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Lord Esperanza – Boulevard

Hailing from northern Paris, 21-year-old Lord Esperanza released his first album at the end of 2017. Only mid-way through 2018, the prolific rapper has already followed up with two projects, the latest being a 7-track drop entitled ‘Internet’. On this EP, the self-proclaimed “kid of the century” shares ‘Boulevard’, a powerful track that illustrates a ludicrous picture of the world that surrounds him. He expresses his distress through carefully constructed rhymes and vivid metaphors, laying his emotions bare over a delicate beat, a touching cry for help coming straight from his heart.

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Ozzy – Ett Öga Rött

Swedish/Somali rapper Ozzy is a rising star, transferring his life experiences into lyrical excellence. His debut album ‘Ett Öga Rött’ (One Eye Red) is inspired by a Swedish novel of the same name. Growing up in Rosengård, southern Sweden, with all the odds against him, he found an escape in music and literature; as a kid he was often bullied and called names – in which he uses to introduce himself on the first track of the album, reclaiming the abuse he was subject to: “Det är jag som är Ozzy, stor svart tjockis” – (“It is me Ozzy, big black fatty”). Writing songs gave him a lifeline during this troubled upbringing; the song ‘Några Gånger’ (A Few Times) tracks his deep love for the music and the many sacrifices he made for it over the years.

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Nafla – B.I.G.

Born and raised in Pasadena, California to Korean parents, in 2016 Nafla moved from the US to rock the hip-hop scene in the country of his heritage. He quickly became emblematic of the resurgence in boom-bap rap among the new generation; as trap influences began to dominate the Korean hip-hop scene, fresh tracks like ‘Wu’ and ‘Locked and Loaded’ stood out with a fresh take on a classic 90s-influenced hip-hop sound. Nafla’s unique aggressive, sharp vocal tone has won him fans on both sides of the Pacific; after proving his skills on rap, he also explored other styles with songs like ‘Mercy’ showing that there’s no limit to his powerful delivery. Now seen as a trendsetter of boom-bap in Korea, in June he returned with new single ‘B.I.G’, paying respect to the legendary Biggie Smalls.

Teyana Taylor – Rose in Harlem

G.O.O.D. Music have had one hell of a month. After five consecutive weeks of dominating the hip-hop agenda with the releases of 7-song albums from hip-hop legends Pusha T, Kanye West, Kid Cudi and Nas, last weekend the label’s run finally reached its climax with Teyana Taylor’s sophomore record ‘K.T.S.E.’ (standing for Keep That Same Energy). Despite being perhaps the least hyped up of the five releases, the Harlem-born singer takes her moment in the spotlight with relish, delivering a record of slick, timeless RnB jams. Smooth soulful production comes courtesy of West and Mike Dean, who for the most part leave aside the more abrasive electronic experimentation that they have explored on the previous records, opting instead for a palette of warm keys and classic soul samples allowing Taylor to showcase her powerful vocals, exemplified on the album’s standout track ‘Rose in Harlem’.

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Jay Rock – Redemption

LA record label Top Dawg Entertainment has produced some of contemporary US hip-hop’s biggest new stars in the last few years, developing the likes of Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Isaiah Rashad and SiR. Amongst such a wealth of fresh talent, west-coast rap veteran Jay Rock has at times perhaps been overlooked; despite being one of the label’s earliest signees way back in 2005, he has thus far struggled to emulate the same level of international commercial success as his label-mates. However this is due to change with the release of his third album ‘Redemption’, a powerful, direct record that expertly fuses Rock’s roots in classic hip-hop sensibilities with the trappier contemporary sounds of the modern-day scene. In the midst of a host of stellar guest appearances from hip-hop royalty like Lamar, J. Cole, Future and Jeremih, the 33-year old Rock more than holds his own, showcasing his arsenal of slick flows and imposing delivery over a diverse range of styles, tied together by a consistent dark energy. Touching on a range of themes including religion, race and gang life in Los Angeles, ‘Redemption’ is a truly enjoyable rap album that is due to elevate Jay Rock to the status that he has perhaps long deserved.

