Some Things I Missed in 2018 (Part 2)

Last week, I wrote a preamble for this little series. If you missed it and simply cannot move forward without context (I feel you), check out the post and the artists featured in Part 1 — Abhi the Nomad; Benny the Butcher; Elisapie; Flohio; Ivy Sole.

If you’re ready to get after it, here is Part 2: another handful of artists who released new music in 2018 and didn’t make it onto my radar screen until this year:

Leikeli47

So I knew about Leikeli47’s 2018 release Acrylic when it came out and I listened to it then. But, I set it aside too quickly and I’m making up for lost time now. Leikeli47 is one of those artists (and Acrylic is one of those albums) that took me a while to process and feel. I chalk that up mostly to the influence and use of trap beats and sounds throughout the record. I’m not a big trap fan. Setting that aside, though, Leikeli47 is pure, uncut, straight fire…and once you’re in with her, you’re in. Her talent is off the charts. She has endless swagger. Her raps are tight, smart, and sassy. And, there is a lot to draw out of this latest record (her second full-length) because it is at once enormously fun and incredibly serious (centering as it does the lived experiences of black women and black womanhood).

MorMor

I heard MorMor’s single Pass The Hours many weeks after it’s December 2018 release, but I haven’t really stopped listening to it since. A couple of days will go by without a spin, sure, but like an addict, I’m back for more soon enough. I didn’t know about MorMor before hearing this track, but it hooked me onto him immediately. The song is a total mash-up of styles, but manages to sound timeless to me. It blends bedroom pop cool with easy-going, soulful 70s vintage folk guitar melodies and glittering 80s synths near the song’s tail end. Meanwhile, Mor Mor’s voice has shades of Art Garfunkel in the verses and a Marvin Gaye-inspired falsetto in the chorus. It feels like a nearly perfect song.

Rayana Jay

Rayana Jay’s Do That is another late 2018 release single that didn’t land for me until the first part of 2019, but has been in steady rotation since. A new discovery for me, everything about Rayana Jay‘s performance on this track is just so incredibly smooth and warm. Her buttery voice sounds effortless and takes center stage, riding over a thick downbeat, great keyboards, and a slightly choppy electric guitar. It’s all the smooth, soulful goodness of 90s/00s R&B and she is completely in the cut with that vibe on this song. Rayana Jay just dropped a new EP last week, Love Me Like, so there’s new stuff to listen to that I won’t miss this time around.

Ryley Walker

I honestly don’t know who comes out better when I listen to this track: Ryley Walker for adapting and covering it or Dave Matthews Band for writing it in the first place. I know a lot about the latter artist; not much at all about the former. This track allow me to revisit a band and rediscover a song that I haven’t listened to in years, while discovering an artist whose normal work — a highly experimental fusion of psychedelic prog-rock, folk, jazz rock — likely wouldn’t have grabbed me. Walker’s family straight-ahead version of Grace is Gone (released in November 2018 as part of a full-album cover of The Lillywhite Sessions, DMB’s infamous “lost” record) hit me like a depth charge. Walker brings the original, haunting, wounded lyrics to the forefront with a gentle voice, quiet melody and bass guitar accompaniments, and the soft backing rhythm of a simple shaker. The song takes on added weight in light of Walker’s own struggles with addiction and depression, which recently caused him to cancel a spring European tour.

Sonámbulo Psicotropical

Another credit to NPR here — this time to Alt-Latino host Felix Contreras for featuring this killer band, which fuses African rhythms with traditional and modern Latin American melodies and beats into a self-defined (?) new genre “psycho tropical.” Sonámbulo Psicotropical includes band members from Costa Rica, Cuba, Colombia and El Salvador and so they pack in a ton of culture and influences into their sound. What drew them to me is that their music is just so damn funky and so much fun and so full of life. Afrujo — one of the lead tracks off their 2018 EP Domitila y Su Jardin — is my young daughter’s new favorite song, so, thankfully, I get to listen to it all. of. the. time.

