If you’ve been plugged into local hip-hop over the past year, you’ve no doubt listened to Phoelix, whether or not you recognize his name. The vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and producer met Chicago rapper-producer Saba in fall 2015. The two hit it off, and last summer they decamped to an AirBnB in Los Angeles with Chicago rapper Noname for roughly a month, where they worked on two of the best hip-hop releases to come out of any city in 2016. Phoelix coproduced seven of the ten songs on Noname’s Telefone and nine of the 14 songs on Saba’s Bucket List Project.
Phoelix made his first major step as a solo artist Monday, when he released his debut EP, GSPL. He shows his promise on “Half & Half,” a lithe, funky track led by simple, playful drumming and minimal gospel keys. Phoelix also demonstrates his range as a vocalist, coaxing listeners with sensual talk-singing, supple multitracked vocal harmonies, and a bit of rapid-fire rapping. His versatility, musicality, and dynamism on “Half & Half” remind me of idiosyncratic hip-hop sensation Anderson .Paak, who’s earned the respect of hard-headed old-school cats and young rap fans alike. And Phoelix’s best material, like .Paak’s, often feels too big for the confines of just one genre.