Before we know it, it’ll be the best — and most contentious — time of the year for music nerds worldwide: the best-of-the-year list season where every publication or person with a platform starts to share what they deem as the most impactful music from the past 12 months. So it’s only natural to start brainstorming on what has stood out the most from the Baltimore and the broader D.C., Maryland and Virginia region in that span of time, considering that November is almost here. But before we get to that point, here’s our continued monthly series where we highlight the best rap and R&B from the region. Get your playlists ready — here’s the best October had to offer.
Kelela, “Happy Ending”
When Kelela — the internationally-recognized singer from Gaithersburg — rose from the ashes last month, she answered the prayers of fans who’ve been begging for her resurgence since the 2018 remix album of “Take Me Apart.” Her first single in the years since, “Washed Away,” was an atmospheric soliloquy in which she emphasized how removed she’s felt from her former life. It’s the type of gut-twisting and candid song you dream of hearing from an artist you know has been carrying a heavy load. This month‘s follow to that — aptly titled “Happy Ending” — fittingly shakes off that weight.
Here, Kelela is back to the club kid roots that helped her blow almost a decade ago with a Baltimore-club-like 808 electronic drum thumping throughout (thanks to production by Philly native LSDXOXO and Toronto DJ and producer Bambii). Two timely tracks as the first samples of whatever her next album will be are promising, and it makes the long wait for music feel more than worth it. — Lawrence Burney
YMC Ant, “Never Ending”
YMC Ant released his “Sincerely From Ant” album earlier this month, which is filled with plenty of enjoyable tracks. My personal favorite, though, is “Never Ending.” Backed by upbeat instrumentation by the most requested producer in the city, WhiteboyCameWitDaBag, Ant effortlessly delivers a captivating song. The braggadocios track sees Ant using multiple flow switches during both of his fast-paced, free fall-style verses, smoothly weaving in and out of different subjects. The hook, however, is just as memorable as the verses. While mentioning thoughts of mistrust and skepticism is nothing new in music, Ant’s ability to convey these lyrics to his listeners makes the hook extremely catchy. His ability to adapt to different production and his capability to retread common topics — but deliver them in unique fashion, as demonstrated on “Never Ending” — shows that he possesses all of the tools to have a long-lasting career. — Taji Burris
Smoke Chapo and Paco Panama, “Cain & Abel”
Smoke Chapo and Paco Panama aren’t mincing words when they tell you what it’s like in the underworld of their Southeast D.C. neighborhood. The nine-track collaborative project they dropped in early October, “1008 Pints,” is filled with uncomfortable stories of the drug trade — the money dealers make, the dinners that serve as high-stakes business meetings and the random items people with addiction try to sell to score a fix. It‘s not uncommon in the wider street rap landscape, but what Chapo and Panama do to offset that comes with a solid concept. The production on the project is in line with the brooding, flashy sound popular in Detroit rap, which has crept into scenes all over the country over the past two years. But instead of adopting the tempo with which Michigan artists express themselves, Chapo and Panama keep the authenticity with their D.C. drawl. It’s a fun listen whenever you’d like to imagine what a high-speed crime thriller would feel like if it was based in this region. — LB
Roddy Rackzz, “Up Now”
Roddy Rackzz is a punchline specialist and the YouTube-exclusive single, “Up Now,” is a prime example of the saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” “Up Now” is a showcase of Rackzz’ prowess as a rapper, as he snaps all over frequent collaborator, WhiteboyCameWitDaBag’s 808-heavy production. The track consists of only one verse and a hook, but he uses the short time wisely. Glossing over topics such as his wardrobe, jewelry and loyalty among his crew, Rackzz delivered nonstop, rapid punches for about a minute and a half, leaving fans clamoring for more. “Up Now” is a testament to Rackzz’s technical skill, showing off yet another reason why record label juggernaut, Def Jam Recordings, signed him. — TB
Alex Vaughn, “Do You Ever”
Prince George’s County native Alex Vaughn has been a mainstay in the DMV music scene for quite some time now, but things kicked into overdrive when, in October 2021, the silky-voiced singer inked a deal with Atlanta-based label Love Renaissance (LVRN)/Interscope Records, the home of R&B stars Summer Walker and 6LACK. Earlier this month, Vaughn released “The Hurtbook,” which is her first project under the label — and as you might guess, it details different levels of heartbreak. One of the standouts is “Do You Ever,” a song in which Vaughn longs for a previous lover who she dropped the ball with. She admits to being stubborn and too prideful to admit where she went wrong, and is curious whether this person would be interested in giving things another go. It’s the kind of song that’s perfect for the winter months when people tend to sit around and yearn for love around the holidays. — LB