Take a Soul Train dancer from 1974—one of them sistas who didn’t give a f*ck about cameras or Don Cornelius—well, if that sista made love to George Clinton and they had a baby girl and they let Patti Smith and Sister Carol raise that girl child in an embrace pre-dating same-sex marriage debates, that girl child woulda grown up to be Abiyah.
By the early aughts, Abiyah hit upon a highly workable concoction: she fused her punk ethos with her love of Hip Hop, Dancehall, Dub, Alternative Rock and Spoken Word. She describes her genre as ‘curve’, in that it’s music that curves around other genres, and as soon as you think it’s one thing, it circumvents.
A five-time CityBeat Cincinnati Entertainment Awards Hip Hop nominee, Abiyah has performed at NYC’s Sidewalk Cafe and Trash Bar, and opened for louis logic, Serengeti, Busdriver, Open Mike Eagle, Homeboy Sandman, Ceschi Ramos and clipping., while also appearing on LA art-rapper Open Mike Eagle’s second full-length offering Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes.
Abiyah is also active in empowering women in hip hop through activities like embarking on the two week-long First Ladies tour in 2014, performing at the first Louisville Outskirts Festival later that year, and presenting a strategy session on being a female hip hop artist and promoter at the 2015 Allied Media Conference in Detroit. Abiyah is releasing a collaborative cassingle, ‘Boom’, with Cincinnati experimental hip hop artist Evolve in February 2017.
Ghettoblaster caught up with Abiyah to discuss the releases that made her dance, rage and rock in 2016. This is what she told us.
I started off this list with about twenty albums, and somehow managed to winnow it down to around twelve. Being in the Cincinnati music scene for the last 15 years, I had to throw some of the hometown heroes in there. A few other things I wanted to do with this list was to amplify women’s burgeoning presence in hip hop, focus on truly progressive and innovative artists, and share music that just makes us feel good.
There are more artists I wanted to include than I can mention, but let’s be real, Open Mike Eagle could occupy a perennial spot on my Best Of list each year he puts out an album; this year’s Hella Personal Film Festival (with producer Paul White) is constantly in my Walkman. There are gimmes, of course, like ATCQ’s ‘We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service’ and the first of Yaasin Bey’s three farewell records ‘December 99th’ (with Ferrari Sheppard on production). Shoutouts also to clipping.’s ‘Splendor and Misery’ and Brookzill!’s ‘Throwback to the Future’. I’m also always a sucker for great production albums with guest MCs/vocalists, so I have to show love to Factor Chandelier’s ‘Factoria’, too.
Let us begin.
Lizzo – Coconut Oil (EP) (Atlantic Records)
Lizzo’s self-identification as a ‘no-genre’ rapper was what first drew me to her. This six-song platter of deliciousness served up via rappin’ and sangin’ moves effortlessly between ’60s soul/funk (“Worship”) to club rap bangers (“Phone”) to sexy girl-powered self-love R&B (“Scuse Me”) to pop masterpieces (“Good As Hell”). Anyone who says Lizzo needs to focus is missing the point that she is laser-focused…on unapologetically being herself and repping all that entails to the fullest.
“Phone” Video: https://youtu.be/2zZzn-KxeRI
Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love! (Glassnote Records)
Just because you CAN rap, doesn’t mean you’re obligated to each and every music release…or ever again, for that matter. This album almost makes you forget he ever did. Futuristic funkdafied feelgood music for the people with sung vocals that flex both furious and featherweight. Lawdhamercy!
“Me and Your Mama” video: https://youtu.be/coWcTgU5PZ4
Dawg Yawp – Dawg Yawp (Old Flame Records)
Besides the fact that Cincinnati musicians Tyler Randall and Rob Keenan are two of the absolutely kindest human beings you will ever meet, they also go hard in the paint to shift the paradigm of what you think folk songs with a sitar would sound like. Throw Woodstock out the window (well, not entirely) and open the curtains to also let in guitar, synth and even drum samples, and you have one innovative soundscape to complement the heavenly harmonies emanating from the mouths of these two Berklee grads. If you need an introductory-level course on how the aforementioned instrumentation and vocals could possibly meld into something that has the potential to be a true pop hit, I highly recommend you give a listen to the first single from the album, “Can’t Think.”
“Can’t Think” video: https://youtu.be/CmVYi36aJlo
Sammus – Pieces in Space (Don Giovanni Records)
What do you get when you mix an avid gamer, nerdcore hip hop producer, rapper and Ivy League PhD student? Spoiler alert: in this case, not a White boy. Sammus, born Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, is a multifaceted woman of color who fits into no one’s mold but the one she has meaningfully coded for herself. Through songs like ‘Weirdo’ and ‘Perfect, Dark’, she takes us through the many levels of components that comprise her experiences of being an awkward Black girl nerd with a leveled-up IQ, stresses the importance of self-care and addressing mental health via her lyrical (girl) power-ups, and expresses the vulnerability and self-doubt intelligent, successful women sometimes feel when men view us as ‘intimidating’. Sammus’ game isn’t nearly over. It’s only just begun, and she’s already reached her personal high score.
