BIA & J. Cole Collab Leads a Legendary Spring Surge of New England Music
by Mike Scarfo
Welcome back to this special article version of Night School New Music. As always, be sure you’re following our Spotify playlist below to hear all 40+ of the new song additions this week.
There has been so much groundbreaking music out of the New England region since our last volume of this series. Essentially, I felt like a three minute video recap was not going to do it justice; that ultimately I could not dive into the proper depth that this musical prowess rightfully deserves. And of course, the obvious place to start is possibly the biggest record to ever come out of New England; I’m talking about the new BIA & J. Cole single “LONDON” produced by a star-studded ensemble of AzizTheShake, Jon Glass, & Tim Nihan.
BIA - LONDON (feat. J. Cole)
The amount of quotable lines from J. Cole on his verse is beyond elite: it's GOAT status. Yet, despite J. Cole’s 24-bar master class in wordplay being one of his all-time great features, it’s actually BIA who steals the show here. And that is truly how special BIA's performance is in this moment. Cole even says it himself:
The Medford native's unrelenting swagger and confidence behind an infectious rhyme scheme solidifies her as one of the top hip-hop artists in the game today, period. "LONDON" feels like the pinnacle of her steady, inevitable rise to stardom, delivering tongue-twister bars like "I like to tango, twistin' and tangle, testin' the angles, Up in the bank though, I got the same goals" that show off her true lyrical talents.
What I think impresses me most about BIA is the charismatic persona she demonstrates in the way she delivers her bars. Lines such as "He never met no one like me, it's pretty funny how now they all like me, innit?" capture her poise and confidence, but also emit an glamorous essence that really molds her unique aura. Her performance on "LONDON" is particularly magnetizing, it demands your attention and holds it more and more with each repeated listen.
What makes "LONDON" especially significant is the production from New England natives (from left to right) AzizTheShake (Nashua, NH), Tim Nihan (Reading, MA), and one of the kindest souls I've met in the music industry, Turntable Teachers alumni Jon Glass (Beverly, MA). The drum/hi-hat combo blended with warped, wonky synths create a dynamic melody with enough grit that demands undivided attention.
"LONDON" will contend as one of the best hip-hop songs all year long, and not just from this area. I challenge you to find a more spirited song from all angles of overall aesthetic, lyricism, and execution. This song feels like a moment, because it really is a moment. I cannot applaud the efforts of everyone involved on this enough; they've made New England proud.
Johan Lenox - Get My Shit Together (feat. Thouxanbanfauni)
Rising star Johan Lenox (Winchester, MA) returns with another remarkable single “Get My Shit Together” with Thouxanbanfauni off his upcoming album What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up. For the record, I chose second single "You Up?" as my favorite song from Massachusetts in 2021. I simply did not imagine a reality where I'd like a song from this album more, until I heard his arguably best offering yet in “Get My Shit Together”.
Has he gotten his shit together? No. But is he trying to get his shit together? Also no. So topically he's been consistent through this run of singles, but sonically the way that string harmony wafts in and out of the production on this one is magical; it legitimately sounds like it should be on a soundtrack to a dramatic high-budgeted Hollywood film. And how does he layer his vocals so effortlessly to bolster the already emotionally cinematic listening experience? There are elements of genius within this man the likes of which most of us will never fully understand. Given the subject matter paired with the unique sonic universe he's creating, I don't know if I've ever been more intrigued to hear an album from start to finish. I can only imagine it's going to be quite the descent into the conflicted psyche of Johan Lenox.
Thouxanbanfauni delivers a poetically charged verse in the dead center of this track that brings an added solemness to "Get My Shit Together"'s message of self-sabotage and trappings of American adulthood. I am obsessed with every element of this song.
Termanology & Paul Wall - Start 2 Finish
The legendary Lawrence, MA emcee Termanology teams up with Paul Wall for a dope collaborative project called Start 2 Finish which has an incredible array of features and production credits from Pete Rock, Millyz, C Scharp, Bun B, and more. What most impresses me about this project is how Paul Wall adapted to the smoother boom bap style of hip-hop that Termanology has been a staple in for years; it reminds me of his old music with Chamillionaire (yeah, I bet you haven't heard that name in a long time).
