The Roundup 2/23: Crosby Smashes The SoundCloud Stereotype, Mostly
Though he's found success on the platform, Crosby doesn't fit the "SoundCloud rapper" formula. His new album, Almost Asleep, demands recognition on other channels anyway.
If you’ve never heard of Crosby before, you’re not alone. The Harnett County/Chapel Hill rapper, despite having put out quality material for years now, still manages to fly under the radar within his own region. It’s not your fault: for someone ostensibly hoping to grow a fanbase, he’s pretty difficult to find online (Crosby, Stills & Nash and Bing Crosby may have something to do with that). He also seems to be loyal to one platform for music discovery above all others: SoundCloud. Based on where he has the most traction, you might even be tempted to call him a “SoundCloud rapper.” And you’d be half right (and half wrong).
SoundCloud, by reputation, and quite often in practice, is the unofficial home to two distinct but equally unsavory categories of rap music: lazy, unoriginal attempts at radio-ready material (“My shit is like Bryson Tiller, but like, slightly different”); and half-finished experimental stuff that was not ready for public consumption. What it typically isn’t known for (not that it doesn’t feature plenty of it), is polished, smart, original rap music, like the kind Crosby has been dropping on the platform, almost non-stop, for at least three years.
More closely aligned with Jay Rock or Kendrick Lamar than Lil Uzi Vert, Crosby isn’t the kind of artist you expect to see growing an audience primarily on SoundCloud, and yet here he is. With release after release, from projects like 2015’s The Crosby Show and 2016’s Crosfather to upbeat collaborations like CrosRime$, he’s racked up hundreds of thousands of plays across 93 uploaded tracks, frequently collaborating with MCs and producers who seem similarly tethered to a larger SC community of artists and fans.
Almost Asleep, Crosby’s brand new album, is the latest step in his evolution as a rapper and artist, brimming with the harrowing bars and haunting Lentra beats that have been his hallmark for years. Not content to stay on the same beat or flow for long, Almost Asleep is a dizzying, at times disorienting sampler of styles and tone, from the cold-blooded, eerie echoes of “Glory be to Him,” to the soul-sampled “My Prayer,” and the piano-driven “Breakdown.” Even if certain slower stretches may invite listeners to mentally check out, there’s always a killer line to cut through the haze and jolt them back to attention: “Chapel Hill champ like it’s ‘82, then I get it in Raleigh like ‘83.” WHAT!!! There are gems like that are buried throughout the project.
Beyond the music, one more SoundCloud stereotype persists: that of the introverted rap fan, equipped with the modern recording technology of today, being able to craft really dope closet songs that he possesses neither the charisma nor the energy to pull off in actual shows or music videos. Part of music is the presentation, after all, and it’s possible that the enjoyment of rap music has more to do with the presentation than in every other genre (excluding Pop) combined. With the material on Almost Asleep, Crosby has undoubtedly established himself as an exception to the SoundCloud rapper stereotype, at least from a musical perspective. But the performance aspect lingers, as Crosby has hardly any video/photo material online and is almost a non-factor in Triangle-area shows.
Here’s to more shows, and more music videos, from the Crosfather in 2018. The world needs more of his thundering, nightmare-inducing raps, and not just on SoundCloud.
"Get Right" With Cameron Butler
Crosby is part of an indie label called Born Again New York, and he's not the only North Carolinian on it. He’s joined on the roster by Concord, NC rapper Cameron Butler, whose newest release, “Get Right,” feels like it could be a long-lost cousin of the tracks from Chance The Rapper’s old 10-Day tape. That isn’t intended as a slight — while Cam is hardly the first rapper to dabble with this sound (which he also played with on his 2017 album Voyage To Ataraxia), in the wrong hands, it can feel sloppy and disjointed. Here, the track plods along playfully like a feel-good, sidewalk-strolling music video being played back at 75% speed.
Plus, Butler isn’t some new interloper looking for a quick way to get on — he’s put in years of work. Years ago, I wrote about the infectiously optimistic hook for his single, “No Limit,” and it sounds just as bright and full of energy today. On “Get Right,” even if the track feels a little derivative, that experience and creativity shows. Butler asks the listener: “What’s a veteran to a vulture?” For anyone who gives this MC a few spins, the difference between the two, and which category he falls into, is clear.
Laila's Wisdom, The Original Black Panther
The widespread embrace and celebration of Marvel’s new Black Panther film may feel like a once-in-a-generation cultural phenomenon, and it most certainly is, but it’s also not the first critical moment of its kind. In 2017, the most similar artistic project from a critical reception standpoint just might have been Rapsody’s Laila’s Wisdom, which was lauded by outlets from The Guardian to The Needle Drop as a smart, poignant and savvy album, made all the more culturally resonant with a black woman at the helm. Sure, the total reach between the two may look a little different (my records indicate that Laila’s Wisdom did not do $230M in opening-weekend sales), but there’s no mistaking that when it comes to artistic work in the age of social media, it’s hard to produce something that is almost universally appreciated and respected. In the case of Laila’s Wisdom (and Black Panther), even the trolls were forced to admit: “This shit is pretty good.”
