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Elevator 4: Ty

Yes! Our 1st UK elevator!

Some lyricists elevate the art of rap through tongue-twisting flights of fancy coaxing us to expand our imaginations, others elevate through plainspoken observations, pithy diatribes and candid anecdotes. Ty aka Ben Chijioke has spent the last decade diligently making clear-minded, soulful, snap-your-neck hip-hop music.

He’s willing to point out not only the injustices and turmoil of 21st century life in general, but his own heartaches, gripes and struggles knowing full well that vulnerability, sincerity and social concern are perceived by some hip-hoppers as weak and uncool.

I think Ty can’t help but be honest and he couldn’t care less about machismo. While other rappers chameleon their way through their career Ty just spits it how he sees it. Accordingly in conversation he’s dialectic. He’s friendly, but he’s not automatically agreeable. You know he’s a good listener because at times he will disagree with you very specifically. How refreshing.

It’s this at times awkward honesty mixed with his playful gruffness, which makes Ty such a distinctive voice in UK and global hip-hop. Add his warmth and wit and you have some classic rap songs.

‘Closer’, released in 2006, is the Ty album that I’ve spent proper time with. It’s such a solid, well-produced and heartfelt record. For me this is the perfect soundtrack to everyday life: sitting on the train, cleaning out the garage or folding laundry.

But there’s one more thing that makes this Londoner a true elevator: he speaks hope, much needed, painfully rare hope. And honestly, it’s more fun to party in an atmosphere of hope than of zombie-like hedonism.

I implore you to listen to these songs on proper speakers or quality headphones – they are meant to be heard AND felt.
His latest release ‘Like You Never’ is the first single from the upcoming ‘A Kick Snare & An Idea’ EP on the Tru Thoughts label. If you want to know what Ty’s about, these lyrics are a good place to start.

More hope, more determination and one of the slinkiest beats ever recorded:

‘We Don’t Care’ from his album ‘Upwards’ (2005)

‘Don’t Cry’ from ‘Special Kind of Fool’ (2010) – just close your eyes and listen to this one – the video is a bit of a distraction

His Tru Thoughts label page

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Elevator 3: Fleur Earth

I discovered Fleur Earth via the killer track ‘Stein Im Brett’ on hip-hop producer Suff Daddy’s mainly instrumental album ‘Suff Sells’. Something about her tone of voice grabbed me, so I looked for more material and found gems. Since living in Germany as a teenager, German hip-hop has been one of the ways I’ve stayed connected with the language and I love hearing the various dialects.

Fleur was born in the DDR [East Germany] and raised in the Congo, before moving to Köln as a teenager. She is one of those rare artists who’s both a great singer AND rapper and frequently mixes the two effortlessly. Witty, ethereal, intimate, experimental and cryptic Fleur plays with her listeners. During this lengthy interview she says that as she manifests your emotions through poetry, ‘you could either rationalize grammatically or write it out the way it’s in your head’. She chooses the latter, ‘so my lyrics are hard for some to understand at first, because they haven’t yet explored the outer boundaries’.

Her other stage name is Forsch. Should ‘Forsch’ be translated as ‘outspoken/brisk’ or as ‘research’? I don’t know. Both translations work. In this interview she points out: ‘There’s always an inherent curiosity in humans and when you earnestly pursue that curiosity you quickly start to address the question, ‘What’s my purpose here on earth?’

Her release with producer Quo Vadis ‘Forsch und Facette’ is a departure from her more accessible soulful records. It is hypnotic and quietly ferocious. Fleur Earth is one of the most compelling poet/singer/rappers I’ve yet come across in the German language.

This track ‘Ballade Der Wege’ is superb on every level. And woh, the flow.

‘What is it about her that is so magical?’ – from the chorus on this track ‘Magisch’.

You can listen to her ‘Kurzschluss’ [meaning Short Circuit] album here: http://www.fleurearth.com/music/kurzschluss-lp/

April 2020 Update
You can read up on Fleur Earth’s discography on her site.

Listen to her 2019 ‘Mega Herz’ album here and watch a video for the summery ‘Kristallklarer Kick’ below. Fleur, it would appear, is doing less rapping and more singing these days, but hey, perhaps that’s where the vibes are taking her.

