Ari Lennox, "Chocolate Pomegranate"
Few singers today have the ability to make their words and melodies tenderly embrace you the way that Ari Lennox can. “Shea Butter Baby,” her full-length debut from May 2019, is the best example of that skill. Lennox had been relatively quiet since then, but over the past few weeks, the D.C.-born singer has been sharing new tracks on SoundCloud, each building on her legacy of warm, painfully-relatable tunes that make you think of a dimly lit room and all the scents that make you feel at ease.
One of the best that she’s shared in this span of time is “Chocolate Pomegranate,” which, though its title is fairly enigmatic, is somehow a spot-on depiction of her music, especially if you listen while watching the song’s visualizer on YouTube, where hot fudge runs down a sliced pomegranate on a loop. Lennox paints the perfect scene: her lover smoking a joint before bending over to kiss her, while she comforts and zealously assures them that no one has their best interest at heart more than her. With heartbeat-like bass thumps, sprint synths and a sax at the tail end, it’s earnest as it is comforting.
Mannywellz featuring Tems, "Peace"
“Peace,” the opening track on Nigeria-born, Bowie-raised singer Mannywellz’s new project “Mirage,” is equal parts beautiful and despondent. Atop wispy guitar strums and a resonant bass line (the song is self-produced), Mannywellz pines for the toxic relationship he has with a lover who he can’t seem to let go of.
On the other hand, when Lagos-based superstar talent Tems comes in with her soothing alto crooning, her side of the story is a much different account. Instead of not being able to break away, she’s fed up with someone who’s more trouble than they’re worth, and whose intentions aren’t clear enough for her liking. The song is a masterful look into how unsuccessful relationships (or situationships) can affect all parties in dramatically different ways. But one thing the two agree on here is that they are probably better without each other.
Shordie Shordie featuring Rico Nasty, "Feelings"
Earlier this year Shordie Shordie became the first Baltimore rapper to have a single reach platinum status: “Bitchuary,” which was released in late 2018. That stat is a bit mind-blowing, given how many catchy tracks the city has produced in the past two decades, but it does show promise for a place that has yet to find its mainstream rap star. Shordie could be the one who finally breaks through, though. His music doesn’t sound as if it’s from anywhere in particular — unlike most of his peers, who are instantly identifiable by their Baltimore accents.
Shordie Shordie’s music is universal Internet rap, in that he is unafraid to place his scratchy-voiced melodic flows onto whatever production matches his mood on any given day. That approach is probably why he and his fellow Marylander Rico Nasty (whose formula mirrors Shordie’s) mesh so well on his newly released track “Feelings.” In production, the track is simple: rolling 808s, crunchy bass hits and winding synths loop throughout, while the two nonchalantly boast about having the type of charm that makes people who barely know them fall under their spell.
Baby 9eno featuring Big Don Bino, "Ape S---"
The themes in Baby 9eno’s music don’t differ much from his DMV street rap peers, but what he does better than most is adding stimulating eccentricities and details that magnify a personality and perspective that go beyond trying to prove he’s the toughest guy out there. Instead of saying that he doesn’t fear his adversaries, he says things like “Oh you got a gun? So what?” to demonstrate how unshakable he is. On songs like “Free Bundy,” his staccato flow lands in such a seamless pocket that it feels like an extension of the song’s production. And the Suitland rapper makes a habit of identifying his dealings in not often referenced areas in Maryland like Glenn Dale and Brandywine. In a lot of ways, 9eno’s music can feel like you’re watching an updated take on a ’70s Blaxploitation crime thriller set in the D.C. metro area.
Just this month he kept adding to that script with a deluxe version of his “Digital 2” mix tape, which now has 13 new tracks. One of the best additions is “Ape S---,” which features incarcerated Southeast D.C. rapper Big Don Bino. Together, the two fit so many words into their bars that you’ll find yourself in awe of their skills before you even catch onto their piercing imagery about the relentless work ethic and vigilance it takes to survive in their world.
Kelow LaTesha, "Milkshake Remix"
It’s a shame that in the years since streaming has become the dominant way of music being consumed, rappers have virtually abandoned the tradition of jacking for beats. From a commercial standpoint, that makes sense: Rapping over production that one doesn’t have the rights to will prevent them from making any money from it (and will probably result in copyright infringement). But there’s a real joy to hearing artists reimagine classics from the past or the hottest contemporary tracks.
Maryland rappers lately have made a point in keeping the tradition alive, though. Landover native Xanman gave Erykah Badu’s timeless “Didn’t Cha Know?” the DMV flow treatment a couple years back. Riverdale’s Lil Dude gave his own rendition of 2Pac and Bone Thugs’ “Thug Love.” Last year, Goonew rapped over a popular jingle from ’90s sitcom “Moesha.”
That tradition is persisting in Prince George’s County as Forestville’s Kelow LaTesha gave Kelis’ cult classic “Milkshake” a try earlier this month. In her version, Kelow’s bubbly, smoother-than-anyone-you-know rhymes go from thanking God for giving her clarity to likening herself to Harry Potter’s arch nemesis (“Lord Voldemort, keep my name out your mouth.”) In a nice touch, the song’s video adds to the reinterpretation: Instead of dancing on the bar of a diner like Kelis did in the original, Kelow is working behind the counter, trying to woo one of her customers.