As I write this, January has come to an end and 2024 has already hit the ground running with a wealth of new releases, dope live shows and some new developments. I spent the majority of 2023 at home, working on a handful of projects that will hopefully see the light of day soon. Wanting to break out of this cycle of working from home, I made a promise to go to more shows and DJ nights in 2024. One of the best live music experiences I’ve had so far this year was the Dream Pit series at IceBox Project Space in the Crane Arts building not far from my house.  A 3-day festival held from January 12th to the 14th, we were treated to brilliant performances from bright lights in Philly’s experimental music scene like Kilamanzego and Hudson River. Mhysa and Sabrina Pantal’s sets were standouts as well. The festival was tastefully curated, the sound and lighting was beautiful. 10s across the board and a lovely way to start the year.

In other news, there’s been an exciting development with my show, Culture Cypher Radio here on XPN. The show now airs every Wednesday night at 10pm EST. With the time slot change, the show’s runtime will be trimmed down from 3 hours to an hour. The plan is that this weekly slot will result in a more focused show that’ll pick up more listeners. With the recent wave of layoffs and cutbacks at music media companies (many of whom I freelance for), there are less outlets available to highlight the work of independent artists. My hope is that CCR can continue to be a place where I can play and talk about independent music, given the fact that the current media landscape is stacked against us. In the spirit of championing the emerging players in our musical ecosystem, here are five great, local releases that are well worth your time.

FROZ1 – Sum Total Beat Tape

DJ Froz 1’s knowledge of music is only matched by his enthusiasm and willingness to share that knowledge. A consummate collector, digger and DJ, at the end of 2023, Froz 1 treated us to Sum Total Beat Tape, a collection of hip-hop instrumentals made between 2000-2003. Crisp, colorful and funky, Froz 1’s beats remind us that the practice of transforming a sample from an old record into something new is alive and well.

The Next Movement Podcast: “Quasimoto: The Unseen” episode

Each episode of The Next Movement podcast is guided by a simple but effective formula: Guests come on and talk about their careers and creative process. In addition to the revelations about their own work, artists are asked to share an album that influenced them. Next Movement’s hosts, Rob and E, are sensitive, inquisitive interviewers and these conversations are always revelatory. A recent favorite of mine is the episode where producers qnorapname and Philth Spector come on to talk about The Unseen, the 2000 debut of Madlib’s surrealist alter ego; Quasimoto. The conversation is casual yet spirited and t’s cool to hear the duo talk about how Madlib’s dusty world of hip-hop psychedelia influenced their own work.

The Next Movement Podcast: The Unseen (feat. Q No Rap Name and Philth Spector)

Chris Casinooo (feat. Brandname Brando & DatboyNyce) – “Sorry”

“Sorry” is the latest single from rapper, producer and visual artist Chris Casinooo. Based around a bluesy, electric guitar lick and an ocean of heavy bass, the tune’s production is lush and velvety. Featuring Brandname Brando and DatboyNyce, “Sorry” is a dreamy and soulful vibe that oozes out the speakers.

DJ Delish – Auntie’s Jeep mix

One of Philly’s finest selectors, DJ Delish’s taste, knowledge and skill embodies the spirit of our city’s DJ culture. Delish’s latest mix, Auntie’s Jeep, pulls energy and inspiration from that period in the late 90s when the previously uneasy marriage of hip-hop and R&B settled into a cozy and dynamic partnership. Delish’s love and deep knowledge of the music of this era shines through her selections and the seamless mixing of hits like Aaliyah’s “Try Again” and Redman’s “I’ll Bee Dat!” next to lowkey cuts like Timbaland’s “Up Jumps Da Boogie” remix. In addition to the homages to the late 90s, Delish bridges the past and present in moments like her expert blend of the vocal from Beyonce’s “Cozy” with SOHO’s “Hot Music.” Uptempo and sharp, DJ Delish’s Auntie’s Jeep would’ve fit perfectly alongside the high energy holiday weekend mixes that Philly legends like DJ Ran, Cosmic Kev and Doc B were performing live on Power 99 back in the day.

Vodka – “Life Of The Party”

Nobody gets appointed poet laureate of the streets, but if there were, Germantown legend Vodka would’ve been awarded several years in a row. First making a name for himself in the 2000s with a number of standout performances on Big Star’s 2 Raw For The Streets DVD series, Vodka has spent the last 20+ years as one of Philadelphia’s finest lyricists. The single “Life Of The Party” came out a few months ago, but the way its soulful production melds with Vodka’s off-kilter, introspective rhymes make the song worth revisiting and celebrating. Reflecting on everything from fatherhood, to getting older and the pain of growing up in this city, “Life Of The Party” is a masterpiece.