Being from St. Louis, there always seemed to be some sort of negative connotation attached to growing up in the Midwest and flyover country—a.k.a. basically anything between the coasts.
I often felt like these states had nothing to offer, but as I grew older (and gained access to the internet) I realized that wasn’t the case, especially now. Over the last three years, the Midwest (and the rest of the flyover country) has been responsible for creating some of hip-hop and R&B's hottest music—SZA, Chance The Rapper, Noname, Smino, and the list goes on.
Finding new music and sharing it with our readers at DJBooth is the most therapeutic aspect of my writing practice, especially when the talent hails from my city. Through a fierce amount of digging, I’ve found four must-hear artists who currently have less than 1,000 followers on SoundCloud from across flyover country: Chicago, St. Louis, Chattanooga, and Maryland.
I truly hope you enjoy these artists as much as we do.
Julian Bell (@julian-bell) — 552 Followers
Though Julian Bell’s social media accounts reflect that he’s lived across the U.S. and reps many places—Maryland, Chicago, Los Angeles—for the vocalist, region isn’t particularly reflected in his style of music. What is palpable are the artists who influence him, which he lists on his Facebook as Prince, Lenny Kravitz, John Mayer, Frank Ocean, D'Angelo, John Legend, Coldplay, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, and Kanye West.
On Bell’s latest, “One And Only,” you can hear how he’s plucked elements from the aforementioned artists and embedded them into the song. Kravitz and Hendrix in the rock ‘n’ roll sound, D’Angelo in his vocal delivery. By melding all these aesthetics, Bell, who handles both the vocal duties and plays guitar, is able to boil those artists’ essence down into one feeling: passion.
Najii Person (@nperson) — 851 Followers
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There’s a whole new school of musicians from St. Louis who are about to blow, and rapper/producer Najii Person is helping to blaze the path. Though he has yet to release a formal full-length project, Person has dropped more than a dozen singles, collaborating with fellow St. Louis artists, including Brock Seals, Bryssa, and Blaack Thomas, and even an #Under1k alum, Elton Aura.
“All money ant good money, and all money ant bad money,” Person wrote on SoundCloud, describing his most recent loosie, “Money.” He uses the song to expound on that idea, on the various kinds of uses money has in the world. While the song is a pristine display of Person's pen game, it touches on something much more important: the fact that money controls… everything—and how money, in itself, is basically a vice.
Luke Titus (@luke-titus) — 853 Followers
Though Chicago native Luke Titus could always sing, he initially found a home in music as a drummer, playing for the band Woo Park, and joining the Blue Man Group at the age of 15 as their youngest member. Now, at 21, Titus has since branched out and begun to re-explore his abilities as a vocalist. Over the last two years, he's released several stellar projects, including EPs Colors and Aside of Love.
Like Aside of Love’s cover art suggests—an image of Titus holding a rose behind his back, wearing a baby blue hoodie, posed in front of a bright pink background—the tape is colorful, dynamic, and bright, showcasing the young artist’s entire wheelhouse: singer, songwriter, producer, drummer.
On the project, we see Titus meld genres with ease, the influences of R&B, jazz, and hip-hop apparent. His standout song “Blue” is proof of his artistry, as he alternates between his falsetto and normal range, both riding along the simple drum and guitar-laden beat. Though the song is titled “Blue,” which suggests grief and sadness, Titus’ joy is effervescent.
$hoey (@houseshoey) — 825 Followers
$hoey is DJ, not a rapper, but since the Tenessee native dropped Four Two Three, a tapemeant to showcase talent from the Chattanooga collective theHOU$E, which encompasses rappers YGTUT, Michael da Vinci, and ChrisP (as well as Brian Brown and Isaiah Rashad, who don’t have any songs on the tape), his selection for #Under1k for a no-brainer.
Four Two Three—the East Tennessee area code—is a solid introduction to a scene not often spoken about or given headline-worthy press. Indeed, Chattanooga first came to my attention because of TDE's Rashad, but the city kept my attention because of rappers like YGTUT.
Four Two Three standout “Summa Jam,” featuring TUT, da Vinci, and BbyMutha, has that classic Southern bounce but with a quick bite. More than anyone, BbyMutha’s poise steals the show: “Flip on any nigga comin’ at me on some stupid shit / That summa shit / All up in your city with the titties out / Your bitch a hater but that’s somethin’ I ain’t never worry 'bout.”