty good” records turn out to be masterpieces that need to sit there and really stick in your craw, and that often, the appeal of those amazing-from-first-listen records decreases exponentially. There’s “good” and then there’s good, and sometimes you have to slow down to appreciate an album, and very few of us have that kind of time. Or, we’ve convinced ourselves we don’t have that time. Below are five picks for records to return to if you dismissed them, or to check out for the first time if they got lost in your RSS feed.

Homeboy Sandman, Chimera
Highlights: “I Do Whatever I Want,” “Hold Your Head”
RIYL: Lil B’s Rain In England, Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life
I wouldn’t recommend hearing Homeboy Sandman’s EP, Chimera, under the conditions that I first heard it — on the day of its release, driving to a funeral for a friend who took his own life — but it was a strangely ideal way to experience this little, ambitious EP. The beats here are clots and gurgles of synthesizer that could soundtrack the birth of the earth or its steady falling apart, or both, like something melting back into the ground only to be resurrected as something else entirely later on. It put me in this cheesy but helpful, maybe even necessary, “circle of life” mood. And Sandman’s pretty much doing spoken word here. If you’re old enough to recall the crazy conversational flow Common had on a lot of the album cuts from Resurrection, where you don’t even realize the words he’s speaking actually rhyme, well Chimera‘s a lot like like that, with an unimpeachable ethical point of view and open-hearted empathy to boot. The whole thing seemed to be talking to me and pulling me out of my own skull, recalibrating my senses to realize it’s bigger than one dead guy and a sad guy driving to his funeral. See what it can do for you.

Ice Burgandy, Progress Involves Risk Unfortunately
Highlights: “PMBB,” “Purp,” “Shout Out”
RIYL: 808 Mafia, Kurupt, Meek Mill
In the past month or so, Chicago shouter Chief Keef and Maybach Music maniac Gunplay have signed major-label deals. Why they went and did that, I’m not sure. See, street rap is under attack. This year, more than any other, has been all about sucking the menace out of rap music by way of the ongoing EDM-pop-rap threesome, Justin Bieber doing his “Rack City” flow on “Boyfriend,” and Kitty Pryde and plenty of other viral Internet leeches. So, enter Ice Burgandy, a Brick Squad member with a bendy, elastic flow that out-Guccis Gucci Mane (from “PMBB”: “Smokin’ purple in my circle, sippin’ on this yellow Sprite/ First we will hurt you, then we’ll come and murk you, rock your ass goodnight / On my Harley, higher than Chris Farley”), and an ear for beats a little outside of the post-Lex Luger wheelhouse. Thirteen of Progress Involves Risk Unfortunately‘s 20 tracks were produced by Purrps, the most sonically diverse member of 808 Mafia, who can slip a soulful sample in the mix, or will just say, “screw it,” and put the whole instrumental in reverse for a little while.

LE1F, Dark York
Highlights: “Mind Body,” “Gimme Life,” “Gayngsta”
RIYL: Masamune Shirow, The platonic ideal of #SEAPUNK, Jobriath
LE1F is an out-of-the-closet rapper more than willing to move his homosexuality to the forefront of his raps. Sure, there are subcultural nods via Masters at Work’s house-turned-vogue house classic “The Ha Dance” murmuring through “&Gomorrah,” and Lil Jon’s Gangsta Grillz scream and a line from OutKast’s “Return of the G” gets flipped on “Gayngsta,” but there’s also an intense focus on sex and desire, every bit as explicit as hundreds of straight male MCs who pen raps about how much head they get and girls gobbling their balls and all that other rah-rah male idiot stuff (though LE1F’s rhymes are more clever and obtuse). He seems to be world-building here, as if “Dark York” is some futuristic version of New York City; like something from a William Gibson novel or the Manhattan of the distant future found in Paul Pope’s slacker sci-fi comic book 100%. Rarely does something actually sound on the bleeding edge, but Dark York bounces by in a blur of words and fractured beats, and everyone whining about how the vocals are mixed weirdly kind of miss its moody point: This is about atmosphere and feeling.

Pepper Boy, Days of Grace
Highlights: “Change Gonna Come,” “My World,” “Real”
RIYL: Lil Boosie, Goodie Mob, Lee Greenwood
Soulful, Internet-y street rap from Arkansas. Yes, Pepper Boy raps over the instrumental of Lil B’s “I’m God” (quite well, actually), but then again Lil B rapped over Pepper Boy’s “Tha Parts,” first. There are also beats that sample the Art of Noise’s “Moments In Love,” Cutting Crew, and Phil Collins, but Pepper Boy is hard to dislike. If he’s part of rap-gone-chillwave, it’s because the freedom of that scene has allowed this old soul to finally sneak through. Savant-like with his honesty, he’s a guy who opens his door every morning and feels the pain and the suffering of the world and then goes back inside and tries to rap it away. A hard-assed softie, he used to sell drugs but doesn’t anymore, has respect for the armed forces and deeply empathizes with African child soldiers and isn’t afraid to make songs about either. He’s exceedingly humble like G-Side or Main Attrakionz, yet typically street like Boosie or Z-Ro, possessing that special talent to totally disarm listeners with a willingness to share his pain.

Too $hort, No Trespassing
Highlights: “Playa Fo Life,” “Boss,” “Da Boom Cha”
RIYL: Iceberg Slim, E-40 in Revenue Retrievin’ mode, Paul Mooney
Rap is no country for old men. Legacy artists aren’t really respected and consistency is looked at as the lazy way out. As much as heads bemoan how Nas never matched Illmatic and love to ponder what would’ve happened to Biggie or Tupac if they hadn’t died, releases by worker-bee artists are seen as being “more of the same.” And somehow that’s a bad thing? I’d like to blame the Internet, but it started way before that. Anyway, the latest from Too $hort is more of the same: wise-old-man pimp shit, addressed to simps and hoes, over production that figures out the sound of the radio, but knows how to twist and turn it to fit this veteran’s closed-circuit world. “Double Header” squeaks and squonks like Big Sean and Wale’s “Slight Work” inanity, and explodes with a hook ready for Flo Rida, but it’s about threesomes. Some veteran superstars like 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg sneak in and seem happy they’re allowed to act up again, and E-40 strolls through “Money On The Floor,” like Short Dog’s fellow old-ass bachelor buddy who won’t grow up and settle down. On his 20th album in 29 years, Too $hort hasn’t learned anything new. There’s nothing wrong with that.