NC Release Radar: Our favorite new music releases from North Carolina artists

By Grant Golden

May 24, 2021

School’s out, the pools are open, and sunscreen is going on…it’s the unmistakable onset of summer. While the world may not be fully back to normal yet, many of us are soaking in a lot more sunlight and friendship than we did this time last year. So, whether you’re hanging poolside, taking a long bike ride or are lounging in the comfort of your home, we’ve got another slew of North Carolina hits that will serve as an excellent soundtrack.

Morray – Street Sermons

Fayetteville’s Morray is an artist whose passion seeps through the speakers. Beginning his career with a birthday song for his wife, he’s since propelled his career with millions of plays, features on J.Cole records, and major label record deals. Street Sermons is a record that’s dedicated not only to the struggle for success, but the appreciation of the highs and lows to reach the top.

With lines like “Went from ramen to wagyu with my salads,” it could be easy to write off Morray as another rags-to-riches tale, but every element of his music is filled with both personality and perseverance. Breakout single “Quicksand” laments over winters where he couldn’t afford a jacket, “Trenches” shows love for “the people that think it could be worse,” and “Big Decisions” fights with the struggle of friends with ill intent. Morray is a rapper who is unapologetically himself and it’s paying off in droves.

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Renzo Suburbn – “Nauseous”

Best known as a member of the Raleigh hip-hop collective Dotwav, Renzo Suburbn’s latest single proves that he’s capable of blazing his own trails as a solo act. Suburbn gathered a lot of attention from his feature on “Mistakes,” from the internationally acclaimed Curtis Waters’ album Pity Party, and “Nauseous” keeps that momentum going with a unique new sound.

With buoyant keys and glitchy processed vocals kicking off the track, “Nauseous” evolves into a slow-rolling, electronic leaning hip-hop record with an experimentative feel. As the track progresses, deep analog bass engulfs the mix while the catchy hooks get rhythmically chopped, akin to a hard rock breakdown with dance-ready swing. Suburbn’s wavy new track displays immense amounts of promise, proving Sonny Miles isn’t the only break-out star from Dotwav.

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Zack Cokas – “Y&R”

“Y&R” is the kind of track that will make your side mirrors rattle if you’re bumping it too loud. Raleigh-based emcee, Zack Cokas, first touched the limelight in 2019 with a SXSW performance on Sway in the Morning and has been grinding ever since. Cokas released a debut EP last August and has since churned out a strong pair of tracks in 2021 to lead up to a debut full-length.

“Y&R” is the sound of a hungry artist. Cokas blends abrupt honesty with attention-stealing punchlines and does so with a flow that never stays complacent. Atop a booming beat, Cokas goes from playful puns to transparent takes on mental health at the drop of a dime. “Stuck how I feel when it rains” Cokas raps, “OCD in me…it’s out to get me like touching a blade.” But he masterfully steers the conversation toward a hook built around his young and reckless mentality. This duality between pleasure and pain shows a profound maturity in his art and only furthers anticipation for his vision of a full-length record.

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Shame Gang – No Safe Haven

Catchy flows and hard-hitting beats are enough to grab attention, but the ability to tell a story is what separates the good from the great. No Safe Haven places the Raleigh-based Shame Gang firmly in the category of greatness. With staggering levels of frankness, Shame Gang’s songs are filled with deeply personal anecdotes while still feeling relatable.

With blistering beats and a nimble vocal cadence, Shame laments over the recent loss of his brother and his family’s struggles with grief. But that’s not to say that the record is full of morose, downtrodden songs. Shame’s excellence comes in how seamlessly he interweaves straight-talking lines along braggadocious claims. “No Limit” and “What’s Good” showcase Shame’s chest-pumping pride while tracks like “Changes” and “Come Too Far” highlight more contemplative and introspective sides of the complex artist. In short, No Safe Haven is an album capable of propelling Shame Gang to even further heights for the stand-out local.

