The more the area’s young rappers remove themselves from the Triangle’s fabled, hip-hop template epitomized by Little Brother and now propagated by 9th Wonder, the better it will be for us the listeners. Let’s call this Triangle hip-hop’s Blank Slate Era, where eager up-and-comers have room to author their own sound and scene, with only mild regard for their predecessors.
That’s what’s been working in Chapel Hill, where artists like Holland Gallagher, better known as Gentleman Contender, have toted bits of general know-how from UNC’s hip-hop lab curriculum into Chapel Hill’s clubs and studios in their own strident fashion. On the New Orleans native’s self-produced debut EP, Blank Narrative, he pairs his learning with his synth-hop fancies. For “Tinnitus,” he collapses a filter across his voice as he raps, “This world ain’t a stage/it’s more like a playlist made up of fading tracks.” Shooting synths and radiating background vocals from Brittany Salaam accessorize the rhymes.
Fellow Chapel Hill transplant Well$ joins for “Leave a Light On.” As scene revivalists, the two deserve a shared spotlight. Both of their verses start off dim before illuminating the conflicts of being an absentee lover. Blank Narrative has a few dull spots, oftentimes arriving when Gallagher simply tries to shine too much. On “Swarm,” his low-pitch lyrics lose their effect under a mess of too many chords. On “Rooftops // Roadblock,” he raps, “Tired of this heart so I’m using yours/Steady as the snare on the 2s and 4s,” although the song’s actual percussion doesn’t align with his vocals.
Hurricane Katrina kicked the Gentleman Contender out of his hometown and forced him to start over in Chapel Hill. He and Blank Narrative, in turn, are part of a bigger regenerationa collective rap genesis, where each new artist offers a rough draft and the promise of perhaps becoming bigger than the scene’s past.