The Rap Report: 5 projects from 2023 that deserve more attention

Brandon Callender reflects on the music that soundtracked a month away from home in this week’s Rap Report.

May 19, 2023
The Rap Report: 5 projects from 2023 that deserve more attention Cydnee With A C and IV4. Photo by Vpk.metanoia  

The Rap Report is The FADER’s column dedicated to highlights in the rap world, from megastar artists to the deep underground.


I tend not to listen to a lot of new music when I’m away from home. I’m not sure why it became a habit. Maybe it’s for some esoteric, bro-science reason like wanting to “reset” my ears, or something more practical, like how annoying keeping up can be. Either way, I’m not complaining. I spent a lot of April away from North Carolina, so I ended up limited to the old — like “Pray for Haiti just dropped” old — playlists downloaded on my phone, whatever dembow singles were blasting out of cars up in Providence, and the last few months of my recently added selections on Apple Music, including albums from 2023 I needed to revisit. There are tapes I enjoyed and didn’t have the chance to write about, futuristic car jams from Detroit, projects that didn’t make an impression but caught my attention when I ran them back, vibrant genre-crunching collages, regional rap samplers, and a whole lot more. Keeping up can start to feel like a completionist’s mission, and I’m always going to reject that to live with what I enjoy.

Prince Jefe, On The Run

For a while, the best way to keep up with Prince Jefe’s sporadic releases was to plug his YouTube account into an RSS feed and closely monitor it for new activity. The Detroit rapper would promise albums that didn’t drop, irregularly dump tracks with random photos of him recording as the cover art, and, if you were lucky, you could catch him live-streaming himself making a beat. Lately, Prince Jefe’s been a lot more consistent — he’s even dropping videos now — and on his recently released project On The Run, he’s distilled his darkly paranoid sagas into their most potent form. It’s rougher than most of what’s come out of Michigan lately, and the moody atmosphere (especially the blown-out low end on “OTR Freestyle), as well as the urgency Jefe raps with, reminds me of how Detroit rap sounded just a few years ago. This is raw and uncut road music.

Cydnee with a C, Confessions of a Fangirl

Scroll through Cydnee with a C’s YouTube account and you’ll see dozens of K-pop reaction videos and covers of songs. She doesn’t hide that she’s a passionate and obsessive fan — it’s a trait she fully embraces. The Atlanta-raised, Los Angeles-based singer brought some of that energy to her new project Confessions of a Fangirl, where airy pop and R&B, jittery drum breaks, Joni Mitchell interpolations, and Jersey Club are crunched together into a collage of sugary and upbeat bops. As for favorites, I’m into “Jealous,” where Cydnee’s trying so hard to keep cool while being overwhelmed by emotions. But more recently, I’ve been stuck on “Cry Alone” because of the filters and stutters that make it sound like she’s pushed her voice through a slightly malfunctioning Vocaloid synth. Turning your influences into a game of I Spy rarely sounds as fun as Confessions of a Fangirl.

CEO Trayle, The Collection Vol. 2

At this point, I can’t tell you how deep CEO Trayle’s bag is. On top of his unpredictable bars and zig-zag storytelling, he has a seemingly endless source of cadences and snake-like flows to draw from. Similar to his irregular SoundCloud dumps, The Collection Vol. 2 sees him opening up the vault and playing around with new cadences and songwriting moods. “Pardon My Playa” is especially slick. “P-I-M-P, verified on the net and the streets/Blue Check with the blue strips/And a blue check on IG” he raps, the last bar sounding simultaneously rushed and suave.

Niontay, Dontay's Inferno

You can hear a little bit of everything Niontay’s into on Dontay’s Inferno. In 24 minutes, the Florida-raised, New York-based rapper dips into heart rate-increasing bass music, floats over breezy steel drums with the relaxed flows of a Michigan rapper, trades bars with MIKE over a smoked-out, loopy instrumental, and croons over a glitched-out sample. He makes it all look smooth as hell too. Even when Niontay’s rapping leans more forceful, as it does over the twitchy drums of “Bac2highbac2reality,” he still sounds like he’s having more fun than a good 95% of rappers. He treats the spacey instrumental like a freshly waxed floor, gliding around the pocket like he’s got on skates. Niontay’s found a way to gather a bunch of his influences in a way that never ends up feeling redundant.

Ziggy Waters & CoffeeBlack, Doonie Deluxxx

Ziggy Waters makes groove-heavy, danceable rap and slow jams that feel more fitting for floating through outer space than Earthly drives. The closest comparison to the Detroit multi-hyphenate that comes to mind is 454, whose music shares an approach high in spirits and octane. Late last year, Ziggy’s collaborative project with producer CoffeeBlack, Doonie Tunes, ended up creeping into my favorite projects of the year, and Doonie Deluxxx, their follow-up, might be even better. An absurd amount of guests — Vayda, Hi-Tech’s Milf Melly, and more — are invited to join in on the fun, and they all tap into a little bit of unhinged and horny energy. Doonie Deluxxx plays out like one long intergalactic radio broadcast dedicated to a lover; all the crests and valleys make the ride feel a bit more peaceful.

All of these AI songs are pretty wack

When “Heart On My Sleeve,” the viral track that used vocal deepfakes of Drake and The Weeknd was removed from streaming platforms in mid-April, it seemed like a too-clean solution to a problem that many acknowledged wouldn’t be going away so easily. In the time since some artists have announced their elation at the idea of AI songs, and others are even teasing their own Frankensteined creations. Let’s be honest though: these are all pretty wack.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how art is about the choices that are made during the creative process. Interviews with artists, including ones I’ve done, try, and fail, to find various ways to capture the human ingenuity that lies at the center of making things. There’s a finality to the series of choices artists make that can't be supplanted by savvy ‘prompt engineering.’ All those branching decisions — what if a melody looped for one more measure? Or we added an adlib here? — eventually become closed pathways, thousands of possibilities left in hard drives and mix notes. A potential idea behind AI-assisted songs is the promise that those pathways could be reopened (and possibly improved upon).

But with the applications we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t amount to much more than turning music into a digital self-serve counter with unlimited customizations. There’s no sense of taste or curation, options piled high simply because “why not?” But that goes against the free-wheeling spirit of art, where things often happen for reasons undiscernible to us all. No one ever asked to hear a disembodied Biggie say “It’s not giving,” anyway.

Key!, "Strike (Key!Mix)"

Lil Yachty’s “Strike (Holster)” is the reluctant gift that keeps giving. I’ve had parts of it replaying in my head since it officially dropped, and NoCap’s remix turned the song into a motivational ballad that’ll end up getting some SEC team through summer workouts. Key!’s rework is gonna have me humming for a little longer. “Man it’s such a blessing to be here,” he beams. “Don’t follow ‘cause you might be the leader.” It sounds like Key!’s mouth is changing shapes at all possible moments; every word that he sings wiggles and bends. If all the remixes Yachty inspires are gonna be as good as this, keep ‘em coming.

Sojabrat, “Antennas Up”

Just about every song on Sojabrat’s High Maintenance EP sounds like strained through a glittery technicolor filter. Personally, I think that the slightly more chill cuts like “Antennas Up” work best. On there, the North Carolina rapper’s subdued vocals balance out the hyperactive production, converting it from a pure sugar rush into a blissful daydream. It’s as vibrant and exciting as a Bear1boss track but with less tooth decay.

The Rap Report: 5 projects from 2023 that deserve more attention