Few rap duos gel like Raekwon and Ghostface Killah. Bursting out of the 36th Chamber of Shaolin/Staten with lyrical swords drawn, they demonstrate their twin talents throughout 1993's crowded Enter The Wu-Tang Clan. Yet it's the back-t0-back performances on "Can It Be All So Simple" that first revealed their chemistry of contrasts. That dynamic only strengthened as they broke off from the wider group for ostensibly solo efforts that found the two together more often than not.
Against the pitchy, fortified squall of Ghost (or Cappadonna's occasional mush-mouthed gymnastics), Rae, by comparison–and only by comparison–presents as a relatively conventional emcee. It is deception, a trick on the ear. That aural illusion of idiosyncrasy dissipates like a mirage when he's heard in stark isolation on 1995's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx cuts "Knowledge God" and "Spot Rusherz." The following year's Ironman flipped the script on Toney Starks, with The Chef's nimble flows making him as far from a hypeman as humanly possible. Still, those scarce solo spotlight moments "Poisonous Darts" and the profane "Wildflower" make clear the depth behind the outlandish, personality-driven storytelling.
Similar things happen with G's Us, the cleverly monikered union of R.A.P. Ferreira (fka Milo) and AJ Suede. Neither the Ruby Yacht captain nor Seattle's self-proclaimed Suede God mirror the aforementioned Wu-Tang members, per se, yet they nonetheless find unique congruity in their distinctly gifted approaches. The former uses his pen in a tradition of jazz poets, his reverence for Ted Joans and Bob Kaufman hardly hidden in his heady rhymes. The latter emcee is more pop art than pop rap, a veritable hip-hop mage who casts intricate spells out of broad cultural touchpoints that rarely feel like mere punchlines. When the two men combine forces, as on 2020's "Suede Yacht" or last year's "No Brainer," the creative rapport yields no shortage of thrills and chills.
Produced by steel tipped dove, their third-eye-opening WHAT THEM DOGS DON'T KNOW THEY KNOW (buy it / stream it) comes just a couple months after Suede's full-length collab with the Brooklyn-based studio hero, Reoccurring Characters. Ferreira's entrance into that freshly established aesthetic drops the temperature by a noticeable number of degrees, adding a cool blue hue with a cinematographer's intentionality. They swap Rae and Ghost's Scorsese-sized mafioso braggadocio for something more subtle and solemn, a big screen noir told in after-hours comfort and knowing hushes. Ferreira's hook opens "UNIVERSE" as if from the stage of a late night café, his spoken word meter performed with a glorious confidence. The deliberately sluggish beat soon gives way to Suede, who vividly colors within the lines in the freestyle spirit of their fellowship. Here, they're both on point, cognizant of their place within the world, with what they can and cannot control. But even with shared economic anxieties and the existential imperative to hustle, they come to the topic from different vantage points.
Though roughly sitcom-length, the combined weight of these seven songs exudes hour-long drama series energy. Despite earned reputations for impenetrability, both rappers are invested enough in their work together to engage presumed listeners beyond either one's existing fanbase. Neither feel compromised artistically here, mind you, but there are visibly graspable straws for the thirsty and willing on "JUST CHOMP" and "RAGE QUIT." Admittedly, Suede's the one namedropping Bruce Lee while Ferreira casually does the same for semiotics, but there's nothing overly academic nor pandering about their verses. Instead, they employ ad libs and refrains to lure people in for "FREAKS" and "PARADE," then pontificating from dual soapboxes in such a way that the right ones can't help but stay put.
Bruiser Wolf, My $tory Got $tories (buy it / stream it)
To borrow a cliche: if Bruiser Wolf didn’t already exist, we’d have to invent him. With acerbic, winking wit and a hypnotically charming cadence, the Detroiter dazzled on 2021's Dope Game Stupid. Funnier than any of Chappelle’s last four specials, this eagerly awaited follow-up takes his riotous act even further, revisiting well-trod topics with astoundingly fresh takes. Like if Rudy Ray Moore joined Coke Boys, he hustles as only he can for the Harry Fraud produced opener “Let The Young Boys Eat.” His couplets can be vicious or clever, sometimes in equal measure. On “Looney Tunes” he delivers the quietly devastating lines, 40 on a Jesus piece? / that’s a midlife crisis, amid swaggy bars about banking at MattressFirm and moving weight like keto. At times, he approaches Nate Dogg levels of hookery, that casually smooth vocal tone turning out improbable earworms on “Crack Cocaine” and “2 Bad.” (The latter playfully serves as an unofficial if brief sequel to 2013’s posse cut classic “1 Train" with Bruiser Brigade boss Danny Brown reprising his role along with ZeelooperZ.) Ultimately, most of the beats here come from Raphy, the in-house beatmaker behind his prior album, with whom a comfortable yet vigilant Wolf undeniably prospers.
Johnny Ciggs & Starr Nyce, Cigarettes At Sun Up (buy it / stream it)
Johnny Ciggs stays humble in a downright biblical sense. Where the hedonistic joys of excess populate so much of what one hears, even from rap's rarified over-40 set, the Richmond emcee spits a wisdom only, tragically, beholden to those who've experienced and emerged from downfall. On this concise project as with prior ones, he proffers proverbs from sobriety, a heavy subject under which less capable writers buckle at the knees. His nicotine-soothed soliloquies support his chosen sobriquet, the inhale-exhale of hard truths and deep reflections swirling through "I'd Rather Be Broke" and "Words From The Heart." A past-tense parable told in a far more optimistic present, “Hopeless” casts a few sunny rays of recovery to an audience still feeling their way through the darkness. Producer Starr Nice repeatedly demonstrates the value of giving a wordsmith some space, his big room boom bap tendencies setting the tone without muting the message on "Armani Tags" and the jazzy title track.
Three new tracks for you to snack on...
Al-Doe & Spanish Ran, "The Pope And The Pastor (feat. Ab-Soul)"
Goya Gumbani, "Till Then"
Primo Profit, "250"