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Mvroe & Joseph Kiwango – LOVE

Mvroe and Joseph Kiwango are two artists whose continual musical collaborations have bred a unique fusion of trap and R&B within Nairobi’s diverse sonic culture. On ‘Love’, Kenyan Mvroe and Tanzania-born Kiwango offer a bitter-sweet blend of lyrics that combine sensual imagery with poetic romanticism over a brooding, ethereal instrumental landscape, featuring arrangements of both auto-tuned and raw vocals. The single is lifted from their forthcoming collaboration album “Let Her Come Over”, a project which is the product of a broad range of influences, reaching across English and Swahili, live and electronic instruments, African rhythms and psychedelic textures. Produced by elite Kenyan producer collective EA Wave, the track has become a late night anthem in the underground Nairobi club scene.

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Moka Boka – Pas de pluie, Pas de Fleurs.

Without rain, there can be no flowers. Since 2015’s ‘Negus’, Brussels’ Moka Boka has often returned to the motto that that every cloud has a silver lining and the need for pain to find happiness. Never one to be afraid to speak his truth, on his latest full-length project the rapper shares an honest message of hope, showcasing his surgical flows and melancholic lyricism as he nonchalantly drops spirited bars over soulful productions.

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Smino – New Coupe, Who Dis? (ft. Mick Jenkins)

After the success of his 2017 debut album ‘blkswn’, St. Louis rapper Smino returns with his first single of 2018. The track sees him delivering his distinctive melodic falsetto vocals and trading slick verses with Chicago’s Mick Jenkins over a slow, bumping groove produced in collaboration with with THEMpeople. The contrast between the two lyricists style is a lethal combination, Jenkins’ smooth, laidback flow serving as the perfect complement to Smino’s unorthodox, staccato energy, skipping across pockets in the distorted beat as the infectious bassline keep the listener’s head knocking.

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Karun & Mr. Lu – Under

Karun is a musical chameleon within contemporary African culture, bridging the alternative Kenyan scene with an approachability appreciated by her increasingly global audience. First finding fame in her teenage years, as a member of Nairobi hip-hop group Camp Mulla, after the group parted ways in 2013 she embraced her capability to write songs, play instruments and produce, and enrolled in Berklee College of Music in the US as an electronic music major. She collaborated with Kenyan producer collective EA Wave on the ‘Indigo’ EP in 2016, and on returning home she co-founded the collective Cosmic Homies, becoming a key player in the burgeoning ‘Nu-Nairobi’ scene. Occasionally using the alternative moniker ‘Runka’ (created by scrambling the letters of her birth name), she self-produces a large part of her own work but often collaborates with other innovative artists, as heard here in this track ‘Under’ with Mr.Lu.

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Lava La Rue – Widdit

West London hip-hop artist Lava La Rue returns with another smooth banger. Blessing a timeless old-school groove with her own refreshingly distinctive style, the NiNE8 founder showcases her skill and versatility on the track, equally comfortable dishing out bars on the verse as she is handling soulful melodies on the hook. Taken from her forthcoming EP ‘LETRA’, this is one to simply lean back and enjoy.

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Baloji – L’art de la fugue – Le vide

Combining a unique mixture of rumba, funk and hip-hop, veteran Belgian rapper Baloji’s new album ‘137 Avenue Kaniama’ infuses its irresistible groove with an introspective, soulful core. Drawing inspiration from his unique journey, juggling between Brussels and Kinshasa, between French and Lingala, between loving and leaving, he cultivates his original sound through drawing contrasts and parallels between his experiences, bringing us into his complex world of conflicting feelings.

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Theodor Black – Black Boy Blues

Reservoir’s Theodor Black returns with his sophomore EP. The south-east London rapper approaches themes of race, romance and the transition of growing into adulthood, weaving his trademark rich lyricism over staccato, jazz-infused production. Setting the tone from the titular opening track, the project’s distinctive hazy, dream-like atmosphere is the perfect sound for his vivid introspective bars, painting a picture of the world through his lens.

