AyEl (@AyEl_Music): The Eclectic
Home: Kansas City, Kan.
In an arena where expression is valued at a premium, it’s ironic that silence might be the biggest strength for hip-hop artist AyEl (Aaron Leapheart): “I like listening to different people and their perspectives,” he says. “It’s the biggest inspiration for the music I make.”
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There’s a payoff to the introspection. By day AyEl is a KU student, a sociology major finishing up his final year. But by night and weekend and every moment in between, he operates as one of KC’s most eclectic hip-hop artists, constantly experimenting and absorbing new ideas that might add fresh nuances to his music.
AyEl has a tendency to fuse soulful, smooth R&B with hip-hop, a feat that can draw easy (and lazy) comparisons to artists like J. Cole or Big K.R.IT. But those guys use grit as a vehicle for their artistry; AyEl is much smoother.
His is a sound more in line with Anderson .Paak, PARTYNEXTDOOR or Bryson Tiller. Even when the subject matter is dark or somber (like on “To,” an ode to some of AyEl’s fallen friends), he employs a delivery that feels reassuring and hopeful.
AyEl also occupies the unique space of being the only artist on The Star’s list to really wade into the scary singing waters. His latest single, “Motion,” is a half-sung, half-rapped dancehall track that is both unlike anything else in his catalog (a nod to his flexibility) and probably the most radio-ready single made by a local hip-hop artist this year.
“I actually freestyled the hook for that and came up with the concept for the entire song in like 30 minutes,” he says.
This isn’t out of the norm. AyEl freestyled hooks for over half a dozen songs in his catalog, some of which (like “Yung Jamaal” and “Chevy N’ Daytons”) are his best work.
“I told people I was going to start fooling around with melodies,” he says, laughing. “I don’t think they believed me at first.”
Perhaps, like AyEl, they should listen a little more closely.
Essential tracks: “The Motion,” “To,” “Yung Jamaal”