Song of the Week: "Hello" - Shirlette Ammons ft. Amelia Meath

Durham’s consummate collaborator pens an uplifting tribute to community, and as usual, brings others along for the ride.

Song of the Week: "Hello" - Shirlette Ammons ft. Amelia Meath

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Any time a North Carolina hip-hop act releases a song with a nationally renowned guest feature like Amelia Meath of electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso, it's going to be noteworthy. Throw in production work from Phil Cook of Megafaun, even more so. Unless, of course, that act is Durham-based rapper Shirlette Ammons, whose kaleidoscopic, maximally collaborative approach to music has, over the past 10+ years, begun to render these kinds of Avengers-esque team-up moments as little more than just another day at the office.

Whether or not its an out-of-the-ordinary affair for her, Ammon's irrepressibly upbeat new song "Hello" — which also serves as the second single from her forthcoming fourth studio album, Spectacles (out April 26th, Puddin Pie Productions) — is nonetheless a treat for the rest of us, a tribute to community and creative partnership from a veteran artist with more authority to speak on the subject than just about anyone.

More than just Durham's consummate musical collaborator, Ammons has built a career as a creative force in general: poet, documentarian, film producer and curator, to name a few. In recent years, she's served as a producer on the award-winning music documentaries Stay Prayed Up (2021) and May The Lord Watch: The Little Brother Story (2023), worked as a performing arts curator at Virginia Tech's Moss Arts Center, and been an inaugural member of The Rosetta Circle, a social justice-minded music residency at Duke's Rubenstein Arts Center, alongside Tift Merritt, Rissi Palmer and others. More than any one technical talent, her superpower has consistently been to pull together the disparate artists, creatives and visionaries — herself included — needed to bring ideas and concepts to life.

Twenty Years Later, Little Brother Get Their Feature Film Closeup — Their Way
The strained relationships, false starts, chance encounters and life lessons that led to May The Lord Watch: The Little Brother Story.

While that trend seems likely to continue on Spectacles — the production credits list 13 other featured performers on the album, more collaborators than there are songs — so too does Ammons' penchant, as seen on previous albums Language Barrier and Twilight for Gladys Bentley, for hard-to-categorize, genre-resistant music.

Whereas the album's first single, "Short," indulged in a fusion of rap and eerie blues-rock that wouldn't have felt out of place on Childish Gambino's Awaken, My Love!, "Hello," leans almost entirely in the opposite direction, into feel-good pop/rap crossover in the vein of Common and Lily Allen's "Drivin' Me Wild." All the requisite parts of the form are there: the catchy, bouncing acoustic piano chords, the swirling synths, the lilting hook, and ultimately the bars, delivered in Ammons' emphatic but unhurried Southern drawl.

Written years ago at the height of social distancing and quarantines, Ammons describes the song as a "pandemic anthem," intended as a "check in on loved ones and a recognition of the isolation we were all feeling." While Meath's hook conveys that spirit fairly directly ("I see you everyday, from far away... are you alright?"), Ammons' rhymes are more roundabout, grounded in the kind of reminiscing that often comes alongside loneliness in any form, whether pandemic-related or not: "I'm hungry for that feelin' that came from crate diggin'/ Freestyles and slick disses, vinyl scratched without skippin'/ Studios in folks' kitchens, so Southern, it's playalistic...".

As the track arrives at its finale, a significantly less-heralded, but no less important, collaborator joins in on the chorus: a group of kids from Durham's Central Park School for Children. Echoing Meath, they offer the same affirming words we've heard earlier ("No worries... It'll be alright"), but in a new, refreshing light. It feels, considering Ammons' background as a producer/collaborator extraordinaire, like the musical arrangement sensibilities of a master. Who better to check in on us during these profoundly weird times than those who have known hardly anything else, and have turned out alright anyway?

It's a small detail, but Ammons' and Cook's instinct to call in the younger reinforcements is the right one. On "Hello," there's plenty of optimism and reassurance to go around — mostly by adults — but the words of the youth may be the most comforting of all.


“Around The World” - Mez, ft. Leon Bridges

Speaking of NC hip-hop acts releasing songs with nationally renowned guest vocalists — Mez returns today for the third single off his upcoming Loading EP with a nostalgic, coming-of-age story featuring Leon Bridges (!!) on the hook. In a chapter full of "come-up" moments for Mez, this feels like a particularly special one — not only because of Leon, but because of the way Mez's unique blend of skills are on full display, from the wit and originality of his writing ("Mama took us shoppin' at the outlets, that's how I came back to school lookin' like the plug"), to the melodic rapping and voice inflections that he's been honing since his work on Dr. Dre's Compton. This one has Summer 2024 written all over it, and at a tight three minutes, feels like it could've gone on quite a bit longer.

Stream on Apple | Stream on Spotify

Song Of The Week: “Call On” - Mez ft. Kurtis Wells
Mez’s trademark eeriness reaches a new stage of evolution. Also: Charlie Smarts drops a remix, and Shame and Reuben Vincent debut new videos.

“All Infinite” - Kooley High & Tuamie

We don't get Kooley High's collaborative album with ATL-based producer Tuamie for another month or so, but the legendary Raleigh crew is officially now 2-for-2 as far as singles leading up to the release. If there was any question as to why Tab, Charlie & Co. would elect to go all-in on a single-producer album for their next move, the flawless Country sample flip by Tuamie on this one should put it to rest. One of the most original beats I've heard in a long time, and it's stayed in my head all week.

Stream on Apple | Stream on Spotify

Song of the Week: “Penmanship” - Kooley High
The Raleigh/Brooklyn stalwarts give the first glimpse into their forthcoming collab album with producer Tuamie.

“Good Game” (VIDEO) - Premo Rice ft. Gauxstman

Premo Rice is a rapper from Prince George's County, MD, a place where I lived for some time and was even robbed in broad daylight outside a Metro station. But the reason that the newly released video for "Good Game" is on this week's roundup has less to do with me and Premo's exploits in PG County, and more to do with the appearance of Charlotte-based rapper Gauxstman, whose name I am eventually going to start spelling correctly on the first try. These aren't the most cerebral bars you've ever heard, but there's something infectious about Gauxst's voice and delivery on this song that you simply can't deny.

Stream on Apple | Stream on Spotify

“Factor” - Slum Village ft. Eric Roberson, Elijah Fox

With regards to the Durham, NC born-and-raised musical savants we know as the Fox brothers, Gabe (aka Solomon Fox) may be the one getting all the love on social media lately (fans of his recent ridiculous multi-instrumental song production videos include Queen Latifah, Erykah Badu and Ty Dolla $ign), but older brother Elijah has been certified for a long time — lending his musical prowess to acts you may have heard of before, like Drake and 21 Savage, Kali Uchis, Masego, MIKE, Denzel Curry and more, in addition to releasing a series of his own great acoustic piano albums. With his expertise in soulful, jazzy production, a collaboration with Slum Village and Eric Roberson was only natural, and the results are predictably beautiful.

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“Punch In” - Dad Bodi & Tommyxboi

When people talk about how someone "slid" on the beat, they're talking about what Dad Bodi and Tommyxboi did on this one, on which the pair go back and forth trading rapid-fire verses. Among the highlights: "Get ya ass jumped at the barbecue, I'm goin' barnacles/ I'mma stay real til my very last particle, easy for me but it's hard for you..."

Stream on Apple | Stream on Spotify

That's it for me, y'all —signing off from what might be the best week of music (IMO) since we started doing this. Apologies for dropping the ball on the Wednesday email. If all goes to plan, it'll be made up for and then some with the piece I'm hoping to run this coming week.