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Max Jury – Highway Song

This Des Moines, Iowa native clearly has wanderlust at heart, having trekked to London and L.A. for previous creative efforts, but Max Jury let his roots settle firmly in the bustling music scene of Chapel Hill. With the onset of the pandemic, Jury hunkered down with old friend Stacy Harden (Bombadil) to craft his third full-length record.

Highway Song is a record that tows the line between sparse and sumptuous, a simplistic yet cinematic ode to love and appreciation. Anchored around slow-picked banjo and swelling strings, Jury blends elements of his family’s rustic North Carolina ties with vivid arrangements reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens’ early work. Max Jury’s arrangements are tender enough to tune out but compelling enough to leave the listener lost in the soundwaves.

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Toosii – Thank You For Believing

Toosii had a career-defining year in 2020, garnering tens of millions of streams with his debut album Platinum Hearts. As the Raleigh rapper puts it, he “went gold off the love songs [he] sold,” and now his 2021 return serves as a token of gratitude for those that stood by him on his rise.

TYFB features wide-spanning productions that bend bass-heavy bangers with delicate guitar lines and crooning auto-tuned hooks. Toosii’s songs are built around affectionate lyricism that steers equally toward money-counting success stories and tales of the turmoil it took to reach the top. Tracks like “Shop (ft. DaBaby),” “What It Cost” and “Back Together” stand tall on the mixtape and prove that Toosii’s got no signs of slowing down.

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By George – “Handsome Hobo”

Charlotte alt-rock outfit By George embodies the ethos of headstrong youth, with their vivacious guitar-forward tracks with radio-ready hooks. The band’s most recent single, “Handsome Hobo” tells a tale of star-crossed lovers falling too deep too quick, hitting “the strongest dose of youthful dreaming.”

By George slaps a crisp indie-rock veneer on the age-old love story trope to make it fresh and invigorating. There’s attention-grabbing interplay between the vocals and short, sharp guitar lines while a tight rhythm section propels the song forward. “Handsome Hobo” is the band’s second single from their forthcoming full-length debut, The Life of Guy, and hints at what seems to be a remarkably polished debut effort.

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Frais – “Metal Gear” (ft. Lil Gnar)

An artist oozing with authenticity, Frais is a West Charlotte rapper on the rise. Cutting his teeth on tours alongside G Herbo and Lil Gnar, Frais brings raw uncompromising grit to his music but does so with clear and precise vision.

Teaming up once more with Lil Gnar, “Metal Gear” finds Frais methodically ripping through a calculating video game-inspired beat from Versace Dre. “This gon’ be my year,” Frais proclaims at the top of the track before he waxes poetic on struggles with pills and gang life. As Frais’ stock continues to rise with collaborations like this, it’s hard not to imagine a lot more eyes on him by the end of the year.

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Library Baby – “How I Say My Name”

Library Baby is a new collaboration from Wilmington’s Justin Lacy and Sarah Royal, one that blends Royal’s bedroom pop aesthetics with Lacy’s haunting folk sensibilities in a captivating way. “How I Say My Name” is the duo’s first single from their forthcoming full-length Signs and Clues.

Enchanting guitar plucks are nestled subtly in the mix as Royal’s lilting falsetto sings of the long road to self acceptance. “HISMN” is an organic song that blossoms with time, gradually introducing distant percussion and swelling clarinet. It’s rare to see such a fully fleshed out debut, which makes the promise of a full LP all the more exciting.

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Seph Dot – “Bombae”

Charlotte’s Seph Dot has had a busy 2021. Despite dropping an EP, Fuzzy, back in February, Seph has already released a summer-ready bop with “Bombae,” produced by Likkle Slave. A track as hazy as the story it weaves, “Bombae” comes with a humorous seven-minute video that plays out the gin-soaked tale in his song.

Seph’s storytelling and lyricism pairs brilliantly with Likkle Slave’s bright production. Riding atop an illusory beat with low-sitting bass and sparse rhythmic drum hits, Seph’s flow is at once biting and restrained. While “Bombae” is a playful track that feels like a poolside hit, it also displays Seph Dot’s fully refined artistic vision.

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Listen to our Best of North Carolina 2020-21 playlist:

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