Bidet, ‘Prove It’
Rarely does brutal music have the effect of making you feel like you're floating when you're listening (the Minutemen did this; so did Mayhem on “Deathcrush” at least) but ‘Prove It’ is more freeing than oppressive. It's also ruthlessly efficient—a 50-second whoosh of hardcore guitar, scowling sentence fragments (“held back in a society that values male authority/ and expects me not to put up a fight”), and loose-jointed drumming. I am reminded of that Sylvia Plath line about “eat[ing] men like air.” Off Bidet's demo, released back in November but recently added to Bandcamp and I've been seeing tapes of it around, so new in its own way. Or still fresh, at least.
Butch Dawson, ‘Till The End’
A six-minute apocalyptic dirge, replete with Project Pat samples, Triple Six Mafia grunts and shouts, and oozing synthesizers. With each verse, Butch Dawson stares the beat down from a different angle—a wheezing, laconic rapper remembering days of hustling and chasing girls in Morrell Park in one verse, a gnarly double-time tough talker in another. It's like something from Mobb Deep's “The Infamous” if Prodigy and Havoc had stopped pretending they weren't art-school kids (snarling ones packing weapons yes, but art kids nonetheless). From Dawson's excellent new tape “Prey.”
GMG Tadoe & Test, ‘Dopeman’
For a while there, Test, signed to Future's Freebandz label, didn't seem to have a place here. He existed in this strange interzone between Baltimore rapper and about-to-blow major-label-courted capo to a big name (a fate that it seems prevented rappers such as Comp and D.O.G. from breaking through). In retrospect, the city's street-rap scene had to catch up with Test. Here, over a drippy trap beat from D. Dae & Retro, Test and next-big-thing GMG Tadoe (best known for last year's mumbling ultimatum ‘One Call’) concoct a consequences-considering turn-up track moving in slow motion.
Jay Wyse feat. FMG Dez, ‘Rap Game Trap Game’
Jay Wyse points out for what must be the thousandth time that rapping and dealing are perhaps not all that different—informed by the same drive to escape and using some of the same skills, especially in Baltimore where no one is going to help your ass. Though here it's a more sophisticated, beyond-good-and-evil celebration of skills (“Some niggas sick with the wrist/ Some of us just got a gift”) and DIY-ness (“Get the most money without a middle man”). Then, FMG Dez sneaks in with a woolly verse that acknowledges the ways in which these two hustles awkwardly bump into each other which complicates things. Off Wyse's J. Cole-ish “Nine Twenty Five.”
Kate Porter and Daniel Conrad, ‘Aquanaut Subsurface’
“Happen Stance” is an improvised collaboration between cellist Kate Porter and Daniel Conrad, who creates his own instruments to make an unprecedented kind of alien noise (here he plays a vina-bambina, a one-stringed guitar type thing or something). Its best track, 'Aquanaut Subsurface' is a duel between considered strings and hesitant pop and hiss. The result is something that sounds like say, a copy of Stockhausen's “Helicopter String Quartet” baking in the sun. Go illegally download “The Revenant” and watch it with the sound off while this plays.
Nerftoss, ‘Public Works’
Baltimore's version of Four Tet—back when Four Tet was less content to trace house hero moves and was still making a distinct sort of pastoral electronica, that is—describes his latest album “Prospect Endless” on Bandcamp like this: “The underlining emotional tag that exists through these tracks is one that whispers and nudges the listener to remember to be hopeful in a time that is increasingly suggestive to do otherwise.” If there is a theme in this edition of On The Download it is post-uprising possibilities and this track ‘Public Works’ (its title perhaps a rejoinder to Trump, Cruz, etc.-brewed hatred of government do-good) with all its samples and found sounds crawling all over one another, sounds like a few moments of clarity in a tangle of chaos.
An amorphous rappity rap track book-ended by ambient blurs from the MC formerly known as Neru Isis (you can see why they changed their name), ‘Float’ splits the difference between Lauryn Hill-esque elan and Phife Dawg conversating. The Manson Family, A Tribe Called Quest, Jimi Hendrix, and John Lennon all get shout-outs, which makes sense. Too much sense maybe. It's not so much a song as it is a four-minute long feeling with a killer hook: “I'm taking acid like I don't have a spine/ Exploring dimensions that are beyond time.”
The Non-Binaries, ‘New World’
Some of the Bruce Hornsby-derived hip-pop melodrama of 2pac's 'Changes' is inside of this instrumental hip-hop-meets-classical duo's capital-I inspiring track—the centerpiece to this non-binary duo's uprising-informed album “Fear and Hope” (Bethim James, one half of the duo is from Baltimore). It's also got some Coldplay cheese and effectual EDM rise-and-fall flutters going on and seems intent to collapse as many musical binaries as possible—sincere and pandering and spirited and cynical and anticipatory and histrionic all at once. Music for future uprising documentary montages.
On the Baltimore Uprising-themed “#fearwillkeepthelocalsystemsinline,” Pulswidthmod doled out the dead-eyed synth sounds of John Carpenter and Nine Inch Nails to convey Orwellian dread as our city was under a curfew. This year's follow-up “Right of Passage” feels more hopeful though no less political (see ‘Selfish Cunt’) and is still rife with nostalgia (heavy nods to Krautrock; a cover that recalls “Contra” for NES). The highlight is ‘eRRor’ and its fervent, distant beat. It could be the sound of another wave of change or maybe just a rave raging 100 miles away. Either way, new signs of life.
Rip Knoxx, ‘Freedom and Liberty (Remix)’
Baroque Bmore club producer Rip Knoxx remixes ‘Freedom and Liberty’ by the USA Freedom Kids, those Donald Trump-approved, damn-near-literal cheerleaders for the American right wing. Here, ‘Freedom and Liberty’—which, if you haven't seen video of the Trump rally performance, is like that Nazi from “Cabaret” singing ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’ mixed with the ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ performance from the “Frank's Little Beauties” episode of “It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia”—gets infused with electro and broken into tiny jingoistic pieces. Baltimore club music is very good at kicking power in the dick.