This Week's Underground Sound features: Jordan Bratton, Sebastian Mikael, Dee Goodz, Ugly Heroes, and Oddisee.
New York’s Jordan Bratton has experienced an unconventional come-up. Initially gaining exposure around 11-years-old on Broadway for his roles in The Lion King and The Color Purple, Bratton realized at a young age that he was no ordinary child. His soft, enchanting voice attracted early followers; his diverse musical skill set is piquing widespread interest.
Jordan Bratton’s head is constantly bobbing up and down in mainstream waters. Receiving illustrious features on his earlier work, like Chance The Rapper on 2015’s “Prisoner” and Fabolous on 2014’s “Danger,” Bratton’s R&B/Soul aesthetic pairs well with smoother rappers, making him a potential Hip Hop commodity; his velvety vocals are the ideal complementary sonics to chill Hip Hop stylings. Jordan’s talent separates him from a dense musical pack, however he’s still fighting consistently to establish himself as a mainstream threat. At only 22-years-old, the poly-talented Bratton possesses the desired skills necessary to launch him to that next musical tier. The only question is will enough people give him a chance.
If you’re still unsure, check out “Prisoner,” and I bet you’ll be a skeptic turned believer.
The Miami-based music label, Slip-N-Slide Records, is mostly known for Hip Hop veterans Trick Daddy, Rick Ross, and Trina. But the ’94-established label understands the importance of diversifying assets to reach a wider audience, while heading into the future. Sweden-born Sebastian Mikael is using his R&B styling to help Slip-N-Slide bridge its ‘90s dominance with today’s sound.
Mikael is one of the label’s best kept secrets. Although his reach is still relatively limited, he’s teamed up with superstar talents, like Wale, Rick Ross, Teyana Taylor, and more, suggesting that mainstream appeal is attainable. He’s not blazing a stylistic trail by any means—his sound is far from unordinary. This could be viewed as either a strength or deterrent, depending on how you perceive it. On one hand, it must be comforting for Sebastian to know that other artist have found success with similar formulas (i.e. Jason Derulo—also signed to Slip-N-Slide, Trey Songz). However, he could be viewed as just another singing dude with talent, sure, but lacking noticeability could hinder his potential. Listen for yourself to decide!
2017 is witnessing lyricism’s continued demise at the hands of its production counterpart. More “rappers” are entering the game thinking they can get ahead with a gimmicky image, catchy hooks, and head-nodding production. And unfortunately, they’re not wrong. It’s the easy path that appears like the equation for success. However, some artists over-correct, placing too much emphasis on lyricsm, forgetting that music has to actually sound good to be consumed. And then, there are players who understand straddling gripping sonics and detailed lyricsm can yield some of the most fruitful results. Nashville’s Dee Goodz has his feet firmly planted in each camp.
Similar to Freddie Gibbs, Dee Goodz is an apt street storyteller, using his surroundings to inform his bars. Of course, most rappers contour their songs to their surroundings and upbringings; Dee stands out though because he conveys an element of realism. So many rappers today talk about a lifestyle that they don’t live to exploit a situation that will increase their bottomline. Granted I don’t know Dee Goodz on a personal level, so he could very well perpetuate this fallacy, however he speaks with a tangible conviction, making it difficult to believe he alters his story to bolster appeal. As an independent artist, Goodz needs to grind harder than his signed counterparts to ensure success, further validating his authenticity.
If you’re in the mood to hear about big booty bitches, dope whips, and Pfizer product placements, move along—Ugly Heroes aren’t for you. Capturing a similar chemistry to Blu & Exile, while employing Atmosphere-like poetics, Ugly Heroes might not be what the music world craves, but they’re damn sure the heroes we need.
Composed of Apollo Brown, Red Pill, and Verbal Kent, Ugly Heroes aim to represent the other side of Hip Hop’s coin that is often neglected in favor of materialism: discussing life’s real trials and tribulations that can be appreciated and related to by a wide demographic. They understand that their musical styling isn’t as easily digestible as superficial rappers controlling the game, but they also understand that they provide a necessary utility. They’re relatable, they’re real. The three members take a traditional rap approach by exchanging bars over classic Hip Hop production that reverts the genre back to its roots—talking about everyday struggles. Ugly Heroes take a blue collar approach to a genre with white collar dreams.
A certain mysticism follows 32-year-old Oddisee. He’s been professionally active since the late ‘90s, his reputation isn’t widespread, and he goes against commercialism’s grain. Yet Oddisee has cultivated a loyal, deep underground following by employing realistic lyricsm that doesn’t borrow from the superficial cloth a host of today’s rappers are cut from. Fittingly, he’s signed to the same label as Ugly Heroes (Mellow Music).
In today’s world, there’s a premium placed upon ambivalence—it’s not cool to care; it’s stupid to try. It’s almost a weakness to express emotions, and to feel pain. Oddisee is a self-confident individual who doesn't’ subscribe to this asinine thought process, and instead encourages others to detach from these suffocating limitations to get in touch with their deeply-seeded desires. On “Asked About You” off his 2016 project, Alwasta, he raps, “I'm far more concerned with the cause / Although it's the effect that is receiving the applause, or uproar,” talking about how movements like Black Lives Matter receive praise, but he’s more concerned with the underlying issues that warranted a cause in the first place.
Oddisee has a special relationship with the pen. Like MF Doom, he’s able to weave intricate rhyme schemes that bear strong stories into difficult beat structures to produce a special product. There aren’t a lot of rappers like Oddisee, and I’m not sure there ever will be. But for now, let’s enjoy his artistry while it’s still around.