Today’s modern hip hop and rap scene has been undermined somewhat by its emergence into the mainstream. In order to find the real stuff you have to dig deep into the underground scene. Chicago has always had a reputation for birthing rappers and Chi-towns Jelani Lateef proudly carries on that tradition.
Coming to us with his Cold Days and Dark Nights mixtape, following his album release of the same name in 2015, Lateef is impressive with his street smart flow and delivery. Cold Days Intro is the perfect track to kick off this release because it introduces you to what this Hip Hop artist is about and what he is motivated by. It should be regarded as a compliment to say he sounds like his obvious peers – sounds like Chicago-native Common in accent but delivers his verses like New York’s Nas.
Next track No Fear has an undeniable replay factor and continues Lateef’s mantra of being the underdog, “overcoming the obstacles and winning despite the odds”. Lateef produces a lovely west-coast sounding instrumental that allows us to hear just how good his bars actually are – he perhaps shines most on this beat. Third track Dreams complete’s a great three track opening to a mixtape, with an instrumental that wouldn’t be out of place on a Diplomats album.
In moments like Look What You Done, How It Feels and In God’s Hands Lateef is more reflective and loses some momentum because, however we get to know more about some of the tougher situations he has faced. Day At A Time hits a mark but then also feels very close to a number of tracks from Nas’ It Was Written LP. The Nas influence does permeate through Cold Days and Dark Nights, even more so in Forward Advance (Remix) but it’s hard to fault, because in regards to his delivery and lyrics, Lateef brings absolute fire.
The last track on the mixtape, Keep Looking, is a moment of sheer bliss where once again the laid back summer feel of the instrumental really lets Lateef shine through. The sample is is great also and the Sade-like vocals is nothing short of pretty. The biggest disappointment is that the track ends prematurely and could of at least given us another verse, perhaps more for the want then necessity.
Overall, there’s an automatic likability and charm that Jelani Lateef possesses. This mainly exists because he comes across as honest and humble. Even more impressive is that Lateef self-produced all but three tracks on this release. Although the overall instrumental quality isn’t as groundbreaking or technically significant as say Kanye in his hey day, it must be noted that Lateef’s ability to combine an idea to a composition is clearly prevalent.
Cold Days and Dark Nights was surprisingly a very enjoyable release with enough high points to be considered as one of this year’s best underground Hip Hop releases. Lateef is without doubt a breath of fresh air and better yet you can pick up the mixtape for free from Datpiff here.
Watch the video for Cold Days Intro below: