The Rap Report is The FADER’s column dedicated to highlights in the rap world, from megastar artists to the deep underground.
According to Budgie, there’s music that you listen to and think about and music that you feel. He says that he’s drawn toward the latter, citing the “instant experience” that a song can provide. Given that the London-born beatmaker’s fuzzy, sample-driven style can make it seem like he’s planting idyllic memories in one’s mind, it makes sense as a methodology for listening and creating.
“It doesn’t have to make you feel good, even,” he says over the phone. “It might make you cry, it might make you dance, it might make you laugh.”
Budgie brought this line of thinking to Navy Blue’s Def Jam debut Ways of Knowing, the product of a stop-and-start process that dates back to 2019, shortly before the Los Angeles-based producer decamped to Wyoming to work on Kanye West’s Jesus is King. At the time, there weren’t any pressures weighing on his creative process with Navy Blue. “If anything, I was trying to make it sound rougher than anything I usually make,” the 36-year-old producer recalls. “Just because that was the sound him and [Earl Sweatshirt] were going for at the time.”
A few songs eventually turned into a 10-track album, but after Navy Blue signed to Def Jam, both of them agreed that they needed to, in Budgie’s words, “make some better songs.” Of the original 10, three ended up making the final cut: “The One,” “Shadow’s Shield,” and the album’s spirit-cleansing intro, “The Medium.” Albums with one rapper and one producer can sometimes leave you with the sense that one had to adjust to the other’s quirks, but Ways of Knowing is a radiant convergence of the two’s respective approaches. Budgie’s coiling production and Navy’s meandering writing are constantly aware of the other’s positioning, never encroaching on the other’s space. Even the chipmunked gospel sample heard on “Phases” doesn’t overpower Navy’s vocals — the two melt into a single resonant voice.
Budgie’s production provides a sense of elegance to Ways of Knowing that makes it a bittersweet yet comforting listen. The somber, rain-soaked keys of “Pillars” gently nudge Navy Blue forward as he raps about his relationship with his grandmother, an example of how Budgie’s willingness to cede space gives Navy’s words a chance to take root. There’s also levity — the man behind the cheekily titled and twee Panty Soakers series certainly isn’t against fun — but the moments of lightness that are present, like the twinkling piano that sneaks into the background of “Life’s Terms,” are more akin to a smile starting to crack on a tear-stained face than a toothy grin.
Budgie partially credits part of their creative chemistry to a shared background. Navy Blue’s father is from the same area of West London, Ladbroke Grove, where Budgie’s father runs a record shop named Honest Jon’s. “[Navy Blue] gets where I'm coming from more than most people,” he says, “Through the fact of his dad, and even that specific area in London is a very unique part of London.” He describes Ladbroke Grove as a “cross-section” of cultures and music scenes where the tastes of Caribbean, Spanish, and Portuguese communities can blend. There’s a treasure trove of music history from there to explore as well: West London is the birthplace of broken beat, and Ladbroke Grove was home to early UK hip-hop label Positive Beat Records. Budgie’s musical education started as a child attending Notting Hill Carnival, amazed by the sound systems that took over the streets. And when he came of age, he began working in his father’s record shop selling soul, reggae, and jazz records, which eventually brought him to gospel.
“People in London are into ‘rare groove,’ which is late '70s, early '80s funk and soul, two-step, that was the stuff that people were collecting from America,” he explains. “I wanted to go one step further and find something else people weren't really digging into, but not just something for the sake of it, something that touched me deeply. And that was gospel.”
Weaving together lovers’ rock, gospel, and Latin jazz, the music that makes up Ways of Knowing draws from Budgie’s adolescence. He’s hesitant to say that his work on this album comes from a place of nostalgia, however. Instead, he views Ways of Knowing as an opportunity to use some of all of his past work. The sentimentality of Panty Soakers, The Good Book’s rejuvenating qualities, and the records he sold in West London during his formative years all manage to show up on Ways of Knowing. Here, they’re molded into a carefully crafted and loving statement able to pay homage to their intertwined backgrounds. “It's trying to describe how all the roots of a tree go down into the ground,” he says. “There's a million different roots, but it just makes this tree.”
Paco Panama & OT7 Quanny, “High Balance”
Philadelphia’s Ot7Quanny and D.C.‘s Paco Panama are both able to conjure up vivid imagery to accompany their street-level crime sagas, but on “High Balance,” the two rappers turn their stories into a VR experience. The funky and ominous beat is closer to something that Paco would rap over than Quanny, who prefers hazier instrumentals, but the Philly rapper doesn’t seem thrown off by the change in environment. “Every step calculated, a young Bumpy Johnson,” Paco raps like he just caught up on Godfather of Harlem. Their flat, deadpan voices make every line seem gravely serious; if there was a joke hidden in this song, you’d have to think twice before laughing.
Defprez, the Chicago-based trio composed of producer knowsthetime and rappers Defcee and CRASHprez, describe their music as an “exercise in immediacy.” That ethos is best captured in the emcees’ performances, where they rap like they’re trying to get every last bar out their heads before they end up forgetting something. “Endless,” a standout from their new album It’s Always A Time Like This, is pure slow-broiled anger about life’s unfairness. Defcee’s verse gets more and more stressful by the second. He’s underpaid, overworked, and feeling like his luck’s ran out. “Life was beach, I’d be jogging across it in socks,” he raps over a sweltering loop. CRASH, in contrast, is fired up and ready to take matters into his own hands. “Best practice: hit ‘em in the tax bracket,” he smirks. “Class action, make it fashion.” Neither of them will be satisfied until they have everything they deserve.
Carvie P, “All Your Attention”
The best Carvie P songs are the ones where he sounds like he hopped behind the DJ booth at a sweaty house party and started shouting instructions at the crowd. Compared to others from Milwaukee making similar distorted, low-end heavy party music, he’s closer to Myaap than Tae Rackzz. They both know that a twerk song is no good if it doesn’t get stuck in your head. On “All Your Attention,” he does that by bending and contorting his voice like he's a love-drunk Chief Keef. “I ain’t never had no bitch like youuuu, baby kiss me,” he croons over a playful melody. I can’t lie, it’s all a little chaotic, but there’s nothing else that sounds like what he and others are making in Milwaukee.