One of hip-hop’s greatest strengths is its ability to evoke a feeling that can be best described as love—what it feels like to fall in love and what it feels like to be loved. As everyone’s favorite fictional hip-hop journalist Sidney Shaw once said, “Just when you think you know hip-hop, it surprises you and reminds you why you fell in love with it in the first place.” 

Whether through relatable lyrics, an innovative sample, immaculate wordplay, or a dope-ass chorus, hip-hop has the power to instantly transport listeners into an artist’s world. As listeners and fans of the culture, we have a window into an artist’s passion—and also who broke their heart. 

It’s no secret that I believe in North Carolina’s rap scene. I hope to convince whoever is reading this to believe in it, too. Talent has always been high here and the range of sounds expansive; one of the most impressive things about North Carolina artists is the way they package their music. Their creative marketing abilities are truly impressive, as they leverage social media to engage audiences and attract new listeners.

Consider Pat Junior’s actual gold tape for his latest Grill Talk Mixtape Vol. 1, or Nance’s satirical skits inspired by Drake’s as-yet-unknown album release date, or Shame Gang’s mechanic-themed album rollout. 

For the past two weeks I’ve found myself playing the latest releases from MaDrique, Durham High, and Pat Junior on repeat. Whether I am in the gym, riding in the car, or in need of background music while writing, their music has captivated.

The Bike Ride Tape 2 has been a sweet reminder of how much I enjoy relationship rap and creative storytelling. Durham High effortlessly showcases the creative potential of alternative rap. In many ways, this introspective paean to Durham, drawing inspiration from lyricism, funk, and soul music, resonates spiritually. And then there’s Grill Talk Mixtape Vol. 1, which invokes a sense of pride in North Carolina hip-hop because of Pat Junior’s exceptional rap skills and precision.

Experiencing simultaneous excitement for three distinct projects has been incredibly refreshing, especially considering the path mainstream hip-hop has taken recently. I’ve eagerly shared these projects with anyone willing to listen. You should check them out, too. 

MaDrique: The Bike Ride Tape 2

There’ve been many discussions on social media and hip-hop blogs lately about the lack of innovation in hip-hop sampling—often little or no changes are made to the beat structure of a popular artist’s already-sampled track. 

But MaDrique’s new project can be best described as a case study in the art of sampling and storytelling. Through poetic narratives and mellow cadence, listeners—in particular, those experiencing the highs and lows of dating—are able to profoundly connect with the North Raleigh artist and realize that they are not alone in navigating the complex ebbs and flows of love. The five-track project is primarily produced by Ace Dizzy (Jeremy Macon), and the synergy and sonic connection between MaDrique and Ace make it feel as if they were destined to meld together. 

Consider track 4, “You Can’t Keep Doing This Girl,” for example: Ace’s use of a rare ’90s R&B sample carves out space for MaDrique to share his personal experience of heartbreak. MaDrique’s talented 14-year-old cousin QG The Great (Quinn Michael Gray) also blessed him with a dope beat on track 2, “Wanna Love You.” Here, instead of glorifying the toxic relationship dynamics often present in rap, MaDrique reminds his lady what his true intentions are: to love her. And as with track 4, he uses creative sampling to support his storytelling efforts.

Throughout the entirety of The Bike Ride Tape 2, MaDrique’s talent undeniably lies in his storytelling; whether he’s reflecting on financial challenges, his love for vintage fashion, or relationships, you’re going to be tuned in. He skillfully crafts vivid narratives that deeply resonate with his audience. His willingness to be vulnerable not only fosters a connection with listeners but also infuses his lyrics with a profound layer of authenticity.

Favorite Tracks: “Been Too Long,” “You Can’t Keep Doing This Girl”

Durham High: Durham High

A collaboration between G Yamazawa and Wreck-N-Crew is like a gift from the rap gods. In case it wasn’t clear before, the three Durhamites—George Yamazawa (G), Montrice Goodwin (Trie Cartier), and Brandon Sutton (Sutton)—are now officially Durham High.

Though the three didn’t attend high school together (G attended Jordan and Trie and Sutton graduated from Mt. Zion), Durham High the group and Durham High the project are an ode to all things Durham. 

“Durham High is kind of like a metaphor for showing Durham on a higher-echelon level. We’re showing Durham art at its highest form,” Trie Cartier shared. Durham High is arguably one of the most cohesive and experimental projects released in 2023, pushing the boundaries of rap innovation in a truly remarkable way. G, Trie, and Sutton are rapping rapping.

There’s bars and intricate rhyming patterns, wordplay, and vulnerable, honest admissions. There’s Durham. There’s beautifully structured choruses, layered melodies, and impressive ad libs. One noteworthy aspect of the project is the effective sequencing of the tracks: There’s no need to skip a song. Listen straight through and you’ll hear a portrait of our city that captures its beauty and struggle. 

Favorite Tracks: “Lifestyles,” “Fayetteville Rd” 

Pat Junior: Grill Talk Mixtape Vol. 1

Pat Junior stands out as one of North Carolina’s most consistent artists. His track record reflects a commitment to excellence in every aspect, from high-quality raps to innovative visual storytelling. With each of his six solo projects, he provides a communal listening experience, and his album rollouts are executed with meticulous intention. 

Have you seen the gold tapes? On Grill Talk Mixtape Vol. 1, as expected, the Raleigh artist continues to deliver scorching rap verses that fans crave. Yet, what sets Pat Junior apart is his ability to offer an alternative sonic experience with each project. 

He masterfully explores varied cadences, keeping listeners guessing whether he’ll use a distinct voice, or rap fast or slow, with well-placed pauses and subtle inflections that impress even the most discerning music connoisseur. It is no surprise that Pat Junior’s confidence shines brilliantly throughout the project, bringing a bold and invigorating energy that adds a distinct and admirable element to it. His confidence coupled with his sharp lyrical gift allows him to fit right in with The Wales, The Drakes, The Coles, and The Kendricks. It’s no wonder he was invited to perform on Hopscotch’s main stage this year. 

Grill Talk Mixtape Vol. 1 is a reminder of how captivating Pat Junior’s talent is. A standout feature of the project is the album’s production: It’s filled with a little bit of everything: gritty boom-bap beats that add a nostalgic, authentic feel, with jazz-infused beats, trap beats, and alternative hip-hop beats that, together, ultimately showcase the Raleigh rapper’s versatility. 

It won’t be long before Pat Junior becomes a household name. 

Favorite Tracks: “Black Gold,” “Boundaries”

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