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Around The World With POW: February Edition

The POW Rap-Up

This month, Brooklyn’s Sleepy Hallow drops a Valentine’s Day homage to 112, T Jxint brings the the latest in L.A. function anthems, Stockton’s Verde Babii creates a tribute to the high life and the perils it brings, and an introduction to Tony Bontana, the best kept secret from the UK’s Birmingham.

By passionweiss


Passion of the Weiss is the last rap blog. Founded in '05, it has survived blogroll purges, broken 404 links, and cyber-attacks (allegedly) from October's Very Own to persevere as one of the only daily publishing independent music sites. With a primary focus on hip-hop, its coverage also includes dance music, psychedelia, sports, and other miscellaneous skepticism. Its regional Rap Up features a collection of some of its most knowledgeable contributors identifying one bubbling song from their respective regions, aiming to capture the diffuse spirit of a multi-faced and global genre. Read POW here.

Brooklyn, NY

Sleepy Hallow - “Cupid’s Guidance”

In our last installment, we addressed an often neglected rap holiday: Uncle Murda’s New Year’s anthem “Rap Up 2023,” a 20-minute Ulysses scribbled on toilet paper. For February, we’re returning to the backwaters of South Brooklyn, with “Cupid’s Guidance,” another unlikely rap holiday jam from Flatbush’s own Sleepy Hallow. But beyond their seasonal attachments, the two songs are inversions of one another, both in design and execution.

Whereas Uncle Murda stole a concept from another rapper and proceeded to run his bit into the ground, Sleepy Hallow reminds us all art is stealing, and stealing is an art. With its Valentine’s Day release date and accompanying video, “Cupid’s Guidance” was well thought through. The song’s vocals are laid down over a perfect flip of 112’s “Cupid,” which gets right what a lot of drill beats have gotten wrong lately—it elevates the BPMs while maintaining the source material’s sweet, lovesick throb. It was an intelligent rollout, with every step thematically aligned and executed to perfection. As of writing, the song is charting on Apple Music’s New York City: Top 25.

This has been Sleepy’s MO; several of his tracks have attracted millions of views on his YouTube page. Alongside in-house Winner’s Circle producer Great John, he’s been an adventurous beat picker, sampling TLC, bachata, and viral playground anthems dedicated to the only shit my kids want for dinner. The Jamaican-born artist’s attack on these dubs is melodic—more Serani than Bounty Killer. In the video for “Cupid’s Guidance,” the perfectly named sample-drill director Spike Tarantino throws an E-Hall remix on the video’s “Baby One More Time”-style visuals, with stunning production value for the genre, evidence of a real budget, and vote of confidence from RCA, who partnered with Winner’s Circle in 2020. 

Sleepy is one of the few artists left standing from Brooklyn’s first wave of drill, but it’s still early. He’s only 24, though it remains to be seen how much more we’ll get from him. His partner, Winner’s Circle founder Sheff G, is currently in jail serving a two-year bid for gun possession, which has been compounded by the 32-person gang indictment both he and Sleepy were a part of last summer (both have been charged with conspiracy in a dozen murders). It means that we may never hear music from Sheff again. While Sleepy is awaiting trial, this spring, he’s embarking on a national tour.

On last September’s Boy Meets World, Sleepy included “Cash & Chow,” one of the most unusual rap songs I’ve ever heard. It finds an older, established rapper writing a stylistic tribute to Cash Cobain and Chow Lee, two younger artists he admires, and in some senses helped create, on a song neither has anything to do with. It’s courageous in a borough and a genre in which any sort of recognition of another artist can be interpreted as weak or corny. But it’s also smart—most likely a mix of genuine fandom, and a savvy reading of the tea leaves in New York. It‘s evidence that the 24-year-old rapper is an inventive, forward-thinking pop artist worth keeping your eye on. Maybe he’ll have something in store for Arbor Day.  - Abe Beame

Los Angeles, CA


T Jxint (Feat. Vinny West) - “My Skeleethe (Remix)”

Sometimes, a song comes along that perfectly freezes a moment in time and provides a snapshot of an era or region. Think Sada Baby defining Detroit rap by howling about his “bigass shotgun” looking like a 7-footer from Finland or Pop Smoke’s growls on “Welcome to the Party,” which came to represent all Brooklyn drill was and would become. 

In the City of Angels, there’s been a steady progression of scene-defining sounds and torch-bearing songs. YG and Nipsey, Drakeo and Greedo and Shoreline, and the man who first said the word “Thotiana” have all owned it at one point or another. ASM Da Bopster had it two years ago with his regional hit, “Like the Way You Move.” In that same lineage is T Jxint and Vinny West’s “My Skeleethe,” which slipped past mainstream consciousness, even though I heard the term “Skeleethe Summer” used to describe how frequently it was played at functions last year.

