Heat Check Roundup: redveil, Armani Caesar, Wiki and more
The Heat Check playlist is your source for new music from around the worlds of hip-hop and R&B with an emphasis on bubbling, undiscovered and under-the-radar acts. Who's got the hot hand? Who's on a run? It's a menagerie of notable songs curated by enthusiasts from around NPR Music.
In this week's Heat Check selects, prodigies past and present connect with OGs and friends, rappers stretch the limits of genre, and young artists breathe new life into a few unmistakable samples. Elsewhere, Griselda's first lady stakes her claim, a rising Afropop crooner finds his niche, a tired Toronto singer takes on wastemen and more. Stream the playlist on Spotify. Check in.
redveil, "pg baby" (Remix) (ft. Denzel Curry)
Earlier this year, the Maryland rapper redveil emerged as a prodigious talent learning on the fly with his third self-released album, learn 2 swim. Shared on his 18th birthday, part of its charm is that it feels like a bona fide album, its songs gelled together by a singular purpose, but one track in particular seemed to epitomize the album's vision and the artist's style: "pg baby," a soulful cut that laces a throwback R&B sample with carefully defined melodic raps. The song is a boyish striver's theme for keeping it pushing despite missteps because you're always representing everyone back home. But hidden somewhere within his woozy flows was a surprising world-weariness.
redveil taps Denzel Curry for the remix, and his young OG, a rare 27-year-old elder statesman, understood the assignment. Curry knows a thing or two about being a rising teenager (he debuted in Raider Klan at 17) and thinking about home and its influence (his 2019 album, ZUU, was an homage to Miami Gardens), and he adds a verse that is reflective and provincial, performed with his madcap fervor: "With all the locals, fist fights had us falling out with each other / It's silly 'cause they my niggas but really, they are my brothers / In turn, they all made me tougher but rougher around the edges / But most importantly, see what's greater over the hedges," he raps, drawing a direct line between his hometown growing pains and a globetrotting payoff. — Sheldon Pearce
Armani Caesar, "Ice Age"
Armani Caesar is likely the best rapper in the Griselda stable, and on her new album, The LIZ 2, it feels like she is making her case with each aggressive push into the foreground. Nowhere is this more evident than on "Ice Age," a pure display of strength and skill. "I'm on a roll while they stallin' out / I'm with the s**ts, and they know I'm that b***h / I can stand next to the hardest out, f**k is you talkin' 'bout?" she raps, discernably annoyed that she even has to say it. The crystalline, Denny Laflare-produced beat sounds like someone attempting to play a chandelier like a xylophone, which is fitting given Caesar's overarching message: Elegance is something you embody at all times. — Sheldon Pearce
Maurice II, "luhvit<3"
On the three-track sampler Luhvit<3, Maurice II (known previously as Jon Bap) negotiates aesthetics in Dilla time. What results is a compelling and dizzying blend of rock, free jazz, computerized neo soul and (seriously) much, much more. After two more meandering cuts, the EP reaches its climax with "izzitwurkinfoya," an up-tempo shift that is more consistent, carrying pan-flute-like hits throughout its sparser, guitar-driven instrumentation. The song poses a rhetorical question that scans as a double entendre. Stay with me. Maurice II asks listeners if defying their gut instinct is setting them up for success. I don't know you but I'm sure it isn't. More broadly, he asks if this thing he's trying out is working. I'm pretty sure it is. — Gabby Bulgarelli
The Toronto singer-songwriter Chxrry22 is signed to the Weeknd's XO label, which is ironic because on "Wasteland," from her new EP, The Other Side, it feels like she's venting about the kind of character he often portrays in his songs. "Such a f**kin' wasteman / In a city full of wastemen / You treat me like I'm basic," she sings. He doesn't want her until he sees her doing better without him. Now he's back to ruin her life again. Guys like the Weeknd and Brent Faiyaz (who released an album earlier this year called Wasteland, with a lyric that feels particularly applicable here: "If I die, I'm haunting you"), have made entire careers off toxicity, playing the philanderer circling back. Here, Chxrry22 calls one out, her voice feathery but assertive when she sets the stakes: "I need a love, deep as the ocean / Pull me to shore / Show me devotion." — Sheldon Pearce
Tyla Yaweh, "Sex Symbol"
