There's a glut of hip-hop coming out of the Twin Cities, and it can be a lot to digest. In the spirit of the Gimme Noise Mixtape series, we now present to you a more focused album roundup, selecting recently released records by local rappers that deserve recognition.
Mac Irv - Sincerely, Mac Irv
Mac Irv's very presence on a track comes from a place of hunger, and he's served up another strong record of inspirational and autobiographical songs highlighting his rise in hip-hop and his struggles along the way. A former professional basketball player in the NBA D-League, he's devoted the whole of his energies to his passion for music since developing a career-ending injury, and that tenacity shows up big on Sincerely, Mac Irv. His devotion to the craft and the hustle are evident throughout, and his acute flow compliments production which varies from slow and anthemic to aggressive and high-energy. With a distinctive and immersive voice which carries a quiet directness aided by a slight rasp and attention to melody, he manages to sound powerful over a number of different types of songs. Another strong Northside offering detailing struggle and perseverance, Irv has grown steadily as a writer, making Sincerely a must-listen.
Tek - Midway Motel
St. Paul rapper and producer Tek's latest project, Midway Motel, finds him at his most inventive, discovering a broad range of styles with which he displays clear comfort. There's an exploratory looseness throughout that is immediately compelling, combining quality composition and high-end production elements with strong melodic sensibilities and experimental leanings. Every song draws you in both sonically and lyrically, using Auto-Tune and tight engineering to bring the smattering of ideas to a new level. Tek's trademark lyrical tautness remains, displaying a staggering array of individual lines that stand out prominently regardless of their execution. But his pushing of boundaries, both personal and those of the surrounding scene, is really what propels this project. It's inspired by both traditional expectations of the Twin Cities sound and the state of contemporary rap without being held back by either side. "Straight Cash Homie" is a truly incredible standout track, but there's really not a weak point on the entirely sample-free project. Fully realized despite sitting at a tight six tracks, there's enough strong material here to warrant back-to-back listens.
See More Perspective - Sex Tape (Or My Response To Our Morbidly Underdeveloped Sex Education)
It's certainly not the first sex-focused rap album, but See More Perspective's latest project, Sex Tape (Or My Response To Our Morbidly Underdeveloped Sex Education), is among the first to directly challenge preconceived notions about the subject and explicitly discuss progressive sexual politics. Riddled with '70s porn samples and mixtape drops, it's classically constructed raw rap music but with a focus on education, inclusiveness, and breaking down the problematic sexual understandings of mainstream society. See More Perspective dissects depictions of sexuality in the media, the male gaze, rape culture, and reactionary sex education in America, using rap as an education tool to push forward progressive understandings of the subject that can get overlooked in hip-hop. The album features Alicia Steele and Kaoz as "guest speakers," respectively rhapsodizing on the joy of consent and laying out the realities of STIs. it helps solidify See More's points about inclusiveness and sexual openness. Stemming from his backgrounds as a poet and educator, his trend of music aims to simultaneously teach and entertain, but the focus he brings to this project makes it potentially his strongest to date.
Axel Foley - MØØD
A solid, fun record that serves as an excellent background for the kinds of free-spirited, drug-fueled partying described throughout, Axel Foley's MØØD serves up lighthearted rap full of good vibes. It is indeed a mood piece as the title suggests, aiming for and hitting the groove of laid-back smoker soundtrack. Featuring spacey, upbeat boom-bap production from Mike the Martyr, as well as guest verses from frequent collaborator Manny Phesto, Tek, and Muja Messiah, the album is a breezy trek through the local scene's current take on feel-good hip-hop. With a foot in the rap's jazzy past and one in the shimmering sonics of the future, the beats compliment Foley's relaxed rhyme structures and make for an all around solid addition to the Minneapolis rap sound.
Kaoz - The End Is Beginning
Koaz highlights multiple perspectives with an understated mastery of styles that makes the complexity of the material come across palatably and powerfully. He uses his experiential knowledge as a gay black man in an oppressive society to craft a striking rap album about a smattering of looming topics. The End Is Beginning is a hybridized album of personal and political hip-hop, as spoken-word cadences and concepts co-mingle with dirty-minded raps and slick aggression. Mature and unafraid with messages about love, sex, relationships, racism, money, and much more, Kaoz blends a wide range of issues into groovy boom-bap such that the medicine goes down easily. It escapes many of the traps of straight-forward political work simply by being fun and listenable. It's profoundly explicit, using the blunt language of rap to make larger statements about society and individuals that rarely have this particular mix of forcefulness and slickness. Unique in many ways, the album deserves a close listen.
Tony Bones - #TheFire
Long Doe's Tony Bones has a versatile vocal style; he's able to contort his distinctive melodic tone from menacing to chilled and everywhere in between depending on where the mood seems to take him. On #TheFire, he takes this shifting style and uses it to fully display his abilities alongside some of the all-time greats. No stranger to high-profile guest verses, #TheFire includes appearances from none other than KRS-One and Devin The Dude, and Bones holds his own as always. Raw, emotionally charged, and immediate, Tony Bones takes to Jaron McDaniel's varying beats with both a traditionalist mindset and a fresh new approach to flows.
Finding Novyon - "Lots"
Steadily dropping random loosies in preparation for the upcoming Food Network project via Soundcloud, Finding Novyon has been working tirelessly to get his name out there, and it's working. The first official single, "Lots", featuring a verse from the excellently complimentary Allan Kingdom, is one of the best rap tracks out of Minnesota in the last few years, perfectly marrying huge bass and distinctive voicing with an earworm hook and endlessly quotable bars. It deserves all the attention it's been grabbing from national blogs, and it's only the surface of the potential Novyon has been building.