Heat Check Roundup: BROCKHAMPTON, $ilkmoney, LOLA and more
The Heat Check playlist is your source for new music from around the worlds of hip-hop and R&B with an emphasis on bubbling, undiscovered and under-the-radar acts. Who's got the hot hand? Who's on a run? It's a menagerie of notable songs curated by enthusiasts from around NPR Music.
In this week's Heat Check selects, Kevin Abstract says goodbye to BROCKHAMPTON (kind of?), $ilkmoney shrugs off virality and rap fame, and a London singer synthesizes the sounds of the UK's contemporary R&B scene. Elsewhere, sample drill continues its spread, Juice WRLD's influence looms large, Gucci Mane's eye for talent rears its head again and more. Stream the playlist on Spotify. Check in.
BROCKHAMPTON, "The Ending"
"The Ending," marks the beginning of the end for BROCKHAMPTON, the Kevin Abstract-led boy band that has been around since 2010. Earlier this year, the group announced on social media that they would be calling it quits following their Coachella show this summer. This Abstract-only track off BROCKHAMPTON's "final" album, the family (they announced another album today, dropping tomorrow, called TM), leads with a sample from Willie Hutch's "Let Me Be the One," curating a homesick feel with its pleading vocals. Dilla sirens sound and Abstract taps into the song's wistfulness, reflecting on the band's formation and how things have changed since the personal became professional. "This the most corrupted vision / I turned my friendship into a business into an empire," he raps. In the song's two minutes, it does all that it needs to; how much time does one need to say goodbye? — Teresa Xie
$ilkmoney, "I Ate 14gs of Mushrooms and Bwoy Oh Bwoy"
If rapper $ilkmoney hasn't been clear enough about his disdain for the rap game just consult his latest album title: I Don't Give a F*** About This Rap S***, Imma Just Drop Until I Don't Feel Like It Anymore. It reflects not only the way he thinks about the industry but about his own music too. Sure, the former Divine Council member went viral last year, for "My Potna Dem," but that was not his intention, and when the labels came calling, he rebuffed them. He has always rapped like rapping was a nuisance, something done to stave off boredom but never quite worth the effort.
Even from that position, $ilkmoney somehow produces some of the zaniest music on the internet, equal parts absurd and deadly serious. One of the best moments on the new project is "I Ate 14gs of Mushrooms and Bwoy Oh Bwoy," a clanging song that almost seems to chase the delirium of hallucinogens. He seems to be spiraling, throughout raps that build in intensity, even careening off beat as his momentum carries. But the whole thing surges to one of the most clear-headed and perceptive hooks of the year, where the source of his stress is not human but machine: "B**** I don't need a pistol / It's just me and my niggas versus the algorithms / And I know they out to get us." — Sheldon Pearce
The London singer-songwriter LOLA feels uniquely in touch with the UK's contemporary R&B scene. Her music seems to settle somewhere between the electronic-infused stylings of Shygirl and the throwback appeal of FLO. But her sound gives off its own natural glow, her voice emitting light like a firefly in the night. Her new EP, fittingly titled Flicker, is defined by this beaming quality. One of the songs, "Alpha," is particularly stunning, reminiscent of the most refreshing and experimental Tinashe songs — carefully constructed yet seemingly weightless, her singing faint but the subtle harmonies blended purposefully — it is so spectral it's almost eerie. — Sheldon Pearce
Your Stepdad, "PRESENT"
Few songs scream SoundCloud more than one by a rapper named Your Stepdad produced by a beat maker calling himself Sauron. (Obviously, it's shorter than two minutes, too.) Like a lot of half-finished stuff uploaded to the user-friendly platform, "Present" kind of washed over me on first listen as something just aimlessly floating through the endless stream. It felt like a low-stakes expression of youthful, 'all girls are the same' misogyny. Engaging in rapper-speak, he wonders aloud why he keeps "wasting" his money on girls when he isn't horny, and he posits that he'll never get through what's bugging him if he can't even get over the girl he has feelings for. But as the song reached the close, one recurring line finally struck me: "She keeps calling me selfish / Can't even tell that I'm helpless, always rebellious," he raps. The point emerged: This was not an offhand slight but a cry for help, an attempt to expel his intrusive thoughts. And suddenly the song's hook ("I just don't know how to live in the present") started to ring much more poignantly. — Sheldon Pearce
RRR, "GILBERT ARENAS"
RRR Music Group, a New York music collective composed of rappers YL and Starker and in-house producer Zoomo, is set on injecting their youthful style into the city's classic sounds. "GILBERT ARENAS," the first single off the group's forthcoming project, RRR: THE ALBUM, is a sweet, low-key track, backed by an enveloping, soulful sample. Starker's husky, fast-paced flow compliments YL's more mellow approach, who raps, "They only f*** with you for personal gain / Call it out they look at you like you said something strange." The group is finding its place within a new era of rappers. They plan on staying for a long while. — Teresa Xie
Enchanting, "Keep It Playa"
For many years, Gucci Mane was praised for his curatorial eye. It's fair to say the rap landscape wouldn't be what it is today without his endorsement of now-high profile artists in their nascent stages. The 1017 name rubber-stamped artists like Nicki Minaj, Waka Flocka Flame, Young Thug and more, ushering in new sounds and stars. His attempt to retool has been less successful, but the new 1017 trio of Pooh Shiesty, Foogiano and Big Scarr have helped to restore the brand. An overlooked member of the roster is Texas rapper Enchanting. Her best songs make use of her whisper-rap register, which gives verses on songs like "Track & Field" and "Big Chant" added sass. But her latest song, "Keep It Player," advances another facet of her style. In these fuller, melodic raps, she is much smoother but no less forward. — Sheldon Pearce
Awon & SOUL.DOPE.95, "You'll Never"
Sometimes it's simple. Sometimes the flip just hits. It feels good. That's at the core of what's working on "You'll Never," a standout from rapper Awon and producer SOUL.DOPE.95's collaborative album, Infinite Wisdom. Of course, there's more to it than just that. Awon is a capable MC and a considerate writer; here he's shrewd enough to lean into the swankiness of the production. But he is merely working in service of that beat: the warm loop, the funky grunt that punctuates each bar, the shimmering chimes suspended over top. Awon must've felt it, too — he discovered the soulful sounds of his enigmatic beat maker while scrolling beat videos and sounds on Instagram. Whatever must've stood out to him is likely the same thing that pulled me in. — Sheldon Pearce
Kenzo Balla, "Krash Out"
A similar concept is driving the sample drill wave currently spreading across New York City: affix the typical drill drum kit to a choice loop and let the uncanny power of the combination do the rest. Much of Kenzo Balla's new project, Mr. Ready to Blitz, functions in this way, with everything from vocal chops ("No Sympathy") to twisting strings ("Don't Panic"), but few songs feel as dutifully assembled as "Krash Out." As the sample gradually uncoils, Kenzo slashes right through the center. A weird phenomenon seems to happen, the rap equivalent of bullet time, where the listener gets an enhanced perception of the rapper's speed relative to the world around him. — Sheldon Pearce
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