This year has seen the wave of slick-talking gangster rap rise back to the top of the hip hop pile. Whether it’s Freddie Gibbs returning with Madlib, Pusha T stealing another rapper’s spotlight with a guest feature, or the Griselda boys knocking it out of the park with another stellar release, there’s no denying that the grimy hip hop is alive and well. The thing is, it’s always been here! Five years ago, Conway, Benny and co were dropping mixtapes and EPs that fans would hunt down and consume at such a pace, it was often hard to keep up. Even Roc Marciano was putting out multiple albums a year to satisfy the increased appetite for the renewed interest in Mafioso as a sub-genre. In 2019, the scene continues to thrive, with numerous underground emcees changing their style to capture an audience they may not have had before.
These records can vary in quality depending on your taste in beats, as the influence of stalwarts like DJ Muggs and Alchemist leads others to drop records with minimal drums. Finn’s beats here are more conventional, not dissimilar to the canvas The LOX would paint their street imagery to. Asun Eastwood hails from Toronto, just over the border from the Buffalo boys, and his latest release is “With All Due Respect”; a lean, mean 26 minutes of no-nonsense rap.
For the most part, Asun is another blunt emcee drifting between reflective street raps and an aspiration to make something of himself. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about the songs here, but they remain satisfying nonetheless. Saipher Soze’s brash view of backpack rappers being “Dora Explorers” is a vivid statement on “On the Way Up”, signifying how the underground scene is now a pool of menacing drug lords as opposed to the technical wordsmiths many may remember it to be.
The guests are all known for their criminal tendencies – Rome Streetz elevates “Drab” with his ability to craft a hook but it’s his verse that steals the song. Eto, arguably hip hop’s hardest worker with two albums already released this year (including one with DJ Muggs), blesses the best track “Swanson Vitamins”:
“A demon to most, angel to some
Mango and rum, bare-faced blink at the ghost
Bitches came, I had them stealin’ your coke
Faithful and dumb
They don’t ever speak on who spoke
She know the oath, I wire jaws
They tap wires, that’s what they admire
You know the dialogue, tie your hog
Major comeback from a minor loss
Them days I slung crack I tried to floss”
Asun sounds like a calculated King Magnetic, boasting “God Built Me Like This” as he highlights his potential and reluctance to change who he is. Proclaiming “I love it when they can’t stand you, knowing where you stand makes it easier than when these fans Stan you” shows the type of no-nonsense character Asun is, and Finn’s plodding backdrop is just catchy enough to keep the listener’s interest.
Most rap fans will associate Toronto with Drake, Kardinal Offishall or perhaps Choclair. Asun Eastwood’s style is more cutthroat, but with Benny the Butcher’s ascent in recent years there’s no reason why Asun can’t scale the same heights. One to keep an eye on.