Tito Lopez - "DGAF"
We all have those moments where we DGAF. Tito Lopez concocts the greatest anthem for the Shrug Life with his latest - only in Tito's version it's less apathy and more blatant recklessness. He's blasting through doors and demanding his place in the game. "Now err'body say they believe in me, but when shit hit the fan they be leavin' me," Lopez rhymes with the cadence of 'Pac. It's a total uphill climb for new artists, especially ones who grab a sizeable amount of buzz and struggle to keep it. It's easy to get lost in the shuffle where the top tier rappers stay making announcements (both good and bad) while the 99% remains tossing around bars in the hopes that we all recognize their greatness. It's good to know Tito isn't planning on stopping until he hits the top. Try stopping him. He don't give a fuck. - Kathy Iandoli (@kath3000)
Homeboy Sandman - "Dag, Philly Too"
My affinity for Homeboy Sandman's music continues to grow by the year. In such an unpredictable world we live in, few emcees can surprise me. HBS has done it time and time again. After I was convinced that 2010's The Good Sun was never to be outdone, BoySand went to Stones Throw Records and made songs on last year's dual-EPs that floored me. He refuses to be pocketed, pigeon-holed and especially, predictable. Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent is one of my favorite releases of this year (that's suddenly not so young anymore). Yes, the album pays honor to the man credited with laying the groundwork for this thing of ours. It's released on his birthday, and features 1970s-somethin'-inspired artwork, and pulls samples that we might have heard in Bronx block parties if we were there (with Just-Ice). "Dag, Philly Too" travels the 90 minutes south on the NJT to Philadelphia, where I call home (and HBS used to). The funky production and the versatile vocals ("Spent three years over ya head / My name mumbled under ya breath / Now I'm the boogieman under ya bed") make this my standout cut on the EP, and one of the few songs that I can't stop listening to or playing for other people in the 2-0-1-3. Forty years later, I hope Herc is hearin' this. - Jake Paine (@Citizen__Paine)
Locksmith - "Bear With Me"
Asking someone to "bear with me" is usually synonymous with asking for a favor. But here Richmond Caifornia's Locksmith is doing us the bigger favor by delivering a track that packs more raw emotion into two minutes than most rappers put into entire albums. Not only is it a mournful tribute to his late mother but it is also a message from a son and brother who loves his family and wants to see the best for them. "Bear With Me's" fluid memoir-based rhymes don't shy away from expressing resentment "they told me I wasn't black, said I was adopted" or painting painful pictures like watching a crying husband pack his wife's things into a box. What I like most is that the latter isn't done in a sappy or sentimental way because Locksmith is forthcoming about the questions that come with having a father who is a widower. "It never dawned on me, like what if he wants to date again? And if he chooses to, will my mother be disrespected?" The split screen video that accompanies the track heightens the mix of melancholy and inspiration. These are words from an emcee who is torn but resilient. A day after the goofiness of 4/20 has ended is also good time to think abut Locksmith's parting thought. "The question ain't why we get high but why is a nigga low." Weed may be a way to self medicate when times are tough but finding a beat, letting the tape roll and venting a bit gets the job done even quicker. -Michael Sheehan
RELATED: Tito Lopez Details His Approach To Rhyming And Honoring Hip Hop's Past [2012 INTERVIEW]