Hometown Highlights: LK Ultra!, Cuee, Amira Wang + more

Between getting sick a couple times and a generally massive workload, I hadn't had time for a Hometown Highlights update since January. So instead of just talking about the past few weeks, what you'll read below is more of a Q1 recap for everything local music (although a few album and EP articles are coming soon, too). There's a lot of everything on here, so get listening.

LK Ultra! - "Pussy Hat"
It's not yet part of an official release, rather given to KJHK to promote their appearance at Farmers Ball, but on "Pussy Hat" Lawrence garage punks LK Ultra! are ready to reject mainstream feminism in favor of something more inclusive. No local teenagers have ever melded social commentary and catchy songwriting so effortlessly.

Rachel Cion - "Collision"
Johnson County singer-songwriter Rachel Cion's latest single, "Collision," attempts to throw the brakes on her mile-a-minute thought process; the result is a relatable, if not ambiguous, pop jam. The production of Alex Manriquez provides a minimal, bubbling R&B backdrop that frees up room for Cion's voice to float about and her multi-layered harmonies to crawl inside the listener's ear. "Collision" is also a clear departure from the guitar-centric songs she was releasing a year ago. Whether this was a one-off pit stop or a new path she's steered herself down, Rachel Cion is a voice Kansas City should be paying attention to this year.

Gee Watts - "Psalms 82:6" (ft. Kye Colors and Solomon)
"Psalms 82:6" is the best local track of 2018 so far and one of the most uplifting songs to emerge from Kansas City, period. Included on his "You Don't Deserve This" tape in February, Watts called in help from two of the city's youngest stars, Kye and Solomon, for the bridge and chorus respectively. All three performers give lights-out, tearjerking performances. As if the Cavi crew's tales of perseverance in the first two minutes wasn't gripping enough, Watts allows the song to grind to a halt before he cuts off the lights and spits a series of double-time raps that remind listeners of the city's grim realities and some of the less fortunate outcomes that can unfold when people chase their dreams.

MB58 - "I Need A Lash (Remix)" (ft. Deej and Dellio)
Originally released in early 2017, a remix of MB58's "I Need A Lash" was included on his new album "Destiny." The move may have been unintentional -- the song had in fact garnered more attention than any of his previous tracks -- but giving this song another push now shows that 58 was ahead of the curve last year. His tip-toe flows combined with the song's twinkling pianos and steamroller rhythm section mirror some of this spring's most popular sounds and plant the song among the city's best street rap songs of the past year.

Aaron Alexander - "Behave"
With his outstanding debut album, "Memento Mori," in the rear-view, Aaron Alexander already has his sights trained on what's next. His first local headlining show is next month in North Kansas City and he's been teasing a series of new tracks on social media and at a recent show. "Behave" is the first track to surface post-"Memento" and serves as a fitting update as to where Alexander is at mentally. He often prefers to let his art speak for itself, but as he admits on this track, there are still some people that need a reminder of his prowess. Think of this as Alexander's own "Humble."

Amira Wang - "Cake Day" (ft. Muhsya)
To the best of my knowledge, there isn't another woman in Kansas City rapping like Amira Wang. On just her second song available online, Wang brings the post-Cardi B sound home for three minutes of non-stop, ass-shaking revelry. Perhaps there will be ballads and tender, open-heart raps to come in the future, but for now, Wang seems content ruling the dancefloor with an iron fist.
 
Pay Attention To Cable - "4 Da Vibe"
Pay Attention To Cable seems to be one of Kansas City hip-hop's best kept secrets. The trio dropped its self-titled debut EP at the end of January to little hype outside of their 825 Studios circle, but don't let that discourage you. "4 Da Vibe" is the first full song on the EP and illustrates the crossroads of experimental and hippie-stoner rap that the group sits at, as well as demonstrating the unique chemistry between its members.

Ray Muney - "Posted" (ft. Kye Colors and Solomon)
The cheery piano hook on "Posted" sounds like one that could blare from the loudspeaker of an ice cream truck. Melodically, it's Kansas City rapper Ray Muney's most upbeat release yet -- Solomon's endearingly playful backing vocals ensure this -- but the lyrics are pressing as ever. Muney may remain posted on the block, but if his town or those outside it give his music the right push, he might be able to ditch the streets for the hip-hop stardom that he's becoming increasingly deserving of. Kye Colors also delivers a clever verse to close out this instant summertime classic.

DMT O - "Short Freestyle 3"
Grandview rapper DMT O may very well be his city's freestyle champion. The third entry in his "Short Freestyle" series offers an unobstructed look at his knack for penning clever rhymes and delivering them with charisma. A favorite line: "Bitches know I ball like a athlete / My young boys run around the field like a track meet."

