Kemba Credit: Logan Poe

Bronx rapper Kemba opens his self-released 2016 album, Negus, with a plea: “Don’t call it political / Please don’t deem this lyrical / These are negro spirituals.” Kemba, who’d previously recorded and performed under the name YC the Cynic, understands how easily his patient, contemplative songs can be pigeonholed as “conscious hip-hop,” but anyone who’d expect him to regurgitate east-coast boom-bap and a selection of preapproved lyrical subjects would be missing the full power of his music. Since Negus, he’s released just a few singles, including this year’s raw, striking “Deadass,” which merges jazz and funk via a limber upright-bass melody. With his confident, dry delivery, Kemba negotiates riotous energy and restrained focus, and emerging with a performance that transcends any defined subgenre.   v