It’s that time of year when our writers put forward songs from the past 12 months that managed to escape the attention of our elite selection committee, so that their colleagues can listen and tell them that they’ve always thought they were over-rated. Over the next four days, we hope you’ll join us as we traipse through 20 of this year’s slightly more under-the-radar releases (and Ke$ha), beginning with a North Carolina man whose moniker Google refuses to believe I’ve spelled correctly…
Doug Robertson: Oh look, someone’s rapping over the incidental music from Frasier.
Martin Skidmore: Unusual Southern rap: the backing is light jazz, and he is far more in the old conscious rapper school than Dirty South, though the drawl is distinctively Southern. I guess what counts in this is the lyrics, and these are more than fine, daring and intelligent. I would rather have a livelier backing, less soporific, but he is good.
Edward Okulicz: This might be the first rap (or even rap-derived) single that my mum might like. A fairly gentle flow over some easy listening type jazz is such an obvious idea, it’s hard to believe it’s not that common. For what it’s worth I don’t mind it at all either. A little pleased with its own sentiments, perhaps, but it does work.
Zach Lyon: Sold on this after seven seconds of wonderful sampling. I’ve never heard him before but Luca doesn’t really disappoint, nice flow and nice presence and some subpar writing. It sounds like he owes a lot to Talib, but I could easily see him getting picked up by Cudi or Kanye or someone and becoming a massively boring feature with a messy debut LP.
John Seroff: Luca Brazi is an up-and-coming rapper out of North Carolina whose first, freely-distributed album, Brain Food (gettit?), has been stuck on heavy repeat around the house and on my iPod for a month. It’s a bravura debut packed with numerous standout tracks, excellent (if occasionally repetitive) beats and quotable lines aplenty. Brazi’s hallmark is an actively and acerbically anti-swag agenda; a representative lyric from “Illuminati” reads “I would rather be a broke nigga livin’ tacky/than make a living killing niggas just to get a stack”. In a Top Ten Teflon Don world, that’s as close to subversive as rap gets these days. Luca shows up for a solid and exhilarating workout on “Wake Up”, a long-form, erudite and intricate screed that marks the first time I can remember noting the words achromatic, aforementioned, almighty and arrogance on a hip hop track… and that’s just the A’s. Brazi does much more than just speak so well, he also raps his ass off with a Southern twang reminiscent of TI and a swift, conscious flow on a par with KRS-1 in his prime. There’s also a strong sense of humor at play; other Brain Food songs like “Southerner” and the Becky anthem / “Body Language” interpolation “Show Me Where Your Head At” suggest that Brazi’s got the same deep love for bouncy dumbass pop that I do. Dude just lost his second mixtape when his hard drive crashed (ah, progress); I’d love to see him find a platform to shine on while he’s in the process of re-recording the new material. For now, Mr. Brazi, I greet you at the beginning of a great career. Get at ’em.
Iain Mew: The gorgeous jazzy loop on this, which twists back on itself just as it seems about to resolve, is so addictive I could happily listen to that alone for the four minutes. That Luca has something to say and a fine way of saying it — great imagery like the ‘Jesus halloween masks’ and a superb final stretch building up to the title as killer punchline-of-sorts — makes it better still.
Chuck Eddy: I’m as tired of rap’s endless mercenary VIP room schtick as he is. I just wish he’d find a less tedious way to put his point across, is all. Also, he likes Professor Griff more than me.
Josh Langhoff: Despite my weakness for Christian rappers who can actually rap and cuss and quote Jay-Z (are there others?), I may be even more prejudiced against underground rap with sucky beats and no hooks. What to do? Well, it turns out the words aren’t much either. He’s more smug than prophetic — correct me if I’m wrong, but Brazi’s totally raging against ALL THOSE OTHER PEOPLE who worship greenbacks and whatnot, without acknowledging the same tendencies in himself, like Kanye did in “All Falls Down”. This oversight makes him sound petulant, but more to the point it makes him less interesting than (say) “All Falls Down”, because there’s no way into his music. My heart’s probably not pure enough for him, so we couldn’t stand together against the infidels; but I don’t recognize myself as one of the people he’s railing against either, since, devoid of specifics, his attacks don’t really stick. The industry may well be full of “boot-clickin’ ass-kissin’ house niggas”, but absent any way of identifying with either Brazi or his strawmen, I don’t know or care whether that’s true. And, watery lyrics aside, that beat’s not gonna wake anybody up.
Alfred Soto: Well-deployed sample, good intentions, nice timbre. Unfortunately Luca doesn’t rap these polysyllabic words so much as trip over them.
Jonathan Bogart: Good flow, nice imagery, thoughtful if dull production. Would like something somewhere to pop more; feels too much like a mixtape track rather than a proper single.
Michaelangelo Matos: The way this just spins out and spins out can give it a samey effect, but he’s tricky and graceful enough to make it work. Ditto the cut-up jazz-combo samples, which seem to occupy an earlier rap era I have no trouble remembering fondly.
Mallory O’Donnell: There’s something a bit arcane about Luca Brazi’s worldview that is starkly out of place with hip-hop circa 2010. But it fits right into the larger scheme of the music as rebellion against the everyday. Luca’s old-school-isms aren’t just golden-era grasping, they’re a full-bodied attempt to reconnect with the freestyle tradition and a concentrated move away from commercialism. A bit didactic? Of course, but so was early punk rock, and we needed that just as badly as we need this now. And all scene considerations aside, how long has it been since you heard somebody rip a track so well with nothing more than a handful of brutally accurate rhymes, delivered with absolutely no regard for a chorus?
Alex Ostroff: I like this guy. Clearly talented, and nimbly navigates his sleepy, jazzy beats the same way Blu did a couple of years back on Below the Heavens. He’ll probably suffer similar accusations of corniness, but there’s a pleasant tone and musicality to his flow that complements the loop and lets my mind drift… Conscious hip hop often walks the line between boring and didactic. It’s always nice to discover someone who manages to be neither.