Ciscero featuring Oddisee, “Beautiful Mind”

Ciscero is a testament to the quality over quantity argument. Over the past few years, the Prince George’s County native has released just a handful of solo tracks (including some collaborations with area standout GoldLink), but where he falls short in abundance, he makes up for by making the listener feel like they’re absorbing something that has been treated with the utmost care and intention. In 2019, he recruited KP, 757 native Masego and New Orleans’s Ambriia to lend a hand on his single, “Good to Know,” a velvety track about snooping out shady behavior. The video was filmed at the Temple Hills Skating Palace (formerly known as Crystal Skate) with a host of DMV creatives decked out in ’70s fashion.

Since then he’s been quiet, releasing only one song for the whole of 2020. But already in 2021 he has a new song featuring Prince George’s County rap veteran Oddisee, titled “Beautiful Mind.” The track is a slow burner, opening with a calming bass line which lays the foundation for Ciscero’s signature laid-back rapping style. The song underlines the magic of people that come from typically ignored communities — Oddisee’s verse mentions being beloved and immortalized without having to die first, while Ciscero’s captures the constant challenge of bettering himself. Like much of his music, “Beautiful Mind” is a feel-good tune that subtly offers you keys to live by.

Miss Kam featuring T. Ali, “Conversations Interlude”

Miss Kam’s 14-track debut album, “Tew Faced,” does a great job at contextualizing what the West Baltimore rapper’s journey through life has looked like thus far, and where she’s trying to steer it. There’s no shortage of versatility here: Kam makes space for trance-inducing melodies, flows that are reminiscent of ’90’s-era Lil’ Kim and tracks that’ll make you sit back and analyze what’s happening in your own life. “Conversations Interlude” would fall into the latter category.

The song beautifully captures where Kam is mentally and emotionally at the moment — at times, it feels like conversations she’s having in her head in real-time. And that’s bolstered by winding synths and rapid drums, with some saxophone burps in the background. Here, she talks about her fear of people not liking her music before it even comes out, her dreams of handing her mom a big bag full of cash and the frustration of trying to make her father understand her desires to go against living a conventional 9-to-5 life. Beyond the introspection, “Conversations Interlude” is a great primer of Kam’s skill for flowing nimbly through whatever production she encounters as the song changes beats three times.

OTR Chaz & Roddy Rackzz, “Die To Live”

Roddy Rackzz has been steadily establishing himself as one of Baltimore’s most promising artists in terms of street music. With a gift for nonchalant melodies, he has a knack for making catchy hooks that you’ll memorize without even realizing it. That was especially apparent on his 2020-released mix tape “F— Rap,” where on just about every track he crooned about the pleasures of finally experiencing success after years of the exact opposite. Some of his best songs have come with another up-and-comer in the scene, OTR Chaz, who hails from Rackzz’s same West Baltimore neighborhood. Chaz wields a much lighter voice that regularly grows into a wail depending on the passion with which he speaks.

At the top of 2021, the pair released a joint EP titled “6 Pack” as a gift for fans who love to hear them together and to hold people over until new solo projects drop. “Die to Live” is one of the best of the six tracks because of the two’s synergy, but also because its title could equally serve as the name of a painfully vulnerable sonnet or a ridiculously dramatic action movie. In sound, the song is somewhere in the middle of those two. Brooding piano play and thumping barrages of bass will make you feel invincible, but it’s Rackzz’s and Chaz’s yearning about putting themselves in harm’s way just to live a fulfilling life that’ll make you stop and think.

Jazmine Sullivan featuring Ari Lennox, “On It”

Jazmine Sullivan’s new EP, “Heaux Tales,” sent the R&B corner of Twitter into a frenzy over how pleased — and appalled — they were by the project’s raunchy subject matter. Instead of the heartbreak that listeners have become used to, the Philadelphia native doesn’t hold anything back on the 14-track project, which includes interludes from women in her life detailing their philosophies on dating.

One of the songs that received the most adoration online was “On It,” which features D.C.-born singer Ari Lennox. Both Mid-Atlantic crooners share steamy stories of what they’d like to do to their lovers when the opportunity presents itself. Ari even made the time to compare herself to the area’s sacred body of water, the Chesapeake Bay.

Virgil Abloh featuring Serpentwithfeet, “Delicate Limbs”

Baltimore-raised, Los Angeles-based singer Serpentwithfeet makes some of the most poignant and poetically informed R&B right now. His music is about love, but it often isn’t just about what it feels like to actively be in love with someone. In most cases, his music resonates because it accurately defines what it feels like to daydream about the possibility of love — or what it would take to even receive love in a healthy manner. Along with contemporaries such as Frank Ocean, Serpent’s lyrics are as (if not more) effective if you read, instead of listen to, them.

His most recent offering is a fashion-forward collaboration with Virgil Abloh, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear and mastermind behind the popular fashion line Off-White. “Delicate Limbs,” comes as an audiovisual package, and it features Serpent earnestly singing about enjoying a man’s company so much that, when he isn’t present, subtle pleasures just don’t hit the same. It’s not exactly clear what Abloh’s musical contribution here is, but the production’s transition into drum and bass toward the song’s end feels like his doing, considering his documented love for British electronic music.