While the music world is abuzz with rapper Kendrick Lamar's latest masterpiece, DAMN., two hip-hop EP releases by Singapore act Mean and New York veterans Talib Kweli and Styles P have slipped under the radar in recent weeks.
Mean's third effort, By Any Means, is an intriguing reflection of his growth into one of the local hip-hop scene's most distinctive rappers.
Mean, also known as The Dapper Rapper because of his penchant for designer wear, truly comes into his own and is a lot more confident in his rhymes.
"I'm never doubting myself, I'm doing big things," the The.XS Collective member spits with aplomb amid eerie synth lines and a creeping beat on Pull Up, a song with a tongue-twisting verse from fellow rapper Airliftz.
By Any Means
Talib Kweli And Styles P
Javotti Media /3D
In his previous release in 2015, NSFW: Not Safe For Work, he waxed lyrical about the daily grind; this time around, Mean is a hustler with big dreams and the drive to achieve them ("You want a piece of the pie/You gotta bake it yourself"), as he reminds you in Walk That Talk, a track with a highly addictive refrain.
He balances out the braggadocio with some tender moments, most notably on opening track Sweet Dreams, an ode to a faraway lover in "a different time zone".
In contrast to Mean's look at himself, Talib Kweli and Styles P's first collaborative EP, The Seven, takes resolute aim at social ills and pairs hard-hitting, socially conscious rhymes with irresistibly catchy beats.
Kweli, who first found fame with Yasiin Bey (better known as Mos Def) as the critically acclaimed duo Black Star, is as sharp as ever with his flow. "This ain't a TV show," he reminds the listeners in Brown Guys, an incisive discourse on the reality of race relations versus what is portrayed in pop culture: "They think they know the hood 'cause they seen The Wire, the good seasons/I don't need your sympathy."
He is especially critical of shallow rappers who waste their talents on frivolous matters. "We spit our life, you actin' like it's just entertainment," he raps on Let It Burn. "Hip-hop way more than cars, clothes and necklaces."
Styles P, one third of East Coast rap trio The Lox, takes aim at income and wealth inequality in his verses in In The Field,a track that samples speeches by civil rights activist Malcolm X.
He reunites with his long-time The Lox compatriots, Sheek Louch and Jadakiss, on the track Nine Point Five and its sinuous bass lines, but it is the chemistry between him and Kweli that truly shines in these mindful rhymes.