Standout Track: “Kiss the Sky,” a brief but potent joint from the Liberia-born, Woodbridge, Va.–raised rapper. Though the title nods at Jimi Hendrix’s dimension-hopping psychedelia, the rhymes are firmly grounded in reality. Like a more relaxed Lupe Fiasco, Badio (first name: Danny) runs through tangents on maturity, letting down his mom, and “fish-filleting feelings on Twitter.” “I opened up, I heard the beat, and I just started writing,” says the 21-year-old. “Usually when I write, I’ll stop to think about where I want to take the record or my ideas and all of that crap, but at that time that didn’t happen. It was just like I was on autopilot.”

Musical Motivation: Personal catharsis. Badio, who studies media arts at the University of Arizona, was considering retiring from music entirely until he found the beat in his e-mail and let loose. He had no plans to release the record (nor shoot its bright-lights-big-city music video) until friends insisted. “I had done that record for me,” he says. “It was like therapy. I just needed to pretty much breathe.”

Girl Talk: Though the world of hip-hop production is largely a boys club, Badio was wise to collaborate with hitherto-unknown beatsmith Trakgirl. The DMV producer’s half-drunk string samples and conga-tinged rhythm are a perfect backdrop to Badio’s confessional. “As soon as people heard the record they were like, ‘Wait…Trak… Girl?’” Badio says. “It’s a girl that produced this shit?!”