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5 must-hear Minnesota hip-hop tracks: 12/7/16

Tony the Scribe, Lexii Alijai, and more!

There’s a near-constant stream of quality music coming from the Minnesota rap scene, and we’ve taken it upon ourselves to pick a few highlights from the past week in new releases and videos. Here are 5 that are definitely worth your time.

Tony the Scribe - “December Third” 

Tony the Scribe speaks to his experience occupying the Fourth Precinct alongside Black Lives Matter protestors in response to the death of Jamar Clark last year in this song dedicated to the night they were forcibly removed by police. Released on the anniversary of that night, “December Third” relates a moment in the ongoing pursuit of justice by detailing the experience (click through to the song description for further context): Descriptions of snapping firewood, sirens, and eyes in tremor bolster a poetic rhyme scheme that plays with metaphor and blunt literalism to match the building tension of the voicing, which escalates from a shaken vulnerability in response to trauma, to a sharp cry of urgency and purpose. “I smell like smoke,” he raps in a conversational yet commanding tone, blurring the surreality of the particulars of that night with a symbolic scope of the larger ramifications of the protest and police brutality as a whole. “I’ve been carrying this weight upon my back and I can’t breathe because this air is full of ash…”

Rey Gordo - Drive Slow

Rey Gordo leisurely stretches his voice to follow his Midwestern brand of chilled lyricism further down the rabbit hole of timeless, funk-driven rap on Drive Slow. He introduces the project with “Northernplayalistic,” whose smoked-out slow groove and references (both lyrical and sonic) to golden-age Outkast serve almost as the album’s thesis statement. You are about to embark on a full project of lush, smooth beats (largely provided by executive producer Rich Lee), bolstered by live instrumentation (Josh Johnson on saxophone and John Thorstad on guitar) and a slick-tonged haze from the Free Lunch Crew member’s chorus-driven, melodic flows. It’s an incredibly strong and lively project that pushes Gordo’s style to the next level.

Lexii Alijai - “Black Lives Matter”

Lexii Alijai’s latest uses news clips and pointed lyricism over a looped soul sample to tie together police brutality, Donald Trump’s rise to power through xenophobic ideology, and the stress of living under the political and social design of structural racism. Lexii’s vocal texture expresses a vulnerability undergirded by a profound assertion of strength. Lines like “We supposed to stay strong / Hoodie on like Trayvon / Killed a kid on his front lawn, had his body sitting’ for a day long, damn,” reveal both a sensitivity and determination in reaction to police violence. It’s especially impactful here, as she takes a politically-charged approach to her soft-spoken style.

G.R.A.C.E.LAND - “So They Know”

Twinkling bells and heavy bass guide G.R.A.C.E.LAND (whose moniker stands for Good Rap And Cashflow Everyday) toward a driven but unhurried flow. The distinctive vibe makes it easy to get lost enough in the sound to be caught off guard by the abrupt ending. Steadily releasing one-off songs throughout this year, G.R.A.C.E.LAND begins to really distinguish himself here, as he approaches less-tread territory and highlights his flexible lyrical ability (“Pigs hate the color brown / Nina turn ‘em all black / Yeah I shoulda wore a strap / Way too young to be a dad”) with a nearly hookless track.

PHLAWJ City - “MURDER & MAYHEM”

Collaborators Sota Smoov, Scarr, Black Magick, and MNTality make up PHLAWJ City. An acidic 8-minute journey across rap subdivisions, "MURDER & MAYHEM" details the struggle for racial justice. Sota Smoov takes us to the extreme ends of where the song fluctuates, providing the barely intelligible falsetto ambience of the auto-tuned chorus as well as the screamed noise-rap third verse, representing how the song (at times, awkwardly) juggles hyper-aggressive rage-raps and energy-driven mosh-trap with heady, indie-underground inflections and droning middle sections. It doesn’t always work, but it’s an experimental move in an intriguing direction that other local artists could stand to take cues from.

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