Chuck Strangers Cops A 'Plea,' On His Own Terms

The Flatbush-bred rapper/producer discusses his new album. +reviews of Cakes Da Killa and Tony Shhnow.

Chuck Strangers Cops A 'Plea,' On His Own Terms
Chuck Strangers. Photo courtesy Lex Records.

You don't call your album A Forsaken Lover's Plea if things are going your way. For Chuck Strangers, however, this impassioned metaphor rather succinctly captured his mixed feelings about his place in hip-hop.

"This industry or the game or however you want to call it, I felt like it was a girl who might give you some play behind closed doors, but out in public, she jacking everybody else more than you," he says. "And so I looked at it as almost like a last ditch effort of sorts. This is an extreme gesture to really get this person's attention in a real way."

Though he likens his experience to that of a jilted lover, the Brooklyn-bred rapper/producer turned Los Angeles resident has found some success in the fundamentally tricky and fiercely competitive music business. His 2010s come-up in the Pro Era crew and his concurrent Beast Coast affiliation put his music in front of a considerable audience, having his beats included on Joey Bada$$ projects like 1999 and B4.Da.$$. In more recent years, he's scored placements and features on albums by Roc Marciano, Eyedress, and Pink Siifu, among others. "I rapped on a Ka album," Strangers says with pride over working with the critically acclaimed Brownsville rapper. "To be able to keep up with him and be on one of his albums, I'm good, you know what I mean? I try to keep that same fire on my own stuff." (He mentions that there's even more in the way of Ka team-ups left unreleased, at least for now.)

Still, he's not wrong to feel a bit under-appreciated by the industry at-large, especially in light of his notable associates and cohorts. "A lot of friends of mine, or people that I know, are ahead of me," he says, not with jealousy or spite but more matter-of-factly. "I took the last four or five years to really get better at rapping."

A Forsaken Lovers Plea, his first solo album for Lex Records following a 2023 EP for the label, makes a bold statement for putting Strangers further up the queue. The 17-track set shows a holistic picture of his artistry, both as an emcee and as a beatmaker, and how far he's come since the Pro Era mixtape days and even his 2018 solo album Consumers Park. In addition to providing several instrumentals of his own, he locked in with other studio head-nod artisans such as The Alchemist, Animoss, Graymatter, and Zoomo, taking certain liberties that only a fellow skilled producer could. "Even though I didn't do all the beats, I still feel like I produced the whole thing," he says. "It's not like I'm just taking the beat and rhyming. A lot of times I'll hear a beat and kind of treat it like a sample."

As for the contents, their provenance of some of this material dates back more than six years. "It was songs that we had that never went anywhere," he says of once-orphaned cuts like "Ski'd Up" and his personal favorite "Count On My Love," that survived the album's multiple iterations under then-working titles like The King James Version and simply 2. The oldest song to make the cut was "Flatbush N*****," a hometown ode originally intended for Consumers Park. Not content to simply include it as-is, Strangers gave it more than just a quick once-over.

"I had to re-record that song because I sounded way younger," he says of his revisions, adding that Flatbush Zombies member Erick The Architect's guest verse came later as well. "If you listen to it, he nails it more than me on the Flatbush thing."

Joining these refurbished gems from Strangers' vault are newer jewels like the mournfully brooding "Sunset Park" and "Grasp," the latter's downer soul vibes and pointed lyrics a worthwhile late entry in the final sequence. On a similar wavelength, you can hear his frustrations on "Sermonette," an Alchemist production that outlines how leveling up can feel so close yet so far while bemoaning a rigged system. After awhile, it's hard to tell if he's still talking about the rap game or about life itself–a mark of his growth and maturity, to be sure.

No matter what people ultimately think of Strangers after A Forsaken Lovers Plea, he stands by the finished product as a reflection of the kind of album he wanted to make. To that end, his choice of guests speaks largely to his longstanding friendships with artists he genuinely believes in, a short but meaningful list that includes Remy Banks of Worlds Fair fame and the aforementioned Bada$$.

"If I really like your music, if I find myself listening to your shit on my own time, and we catch a rapport, then I really want to work," he says. "We hang out, we laugh, can joke, smoke some weed? We should probably do some music. 

"It's not really rocket science for me."

Cakes Da Killa, Black Sheep (buy it / stream it)

Throughout hip-hop history, dance music has often provided cover for slighter spitters that less buoyant beats would otherwise expose. Genres like hip-house and bounce as well as club sounds coming from Baltimore or Jersey offer instant gratification on the dancefloor, to be sure. But those unique skill sets don't necessarily translate beyond those scenes, as scarcely few from such circles tend to break out in the wider and more scrutinized rap arena. (Drake's electronic album Honestly, Nevermind proved the opposite true as well, its sending him swiftly back to safer ground within months for Her Loss.)

A preternaturally gifted emcee who just so happens to claim the discotheque as his domain, New York fixture Cakes Da Killa stands out even when the house lights come on. On his Sam Katz helmed new album Black Sheep, he demonstrates his dextrous delivery in the nightclub context while also expressing a thematic maturity that indicates further depth to his lyrical artistry. On the anthemic "Crushing In Da Club," he takes stock of his romantic inventory amid blunt haze and sake sips, while "Mind Reader" elevates his raunchy rhymes with peak hour finesse. "Ain't Shit Sweet" adopts a refrain on its intro best known from Biggie Smalls before exuding a ferocious confidence backed up by his bars.

Tony Shhnow, Out The Woods (buy it / stream it)

Plugg music fave Tony Shhnow feeds the streets with regularity, energizing fans over the last 12 months with high quality yet sonically diverse sets like Love Streak and the Robb Bank$ joint tape I Can't Feel My Face Too. His latest project Out The Woods embodies so much of what makes the Atlanta based rapper so appealing, dropping effortlessly cool and oft double-timed verses over inventive production that winks knowingly at discerning listeners. Tracks like "Don't Slip" and "Tryna See" epitomize his reliable formula, as do compelling variants "No Time Soon" and "Salute (Yes)." The guest list is limited, but when you've got a hip-hop legend like Big Rube giving the salutatory address on your intro and outro, who even needs more features? That said, Compton native 1TakeJay rides the soul groove on "99 Overall" with ease, while the prolific 3AG Pilot marks his territory on the bass-heavy and ominous "Animal Crossing."

Three new tracks for you to snack on...

Rapsody, "Stand Tall"

Kelz2Busy, "cdg.wav"

Stan Ipcus, "Styles"

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