1. Shawn Smith – Chain Gang
If hip-hop history has taught us anything, it would be that amidst a lyrical drought a unique voice always seems to arise. Refracted through the prism of beats and rhymes, the disparate experiences of this voice informs our constantly evolving worldview while restoring our wavering hope in the genre. Pushing the boundaries of hip-hop’s infinite possibilities, it’s safe to say that Philly wordsmith Shawn Smith fits this description. And considering the anticipation surrounding his new music one thing is for certain: Shawn Smith’s got next.
With an ability to spit voracious freestyles while crafting intricate stories the Philly MC chose “Chain Gang” as his first single because “The Chain Gang video is a soft launch to what I’m kicking off this year. The mixtape era is my direct inspiration to pick up a pen in the first place. This record is all of those moments wrapped into a new musical mural — an appreciation to hip hop and what this feel has done for the streets of Philly.”
The latest music video finds the young virtuoso on the streets of his hometown paying homage to state property and waxing poetic about everything from his admiration of Michelle Obama to questioning why Congress still hasn’t passed anti-lynching laws. Directed by 12vy of the Midnight Collective, Shawn can be seen decked out in a Marcus Garvey inspired Pan-African flag poised underneath Artist Miguel Horn’s latest alleyway sculptural project ContraFuerte. In “Chain Gang” Smith paints his rhymes in cinematic detail pushing the boundaries of hip-hop while also paying homage to the OG’s that paved the way. Describing the raw and gritty record with intricate punch lines as a “State Property flip,” Philly inflections pepper everything from the bars to the beat. Smith recently debuted “Chain Gang” at Freeway & Friends Live – Philly Freeway 20 Year and the updated track is exclusive to Youtube and Audiomack.
Long before his lyrical gift attracted the attention of some of the industry’s most recognized and respected figures (Black Thought, Meek Mill, Jay-Z), Smith honed his craft as a brotherly love hip-hop hopeful opening up for rap elites like Rick Ross, Jeezy, DMX, Juelz Santana, and Ice Cube. His debut album Sink or Swim: A Shawn Smith Story was released in Fall 2018 to acclaim. From memorable appearances on Sway in the Morning to his 2018 BET Hip Hop Awards Cypher freestyle, Smith is a modern day renaissance man, crafting narratives ranging from urban struggles and politics, to art and fashion, showing how diverse he is as a young, black man.
2. Trent The Hooligan ft. NyBanga – GLiM
The son of a pastor who was raised in the church with his seven siblings, Trent the Hooligan became accustomed to a nomadic and judgmental lifestyle early in life. Born in Atlanta, with a stop in Orlando, Florida before eventually relocating and settling in Wilmington, NC at the age of 15, he is no stranger to assumptions and misconceptions. “When you’re from the South, people will think you’re stupid, that we talk slow”, Trent says. While Trent does speak with an unmistakable accent and grew up listening to Christian rock and other worship music, looking at him, you wouldn’t realize that he can rap circles around seasoned veterans; turning all the disparate experiences of his 25 years on this earth into music that’s as thoughtful as it is hard. Working in the tradition of Outkast, Goodie Mob, and UGK, Trent the Hooligan is living proof that the South still has a lot to say!
One of Hip-Hop’s greatest gifts is its ability to induce feeling, and how those feelings resonate with you internally; it can make you feel as if you’re being seen and heard for the first time. Introduced to Hip-Hop by his brother, Trent is no stranger to those feelings, as he was blown away by the connections he discovered in Hip-Hop with his own upbringing. The cadence of Pimp C’s voice and the gospel influence in Outkast’s work (especially the choir which uplift’s the duo’s classic “B.O.B” into the stratosphere) immediately captivated him. Always a gifted writer, recognized for his facility with words and essays in school, Trent realized that this music was big enough to contain everything that mattered to him.
This discovery, in a moment of crisis as a teenager, feeling depressed and adrift, led Trent to write his first rap song. This cathartic, creative exercise was not only healing but incredibly liberating; and Trent’s fate was sealed. This was his calling! Soon, he immersed himself in writing, relentlessly polishing his craft, and creating music and connections with a growing flock of producers and artists that fueled his passion; and helped him start building a community.
In 2018, Trent released his first project, the EP B4imetu: A Prelude to Medusa. In 2019, he released his debut album, Medusa. Taken together, they introduce Trent as a remarkable technician; capable of stringing together complicated lines and ideas with ease.
Now, Trent the Hooligan is back with an illuminating new single and video for, “GLiM!,” and a new album announcement, ALLGASNOBRAKEZ!, which will be released on April 18. “GLiM” Featuring NyBanga” is now available.
“We that generation don’t play with them boys/North Carolina to California making some noise.” Trent’s sophomore album, ALLGASNOBRAKEZ!, is just that, as it displays his evolution as an artist since Medusa, and it pays homage to contemporary classics like J. Cole’s Forest Hills Drive, and Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, Maad City.
