Welp, we have officially entered the slow-and-cold holiday season, when Portland is presented with significantly fewer opportunities to experience live music. While there are not nearly as many shows happening, it’s a great time to stay in and sit with the expansive plethora of new music that’s been released at the end of this here decade! There’s lots of locally made hip-hop and R&B that’s still hot, and here’s what you should dive into:
Bossin’ Up: KayelaJ, SamuelThe1st, Micah the Rapper, Mayes Benji
Monthly hip-hop showcase Bossin’ Up at the Fixin To (formerly held at Bossanova Ballroom) welcomes KayelaJ to headline the November edition, providing an opportunity to hear highlights from her debut full-length D.Y.K.E. In addition to singles like “Kayela to the MF J,” “Check x3,” “IG Girls,” and “Heat Gentlemens Club,” I’m hoping to hear tracks like the angry and unshackled “I’ve Been Nice,” and the sweetly conclusive “I Could Love You.” (Thurs Nov 21, 8:30 pm, the Fixin To, 8218 N Lombard, $10, w/DJ 94Prynce)
Cool Nutz, “Strife”
In early November, Portland veteran rapper Cool Nutz dropped “Strife,” the lead single from his forthcoming album Father of Max, out on December 20. Over a sick beat by Seattle producer J.E.B., the golden-age MC raps on the trials and tribulations of growing up Black in America and having faith through the stressful times. Conveniently released with a radio edit, “Strife” is one of the coolest Cool Nutz releases I’ve heard in a while.
Covi., When the Sun Is Out
ICYMI: On November 1, Portland rapper Covi. released a new EP called When the Sun Is Out on all streaming platforms. “The purpose of the West Coast-influenced project to make feel-good songs that remind you of when the sun is out,” Covi. says in a press release. It’s five tracks of shiny, bass-heavy beats anchored by Covi.’s ultra-deep voice. Whether it’s sunny or rainy, I would happily twerk to opening track “Perfect Timing,” which sees Covi. rap at a quicker pace than usual and, on “The Code,” there’s a great featured verse from Oakland’s Brookfield Duece. Some of the project’s choicest bits are “Best Life,” featuring Portland singer/rapper Mal London, and “Hit the Plug” featuring a captivating vocal by Portland R&B singer Deddrose.
Portland-raised R&B artist Motaz just relocated back to the region after living in California for a while. On November 15, Motaz dropped Burnside, a truly impressive 10-track project and follow-up to 2017’s Kadupul. Entirely written and engineered by Motaz in a small downtown Portland studio, the artist also produced the majority of Burnside, frequently offering soulful guitar work as well. Fittingly, it kicks off with an ethereal intro featuring the voice of a pilot announcing his plane’s descent into PDX. Motaz’s voice shines over trap- and pop-influenced production à la the Weeknd, rapping melodically on opening track “Felina” (an immediate highlight) and intermittently throughout Burnside’s 10 tracks. Other stand-out tracks include the groovy and danceable “Last Call,” the catchy “Ride Around,” and “What a Wonderful Waste of Time.” Coming off an artist residency in San Diego, Motaz says he looks forward to playing local shows with live instrumentation (guitar, keys, drums) in the near future, and I can’t wait.
Wynne, If I May
I’ve been closely following Wynne’s career for a couple years now, and on October 25, the Lake Oswego- and Eugene-raised MC’s debut mixtape finally dropped. It’s a doozy. Pretty much every one of these 11 tracks—including excellent lead single “Ego Check”—is a slap. (Ironically, the album’s weakest link is “The Thesis,” named after the monthly hip-hop showcase at Kelly’s Olympian, which feels more like a rap cypher than a song with a coherent message.) It’s satisfying to hear all these regional references (“I’m the pick, Kenny Wheaton!”) lovingly packed into If I May alongside varied, radio-ready production and high-profile features like Mahalia and JID of EarthGang. Album opener “Roll Call” sets the vibe perfectly and feels like a beat Drake would rap over. Wynne’s rhythmic flow is relentless and perfectly executed, and then she goes into “Rose City,” where the blonde-haired MC talks about staying grounded and loyal to her home even while her star is on the rise: “I got one foot on the dashboard/Press it like the back court/Going home to Portland, boy, who else you think I rap for?” She also talks getting advice from Dame D.O.L.L.A. (AKA Damian Lillard) and choosing to build up Portland’s music industry instead of signing to a big label. Other highlights include “Playa” (which portrays dueling perspectives of a man who lies and tries to manipulate women by telling them he’s an LA Clipper); the catchy boy-bye anthem “Petty,” and the sultry “Hungover,” which both feature Wynne... singing in the chorus. And it’s good.