Your Smith

I don’t always go for 80s-style pop tracks, complete with Casio-keyboard-produced handclaps, but I went for this one. Hard. Your Smith (who formerly performed as Caroline Smith) included this track and three others on her debut EP Bad Habit, released August 2018. Debbie is an incredibly infectious, endearing, breezy, and confidently cool track; a song whose lyrics talk about love/hate relationships and whose music calls to mind a hand-shot, quirky, music video of high-school misfits rocking out, not giving any shits, and taunting the jocks.



Some Things I Missed in 2018 (Part 1)

We just passed the quarter pole of 2019 and, as the music world gears up for the spring/summer release cycle and tour season, I’m looking backward.

2018, you say? Whaaaa? That was so. long. ago!

Yeah, but see….it kind of wasn’t. And, given the overwhelming amount of content being put out into the world, I discover just as much new-to-me music from the past year as I do from the current year in the first quarter of any given year — culminating with the glorious, chaotic, indie-artist firehose that is SXSW. So, I hold off making my version of this particular list until about now; after the dust has settled a bit in Q1 and I’ve pulled out my own SXSW highlights.

Preamble over. Here is Part 1 of a list of a handful of artists who released new music in 2018 and didn’t make it onto my radar screen until this year:

Abhi The Nomad

While my attention was focused on Naji’s new record at the end of 2018 (deservedly, IMO), I missed the effort of this fellow trafficker in electronic-forward R&B. Abhi The Nomad’s full-length debut record Marbled is more pop-polished, but there is a similar use of warped beats, sonic playfulness, and tight production. This is one of those albums where the music (bright, often bouncy, with an overall pop sheen) belies some heavy themes and lyrics. There are a lot of layers here.

Benny the Butcher

An MC from Buffalo who has been lighting up guest tracks, collaboration records, and a handful of his own singles/EPs since 2016, Benny the Butcher dropped a monster album Tana Talk 3 in late November 2018. Benny is a clear descendent of the East Coast street rap tradition; gritty, sharp, sometimes dark/bleak beats tamed by raw, direct raps chronicling (not glorifying) his inner-city come up. Tana Talk 3 is a statement record; there is such flexing power to it.

Elisapie

Full credit to NPR’s All Songs Considered crew for turning me onto Elisapie during their build-up to and coverage of SXSW. I was completely new to her as an artist (especially as one who is not deeply rooted in the folk music scene) and as an activist. The depth of purpose and of personal power in Elisapie’s music is palpable and her 2018 release The Ballad of the Runaway Girl — her fourth solo album — is as vast and sweeping in its vision and musical influences as it is a deeply personal exploration of her own identity and representation of her Inuit heritage.

Flohio

What is going on in London, man?! That city is doing R&B/soul better than most of the U.S. right now and it’s coming for rap too. Y’all know how gaga I am over Little Simz; well, here comes Flohio, another fiery, hyper-talented, London-based female MC is who is not playing. She released an EP and a handful of singles in 2018, including Watchout where she sends shots across the bow of any doubters and even flips moments of vulnerability to go harder, “I’ve been struggling to be myself/So why the fuck would I wanna be anybody else.”

Ivy Sole

Quoting from a write-up I did for Where the Music Meets, “Blend mainstream R&B, the 90s- and 2000s-era Brand Nubian-style hip-hop, a rich voice reminiscent of Indie.Arie, and sonic traces of both the Philly sound where she lives now and the gospel and soul afforded by her upbringing in Charlotte, NC, and you get a sense for Ivy Sole’s warm soundscape and easy flow. She released her first EP three years ago at age 22 and has been building her sound, her following, and her chops to her full-length studio album release, Overgrown, which dropped in September 2018.”


Little Simz (again) – GREY Area

A month ago, I featured Little Simz’s single 101 FM ahead of the release of her record GREY Area. That single was dope. The three other advance singles were dope. I was excited for the full album.

Fast forward to last Friday, March 1 when GREY Area dropped — and I promptly, and completely, lost my shit. This record is beyond In My Ear; it’s in my brain and my damn bones.

