The cinematography for Baltimore rapper 4KMicheal’s “” video is so well-considered, with beautifully captured scenes — with spooky color grading and dynamic framing — that it feels more like a short film. But joined with the song’s lyrical content, it’s clear as to why the Vlad-directed video takes that route. Eerie synths that feel like they’re straight out of a thriller, half-screamed lyrics and crunchy, heart-pounding high-hats help drive the story of a man (4kMicheal) who’s at his emotional brink and ready to inflict harm on others.
The video starts with a masked guy withdrawing an outrageous amount of money from a drive-through Bank of America ATM (while on foot); he then delivers it to another guy at a nearby laundromat. From there, 4kMicheal and his accomplice follow them and ambush the recipient for his dufflebag of cash before screeching off in the car. “BOA” is one of those rare, but sweet, instances when a music video is in full alignment with the song being performed.
Lil Gray, “Doubted Myself”
In the context of DMV street rap, Landover, Md.’s Lil Gray excites because, while he does follow some local conventions in terms of flow pattern and vocal delivery, he paints outside those lines with passion and ease. You get a clear sign of his personality through the music: fun, unpredictable, eccentric and confident. All of that can be felt when he switches a rhyme scheme mid-verse or vocalizes a sound effect instead of incorporating the actual sound effect. His latest release, “,” is full of those moments. The 16-track project is primarily produced by Sparkheem, the Prince George’s County native who’s been steadily elevating the DMV rap sound with his tendency to incorporate playful, lighthearted synths and samples of your favorite ’90s sitcom theme songs in his beats.
One of the standout songs on the new tape is “,” which finds Gray acknowledging how detrimental it is not to believe in yourself. Beyond the message, it’s the details that’ll keep you occupied here. Gray teeters between a possessed wail and a poised conversational approach every few bars; when he talks about ringing someone’s bell, he screams “bing!” instead of having Sparkheem and fellow Prince George’s producer Spizzledoe throw in a sound bite. And for regional continuity, when he rhymes “carry it,” “married it” and “Harriett,” he doubles down on his Maryland drawl, resulting in them sounding more like “curry,” “murray” and “Hurriett.”
Shordie Shordie, “Seattle”
If there’s one thing you can count on Shordie Shordie for, it’s to serenade the ladies with his gravelly voice. Singing about the joys and pitfalls of love is what has helped the rising star from Northeast Baltimore gradually plant himself in the mainstream hip-hop sphere. He’s further solidified that spot with “,” a new 12-track collaborative project with platinum-selling Canadian producer Murda Beatz (Drake, Migos, Travis Scott) — putting Shordie in a place where no other Baltimore rapper has been in recent memory, if ever.
Murda Beatz’s production doesn’t necessarily add anything to Shordie’s arsenal that wasn’t already present, outside of a more prestigious hip-hop connection. Album cut “” is the closest that Shordie gets to uncharted territory on this tape. He has always been more of a singer than a rapper, even though his production style, face tats and gold fronts cause people to categorize him as the latter. But even when he does elongate his vocals, they have a rap-like bounce to them.
“Seattle” is different in that it’s purely R&B in song structure and in the type of emoting that he does on it. The song features him talking about an undying love he has for a woman who is connected to some of his worst enemies — a “Romeo & Juliet”-esque tale. The dilemma is what sparks the yearning that we hear on the track, and it teases a layer to Shordie’s artistry that would be a pleasure to see more of going forward.
Jayy Grams, “Late for the Bus”
Jayy Grams entered the wider public’s consciousness in 2018, when, as a high school student, he went to New York to appear on legendary hip-hop radio showto spit a Friday morning freestyle that wowed those who were previously unfamiliar. It was clear that the West Baltimore native’s rap style was much more in line with the boom bap sound of ’90s New York City (before he was even born), with a focus on storytelling and punchlines. Because of that, Grams’s name doesn’t often comes up when people are listing their favorite Baltimore rappers; the most popular artists in the city shoot for a style that’s more akin to an interpretation of Philly’s Meek Mill or to what’s coming out of places like Atlanta and Louisiana.
But luckily for Grams, Harlem veteran Smoke DZA took him under his wing. Now, the 21-year-old has carved out a space that he can exist in by himself, with a tape titled “G.R.A.M.S.” being his latest. Featured track “” gets to the heart of why Grams is so special. Slow and brooding, with that signature saxophone-sampling, 8-track drum kick of hip-hop’s past, he spends the song’s two minutes reminiscing about what life was like as an adolescent knucklehead who woke up late, fooled around in the school hallways and never planned on going to college. As rap continues to evolve, it’s always fun to see how people play with vintage sounds that they weren’t around to witness in real time.
IDK, “Just Like Martin”
Prince George’s County rapper IDK shines through not just because of his ability to weave together conceptual narratives in his music, but also because he’s a master at presentation and how he rolls that material out. Where the majority of his peers — both local and national — let music do the majority of talking for them, IDK extends his impact and reach with how he frames his work.
In 2019, he started his own imprint label called Clue, in partnership with Warner Records. At the end of 2020, he was the narrator and music supervisor for Kevin Durant’s, “Basketball County: In The Water,” and through that released “IDK & Friends 2,” a mix tape that doubled as the doc’s soundtrack. And just last week, IDK and Clue continued their short streak of strong moves with Radio Clue, his own hour-long monthly live show on Apple Music radio. In its first episode, he premiered a new track titled “ ,” an ode to comic legend Martin Lawrence, who has Landover roots.
The track, which is produced by St. Louis’s ChaseTheMoney, builds on IDK’s love for car-rattling bass and industrial synths. Those sounds help drive home his themes of getting out of your seat and making something of yourself, which, because of his recent career moves, have some motivational fuel rather than the “looking down on people who haven’t made it where I have” attitude that some rap takes. This is also where he gets most creative lyrically, like when he dismisses pilgrims to bolster his productivity (“No more settlin’ ”).