Credit: Cam Hicks

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There might not be a distinct Southeast D.C. rap sound, but most MCs from the quadrant toil under a general set of expectations—grim verbiage, Southern-influenced beats, and maybe a bit of a bunker mentality. NAPPYNAPPA somehow dodges all of that stuff: “I’m from the south side/ Don’t get it twisted/ I’m a celestial being/ Sent here on a mission,” he says on “4RM 7D 2 S.E.,” a track deep into his new EP, New Balance, which embraces the “afrofuturism” label without wearing it out. 

NAPPYNAPPA—aka Davonte Squire, who’s barely into his 20s—isn’t a sci-fi guy so much as he’s a connoisseur of synth-oriented, slightly outre funk. His collaborators (Black Moses, Mr. Dickerson, Jelani Kwesi, and others) give New Balance a spacey sound that complements Nappy’s slight drawl and street-level viewpoints. Sometimes it collectively recalls Digable Planets; elsewhere Spank Rock comes to mind. When he says “See the fear in my grandmother’s eyes every time I step outside” on “De La Croix,” it’s against stuttering percussion and a fractured piano sample, as if stepping through the screen door is akin to using a digital battle portal.

Elsewhere the galactic noise buttresses positive-tip messages (“Hold Me,” “Huposaju,” “Do My Dance”) and a metaphysical rumination, “I Met Jesus And He Was Every Rapper,” where NAPPYNAPPA positions himself aside some of hip-hop’s mouthiest sinners: “I met Jesus and he was NAPPYNAPPA/ He was Gangsta Boo/ He was Ol’ Dirty Bastard.” If there’s a showstopper, though, it’s “Shamless,” with its soulful, multilayered, echoey beat, and a chorus that implores a lover to “tell me what you want from me.” 

Not everything clicks: “Hellraiser,” with its Rihanna sample and exhortation to “go crazy,” seems slightly out of place, and the outro “Tre Tha Legend” drifts toward a more predictably Southern sound. Trimming back some of that material might’ve helped New Balance achieve true EP status; on Soundcloud it comes in at 14 tracks. Beyond the music, the record has the distinction of being the first bona fide hip-hop release from D.C.’s Babe City Records, an indie-rock cassette label. Yup, even D.C.’s afrofuturist-of-the-moment will have an analog outlet.

You can preorder New Balance from Babe City Records here