The album is next level. The rhymes and wordplay are masterful. The diverse beats are perfectly matched with Little Simz’s delivery, cadence, and her fire. It’s nostalgic. It’s political. It’s personal. It’s rhythmic and melodic one minute, and then bruising and dissonant the next. It’s anthemic, hopeful, confrontational, brash, and reflective.

It’s a statement. And, I am here for it.

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Soundcloud | Apple Music | Spotify

Featured Image: Jeremy Cole

Little Simz — 101 FM

As only the immortal James Brown could say it, “Good god.” This track is straight fire.

Hell, what’s crazy is that *all* of the pre-released singles off Little Simz’s upcoming album GREY Area, due out March 1, are equally, mind-blowingly ridiculous.

I am new to Little Simz and, man, am I glad to be here. Her rhymes are quick and tight with a welcome raw edge; her flow is easy and endless, and she’s backed by some insanely good beats. 24 years old hailing from Islington, England, Little Simz released her debut album A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons in 2015 at age 21 — following the release of four mixtapes and five EPs — and a sophomore album in 2016! Oh, and she’s also a well-know actor in England. I’m not that productive now at age *ahem,* much less in my damn twenties.

GREY Area cover art
Photo Credit: Jeremy Cole

But, back to 101 FM. It’s an infections, head-nodding-bobblehead-style track; up-and-down-up-and-down in time with the steady, fast-paced beat like your head’s on a tight spring. There’s a sample on loop throughout that anchors the song; a (stereotypical?) Chinese/East Asian-sounding melody played that sounds like it was played on a vintage Casio keyboard (like the one I had as a kid) and pulled from an 1990s-era video game. It fits the general nostalgia of the track, with Little Simz rapping about growing up and coming up (“We used to have dreams of getting out the flats / Playing PS2, Crash Bandicoot, Mortal Kombat”), making inside jokes and references to friends, and tracing the arc of years of grinding and her music-making life.

Just based on the four songs pre-released thus far, GREY Area is already guaranteed a spot among my top albums of 2019. No doubt. I can’t wait for the rest of the record to drop on March 1 and, meanwhile, will be digging hard into her back catalogue.

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Soundcloud | Apple Music | Spotify

Lost Ones – Nina Simone & Lauryn Hill (Prod. Amerigo Gazaway)

On the cusp of a new year, one more track for 2018…..from The Miseducation of Eunice Waymon, the latest record in DJ and producer Amerigo Gazaway’s series of mash-ups, remixes, homages, and imagined studio sessions with legendary artists — this time Ms. Nina Simone and Ms. Lauryn Hill.

Amerigo Gazaway

It is a fitting way to close out 2018. Blending the past and the future. Modern-day, clear-eyed, bumpin’ new music that blazes forward while paying homage to the history on which today and tomorrow are always built.

Cheers, y’all. Bring on 2019.

Website | Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram


NIKO IS — Hum

It’s that time of year when schedules get stretched beyond recognition, late nights and little sleep take their toll, and I start to feel as if I spend the days and weeks locked in battle trying to wrestle time to the ground. Breaks in the action are to come by.

Hum is one of them. Three minutes and six seconds of pulsing, pounding,  gritty-but-joyful hip-hop, with a heavy, dank bass line that depth-charges at 30 seconds and is big enough to crawl into and hide out from the rest of the world for a bit. It calls to mind the bass line on Dead Prez’s Hip Hop; just a massive thrum. And, it sets the stage perfectly for NIKO IS’s trademark gravely voice and dexterous, creative, multi-lingual vocals.

NIKO IS has been one of my favorite underground and emerging artists of any genre over the past few years. Since releasing his incredible full-length debut Brutus in 2015, he’s been busy putting out a series of EPs and guest tracks. But, I’ve been anticipating a follow-up LP; Hum is the lead track off that album, Uniko, released on November 30. 

This track showcases all that makes NIKO IS so dynamic; bars for days, endless flow, absolute command of the mic, keen rhythmic sense, and an talent to meld together a vast array of cultures and musical traditions anchored East Coast rap and the sounds of his native Brazil. You cannot help but pay attention when he starts to spit. His tone and words crackle with purpose and urgency and an endless energy for the world around him, with all of it’s beauty, messiness, and diverse colors. 

