Hip-Hop Writing Worth Reading

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The Catch-Up, June 17: 9th vs. Thought vs. Kanye

Just five songs, tho? © Super Empty.

Just five songs, tho? © Super Empty.


While the music world was contorting itself to embrace a new Kanye record guilt-free, Black Thought released the first solo EP of his career.

In this, 2018 AD, the year of North Carolina’s valiant hip-hop resurgence, it should come as no surprise that 9th Wonder and Black Thought would end up squaring off with none other than Kanye West on a release date. Sure, the numbers between the two releases are so skewed that to use the term “contest” here would strip the word of its meaning, but the symbolism remains: on a day when the entire global hip-hop community was going back and forth on the sonic merits of a Kanye West release, or debating whether it should be listened to at all, a not insignificant portion of that audience was also absorbing and evaluating a new record from 9th Wonder and Jamla’s Soul Council. Steal ye’s spotlight? Not for a second. But the brazen confidence (or nonchalance) to even share the date in the first place — along with the intellectual nourishment and comfort that Streams Of Thought, Vol. 1 offered for disenchanted Kanye-ites near and far — justified the sticker price alone.

Over the past few weeks, Thought and 9th’s collaborative, five-track album hasn’t been the only new thing to arrive. A new song, a remix, and a full plate of new videos (including two from G Yamazawa alone) gave us plenty to write about. - Ryan Cocca


Rapsody - "Pay Up" (Video)

This Brian Petchers-directed music video feels like a close to Rapsody’s Laila’s Wisdom. It’s a light-hearted, fun accompaniment to the uptempo highlight on the album, using a film as the vehicle to tell the story of her homie ditching a broke man, with an audience full of Rapsody’s squad watching the film from a local theater. There’s nothing too deep here, but it’s a fun time.  - Jimmy Branley


G Yamazawa - "Violence" (Video)

The latest entry in the string of videos G has released for his debut album, Shouts to Durham, “Violence” is almost a return to the one-shot style that landed him and director Kid Ethnic a Hip-Hop Film Festival Best Video award for “North Cack” last year. It deviates slightly, introducing cuts here and there as the choreography (from dance group Versa-Style) dictates. The group is able to evoke the intensity of one of the album’s standout tracks, with certain dancers able to channel G’s more intense flows through their body. While not necessarily following from any narrative in the video, it was great to see G commit to choreography after the way “North Cack” choreography videos blew up online last year.  - Alex Yllanes


G Yamazawa - "Breathe" (Video)

On the final video to be released from Shouts To Durham, G went for the cinematic knockout punch. It would be rash to throw around the “best” declaration, but it’s certainly his most ambitious. Built on a simple VR-based premise (the music video analogue to the classic literary fallback, “it had all been a dream”) that could splinter and crumble in less capable hands, director Nimblefox and the Wheelhouse Media team put together a winning formula of beautiful lighting, tasteful art direction (see: the light strip on the goggles) and seamless CG transitions that make the whole thing feel strangely believable. For an album that ended up being accompanied by 11 (eleven!) videos, “Breathe” is the send-off that Shouts To Durham deserves. - Ryan Cocca


Frais - "White Sand"

The Young Thug comparisons are unavoidable here and Charlotte’s Frais acknowledges them with a nod to “Best Friend.” But this rapper stands on his own, flowing and rapping like a Rich Gang Greatest Hits album. Unfortunately, the lyrics don’t stand out too much on this track. Producer Versace Dre did a terrific job smelting together Bankhead bounce and the West Coast’s signature synth melody.  - Jimmy Branley


jah-Monte - "Thornton Avenue Lords"

From the song to the video, “Thornton Avenue Lords” feels like something that might have dropped in the early 2010’s, back when relaxed, piano-driven instrumentals like this served as the creative kindling for mainstream acts like Curren$y, J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa and more. Here, it’s the underpinning for Charlotte emcee jah-Monte’s poignant, visually rich bars: “Shit is real… when your fingerprints match the evidence/ your man on the stand, hand on the New Testament.” The emcee doesn’t move around too much, venturing only as far as his own home, then a vacant basketball court. The style is dated, but the authenticity and soulfulness shines through. True storytelling never gets old.  - Ryan Cocca


Young Bull - "Chocolate" (Pheeno Remix)

There’s no build-up on this remix of Young Bull’s “Chocolate,” which dives right in with an ethereal, synth-laden background that lets lead vocalist Tamique Cameron’s vocals float right on top. Right around the minute mark, we switch from floating in space to a driving piano chord progression that hangs around for a while before transitioning back to the synths. The piano progression is repeated once again, before the soft, dreamy vibe closes out the track. While I can’t say this remix tops the original, Pheeno has crafted an electronic dreamscape for these vocals to live in that I will happily be revisiting.


The Catch-Up is an irregularly published weekly update on new and noteworthy hip-hop releases around the Carolinas. To submit music or videos for consideration, please email