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Meet the future of KC’s ‘gritter’ hip-hop

Solo freestyle: CaviArt

City Watts (O.T. Watts) and RileyPnP (James Riley) have released “The Speez,” an album that could bring Kansas City’s “gritter” hip-hop a wider audience. They are part of the CaviArt collective, founded by Gee Watts.
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City Watts (O.T. Watts) and RileyPnP (James Riley) have released “The Speez,” an album that could bring Kansas City’s “gritter” hip-hop a wider audience. They are part of the CaviArt collective, founded by Gee Watts.

CaviArt (@_caviart): The Gritters

Age: Watts, 22 | Riley, 27

Hometown: Kansas City

If Kansas City can lay claim to creating a rap genre like ATL trap, New York boom bap or Chicago drill, it’d be “gritter” music: basement-produced, hollowed production accompanied by a slurred husky flow, usually detailing the darkest of subject matters — drugs, murder, feuds, the struggles of growing up black, poor and disenfranchised.

It all reflects the reality of many living on the east side of Troost Avenue — there, “grin and bear” becomes “grit and bear.” Grit music was popularized in the mid-’90s and maintained a city dominance into the mid-2000s via artists like Rich the Factor, Fat Tone and Ron Ron — stars in their own ’hood.

But that has been the problem with gritter music: It has never been able to find its way outside of the ’hood. Some point to a reliance on beef and violence as a flimsy business model. Others suggest a lack of quality or original production. Some say the raps just sucked.

All of these critiques, however, are answered with CaviArt (pronounced Cav-ee-art) artists City Watts (Otavionne Watts) and RileyPnP (James Riley) and their joint EP release, “The Speez.” CaviArt is a collective founded by one of KC’s most popular rappers, Gee Watts, but it is City and Riley who look to be the label’s future.

“The Speez” is the most complete street rap record to come out of Kansas City in years. The gritter-style elements are there; Riley’s slurred rap style ensures that. But with crisp, sonic beats from an array of producers (including production from fellow label mate Bruiser3100) and an almost bouncy vibrancy from the skinny jeans, Supreme-wearing O.T., CaviArt has crafted a contemporary gritter record that has the potential to garner serious play within and outside of 71 Highway.

“Pesos” particularly deserves recognition as probably the best “KC-sounding” rap record of the last decade.

“Our music actually paints the full picture,” Watts says. “A lot of music in the past just promoted violence. Riley will tell why the violence is happening, actually explaining what’s going on in KC instead of just explaining what happened between him and one other person.”

Riley adds: “They only used to rap about fonk (feuds) in the past. You can’t make money off of that. We’re trying to make money. We’re trying to make it.”

Essential tracks: “Pesos,” “Wig Split,” “Grit (f. City Watts)”

Aaron Randle: 816-234-4060, @aaronronel

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