We know the last few weeks have been nothing short of disturbing, heartbreaking, frustrating—and powerful. Local artists like Bad Rabbit and Cliff Notez have been using their music to spread the Black Lives Matter narrative far and wide. While you ruminate on the world around you with Meek’s “Otherside of America,” Noname’s “Song 33” and Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture,” we’ve compiled five tracks that’ll help keep your head above water. Dutch ReBelle, Pink Navel, Saint Lyor, the Van Buren Boys, and Treva Holmes make up our top picks for this month’s Listen Local.

 

Big Zoe” by Dutch ReBelle

If you didn’t know, Haitian-Dominican artist Dutch ReBelle, also known as “Queen of the Bean,” is untouchable right now and has been for a while. Her fiery, booming track “Big Zoe” arrived on the scene back in 2019, along with a fierce visual, and did some serious damage. “Big Zoe” is the kind of track you roll down all the windows for—the kind you test the limitations of your speakers, but you don’t really care if they burst because it’s just not plausible to listen to it on low. ReBelle raps with grit and an energy that balloons by the second. She maintains a blasè tone, but not without conviction. The beat is almost menacing, but not in a way that restricts it from bouncing with rhythm. Her badass bravado fabricates this need to bump to her sound and doesn’t quite leave you filled—one listen and you’ll be queueing up more.

-Kristen Sallaberry

 

1957 Fxr Upr” by Pink Navel 

Just when it feels like Pink Navel’s about to dive right in, they don’t. They slice full-fledged verses in half, deviating from the moment at hand. The Boston rapper/producer tends to digress, but not without cause. The turbulence within their homespun chiptune sound emits this warm, shabby charm that only video-game synths can pull off—and yes, there are video-game synths in “1957 Fxr Upr.” Navel delivers a sort of sonic dualism, a unique sound to come out of Boston. Their turbulent feel is echoed within their choppy verses, their staccato delivery, and their inclusion of whimsical samples that pop in and out without warning. By the 2:10 mark, we hear the music disappear and an engine begin to start up; the track sneaks back up after a few seconds and we’re back listening to a similar version of the same song, only this time, the beat is obstructed. Navel spins out, switching off between third and first person in their verses while the mellow beat rides on. Pink Navel creates a balance of chaos and composure within “1957 Fxr Upr”—and it’s not one to miss.

-Kristen Sallaberry

 

VB Worldwide” by Van Buren Boys

Turn this up until you hear it thumping out the window blocks away. Van Buren Boys arrive with their second single as a unit to date with the head-knocking group anthem, “VB Worldwide.” Producer Ricky Felix samples Barbara Mason’s 1975 deep cut “I’m In Love With You” to craft a vintage soul vocal to give the song lift against the dramatic drop that ensues. As the listener starts to float along on a warm melody, Felix then swats them down with a punchy beat and harsh bass. The verses offer sharply contrasting vocal styles from across the Van Buren roster. The Brockton-based collective includes rising hip hop stars, Meech, Jiles, Saint Lyor and the masked rapper Lord Felix, who has been on a tear this year. Along with the deeply talented Luke Bar$ and producer Ricky Felix, both of whom were involved in one of 2019’s most ambitious hip hop group projects, J. Cole and Dreamville’s Revenge Of The Dreamers III

-Jared Steinberg

 

Last Time” by Treva Holmes

“You blame it on the fact that I’m from Roxbury / I blame it on the fact that I was not ready.” 2019 Boston Music Award Nominee Treva Holmes is a master of autotune and earworm R&B hooks. “Last Time,” the final song off his latest album, BIG Trev, has a head nodding beat and relaxing lulls that give you the space to drift off and reminisce on a warm summer night. His plush, polished R&B vocals effuse a glossy, Hollywood pedigree even though he’s local. While Holmes remains in Boston, he’s putting out notable collaborations with artists around the country including one with Brooklyn lyricist Skyzoo, which Earmilk called “a solid gem.” On May 13th episode of the Boston Award-winning It’s Lit Podcast, Holmes said: “I like to make the albums lengthy and drop my projects when people are home, like my last album dropped on Christmas Break, and this one’s perfect for right now.” 

-Jared Steinberg

 

“Idiot (freestyle)” ft. Premo.Dee by Saint Lyor

With soulful modified guitar plucking that pads the mellow beat, Saint Lyor flexes his writing chops with classic-era hip hop storytelling on his new smooth cut “Idiot (freestyle).” Within the layered lyrics, the Brockton-based rapper paints a picture of what his imagined self would be like if he were famous, sharing his fears about the limits of his personality and how he could envision himself changing with fame. He raps wistfully, “I’d care about appearances and who the hell hate it… I’d give it all to charity just to prove the narrative that I’m a nice guy when I’m really the most arrogant… and I’d still be sayin’ shit to make these white women scared of us.” The song also incorporates an auto-tuned melodic hook that takes you back to Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreak days. In a recent interview with DJBooth, Lyor spoke about his debut album IF MY SINS COULD TALK and the origins of his sound, saying he fell in love with hip hop through Lauryn Hill but didn’t have the option to express himself emotionally at home growing up. Now when he gets in the booth, “it’s all about unwinding.”

-Jared Steinberg

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