Welcome back to PFOS. It’s been a while since the last new music roundup. Let’s get into it...
Label: 510 Music Group / EMPIRE
Producers: 17ondatrack, CorMil, DevinxMusic, Droc, Jahdiddat, Jiggy Bangerz, Josh Staxx, Oogie Mane, Oz Sparx, Tariq Zip, Uncle Bari
Not many young rappers can match the stylistic sophistication of Oz Sparx. The Philly native’s third LP Vibin, Slidin, N’ Connivin is another pronounced evolution of the sound he’s been refining with 510 Music Group since last year’s Juggin’ N’ Finessin’.
Everything about the way Oz Sparx raps is compelling to me - the scintillating melodies, the acrobatic changes of octave and tempo, the palpable love of language. His syllables lock together like puzzle pieces, turning stray thoughts into intricate clusters. “I’m on your block with a glock and a hoodie / My hand in that pot with that rock, and I’m cooking / I ran from the cops, threw the rocks in the bushes / And I got them knots, you get popped just for looking.”
Besides the lyrical fireworks, the beats on Vibin, Slidin, N’ Connivin are phenomenal. Producers Jiggy Bangerz and Jahdiddat load the album with fat bass, then decorate the open spaces with subtle flourishes that sound galaxies away from the churning mediocrity you might find on RapCaviar. The features are also tasteful, with JGreen and 2kbaby providing soulful contrasts to Sparx’s light touch.
For all Sparx’s rebel bravado, his music reveals an artist who cares deeply about his craft. Vibin, Slidin, N’ Connivin is a masterclass in technique from a rapper who would rather have you believe he doesn’t give a fuck.
Label: Se Lavi Productions / Def Jam
Producers: DJ Chose, DJ Trebble, Dmac, Hardbody, Karltin Bankz, LondnBlue, P Crisco, PlayBoy On The Beat, QRedOnTheTrack, Tay Keith, TnTXD
Fredo Bang doesn’t get much coverage from mainstream (white) music media, but he’s a legend in Louisiana. Since 2014, the Baton Rouge rapper has nurtured a devoted following across the Deep South and established himself as an artist with gravitas and emotional range. On his latest offering In The Name Of Gee, Fredo radiates charisma, delivering one commanding performance after another over smoldering, distinctly Southern production from frequent collaborators Hardbody and DJ Chose.
There’s a certain fullness to Fredo Bang’s voice that makes his music immensely satisfying. His baritone is so rich and resonant that even an esteemed vocalist like Kevin Gates sounds slight by comparison when he shows up on “No Security”. Fredo’s writing on In The Name Of Gee is evocative and highly legible, to the point that I found myself memorizing choruses after one or two listens.
Label: Boominati / Republic / Slaughter Gang / Epic
Producers: Allen Ritter, DAVID x ELI, DJ Slim K, Honorable C.N.O.T.E., Kid Hazel, Metro Boomin, OG Ron C, Peter Lee Johnson, Prince 85, Southside, Zaytoven
Has any 2020 album had a better rollout than Savage Mode II? From the glossy visuals to the Morgan Freeman narration, the sequel to 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s 2016 masterpiece feels like the first rap blockbuster since the pandemic hit.
By far, my favorite aspect of the Savage Mode II rollout is the decision to release a chopped not slopped version with Houston Screw music legends DJ Slim K and OG Ron C in lieu of a gratuitous deluxe album. Metro’s cinematic samples and 21’s vivid drawl are well suited to the chopped and screwed treatment, and the album becomes twice as immersive when it’s slowed to a crawl.
It’s refreshing to see big names like 21 and Metro reject the deluxe album trend and embrace an under-appreciated subculture with two of Screw music’s most trusted names. As Metro himself noted, “that deluxe shit burnt out”.
