Ill Bill – “The Grimy Awards” (Uncle Howie) – The Brooklyn emcee kept one foot in the gritty past of NYC and the other striding towards an apocalyptic future as he shed light on both his influences and pivotal life moments throughout this extremely personal project. With production from the likes of Large Professor, DJ Muggs and DJ Premier, Bill dropped arguably his most impressive work to date (and an honorable mention has to go to Q-Unique for one of the year’s best verses on “L’Amour East”).
Omniscence – “Sharp Objects EP” (Omniscence.BandCamp.Com) – Having made his name in the 90s with underground classics such as “Amazin'” and “Touch Y’all”, the North Carolina punchline king returned like he hadn’t missed a beat, displaying his agile lyricism on this EP built on the strong, jazzy head-nodding sonics of Australian producer Debonair P.
Dam-Funk & Snoop Dogg – “7 Days Of Funk” (Stones Throw) – Getting back to his G-Funk roots, Snoopzilla got in touch with his inner Bootsy Collins by uniting with talented producer Dam-Funk for this synth-heavy blast of retro goodness that sounded like Tha Dogg Pound had gatecrashed a 1983 Bar-Kays jam session. Ooooweeee!!!
J-Zone – “Peter Pan Syndrome” (Old Maid Entertainment) – Providing theme music for thirty-something Hip-Hop heads everywhere faced with the cold realities of growing-up, Zone Loc’s latest opus found the Queens, NY producer-on-the-mic navigating the pressures of full-time employment, property ownership and relationships with his usual blend of sarcastic humour and musical inventiveness.
DJ Skizz – “B.Q.E. (The Brooklyn-Queens Experience)” (Gawd Of Math Music) – Amidst ongoing debates around the topic of New York rap losing its identity, producer DJ Skizz enlisted the likes of Masta Ace, Al’ Tariq and Rasheed Chappell for a hardcore shot to the dome that needed to be listened to whilst wearing a hoodie and Timberlands to be fully appreciated.
Strange Neighbour – “The Heisenberg EP” (Revorg Records) – Taking his inspiration from the anti-hero of cult TV show “Breaking Bad”, UK producer Strange Neighbour got busy in the lab and cooked-up this drum-heavy batch of bangers featuring the varied lyrical styles of Phoenix Da Icefire, Oliver Sudden, Big Toast and more.
Durag Dynasty – “360 Waves” (Nature Sounds) – The Alchemist continued to spend the year churning out ridiculously dope beats with this full-length crew effort from Planet Asia, Tristate and Killer Ben. With the West Coast trio each spitting sharp lyrical darts, Alchemist’s stripped-down beats provided the right amount of thump to ensure said darts exploded on impact as intended.
Chairman Maf – “1976” (ChairmanMaf.BandCamp.Com) – UK producer Maf’s debut full-length instrumental project was a masterclass in creating mood music. Ranging from ethereal boom-bap to intergalactic soul, “1976” took the listener on an unpredictable sonic journey which had a worthwhile destination around every corner.
Skyzoo & Antman Wonder – “An Ode To Reasonable Doubt” (Loyalty Digital Corp) – The Brooklyn lyricist paid homage to Jigga’s classic debut respectfully and creatively on this Antman Wonder-produced EP. Retreading the musical steps of golden-era Hov definitely meant attempting to fill some big shoes, but this brilliant eight-track release found Skyzoo adding just as much to “Reasonable Doubt” as he was taking. No regrets here.
Dirt Platoon – “War Face” (Shinigamie Records) – Straight off the streets of Baltimore, duo Raf Almighty and Snook Da Crook cracked the concrete beats provided here by French producer Kyo Itachi like a pair of lyrical jackhammers. Rough, rugged and raw, “War Face” left your eardrums feeling like they’d just been pummelled by the neighbourhood bully.
Tommy Tyler – “The Golden Section” (SonsPhonetic.BandCamp.Com) – The Irish emcee delivered a moody, hypnotic five-track EP that drew the listener into a sombre world further enhanced by the bass-heavy production of Mook. Music to listen to with the lights off.