“I wrote my verse for “GLiM” in my head while I was driving around LA. The lyrics play on the idea that we were all made in a creator’s image. Everything’s a reflection of the creator, right? So I’m like God looking in the mirror” is an eternally empowering statement” Trent the Hooligan professes. “NyBanga agreeing to rap over a soul chop beat with me is unorthodox on paper, but works so well. As soon as I heard the beat I knew his tone would sit beautifully on it. This song is as North Carolina as it gets; it highlights our spirit and natural charisma.”
Trent the Hooligan’s ALLGASNOBRAKEZ! will be released on April 18.
3. Neru Thee Fourth Fugee & bbymuva – End Daze
Highly rated Baltimore lyricist + producer Neru Thee Fourth Fugee and Atlanta-based rap royalty bbymutha have collaborated on a new single ‘End Daze.’ The collaboration delivers a hard-hitting rap powerhouse showing from both women that is heavy in top-tier lyricism, infectious wordplay, and braggadocious energy.
Neru stands out for her abstract lyricism, transcendental harmonies, and trance-like kaleidoscopic soundscapes, and she has created her own musical universe with her genre-defying fusion of hip-hop with neo-soul, ambient, funk and psychedelic music.
This single is the first taste of Neru’s upcoming sophomore album ‘Greater Than’, which arrives in the summer as the long-awaited follow-up to her seminal debut album ‘The Almanac’ that was championed by the likes of COLORS, HotNewHipHop and Ladygunn.
4. Kool Keith & Real Bad Man ft. Slug from Atmosphere & Ice-T
After teaming up with Boldy James to release Real Bad Boldy (2021) and Killing Nothing (2022) and linking up with rising star Pink Siifu for Real Bad Flights (2022), Real Bad Man returns to announce his first collaborative project of the year with Serpent.
Serpent brings Real Bad Man together with the inimitable Kool Keith and today, along with announcing their forthcoming collaborative project, the duo released the project’s first focus track, “Fire & Ice,” which also features Slug from Atmosphere and Ice-T. “Fire & Ice” is now available.
“Real Bad Man sent the beat and I heard sound dynamic crystals in the mix, they were ice cold, but hot like fire at the same time” Kool Keith explains. “You ever love something dark and evil? This right here is it.”
Kool Keith x Real Bad Man’s Serpent will be released on March 24.
5. Dyson Alexander – Way Back
After receiving heavy press, radio, and social media attention for “My Mind” alongside Grammy-nominated producer/engineer Jake Vicious & Brooklyn Tik-Tok sensation Jufu, DMV welterweight Dyson Alexander connects with WE AT WORK MUSIC for the MotiVisual directed visual to “Wayback.” Produced by Zee Dolla, the timely track tells the story of a young man expressing his admiration for a special woman by way of logic and emotion.
Speaking on the song’s central theme in a press statement, Dyson details:
“Wayback is one of those song’s I feel is relatable on so many levels, because it’s about indirectly running from love; which a lot of people in my generation do for various reasons and in different ways. If you listen closely throughout the record, I touch on that thought process from my perspective.”
6. Conway The Machine & Jae Skeese – Pain Provided Profit
The first signee to Conway The Machine’s Drumwork Music Group imprint, Jae Skeese appeared on two songs on the deluxe version of Conway The Machine’s From King To A GOD, and the first single, “Blood Roses,” from La Maquina. Skeese continued his ascent by not only appearing (“Drumwork” with fellow signee 7xvethegenius) on Conway’s Shady Records debut album God Don’t Make Mistakes but also by contributing to the album’s rollout, as Skeese murked two different freestyles alongside Conway on Bootleg Kev and LA Leakers.
After finishing up his recent sold-out Reject Mania European tour dates, and announcing his own forthcoming solo album, Won’t He Do It, Conway The Machine’s Drumwork Records Spring takeover continues with, Pain Provided Profit, his collaborative project with Jae Skeese, which is now available.
Pain Provided Profit is the standard-bearer for what Drumwork Records values are at the core level; creating street-certified art made explicitly for the culture at large.
7. Navy Blue – Chosen
After generating widespread critical acclaim independently, Los Angeles-born rapper, producer, professional skateboarder, and creative Navy Blue, aka Sage Elsesser, serves up a new single entitled “Chosen.” It notably marks his debut for Def Jam Recordings and kicks off what promises to be a powerful, prolific, and poetic season for the artist, paving the way for his forthcoming full-length debut—due out later this year.
Backed by inventive production, the track spotlights his dynamic rhymes. His intimate delivery ignites quotable bars as momentum builds towards an instantly memorable refrain.