The new video for “Chrome,” released last week, is the third video to drop from Laila’s Wisdom.
Ladies Verse: Spoken Gunz Reloaded
If you tell me I should watch a video of seven people rapping one after the other, I’ll probably tell you I still have nightmares about the 2017 XXL Freshman freestyle and politely ask you to step away from me.
But tell me all the acts are underground artists from North Carolina, and I might just change my tune. Tell me they’re all women, from an area where female artists are almost entirely sidelined from the mainstream rap scene, and my interest is definitely piqued.
That’s exactly what the “Spoken Gunz Reloaded “ cypher video is, with a lineup that includes Chyna Vonne, Venomiss, Sarah Kaboom, Ivy Monae, Krissie KaCey, Keisha Shontelle and Ashley Mar Shell trading boastful verses about rap skills, sex skills, money-making skills and various other skills that are important in rap and life. While some of the material and tone here feels a bit dated, and not in a good way, the delivery throughout is some of the smoothest and most confident you’ll hear from a group of lesser-known MCs.
I love group cyphers like this, which have the ability to elevate entire regions by spotlighting a host of acts all in one video. If you don’t like an artist or a verse, you skip ahead 30 seconds, and you’re on to the next one — no random YouTube wormhole sessions required. I also love Krissie KaCey for rapping: “I give a fuck about a CMA [Carolina Music Awards], this year I’m tryna pull up at the VMAs.” I love everything that makes fun of the CMAs.
And credit to ZenSoFly, who from bookings to press pieces is often touted as the go-to “female MC” of the Triangle, for helping to push other female acts in the area. Her tweet about Spoken Gunz is how it ended up on my radar in the first place.
Kooley High Drops The First Single From Never Come Down
There will be much more written on this website about Kooley High and their forthcoming Never Come Down album in the weeks to come, so I’ll save you (and myself) the multi-paragraph sermon and just get to the music, which is very good.
I will just say: given some of the shiny new production styles that make their way onto Never Come Down, it’s a bit surprising to see the first single, “Ceiling,” be so thoroughly old-school (complete with a deftly inserted Outkast sample and some early verses that call to mind the name “Charlie 3000”). Nevertheless, the track — produced by Kooley High member Foolery, with assistance from Khrysis — absolutely bumps, and serves as a reminder of the genuine good vibes that we last heard on the 2015 album Heights, and on David Thompson and Eastern Standard Time before that. With Charlie and Tab trading verses, Digitz doing cuts, and Sinopsis and Foolery on the boards, it’s time to fire up the time machine.
Ron Beatty Is Confident, Southern And Cool On "Infinity" (Video)
I’ve been a fan of Ron Beatty’s unique, booming voice since I first heard it two and a half years ago on the track, “Heard About Me." He’s since relocated to Atlanta, but the New Bern native and Winston-Salem State grad is forever a Carolinian, at least as far as this little rap site is concerned.
On “Infinity,” Beatty talks about life in Atlanta and a loving relationship, while playing Nintendo 64 on a laptop (?) in the park (?), which is cool enough for me to not really question too deeply how that’s possible. It’s a breezy, enjoyable song, and the video (especially with the beautiful shots outside the convenience store) lends a strong visual complement. Nice to see this getting covered on Ambrosia For Heads too.
Austin Royale - “STAY”
When did I first know Austin Royale was one of the wildest motherf-----s around? It would have to be at Moogfest 2016, when he pulled up his shirt to reveal a scattered maze of wires and electrodes that were hooked up to a heart monitor, which was supposed to be taking readings of what his normal heart activity was like... on one of the craziest weekends of the year. He would later go on stage and perform alongside hyperactive rapper JK The Reaper, sweat through his shirt, and the following week, probably turn in the most insane heart reading that doctor had ever seen.
But even if you’ve never watched Austin pull his shirt up and feel the need to yell out “I promise I’m not the feds!,” his music does an adequate job of conveying his penchant for the extreme — and for living on the edge. His new song, “STAY,” starts off with, “Man I’m tired, and I’m fuckin’ sick, give me some more drugs to do/ Gettin’ fucked up to rid the boredom, has been the usual,” and the outlook doesn’t get much better from there, with a chorus that repeats: “I just wanna be alone, rather be by myself.”
Austin’s music is rarely for the faint of heart, but it does sound quite polished, and there’s a clear evolution in his music — dating back since his days as A10 — as far as the intent and messaging. Rage for the sake of rage has little staying power these days, not when all we need for a quick dose of outrage is to open the Twitter app. Channeling demons, insecurities and dishonesty into two or three minutes of controlled vengeance? Now that might be something.
NEW RELEASES YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT TODAY:
Khrysis & Elzhi - Jericho Jackson
EarthGang - Royalty
Crosby - Almost Asleep
Ryan Cocca is the founder and editor of Super Empty, and spends far more time on SoundCloud than he would like to admit. He needs help. Reach out at @youaintryan on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.