Dead Dads Club - "IHOP Demo"
Alice Ryan will one day be signed to a major indie label, but before that day comes, she has to lay a foundation. That's what's happening this year. "IHOP Demo" is another loose track recorded on Ryan's iPhone -- and a catchy one -- but she's been hard at work recently, putting together a full band for half a dozen shows in the span of two months and preparing to re-record some of her favorite tracks for one of her first formal releases. If you still want to get in on the ground floor of this fandom, now may be your last chance.
  
Contrast - "Alone"
After a cold, pulsating ambient noise intro, the only straight edge band in Kansas City -- or at least the only one that matters -- blasts through the audio wreckage and brings the fucking riffs. "Alone" is the first of Contrast's two tracks on a split EP with Louisville's Constraint and a declaration of self-reliance from vocalist Antonio Marquez. Because when betrayals and let-downs are abundant, there's not much you can do but stick to yourself -- and mosh about it.

Ogechi -  "BuhLeeDat"
Ogechi's ability to sculpt each of her releases with a highly-concentrated vision in mind sets her apart from most rappers her age. Where her first EP focused on her roots in poetry and her second to dancehall reggae, her third release, "HipHoppa Schola," pays homage -- in her lyrics and in her delivery -- to hip-hop's originators. "BuhLeeDat" features brute rhymes that simultaneously combat unchecked state violence and her non-believers with their "grade school bars."

[Walt] - "Purgatory"
Getting stuck in [Walt]'s "Purgatory" seems far from a form of divine punishment. The rapper-producer's latest single is full of questions and contemplation, impassioned singing, and some of his most mature production yet. In most interviews and tweets, [Walt] is fairly cryptic about when fans can expect a full release from him, but judging by his recent output, he's more prepared than most of Kansas City to drop a polished slab of pro-grade hip-hop. 

Mike 2X - "Just Like Rosie"
Grief is the driving force behind Mike 2X's song "Just Like Rosie," but rather than weeping, Mike chooses to celebrate the life of his late friend and Hogan classmate. Further exploring his interest in gritty Dirty South production, Mike's tribute centers around Rosie's prowess on the basketball court through its chorus that incorporates his jersey number. Mike also got the opportunity to perform the song at Hogan during he and Kye Colors' assembly spot in March.

Zotiyac - "Tombstonez"
Like most of his highly potent catalog, Zotiyac's "Tombstonez" clocks in at less than two minutes, but he's proven yet again that's all the time he needs. Released just days after the passing of Fredo Santana, the song memorializes the Chicago drill pioneer among its dozen or so quotables. If this is just a throwaway posted on someone else's SoundCloud, his upcoming tape, "Blackball," is sure to be something special.

Freddie Fresh - "Still Here" (ft. NA.Westside)
Those nostalgic for the nineties renaissance of 2012 should instantly fall for one of Freddie Fresh's latest tracks. The lounge-ready, laid-back beat of "Still Here" paired with Freddie's unrelenting flow is hip-hop ear candy and NA.Westside's verse is tougher than most everything on his R&B-focused "Sunflower EP" from earlier this year.

Dev3n & 1Bounce - "Wayne Minor"
Built from a sample of The Stylistics' "Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)," 1Bounce's beat on "Wayne Minor" provides a simple, but soothing setting for KC rapper Dev3n to unload some heavy thoughts. While the direction of their collaborative EP "It Was Fun" isn't nearly as ambitious as Dev3n's 2017 release "EPHNY," moments like this song are a reminder of the pair's respective skills. A follow-up single from Dev3n, "Fin.," is also worth a serious listen.

The Get Up Kids - "Maybe"
After a seven year drought between new releases, Kansas City emo royalty The Get Up Kids are back with a new EP. Coming this June on Polyvinyl -- the label that also just signed Shy Boys -- the gang will be releasing "Kicker." The band's first post-breakup releases -- and even some late pre-breakup material -- grew too serious too quickly, but their new single, "Maybe," shows the band embracing their pop roots while carefully expanding the songwriting in a more mature direction.

Rage Gang, Beam Team - "Foreign Exchange"
Once the Beam Team boys hop on the beat to "Foreign Exchange" -- which kinda sounds like a motorbike being revved -- the party doesn't stop. Tolu and Juice are about to graduate high school and their youthful exuberance shows on this very on-brand cut. Tolu's willingness to engage in some playful singing during the chorus is just icing on the cake.

