Bells & Whistles, Vol. 13: Tell your kids about SremmLife

Same column, new format. Millan Verma and I are gonna bring you Bells & Whistles every Tuesday, expanding a bit on the music we share throughout the week on IG/Twitter/Discord. We’ll throw a few other selects in there for good measure, too. Consider it your one-stop-shop for your weekly music blogging needs. Raw Thoughts will replace the column the first Tuesday of every month. Longer reads every Thursday. Sound good? Trying to get a bit more consistent! As always, shoutout Tyler Farmer and Srikar Poruri on the creative direction . Support us on Patreon if you’re rocking with it and wanna help us pay writers. – Mano Sundaresan

Art by Srikar Poruri.

Vayda – “Gummy Vaymix”

Millan: I was in Atlanta all weekend and met up with Strutto at a Waffle House. He’s a big-brain-blockchain vision seeker who started surveilling the Atlanta underground scene around the time I stopped. Anyways, he put me onto Vayda, who makes those minute-long jingles that leave you wanting more. She’s a breath of fresh-air in a scene that has lacked new faces lately.

Mano: What’s the deal with blockchain dudes who are really into music discovery? Weirds me out! Anyway shoutout Strutto for putting Millan on, shoutout Millan for putting me on. This is sick. I like how Vayda sprinkles that dreamy energy on any and every style like stardust. I think this Jersey club song is my favorite so far.

Princesa 28 – “Forever Young”

Millan: Princesa 28 makes more complete songs than Vayda but shares that airy, sluggish swag.

Mano: Cool track. I like how she spaces out the syllables when she says “I’m a diamond so you know I’m for-ev-er,” one of my favorite random Sosa things that people started doing. The Popstar Benny production credit is interesting, I was actually thinking of the sonic world he’s been building in their city while listening to Vayda’s music. She and Princesa fold into the sparkly Atlanta underground perfectly.

Navy Blue – Ways Of Knowing

Mano: Navy Blue’s raps are clarifying, crystalline. His voice is an arrow, plain and sharp. I think my first time hearing him was on “The Mint.” I remember how, compared to Earl’s knotty verbiage, Navy cut right through the murky mix. I find this really interesting about him. It’s bold to put yourself out there like that, and there are shaky moments early in his catalog simply because you can really hear everything as he’s coming into his voice. Even when he sounds damn near underwater, like on Song Of Sage, you hear everything.

Ways Of Knowing is already my favorite Navy Blue album because he’s transmuted that clarity into a hazy light. It is an album about grounding yourself in the people that made you, the streets your mom walked, love in all its forms and the sky’s splotchy gradient. Budgie’s beats are heavenly, veering from shifty soul to warm reggae and true-school New York. This music makes you want to step outside. It makes Navy Blue want to sing. Sonically, it’s hard to find a direct forebear but it reminds me a little of MAVI’s last record, as well as Saba’s Care for Me and R.A.P. Ferreira’s soulful turn the last few years. Like those records, it’s vulnerable and sad but searches for hope and meaning. It’s one of those albums that came into my life at the perfect moment, and I’m just grateful to witness this man come into his own.

Millan: Yeah I watched this on YouTube last weekend and called my grandma immediately after. Touching track, please don’t play it at the function.

(Bonus content: Navy Blue live at the Wiki show last weekend.)

Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra – “Heaven and Hell”

Millan: Gotta put on for my Norwegians. They released an album that mixes New Orleans Jazz and Nashville Country with their already distinct sound of Americana x Norwegian folk. They expanded their 8 piece band to 13 for this and put such care into the arrangements and visual direction. Joakim is the Steven Spielberg of bluegrass and Rebekka is its patron saint. 1 of 1.

Mano: God I love this blog lmao.

Paco Panama – “Look Out Boy”

Mano: I was binging old Xanman videos just to feel something a couple weeks ago, and it sent me down a YouTube rabbit hole of new-ish DMV rap. Paco Panama out of southeast DC is one of my favorite artists coming up there. Dude looks no younger than 30 and raps like he’s lived 18 lives. He’s melding jittery DMV beats with aspirational, Los-esque raps, a sound that cranks and keeps you focused on the bag. Bonus points for the extremely hard Marino Infantry hoodie. “Me going broke? You gon’ need a wishing well.”

