When Lizzo’s major-label debut, Cuz I Love You, comes out Friday, it will be a watershed moment for Twin Cities hip-hop—an artist with local roots solidifying her universal pop appeal. For now, though, Minneapolis and St. Paul rap is primarily driven by promising artists who are still relative upstarts, some of them highlighted in this month’s Twin Cities rap roundup.
Al Pako ft. Tae Supreme – “Boomerang”
Label: Modern Day Hippies
On “Boomerang,” St. Paul’s Al Pako enlists the ever-energetic Tae Supreme, a fellow member of the Modern Day Hippies crew. In-house MDH producer JTC Beats’ simple instrumental, all booming 808s and ricocheting hi-hats, enable Pako and Tae to fill the negative space with their respective styles: Tae delivers a propulsive hook and boast after boast in the first verse, while Pako later brings a similarly forceful (but more guttural) flow to seal the deal.
Cashinova – “Dear Haters”
Album: Big Dragon
Label: Stophouse Music Group
Though it’s technically the second song on St. Paul rapper Cashinova’s new project Big Dragon, “Dear Haters” feels like an album intro. Prof goofily introduces his fellow Stophouse Music Group artist in his best boxing announcer voice, and Cashinova’s confident hook, combined with his momentum-building flow changes, make the song suitable ring entrance music.
GMO Loco & El’ Robbo – “Show Time”
Over a murky trap beat courtesy of Kush2x, St. Paul street rappers GMO Loco (a new name to me) and El’ Robbo (who last appeared in this space with “Like This,” featuring Chicago enforcer FBG Duck) find an easy chemistry on “Show Time.” Robbo steals the show with a sneakily infectious hook, whisper-rapping not unlike the young Maryland artist Goonew, and Loco holds his own too.
King Lil Mo – “Still the Same”
In terms of sheer numbers, King Lil Mo has had an unignorable rise over the past year or so—frankly, one of the fastest ascensions Twin Cities hip-hop has ever seen. But, as he insists on the predictably catchy “Still the Same,” he’s remained the same kid from Cedar-Riverside all these hundreds of thousands of views and streams later.
Lizzo ft. Missy Elliott – “Tempo”
Album: Cuz I Love You
Label: Nice Life Recording Company/Atlantic Recording Corporation
Even more than the Gucci Mane feature, the thing that most jumps out when you glance at the tracklist for Lizzo’s Cuz I Love Youis the Missy Elliott cameo on “Tempo.” As it turns out, the song lives up to the expectations one typically has for a Missy collab. “Slow songs, they for skinny hoes/Can’t move all of this here to one of those/I’m a thick bitch, I need tempo,” the self-described “big grrrl” Lizzo goes during the chorus, the Oak-produced beat satisfying the criteria. It’s a testament to Lizzo’s own supernova star power that she doesn’t get outshone here, even though Missy delivers a verse like the long-established icon she is.
Niles ft. Carolyne Naomi – “The Time Is Now”
The Lansing, Michigan-bred, now Minneapolis-based MC Niles is relatively low-key compared to other artists in this roundup, but his quality control is always on point. His latest single, “The Time Is Now,” is a self-affirming anthem with a sense of uplift that reminds me of the great Washington, D.C. rapper-producer Oddisee. The soulful assist from Woodbury singer Carolyne Naomi only complements things.
Nur-D – “The Man”
Label: Vinyl City Records
“Really don’t cuss, really don’t smoke/I knock knock, but I ain’t no joke,” Nur-D asserts on his latest single, where the St. Paul MC celebrates how his differences make him “the man” anyway. The beat-switching coda might be a smooth transition into the next song on a future project from Nur-D, and if that’s the case, it’s an intriguing tease.
OKnice – “The Infinite Letdown”
Label: Super Dope Records
Unsurprisingly, given the title, Minneapolis’ OKnice isn’t in the cheeriest of spirits on “The Infinite Letdown,” but there’s strength in his honesty on this highlight from his new, Deergod-produced CallousEP: “I’ve been uncomfortable in these crowds/I’ve been so quiet, smelling like loud/I’ve been on the come-up, feeling so down.”
Sophia Eris – “Fanny Pack”
As Lizzo readied Cuz I Love You, her DJ—and all-around renaissance woman—Sophia Eris dropped a similarly fun, Lazerbeak- and Bionik-produced new single of her own.
Vinny Crook$ ft. Naj and Niles – “Sucka Free”
Album: Highs n Lows
Label: Hooligan Ent
Minneapolis rapper Vinny Crook$ has at least one feature on every song on his new project Highs n Lowsbesides the opener. Standout “Sucka Free” has two guests—Naj and Niles—and it’s better for it, each MC pulling his weight in the cypher-like procession of verses over Tommy Karate’s RZA-style crawl of a beat. Those verses are glued together by Vinny’s hook, declaring these artists’ supreme realness: “Your heart and vibe is shuck and jive while we stay sucka free/And I don’t listen to these new rappers from the land of make-believe.”