Welcome back to PFOS. The final quarter of 2020 has been flooded with beautiful music, so I wrote about a few favorites.
Dej Loaf ft. Gunna - “No Ceiling” (prod. Turn Me Up Josh)
Dej Loaf deserves more credit. The impact of her breakout hit “Try Me”, which birthed a thousand imitations and ushered in a new era of melodic rap, is widely acknowledged. But the depth and scope of her catalogue - All Jokes Aside, Sell Sole, #AndSeeThatsTheThing, Fuck A Friend Zone with Jacquees, “Shawty”with Young Thug, “U Me & Hennesy” with Lil Wayne, “My Beyonce” with Lil Durk, etc. - is underappreciated.
Sell Sole II, released in October, is Dej’s first album since she parted ways with Columbia Records. Her deal with Columbia was plagued by delays and confusing missteps (her 2016 masterpiece All Jokes Aside was removed from streaming services last year without explanation), and she sounds thrilled to be rid of it.
Sell Sole II classic Dej - a soothing, self-assured album full of tongue-in-cheek brilliance and conceptual left turns. The guest list underscores the respect she commands among her peers in Detroit (Boldy James, 42 Dugg, Sada Baby, Big Sean) and beyond (Lil Uzi Vert, Rick Ross, Benny The Butcher, Conway the Machine, 6LACK).
“No Ceiling” with Gunna is an ethereal highlight. Gunna does a ton of features, and he sometimes phones them in, but you can tell he’s genuinely excited to be trading bars with Dej, who remains firmly in control of the song’s tone and texture.
Sell Sole II makes a strong case for letting pioneering talents like Dej create on their own terms. Money talks in many ways, but inspiration speaks for itself.
Baby Plug - “4 Tha Moment” (prod. FK-47)
Over the past two years, Baby Plug has separated himself from Atlanta’s vast pool of rising talent with a series of increasingly refined projects. On his new mixtape Lemme Pop My Shxt 2, the 19-year-old heightens his focus and broadens his emotional range, while retaining the freewheeling spirit of his formative work with artists like Rx Yp and Rx Peso (both of whom show up for memorable features on “Hunnid” and “There He Go”, respectively).
Scrappy, shit-talking anthems are Baby Plug’s bread and butter (“Traphouse”, “It’s BP”, “Guap Like Uzi”), but his quieter songs reveal his artistic sensitivity. On “4 Tha Moment”, BP reflects on newfound success with the measured wisdom of someone who’s lost enough to know that wins don’t last forever. “You bitches changing like the weather, and it’s obvious”, he wails on the chorus, eyes toward the storm on the horizon.
OLA RUNT - “DIS N DAT” (prod. Trap God)
Ola Runt is such a captivating artist that I have to stop myself from veering into hyperbole when writing about him. The 24-year-old’s latest LP Harder 2 Kill - his third full-length since the pandemic hit - is yet another gripping showcase of his singular confidence and vision.
Ola layers his raps with wordplay and double meanings in a way that feels wholly intuitive, as if he thinks in riddles. On “DIS N DAT”, he describes his view from the drug house with characteristic flair: “Dope man, we got traffic in the driveway / Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, put ‘em in a ashtray / Re-up on two guns, Mary Kate and Ash-lay / Sippin’ slow motion, but the Hellcat the fast way.”
Ola’s imagery is colorful, but it’s not playful. Each lyric sounds like it was ripped from the pit of his stomach. “DIS N DAT” peaks with a moment of introspection, when he turns his poetic gifts on himself: “Shiesty! Imma tell my son, ‘don’t be like me’ / ‘Cause right now I’m living so wrong, it ain’t the right me / Bad influence, ‘cause the wrong things excite me / Cut from a whole nother cloth, you’re nothing like me.” His frenzied delivery imbues these lines with dire urgency.
Ola Runt is currently incarcerated, and there’s not much detail on when he might be getting out. Whatever the terms, his ongoing imprisonment is an enormous loss for rap music, his loved ones, and the world.
Malique Andrews - “Selfish Ways” (prod. ???)
Malique Andrews is a 20-year-old rapper who’s well on his way to becoming the biggest hip-hop act to emerge from Oklahoma City. He’s been active on SoundCloud for years, but his 2020 releases - “Changes”, “Respect”, “Count Favors” - suggest he’s poised for a breakthrough.
Malique’s latest single “Selfish Ways” is a candid, self-lacerating song about the guilt that comes with making it out of poverty and leaving his hometown behind. It’s one of the most lucid feats of writing I’ve heard this year. His lyrics are so personal and hyper-specific that I can’t help but wonder if he’s physically allergic to rap cliches.
The song revolves around Malique beating himself up for forgetting to send unreleased music to an incarcerated friend. The concept is poignant and true to life, the way one mistake can make you reevaluate your entire existence.
In the final verse, he poses a question that captures the corrosive side effects of a heavy conscience: “How the fuck could I feel like a winner, when I’m ashamed of that man of the mirror?”
SpotemGottem - “Attic” (prod. ???)
SpotemGottem is a young rapper from Jacksonville whose music has been building momentum in Florida and other parts of the South since 2017. He’s perfectly capable of writing earnest blues raps in the vein of Kodak Black, but his recent output embraces a looser, less conventional songwriting style.
On “Attic”, SpotemGottem finds hidden pockets in a beat made from little more than hi-hats and watery piano keys. His drowsy delivery and thick Florida accent render his words in odd shapes, like he’s invented a new font.
Lil Bam - “Hot Boy” (prod. ???)
Alabama’s hip-hop scene is flourishing. The cities of Mobile and Birmingham in particular have birthed a vibrant and diverse new generation of artists, from viral sensations like Flo Milli, NoCap, Rylo Rodriguez, and Yung Bleu to regional stars like Li Heat, DaDa1k, TLE Cinco, Big Yavo, Luh Soldier, HoneyKomb Brazy, and EBE Savage.
21-year-old Lil Bam is one of the leaders of Birmingham’s new school, and his single “Hot Boy” is a delightful mash-up of Southern rap touchstones. Over a sample of Goodie Mob’s classic “Cell Therapy”, Bam weaves references to Doe B and the Hot Boys into a breezy two-step flow, connecting the dots with casual fluency.
King Von, Fearless Storyteller - Mark Braboy, Complex
King Von’s Untimely Death Is Another Call For Radical Change - Andre Gee, UPROXX
King Von Was Building Something Bigger Than Chicago Drill: He Deserved to See It Through. - Paul Thompson, Vulture
A Final Conversation With King Von - Cherise Johnson, UPROXX