8. Connie Diamond – Move
9. Blxst – Just For Clarity 2
Following a career-defining year culminating in his first two GRAMMY nominations and spots on prominent “Best of 2022” lists, hip-hop’s most exciting artist Blxst has returned today with the next chapter to his 2021 EP, Just For Clarity 2. Out via Red Bull Records/EVGLE, the four-track package includes his December release, “Keep Calling” (12 million streams) with chart-topper Larry June, alongside rap’s leading tastemakers Roddy Ricch on the stand-out single, “Passionate,” and Mustard and Terrace Martin on the love bomb, “Ghetto Cinderella.”
Blxst shares, “‘Passionate’ is bigger than a song to me. I like to look at it more as a mindset, especially working with Roddy on this record. I think it’s dope to see somebody’s success go from zero to a hundred, especially somebody from the hometown. I just remember us being in a studio before anybody knew who we were and we had that same drive and passion. This track is a look back at that, seeing where we were, where we are, where we’re going, and what brought us here today.”
The EP is stacked with some of LA’s most talented stars in the game, all of whom have hustled their way to the top. It’s an ode to that dedication and a home-coming project for Blxst, one that defines his role in the city with confidence and humility. Through that lens he finds clarity in the present, artistically reflected in the visuals surrounding the EP.
He adds, “Just for Clarity 2 is the second installment of a project I put together for my supporters to have an update of what’s going on in real time. When I think of clarity, I think of being clear and getting straight to the point. It’s a moment for me to vent and be honest and transparent, which is a theme throughout the EP. I call it a flawless four pack because it’s intentionally short and sweet, but it’s also an appetizer before the debut.”
10. Jim Jones & Hitmaka – Back In My Prime
Released through EMPIRE, Harlem hero Jim Jones teams up with producer HitMaka for their EP Back In My Prime. The eight-track project displays Jim’s ability to adapt his sounds to the ever-changing times in hip-hop culture.
The stand-out singles “Gunshot” featuring BEAM and “I Am” featuring Stefflon Don prove their musical chemistry.
“YKTV” featuring Ty Dolla $ign shows Jim rapping in a graceful manner. He opens the song with lines reflective of his failures leading to success. He raps, “I’m trying to leave my son a legacy, for my dogs I’m trying to leave a better pedigree… So many nights I slept in a crack den, I done took a bunch of L’s trying to stack M’s”. Jim’s mature cadence compliments his signature fly talk where he talks of having his lover covered in “furs dragging like a broken exhaust” and flooded with jewelry on her neck.
Back In My Prime is what happens if Harlem: Diary of A Summer was a wine aged by eighteen years. The beats are smoother and the maturation of Jim’s storytelling and cadences packs a stronger punch than his 2005 run in music. Rather than what the title of the EP implies, Jim is entering into a new prime at this point of his career.
11. Mar Ja’kim ft. Jaheim – Another
The New Jersey native Mar Ja’kim provides a banger alongside Jaheim in their single “Another.” Mar Ja’kim shares his story of moving on from someone who wasn’t on his level to potentially finding a new suitor. He switches between singing and rapping flows to show his discontent about the fallout, but also how happy he is moving forward. Mar Ja’kim praises how thankful he is for his aura and how he has to remove negative people from his life.
The video, directed by Nimi Hendrix, shows Marja’kim moving on to another. R&B icon Jaheim gives the perfect assist and cosign.
12. Khamari – On My Way
Los Angeles based, Boston raised songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist artist Khamari releases new single “On My Way.” Produced by Khamari and Trackside and co-written with Merna Bishouty, this new offering weaves a sample from Al Green’s 1972 classic “Love and Happiness” and showcases Khamari’s comforting vocals as he poeticizes his journey from Boston to LA.
Speaking on his new release, Khamari shares: “In the middle of the pandemic I packed everything I owned into my car and drove across the country from Boston to Los Angeles. On My Way is a song about my move, my confidence in knowing I was making the right decision starting fresh so I could build something from the ground up.”
13. Lola Brooke – So Disrespectful
“Don’t Play With It” hitmaker Lola Brooke kicked off her massive breakout year in 2022 and she shows no signs of slowing down in 2023. She’s coming through with more heat, feeling “So Disrespectful” in her new video. She’s even been teasing the song on IG. The proud Brooklyn spitter is small in stature but her confidence and presence speak for themselves. Her booming voice and gritty delivery as she spits fire about it being her time to shine and checking anyone who tries her gives me CHILLS and makes me feel like I can conquer anything! It makes perfect sense why she’s been getting co-signs from rap giants like Future and Lil Kim. And, of course, she’s serving looks on looks in the video. The fur + squat combo is giving me Lil Kim Hard Core vibes.
“So Disrespectful” arrives after the viral success of “Don’t Play With It” and Lola’s November release “Here I Come” and will mark her first release since announcing her signing to Arista Records and wrapping up her time as the supporting act on the US leg of A Boogie’s Me vs. Myself Tour. She’ll be joining him on the UK leg of the tour in a few weeks, hitting the stage at SXSW, Wireless,Rolling Loud Rotterdam & Portugal, etc. and she has much more in store, stay tuned!