Ahhhh, I’m so excited to have new music by this guy.

Facebook | Instagram | Spotify | Apple Music

Featured image by @mmiikkeeyy 

Masta Ace & Marco Polo — Breukelen “Brooklyn” (feat. Smif-N-Wessun)

Looking back on my 2018 posts (it’s December, baby, time to reflect!), I’m thinking I’ve underrepresented hip-hop as a genre given how much I listen to it…and how much good shit came out this year. Hell, just this past month!

Hip-hop is vibrant, man. Hip-hop is hummin.‘ There was so much content released this year, it was impossible to keep up, especially for this lowly non-monetized, side hustle blog. But, even a small sampling (say, perhaps, in the upcoming In My Ear 2018 Playlist?! Teaser!) showcases a dynamic, eclectic musical art form brimming with talent, ideas, and creativity–not to mention mind-blowing lyricism, bracing emotion, thick beats, soaring instrumentals, and point-blank political statements.

In the midst of all of that terrific and exciting clatter, original MC Masta Ace’s A Breukelen Story (produced by, featuring, and dedicated to underground East Coast beatmaker and producer Marco Polo) offers a calm in the storm for old rap souls and anyone with an ear for 90s vintage NYC hip-hop. Easy flow, robust album concepts and lyrics, and laid back, straight-ahead beats paired with spare instrumentals (especially piano). Throwback? Sure, but it sounds fresh and tight. It’s authentic, genuine, and eminently professional, so it fits right in — and even stands out — among all of the other artists doing their thing this year with beats and soundscapes that are relentlessly, excellently pushing hip-hop forward. 

The entire record just vibes, no more so than on this track–an homage to the BK.

Facebook | Instagram | Website | Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify


Concert Special! – KRS-One (@ Hip-Hops 10 w/ The Perceptionists, New Fame, Ben Shorr, Busy Bars, and DJ Myth)

Lots of content going up this week, starting with the Blast Master himself, KRS-One, crushing a sold out show this past Friday in lil ole’ Portland, Maine.

[Special Note: All credit to rapper/promoter Ben Shorr for the years he’s spent cultivating a hip-hop community in Portland and developing the innovative Hip-Hops concert series — without either of which KRS-One wasn’t likely to make the trek north.]

There was a lot of talent on stage at Hip-Hops 10 leading up to KRS-One’s headline set. New Fame was a revelation; a new discovery for me. Their mix of heavy beats, rapid-fire rhymes, and lead vocalist Adrienne Mack-Davis’s soulful voice when she kicked into a sung lyric line got everybody jumping and moving with them. Fun to watch the crowd inch closer to the stage with every track.

And, The Perceptionists brought it. Mr. Lif and Akrobatik have crazy chemistry together — even after 12 years spent doing solo projects in between their last record and their 2017 record Resolution — and, lyrically, they brought straight fire. As the world goes to fucking shit, they go harder and smarter.

But, the headliner stepped up and didn’t disappoint. KRS-One has been doing this for almost — *ahem* — 40 years and he came out firing like it was his first show. He pounced on stage, intoned “Strictly classics” into the mic, launched into Step Into a World, and then was off — ripping into beats that sounded both iconic and fresh as the day he first dropped them. He still has that snarling edge, pushing back against fake MCs and “media schemes” and demanding respect owed to an originator who is keeping the flame lit for the origins of hip-hop culture.

A professional at work and a legend still teaching.

The Midnight Hour – Questions (feat. CeeLo Green)

Although In My Ear’s concept and design is centered around songs (a new one posted each week-ish to inspire, not overwhelm; share and celebrate, not rush to debut or announce), I personally applaud “the album.” That species of music-making endangered by click-rates and selective streaming and competition for the public’s precious little attention. Am I guilty of cherry-picking songs instead of demanding — as a consumer and music appreciator — cohesive albums? Yes.

But, not today. Today, I honor a true album. A comprehensive, sweeping musical expression that is made up of great, individual songs, but that truly moves the audience and delivers when listened to as a whole. A sum that is greater than its parts.

