Star-Studded Night School New Music Vol. 6 Headlined by Johan Lenox's Debut Album WDYWTBWYGU
by Mike Scarfo
It’s been another busy month in the music world, especially in the Massachusetts/New England area, where it feels like the energy has shifted in tandem with the weather as it typically does around this time. The music scene continues to not disappoint and seems to be in hyperdrive as more artists push creative concepts and visuals. Continue reading to hear all about the latest music that is shaping the sound of spring in the Northeast region of the country. Below are 10 new releases you should check out. As always, be sure you’re following our “Night School New Music” Spotify playlist to hear and support all of these songs, and so many others.
Johan Lenox - Fuck This Town
Johan is gearing up for arguably the most tumultuous moment of his entire career, the release of his debut album What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? which I firmly believe is going to open people’s eyes to a sound they’ve never known before, blending beautiful orchestral harmonies with contemporary drums and melodies. To me, it’s always been his voice that has stood out the most despite the uniqueness of the production. He’s able to utilize reverb on his deep, low-toned voice in a tasteful way that adds depth to the instrumentals. Plus, it builds an aura of mystique to his overall image and sound that I think is often lost in today’s music.
Johan has teased a number of singles leading up WDYWTBWYGU’s impending drop, including lead single “Phases” with Cousin Stizz, our #1 song of 2021 in “You Up?” with Ant Clemons, followed by a string of 2022 releases in “No One Gets Me” with RMR, “I’m a Mess” with Lancey Foux, and “Get My Shit Together” with Thouxanbanfauni. His latest and final single “Fuck This Town” is exactly what it sounds like: an ode to all the fallacies and loneliness that suburban America can sometimes bring for a kid that just doesn’t quite fit in with a mundane lifestyle. Since moving to LA, he’s had a lot of time away from that life, and sometimes separation can make the heart grow fonder. In this case, Johan is constantly disappointed when returning home, only to be reminded of why he left in the first place “I always think it'll be good to come home / Until I come home / And I'm back in my head again / Back in my twin bed again”.
There’s an element of relatability with this song that anyone who grew up in a similar setting can connect with. It’s a suggestion that the buttoned-up suburban lifestyle is deeply flawed and isn’t always what it is marketed to be; many towns like this lack the culture, diversity, and authenticity that is offered more in larger metropolitan cities. Either way, Johan Lenox is pushing boundaries and creating music that simply no one is making. Make sure you go check out the album in full when it drops tonight (May 13th) at midnight.
Garrett Merk - lil gluten free+
Brockton, MA native Garrett Merk’s first release of 2022 is a promising one: “lil gluten free+” might be some of his best introspection and lyricism, and that’s saying something from an artist who has never shied away from pouring his heart and soul into his music. Merk takes us back to moments of insecurity and questioning his purpose in his adolescence, while also dealing with depression and even suicidal thoughts. He also addresses struggles with his own identity as a white rapper, questioning the place he holds in the hip-hop game over a low-tempoed instrumental mixed with a somber trumpet sample and drum progression.
And yet, the hook on “lil gluten free+” captures how fortunate Merk was to have parents who supported his vision: “my momma told me you’ll leave a legacy when you die / poppa told me you a legend in my fuckin’ eyes”. Merk’s juxtaposition of his family’s support, combined with what he endured in his youth and mental state at that time prove a valid point that depression and insecurity can literally affect anyone regardless of their situation. Another immaculate release from Garrett Merk, and I can’t wait to hear what else 2022 has in store for him.
Justin Clancy - Black and Blue
I absolutely love it when artists reinvent themselves and elevate their sound. Peabody, MA native Justin Clancy is an artist who has constantly taken sonic risks and pushed boundaries with his music throughout his career. Early on, he got his start as a rapper before transitioning into a much more melodic sound showcasing his singing talents. Eventually, he moved towards a more indie-pop soundscape, and there’s a lot of those components within his latest offering “Black and Blue”.
However, what separates this song is the electronic elements within the instrumental on the hook, a completely different style from anything Clancy has done prior. And the best part about it: it absolutely works. It’s sincerely one of his best songs yet; I love the gradual build from the acoustic guitar-led production into the EDM-style hook, and Clancy’s vocals become more dynamic and passionate as the song progresses. The evolution of Justin Clancy continues to be one that I am enamored with, and I think this song is going to do wonders for his career going forward.
Chizz Capo & Skthagr8 - No Pass (EP)
A lot of pieces need to be in place in order to create a collaborative project. There needs to be an element of cohesion on sound and vision amongst the creatives involved; the individuals need to represent the best version of themselves, while simultaneously working as a unit. And finally, they need to bring out the very best in each other. MA rapper Chizz Capo and Knowhere Studios’ own producer Skthagr8 came together for one of the best artist/producer collaborative projects I’ve heard in a while out of this area, the 6-track EP No Pass.
Chizz already has the presence to be a dominant force on a track, whether it’s his ability to deliver hyped-up verses on trap bangers like “Roll On”, or showcase a smoother, charismatic side on “Purple” with Rosewood Bape, he has more than enough vocal and rhyming talent to carry a project. His refrain “everybody get your motherfucking roll on” on the former is energizing, while his melodic vocals seemingly glide over the glossy instrumental on the latter.
Chizz Capo not only sounds perfect over SK’s production, but SK achieves an incredible balance of cohesion and variety on No Pass. The combination of hard-hitting trap and melodic hip-hop creates enough diverse sounds without shying away from its core concept. No Pass is as much of a presentation of SK’s talents as a producer as it is for Chizz as a vocalist and rapper. My personal favorite, however, is the island-vibe banger “Part of ME (REPRISE)” which closes out the EP, and features additional production from NH-based, MA-native producer RyseUp Beats.
