My interest in hip-hop was birthed in 2007, when after I heard Young Jeezy and Jay-Z’s “Go Crazy” I looked up the video on YouTube and ended up exploring many more snapping and clapping mid-aughts hits. A few months later I discovered 36 Chambers and Illmatic through the relentless flood of backpackers in the comment section and immediately purchased them as CDs at Best Buy. This was to be the beginning of a lifelong love affair with hip-hop and life long relationship with the video sharing platform as my source for discovering good music. As I grew into adulthood, YouTube’s music content and community grew with me. While I only had a few friends that were as interested in me in finding obscure Southern rap tapes, or as invested in discovering more “indie rock” than fucking Tame Impala, on YouTube I found plenty of suggestions and kindred spirits.
When I was 15, European tape collectors introduced me to the previously completely obscure world of the ’90s Memphis rap. Soon after, taste curators as young as me showed me the emerging Phonk of Smokey, Purrp, Xavier Wulf. Middle aged vinyl collectors introduced me to 80s electro funk as I partied my way out of college. Aging English indie rockers revealed to me the blissful world of ’80s and ’90s shoegaze and dream pop. It was not a local music scene, not an older sibling, not a blog but Youtube’s complex auto play and suggestion algorithms that ultimately shaped my music taste, an experience shared by many in my generation. This phenomenon should be better documented and understood.
Here are some relatively underappreciated projects that I came across on the platform in the past year that you should listen to, because they are great.
(Which begins a monthly update on albums I’ve heard on the platform that should be more widely celebrated.)
Hype Click – Playaz Only
I had been searching for this whispered about and hinted at tape for years until I had been delivered to the Promised Land when the incredibly resourceful underground rap collector came through with a high quality upload of this ode to playin’ and pimpin’ by Hype Click, a Shawty Pimp-led supergroup. Even if you are not a fan of Southern rap, you have to appreciate the consistent quality of Memphis legend Shawty Pimp’s shiny and effusive sample loops, so therapeutic and warm you wonder if you heard his precisely cut and stretched and squeezed slices of horn, guitar, and keyboard melodies in your pre- nursery rhymes. Shawty Pimp is joined by many of his frequent collaborators, notably MC Spade, Red Dog, and Skinny Pimp, and the production features as many ear-worming melodies and relaxed voices dancing on them as Still Comin’ Real.
While you lose yourself in the coziest corner of underground Southern rap cassette tapes you can thank maybe thank a completely anonymous and unpaid curator and obscure tape collector listens to hours of grainy and near-grating Mack D.L.E and Orange Juice Clique tapes to bring you to this and thank him.
Woo – Into the Heart of Love
I ran into Into the Heart of Love as a suggested video a few months ago, and was immediately enchanted by what sounded like Boards of Canada in an Ayuascha shaman’s tent. This strange and beautiful tape, venturing between the genres of ‘ambient,’ folk, world music, and new age mysticism is a honey-sweet mix of warm analog synths, the glowing intimacy of home-recorded strings and winds, and tape hiss. Woo is George and Clive Iven, English siblings who made brilliant and genre-bending music arguably 20 years beyond their time for 20 years from the 1970s through the 90s in near obscurity. They are a rare musical group that successfully and confidently moves into unprecedented sonic or historical territory without sounding overly theatrical or nakedly ambitious. After being criminally overlooked for decades, recent years have seen a sudden surge of interest in Woo’s large discography beyond the previous tiny and cultish fandom of British record collectors, reissuing old releases on vinyl and uncrating a massive back catalog of unreleased music You can catch them on their website or Bandcamp.
Ozean – Demo Tape
Like all good shoegaze bands, Ozean was formed at the turn of the 90s by misplaced hipsters in a rainy city playing around with reverb pedals until their guitars sounded so warm and heavenly that they had to choose a gorgeous girl to sing among, in, and around haunting and ethereal walls of melody. The difference between MBV and San Francisco group Ozean, however, is that this incredible 3 track EP did not leave the basement it was recorded in for 25 years. In 2016, bassist Eric Shea finally blessed the world with 14 minutes of pixie-dust coated, dreamy indie pop as good as any of their more celebrated contemporaries. It was sent to the underrated YouTube channel to upload and instantly entranced their subscriber base of shoegaze nerds. This project truly stretches shoegaze’ dreamier aspirations to their logical conclusion. For it’s entire duration there is not a moment where the guitars cease to envelope you in a cloud of spacey atmosphere, Lisa Monet Baker’s sailing, stretching vocals are always hovering just in the center of the mix and moving slowly through the center of her angelic singing range. Any self respecting fan of Slowdive, MBV, Cocteau Twins, their many 90s peers, or the endless array of mediocre to shitty modern imitators should thank the gods of unreleased demo tapes that they can now listen to the album here and purchase the EP as a 12” on Bandcamp.
