Innovative music holds surprises for listeners in our era

By NIKITA SHTARKMAN | September 21, 2017


THE COME UP SHOW/CC BY-SA 2.0 Atlanta-based group EARTHGANG released their five song EP Rags at the beginning of September 2017.

The easiest way to present yourself as a boring, uninteresting and lame person is to start a sentence with the words, “Music isn’t the same nowadays...” or “I was born in the wrong era.” That is a mindset that many fall into — feeling that all of the “good stuff” has passed and that new music is garbage.

This happens with every popular era of music — a trend catches on and its popularity raises a counterculture response. Now the popular thing to make fun of is “mumble rap,” the generation of drugged out rappers who lazily babble over a dark, hammering beat. I want to use this article to showcase some of the new music that doesn’t fit into that box.

One of the best projects of the past year is Steve Lacy’s Demo, a dark, swaggering, jazzy EP. Lacy is a member of the Internet, a group founded by Odd Future members Syd and Matt Martians, who have released some phenomenal music. On his solo work, Lacy shows a knack for writing compositions that have deep layered grooves and catchy melodies.

Lacy’s voice is clear and strong; He expertly builds on themes and motives throughout a track. There is not an underdeveloped song on this project.

In fact, Demo is an EP that feels like it could be expanded into multiple albums. Along with the music, Lacy has released some great music videos that are worth checking out. He creates dreamlike, drug-haze infused, off-kilter, videos — not unlike Tyler, the Creator.

The Pink Polo EP, a collaboration between the singer and saxophonist Masego and the talented and groovy producer Medasin, was released in 2016, but I think it deserves to be on this list because it was criminally underappreciated.

Medasin backs up Masego’s groovy, funky voice with lush synths, thick, groovy basses and some rattling beats. Like his recent collaborator GoldLink, Masego is trying to bring back the funkiness and classic dance vibe of hip hop. Medasin, meanwhile, infuses funk with more modern inspired percussion and sounds.

That mix works surprisingly well, making each and every track on this project danceable.

The pounding of the kicks and the thick synth melodies elevate Masego’s great voice. “Girls that Dance” is the standout track, working almost as a thesis for the project: “I like girls that dance / not just with their friends / but with my dudes.”

The Pink Polo is a project that is filled with a comedy and irreverence that has been missing from a lot of recent rap. The song “Sego Hotline ft. Krs.” is a classic funk joint that uses phone metaphors to describe a relationship: “You’s a Facetime woman, he’s an Oovoo man.”

Sam Gellaitry is one of the greatest producers of the new generation. Many producers make beat tapes  that feature a bunch of half-baked ideas collaged together into one haphazard project — Gellaitry does just the opposite.

On his Escapism projects, Gellaitry creates around five deeply produced, incredibly polished songs that link together. The grooves he builds are unique and expressive, and feel almost alien.

The third installment in the series, Escapism III, is less of an EP than a feat of universe building. Each song feels like it’s the soundtrack of some distant planet.

The music is exceptionally lush, with layers on layers of sounds. Besides just being beautiful, one has to mention that all of the songs Gellaitry makes absolutely bang on any type of speaker.

Gellaitry is the absolute best at playing with expectations, using leading melodies and rises to create tension and then resolving the tension with a quick drop or the fat kick of an 808. If you ever want to lose yourself for a day, I highly recommend just putting all three Escapisms on and letting your mind wander.

Cosmo Pyke is an artist that I did not expect to be listening to in 2017. At a time when rock has fallen into the background, Pyke created a catchy, modern sounding and fun alt-rock project with Just Cosmo.

He is often grouped with King Krule because they share a tone of voice and a grittiness, but I think it is more apt to see him as the continuation of the Strokes or the Arctic Monkeys. His voice is textured and he writes great melodies.

Every song on Just Cosmo is unique in style and theme. The project exudes youth, naiveté and confidence all at once. There are moments of absolute bliss on this project — the double time at the end of “Social Sites” stands out as a gorgeous switch up.

My favorite song on the project is “Wish You Were Gone,” a ballad about lost love that switches grooves on a dime and has an exceptionally catchy melody. I highly recommend people check this album out — it serves as a good contrast to pop sensibilities.

My last recommendation is not a project. It didn’t even come out this year. It is a singular song from 2016 that I accidentally stumbled on called “Soap” by Deem Spencer.

This phenomenal piece of music only has 60,000 views on Youtube. Deem rides a grimy, lumbering beat with a nice melodic verse that is heavy on assonance and introspection. The alliteration B4_Underground is incredible: “The pestilence less a mess and the pests is in a box.”

The beat is simple, but with its loud low end and gritty samples, it inspires a feeling of intense darkness.

This is an intimate song. Deem speaks as if the lyrics are falling out of him — “What’s awkward is that I would jump off a bridge if my friends do it,” he solemnly confesses.

I love the video as well. It features a cool double exposure mixing shot of Deem rapping while playing with a diorama which Deem destroys with a small mannequin.

The Atlanta group EARTHGANG recently released a new EP. Called Rags, the album is a five song narrative, with each track joined together by short skits. Rags shows a deep love for Atlanta and balances discussions of social justice with personal reflection.

EARTHGANG, ­which consists of Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot, gained some fame with their 2015 album Strays with Rabies. The group is associated with rapper J.I.D., who has won some underground recognition in the past several years.

Earlier in 2017, Toronto rapper Teddy Fantum released Help Me. As much as a cry for help as it is an album, Fantum’s dark lyrics and poignant discussion of his own pain cuts deeply.

The album’s tone and dark content resonate deeply, both as a form of catharsis for Fantum and as something of a plea. Help Me addresses mental health without any reservations, something which is not common in the rap genre.

These are a quick set of recommendations that I hope people enjoy. They are projects that stray from the standard Billboard Top 100 style and that can hopefully be jumping off points for discovering more exciting, inspiring music.

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