Hailing from the Southside of Chicago, a breeding ground of numerous styles, Jelani Lateef has been putting out socially conscious rap records for over a decade. On the Cold Days and Dark Nights mixtape, a companion piece to his 2015 album of the same name, Lateef ignores the drill rap dominating his city’s modern sound and opts for a back-to-basics ’90s approach. The mixtape features 11 new tracks and three remixes from his last album with the bulk of production handled by Lateef and contributions from Deka Derse and Omega Red.
Lateef explores stress, love, and sobriety with the cadence of a parallel universe Bun B. He can be a bit cliché with his similes and punchlines (“No father to my style / Not even Maury could find him for me”), but any lyrical shortcomings are made up for by Lateef’s smooth, confident delivery and excellent production. “Stay Strong” is the most impressive showing, with a backbone of hand claps and a choir sample augmenting a soulful, uptempo beat and a compelling call-and-response chorus from Lateef and Fiyah Wayne, the mixtape’s only guest vocalist.
Cold Days and Dark Nights is an under-the-radar release that suffers from a generic title, bland album art, and a lack of co-signs, but the heart of it – the beats and rhymes – are commendable. Lateef excels with golden era-channeling positive raps, an increasingly difficult road to travel in a modern hip hop landscape of nihilistic excess.