Marino Infantry, 'One More Chance'
The Marino Infantry collective has been one of the better examples of what things could look like if artists between Baltimore and Washington prioritized collaboration. In many instances, advocates for this kind of coming together have acted like a school principal trying to convince long-lost friends to stop fighting. But over the past four years this group — which includes Baltimore rappers A$AP Ant and Soduh, Prince George’s County’s LuLu P and Baby 9eno, and a host of producers from all over the region — has forged such a seamless connection that it doesn’t feel like an agenda.
The fluidity in Marino Infantry’s approach is best felt in their newest collaborative mix tape, “Enter The Infantry Vol. 2.” Hosted by A$AP Ant and his older brother DJ Nick, the project’s 31 tracks (and its very Ruff Ryder-like artwork) reference the hip-hop that these rappers experienced in their youth: a low-stakes collection of raw posse cuts that you weren’t likely to get from a well-known artist’s typical releases. Standout track “One More Chance” reaches back to hip-hop’s past as it flips the beat from the hit song of the same name by the Notorious B.I.G. On this take, synths that mirror the drill music coming out of London are added for contemporary flavor, while Baby 9eno, A$AP Ant, LuLu P and Soduh go back-to-back about not having time to chase after women, needing to stack the biggest amount of money possible, and just being great at the art of rapping.
Chelly the MC, new AMPD Freestyle
Northeast D.C.’s Chelly the MC has been one of the more visible women in the DMV rap scene for the past half-decade. Part of that is because of how relentless she’s been with releasing sharp-tongued rhymes about what life was like for her coming up in the District. But it’s also because of her ability to garner attention from fans with the intimate content she makes on her YouTube channel, Instagram and OnlyFans.
Last year, as Chelly relocated to Atlanta to further her career, she scaled back on releasing material. The downturn left fans questioning whether she was still pursuing a career in rap. But in a new freestyle for DMV-focused music discovery platform AMPD, Chelly gets transparent about how things have been going for her in a minute-long clip. “I just been getting my real life together while they try to figure out if I still rap” and “I know I ain’t been consistent, I’m sorry to all of my fans” are just a couple of the instances in the clip where she’s honest about where she’s been on her journey in recent months. In these forthcoming, passionate and aggressive moments, it’s apparent why Chelly has been such a mainstay in the local scene. When she speaks, she has a command in her voice that forces you to pause and listen attentively.
Ghostie, 'Be Ya Self'
Some of the ramifications of the digital world — and specifically social media — are that we are often influenced to fall in love with the idea of an image we desire for ourselves. And to uphold that, we behave in a way that aesthetically aligns with that image, rather than exploring the full spectrum of who we are capable of being. On one of his newest songs, Baltimore artist and producer Ghostie expresses his frustration with this limited way of thinking.
“Be Ya Self” is featured on his recently released album “Devour 2,” and it’s a beautifully honest song in which Ghostie wrestles with whether something is wrong with him for not wanting to fit into the confines of what people expect from him as an artist or person. While a good chunk of his music teeters on the abrasiveness of punk, “Be Ya Self” is lullaby-like confessional. He denounces his status as a mortal being and goes on to encourage whoever’s listening to do the same if that’s what they want to do. But the biggest takeaway here is to be whatever you want to be, regardless of what you think society would digest the easiest.
Sparkheem, 'U Hear Me?'
For five years, Maryland producer Sparkheem has established himself as a premier producer in the region. In his early days, he helped develop the stripped-down, go-go influenced production that laid the foundation for such artists as Q Da Fool, Big Flock and Shabazz. But recently Sparkheem has done more than any of his peers to take that sound to space and back. Clever samples of ’90s R&B, flips of the locally adored Eastern Motors jingle and bubbly synths are the kinds of elements that he has added to elevate the local artists he’s worked with.
His new mix tape ‘U Hear Me?’ is a masterful look into what the local rap scene looks and feels like now. Through 23 tracks, he pulls in the likes of the high-octane Lil Xelly, the unbothered coolness of newcomer Joony, and the sweet melodies of Landover’s Lil Gray. This is a great launchpad for someone trying to get a snapshot understanding of what DMV rap music is.