Ron Obasi's 'Sun Tapes' Orbits Rap's Lyrical Past, Blueprints Southern Hip-Hop's Future
Evan Dale // Oct 25, 2020
Any hip-hop fan listening to the Nashville scene lately has been orbiting a heat – a life-giving source – of creativity in its most seamless and honest form. Amongst a slew of projects unparalleled in invention and raw auditory aesthetic by any other emerging hip-hop centric culture capital, rapper Ron Obasi’s Sun Tapes lives up to the ultimate shine in its name.
Obasi, a rasp-ridden, lyrically endowed poet, handily crafting effortless bars overtop expectedly Nashville beats brimming with undertones and overtones of saxophone led jazz, thrives not only in his role interviewing guest samples on what the Sun represents to them, but also in answering his own question with adjectives that too, can be applied to his sound. Light. Strength. Longevity. You see, the hip-hop made in Nashville, Tennessee will live out its years in a perpetuity of bloom, spurred, too, by the Sun that grants the scene its uniqueness, willingness, and ultimate collectiveness.
Unlike the Sun, Nashville sources strength in numbers. Brian Brown, Chuck Indigo, Demo, RyAnne, and others – all figures not only of Nashville, but of a more tight-knit creative community than any other in music today – bring their sounds to accompany Obasi’s. The Sun shines them all in a light of their own, but the Sun Tapes are Obasi’s tapes, and no star shines brighter.
From the beginning sample of the mixtape’s introduction, Solar Return, and its subsequent string of bars that slide over a beat when not focusing on the words, and hit hard with a pen when listening closely, to the beachy guitar chords and melodic wavering of the project’s closer, Ron Obasi does with eleven tracks, what he’s only ever done with four or six: immerse. There’s something to his overarching aesthetic that makes that immersion capable and ultimately unavoidable: the signature delivery, the lyrical effortlessness, the emotionality of melody, and the simplicity of beats. His range of talent and balance in understanding his own unique sound encapsulates what it is that Nashville’s hip-hop scene is predominantly bringing to a larger hip-hop game starved of sustenance, uniqueness, and warmth. A hip-hop scene starved of its pillars is really starved of the Sun. And the Sun Tapes serve as blueprint to bring it all back to fruition.
On the backs of Nashville’s hip-hop oriented underground as a whole, rap by rhythm and poetry’s most literal definition is hotter here than anywhere else. And it’s not easy, or at all possible, to replicate what Obasi and others are doing. For his part – for the part of the Sun Tapes – what Obasi is doing is simple: creating unendingly listenable, intricate music that never ceases to tell a story by its adherence to rap’s past; that never ceases to invent, pushing experimentally rooted musicality into hip-hop never heard before, but strangely reminiscent.
Take Sun Tapes’ second track, Eastside Marauders. Overtop the simplicity of a piano beat, Obasi with Brian Brown and Chuck Indigo – who both put out phenomenal projects of their own this year – all deliver raw verses with an amalgamate texture that feels as though it could have emerged from any chapter in Southern hip-hop history led by 90’s Houston, early 00’s Memphis, 10’s New Orleans, or the more lyrical end of Atlanta’s modern spectrum. Instead, the track’s timelessness is owed to Nashville, where Obasi, with Sun Tapes and its adherence to rappers rapping over a minimalist instrumental beat, shines bright with timeless hip-hop equal parts Southern roots and its futurist leaning towards what lyrical hip-hop will come to sound like.
And Eastside Marauders doesn’t go at it alone. Every single track on the project is an intersection of lyrical hip-hop – of Southern hip-hop – of storytelling and immersion within hip-hop – as it correlates to the then and the now – that trip around the Sun, and this one. Dem Crackas is a socially charged dissection of civil and racial injustice, and how it pertains to Obasi’s day-to-day, even while doing so over a positivist, sun-drenched beat. The Freemans is Obasi’s jazziest go yet, opening with another sax beat that lays the foundation for Nashville’s resident raspy wordsmith to also bring one of his most lyrically entrenched sets of verses to the forefront while all the while thriving as an understated melodist on the hook. S.U.N.S. draws orbit around its synth chords, building a floaty atmosphere for Obasi to again drive racially and socially entrenched meaning into his music, utilizing rap to its most centric and telling point.
At its widest scope and at through its individual trackwork, Sun Tapes lives up to its name, and Obasi emerges another Nashville figure that everyone knew was always headed for the hip-hop heavens, but proves his value in the radial heat of a must-listen modern mixtape.