The time of year-end reviews is an opportunity to take a look in the rear-view mirror and discover new artists that our radars have overlooked. Late in the year, some may have discovered regional scenes such as Rochester’s RXK Nephew in episode 15 of the Fusils à Pompe podcast, LaRussell’s crazy year in our annual selection of 50 anglophone tracks, or new challengers such as That Mexican OT in the columns of the Fake For Real blog. We can also trawl through the algorithms of streaming services and in the magic of our times, come across proposals adapted to our listening patterns and discover missing pieces of an ever-growing puzzle.
With three EPs full of warm, lush soul, Luxury Art with Tha God Fahim, Moncler Boyz with Montrealer Mike Shabb, and Famili 5, RU$H had plenty enough to make his mark on the 2023 calendar year. Three EPs that like most of his discography, bear the same trademarks : artworks designed by Freako Rico, the recurring company of his buddy and cousin Jay NiCE, with whom he delivers the fifth installment of the Famili series, regular featurings with self-proclaimed soul god Big Cheeko and sound cuts from the same block of jazz and soul samples. A musical unity signed by several producers among them : Fendi Pendergrass, Gr4ff, Cedar Law$ and Jay Chat, in a style at the crossroads of Curren$y’s laidback proposals and Roc Marciano’s in-depth compositions. In fact, it was with the latter (and Willie The Kid) that RU$H and Jay NiCE made their mark in 2020 with their Fly Art EP. Originally from Delaware, a state better known as a tax haven than a breeding ground for rappers, the pair, under the aliases of Fendi Don and Flair Jordan, continue the legacy of classy, resourceful rap. Beautiful cars, fine linens, thick bundles, legal and illegal hustles : the American dream that Rakim illustrated on « Paid In Full » in 1987 and that Shawn Carter completed two decades later is still the nerve center of the younger generations. The recipe is hackneyed, but the formula, embellished in recent years by a fascination with the Old Continent (its history, fine arts and cuisine), is as seductive as ever. In 2023, it extends to the four corners of the country in the same musical setting, where previously sub-genres and sound styles were more specific to a region. A regular guest of the two native Delawarians, the Atlantan Big Cheeko released The Soul Theme EP in August, as we await the year 2024 that promises to be decisive for him.
But the main course of this team comes from the collaboration between Jay NiCE and Inglewood-born entrepreneur Dough Networkz for a solidly crafted fifteen-track album : Rise & Shine. The album features RU$H on two tracks, Big Cheeko on « Woke Up », Griselda’s close circle – Flee Lord, Estee Nack and T. F – as well as ONYX’s Fredro Starr, Tha God Fahim and The Outlawz. On the producer side, Jay NiCE also brings together a number of names who are unknown to the general public, but who turn out to be outstanding machine-twisters. These include Jansport J, responsible for the radiant, psychedelic « Woke Up », which gives the impression of being stoned in a coral reef, Balibz, on the thousand-light runway of « Geese Howard », and ChopTheHead, behind the haunted xylophone of « Me & A Ghost Trapped ». Composers who join forces to deliver a harmonious, exciting ensemble. Jay NiCE, like RU$H on his three EPs, isn’t looking for a big hit to put into radio rotation, but enjoys constructing an album caught up in a jazz and soul ambience without a drop in intensity or a lapse in taste. A work in which rap references are numerous (obviously « Head Up » with The Outlawz but also « God’s In Supreme » quoting Jeezy, Just Blaze, Mase, Puff, Roc Nation, Cardi B, Doja Cat and Migos (!)) and for which it took three years of conception and the executive participation of Chace Infinite, multi-hatted creative having rubbed shoulders with Self Scientific and ASAP Rocky.
With a result according to the time spent making it, Rise & Shine tends to return to the record player once it’s finished listening. Despite its under-the-radar release, it’s becoming one of those records with a bright future, perhaps one of those records rehabilitated months or even years later. Jay NiCE has an undeniable talent as a rapper, with a tone reminiscent of Kool G Rap, lines up bars that hit the nail on the head with luminous energy, starting with those on « First Thoughts » capturing the listener from the outset : « In this game, I turned my pain into pleasure / Don’t live dry, it ain’t no rain in the desert / Create a wave, place a change in your weather », not forgetting to end with the importance of his loved ones : « And keep the family close, dog, then never break from the pressure / Cuz it won’t feel the same unless you make it together ». And if further proof were needed of the continuity with the vintage rap of their elders, « 8am In Leimert Park » is just the thing. The album’s only clipped track concentrates three minutes of streamlined rap production, beginning with a Jay-Z vocal sample and the nickname « Young Rakim » shouted above the fray. A model again quoted as a time tag amongst others on « Love Of My Life » before a sampled intervention by a certain Christopher Wallace.
This anchoring in rap history sometimes bears resemblance to The Documentary, with recurrent but subtle name dropping. The need to quote one’s peers and a love of culture can also be seen on the artwork, which features the back cover of The Biz Never Sleeps, while preparing cognac pancakes in the process, but also in the film extracts used to illustrate the artists’ words. As the rapper likes to say : « Spark the spirits ! » Thus, the fireworks of « God’s In Supreme » begin with the biblical intervention of Pulp Fiction‘s Jules, while the questioning of « Me & A Ghost Trapped » ends with a dialogue between Ace and Lulu from Paid In Full. A track that could have brought Rise & Shine to a darker end, but would not have lived up to the album’s title, dedicating its author to success rather than regret and torment. For if the record opens in the burlesque manner of a ’60s comedy, it ends on a sparkling boom bap with a powerful snare drum that leans towards the Roc-A-Fella style of the 2000s. « Cultural hustlers » is the title and, in essence, the ghostly subtitle of a record that doesn’t invent anything, but has the major advantage of being mastered from A to Z. And, incidentally, of putting Delaware on the rap map.