Words by Brian James
Brian James is a former co-host of the Best Song Ever podcast and contributor to Off Shelf along with other music publications. As a lifelong enthusiast, he has been a fan of hip-hop and r&b since middle school and now enjoys keeping up with mainstream and underground releases, and diving deep on the sampled and influencing sub-genres.
Finding good new music has never been more time intensive and confusing than in the streaming era. The landscape is oversaturated with music and varying algorithms, making it difficult to even know where to start. With the ongoing corporatization of music writing and criticism, trusted sources remain in flux. Luckily you have a top tier music obsessive to let you behind the curtain on what it looks like to stay on top of new music in 2024! Feats. is a monthly column dedicated to the love of discovering new music in the hip hop/r&b universe. It will not only highlight great new releases but also how we came to discover them by shouting out our most trusted and favorite sites and information sources! So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride as we find some great new music, with a little help from our friends.
January has always felt like a sobering month. Many people take part in Dry January to try and process what the end of the previous year held and what is to come. Alongside that, there often seems to be a lull in great new music, which can allow us music obsessives to take a breath, focus on some older releases, maybe catch up on some podcasts before the avalanche of new releases hits. That said, I generally find myself hungry to discover the ever allusive first great release of the year. Thankfully, 2024 had a pretty good lineup already in the hip hop/r&b world as well as a couple other releases rolling out.
Often times the best sources of information are your friends, which is what happened one morning when I got a text saying, “Have you checked out the new Boldy James album?” (shout out to fellow Off Shelf contributor, Quillen) Boldy James is a Detroit mainstay who seems to be on an endless winning streak. This continues with his new album Penalty of Leadership, which is a team up with producer extraordinaire Nicholas Craven. After spinning the album a few times I can confidently say it’s one of Boldy’s best releases and a great place to start if you’re unfamiliar.
One of the most important sources I rely on is Stereogum’s Album of the Week feature. Each week on Tuesday the wonderful writers over at the ‘Gum pick their favorite album coming out that week, as well as list out a ton of other releases as well. One such feature highlighted the album ORQUIDEAS (Geffen Records) by the wonderful R&B/Pop singer Kali Uchis. Like Boldy, Kali continues to put out great albums, including Red Moon in Venus from last year. Where Red Moon in Venus was more ironed out and smooth, ORQUIDEAS is expansive and reaches out into interesting directions.
Another source I will talk a lot about in this column is Hip Hop Golden Age, an absolute must read if you’re interested in keeping up with new hip-hop! They keep an ongoing list of their favorite albums of the year that is updated a few times per month. Let me tell you, there’s no greater feeling than opening this link and seeing it has been updated recently, immediately signifying there’s something new to check out. This month I was pleased to find a couple rappers that I’ve been a fan of for a while had new projects that rank high on the list. Another Detroiter, Bruiser Wolf, is back with his sophomore album My Story Got Stories (Bruiser Brigade). Full of hilarious quips in his signature focal stylings, this is a can’t miss album. More recently I was happy to see Benny the Butcher’s Everybody Can’t Go (Def Jam) get added up near the top of their list and for good reason! This is probably my favorite release of the year so far, full of top tier rapping and banging beats, well worth your time whether you’re an old head or into newer mainstream rap. Finally, did you know that Arrested Development was still making great albums? Hip Hop Golden Age does! Their new album Bullets in the Chamber (Vagabound Productions) is inexplicably good for a group that’s been around since the early 90s. They’ve proven one of the few artists/groups to remain relevant across almost every decade of hip hop.
Another amazing source for new music is the wonderful people over at Bandcamp. They have great daily, weekly, and monthly features, which bring me back to their site almost every day. This month they had a great feature on Nailah Hunter, a harpist and singer-songwriter who makes spacey R&B adjacent meditations. Her new album Lovegaze (Fat Possum Records) delivers on the promise of her early work, resulting in a beautiful journey that will surely rank high on my year end list. Bandcamp’s Album of the Day feature is always worth checking out, and recently I was happy to see R.A.P. Ferreira and Fumitake Tamura’s The First Fist to Make Contact When We Dap (Ruby Yacht). Ferreira is another mainstay in hip hop these days, releasing one of the best albums of the decade so far with Purple Moonlight Pages. His albums always take time to sink in and require repeated listening, which is the case with his newest as well. It’s well worth the investment though.