Millyz - Closure
Millyz is one of Massachusetts’ biggest music stars at this stage of his career, and he certainly has the catalog to prove it: his Blanco series of albums have all received high praise, and his consistency in delivering quality music in a timely manner is unmatched by most artists nationally, let alone locally. And what’s even more impressive is the fact that his latest releases may be some of his best music to date.
One of the most underrated aspects of Millyz has to be his abilities as a singer. On Blanco IV, Millyz experimented with more singing and melodic styles, proving that he can hold notes and deliver catchy hooks. His new single “Closure” is a perfect example of him taking this sound to the next level; it’s apparent that he’s been working diligently on vocal harmonies, and this heartbreak love track is arguably his catchiest song he’s done in a while. The vocal run on the hook gives me goosebumps and is nearly impossible to not vibe with. Just when I think Millyz can’t get any better, he does.
Neemz - Toxic Attachments
Neemz has been one of my favorite artists in this area for the last year plus, with her 2020 singles “lifethativebeenlivin” and “Runnin’ Thru the City” which ultimately led to her debut project last year It’s Above Me. Now, Neemz returns with her first release of 2022 titled “Toxic Attachments”. As always, Neemz shows immaculate command over a colorful, down-tempo beat as she croons lyrics regarding toxic attachments that no longer serve her or aid in any sort of growth. She claims that her biggest inspiration for this song was actually letting go of these toxic attachments, and how they helped give her closure:
“I felt my attention and energy being drained, but the emotional attachment(s) I created with people, objects and experiences was so strong it brought me comfort. Letting go was not going to be easy, but it was necessary to detach myself from the unhealthy bonds of the outer-world so I could create and focus on the healthier bonds within my inner-world. I learned that in order to restore my energy, I needed to count my blessings & live in the present moment. This is the only way to ground myself and always brings me clarity and peace.”
This is not only a song that many could probably relate to, but it furthers the notion that Neemz is an artist that cares deeply about making an impact in her own life and the lives of others through her music. The fact that she portrays vulnerability of this magnitude in her music makes her that much more likable as an artist.
Vintage Lee - Shopping Spree
Vintage Lee has made a name for herself in Massachusetts and even nationally with her proprietary sound and unique cadence. She’s had a rather quiet 2022 and back half of 2021 (her only release in the calendar year being single “B2B” in January of this year), but she returns here with “Shopping Spree”, a carefree and catchy tune that is sure to be added to numerous spring and summer playlists. Her witty, charismatic flow is the ideal complement to an instrumental that’s bright and vibrant. It’s overall just a really fun record that doesn’t take itself too seriously, adding another enjoyable track to her already stellar discography. Hopefully this means we will be hearing more from Vintage Lee later in the year, but for now keep running back this bop of a track.
Colin & Tim Nihan - FOR THE RAIN
Upcoming North Shore, MA hip-hop artist Colin links with Reading, MA native producer Tim Nihan for “FOR THE RAIN”, a track that should not fly under your radar. Nihan is coming off a career-defining production credit on BIA & J. Cole’s “London”, and he continues his momentum with another excellent beat on “FOR THE RAIN”. The soulful melody is tantalizing, and 808’s kick in to create a thunderous atmosphere. Colin feels like an artist destined to break through at any moment; he lays down some gritty bars and versatile flow patterns that seamlessly ride this beat. It’s clear that Colin & Tim Nihan work extremely well together in unison as there’s a natural, effortless feeling to this collaboration. I’m really digging this song and I’m looking forward to hearing more from both of them going forward.
OnCue - CYBERTRUCK
I’ve been saying for half a decade that Connecticut native hip-hop artist OnCue is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated artists in music, period. He’s proven to be innovative both musically and visually, using trends and memes as a way to market his music without ever compromising the quality or coming off corny. In the past, he’s made a fake McDonald’s commercial for 2020 single “Big Mad” and a parody ad for Turbo Tax for single "Tax Season", as well spoof Breakfast Club interview as “Soulja Cue” for “Woozy”, all of which successfully showed his comedic side.
His latest visual spoof offering comes in the form of “CYBERTRUCK”, a song that started with Cuey sending a tweet to Elon Musk requesting a cybertruck for his music video. Of course, Musk did not respond, and instead he utilizes a toy cybertruck instead, riding around on it throughout the video. In a recent Instagram Live, he reminisces on having to put the truck together on three separate occasions, adding how frustrating it was but in hindsight it being worth it. It’s pretty goddamn funny, and the song is a vibe. I have absolutely no idea how Cuey hasn’t exploded yet, but hopefully Elon hears it and retweets it or something. That would be serendipitous for a man that has worked so hard at his craft for well over a decade.
Dylan Reese - deep
Sometimes I wonder if Dylan Reese is reincarnated from a late 90’s/early 2000’s R&B/soul artist the way he’s able to hit falsettos so passionately. There just aren’t that many artists making music like this anymore. I came across him about a year ago and have been a huge fan of his ever since, and it’s been amazing to watch him continue to ascend since then.
The vibe on his latest offering “deep” is mesmerizing in a way that most music in 2022 cannot achieve; this song has the ability to make a romantic even out of the most edgy and tough guy out there. And if you are in a relationship already, this is the epitome of a smooth, sexy date night jam that’ll almost guarantee to move things to the bedroom. If you like R&B, and I mean real R&B, look no further than Dylan Reese.