The song feels so quintessentially of this moment in L.A.: it’s got a minimal, blown-out bassline, it veers into the raunchier end of comedy, and it deploys some hyper-local slang as its punch. On the song, T Jxint and Vinny West go back and forth, gloating about their skeleethe (LA slang for a sneaky link), referring to her a freaky deeky (also commonly-used slang in LA) who everyone else desires. No amount of descriptors can do justice to the level of praise they heap upon their skeleethe, whose sexual exploits are positioned as a marker of their personal success. 

The song sounds both light as a feather and heavy as a cement truck. It’s got an easily-repeatable hook that’s bounce-inducing in the way that all the best rap out of L.A. has always been. But it’s a different type of bounce than YG, Shoreline, or any other predecessor. This next iteration of the sound that ASM Da Bopster and T Jxint have honed in on is more compact, and a little more disorienting. It sounds like drunken wobbling masquerading as confidence. The beats and flows of this generation of L.A. rap are just drunker and hornier versions of their predecessors, making “My Skeleethe” an exemplary banger. - Harley Geffner

Stockton, CA

Verde Babii - "Cars, Clothes & Jewelry"

Both Verde Babii and the late Young Slo-Be deliver lines as if they were trying to completely empty their lungs, creating a sloughing effect in between existential bars about being everything and nothing at the same time. Except Verde is taking the style to another level, evolving his vocals into an animated growl not unlike the legendary Keak Da Sneak. He has a penchant for picking beats that transform soulful samples into Stockton street rap, complete with the genre’s signature laser sounds and shaky bass. He’s also armed with admirably realistic expectations when it comes to living a life of crime. He’s surrendered himself to the intense ups and downs of living outside the margins. You can hear the hunger in his voice, the intense need to let out an aching pain, almost as if he’s reluctantly fueled by having to be this cynical and cold. 

Verde is also armed with a well-tuned antenna that can pick up pain in almost every aspect of his life. On “Cars, Clothes & Jewelry,” he’s consumed with the pursuit of these items, but seems acutely aware of just how doomed this makes him. “This shit was going left before it went right / It was days I had to wipe my tears before I went outside,” he says. Verde’s growls are so consistent and heavy on this one that it almost becomes part of the beat, which is already harder and more hectic than we’re used to seeing from him. 

The Stockton-based rapper has put together an impressive string of mixtapes in the past two years, dropping four full tapes in 2023 and opening this year with The Verde 2, an 8-song offering that goes a little too heavy on the chipmunk R&B samples, but is nonetheless a decent showcases of Verde’s gruff versatility. Last year's Real Stepper On My Mother may be my favorite Verde tape. Coming complete with two J. Stalin features, the release connects the Stockton newcomer with a Bay Area vet to great effect. – Donald Morrison

Birmingham, UK

Tony Bontana - “WMD”

A rapper, producer and multi-instrumentalist with the heart of a poet, Tony Bontana is Birmingham’s best kept secret. His projects are tripped-out sonic ventures as incongruous as a whiff of the weed smoke one might get while walking through the tony Kings Heath Park on a weekend night out. At any given point, he could be recording hardcore punk in the band SPEW, co-leading the Brummie-based label Everything is Perfect, or lending his deconstructed “splayed” beats to Novelist and billy woods.

Bontana continues to attract the attention of those who have followed the breadcrumb trail of his releases and shows—people like skaters, graffiti artists, A&Rs and ALWAYS-wearing rapheads whose music taste can go from Navy Blue to ZULU. Self-released under Everything is Perfect, the Brummie polymath’s latest project, L’Humanite, is a loving tribute to his late mother fleshed from Bontana’s meditations on bereavement, legacy, mortality and the prosaicness of life.

The opening song “WMD” sets the pace well, starting off with a consoling conversation between Bontana and an elderly loved one before unleashing lo-fi production from close collaborator Dan Oddysee. The bass notes fall into the mix like 50 kg dumbbells and emotive synths underpin Bontana’s ping-pongy flow as he traverses between a series of feelings: “See you up in heaven, tryna to plan a visit / Shit was going good then it took a pivot / Hit me like a brick on them ward visits / No greater love, yours defied physics.” 

Rapping as if he’s descending down the bottomless pit of depression, Tony Bontana breaks in anguish only to repair himself afterwards, taking a firm-footed step towards the next day. – Ethan Herlock

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