For the fifth installation of my Conscious State of Mind series, I’ll be spreading some love on the St. Louis hip-hop scene. Sprinkled in between some better-known tracks I’ve been vibing to and gems from indie artists who’ve found us, the underrated flavor of The Lou sits prominently in this rotation. All of them will be touching on important and relevant topics and/or offering encouraging bars of wisdom, as is to be expected from the tracks in a conscious hip-hop series entitled Conscious State of Mind. You get it by now…
#1] “Wild Irish Roses” – Smino
This song, and the music video that goes with it, cracks me up. It follows the narrative of a regular night on the town in The Lou, searching for backwoods. “Wild Irish Roses” opens up Smino‘s 2017 album blkswn. Smino is one of the biggest artists to make it out of St. Louis (someone’s finally giving Nelly some company), with nearly five million monthly listeners on Spotify. He hasn’t released any full-length projects since his 2018 NOIR, but he did recently put out a fun single with his buddy NOS, “I Deserve.”
#1] “What You Want” – Genra
This North Oakland artist started recording his music in grade school on cassette tapes. His peers would compliment his unique style, as if he’d created his own genre writing his flows over the jazzy boom bap instrumentals that shaped him; hence, the moniker Genra stuck. Fast forward a fwe years, he’s working professional as a signed model for years, but still chasing his love for making music, ultimately paving his own path in the industry. “What You Want” is his latest single about pursuing your dreams against all odds. With it’s laid-back vibe and a touch of motivation to keep grinding, Genra really encourages being straightforward with and really going after things.
#2] “Medicate Meditate” – Tef Poe
“Medicate Meditate” flows with hard bars over a vibey back track, with a b-side that slows down a bit. It comes from St. Louis rapper, musician, and activist, Tef Poe’s latest album NINE released in 2021. Tef Poe is one of the most noteworthy artists I’ve been introduced to while living in St. Louis. You know, people in St. Louis are very proud of the music that comes from their city, and rightfully so; there’s hella talent and passion here. Poe studied American History via fellowships and is the Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellow through Harvard University. He has always advocated for grassroots movements in communities both inside and outside the U.S., even co-founding one of his own, the Hands Up United movement, after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. This mans traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to testify in front of the United Nations on behalf of the Ferguson protesters, and was then invited to the white house by President Obama to discuss demilitarization of the police during the Ferguson unrest. Tef Poe is an essential leader of St. Louis culture, and his music speaks for itself. He closes this track with, “There’s hella rappers from my city, but I’m the hardest one.”
#3] “Fate and Destiny” – Lu Mellow, Felha Rem
Here to remind us to think deeper than the surface is 21 year old alternative rnb and rap artist Lu Mellow with his track “Fate and Destiny.” Without giving away too many personal details, the lyrics are still very vulnerable and indubitably smooth. It has the feeling of stream of consciousness thought free-flowing to whoever can benefit from listening. Lu Mellow conveys his emotions through creative pieces influenced by the human experience. Since the release of “Fake and Destiny,” he’s put out another track showcasing his introspective lyricism, “Wake Up Kid.” Give it a listen if you dig it.
#4] “Premonitions” – Jay E, The Knuckles Band, Nick Menn
This short but sweet track comes from In the City, Vol. 1, a collection of songs by St. Louis native Jay E featuring other local artists, including Tef Poe and Story Of The Year. Jay E brought together fellow local rappers The Knuckles Band and Nick Menn for “Premonitions.” I love the feel of this song with simple piano melodies carrying the pace, and the bars filling the space. The track opens softly with a few vocal samples, including echoey kids’ voices chanting and a woman saying “I didn’t want to say I told you so…” before a hand drum lick leads into the meat of the two-minute song. It offers a new perspective in regards to looking toward to the future, using it as a point of reflection. “Premonitions, reminiscing in the wrong direction / Next decisions, ’cause the future looking for a reflection.”
#5] “Wolves” – Kota the Friend, Statik Selektah
If you don’t know Kota the Friend yet, you are sleeping, my friend! Based in New York, this alternative hip-hop artist is one of the freshest emerging on the scene right now. He started the indie label FLGHTBYS (Flight Boys), an independent artist development brand “for artists who want to do their own thing.” Released with STATIK Selektah, “Wolves” is just a good ol’ origin story laid over a flute and drum set groove… “I can’t lose / Brought up by the wolves, parted from the pack / Howlin’ at the moon, youngin on my back /Mountains in my view, coming for that food.” It’s the opening track to Kota‘s most recent full-length project To Kill A Sunrise. Another one of my favorites by him is “Long Beach,” a more upbeat summer lovin’ tune from his 2020 album EVERYTHING.
#6] “Ultraverse” – T-Dubb-O, Indiana Rome
This St. Louis rapper and producer is a natural talent, beginning his freestyling at the young age of six and producing and recording by age 11. Releasing mixtape after mixtape has gained his music traction internationally, collaborating with legends like Wiz Khalifa and many more. T-Dubb-O is one of the most notable rappers and grassroots activists coming out of Missouri. You guessed it: he was right next to Tef Poe in the white house, representing his organization Hands Up United, discussing with President Obama the racial issues in America. That experience actually coined the phrase in his album The Drop, “I shook Obama hand with the same hand I sold cr*ck with.” This song, “Ultraverse” with Indiana Rome, comes from the same album, released in 2016, and it encapsulates the big energy that sets T-Dubb-O apart.
#7] “H! Vltg3 (Evidence Reanimation)” – Linkin Park, DJ Babu, Pharoahe Monch, Evidence
My rediscovery of Linkin Park‘s 2002 Reanimation album is probably the best thing that’s happened to me in 2021. It’s been nearly a decade since I last blasted this through my boombox speakers, and it still slaps just as hard in my car speakers now that I’m in my mid-20’s. It’s definitely aged well, to say the least; I can’t stop listening, it stays on steady rotation. The 7th track, “H! Vltg3,” stands out the most to me in terms of how woke these dudes were. It’s got an old-school hoppy beat with bars that you can’t forget. Pharoahe Monch‘s verse in this track hits different for sure.
#9] “Obsolete” – The Orphanage, Illogic, Slug, Aesop Rock, Blueprint, Eyedea
The backbeat to this song doesn’t really make sense, as in I’m not entirely sure how the eery sound was created, and I like it that way. The strings over it create a dissonant effect that somehow makes it intoxicating. The bars are very conversational and pull you into the track so much so you have to really listen to hold onto every word. Aesop Rock is a legend in my books, and the collaboration here with Illogic, Slug, Blueprint, and Eyedea is ingenious (all incredibly noteworthy artists to add to your roster).
#10] “Here We Go” – Mac Miller
Mac is someone I regretfully slept on while he was alive. It’s been difficult to make my way through his steep discography postmortem, to be honest. I feel for the homie; he was no doubt a true artist, and I will respectfully appreciate his music properly. I’m sure all the Mac Miller fans out there are just as stoked about the release of his unreleased recordings in the form of Faces, featuring other favorites like ScHoolboy Q and Earl Sweatshirt. “Here We Go” is the second track on the album and definitely has that classic Mac feel to it! I particularly like the “Gucci-verse” line, but the track opens with a lovely quote that serves as a good reminder on how to carry on… “Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do not wrong. This is your oath.”
Thanks for tuning in! If you missed the Vol. 4, make sure to check it out! Here is the full compilation of the entire Conscious State of Mind features if you’re in the mood for hours of conscious hip-hop.