Cover photo: Floco Torres
Last week we counted down the best 25 albums of 2017 so far, but now it’s time to shout out a few projects that have flown under the radar this year. There’s been a bevy of incredible music that’s released since January, and sometimes it can be hard to sort through it all to find your new lyrical obsession. Check out our five highlighted projects below, paired with a well-known reference point so you know what you’re getting your ears into.
Floco Torres – Again
For fans of: Logic – Young Sinatra
They say patience is a virtue, and perhaps few musicians understand that better than Floco Torres. The Akron rapper is 21 projects into his solo career, yet still hasn’t achieved the level of recognition that matches his talent. On Again, he appears refined and secure in his sound, coming with the lighthearted yet attention grabbing bars that are similar to what made Logic such a fan favorite in his Young Sinatra mixtape series. The lead single from the project, “You!” succeeds with a lofty hook built off of a vocal riff, beautifully paired with the bright instrumental that backs it.
“Nobody Knows” samples the powerful gospel song of the same name by Pastor T.L. Barrett, and would be a fitting choice on next year’s NBA Playoffs Soundtrack (here’s looking at you, Adam Silver). He gets creative in his choice of topic on “Elevator,” narrating the separate stories of three people involved in the job search (two interviewees, one interviewer) while connecting them through their anxious moments in the elevator. Confidence exudes from the experienced rapper throughout Again, showing he rightfully believes his big break may finally be right around the corner.
Jimi Tents – I Can’t Go Home
For fans of: Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo
It’s not hard to find similarities between the mellow beats of Isaiah Rashad and the music on Jimi Tents’ debut album I Can’t Go Home. Lyrically, however, there’s an urgency in Jimi’s words that isn’t found in Isaiah’s laidback personality, and it’s present even in the title of the album. I Can’t Go Home references the gentrification taking place in his hometown of Brooklyn, making it harder for him to recognize the very streets he grew up on. However, Jimi says it’s also a nod to the mentality that until he’s not welcome back home until he’s accomplished his mission, pushing him to grind even harder on the road to success.
“I move with the weight of the world on my neck, can’t lie I been stressed,” he raps at the start of “Should’ve Called, Pt. 2.” Over relaxed, earthy production, his words come to the forefront on the song as well as the rest of the album, creating a no-nonsense sound that grabs your attention with the content in his bars rather than innovative melodies. When he turns up the heat on songs like “Right Now (I Wanna Interlude),” he’s more than capable of speeding up his cadence to match. There’s never been a shortage of lyrical talent in Brooklyn, and with Jimi Tents on the rise it’s clear that the future will mirror the past.
Chris McClenney – Portrait in Two
For fans of: Syd – Fin
If you couldn’t get enough of the late night groove that Syd brings on Fin, Chris McClenney’s Portrait in Two will be right up your alley. The Soulection artist explores his own consciousness throughout his debut EP, questioning his own self-doubt, motivations, and catalogue in several frantic interludes. The music that comes between the inner monologues, however, shows a complete artist with the talent to carry an entire project on his own.
“All songs written, performed, produced, arranged, and mixed by Chris McClenney.” Stated proudly in a note posted on his website, his versatility only adds to the magnificence of Portrait in Two. He blends elements of hip-hop, jazz, soul, and electronic music, mixing live instruments and digital sounds with ease. Fans of Syd’s “Dollar Bills” will resonate with “Glide,” with it’s funky bass guitar-driven instrumental sounding reminiscent of Steve Lacy’s production on Fin. On “Pearl,” Chris McClenney’s passionate vocals shine over the hazy backbeat, creating a soundscape that’s sure to please when the vibe is right.
Billy Mercury – The SOULution
For fans of: Common – Like Water for Chocolate
BJ The Chicago Kid – Pineapple Now-Laters
Billy Mercury hails from Norfolk, VA, but the soulful sounds on his newest album spark memories of two of Chicago’s finest artists. Fittingly titled The SOULution, the project sees Mercury rapping and singing over classic boom-bap production, including a beat from J Dilla himself on “Flowers for Jay /$20.”
“Hot Sauce & Cheese,” one of the standout tracks on The SOULution, recalls warm nostalgia of happy Sunday mornings with the family. Elements of Music handles production on much of the album, and on this song he cuts up a soulful trumpet sample that brightens the background as Mercury sings the chorus, “All I know, I gotta get up on this road, and go / Hey baby, I need, a little bit of hot sauce on my cheese.”
On “Devotion,” Mercury taps into the gospel essence that BJ The Chicago Kid uses so well in his music. Lyrically, he spits mature, Common-esque bars, often critiquing society while simultaneously examining his own struggles on songs like “Ode to the Struggle.” Check out his video series “The Adventures of Billy Mercury” after you play his mixtape, and be prepared to get back to the soulful foundation that’s propelled black music to where it is today.
Ace Cosgrove – Ms. Claire’s Basement
For Fans of: Goldlink – And After That, We Didn’t Talk
Goldlink’s newest project At What Cost moved away from the “future bounce” sound he relied on in his earlier EPs, but never fear: Ace Cosgrove is poised to deliver in the new lane. “NBA Deal,” the first song off his new project Ms. Claire’s Basement, is eerily similar to Goldlink’s hit “Dance on Me,” as Cosgrove deftly rides the high-energy beat with a flow that doesn’t miss.
The danceable beats are undoubtedly fun, but don’t sleep on the truth Ace Cosgrove puts into his lyrics. He features KoraTheArtist on “The Pressure,” and contrasts her airy vocals with cutting lines like “It’s a nightmare, all out warfare / Placed on welfare / Bloodshed by the cold blooded savages, celebrate the madness / Drug transactions, jewelry flashing.” Ace Cosgrove continues to grow into his own as an artist, and Ms. Claire’s Basement is truly a well-rounded project that the Maryland rapper will hopefully be able to build upon going forward.
What under the radar albums are you listening to right now ? Let us know in the comments below.