Blue Chips: January 2021 in New Hip Hop
Our monthly report
Blue Chips is a monthly rap column that doubles as a scouting report. Each month, SPIN selects a new starting five, a group of rappers who could be Rookie of the Year candidates turned Hall-of-Famers or forgettable flashes in the pan. Only the passing seasons (and the number of streams) will tell. To read previous columns, click here.
26AR – “My Set Pt. II”
Producers often make great A&Rs. A Lau — the New York producer behind some of the most punishingly percussive and catchy beats in Brooklyn drill — has been scoring the verses of the scene’s most promising young talent for the last year. In addition to producing for recent Blue Chips pick Rocko Ballin, A Lau has credits on dozens of tracks for an equally gifted rapper: 26AR.
A Crown Heights, Brooklyn native, 26AR began rapping at the end of 2019, shortly after returning from a four-year prison sentence. Following a string of features alongside drill compatriot Tazzo B, his music videos began racking up hundreds of thousands of plays. In addition to a great ear for beats, 26AR raps with captivating nonchalance and a fantastic understanding of space. He bounces between cavernous drums, never overloading his verses with excess syllables as he shouts out his squad, stumps for Amiri jeans, or threatens the opposition with more artillery than The Punisher. The sequel to one of 26AR’s most-streamed Spotify songs, “My Set Pt. II” displays all of 26AR’s skills over a devastating A Lau beat. Ever on brand, 26AR boasts about the price of all the designer clothes in his closet and leaving his enemy’s health bar in the red. In time, he and A Lau will probably have a hit that breaks beyond Brooklyn.
G.T. – “Jealousy”
Rap can be a war of attrition. In the best-case scenarios, the devoted eventually outlast and rise above the viral and forgotten. Look at Freddie Gibbs, who only now Grammy-nominated after a decade-plus of rapping about wrapping bricks with more finesse than anyone. Or look at Fellow Midwesterner G.T, who’s been releasing excellent street rap at least as far back as 2015’s “Ten Toes Down.” Since 2018, the Detroit rapper has been dropping increasingly assured records (e.g., Timeless) that draws the parallels between the sounds of contemporary Detroit and West Coast rap. (You can see/hear this most literally on L.A. Pistons Vol. 1, his project with Shoreline Mafia’s Fenix Flexin). More often than not, the urgency of his earlier material has faded into a relaxed flow and a wisened perspective. “Jealousy” sonically rides that Detroit/L.A. divide, the chipmunk soul sample adding a bit of early aughts Dipset flavor. G.T. raps with a veteran’s assurance as he describes the duress of hustling and trying to rise in rap. After years of navigating both industries, he’s understandably guarded about all of the game he’s absorbed: “I play the game how it go / Instead of showing them the ropes, I let ‘em hang by it, bro.”
Huey Briss – “Redd Foxx”
Huey Briss has been one of the most promising rappers in Long Beach since he and Seafood Sam formed Rules Follow Us in 2015. He worked toward finding his sound on Sidekick Files (2017) and came into his own with 2018’s Black Wax. Rapping over Niko Beats’ dark, knocking, and jazz-imbued boom bap, Briss chronicled the perils of Southern California and the rap industry with wisdom and weariness. He’d seen one too many friends and industry grifters fold. Listen once and you’ll understand why Briss dropped the record independently and remains so three years later.
Last December’s Grace Park Gospel expanded the sound he and Niko created with Black Wax and offered even greater insight into Briss’ life. The record finds him older and wiser, coming to terms with his stature in the rap game and trying to find peace in this ever-devastating timeline. This month, Briss released the music video for “Redd Foxx,” the album opener and best distillation of Briss’s sound. Backed by Niko’s crisp, soulful production, Briss jumps between introspection and sagacious couplets as he grapples with self-doubt: “Could be swimming in a fountain of wealth / It’s always the illest spitters who be doubting themselves.” Ideally, the right person hears Briss’s music and decides to invest. He’s been on the cusp for too long.
Lil Eazzyy – “Onna Comeup (Remix)” feat. G Herbo
Sometimes, the rawness of a recording gives every word greater weight. You can feel the immediacy of the emotions behind a rapper’s delivery. That’s what happened in May of 2020, when Chicago’s Lil Eazzyy recorded himself rapping from a parking lot, his voice rising above the funereal keys and bass blaring from open car doors. Two months later, after the video had over 200K Instagram views, Eazzyy turned that ostensible freestyle into “Onna Comeup.” Today, “Onna Comeup” has over 45 million Spotify plays. It’s a sub-two-minute sprint of excited yet grim and nihilistic street rap. One second Eazzyy celebrates going from sleeping without bedsheets to draping himself in designer. The next, he’s telling the opposition that he could contract 13-year-olds to kill them. Eazzyy raps in rolling, rapid, and sometimes melodic cadence that other journalists and YouTube commenters have compared to Polo G and G Herbo. You can hear shades of both fellow Chicagoans in that respect, but Eazzyy raps with such polish and athleticism that similarities fade. You’re only focused on catching every bar.
Eazzyy closed out 2020 with his seven-track debut, Underrated. It’s a remarkably versatile project wherein Eazzyy experiments with everything from auto-tuned croons (“For33”) to rapping over cavernous trap music (“Big Dog”). Many of the tightly crafted songs cover many of the tropes of “Onna Comeup,” though Eazzyy succeeds most when he’s moving at a fast clip (e.g., “Activated”). To that end, Eazzyy dropped the “Onna Comeup” remix with G Herbo this month. Eazzyy’s verses remain the same, as fluid and immediate as when he was spitting from the passenger seat in the parking lot. Herbo matches Eazzyy’s intensity, but his flow doesn’t sound nearly as dexterous. If Eazzyy continues to rap alongside his predecessors, their shadow may soon fade.
Rico Cartel – “I Like”
Kodak Black’s “Erykah Badu” is one of the best Kodak songs not available on streaming platforms. His “On & On” interpretation still made the rounds in Florida, as Orlando rapper Rico Cartel followed suit with “Erykah Badu (remix)” in June 2020. The single remains Rico’s most-viewed YouTube video, but many others (e.g., “Hate It or Love It,” “HORSEPOWER”) have over 200K views. Rico sounds a little like a young Kodak, his Floridian drawl complemented by melodic and sometimes half-sung cadences. But he’s often clearer in his delivery, the syllables forceful instead of partially unfurled. The themes of his slim catalog match those of Kodak and compatriots like HotBoii: glizzies and girls, money, loyalty and lean. “I Like” is one of the most relaxed Rico songs to date, one that could become a sleeper hit. The beat rocks and bounces as trap percussion skitters between twangy bass. It sounds like Rico’s rapping as he swaggers into a saloon in a silent film, his glizzy tucked but ready to draw on anybody who “ain’t from ‘round.” He drops a Kodak reference (“I popped a bean, yeah my jaw keep lockin’”), but that’s the only time I really think of Rico’s predecessor. With “I Like,” he’s coming into his own.