Human Serpent – Gradual Immersion Into Nihilism
I once believed I could live a long and healthy life without willingly listening to any angry and obscure subgenre of niche metal or knowing the difference between first and third wave black metal or stoner doom metal and doom metal. The past few years have slightly changed this opinion after being first buttered up with a few blackgaze records (namely Ghost Bath’s Moonlover) and then dipping my toes in some friendlier variants of third wave black metal, especially that found on the wonderful Atmospheric Black Metal Albums channel. This very accessible debut of Greek duo Human Serpent tickles my ear with simpler and more predictable song structures, walls of sound and escapes from endless power chords with asides like the haunting Gregorian chant between the first two tracks.
Ciëlo – Un Amor Mató Al Futuro
If you need to scratch an itch for indie keyboard funk, but are the type of fan who needs more obscurity, some minimalistic composition, and non-English lyrics to feel good about enjoying a sound that was only worthy of blog buzz 6 years ago, rest easy for I have found your Tinactin. With a sound that has less kick drum than New Wave and an allergy to melodramatic bridges and guitar solos, this 2002 record by Spanish band Cielo sounds more Neon Indian than New Order; they would have been hailed by blogs as a cutting edge member of the Chillwave Vanguard had they emerged a bit fashionably later. Unfortunately for fans of fun indie rock and new wave revival, it seems like Cielo has been largely ignored outside of a small contingent of Spanish fans. This is offensive to any sane listener of this incredibly fun collection of funky bleep bloops and their later work that has the angrier, growlier singing and more experimental, noisier keyboard mashing needed to pique the interest of people who like to overthink dance music. Regardless of the record’s cultural context, any time you hear a European man in makeup whispering dangerously into a little song as cute as “Diagonol” you should at least be impressed by their ability to pull stuff like this off.
Ngozi Family – 45,000 Volts
There is probably no better place to find 20th and 21st century African pop or rock or rap music then YouTube. In my experience it is usually pretty dang impressive, though that may simply be the selection bias of what recordings have ended up on YouTube given the small size of indigenous recording industries in comparison to the West. The Ngozi family and it’s iconic frontman Paul Ngozi here made a better psych rock album than the many annoyingly self-serious or self-righteous and often over-composed efforts in the US and UK in the 70s and up until today. The album strips down to the essential elements of the genre; even when a track employs what sounds like many instruments, the jam session vibe is much better suited to take listeners down interesting and emotional journeys than some Western contemporaries that were making 9 minutes odes to their technical skills on guitar with a frown.
The Ngozi Family is also intelligent and compelling in addressing the tumultuous late 20th century of decolonization and political liberation in Zamibia and most all of Africa, rather than making sweeping, moralizing claims it addresses more everyday experiences and relatable political and personal sentiments. It’s not a protest album, it’s instead a popularly empowering album to a citizenry that had been silenced and ignored by decades of Western imperialism and was facing an increasingly complex geopolitical reality.
P2THEGOLDMA$K – Ballin’ Cause I’m Ballin’
San Antonio rapper P2 The Goldmask is noticeably different from and slightly aloof of most of his peers in the Internet Underground he is native to. The 30-ish self styled masked villain seems to hold the rapidly turning trends on internet rap in content, instead building on his signature “traptaku” sound, which can be described as late 2000s Atlanta trap if it was made by a character in a sci-fi anime, the bounce and snap of his melodies and warbly vocal and percussion mix sounding more like a spaceship’s control panel than any recognizable human instrument. On this tape he continues his constant barrage of ad-libs and simple bars about his trap stats and begins to grudgingly move more towards the year he recorded it in with the addition of auto-tune slightly more jumpy, drill influenced percussion. It’s nice to come across a rapper who knows their strengths and sticks to them, even if that means the play count is low enough to be on this sort of list.
Suave House – Album of the Year
I’ve dedicated more time than any reasonable human should to navigating and documenting the endless maze of 1990s Memphis hip-hop, and still missed this incredible 1997 compilation tape from Houston-based record label Suave House until this past summer. Rather than holding the kitschy appeal of a horror B-Movie that many lo-fi 90s Memphis acts are known for or the hallucinogenic slow warble of SUC tapes, this is a collection of Memphis’ and Houston’s slick commercial gangster and R&B rappers at the peaks of their creative and and commercial powers. Tela, 8Ball & MJG and South Circle headline a bouncy blend of West Coast G-Funk and regional Southern sounds to put a Southern stamp on late 90s commercial hip-hop. 8ball and MJG lead single “Just Like Candy” is one of the silkiest beats in their whole discography.
Machine Girl – Gemini
I found Machine Girl when I was exploring the Death Grips hype machine side of YouTube and was very entertained by their insistence on making music that sounds like an endless argument between two pink pokemon. Just kidding, kind of. They make boldly experimental and noisy electronic music that is so energetic and abrasive that it has to be experienced to understand. I saw them live last November shortly after discovering them. Despite the art school crowd’s crippling fear of appearing interested, their insane light show, gyrating and moshing vocalist screaming into and humping the mic, impossibly aggressive live drummer,machine gun bleep bloops and harsh noises made Machine Girl the most intense and energetic live band I’ve seen besides Death Grips in the experimental/ electronic genres. That show is where I also made my first real friend beyond my roommates my first month living in Cincinnati, local footwork/ house DJ and producer w0xy, and became internet pen pals with their friend, the leader of a club kid cult. I can safely say that this will best explain the Machine Girl experience.