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rkls – Self Titled

rkls – pronounced ‘reckless’ – is the brainchild of producer duo Kid Fonque and D-Malice, uniting their different cultural backgrounds (South Africa and the UK respectively) under a common love of rich neo-soul and hip-hop. Their debut album ‘Self Titled’ is a transcendent fusion of styles, effortlessly moving from classic soulful ballads to uptempo dancefloor-ready beats, and features a diverse variety of guest appearances such as LA’s broken beat visionary Marc De Clive-Lowe and hip-hop legends John Robinson and Kev Brown, as well as a host of dazzling new vocal and production talent from South Africa – Sio, Melo B Jones, Daev Martian and White Nite to name but a few.

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Jason Kalinga – Ego Is The Enemy (ft. Kahvinya)

Jason Kalinga’s music is a unique combination of spirituality, wisdom, and street-level realism. Though he remains on the fringes of the burgeoning Nairobi scene, his intricate lyricism makes him one of the most exciting talents in contemporary Kenyan music; his songs speak on youth, love, success and struggle in an honest, emotionally articulate style, with influences from the classic hip-hop era and contemporary RnB melodies. ‘Ego is the Enemy’ features compatriot Kahvinya, who lends her powerful vocals to the track’s outro.

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AKA Keyz – No Options Left

Sudanese artist AKA Keyz comes roaring into the game with his debut project, ‘The Seed’. At just 21 years old, the eight songs demonstrate a level of skilled lyricism that belies his youth, touching on a range of mature subject matter from mental health and introspection to childhood reminiscence. Lead single ‘No Options Left’ is a track that carefully balances a smooth, timeless hip-hop groove with serious comment on the socio-economic and political state of his country, all tied together around an infectious hook.

Dinos – Helsinki

This poetic song from Dinos sees the Parisian rapper transcribe an heartbreaking message left by an ex-girlfriend on his voicemail, with each verse channelling the development from love to hate. The melancholic effort, lifted from his debut album ‘Imany’, features mesmerising vocals on the hook courtesy of Yseult.

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Bas – Pinball II (ft. Correy C)

In 2013, Dreamville rapper Bas released Pinball, a song that hinted at his hunger for success; five years on, its sequel is a testament to how far the Queens artist has come. With his last album ‘Too High to Riot’ debuting in Billboard’s Top 50, Bas has steadily climbed up from his humble beginnings – and he isn’t stopping. Pinball II boasts punchy bars delivered with a racing flow and features the heavy vocals of LA artist Correy C.

TooDope – Alright (ft. MaMan)

The burgeoning Sudanese hip-hop scene is producing some of the most exciting talent right now: rappers like TooDope and MaMan’s ability to merge the influences of Western hip-hop with local cultural references is demonstrated on ‘Alright’, as Omar Majid’s bouncing production is blessed with an infectious hook and humorous lyricism.

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Saba – LIFE

Chicago artist Saba’s sophomore album CARE FOR ME is dedicated to his cousin John Walt who was fatally stabbed in February 2017. His discography boasts a range of diverse material, exploring a fusion of elements of hip-hop, jazz, and neo-soul; on LIFE, the production morphs from a smooth head-knocking double bass sample to darker, distorted synth sounds as the mood develops, with Saba’s melodic raps brooding over his personal struggles with grief and the hardships of life as a black man in America.

Lausse the Cat – The Girl, The Cat and the Tree

Mysterious alternative hip-hop artist Lausse the Cat is one of the most original artists to come out of the UK in a minute. Weaving tales of youthful, hedonistic debauchery alongside brutally honest introspection, the Leeds-based, London-born artist is capable of switching languages from English to French as easily as he does subject matter. His dense wordplay and matter-of-fact delivery provide an unorthodox contrast to the sweet and soulful instrumentation he spits over, as the infectious knock and smooth melodies of the rich production combine to make for genuinely intriguing music from this unique artist.

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