Rap Blog: Lexa Gates and Alé Araya smooth things over

Rap Blog is a weekly showcase of a standout rap song.

The fervent backpack traditions of New York underground rap can often produce a bit of a boy’s club, a fiercely gate-kept world in which any woman who dares show her face is immediately put on the witness stand and asked to name her five favorite Canibus verses. But anyone who has spent any real time in New York knows that women in this city — especially those irrepressibly bad bitches who are from New York — are usually tougher than the men, always on guard and prepared to cut anyone who breathes too hard.

Queens native Lexa Gates embodies that sense of feminine grit, her face shielded by a mask of intensely winged eyeliner. But beneath the husky voice and the no-bullshit demeanor, the tough-as-nails MC lays her tender heart bare, confessing her sins over a soulfully blunted beat. There’s a sense of classy elegance to the sultry production, the kind of lightly jazzy beat built to be performed by a live ensemble at a Tiny Desk Concert, as well as the effortlessly confident way Gates carries herself. But her lyrics slowly expose a more fragile side, as she tries to convince herself that she’s as tough as everyone else believes her to be. Vocalist Alé Araya descends like a visiting angel, embodying the softness and sensitivity that Lexa Gates struggles to embrace herself.