“1080p” video: https://youtu.be/bjhRvQM-wiw
Eugenius/silent tongues – Creature of Habit/Habits of Creatures (Self-released)
I had to save writing this one for last because it’s the most personal. Some say it’s better to surround yourself with people better than you so you’ll continue to challenge yourself. Eugenius is that guy to me. He has been one of my best alternative hip hop/noise rap friends here in Cincinnati for the last three and a half years, and continues to make jaw-dropping music on some ‘are you for rea?! how do you do that?!’. We even premiered the video for our collaboration, “Blup,” this year. Eugenius, aka Phil Smith, is a Black dude from the suburbs who came up playing in hardcore punk bands, jumped into the hip hop arena in 2013, and has had a years-long solo experimental indie rock project, silent tongues, that morphed into a full band performance lineup this year. He does all the things. In rad fashion.
Creature of Habits/Habits of Creatures is a 17-song split album opus that takes us on a journey into the inner workings of Phil’s view of his value and place in the world. Indeed, this album is all about his personal self-preservation, supported by his necessary songwriting prolificness. The album begins with the Eugenius finding-his-way-in-the-world-as-a-self-realized-outsider experimental rap track ‘Feral’, and alternates with his beautiful experimental indie rock/soul work under the moniker silent tongues (‘Painted Blood’ is a favorite). As Eugenius he raps with ferocity; as silent tongues, he sings mellifluously through emotion. Think these musical styles are mutually-exclusive? Not here, they aren’t. Each song is different from the others, not just when comparing Eugenius to silent tongues, but also within each, and without being noticeably disparate. He blends. Sure, 17 songs seems like a lot, but Phil has managed to craft a body of work that you can listen to end-to-end without skipping tracks. And you’ll want to rinse and repeat. His production and musicianship is truly some of the most innovative I’ve heard in my life; it’s pure, powerful and passionate. He is on the verge of greatness as a musician, something a little uncomfortable for him, but when you listen to this album, you’ll understand that his trajectory is interstellar. I’m truly honored to have him as a friend and collaborator.
“Last One” video: https://youtu.be/yiUxVEtdjPU
Tonedeff – Polymer (QN5)
QN5 label head Tonedeff (“Tone”) has made a definitive statement that he’s more multidimensional than the sum of the rap parts for which he’s been known and typecast for many years. With Polymer, he’s easing his diehard hip hop fans into understanding that it’s a (re)new(ed) day for him, and they can take it or leave it. Yeah, moving clearly out of the lane you’ve inhabited for the majority of your career is scary as fuck, but Tone uses this album as his therapy and his get-through-the-new coping mechanism.
Using an innovative distribution model is the first step. Polymer is comprised of of four genre-hopping EPs; the first three having only been released digitally at scheduled intervals in 2013 and 2015, each having a theme related to Tone’s personal struggles/demons: “Glutton,” “Demon” and “Hunter.” The fourth EP’s songs are included on the final combined version of the physical edition of Polymer released this year.
Although often mentioned as one of the fastest rappers on the planet, Tone also ventures here into a variety of vocal stylings coupled with production that is not easily categorizable relative to genre. According to Tone, it’s a no-genre joint. And that’s what I fucking love about him and his music. Although he is rapping on a few of the songs, they are not accompanied by the boom bap beats from decades past, but rather with drivin’ drum and bass, techno, and other electronic subgenres. And don’t sleep on the ballad-esque entries; his singing voice is a thing of beauty.
“Use Me” video: https://youtu.be/QIWhW7nBPDc
Alice Bag – Alice Bag (Don Giovanni Records)
I first encountered the music of Alice Bag as a freshman in high school in the ’80s via the soundtrack to The Decline of Western Civilization, the Penelope Spheeris-directed documentary on the early beginnings of the LA punk scene. While the whole album was solid, even then I was drawn to the female voices; Alice Bag (of The Alice Bag Band) and Exene Cervenka of X. A few years ago, I did an opening set of poetry when she came to town with a small band as she was promoting her book “Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, A Chicana Punk Story.” Fast-forward to this year, and Alice Bag is back with her first-ever solo album in a career that has spanned forty years. Touring extensively out here like she never left.
Alice smashes all the (mal)-archy’s and ism’s in one fell swoop with an end-to-end empowerment anthemic piece of work spanning the hardcore that birthed her through ’60s girl group-tinged power punches through melodic sung memories. She has the power to mobilize our hearts and minds, as well as our feet.
Also, her pink hair fucking rules.
