Artful sampling, interpolation, and imitation are time-honored traditions in hip-hop. But because the complaint we often hear now is that everyone sounds alike, we often forget that musicians—particularly brand new artists—can still do those things well.
It becomes a tall task, though, to regularly sift through dozens of emerging musicians who barely have an album's worth of material under their respective belts.
But that’s also the fun of it: who can interpolate a song, emulate a certain aesthetic, or reference an icon in a refreshing way? Who can build a sound that resonates with the canon of their city?
For December’s installation of #Under1K, we found four artists who fit the bill. We did the digging so you don’t have to.
AM (@AMdahomie) — 205 Followers
Whether the beat is driven by bass or fueled by keys, New York emcee AM easily finds his pocket. Over the past year, AM has had a steady run of project releases, including 2017 EPs This Is Too Much and where am I? and 2018 EP sorry, I’m late.
Still, singles “Under the Weather” and “Ocean”—released prior to sorry, I’m late—are clear standouts. Both records are an exercise in craft and treatises on everyday life, but upon multiple listens, “Ocean” becomes a closer study of wordplay and flow.
Producer Akari’s beat is almost reggae-like, allowing for AM’s approach to be more honeyed. But he shifts his delivery often, from melodic to rapid-fire, while also testing his intonation—the sort of trial and error a rapper should be attempting at this point in their career.
MaMii (@shawntoni-nichols) — 239 Followers
Syd (of The Internet fame) recently reached out to Chicago-based singer MaMii via Instagram about performing at the group's Chicago show earlier this month, a fairly crucial cosign for the singer-songwriter. Performing alongside Syd and company, MaMii—it’s unclear whether she goes by that stage name or her government, Shawntoni Nichols—sang “Come Over” from The Internet’s latest offering, Hive Mind.
Syd’s endorsement of Nichols makes sense: the Chicago singer’s aesthetic is akin to The Internet and its lead vocalist. The parallels can be heard in Nichols’ two-month-old project not an ep, particularly the cut “GRLFRND.” Yes, even the title is slightly evocative of Syd’s work.
Still, MaMii proves her music is her own. The record begins with a stripped-down beat, MaMii’s voice entering in a high pitch. Even though it’s a little thin at first—particularly with her vocal manipulation—the track becomes rich as she moves between registers and the layers build. The song’s best moment arrives during the second half when she adjoins a punctuated delivery with lush runs and deep bass. At that point, the vocals and funk, R&B, and soul melodies collide, allowing MaMii’s sonic vision to be fully fleshed out.
Gold Mysterio (@goldmysterio) — 359 Followers
Atlanta emcee Gold Mysterio thrives in an ominous, downtempo sound. Run a few of his tracks back and it’s easy to hear a comfort in his darker style, particularly on his 2018 EP Blue Boy. The project is an exploration of that darkness, as is the string of loosies he released following the project.
While his latest single, “Antwan Patton,” is still steeped in that same morose feeling, there are flecks of hope and light. Propelled by a reverberating bassline, the song is eerily smooth as Mysterio raps about looking for God. The song title is also something he analyzes through the track, a reference to Big Boi’s government name, which Mysterio doubles down on by sampling Big Boi’s verse from OutKast's “E.T. (Extraterrestrial).”
The association also allows the song to be a little less nebulous, as both Big Boi and Mysterio wax poetic on how man often thinks he is God. Mysterio ends the song weighing life and death through the guise of Biblical themes. He's looking for answers.
Leo Mantra (@leomantra) — 211 Followers
While Leo Mantra hails from Chicago’s southern suburbs, he carries on the same tradition as the city’s west side legend Twista: Leo often employs a fast, nimble flow. That stylistic decision can be readily heard in Leo’s older works, on songs like Chicago MC Ausar’s year-old cut “PSA Pt 1&2,” which feature Leo and his fellow Freesole crew member Freejay.
On Leo’s newest EP, Paidiagon, he leans into his affinity for singing, infusing the project with vocal manipulations and haunting alt-R&B melodies. Though he successfully applies multiple vocal techniques on the project, he hits his sweet spot on “Gimme” and “tic,” two loosies he released following Paidiagon.
Still, we don’t hear Leo spit a quick flow on either, as he relies on a blend of staccato raps and glossy singing on “Gimme,” including an interpolation of Busta Rhymes and Mariah Carey’s 2003 classic “I Know What You Want.” “tic,” on the other hand, still exudes the same murky harmonies as Paidiagon, with Leo revisiting his blend of rapping and singing, as he draws out each line into song.