Ben FM, Fan Ran and Swerve 360, "American Music" (Gritty City Records)
Four years in the making, this seven-song cycle tells the story of America from the Revolution to the emergence of the hip-hop nation. It's my favorite album of 2017. Ben FM, Fan Ran, and Swerve 360 offer up American history as experienced by marginal voices: immigrants, indentured servants, slaves, women, bootleggers and working-class folks. As Ben FM says of the album, "the subliminal message is that the evolution of rap is far from over." With vinyl-only sounds and lyrics pulled directly from historical documents, Ben, Fan and Swerve redefine America's past while charting hip-hop's future.
Michael Millions, "Sirens," from the forthcoming "Hard to Be King" LP
What do you get when you put Michael Millions on a throwback, grooved-out beat from Nickelus F. while taking listeners through a personal tour of Richmond? "Sirens" is a slow-burning monster that portends big things from Millions' album set to drop later this month. As if putting out one of the best singles of 2017 wasn't enough, the video for "Sirens" channels a retro, futuristic aesthetic by using throwback graphics and grainy VHS-style footage. Millions and director Young Flexico, who should have his own video exhibition immediately, capture the poverty and promise encapsulated in the reality of life in Richmond versus the sloganeering of RVA. "Sirens" finds Millions ready to show the rest of the world the hard work he's put in to wear the crown.
Noah Scalin and the Cheats Movement, New Legacy Hoodie
The hoodie design collaboration between artist Noah Scalin and Marc Cheatham's Cheats Movement was one of the finest hip-hop moments of 2017. Featuring an image of the Lee monument minus General Lee, Scalin and Cheatham provide an inclusive message of community desperately needed in contemporary America. Once again, hip-hop is in the vanguard pointing out American hypocrisy and calling for a change. Scalin and the Cheats Movement provide a challenge to those clinging to an outdated worldview through art: That's straight up hip-hop.
Mad Skillz named artist-in-residence at the University of Richmond
Arguably Richmond's greatest emcee— and your favorite rapper's favorite rapper —will be coming home to teach at the University of Richmond. Beginning in January, the class the Voice of Hip Hop in America will examine the genre's emergence and impact on American culture. Hip-hop is more than 40 years old now, so it's increasing inclusion in classrooms makes sense. But what is truly important is that the history will be taught by someone whose life has shaped, and been shaped by, hip-hop. Plans are in the works to make February's classes open to the public and some classes will feature appearances from Skillz's hip-hop comrades. Keep a look out, because these classes are sure to provide some of the best hip-hop moments of 2018.