No Pain, No Fame


Kids who grow up on the streets of Detroit face their fair share of temptations. Some of them, like Se’von, dodge the dealers, boosters, and thugs through music. The rapper lets the streets inform his hip-hop, without letting them define him as a person. His songs are infused with ˜80s rock and R&B, like on “Greater” where an electric guitar wails into a motivational jam. “I’m just like everybody else,” the rapper insists. “From the gutter, no coat.” Sometimes to follow your dreams you’ve got to fly the coop. Se’von uses auto tune and a simple piano line to detail his departure on “I’m Gone,” rapping, “Love me while I’m here.” On the shimmering “Heaven,” he follows up that request with another: “Let my words be an epidural.” We’re not convinced of the power to cure labor pains through rap, but if it’s possible, Se’von’s laid-back methodology might do the trick.

Raise Your Tankard

Cannock Wood is a small village in Staffordshire, England known for its charming natural beauty. And in this bucolic land of rolling hills, green pastures and thick groves of trees, lives a man who wants nothing more than to loll about in last night’s jeans and drink beer. Now don’t get us wrong, as much as Kid Rad talks about his love of slacking off in his lackadaisical track Melt Away, the kid’s quite ambitious. The UK rapper is the first to have performed live on BBC Radio 2, and has steadily built some buzz around his mixtapes and live shows. But you wouldn’t know it from the picture he paints in Melt Away of a lazy little git and a slob who’d rather drink beer under the sun. Against a trilling piano and minimalistic beat, Kid Rad offers advice to worker drones who labor away in passionless positions: If you don’t [like what you do], don’t do it. Lucky for us, Kid Rad’s found something he enjoys as much as a pint. Cheers to that.

“Melt Away” – Kid Rad





Let’s get one thing straight. Hustlers don’t sleep. They just don’t. Exhibit A: the song Husterlz Don’t Sleep by J-Mike. The Houston rapper has made that his mantra, dividing his time between the studio, the stage and the street where he pushes his mixtapes. J-Mike’s determination comes through on the aforementioned track, where scratchy, erratic beats and cascading synths propel his words. I’m gonna keep my mind on the hustle where it’s supposed to be, he vows through the digital rainstorm. But even the most diehard hustler needs to cut loose, and on Drink In My Hand, J-Mike does just that. It’s a pitch-shifted, auto-tuned ode to champagne and trash can punch, and it’s kind of addictive. Haters get their comeuppance on Ready or Not and Headlines Freestyle, where the rapper delivers one verbal bitch slap after another. You some Nextel cats, we no longer need your service. Ouch. But hey, you can’t knock the hustle.

“Hustlerz Don’t Sleep” – J-Mike



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Check Baby, Check Baby

Mike Check

Mike Check started his career in music behind the kit, eventually trading sticks for a pen and becoming a songwriter. Turns out it was a good swap. Today Check is one of New York’s up-and-coming MCs, firing up audiences with fervent lyrics about anything from crime and poverty to Christian Laettner. On the bubbling, synth-driven Mega Man Check details his A-game with the ladies, promising to fade away like Laettner after its over. The mood gets heavier on My Back Yard, a lyrical tour of NYC set to a sample of Benny Mardones’ Into the Night. From Fifth Avenue to Ground Zero, Jamaica Queens, South Bronx and Brooklyn, Check explores the worlds of the haves and have-nots. The rapper’s fierce determination to move out of the latter category is on display in For the Rush, an adrenaline-filled banger about owning the audience. Every time I close my eyes never seen another dream, he spits, like New York’s version of Jimmy B-Rabbit Smith. If it’s true you gotta lose yourself in the music to really make it, Mike Check is well on his way.

“For the Rush” – Mike Check



With a gospel and jazz-singing mother and a guitar-playing, producing and songwriting father, it was almost a no-brainer for A-Natural to follow in the family business. In addition to music, religion was a constant in the singer/producer’s childhood, and a focus that’s continued in his career as a gospel-pop artist. That said, his song Selah would seem pretty secular if not for the title. Loosely translated from Hebrew as pause, and think of that, Selah indicates a musical interlude in the liturgy. The track jumps off with a monster beat, sounding like N.E.R.D. re-envisioning Janet Jackson’s If. Crunching, squealing textures lay the groundwork for the chorus, where A-Natural bleats Selah over and over. It’s hard to discern any piety in lyrics about going out to the club and dealing with the paparazzi. But maybe we’re missing the deeper meaning. We’ll pause, and think of that. You do the same.

Caring Is Creepy


SumKid Majere’s hip hop education is as comprehensive as it gets”gleaned on city streets and country towns from sea to shining sea. Raised between Oakland and North Carolina, the rapper blends his bicoastal influences into a signature style: sentimental and sinister. Kakalak All-Stars pays homage to his Carolina roots. It’s a sunny, summertime shout-out to old friends and family. But, as the warmth spreads, it fades, like the last flickering images on an old Super 8. Then the dark starts creeping in. We Be Pubbin elevates boozing to an art form. It feels almost like an old-school track, with SumKid playing a menacing version of Shock G from Digital Underground. Sepulchral moaning and spooky, pitch-shifted vocals give The Crawl a similar foreboding. The track is about the good old days spent cruising around with the sub woofers blasting, but it sounds more like an elegy. We’re used to nostalgia feeling sweeter, but SumKid’s music seems to infer a danger in looking backwards too much. Or maybe he just likes a scary beat. Either way, the fear factor works.