Minnesota hip-hop has been churning out exciting new artists steadily for the past couple of years, but they've only recently began competing for national attention. Allan Kingdom made a jam with Kanye West; Bobby Raps, DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip, and DEQUEXATRON spearheaded the Hamburger Helper mixtape, which had the world abuzz and maybe a little hungry. That growing attention has only increased and intensified output, so here's a roundup of recent projects worth checking out.
Album: Believe in Mpls
Finding Novyon has been on that glow up lately. After the success of “Lots,” the single for his recent LP #TheFoodNetwork with fellow Minnesotan and come-upster Allan Kingdom, Novy has performed at Soundset, opened for Big Sean in L.A., and worked with Sonny Digital. Everywhere he goes, home or away, Novy is reppin' Minnesota to the max.
Also, Novy is just the sweetest. He's fun as hell to listen to and watch perform. He hangs around performances for other artists, hangs around the DJ booth hours before he headlines a set, dancing and dapping up anyone who calls out his name. It's as though his happiness somehow translates into everyone else's. He appeals to a very Minnesotan trait: We prefer an athlete/artist/politician (Jesse the Body being a massive exception) who's nice to his mother over one that maybe isn't, but is actually good at his or her job. But Novy is actually very good at his job.
After watching him jetset across the country, it was curious to see how many regional influences would seep into his new project. Turns out Believe in MPLS, made alongside producer and singer J. Kelr, isn't a reinterpretation of trap or trill or drill. Possibly a reaction to the atonality and angst currently dominating hip-hop, Novy and J. Kelr assembled a hip-hop-pop record that incorporates the melodic production and catchy hooks of J. Kelr with Novy’s fun-loving rapping and personality.
Novy, though, doesn't skirt (or skrt) emotional complexity or insight. Instead of implying depth in moody, emo instrumentation, Novy is direct. He believes in Minneapolis, so he titled his album as such. Instead of a convoluted or overwrought explanation of what's going on with police brutality or racism, he simply says he's afraid of the police fucking with him. If he's into a girl, he spits between a hook that repeats “C'mon girl, get in, alright" on track "Cmon," with its jazzy throwback saxophone turn.
The record is uniquely Novy, featuring his staccato, hyped delivery on tracks like "Remember Who Vouched," which is balanced by a layered rock beat that showcases the lone sped up high-hats. The melodic instrumentation by J. Kelr is in line with hip-hop right before the stark, minimalist turn around the late 2000s, but Novy’s flow is way in the future. It is hype yet sincere. All together, it makes for an intriguing EP showcasing talent worth believing in.
Album: Just a Reminder
Destiny Roberts' Just a Reminder is extremely aware, a stream-of-consciousness record that flows naturally and conscientiously.
On “Glow,” where she also sings the hook, Roberts portrays a cool black proudness. She celebrates her melanin, calling it “lit,” but in a way that is self-sure, not defensive. The record’s percussion is informed by bone-shaking bass and active, roving high-hats and snares, but it's not dissonant. Roberts spits over melody-rich beats conducive to her self-provided R&B hooks.
Her chorus are strong but warm, particularly on “We Aint Bad Bitches No More,” during which she toys with the labels, pejorative and otherwise, that women find themselves either dodging or reclaiming then second guessing.
She speaks directly to her gender on the powerful, direct, nearly spoken word appeal on “Wake Up” -- “I need my brothas / We need each other / Coming from your sista, we can do much better.” On “Know Better,” with its unique and effective rap-singing, Roberts and feature Nsikak explore whether true love is something we all know in ourselves. It's within us, they decide, right under our noses.
Many artists explicitly attempt to inspire, to give their listeners life, but Destiny tells us our source of strength is already there. Her tunes are just a reminder.
Album: CRAM Vol.2
The group CRAM includes four members -- Janitor Jones, Tommy Bathwater, Juan Lobsternostrils, and Alfred Ziplock. Their strange, smart, weird, fun names inform the content of their bars and experimental, rarely uniform beats.
As for the mob mentality, they cite Wu-Tang and are clearly influenced by that collective's output, especially the guttural, offbeat beats. The production is intentionally disjointed and interspersed with movie clips that somehow even sound black and white.
The group also likes to play with language, experimenting with simple ideas like enjoying weed. The chorus for “Eat That Weed” repeats how they are going to, in fact, eat that weed, eat that dank, though edibles are never mentioned. You get what they mean.
The CRAM crew is unconventional, but they get you there. Even when the beats accelerate, the instrumentation is heavy, with deep basses and little in the way of melody. Yet the music is still engaging, particularly when they toy with language and their delivery. Similar to how Eminem or Earl Sweatshirt spit a spate of dark things, when CRAM get weird, you can't help but laugh.
Kaleem the Dream
Album: Good Writtens
Kaleem the Dream has put together a project full of smooth, easygoing instrumentation and relatable, rapper-next-door bars. He spits over piano and more subtle, accompanying percussion. He settles right into a soulful scene and stays there to provide successfully smart and wistful yet easy listening music.
Though smooth, Kaleem is very confident. He isn't cocky, he's just sure of himself. He thinks you should be, too. “Trust in you don't put your faith in no on else / You got it,” he sings on the hook for “Carol Ave.” The track is reminiscent, but not in a starting from the bottom sort of way. He doesn't posture, he simply recalls. And it's just sweet enough, like well-made lemonade on a porch.
“Song 4 U” is a straight love song, free from abstractions. Relationships in his world are different, and all of these fine ladies need to take it or leave it (and of course they are going to want to take it). The song is entirely about he loves but might take for granted, and how he'll do anything to make up for it.
Kaleem’s soulful production choices, lyrical content, and delivery make for a hip-hop record that is subtle and thoughtful. Moments of happiness, nostalgia, love. or regret are not tipped off by codeine drenched outcries or an assault on melody. Kaleem brings you in with his syrupy soul choices and then weaves relatable tales of mothers and hometowns and girlfriends.