This week's Underground Sound features: Ravyn Lenae, Smino, Ezale, Dyme-A-Duzin, and Shawn Chrystopher
Through her soft-spoken, R&B-lined voice lies a star. Chicago’s Ravyn Lenae might only be 17-years-old, but she sings from a much more seasoned perspective—someone who’s witnessed and lived more than an average teenager. While the majority of her content follows a rhythmic spoken-word, that plays well with her subdued nature, she demonstrates her vocal range by reserving musical pockets for quicker tempo tracks. Her debut EP, Moon Shoes EP, is a melting pot of her talent.
The EP’s title track, “Moon Shoes,” follows her frequent slow-paced musical styling that finds comfort over bear-bone instrumentals, and validates her old soul. She struggles with deciphering emotions in relation to certain circumstances coupled with public perception. “I think this is happy / Let’s chill under trees and pretend like we’re enjoying the breeze.” Ravyn flips the script on the EP’s fifth track, “Free Room” featuring Appleby.
If the first portion of her project is akin to sauntering through a serene meadow, then “Free Room” is like being thrown into a mid-‘90s Spanish discoteca. Upbeat percussion dominates this track, and will have you standing up, moving your head side to side, clapping, trying to match the beat. “Free Room” perfectly dichotomizes her talent because she weaves in her spoken-word verses into the upbeat production and hook.
Featured on a host of Chicago’s brightest star’s project’s, like Noname’s Telefone and Mick Jenkin’s The Healing Component, Ravyn’s stock is quickly rising. Best to buy in now, because this girl is going places.
Relatively new on the scene, St. Louis’ Smino is fusing funk, soul, Hip Hop and R&B to create his unique, enticing aesthetic. The 25-year-old artist retains the distinct ability to manipulate his voice to evoke differing emotions. He slows down his flow with ease to convey deeper, poignant lyrics, and has no problem speeding it up to reflect his impassioned mindset. Smino employs colorful, experimental production that fights boundaries, and refuses to be pigeonholed—much like Smino himself.
Drawing similarities with GoldLink, Smino finds contentment in being different—he is the antithesis of conventional. His two 2016 EPs, blkjuptr and S!ck S!ck S!ck, ratify this notion by applying his multilayered rhymes and poly flows to undefined beats, allowing Smino to comfortably operate in his boundaryless music. Keep your eyes and ears out for this guy.
Futuristic, psychedelic funk takes on a whole new meaning with Oakland spitter, Ezale. Attracting attention of fellow bay area spitters, the Cambodian-American rapper is signed to E-40’s label, Sick Wid It Records, and has appeared on Nef the Pharaoh and G-Eazy tracks. Ironically, it appears that he spits without the public’s ear in mind, given his heightened individuality and esoteric aura, but those exact same qualities are what make him and his music endearing—unapologetically different. I’ve always found that the coolest people are those who are the most comfortable in their skin. Well, I guess we can consider Ezale one of the coolest.
His February 2016 pinned tweet perfectly sums up his personality: the caption reads, “When you’re off a xanx [Xanax] but bowl is life,” with an accompanying slo-mo video of Ezale falling into a bowling lane with his ball in hand. But that’s what makes Ezale a fun, interesting character. That and his funk-flavored music. His 2016 project, The Tonite Show with Ezale, hosted by DJ Fresh, is an exploration into Ezale’s interesting neural wiring from chasing money with his day ones, paying respect to his elders, to simply stating that he would like some pussy. No matter the lane, Ezale grips the road.
Brooklyn’s Dyme-A-Duzin is a cool, calm, collected 24-year-old MC who is steadily establishing his name in Hip Hop’s crowded landscape. With six solo projects out, and a highly anticipated one on the way (Crown Fried), Dyme has refined his smooth, melodic flow to encapsulate his adept musical styling. Although he’s from Hip Hop’s hub, his skills and story are anything but ordinary.
While building his solo reputation, Dyme spent years with the band, Phony Ppl—a critically acclaimed band who employ an array of funk, rock, soul, R&B, jazz and Hip Hop. It was with them that Dyme was able to hone his individual talent, and stretch himself creatively into the artist he is today. With some creative differences came Dyme’s departure from Phony Ppl. Although they no longer collaborate, he uses his increased musical eclecticism from the group to deepen his solo work.
His 2014 album, Hip Hope, is diverse both sonically and conceptually. Tracks like “Good Lawd” featuring Stro and Wati Heru, are more energizing, and discuses using hatred to fuel his fire. In his words, “I feel like David, all I hear is doubting.” Dyme does a 180° on the album’s 11th track, “Redemption Sex” featuring Ari Lennox. This track is a slower, self-aware cut that shows Dyme begging for another shot with a girl.
No matter the content, the result is the same: Dyme-A-Duzin makes great music.
30-year-old rapper and producer, Shawn Chrystopher, is a man on a mission. With over nine released projects since 2009, Shawn is steadily grinding to deepen his catalogue and manicure his sound. Shawn’s admirable output might be a product of his unconventional backstory.
After skipping a few grades, Shawn received a scholarship to the prestigious University of Southern California, where he majored in Political Science. Once he realized this wasn’t his destiny, he channeled his disciplined work ethic into rapping. He was keen on changing his situation. I think he made the right choice, considering he was featured on Owl City’s “Alligator Sky,” and his XBOX and LRG endorsements.
Fittingly, his track “Situation,” featuring fellow California spitter, Dom Kennedy, discusses overcoming suffocating situational limitations through outworking the competition. “And when you broke as fuck it's hard to be patient / The key to life is working harder than your situation / Work harder than your situation.” Sadly, no one cares about your shitty situation—those who put forth the effort will change their circumstances.
With this, Shawn has a mature music and life outlook that places him in a different category than most of today’s shallow, materialistic rappers: he has substance. He is a sympathetic rapper who discusses realistic issues. Not everyone can relate to having a heavy neck filled with chains, or a cold wrist from all that ice. However, everyone can relate to overcoming difficult circumstances, trying to make ends meet, pursuing a dream, and trying to be their best version. If you’re sick of dumbed down rap, smarten up and peep Shawn Chrystopher.