Once again I’m feeling very refreshed with all the great songs coming out in the conscious hip-hop realm. Whether it be through our submissions portal, Spotify’s curated Release Radar and Discover Weekly playlists for me, or my personal musical perusing, here are the most recent conscious hip-hop finds that have made their way to my ears! Without further ado, here is Vol. 3 of my Conscious State of Mind series…
#1] “Don’t Pray Anymore” – 2’Live Bre
It’s been such a lovely experience witnessing 2’Live Bre‘s growth as a human and an artist. From his humble days at Tennessee Tech, being the local hype party man, to learning and showcasing his talents on the Netflix series Rhythm and Flow, to transforming his sound into a more mature and conscious product, 2’Live Bre has stayed true to himself no matter what. “Don’t Pray Anymore” comes from his most recently released EP Butterfly Effect, reflecting themes of metamorphosis, finding yourself, and gratitude. He’s carried this butterfly concept throughout his entire branding, even coming out with a fresh new sneaker line! As their first U.S. collaboration, Breion and BLANX, a global self-expressive brand with social impact embedded in their brand DNA, are making moves and history as one of the first independent music artists to have his own shoe brand, aptly entitled Hope.
#2] “Love Hurts” – DAX
DAX is a self-made 26 year old artist who prides himself on the fact he’s “making something out of absolutely nothing,” having already attracted over 2 million monthly listeners on Spotify. His lyrical worldplay is simultaneously clever, introspective, and brave, as he touches on topics many suppress or avoid. His delivery may seem aggressive at moments, but his music is raw and brings to surface important thoughts and experiences many can relate to. His notes on “Love Hurts” is that it’s a “relatable song about what million have and will go through: Heartbreak.” In this scenario, it’s specifically about being cheated on, which can be one of the most painful realities. His theatrical vocals flow over a juxtaposed low-key musical backdrop of a soft beat, light guitar melodies and vocal samples. He warns his listeners (and his past self – hindsight is 2020) to pay more attention to actions rather than words, because that’s where people’s true intentions become clear.
#3] “Worth It” – Diz
18 year old Boston rapper, producer and saxophonist Diz recently released an EP entitled ALL IN DUE TIME, which features six tracks exploring the ebb and flow of emotions and situations. “Worth It” is the second track off this EP and reminds me of old-school Mac Miller in the best way possible. With a home video type vibe to the accompanying visual, “Worth It” is a jazzy trip-hop, lo-fi track spreading an uplifting reminder that every day with yourself is worth it. Diz came up with the Cambridge based collective Illegal Advisory, but has since moved on to pursue his solo career influenced by greats like Earl Sweatshirt and MF DOOM, and Johnny Hodges and Braxton Cook in the saxophone world. His skills as both a musician and songwriter give off a very soothing and creative energy in his music. If you like what you hear, check out his first album Black Water.
#4] “Marlon Brando” – Akapel
Eery choral vocals and classical piano melodies carry this short hypnotic track all the way as Akapel lays down bars speaking to his experience being raised and growing out of the low income neighborhoods of South London. Being authentically his own is his first priority. As he says, “Everybody else already taken, so I might as well be my damn self.” Picking up the name “Akapel” when he started out his MC pursuits at a young age, he pays homage to the days he would freestyle around the neighborhood with no instrumentation, a Capella style. Now he resides in the east coast of the United States, spreading his knowledge and awareness, metaphors and lyrical wordplay, and music and message. Inspired by the greats Notorious BIG and Big L, Akapel captures his listeners’ attentions and support when they arrive to his truly artistic work. Even the visual for “Marlon Brando” brings you into Akapel‘s world: an urban reflection with old and new elements blending perfectly in his uniquely developed style.
#5] “M54 (Telf to Birmingham)” – Smokiecoco
Smokiecoco are a sweet duo from the Midlands! The two brothers, A The Cray and Middy, are also best friends and bring such a refreshing energy to the UK hip-hop scene. “M54” is an ode to their hometown to celebrate where they’re from as they’re very proud Midlands rappers. The fun, bouncy track is titled after the motorway that runs through Telford which they use almost every day. Its accompanying music video runs through clips of the two trading bars in various favorite hometown spots of theirs, singing in the car driving down the highway, dancing on the train tracks and under graffitied bridges. Smokiepurp is like a breath of fresh air in music, sure to put a smile on your face through their bounciness and cheekiness.