Rae Sremmurd – “Not So Bad (Leans Gone Cold)”

Millan: Unironically love this song and album. Swae Lee is a national treasure. It’s worth noting that they’re the biggest things to come out of Tupelo, Mississippi since Elvis Presley.

Mano: There are some things we will have to explain why we liked to our children. Big Sean? Definitely. (Most blog era acts minus like 5 of them, let’s be honest.) Death Grips???? Don’t get me started. Y’all are gonna piss off the next gen so much with that shit trust me. Rae Sremmurd is not one of these things. Sure their era gave us clout goggles and the Mannequin Challenge and the Dab, but the art at Rae Sremm’s core is a pure, timeless ecstasy. Syrupy Mike Will 808s feeding the fountain of youth. As a jam-packed nostalgia trip the new album is effective, and honestly kind of delightful? Slim and Swae try a few creative things—I’m not as high on Swae Lee doing Dido karaoke as you Millan—but they’re at their best when they stick to the plan, mainlining the mood indigo of 2010s Atlanta into sticky pop confections.

SME TaxFree – Im Still Industreets

Mano: SME Taxfree just talks the craziest talk man idk. He’s got an amazing, nasally bark and creeps around every beat like a snake. People are talking about the bonkers Milwaukee beats, but I’ve been trying to isolate the tenets of distinctly Milwaukee rapping. I think Taxfree embodies a couple of them: the creeping approach to rhythm (as though the winding flows of Drego & Beno blossomed into a whole, expansive style) as well as the barrage of local lingo that fits into those flows like Drakeo’s slang paired with nervous rap. This new tape Im Still Industreets is a marathon of get-money music with friends old and new. (Sauce Walka! Trapland Pat!) It doesn’t tire too much thanks to the cast of characters as well as Taxfree’s random bursts of humor amid the hustling: “Bitch don’t ask what’s in my cup, just don’t spill it cuz it’s lean in it.”

The HU – “Yuve Yuve Yu”

Millan: I learned on Saturday that my dear friend Benjamin has been to three concerts: Luke Combs, Froggy Fresh (FKA Krispy Kreme), and The HU.

Daniel Caesar – “Always”

Millan: The new Daniel Caesar album is great but this track is especially touching. Goosebumps, butterflies, a universal track that works now, woulda worked a hundred years ago, and is gonna work a hundred years from now. And shout out to Trent Munson for the creative direction on the whole project. Came a long way from Cobb!

Fam0us.twinsss – “Big scary”

Millan: The song itself is menacing but their accents make it feel like a lullaby to me.

Mano: I somehow know exactly what you mean. Rylo Rodriguez music also has this effect on me.

Charley Crockett – “The Death of Bill Bailey” 

Millan: The Death of Bill Bailey, was nooooo surpiseee to me.

Niko G4 feat. Jay Worthy – “PHASES”

Millan: Music for cool people. 

Mano: Jay Worthy or Nav in a Verzuz?

Kenny Mason – “Avatar”

Millan: If ya know ya know.

Mano: His crown jewel imo is still “DIP,” the perfect blend of mundane and magic. Just so Atlanta. This one verges on generic for me but I’m not mad at it.

Polo Perks – “Allyndale Dr.”

Mano: I think Polo Perks’ sample drill works because he usually revitalizes the flip in a meaningful way. His music doesn’t feed off the appeal of the old songs like a virus. He uses samples because he needs to. For example, the somber Alex G flip here is a conduit to a heartfelt ode to his friends he’s lost. What I’m realizing through listening and reading about it is sample drill maps onto how we actually experience music. We hear old songs, they bring back feelings and memories, those feelings and memories transform to art. Sample drill embeds that process in each wave form. It’s raw, messy, sometimes tacky, sometimes wonderful. Hip-hop to the bone.

Millan: Yeaaa love this one. And not a fan of the Alex G slander, Mano. But I need y’all to understand how deep in this shit Hanzo, this song’s producer, is. A real Atlanta legend who came onto the scene during the period when Awful Records’ curtains were closing, but the talent they bred was bright as ever. In our interview with Polo by Olivier, Polo literally said that the reason he moved to Atlanta was to work with Hanzo specifically. And yeah, it’s working. While we’re on the topic here’s some of my favorite Hanzo tracks:

This is the video that got Grandma signed to Atlantic.