This vibrant gang of musicians is approaching 2015 from all different angles. Some are still quite new to the music game, while others take the new year on after rising from a breakup.
There’s something comfortingly American about an artist like Rick Ross, who proves that great rhymes about being rich can become self-fulfilling prophecies. But the more stories I read about income inequality getting closer to Great Depression-era levels, the more I want to see a rapper like Archibald Slim hit the jackpot. Don’t be fooled by the title of his 2014 debut mixtape, He’s Drunk!: this a sober, poignant exploration of how it feels to have the deck stacked against you, driven home by the kind of gorgeously subdued boom-bap grooves that DJ Premier could’ve cooked up on a rainy day in 1992. Of all the members of Atlanta’s boldly innovative Awful Records collective, Archie’s vision is the most fully formed, his lackadaisical delivery framing him as a young man who’s already left outrage behind, who sounds resigned to a life spent traversing the shadowy alleys of an unfair world. If anybody’s ready to drop Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City-level science in 2015, it’s him. Joe Sweeney
The tenor saxophone quartet Battle Trance put out one of the most thrilling pieces of contemporary classical composition in the form of the album-length piece Palace of Wind, released through the always exciting New Amsterdam label. There is, however, a catch; while Palace of Wind is indeed a stunner, it’s the kind of piece that is hard to replicate or reimagine due to its unassailable singularity. Merely reiterating the sonic template established by Palace of Wind would dampen the achievement of the music. Nevertheless, while figuring out what to do after making a one-of-a-kind record is no small task, if anyone is up to the challenge it is Battle Trance. In taking one instrument, multiplying it by four, and from that creating a musical odyssey that sounds like the product of a much larger number of instruments, this quartet has adeptly proven its ability to challenge musical boundaries. For that reason, it’s far from crazy to think these ace musicians have something else up their sleeves. Brice Ezell
It was but two years ago that we were, in this very same feature, talking about this very same group, hoping they’d do the very same thing. As Yogi Berra might have said, “it’s like déjà vu all over again.” You can forgive us at PopMatters if we’re a little over-enthusiastic about this Chicago rap trio, but there’s no one on the music scene with the kind of incendiary combination of humor and hooks, of passion and politics. The group went on hiatus in 2013 to deal with family and personal commitments, but that doesn’t mean they were sitting on their hands. Epic recently debuted his first solo mixtape #OPRAH (on this very site, no less) while Illekt laid down tracks with Chicago MC Anonymous. Meanwhile, the group has been playing shows throughout the latter half of 2014 and has hinted at possible new music in the coming year. With over two years having passed since their last album, the stunningly ambitious bell hooks, it’s hard not to get excited at the prospect of seeing the group’s next step. John M. Tryneski
I hope clipping. keeps experimenting with its sound in the way I want them to. I hope that this year, the experimental rap group simply utilizes accessibility in the same way it might familiarize itself with a new instrument: to help foster the music that’s floating around in the group’s collective mind, and nothing more. While this year’s CLPPNG was a more flavorful pill to swallow than its predecessor Midcity, it still is a hell of a trip at the end of the day. The album tells stories, gritty and grimy, through the lens of a well-polished rap group.
I want to find out what hip-hop is when its innards are thrown against the wall, when any remaining recognizable semblance of the genre is processed and then rehabilitated. I want to find out how much more room there is in rap for the industrial sounds clipping. uses, and that Death Grips once used. I want to understand exactly what it is Death Grips left behind when they posted that now-infamous napkin picture to their Facebook page. I want to know that there’s more to this whole movement of sonic deconstruction within hip-hop, more to this sound that clipping. has helped forge than the illusion of remodeling. And when I listen to songs like “Body & Blood”, I realize something important is happening here. It’s the sound of vitality, of new sounds being explored in an old and familiar way. The truth is that even though I hope clipping. will keep exploring music in the way that it has so far, there’s an instinctive drive telling me that it’s only just getting started. Jacob Royal
Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurrianns
Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurrianns are not new to the world of film scoring. In past years, the two have contributed low-key gems like their work for the highly acclaimed 2011 film Martha Marc May Marlene. However, 2014 proved to be the breakthrough year for this dynamic duo, with its scores for The One I Love and Enemy rising to the top of the crop. Enemy, in particular, is a tour de force of cinema music, an album that pulls off the rare feat of being able to stand entirely on its own and remain a compelling work. Many film music composers spend their whole careers without ever pulling that feat off, so for Bensi and Jurrianns to have succeeded in that way is a significant achievement. Hopefully, 2015 will see this innovative duo provide even more movie music, the kind that you’ll want to listen to long after leaving the theater. Brice Ezell