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Elevator 2: Propaganda

I first came across the music of L.A. rapper Jason Petty aka Propaganda in 2004. I saw his CD and realized he was a member of the rap crew Tunnelrats, who were all sharp-witted, spiritually earnest and lyrically acrobatic. And sure enough Propaganda displayed all those qualities.

The best California rappers have the ability to draw you in with the warmth of their humor and slang and then blindside you with tragic tales, uncomfortable imagery or challenging ideas. Yes, Propaganda has it too.

His ‘Excellent’ album and his subsequent records are not easy listening. They’re BBQs and barbed wire, they’re theology and cultural criticism, they’re activism and fatherhood. His versatility is a wonderful thing, but ultimately it’s his prophetic edge that makes him such a vital figure in contemporary culture.

He brings up uncomfortable truths about America’s ugly history. He dares his rap contemporaries to lose the whole world and gain back their souls. He candidly shares his own brokenness and his fierce allegiance to Jesus and his Upside Down Kingdom. His words point us towards revolution, repentance, forgiveness and joy.

Here he introduces himself and his ‘Excellent’ album:

and here’s the title track:

I’m very grateful for Propaganda. Through him the Divine has spoken to my spirit. May God bless his socks off.

Here’s ‘Redefined Cutter’, an emotive autobiographical rap attack – beautiful stuff:

‘Crimson Cord’ gives us a good sense of his depth, his theology and his willful musical left-fieldness:

April 2020 Update
These last 7 years have been busy ones for Propaganda. As well as a many collaborations including ‘I Am Becoming’, a photojournalistic poetry book with Oakland-raised Kristopher Squints and The Red Couch, a hard-hitting, super honest podcast with his wife Dr. Alma Zaragoza-Petty, he’s released three more albums:
Crimson Cord (2014)
Crooked (2017)
Nothing But A Word (2019) (with Derek Minor)

As an activist he continues to speak out on numerous hot button issues including culture appropriation and the toxic nature of colourblindness.

Check these songs:

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Elevator 1: Homeboy Sandman

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First of all, welcome! Welcome rap fans, rap veterans, rap doubters, rap visionaries, rap beginners, rap genre toe-dippers. 70 Elevators has arrived.

Meet Homeboy Sandman, the first of the 70 Elevators.

He’s a New York vocalist, who sticks out like a sore thumb. His first recordings were released in 2007 and by the following year he was receiving accolades all over the place. He clearly struck a chord. But what makes him distinctive? On one level, he simply has a love for language, which is almost giddy. He attacks the listener with astounding assonance, he spins sentences, and delivers whole verses in a sing-song duotone drawl as if he got carried away on a stream of consciousness and forgot that he was recording a song.

Some of his raps seem to be structured specifically to overwhelm the listener lyrically, but it’s clear from his live performances that Homeboy Sandman genuinely wants to connect with people and engage their minds and spirits. He isn’t afraid to be aggressive, tender-hearted or nerdy. I love ‘The Carpenter’. I think it’s worth opening up this video and watching it in HD.

In an interview with aweh.tv he was asked whether there was a running theme throughout his music. Homeboy responded: ‘Honesty, integrity, bravery, courage, defiance, and faith are a few themes that I think weave their way throughout all my work.’ He is unabashed about seeing a new breed of hip-hop practitioners impacting culture positively in direct opposition to mainstream rap.

This is classic hypnotic Homeboy Sandman

In a short interview I asked him if he was introducing someone to hip-hop music what would be the one album he would get them to listen to? He said: ‘Do You Want More??!?!! by The Roots’. In fact on his wonderfully candid track ‘Not Really’ he speaks with almost childlike hero worship of the rapper Black Thought of The Roots.

He’s a passionate prose writer too.

Here’s his site: www.homeboysandman.com An ol’ Groovement interview

April 2020 Update
Since I wrote this post Homeboy Sandman has released more astonishing records including these albums:
Hallways (2014)
Kindness for Weakness (2016)
Veins (2017)
Humble Pi (2018) (with Edan)
Dusty (2019)

and these EPs:
All That I Hold Dear (2013)
White Sands (2014)
Lice (2015) (with Aesop Rock)
Lice Two: Still Buggin’ (2016) (with Aesop Rock)
Lice Three: Triple Fat Lice (2017) (with Aesop Rock)

There’s so many newer songs I could point you to, but these are fire: