Hip-hop has been going through a changing of the guard.
Nationally, the MCs and producers who helped make rap the biggest thing going—the Jays and Kanyes and Nases—are getting older and becoming elder statesmen. And locally, the same is happening with Rhymesayers’ vets, which makes this the ideal time to dive into these exciting new projects from some of our best local rap and R&B up-and-comers.
Swagger is a commodity in no short supply in the rap world, but here in Minnesota it’s ridiculously scarce. Twin Cities rap is traditionally lyric-centered; only recently has it graduated to melodic turn-up anthems. Somehow the local scene skipped the ego-dripping exploits of vibey swag-rap almost completely.
But on their inaugural album, Connected, FreeWifi—Minneapolis’ J. Plaza and Daddy Dinero, with Tha Rift from Los Angeles—make up for that swag deficit and then some. J. Plaza’s long hair isn’t all that’s grown—in the last couple years he’s transformed from a hard-spitting conscious rapper to a party rapper with the juice and confidence to ratchet the energy levels into the red.
Tha Rift operates at an even higher octane, and he’s not just the fastest spitter in the group, but also the best singer. Then there’s Daddy Dinero, who exudes just as much self-esteem as his name suggests. “You know Maury?” he asks on “Throw It.” “When he say ‘You not the father’ that's how I’m ‘bout to throw it in your face,” he spits for a laugh before proceeding to burn the beat down.
Check “Ego,” produced by Minneapolis’ Angelo Bombay, for an example of FreeWifi’s explicit, unabashed flossing. It’s refreshing to hear some nice Minnesotans with such a lack of fucks for humility. FreeWifi is unafraid to experiment with off-kilter sound: The group’s sugary pop-rap indulgences work, and when they dabble in drill and trap they bang hard.
When J. Plaza or Tha Rift sing out their bars or stretch them out or let out a spirited scream, their hollers and ramped energy aren’t meant to be cathartic—this is the sound of youth and manhood merging, of each member reaching a new height collectively. Connected isn’t just a collection of melodic raps or mosh fodder—it’s super charged, like a fuse blew when the router was plugged in.
Dizzy Fae—Free Form
A triumph of vocal substance and sonic adventurism, Free Form thrives on the perfectly idiosyncratic contrast between Dizzy Fae’s feathery warble and beds of synthy soundscapes, produced by trip-synth hotshots Psymun and Su Na.
On “Canyon,” Dizzy flexes her range, fluttering up to her higher octaves like a butterfly, then grinding out a grunt from the furthest depths of her gut. “Booty 3000” sounds like a futuristic song from the past, as though Dizzy went back in time to 2003 only to hop in another time machine with Missy Elliot and Timbaland and head to 2033.
Though she usually blends R&B and soul, when she slows her vocals down you also hear alt-rock album and pop record in Dizzy’s sound, and the tracks “Booty 3000” and “Johnny Bravo” also make use of deep, eccentric, thudding house. Thankfully, her taste is discerning. Though she sprints between genres from song to song, the project never feels scattered. Dizzy is in constant control, her grip subduing different types of music as they submit to her. Even the sitar that shows up out of the clear blue on “Kosmic Luv” sounds like it belongs.
“Indica” is at once cool and cavernous yet extremely intimate, with Dizzy’s presence always in clear view. Her music is also tinglingly sensual, its sexiness grounded by a monster intellect, and she also has a good time on tracks like “Don’t Hate For Me,” a drowsy, deep-bass banger where she toys with some Auto-Tune and serves some of the smoothest shit. Her voice is textured yet subtly passionate, her writing is simple yet devastatingly poetic, and though Free Form is the work of a fully realized artist, it’s also brimming with potential for the future.
Taylor J—Only Us
Hailing from St. Paul, Taylor J has become one of the Twin Cities’ most consistently stellar rappers, dropping an album every year since 2013 and showcasing both melodic warmth and fierce, honest heat.
Taylor J continues to blend a lightly melodic, modern rap style over classic hip-hop beats on Only Us, a FUBU record from a black man reaching out to his black fanbase. This isn’t an album decrying the indignities that black people have experienced feeling; it’s an album that presupposes all that and asks what to do about it now—and how to blow off some steam. As Taylor spits on “Goals”: “Fuck recounting, bitch don't get me started/ I gotta win, that's the only option.”
Only Us displays Taylor J’s expertise with rap fundamentals—he effortlessly rides different beats at different paces, spitting fast, hard bars on the verse of “Why,” then slowing up to deliver a singy hook that's closer in melodic vibe to Nate Dogg or Akon than Lil Yachty. But on “Money Phone,” Taylor sounds very much in the cultural moment, spitting slowly in a more contemporary, melodic manner without sacrificing his knack for picking the perfect pace to melt with a beat.