But this year brings renewed confidence; you can rest assured that the following four acts will make waves in Cleveland and beyond. This time next year, remember that you heard it here . . . unless we blow it again. In which case, just keep it to yourself.
"I haven't seen him lose," said hip-hop promoter George "Poohmanchew" Goins of MC Drastic, the area's reigning rap-battle champ, in Kevin Hoffman's Scene cover story on spitboxing last year. "He wins by landslides. Dudes he beats, you never see them again. He puts them in seclusion. I seen him retire cats." Maybe so, but coming up with increasingly clever ways of dissing another MC's mom in front of leering throngs of hip-hop headz is a far cry from anchoring a full LP of barbed-wire rhymes.
But on his latest mixtape, Cleveland's Hope, the city's hottest unsigned rapper lives up to the title: "Y'all know Drastic bring the fire/I'm the reason Shawn Carter retired," the lanky, sleepy-eyed MC bellows with the bravado of a blitzing linebacker on "Drumline -- Off Top." Assembled by rising Cleveland DJ Joey Fingaz, the disc is over an hour of frantic rhymes and bulletproof beats. "I'm from Cleveland," Drastic spits, "where ain't nobody had a major deal or a chance to advance since Bones sold 30 mil." Expect that to change soon enough.
In German, Keratoma means "grandmother of the carrot." In English, it signifies one of the more promising harsh industrial troupes to emerge from these parts in recent years. Comprising former members of like-minded Slutbox, Keratoma features ex-Mushroomhead drum tech Tom Shaffner, among others. The band's debut, due in early 2005, pulses with the kind of gritty electro-metal popularized by mid-'90s favorites like Skrew.
A pair of tracks from the band's forthcoming full-length debut are available at http://keratoma.net. The better one is "The Truth," a harsh, abusive tune that comes out swinging like a drunken prizefighter; serpentine electronics give way to growling bass and shrieking vox that sound as if they were taken from a field recording of a witch burning. The bedlam is tempered a bit with a brief keyboard interlude -- think Emerson Lake & Palmer in hell -- but then it's right back to a digital grind that stings like sandpaper on a fresh wound.
At first, "suburban soul" sounds like an oxymoron, kind of like German bluegrass. But the twentysomethings in Blu Vertaal prove that white-bread white boys can indeed bring a little funk and groove to traditional rock tropes. Led by singer-songwriter-guitarist Jay Glenn, who built a local following in recent years fronting a band that bore his name, this bluesy rock four-piece plays tunes that swing from empowered pop to a sub-reggae lilt. Glenn's guitar-playing is fluid and emotive, his voice a geyser of yearning. The band's debut three-song demo (available by e-mailing Blu_Vertaal@yahoo.com) is a smoky, after-hours affair, a gently rocking comedown after too much heartache and High Life.
Like New Order enhanced with that new-car smell, the postmodern, post-punk trio Whitechapel freshens up an old sound on its debut EP. Though the band has played but a pair of live shows, its brooding yet danceable Anglo rock is already sharp as Bernard Sumner's wit. Lighter-than-air vocals, simmering guitars, and a drummer with the discotheque in mind mark the recording (available by contacting email@example.com). Two decades ago, these guys would have signed to Factory Records and spent their days sucking in their cheeks for N.M.E. photo shoots. Now they're part of a U.S.-led revival in British rock, like Interpol without the herpes.