ATL UNTRAPPED: The best local records of 2023 … so far
Deante’ Hitchcock, DvDx, and Will Hill discuss their latest projects and weigh in on their picks for the best music to come out of Atlanta this year
Something’s going on with hip-hop right now.
Since the mid-to-late 2010s, it has been the most commercially dominant genre in the country and an equally formidable force across the globe, but for some reason, hip-hop has been uncharacteristically dormant in 2023. During the first six months of the year, no rap songs or albums managed to snatch the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 or Billboard 200, and in fact, the last releases to do so were Nicki Minaj’s “Super Freaky Girl” single last August and Metro Boomin’s Heroes v. Villains album in December. For one reason or another, mainstream hip-hop just hasn’t been hitting in 2023.
While Atlanta’s rap output has also noticeably dwindled, all hope is not lost on this country’s still-undisputed hip-hop capital. In a year when local heavyweights like Future have refrained from releasing any new solo material at all and YSL, one of the city’s most influential and prolific record labels, is still fighting one of the most-watched legal battles in the country, Atlanta’s music scene has surprisingly not suffered a dip in quality. On the contrary, up-and-coming acts across the board — from Jelani Imani to BOREGARD. — have actually sharpened their skills and expanded their sounds over the last six months, and as a result, there has been a lot of good music to come out of Atlanta this year.
That being said, there were a handful of records that I connected with more than anything else over the last several of months, so for me, these five records represent the best local hip-hop of 2023 so far:
Bear1boss: Blow Up! — An audio clip from SpongeBob SquarePants is the first thing you hear on Bear1boss’s new project. In the opening seconds of “Taking it too Far,” SpongeBob warns Squidward about the explosive consequences of binge-eating too many Krabby Patties, and then, as if summoned by the cartoonish explosion that follows SpongeBob’s impassioned warning, Bear1boss pops out from the sonic debris to welcome you into his world. It’s a world where shroom trips are best soundtracked by bubbly Project Siniy and Virt production, pockets stuffed with money can become snarling evil entities, and Gucci socks must be worn while praying for maximum effectiveness.
Bear1boss’s world is as whimsical as it is all over the place, and that’s on full display on Blow Up!. Everything from the kitschy cover art to Bear’s heartfelt wailing about Five Guys on the closing track “Demise” feels utterly ridiculous, but somehow, it all manages to click. Bear’s bizarre and chaotic vocal performances pair well with the nicely curated assortment of hyper-digitized beats, and the break-neck pace of the record makes it feel all the more exhilarating. Every song on Blow Up! is less than three minutes long, so the quick flow of the project elicits quick, visceral responses from listeners. Before you can even fathom to think about what you just heard, Bear1boss is already off to the next sonic rampage, so your choices are to either follow the rising star on his latest whim or check out of the project entirely. The casual rap fans and the faint of heart will likely just check out, but for those that stick around and just take the vibes that Bear1boss dishes out, Blow Up! is just so unfathomably fun.
Album. Popstar FM. Released March 10, 2023. @bear1boss
Deante’ Hitchcock: Once Upon A Time — A lot has changed in Deante’ Hitchcock’s life since he released his debut studio album, Better, in the early days of the pandemic in 2020. Since then, he has landed magazine covers, written song lyrics for P-Valley’s fan-favorite character Lil Murda, and knocked out his first-ever headlining tour, but most importantly, Hitchcock has become a father. In his 2022 interview with CL, the NAACP Image Award nominee spoke about how different life had been since the addition of his son, Otto Saint Hitchcock, and over a year later, it’s clear that his family life isn’t the only thing that has changed. On his long-awaited sophomore album Once Upon A Time, Deante’ Hitchcock is also diving headfirst into a new sound where melodies and R&B-leaning beats reign supreme.
“Once Upon A Time, kind of shifted my perspective on songwriting,” Hitchcock tells CL. “I’m a rapper’s rapper fr but I’ve always wanted to be an amazing songwriter as well. I think this project was definitely a step in the right direction.”
Hitchcock’s new concept album loosely recounts the story of how he met his parter and the mother of his son, and the execution of that beautiful concept is easily one of the album’s highlights. Where some concept albums lean too heavily upon skits to convey their story, OUAT keeps the theatrics to a minimum with just two standalone skit tracks, the theme song-inspired album opener “Time Of Their Lives” and the mid-album “Skit.” Instead, the music is what tells Hitchcock’s story. The first half of the album is loaded with carefree and flirty songs like “Woah!,” “Like That,” and “Drunk AF” that represent the cupcake phase of his blossoming relationship while the second half of the record explores his relationship’s ups and downs through more contemplative, vulnerable, and passionate tracks like “Alone,” “2 Special,” and “Royal.” Like its 2020 predecessor, Once Upon A Time is structured masterfully, and in addition to serving the album’s concept and ensuring that it flows as seamlessly as possible, the structuring also repurposes and breathes new life into Hithcock’s 2017 tracks “Thinking ‘Bout You” and “2 Special.” Everything considered, Once Upon A Time is major step forward for Deante’ Hitchcock, and even if it stylistically isn’t what you would expect from one of Atlanta’s best rappers, there’s no denying that Hitchcock’s artistry shines on his sophomore LP.
Album. ByStorm Entertainment/RCA Records/Sony Music Entertainment. Released May 9, 2023. @deantevh
DvDx: ♡♡ — Homegrown artist and producer DvDx has been on a roll for the last couple of years with projects like 2021’s The Irreplaceable Now and 2022’s Sensory Overload, and his hot streak officially carried over into 2023 with the release of ♡♡ (pronounced, “two hearts”) earlier this summer. The six-track EP is considerably more pop-leaning than DvDx’s last two projects, and — like the channel-surfing aesethic he showcased on Sensory Overload — he fully commits to the genre pivot. From his Janet Jackson-inspired musings about being a hopeless romantic on “S12CML” to his infectious groove through a night out in Atlanta on “all the way,” DvDx is in his full pop star bag on ♡♡, and as a result, the vibes are immaculate.
“♡♡ is really me making the music I know the younger me would really enjoy,” DvDx tells CL. “I first started developing my own personal music taste around 2006-08 when R&B was super mainstream and unavoidable. I wanted to have that same infectious vibe as those songs back then but with a modern or even futuristic perspective. That’s probably why a lot of people say this EP sounds nostalgic yet refreshing.”
From his heartfelt interpolations of Janet Jackson’s “Someone To Call My Lover” and Nelly’s “Country Grammar (Hot Shit)” to all of the immersive production scattered across the track list, ♡♡ truly is refreshing, indeed. In fact, it’s only cons are that it’s too short for its own good and hard as fuck to find on streaming services.
EP. Euphonia. Released May 17, 2023. @dvdx_
Lil Keed: Keed Talk To ‘Em 2 — The local scene is so much duller than it used to be. A pandemic, a long list of tragedies, and a game-changing RICO indictment later, Atlanta’s hip-hop scene is wounded. Sadly, after passing away on May 13, 2022 due to complications stemming from eosinophilia, Lil Keed has become a part of those wounds. So when his label and estate kicked 2023 off by announcing that a new album was on the way less than a full year after his death, I was skeptical about the integrity of the looming record. Fortunately, not only did Keed Talk To ‘Em 2 do justice to Lil Keed’s artistic legacy, it also captured the same special energy that made Atlanta fall in love with Keed in the first place. Despite its hour-plus runtime, Keed Talk To ‘Em 2 is an energetic and shockingly well-balanced effort from YSL’s fallen star. It can be difficult to truly connect with posthumous records due to the disingenuous manner in which they are typically assembled, but it’s clear that Lil Keed put his heart, soul, and spirit into the album prior to his passing last March. Even after the release of new records from Gunna and Young Thug over the course of this summer, Keed Talk To ‘Em 2 is still arguably the best album that YSL Records has released this year. It’s dynamic, entertaining, and well-structured, and most importantly, it’s the swan song that Lil Keed deserved. Long live the Slime Pope.
Album. Young Stoner Life Records/300 Entertainment. Released March 16, 2023. @lilkeed
Will Hill: No Wasted Motion — Will Hill’s latest album, No Wasted Motion, is the epitome of fresh. Bright, summery production from Hollywood Cole and Ehll Evans soundtracks his new 10-track offering, and for as diverse as Atlanta’s rap scene is, nothing coming out of the city sounds like what Will Hill is doing right now. Dowsed in a cool that some artists search for their entire careers, Will Hill’s second project of the year — following January’s In The Meantime — strings together an impressive selection of songs that oozes effortlessness and showcases his growth as an emcee. With each new listen, the layers of the record start to peel back and showcase all the small, yet important work that Will Hill put into it, from the knifelike precision of his wordplay on tracks such as “Tangerine” and “None Of My Concern” to his clean performances on standout tracks like the high octane Ben Reilly collaboration “Ok, Pull Up” and the smooth, late-album cut “Dreams & Goals.”
“No Wasted Motion was originally supposed to drop in October 2022 under a different title, Know The Cost,” Will Hill tells CL. “The name change came after having meetings about possible deals as well as taking a few songs off of the final tracklist. The journey to release the project was a lesson in itself that taught me it’s okay to take your time, as long as there’s no time wasted. The knowledge I acquired during that time and allowing myself to be patient is what glued everything together and made it what it is.”
Clocking in at a runtime of just over 26-minutes, No Wasted Motion is an incredibly lean record without any filler, misses, or — as its title suggests — wasted moments. Will Hill’s latest body of work was the byproduct of a lesson well learned, and it’s all the better for it.
Album. Atlantafornia Records. Released April 5, 2023. @realwillhill
In addition to familiarizing yourself with all of the projects mentioned above, make sure you add the following shows to your July concert calendar:
Domani, Kai Cash, Reuben Vincent, Niko Brim, Seddy Hendrix & Josh Waters, Masquerade — Domani has been heating up this year with the releases of singles like “Hi-Ya!,” “I Did It,” and “Man,” and this month, he’ll be bringing that momentum on the road. For a special two-date tour run, Domani has assembled an all-star cast of rising acts, including Kai Cash, Reuben Vincent, Niko Brim, Seddy Hendrinx, and Josh Waters. With a lineup like that, it should be a crime for them to only hit two cities this summer, but at least local rap fans will get to chance to see them all live when they kick the tour off on July 14.
$21. 7:00 p.m. Hell at Masquerade, 50 Lower Alabama Street #110, Atlanta, GA 30303. masqueradeatlanta.com The Masquerade
T-Pain, Coca-Cola Roxy — T-Pain has long been one of the most colorful artists in the music industry, and if you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing him perform, his talent and vibrance definitely translate over to his live shows. The autotune pioneer and beloved artist is currently on his Escape From Wiscansin Tour, and later this month, he’ll end the tour with an epic final show in Atlanta. Tobi Lou is also set to perform, and considering that the last date is being held here, you can probably count on a surprise appearance or two.
$45-$89+. 8:00 p.m. Coca-Cola Roxy, 800 Battery Ave SE #500, Atlanta, GA 30339. cocacolaroxy.com @cocacolaroxy
Erykah Badu & Yasiin Bey, State Farm Arena — Erykah Badu may have dropped a full length project in nearly a full decade, but that isn’t stopping the neo-soul legend from hitting the road all summer long. Her highly anticipated Unfollow Me Tour kicked off last month in San Antonio, Texas, and later this month, she is set to back to the Lone State for a homecoming show in Dallas. Before that happens, however, the iconic songstress will make a pit stop in Atlanta on Saturday, July 15. While hip-hop veteran Yasiin Bey will also be on the official bill, there will apparently be “more extraordinary guests” in tow as well, so definitely get your tickets as soon as you can.
$44-$159+. 7:30 p.m. State Farm Arena, 1 State Farm Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30303. statefarmarena.com @statefarmarena
Father, bbysp1da, Vayda, Ethereal, & The Canterbury Talez, Masquerade — In June, Father dropped off Hu$band 2, a new six-track project and the sequel to his 2019 Husband EP. Over the course of July, he’ll be touring the record, and towards the end of the month, he’ll wrap things up with a homecoming show in Atlanta. The Awful Records founder will be take over Masquerade’s raucous hell venue on July 21, and when he arrives, he’ll have bbysp1da, Vayda, Ethereal, and The Canterbury Talez in attendance.
$20. 7:00 p.m. Hell at Masquerade, 50 Lower Alabama Street #110, Atlanta, GA 30303. masqueradeatlanta.com The Masquerade