Blueprint – “Respect The Architect” (Weightless Recordings) – Responsible for releasing a steady stream of quality music over the last decade-plus, Ohio producer-on-the-mic Blueprint channeled his life experiences, both good and bad, into this emotionally-charged body of work. Capturing a variety of moods and thoughts, Blueprint moved seamlessly throughout this album, from moments of powerful reflection to striking artistic defiance. Genuine soul music.
Skanks – “The Shinigami Flowfessional” (Shinigamie Records) – Spreading love may well be the Brooklyn way as Biggie once said, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be delivered with a heavy dose of rawness, as evidenced by NY emcee Skanks’ impressive solo project. Backed by the rugged, thunder-clap production of France’s Kyo Itachi, the Bankai Fam member repped for both the streets of his Crooklyn stomping grounds and the culture of Hip-Hop with equal parts passion, aggression and determination. How about some hardcore?
Wu-Tang Clan – “A Better Tomorrow” (Warner Brothers) – At one point it looked like “A Better Tomorrow” wasn’t likely to see the light of day, with there being discord within the Clan regarding RZA’s creative direction for the project. Yet, the brothers from the slums of Shaolin managed to find some musical middle ground. For the most part, this 20th anniversary album effectively balanced the Abbot’s grand ideas with traditional Wu-Tang slang, showcasing the still-impressive verbal skills of each member and also including some poignant rhymes for our troubled times.
Dilated Peoples – “Directors Of Photography” (Rhymesayers Entertainment) – Viewing the world through a camera lens on their first group project since 2006, West Coast trio Evidence, Rakaa Iriscience and DJ Babu added more worthy sonic snapshots to their extensive musical photo album, which now spans almost two decades. With “Directors Of Photography”, the crew showcased their creative growth whilst remaining faithful to their underground Hip-Hop roots set in the 90s indie scene.
Giallo Point & SmooVth – “Portrait Of A Pimp” (Crate Divizion) – SmooVth by name, smooth by nature, the Strong Island lyricist plundered UK producer Giallo Point’s beat stash for this sublime, low-key lesson in minimalist magic. Weaving subtle-yet-vivid rhymes around exquisite beats that ranged from cool-breeze loops to 70s soundtrack-style drama, SmooVth used his calm-but-deadly delivery to draw the listener into a cinematic world of fine women, fast living and slick street tales.
Eff Yoo & Godilla – “They Came On Horseback” (Eff Yoo & Godilla) – Riding into town from the high plains of NYC and Pennsylvania respectively, mic-slingers Eff Yoo and Godilla stood as outlaws against Hip-Hop’s diluted mainstream, crafting an album for those who still appreciate genuine lyricism. Joined on their musical travels by the likes of Spit Gemz, Shabaam Sahdeeq and UG of the Cella Dwellas, this rough-and-ready posse made their way through the badlands of rap, inviting like-minded heads to ride alongside them. Saddle up!
Lord Finesse – “The SP1200 Project” (Slice-Of-Spice) – The Diggin’ In The Crates legend unleashed a mammoth selection of masterful, sample-based beats on this brilliant instrumental project. Capturing the timeless essence of classic golden-era Hip-Hop, Finesse demonstrated why his reputation as one of the game’s illest producers remains firmly intact to this day.
Essa – “The Misadventures Of A Middle Man” (First Word Records) – London’s Essa (formerly known as Yungun) is the perfect example of an emcee who has really kept it real over the years in the truest sense of the term. Having displayed consistent artistic growth, integrity and honesty since debuting in the early-2000s, this long-awaited album found Essa delivering expertly-written verses over a varied selection of musical flavours, from futuristic soul and afro-beat to traditional, drum-heavy Hip-Hop. Capturing Essa’s thoughts on topics such as his mixed-race heritage, religion and family, “The Misadventures…” offered insight into the world of an artist with a sharp mind and an equally sharp lyrical ability.