There are many bustling rap scenes in Florida, but the singsong Orlando rapper Tyla Yaweh has existed a world apart from them sonically and aesthetically, skewing instead toward rock-inflected pop rap. It is now cliché to use rockstar as a euphemism for a certain kind of rap celebrity, and Yaweh has leaned into that iconography since he surfaced on SoundCloud in 2019, releasing a song called "Tommy Lee" and collaborating with one-man Nirvana cover band Post Malone (who also discovered him). "Sex Symbol" continues this obsession, and though it doesn't do anything particularly novel with the trope, it does push his sound into a more interesting direction. Songs like his breakthrough single, "Gemini," albeit earwormy, felt nearly weightless. These vocals are heavy and distorted, and he almost sounds like a fusion-dance product of Travis Scott and Lil Uzi Vert. As with much of Scott's work, the focus isn't on the lyrics, which are uninspired, but the crunch of the distortion itself. — Sheldon Pearce
Jim Legxacy, "dj"
Listening to Jim Legxacy's "dj," I'm reminded of how artists like XXXTentacion and Lil Peep would unlock new sides of hip-hop — and themselves — by wailing in the cadences of emo. Jim does something more contemporary here, singing of an old flame by narrowing into a specific detail, his voice faint and fluttery: "You used to promise me you'd teach me how to DJ." He sounds genuinely broken over that somber guitar riff, but when the drums and bassline erupt, you're immersed in the loose, communal vibes of drill and Afrobeats. It's the most unexpected concoction, but it feels more alive than anything I've heard in a while. — Mano Sundaresan
As Afropop's innovators worked to legitimize the form by carefully defining its parameters, a host of young stars have been operating in the fringes and breaking those established rules. Among these artists is the Nigerian teenager Azanti, who makes mellow, R&B-infused songs that aren't unlike those by slightly older mavericks Fireboy DML and CKay. His voice isn't quite the same formidable instrument, but he has a way of soft blending his vocals into his production to soothing effect. His new song, "late4dinner," is a perfect is example of this; as his reverbed singing gives off a gentle hum, it's almost as if it gets swept up into the current of a laid-back groove. — Sheldon Pearce
Babydoll, "My Faults"
The Chicago singer, producer and DJ Babydoll recently released an EP called tell me it's The End that is full of sweet songs of doomed romance, but no song feels more in touch with sense memory than "My Faults." It seems to linger in the emotions of the song it samples, Duffy's "Hanging On Too Long," stirring with hushed guitars and Duffy's own vocals ("It was just my false hope thinking we'd last," she sings in the distance.) Babydoll's bittersweet verses are layered on top, creating a sublime collage of two separate experiences of lost love. — Sheldon Pearce
Wiki, "One More Chance" (ft. Navy Blue)
"One More Chance," a track from Wiki and Subjxct 5's new mixtape, Cold Cuts, presents Wiki and the rapper-producer Navy Blue as not only collaborators, but as admiring friends. On the song, the two New York-based artists engage in a playful back and forth, trading compliments over a dreamy, lo-fi beat, which periodically builds to a looped choir adamantly chanting "one! more! chance!" It's the first collaboration between the two since Wiki put the production of his 2021 album, Half God, entirely in Navy Blue's hands. "Patrick Morales I love you / I see you as a brother plus you taught me what morale is," Navy Blue praises. "Navy Blue was born under the fullness of the moon," Wiki hits back. It's nothing but a sweet declaration of respect and love. — Teresa Xie
Maiya the Don, "TELFY"
The New York rapper Maiya the Don is in the midst of a viral moment with "TELFY," an ode to self-worth disguised as influencer marketing for a designer bag. Being in one's bag is a shorthand for being in a space so comfortable it inspires success, and here the bag in question is represented by a literal Telfar bag, only further reinforcing her status. Despite the usual rap showboating — her Range Rover isn't rented, she's dripped down in Prada wearing shoes by Giuseppe — the whole point of "TELFY" is that even without the brands, she'd still be that girl, an unstoppable force for cool. "This dress looks good 'cause I'm in it," she snaps. The song allows the prominent sample of Sisqo's "Thong Song" to do much of the work, affixing bigger rap drums to its base yet leaving it otherwise uncut and unadorned. But its energy is really powered by Maiya's swaggering, self-assured performance. As she rumbles through the verses, she is putting everyone in her line of sight on notice. — Sheldon Pearce
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.