“Modern Day Virgin Sacrifice” video: https://youtu.be/YbpeGYrSnOI
Rituals of Mine (FKA Sister Crayon) – Devoted (Warner Brothers)
I almost wanted to just leave this space blank…because this album left me speechless. Terra Lopez’s vocals are beyond description and above reproach. Intense, ethereal, meaningful and passionate set to the beautifully minimalist yet complex and driving electronic beats and drums of Dani Fernandez. Terra uses melody to lull you into a space where she wants you, that space to be open to hearing and understanding the powerful words emanating forth like a siren’s call that would rather seduce you into life than to have you crash endlessly against your personal demons.
One caveat: be aware when you’re around others that you may start singing some of the hooks out loud and not even realize it. They’re that addictive.
“Ride or Die” video: https://youtu.be/3De0E_1x1Rw
J-Zone – Fish-n-Grits (Old Maid)
J-Zone wants you to stop trying to ‘take it back to that real hip hop’, in that sense where ’94 was 22 years ago and muhfuckas seem to not be able to take it forward to the damn future. Stuck. If that’s what you’re trying to do, this ain’t the one for you, son. As he says in ‘I’m Sick of Rap’, an in-depth discussion on exactly this topic, “ain’t nobody back then wanna take it back to ’79’.” He is exactly my kind of hater; one that ‘hates’ when artists can’t think for themselves or innovate due to fear of their hip hop cred getting revoked.
I’m sure some folks will think he’s just being silly and poking fun at shit, although his genuine commentary is often hilarious if not only because it rings so true. But he’s dead damn serious. In ‘Go Back to Sellin’ Weed’, he’s letting wack and lazy rappers know that slangin’ bud may be more be a more successful business venture for them because that rappin’/hustlin’ CD-Rs thing isn’t working out so well.
Aside from the lyrical content and thematic concepts described above, you’re REALLY going to want to pay attention to the drums on this album, especially if this is your first time listening to any of J-Zone’s work. He is the President of Percussion’s Fan Club, and it shows. Long-known for being a (live) drummer like no other, his breaks are otherworldly.
“Fish-n-Grits” promo video: https://youtu.be/MlI8y7PlmLY
Psalm One – Gender Fender Bender (Self-released)
This 3x CD set of rare and unreleased Psalm One tracks, only available for physical copy purchase online or at shows, was a necessary emotional release and statement of personal freedom for her. The former First Lady of < NULL value > is now the President of her own shit: her life and her artistry.
One thing about Psalm, she’s a top-of-the-line Hug Dealer, and you can feel the love in every rhyme. She’s real to the nth power, and is fearless in expressing when shit ain’t right in the world or in her circle. Psalm is that WYSIWYG rapper chick for the ages, and we’re all better for it.
The first two CDs of the set are 200% Psalm, with guest spots by a few of your favorite rappers, while the third is a bonus CD featuring fellow Rapperchicks member Angelenah. If you’ve been under a rock for the last few years, you may not have noticed that women in hip hop are on an epic come-up right about now, and Psalm and Angelenah are all up in it.
For more from Psalm and Angelenah, also check out the Rapperchicks’ 2016 release, “Shitty Punk Album” over at http://regularblackgirl.com/.
“Just U and Us” video: https://youtu.be/UdBlMOD5gb0
Perseph One – The Machine Mammal (EP) (Fake Four Inc.)
Fake Four’s annual Freecember EP giveaway didn’t come soon enough for me on this one! Underground hip hop legend Louis Logic hipped me to Perseph One a few years ago, and, as a fellow woman in hip hop, I’m on her team like that. But don’t think I’m giving out free passes whenever a rapper who’s a woman shows up to the party; I hold everyone to the same standard and Perseph One far exceeds that. Twenty extra points for a sick flow that veers in different directions from song to song, sometimes purposely off-kilter, while others riddles with a hint of punk angst to which she sets her (em)powerful lyrics. I could give you a ‘sounds like’ artist frame of reference, but that would be doing her a disservice because she has her own damn sound. Here’s a ‘sounds like’ for ya: like a woman who gives a fuck about herself and the world around her. Boom.
Stream/Free Download: https://fakefour.bandcamp.com/album/machine-mammal-ep
“Sip” video: https://youtu.be/IRklxBE_NMA
Mega Ran – Mat Mania: The Album (Self-released)
One of the leaders of the burgeoning nerdcore hip hop scene, and a close personal friend, Mega Ran is that rapper with a heart of gold who connects hip hop to the people, places and things where it’s least expected. A perennial champion for the underdog, his music and rhymes will take you to the arcade, the comic book store, and now TO THE MAT for a 3-COUNT! Through nine songs dedicated to pro wrestlers, by name, Mat Mania is a WrestleMania and rap fan’s wet dream.
“Run (The Wyatt Family)” feat. MURS video: https://youtu.be/Q6KA9Hi-x08
“BLUP” Video (Abiyah + Eugenius): https://youtu.be/p9xTT5p8Fzs
Download “BLUP” for FREE (or Name Your Price) at: