A lot of lists were made in 2013. I’m not just talking about all of the “best of” lists that have been compiled and are still being worked up by blogger-types around the world. It seems that in this year specifically, a lot of editors decided to write up some pretty ridiculous lists over the course of all twelve months. Would you like to know what the “Top 20 Wu-Tang Trap Remixes Made By People That Don’t Have Shit Else To Do” were? Didn’t think so. But that list is probably floating around on the net somewhere, whether you like it or not.
Nobody under the sun heard everything that came out this year. That’s why our music site is maintaining a “Best We Heard” motto for the charts we’ve been putting together. It just so happens that we listen to a lot of local music that a lot of other publications and magazine-styled sites are not touching. Without further adieu, here are the best albums and mixtapes that we heard out of Kansas City’s music scene this year, with a strong focus on local rap, hip hop and whatever the hell you’d call Reggie B’s latest album.
10. Two4One – “Bargain Basement Shit”
Belligerent and Dutch Young bursted onto the local scene this year under the dual threat, Two4One. The two MCs razed a lot of venues in KC and on tour, and left most of those shows walking away sweaty with a trail of destruction behind them, and new fans in front of them. Bargain Basement Shit was the name of their first full-length album (March 2013), and it featured some rather turnt-up production from Audio Kush, Shareiff Robinson, and a few others. A lot of this album strikes with an angry frustration from a couple of young MCs who know their potential but haven’t quite made it yet. It’s difficult for me to write anything on Two4One without bringing up their live show. So maybe this #10 pick is a bit jaded and maybe I’m beating a dead horse by constantly referring to how incredible their live show is, but BBS knocks regardless.
9. CES Cru – “Constant Energy Struggles”
CES Cru went from a formidable rap tandem to full-blown Strange Music stars in 2013. Constant Energy Struggles was their first full LP on the independent rap powerhouse, but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised that they didn’t include more features. Tech N9ne, JL of BHood and Liz Suwandi held down some of the more notable guest appearances, but at the end of the day, Godemis and Ubiquitous are true masters at their craft and shouldn’t have to rely on any features. Confession number two: I did not listen to this album as much as the rest of the picks on this list, but it would’ve been kind of sacrilegious to not point at Constant Energy Struggles as one of the biggest releases out of the Kansas City music scene over the past 12 months. While I could’ve used more Leonard DStroy production on this thing, it still remains a landmark for KC’s underground hip hop collective.
8. Riley – “The Fundraiser”
From the belly of the beast comes Riley. If you pay attention to Demencha, you’ve probably never heard of Riley because we’ve never featured him on this site before. But just a couple of weeks ago, he handed me a copy of his Fundraiser mixtape disc, one which features original beats from Cardo of Wiz Khalifa’s Kush & Orange Juice fame in addition to the Collie Buddz “Come Around” instrumental and a feature from Gee Watts. Riley is a young buck. He’s only been rapping for about two years, but his lyrical content revolves around street life and loyalty projected through an honest, down-to-concrete perspective. All too often, rich and lavish lifestyles get confused with street rap somehow. Riley’s music is coming from a gutter level, without question. “Whatchu Gon Do” displays what I think of as the strongest song-writing on this mixtape. It blatantly asks the listener if they’re built for street life or not. This mixtape is not necessarily meant to be digested comfortably by the artsy rap crowd, but it is a swift kick through the door of the local rap scene.
7. Yawn Johnson – S/T
Yawn Johnson is a three man group consisting of Huey P. Nuisance, The Abnorm and i-R Neko. The fun was injected back into local hip hop with this group album. “Style Style” was a perfect example of that, but even more serious tracks on the disc see Huey addressing his departure from Heet Mob. i-R Neko’s solo track “Dead Rappers” plays out like his personal showcase or commercial, and stands as my favorite track on this record. Neko is easily the most overlooked MC in this group, but we have every inclination to believe that he, Abnorm and Huey will drop some real flames with their upcoming solo releases on Shameless in 2014. There is more truth in the “power in numbers” philosophy in hip hop today. Gathering three solid MCs, releasing music and touring seems to be one way that hip hop artists are succeeding right now. Hopefully these three continue to kill shit into next year and beyond.
6. The Abnorm – “Soular Powered”
Kansas City MC, The Abnorm, made a lot of noise this year. Like, a lot. Landing a gig on the Heartfelt Anarchy stage at the otherwise milky Middle of the Map Fest seemed to be the beginning of what was a big 2013 for him. As a matter of fact, he made so much noise over the past 12 months that I couldn’t ignore his name being brought up in all kinds of “favorite local rapper” discussions. Those discussions were not including Abnorm’s name even two years ago. The Soular Powered Project was produced entirely by Scotty Wu with the exception of “Come With Me”, which was knocked out by Abnorm himself and shines in its own right. Abnorm is highly respected in lyricist circles around town, but this record is his strongest disc yet. When you hear Abnorm rap, familiarity will strike your ears the next time you hear him rap. He’s got a very unique style, like none other in KC. How’s about a new “Midwest Choppers” track fresh for 2014 with an Abnorm feature? It would be a good look, no doubt.
5. Stik Figa & L’Orange – “City Under The City”
Topeka MC, Stik Figa, and Carolina producer, L’Orange, released an album this year titled City Under The City. Aside from what is probably the coolest album title I’ve read in years, this album shines as Stik’s best lyrical work yet, according to people who actually rap, and that’s saying something. Unfortunately, and now that I think about it, CUTC was another record on this chart that I did not listen to as much as I should have. If I had listened to this more I probably would have bumped it higher on this chart. I’m blaming it on my inability to burn discs from home for my car. But this album, out on Mello Music Group, was by far Stik’s biggest move yet if we could only imagine the soundcloud plays. Sometimes Stik Figa is overlooked in KC’s music scene. But we’d hope that he could land some festival or tour gigs next year (or whenever this ice melts). God knows he deserves it.
Kansas City’s Ron Ron had our town on fire for a stretch of years. But here we are about three years after that stretch and I’ve still got people asking me “What’s up with Ron Ron?” I think Ron Ron might be the only one that knows the answer to that question. But he did drop Mr. No It All 2: Higher Learning back in January. I was super lucky to get my hands on a disc just recently. Twenty-two tracks of hype party anthems, tales from the hood and a lot of introspection made this one of the best releases I heard out of KC this year. But it also held rank as the most elusive product out of KC’s rap scene, considering the demand for it. Ron Ron is an incredible talent, and I’ll do what I can to shed light on his music in the future.
3. Dan Matic – “Ancient Aliens”
Kansas City producer and MC, Dan Matic, delivered a brazen hip hop record with Ancient Aliens this year. Produced entirely by Matic himself and containing a ton of really good guest features and bass-heavy material, it could be a real momentum builder in the direction of a greater effort behind the “Ancient Aliens” title. What form could that take? I’m not sure. But I do know that this album played out more like a collective group movement as opposed to what was Dan Matic’s first solo record. I listened to this album a lot and couldn’t shake it as one of my top 3 albums out of Kansas City this year.
2. Heartfelt Anarchy – S/T
I played the shit out of this album and I loved it for reasons that I think other people didn’t. For some reason, it served as an absolutely perfect soundtrack to the gray skies and cold days in February and March, around the time it was officially released. The depressed beats from D/Will and Les Izmore’s fearless, furious raps went tougher than a fifty-cent steak. There’s an angle on the record that captures the remarkable chemistry between this producer/rapper combination. In the name of live instrumentation peppered all over this album, I couldn’t stop referring to the Heartfelt Anarchy album as “psych-rap”. I suppose it’s an acquired taste? Give it some more spins and you might reach a more peaceful place with it. Watch out for more music from D/Will and Izmore in 2014.
1. Reggie B – “DNA”
Every song on this record is worthy of being a single. In my opinion, if there is any album that came out of Kansas City this year worth your money on iTunes, it’s Reggie B’s DNA LP out on Tokyo Dawn Records (Germany). It’s brimming with jams and the features are star-studded (Salva, Onra, DJ Spinna, etc.). Reggie B’s music is doused in funk and soul, but similar to any number of DJs/electronic artists that have bolted out of KC for greener pastures in Portland, Brooklyn or LA in recent years, his style of music is a fish out of water here in Kansas City (aka the land of egregious phlegmatism). An unafraid collaborator and fiercely independent mind, Reggie B took no prisoners with this release. All killer, no filler seemed to be the mantra. He let loose on more than a couple of live instruments on this record, including his patented keyboard play, and his singing sounds better than ever.