Cuee - "Shook"
Lawrence rapper Cuee is crushing hard on this new song. Over a throwback-style beat crafted by Bam Keith, Cuee makes clear her interest this mystery girl with the curly hair. The hook is irresistible and the raps are smooth like butter.

Saudi Suite - "600 MPH"
Following some downtime and a change in moniker, longtime Rory Fresco associate Saudi Suite (f.k.a. Lonzo and A.I.) is back with a new single. "600 MPH" is a song about Saudi's rockstar lifestyle. The topic is recurring within the Fresco camp, but the track is put together in such a way that shows how much closer Saudi and his friends are to true celebrity status than most folks in their hometown. SuperShaqGonzoe's production is a big part of the vehicle too.

Rory Fresco - "Big Shot"
Rory Fresco's first offering of 2018 is a lumbering, mid-paced party track that features a whole new set of boasts, brags, and flexes in every verse. Rory's been dropping a steady stream of singles every few months since last year's "Teen Spirit" tape, but he promises that his upcoming project "Punkstar" will be arriving soon.

Zarin Micheal - "Villains"
Zarin Micheal can talk shit with the best of them, so it only makes sense that this track ends with a sample from a classic Ric Flair promo. The raps he kicks out function mostly like rugged freestyle bars -- the beat, courtesy of Donnell and honorary Kansas Citian Bijan Amir, doesn't switch up much -- but "Villains" offers much more replay value than most freestlyes.

Doby Watson - "Family Mattress III"
Doby Watson has been active as a singer-songwriter for over a decade now and is still churning out gripping songs capable of turning heads in any room. "Family Mattress III," from his latest EP "Family Mattress Deluxe," is one of those head-turners, and a bluesy, slow-burning cry for help. Watson's screamed background vocals and the song's overarching sadness nearly take the song into post-hardcore territory, but its marching stomp and his near-twang allow the song to hold onto some  traditional charm.

CS Luxem - "Feed The Dogs"
You rub your eyes, you roll out of bed, step into the kitchen where it's way too bright to be...oh, right, it's noon already. You feed the dogs. The warm, glimmering melodies of CS Luxem's "Feed The Dogs" is the perfect way to start your day and to end the Lawrence singer-songwriter's long-awaited LP.

Foghorn - "Morning"
If you love Mac DeMarco, but could do without some of the singer-songwriter's goofier tendencies, Foghorn may be right for you. Emerging from the same Johnson County crew as Rachel Cion, this duo is writing downbeat and jangly, lo-fi pop songs just in time to ease your summertime heartbreak.

Reggie & The Full Effect - "Il Pesce Svedese"
James Dewees is known far and wide for crafting balls-to-the-wall pop-punk bangers, and this song is no different. While the chord progressions and lyrics to "Il Pesce Svedese" could have easily appeared on his earlier albums as Reggie or with The Get Up Kids, there are hints of the theatricality from his times in MCR or studying classical music. Dewees is also known for his sense of humor -- his alter-ego metal and synth bands both make appearances on "41" -- but this track is no joke.

Snakehound - "Guillotine del Toro
If Coalesce regrouped for a reunion gig, Snakehound should be the first band they call on to open. David Marshall's throaty shouts and verbose lyricism line up perfectly with his band's meaty metalcore riffs and squealing guitar licks. Formed in late 2017, the band is already finishing work on its debut LP for release later this year.

Pendant - "IBX-BZC"
Born in Emporia, KS, Huerco S. is another metro artist that has attained national attention, but relatively little on a local scale. His most recent project, "Make Me Know You Sweet," released under the moniker Pendant, is ambient and meditative in nature. Its midway point, "IBX-BZC," features a series of what are either actual forest field recordings or extremely lifelike imitations. The slow-moving track, much like the rest of the album, is dangerously easy to get lost in.

Dopamine - "Godhead / Inconsolable"
A majority of the debut album from Raymore-Peculiar trio Dopamine consists of standard exercises in garage punk songwriting, but the most profound moments on "All Humans Are Guilty" come in the form of nineties-style acoustic grunge tracks. "Godhead / Inconsolable" is one of those moments. Singer/guitarist James Mendenhall strums away on what could easily be mistaken for a b-side or deep cut from a classic Alice In Chains or Stone Temple Pilots record. Swirling with apathy and poetic anguish, Mendenhall may be one of the few "born in the wrong generation" types who are actually worth hearing out.

Seventeen Years - "173"
The music on Seventeen Years' latest offering, "Sad Easy," ranges from acoustic singer-songwriter tunes to bouncy, electronic new wave, but the dream pop of "173" and songs like it are the project's core. Tony Freijat's gloomy vocal inflections call to mind those of many of the genre's British heroes of 20 years ago, but retain trace elements of his Midwest emo scene roots.

