Look, we like capital-S Songwriters as much as anyone—those cute indie chicks and dudes who bare their souls with just an acoustic guitar and a microphone, delivering masterful lyrics on the whimsical nature of love and life in a well-developed falsetto. But this year the word craft and songsmithing that blew off our headphones were delivered by someone a little different: Ghanan immigrant Kwame Tsikata, known more widely as rapper M.anifest. The most obvious themes of his lyrics, race and Afrocentrism, serve as a canvas against which he paints smaller moments. His simple but clever rhymes had us hitting rewind to listen to the turns of phrase a second time, as in Against the Grain. It's a song where M.anifest lays down his vision of both a personal utopia and "the black man's paradise"—but the big dream begins quietly and elegantly: "The cold days and silent nights/Some days I don't write/I sit back and let my mind take flight."


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