The Twin Cities hip-hop scene continued to flourish in 2017, and the embarrassment of riches in local talent meant that a few albums were bound to slip through the cracks.
We're going left of the dial to bring you the most underrated, under-appreciated, and underground Minnesota hip-hop and R&B from the year, so buckle up.
Nick Jordan - Dividends
A bonafide R&B star-in-the-making, Nick Jordan does it all, and does it with a look-at-me charisma that you rarely see coming from Minnesota. He sings with a lovely, delicate tenor, does his own choreography, directs his own high-concept music videos, co-produces his own beats, and commands a stage like he was born to do it. Jordan's Dividends EP is recommended for fans of Frank Ocean and Miguel's art-damaged R&B sensuality.
Izell Pyramid - Priestcraft
The flipside of Nick Jordan's extroverted R&B, Izell Pyramid is a South Minneapolis duo cloaked in mystery and new-age spirituality. Similar to their Totally Gross National Product predecessors like GAYNGS, Izell Pyramid's rich and complex vocals are obscured with splatters of helicon and auto-tune, layered into shifting, restless in-house production. Their EP Priestcraft offers little in the way of insight into the enigmatic brothers who created it, but still manages to feel achingly vulnerable and relatable.
Why Khaliq - The Mustard Seed
St. Paul, stand up! Why Khaliq might be the coolest person to come out of the 651 since Maria Isa. With a gravel-smooth flow and a singing voice to match, Khaliq's equally reminiscent of low-key locals like Greg Grease as is it to the jazz-influenced musicality of Anderson .Paak. Khaliq's ambition is equally admirable, in addition to The Mustard Seed's 12 tracks, the rapper also released a gorgeously shot short film of the same name.
Manchita with Bionik - One
Manchita got into the studio with electronic bass music producer Bionik to release an unexpectedly tender EP titled One. In a stark contrast to the swaggering bars of her GRRRL PRTY debut, the EP finds Manchita dabbling in elements of trip-hop and FKA Twigs' cataclysmic R&B. While it's an unexpected turn, One sounds like Manchita stepping into her own as a fully realized artist to watch in 2018.
Parables of Neptune - S/T
Whomever is responsible for pairing Lady Midnight's golden voice with the dulcet pianos and production of local beatmaker Afrokeys definitely deserves a gold star. If Parables' dusty boom-baps and ivory tinkles seem familiar, it's because Afrokeys has lent his talents to a certain little-known local artist called Atmosphere, and "Crazy" from the EP would sound perfect on a summer morning playlist next to "Sunshine."
Neon Blaque - Exo Tropica
Combining for a record that's even better than the sum of its parts, rapper Zeus James and producer Infinity Suite have created a day-glo collage of brainy, head-nodding hip-hop in Exo Tropica. Infinity Suite's beats are lush and eclectic, and James' verses and hooks have a throw-it-at-the-wall creativity that never sounds forced. In a dark, dark year, Exo Tropica is a welcome splash of humor and color.
Muja Messiah - PyrExpeditioN and Saran Rap EP
A legend in the Twin Cities rap game, Muja Messiah's ice-cold, East Coast-style flow is as effortlessly smooth as ever on his pair of 2017 releases. PyrExpeditioN is a confident distillation of Muja's primary interests: drug talk and world traveling, featuring deft lyricism over grimy, minimalist beats from Tek. The more-recent Saran Rap doubles down on the NYC focus, with production and a verse from Long Island's Roc Marciano, plus a feature from Guilty Simpson.
Lexii Alijai - Growing Pains
Assembling a 16-track album at 19 years old would be impressive enough, but with Growing Pains St. Paul's Lexii Alijai creates a deeply lyrical record that's also as fun and vibe-y as anything on Soundcloud. Filled with sneering kiss-offs to scrubs, doubters, and shine-blockers, Growing Pains also showcases a conceptual depth that marks greatness to come. Witness it on "Ms. Jackson," in which Alijai flips the script on the Outkast classic to ruminate on her relationship with an ex's mother.
Greg Grease - Down So Long
After spending the better part of the last few years on his afro-future-funk project ZuluZuluu, Greg Grease has returned to solo work with the excellent Down So Long. Fans should be thankful for the diversion, as Grease's time in ZuluZuluu created a deep pool of collaborators like Trelly Mo, Proper-T and Javier Santiago, whose contributions make Down So Long far more organic and musical than any of Grease's previous work. Taking the reigns of his beats and production, Grease has never sounded more comfortable, meticulously crafting a cohesive, intoxicating record.