#6] “The Park” – Ten Ten
Ten Ten brings as classic a sound as it comes. Fusing contemporary hip-hop over smooth r&b sounds and a lo-fi track, “The Park” reminisces over past romances over GQ samples from the 70’s. Ten says, “My pops used to love the song I sampled to make this beat. The vibes inspired the song, thinking about the love advice he gave me coming and my experiences.” The groovy bass line filling in all the spaces in the track feels like a celebration of love and life. Ten Ten has another single “Roses & Bones” and an EP Ladies First, so check them out if you like his sound!
#7] “MUD” feat. Sean C. Johnson – Tall Black Guy & Ozay Moore
Tall Black Guy has been at his craft for over a decade at this point; his first project on Spotify dates back to 2011, a sweet lil instrumental two-track thing titled Mini Therapy Chops. His musical literacy has aged well throughout his career, as his most recent release “MUD” has a gorgeously orchestrated ensemble of rich organ comping, bluesy gospel vocals, brass and wind flairs over a bouncy, tamborine-filled neck-breaking drum set groove. “MUD” features fellow collaborators Ozay Moore and Sean C. Johnson to blend soul, funk and hip-hop in this undeniably catchy tune. It follows a narrative of “respecting the process, disciplines, rituals and philosophies that lead to progression.” They play on the concept of “building castles in the mud,” symbolizing creating something out of nothing, similar to the life cycle of a lotus which associates to rebirth and spiritual awakening. Tall Black Guy has quite a stacked discography, including tracks with Moonchild and Masego; he is well worth a check-out.
#8] “Slide On You” – Ark Woods
Hawaiian artist Ark Woods has only one goal in mind when you listed to “Slide On You,” and that is simply to vibe. He combines funk and hip-hop in an affecting way, with catchy and fun flows and groovy instrumentals. Sure to be a hit with a vast audience, Ark Woods plays to many different tastes while discussing a wide variety of experiences and beliefs. His music explores anxiety and depression, domestic violence, love and commitment, police brutality and the BLM movement. Listeners of all backgrounds can find some common ground in his music, and I think that’s a very notable quality to have as an artist.
#9] “F A (k) C E” – M.M.B
M.M.B gives a powerfully vulnerable performance in his track “F A (k) C E,” which dives deep into his psyche of fearing facing the journey of life alone. He speaks on learning to come to terms with his internal struggles via soft-spoken verses and a moving chorus, supported by a lo-fi beat with heart-tugging chords and somber-feeling musical moments. It pairs with another single, “I’ve Been,” to complete a two-track project he released earlier this year. Sometimes speaking the truth can be just as beneficial to healing and self-growth as positive mindset words of affirmation. It’s important to talk about our experiences and emotions, especially the ones that bring us pain or make us feel isolated that we’re quicker to suppress before opening up. This track is special, and the visual captures the essence perfectly.
#10] “Untitled 254” – VBK Isreal x Leeroy Destroy
I saved the best for last, a proper undercut; this track isn’t even available on Spotify or YouTube. This untitled track is like a modern day sonnet. Beautiful piano strokes and a simple beat recorded to sound like an old record fill the soundscapes of “Untitled 254,” as veteran MC VBK Isreal splits verses with Leeroy Destroy. It’s got a very classic vibe and the lyrics are meaningful to make for a great listen. Their respective flows match each other well and offer moments of breath and room to really digest what they’re saying. VBK Isreal claims to “do it for the love of the art,” and it shows.
I hope you enjoyed Vol. 3 of Conscious State of Mind. I really do have so much love for the evolution of hip-hop to find itself at this stage of conscious lyricism meeting incredible musicianship. I can’t get enough of it! If you have an ear for this type of music and have any recommendations for Vol. 4, share with us in the comments. And in case you missed them, you can check out Vol. 2 and Vol. 1 on the blog for even more conscious hip-hop finds!