As February comes to a close and the remnants of 2022 fade, it’s exciting to see what music will shape the sounds of 2023, both regionally and nationally.
For Maryland, two artists in the past week have offered new work that extends beyond the sheer sonics and career-defining moments of their journeys — which is the focus of this week’s Culture Report.
Last week, Gaithersburg-native singer Kelela released her second studio album, “Raven.” It’s her first official release since 2017′s “Take Me Apart,” making it six excruciating years for people wanting to hear the way her ethereal vocals engage with production that can either place you under strobe lights or on an empty beach at night.
There are themes that allude to reclusive moments, but really, “Raven” feels like the exact point that someone resurrects from that state. One song, in particular, draws on Kelela’s career-long dedication to singing over different forms of electronic music.“Contact” feels like it’s in the family of early Baltimore club. Produced in part by Asmara, BAMBII, Brandon Peralta and LSDXOXO, “Contact” has a stripped down production that’s most derivative of British drum and bass, an electronic genre that became massively popular in the early 90s. That sound, which relies on breakbeats, has been cited as a contributor to the foundation of Baltimore Club around the same time.
But regardless of which electronic subgenre “Contact” falls under, Kelela sounds more assured and polished than ever. The song tells a story of cruising on Los Angeles’ Interstate 405, party-hopping and losing one’s self on a dance floor. Intoxicated and carefree. But “Contact” also feels like a human yearning to connect, whether that be coming out of a personal funk or a global pandemic.
It feels important that “Raven” comes ten calendar years after Kelela’s debut project, “Cut 4 Me.” When it came out, the tape introduced Kelela as not only a new voice to be considered, but a trailblazer in the way that forms of electronic music have evolved and transformed in the decade after it.
Elsewhere, Baltimore rapper Yg Teck continues to make significant strides in his quest for national notoriety. On Friday, the Park Heights native released a collaborative mixtape with East Detroit rapper Peezy titled “Champain.” Detroit’s rap scene, as well as its sonic style — suspenseful keys, clever micro-stories about paper chasing and overall production that should soundtrack midnight drag races — has been the most ascendant region in the genre over the past five years. Peezy is at the forefront of that movement. A matter-of-fact lyricist, Peezy prefers to a have a simple conversation on a beat about how he turned his misfortunes into life-altering success.
Teck is of the same ilk. His from-the-field perspective never relies on bragging, even if he does take some opportunities to big himself up. Teck’s appeal is that he can speak to the hardships, challenges and aspirations of the communities he comes from. That aligns with Peezy’s ethos.
In an early listen, the project’s title track is the strongest. Like legendary Philly rapper Beanie Sigel did for his 2005 gem, “Feel It In The Air,” “Champain” samples Raphael Ravenscroft’s “Whole Lotta Something Goin’ On” from 1979. That soul foundation allows both artists to go insular. Teck talks about losing interest in the going to the club — that’s time that could be spent focusing on how to make more money. Peezy disappointedly mentions that old friends would rather run the streets than to come work with him, and that he now buys fine art instead of jewelry.
The tape is a great moment for Yg Teck. To date, Baltimore street artists of the past decade have had significant one-off collaborations, but none have managed a joint project. In his music, Teck is most often sharing self-reflections, gratitude for seeing his hard work starting to pay off. And it’s nice to see his career trajectory constantly mirror that idea.