Apollo Brown & Guilty Simpson – “Dice Game” (Mello Music Group) – This Motown duo definitely weren’t taking a gamble when they jumped in the studio together to record this sureshot collection of rugged bangers. With Simpson injecting his rhymes with a slightly more personal feel than on previous material, Brown ensured his beats matched the tone of the Detroit emcee’s verses perfectly, whether highlighting their hometown (“Reputation”) or pondering the future (“How Will I Go”).
Grand Papa Tra – “Lost In New York” (GrandPapaTra.BandCamp.Com) – Not one for adhering to today’s digital norm of emailing tracks and verses back and forth to complete a project, Swiss producer Tra wanted a more authentic recording experience, so made the trip to NYC to put together this collection of East Coast-influenced cuts with the likes of Sadat X, Mic Geronimo and Royal Flush.
Prose – “Back In The Habit” (Boom Bap Professionals) – Following-up two impressive albums, “Force Of Habit” (2010) and “The Dark Side Of The Boom” (2011), UK emcee / producer partnership Efeks and Steady Rock remained true to their underground roots on this quality EP which featured the witty old-school tribute “The Class Of ’94″.
Fraction & Fresh Kils – “Extra Science” (Math Music Productions) – This album could easily never have happened considering it was a chance encounter at a Toronto Hip-Hop event that led to this Canadian duo teaming-up for this release. Thankfully, the rap gods were obviously smiling on that fateful day, which in turn led to underground fans being blessed with an accomplished, polished display of musical brilliance steeped in soulful, jazzy vibes and masterful lyricism.
Union – “Analogtronics” (Fat Beats) – A mind-bending mix of 80s-style synths, Dilla-influenced beats and space-age imagery, Paris-based producers OJ and Gold delivered a truly unique sonic experience with this collection of intergalactic funk, taking listeners on an epic musical journey amongst the stars with the likes of Talib Kweli, MF Doom and Roc Marciano on-hand to lyrically moonwalk across their sci-fly soundscapes.
Casual & J Rawls – “Respect Game Or Expect Flames” (Nature Sounds) – An unexpected but welcome collaboration, the cocky, Oakland drawl of Hiero’s Casual was the perfect fit for veteran Ohio-based producer Rawls’ well-crafted beats on this thoroughly entertaining album.
M9 – “Magna Carta” (M9Ether.BandCamp.Com) – Easily one of the most gifted lyricists in the present-day rap game, London’s Melanin 9 filled his heavily-anticpated “Magna Carta” project with intricately woven verses packed with gritty street knowledge, political opinion and social commentary. Edutainment, indeed.
Gensu Dean – “Lo-Fi Fingahz” (Mello Music Group) – Texas-based producer Dean celebrated his love of his trusty SP 1200 sampler by using it to craft a quality selection of true-school neck-snappers on this album which featured the likes of Brand Nubian, Large Professor and Count Bass D.
Heavy Links – “The Essence” (HeavyLinks.BandCamp.Com) – Midlands, UK trio Habitat, El Tel and Donnie Propa released their third EP project which, following a successful appearance at September’s Boom Bap Hip-Hop Festival, raised the crew’s profile and widened the audience for their brand of good ol’ fashioned homegrown rap.
Showbiz & AG – “Mugshot Music: Preloaded” (DITC Records) – Released as a free warm-up for “Mugshot Music” proper, this might not have been considered an official album by the Bronx duo, but it was definitely much more than just a mixtape. Featuring some of Show’s best production in recent times and typically self-assured bars from Andre The Giant, “Preloaded” probably wouldn’t have left fans unsatisfied even if it had been the pair’s only 2012 release.