Munchie$ - "Cult"
Formerly known as City Watts, Kansas City rapper Munchie$ has been spending time in Los Angeles crafting rockstar sounds with several buzzing producers. The spacey production provided by Gucciwitch on his latest drop, "Cult," may complement Munchie$' melodic sensibilities more keenly than any past efforts. His raps of counting money and donning designer clothing may be somewhat standard, but his falsetto hooks are anything but.

Lava Dreams - "Dreamy Love"
Kansas City singer-songwriter Julia Hamilton just released her first EP as Lava Dreams. The earthy warmth present on "Dreamy Love" and much of her self-titled debut is nearly impossible to avoid and even tougher to shut off once you've started listening. Fans of alternative R&B and indie pop alike will be turned fans instantly.

Cholera - "Necroptosis"
Noise composer Cholera's standard output features evil amounts of feedback, distortion, and other forms of sonic dissonance, but their latest track, "Necroptosis," is far more subdued. The song forgoes a blistering climax in favor of an ongoing uneasiness painted by whirring electronics and quiet, hazy synths. It's a chilling soundtrack to the emptiness of a barren, bombed-out wasteland.

Mess - "Cave"
Mess had what was arguably the biggest breakout of any Kansas City rock band in 2017. Garnering acclaim for their debut EP and landing spots on promising bills, the band is currently working on an LP for release later this year. The first single from the album, "Cave," features the same smart songwriting present on "Heartswithholes" and an impressive blast of post-rock grandeur at its peak that is guaranteed to blow away concert audiences.

Princess Molasses - "Put Your Cops Down"
Strap on your seatbelts: Big Pharma Records co-founder Princess Molasses recently issued her first full-length, "We Are Being Consumed." The 19-track rollercoaster includes bits of speedcore, breakcore, extratone, and a dozen other microgenres that you're probably not familiar with. One of its most outrageous moments comes on "Put Your Cops Down" -- a breakneck composition that mashes up the sounds of a nineties hip-hop track, a Sean Paul hit, and a clip from a comedy podcast making fun of cops. To put things simply, this shit rules.

Unique Sixteen - "</3"
Kansas City rapper Unique Sixteen is three for three. On his third -- and apparently final -- SoundCloud release, Unique bridges together two equally intriguing chapters of a tale about heartbreak with a pensive bit of spoken word. "</3" is his third song in six months, and while most artists want to make it to the top as quickly as possible, Unique is playing the tortoise to their hare.

SAATheHellBoy - "One World" (ft. NA.Locc and NA.Westside)
Between recent singles and tracks from last year's "A Thousand Moons" EP, No Alternatives rapper SAATheHellBoy (f.k.a. JamalLamonte and MoonCity) seems to be trying his hand in several different styles before making any kind of commitment. Standing out from his Cudi-esque pop raps and upbeat love songs is "One World" -- a lush piece of New York boom-bap revival featuring friends NA.Locc and NA.Westside.

Nadroj - "Miami" (ft. Johny 500)
Nadroj's debut tape, "Boy Meets World," mostly consists of sleek, modern R&B cuts about love and self-reflection, but "Miami" is a starry-eyed piece of pop-rap escapism. The song's bright synths and crisp drums help make it an easy pick for a top-down drive by an Atlantic coastline.

Youth Pool - "Splash"
Originally written for a compilation, "Splash" is a new Youth Pool track that sees the band diving deeper into the dream pop wormhole than ever before. Featuring an echoing, Brit-pop style drum machine and a minimal amount of lyrics, the Youth Pool boys are ready for you to trip with them.

Trophy Husband - "Almost Math"
Trophy Husband -- and a select group of pals -- are helping keep emo alive in the metro. "Almost Math" is the first of their two songs on a new split with Springfield, Missouri's Maoze and features the group's most succinct and memorable songwriting yet.

Dellio - "Gang Poetry"
"I could make a cold-hearted killer drop a tear or two," raps Dellio on "Gang Poetry." The song is a melancholic highlight from the veteran Kansas City street rapper's April album "Killa City's Poet." Not every musician can nimbly hop between boastful bangers and sobering reflections, but Dellio shows here that he's more than capable.

Tafi - "Amazon"
"Amazon" is Tafi's newest single and the song in this roundup most fit for creative dancing. The track's exotic rhythms, James Bond theme guitar licks, and highly melodic nature make this song another win for the KC-via-Olathe rapper.

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