Luv NY – “Luv NY” (Ascetic / Red Apples 45) – Enlisting a crew of iconic Rotten Apple emcees that most producers could only dream of working with, Bronx-bred music man Ray West blessed AG, Kool Keith, Kurious etc with a hypnotic selection of his minimalist, piano-driven production, allowing each of the featured lyricists plenty of room to breathe as they celebrated the bright lights and shadowy back-streets of New York City.
Joker Starr – “Blood-Ren” (Flukebeat Music) – Not afraid to standout from the pack, UK emcee Joker Starr ensured every track on this project was packed with personality, utilising his individual rhyme style to pay homage to Michael Jackson, impress the ladies and show the British rap scene some tough love.
Vinnie Paz – “God Of The Serengeti” (Enemy Soil) – Picking up where his brilliant 2010 solo album left-off, Philly rhyme animal Paz’s second shot for delf upped the hardcore ante even further than its predecessor, with the Jedi Mind Tricks frontman collaborating with heavyweights such as Scarface and Tragedy Khadafi over thunderous production that could rattle the gates of hell.
Beat Bop Scholar – “Authentic Minded” (BeatBopScholar.BandCamp.Com) – Proving the old saying that age really ain’t nothing but a number, Los Angeles-based teenage producer Beat Bop Scholar lived up to his name on this mainly instrumenal project, channelling his love of golden-era Hip-Hop into a nice selection of drum-heavy, sample-laden head-nodders with legends Percee P, Sadat X and Craig G on-hand to offer vocal support.
Ka – “Grief Pedigree” (Iron Works) – Achieving a nearly impossible balance between rugged street rhetoric and elegant sonic sophistication, veteran Brooklyn lyricist Ka cast a watchful eye over his Brownsville neighbourhood on this self-produced album, delivering pearls of hard-knock wisdom with an understated been-there-done-that flow which only made his observations of the world around him hit home even harder.
GrindHouse Project – “GHP Is Like…” (GrindHouseProject.BandCamp.Com) – Comprised of producers Futurewave and Astro Mega with emcees Trace Motivate and 360, this Toronto-based quartet’s debut project sounded like it had been recorded by a crew who’d locked themselves in a dark basement for six months with nothing but a sampler, some broken mics and a stack of old vinyl. Uncompromisingly hardcore, “GHP Is Like…” was all about the essential foundations of quality Hip-Hop; sharp verbal skills and quality beats with instant-rewind appeal. Music to stomp your Timberlands to.
Phoenix Da Icefire – “The Quantum Leap” (PhoenixDaIcefire.Com) – An affiliate of London’s Triple Darkness camp, this labour of love from Phoenix Da Icefire took nearly five years to complete, but judging by the quality of the beats and rhymes heard here it was definitely time well spent. Almost entirely produced by the talented Chemo, the UK emcee covered all the lyrical bases here, from intense self-reflection and intelligent social commentary to competition-crushing verses.
Visioneers – “Hipology” (BBE) – Multi-talented London-based producer Marc Mac returned this year under his Visioneers guise, with this brilliantly executed concept album encapsulating a variety of musical styles to highlight the many influences that have shaped the 4hero member’s own personal relationship with Hip-Hop culture, from the Incredible Bongo Band to J Dilla.
Large Professor – “Professor @ Large” (Fat Beats) – The legendary live guy with glasses and former Main Source member continued to demonstrate his loyalty to the 90s NY golden-era sound he helped influence with this no-frills collection of five-borough flavour featuring the likes of Busta Rhymes, Grand Daddy I.U. and Action Bronson.
Blacastan – “The Master Builder Part II” (Brick) – The Demigodz / Army Of The Pharaohs wordsmith’s latest release contained plenty of the gruff Connecticut emcee’s cautionary street tales and conspiracy-laced wordplay over longtime collaborator ColomBeyond’s hard-edged production.
Part Three coming soon – check Part One here.