Ali Shaheed Muhammad (of Tribe Called Quest) & Adrian Younge The Midnight Hour

Ali Shaheed Muhammad (of A Tribe Called Quest) and Adrian Younge (musician, composer, arranger, and producer) are two of the most respected composers in hip hop. After years of time-limited, one-off collaborations, they formed The Midnight Hour this year and released their self-titled debut album The Midnight Hour in June.

The Midnight Hour is Black excellence: an ode to the cultural sophistication that the Harlem Renaissance established for its people.

~The Midnight Hour artist page, Bandcamp

Questions was the lead single off the record and it remains my favorite track. Mostly because I had already heard it and loved it two years ago when Kendrick Lamar sampled an unfinished demo version of the song on his 2016 album untitled unmastered. as the track untitled 06 | 06.30.2014.

Vibe on this song, sure, but do yourself a favor and take the time/create the space to sit with the entire Midnight Hour record. Younge has a deft touch on the keys; Shaheed Muhammed is (unbeknownst to me) a killer bassist; and their composer/arranger chops, as well as their chemistry, just make the album a remarkable listen. Orchestral and cinematic, while still feeling intimate, it combines jazz and jazz fusion, soul, and hip hop into a sumptuous 20-track set — recalling smokey clubs and your parents’/grandparents’/favorite uncle’s jazz and soul records spinning on a beloved turntable.

Mac Miller — 2009

Mac Miller died of an apparent drug overdose earlier this month, September 7. A month earlier on August 3rd, he released his latest album Swimming. On August 6, he played a fun, intimate, engaging set for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. He was prepping for a North American tour on the new album. And, then he was gone.

Reports are that since Mac Miller’s passing, streaming numbers of his music have shot up 970% and seven of his past albums have entered (or re-entered) the Billboard 200 list. I am one of those contributing to the late Mac Miller’s skyrocketing streaming numbers.

I didn’t know about him until I heard he had died. Didn’t listen to his music; didn’t register the name. But, I started listening as I read tribute-after-tribute to him from artists I do know and that I respect. Black Thought; Childish Gambino; Kendrick Lamar; Anderson.Paak; Solange; Chance the Rapper; Vince Staples; Thundercat. They credited him for his clever, nimble wordplay. For his unconventional, but moving, singing voice. For his production and beat-making skills. For his authenticity and candor. And, to-a-person, for his kindness and sweetness — something I rarely hear so publicly and universally honored and applauded (in hip-hop, in music in general, or, frankly, in modern society).

The Meadows Music and Arts Festival, New York, USA - 02 Oct 2016

And, here’s the thing. I learned there is a reason I didn’t know about Miller or his career: he started out making music I did not — and still do not — like. Frivolous, frat-boy party rap. He released his first EP at age 15, his first LP in 2011 at age 19, came to fame in an MTV reality series following him as he tried to make it in LA, became involved in a well-publicized relationship and subsequent break-up with pop superstar Ariana Grande, and had well-documented (mostly by him) issues with sobriety and substance abuse.

All the while, over a 10-year career in music at a very young age, he matured in the spotlight — shedding that frat-boy rap that launched his career to make increasingly mature, introspective, artistically diverse records.

Those are the records that resonate for me and that he was making leading up to September 7 this year, none more so than his latest Swimming. It’s a sometimes joyful, mostly haunting record that grabs you and doesn’t let go. It continues to document his ongoing struggles with substance abuse. There is suffering mixed with optimism; funky, bouncing Thundercat-driven bass lines followed by Mac singing and rapping solo in a strained, fractured voice over spare, halting beats.

There are many standout tracks and you will be rewarded for listening (try Hurt Feelings and What’s the Use? to start) but I chose 2009 because it is a quiet depth-charge of a track where you can feel how real the struggle is/was for Miller.

I’d like to think that I would have stumbled at some point onto track, this record, and onto Mac Miller. But, would this song or his latest record sound the same or hit as hard were he still alive? Hard to know. Sad that all of us had to find out.