Both Paul Wall and Termanology glide over the the soulful vocal sample-driven "No Asterisk". C-Scharp's glamorous boom bap production on "No Favors (Part 2)" provides a platform for both emcees to shine, and the album's closer "Step Outside" is simply gorgeous. Jared Evan adds a captivating hook, and Millyz's sentimental and honest verse fits the thematic content perfectly. There's plenty more to love on this 10-track, 37-minute collaboration, definitely make sure you give it a full spin.
Meech & SAINT LYOR - BOLD Willow Tree
Can Van Buren do any wrong lately? I love this new one from Meech and SAINT LYOR; initially it's one of the more silky smooth beats I've heard from the group in a long time. That vocal sample in the first half of the track is outstanding. And even though they both deliver melodic performances, I love how Meech and SAINT LYOR's vocal approaches to the track are so different, with the latter utilizing a faster paced flow.
And then all of a sudden, "BOLD Willow Tree" gets completely flipped on its head with one of the best beat switches I've heard this year. The second half is grimier, colder, more forceful. It's so unexpected, and the song concludes on such a high note, that it's without a doubt one of my favorite releases in their discography so far. Seriously, if you aren't listening to these guys yet, you are very late to the party.
l.ucas - Bad Place
Our previous article showcased l.ucas and Timi O's first headlining show at The Rockwell in Somerville, MA in late March, and it was largely an impressive success. Shortly before the show, multi-talented producer and artist l.ucas released a new song "Bad Place" in tandem with a creative and intricately detailed music video. The piano melody on "Bad Place" has an interesting tonal contrast of both optimism and dejection; even though he's portraying some mental health struggles and insecurities, the song can't help but come off as a sign of hope. Despite being in this difficult mental space, the growth and self-awareness is an important result of accepting this maturation process.
The imagery l.ucas depicts within the therapy office and using the couch as an extended metaphor are both very clever visual choices that you don't attain from just listening to the song. This song is amazing regardless, but a much better experience accompanied with the music video.
dev soter & STEFAN THEV - WASTED
dev soter and STEFAN THEV are two of my favorite alternative artists in MA right now, and for good reason. The former released an incredibly eclectic EP in 2021 titled "The Dida Tapes" which was raved about on this platform, while the latter dropped one of my favorite songs of 2022 thus far in "ghouls! skeletons! zombies!". Seriously, if that song isn't on my year end list I will be shocked. So going into their collaborative single "WASTED", I had high expectations, and of course these two did not disappoint.
What I initially noticed is how much they committed to a punk rock soundscape on "WASTED", a sound that both artists have dabbled in, but neither have gone to this extent. The risk pays off, with its staticky distorted vocals mixing perfectly with the electric guitar-led instrumental. "WASTED" is two minutes of voracious energy; it feels like they had a blast creating this song. The most impressive piece to "WASTED" in its entirety is the way in which both dev and STEFAN effortlessly flow over this beat as if it's a hip-hop track. Stepping outside their comfort zones and expanding their sound palette is admirable, and something more artists need to do.
Last but certainly not least, indie alternative artist Maeko releases the first single "COOL" off his upcoming album of the same name. Maeko is a true visionary and musician at his core; I really do believe this is the project that is going to show the world who this guy really is. I've been so impressed with what I've heard so far, and this lead single is just a glimpse into the feel-good, tenderhearted music that Maeko is creating (big shoutout to in-house producer Dephrase for aiding in this).
The vibrant sonic experience of "COOL" depicts the notion that none of us have, or will ever, truly reach our fullest potential; that ultimately we are and always will be works in progress. That is not to say we never actually make progress, but the idea that we will ever reach some pinnacle of fulfillment is often a facade. Maeko urges the listener to always stay grounded, keeping "10 toes down", and never lose our smile, or the passions that make us who we are. Because at the end of the day, we truly only have ourselves. We are all human beings, no one greater than another. It's important to be confident in ourselves, but not at the expense of those around us.
Every release from Maeko is always better than the last. He somehow continues finding ways to produce springtime-windows-down-car-ride jams that also paint important and often sentimental pictures. A song like "COOL" reiterates how deep of a thinker he is, and the existential impact he's trying to make with his music. I'm not saying he's solved any sort of meaning to life; but I can't deny that it sounds like he's getting awfully closer than most, or at the very least getting us to think more critically and look within, which is half the battle.
Listen to all these songs and more on our "Night School New Music" Spotify playlist