Label: Relentless Records / Sony Music UK
Producers: 5ive Beatz, ADP, Al Hug, Ambezza, Benjamin Lasnier, Darius Rameshni, Eyes, Fred again.., Gino, GottiOnEm, iO, Jaiah, Kenny Beats, Kyle Stemberger, Lasse Qvist, LukasBL, M1OnTheBeat, MadaraBeatz, Mokuba Lives, Nagra, Nyge, ProducerBoy, Quincy Tellem, Rob x Jenne, TobiShyBoy, Toddla T, Tyrell 169, WondaGurl
North London rapper Headie One is on fire right now. Over the past few years, the 26-year-old son of Ghanaian immigrants made enough noise in his home country to catch the attention of Drake, who co-signed him with a memorable feature on “Only You Freestyle” in July. On Headie’s new album EDNA, he enlists top-tier guests from both sides of the Atlantic (Drake, Future, Kaash Paige, Skepta, Ivorian Doll, AJ Tracey) and positions himself as a global ambassador for UK rap.
I could listen to Headie One rap all day. His signature flow is deft and endlessly adaptable, and he has a keen ear for sonorous, expensive-sounding beats. Balancing gravity with levity, Headie delivers the rare 20-track album that doesn’t feel like a slog.
Nimic Revenue - “What They Know” (prod. Frankie Bash)
Nobody lays down vocals like Nimic Revenue. The 22-year-old has cultivated powerful chemistry with producer and fellow Minnesotan Frankie Bash, and her melodies land like lightning bolts on the upbeat loosie “What They Know”.
Nimic recently parted ways with her label, but she’s hardly fazed by the breakup. On the second verse of “What They Know”, she offers up one of my favorite flexes of the year: “Def Jam ain’t sign me, n***a I signed Def Jam.”
Lil Poppa - “To The Point (FastCheeze Mix)” (prod. LondnBlue, Karltin Bankz, Luhkim, & JayForeiign)
In Houston, they slow rap songs down. In South Florida, they speed them up.
Lil Poppa hails from Jacksonville, but it didn’t take long for his music to get the fast remix treatment from a Broward County DJ. Poppa’s 2020 album Evergreen Wildchild 2 is an unhurried, understated record that completely changes character in the hands of Broward native FastCheeze.
On FastCheeze’s remix of Wildchild standout “To The Point”, a boost in BPM renders the original work in brighter colors, lending fresh urgency to Poppa's weighty meditations.
Polo G - “Epidemic” (prod. Karltin Bankz, LondnBlue, Dmac, & Tahj Money)
Polo G’s rise to superstardom is one of the most encouraging rap success stories in recent memory. As writer and Chicago rap scholar David Drake eloquently put it: “I don’t think people acknowledge how incredible Polo G is for doing what he did. For an artist to cut through the noise in the saturated everybody-gets-a-deal era without gimmicks & with a strong authorial/political perspective & identity over the course of a single year is rare.”
Polo is a Gen-Z household name at this point, but fame and fortune haven’t dulled his pen. His latest single “Epidemic” is packed with the clear-eyed poetics that made his breakthrough album Die A Legend so captivating. On the song’s final verse, Polo switches up his flow and condenses several chapters of his story into 8 loaded bars:
You know it’s fuck the other side, ‘cause my n***as gone
Always been fuck the other side, we don’t get along
If we bump heads, like Marvin Gaye, let’s get it on
Aim for the head, that chopper spray, we get him gone
Independent, her hair down, and she feeling grown
Tryna correct her flaws, she filled with silicone
And she ain’t all innocent, she did a n***a wrong
I got a playlist for your heart girl, pick a song
RIP FBG Duck - Leor Galil, Chicago Reader
Why I Speak Up for Black Women - Megan Thee Stallion, The New York Times
The South Is Rap’s Past, Present and Future - Briana Younger, NPR
Inside the NYPD’s War Against Drill Rap - Andre Gee, VICE
03 Greedo has spent the last two years in a Texas prison but is still the beating heart of L.A.’s rap scene - Jeff Weiss, The Washington Post
G Herbo uses his own journey toward healing to help Black youth treat their trauma - Aaron Allen, Chicago Reader
Offset / A Vice Grip On That Wishbone - Sun-Ui Yum, FLAUNT