Diamond District – “March On Washington” (Mello Music Group) – Successfully achieving the delicate balancing act of pushing creative boundaries whilst still satisfying original fans, DMV trio Oddisee, yU and Uptown XO’s follow-up to their 2009 album “In The Ruff” demonstrated both musical growth and a deeper lyrical approach. Spring-boarding off of Oddisee’s ever-expanding production palette, the group crafted a now-school album with influences that could be traced back to 70s soul and 90s Hip-Hop.
K-9 – “The Re-Education Of King 9” (Rotton Products) – This self-produced album from London emcee K-9 is what KRS-One would no doubt describe as ‘edutainment’. Proudly displaying a strong reggae influence rooted in old-school sound-system culture, K-9 also drew heavily on his West Indian ancestry as he linked the social plight faced by many inner-city British Black Black youth to the experiences of older generations arriving in England in the late-40s and after. Tackling racism, injustice and colonialism, “The Re-Education Of…” is as much a history lesson as it is a snapshot of present-day Britain. Intelligent, entertaining and engaging. Overstand!
Golden Brown Sound – “The Great Man Theory” (GBS) – Claiming to be bringing ’88 back, “not the place and time, but the state of mind”, Boston duo NoDoz and DJ On & On succeeded in crafting an album that, like so many golden-era favourites of yesteryear, was recorded with the intention of being valued and embraced by the Hip-Hop Nation first and foremost. NoDoz’s passionate social commentary and life observations sat tightly over On & On’s pounding production, resulting in “The Great Man Theory” being a combustible mix of mental stimulation, energy and true skills.
Various Artists – “Jamla Is The Squad” (Jamla Records) – With Statik Selektah on the ones-and-twos, this mixtape-style compilation of Jamla artists and allies showcased just how much talent is affiliated with the 9th Wonder-helmed label. Featuring the likes of Big Remo, Rapsody and GQ delivering expert wordplay over the soul-drenched boom-bap of Khrysis, Eric G and 9th himself, this album proved, as Busta Rhymes mighty say, that Jamla really is the squid-aud!
Keith Science – “Hypothalamus” (Central Wax Records) – Following up 2012’s impressive “Vessels Of Thought Volume II”, New Jersey producer Keith Science unlocked his lab to present this collection of atmospheric instrumentals. Ranging from mesmerising, late-night-flavoured beats, to sparse, neck-snapping rhyme-ready tracks, with “Hypothalamus” Science proved himself to be a true master of the sampling arts.
Ray Vendetta & Greater Good – “Effortless” (GreaterGoodBeats.BandCamp.Com) – A member of talented UK collective Triple Darkness, London emcee Ray Vendetta stepped outside of crew ranks to drop this dope solo project. Combining life memories, positive sentiments and raw imagery with the hazy, head-nodding production of Greater Good, “Effortless” was a hypnotic, and at times haunting listening experience, which stayed with you long after the last track faded away.
Sonnyjim & Leaf Dog – “How To Tame Lions” (EatGood Records) – Collaborations between particular emcees and producers may look good on paper, but don’t always translate well once both parties are in the studio. When done right, however, the final results can be a match made in Hip-Hop heaven, like this EP from Birmingham emcee Sonnyjim and High Focus Records production wizard Leaf Dog. Meshing colourful wordplay and rewind-worthy punchlines with sublime beats, the pair displayed a natural chemistry throughout “How To Tame Lions” which, hopefully, will be heard again on future releases.
Von Poe VII – “Only Godz Relate” (Organized Threat) – An ambitious project of epic proportions, this thirty-track double-album from West Coast emcee Von Poe found the skilled artist unleashing intricate verses laced with socially conscious sentiments, street knowledge and a strong sense of cultural pride. Linking with equally talented wordsmiths such as Planet Asia and the UK’s Melanin 9, Poe also demonstrated a sharp ear for quality production, with “Only Godz Relate” possessing a strong sonic identity thanks to the ominous, piano-laced soundscapes of Saheed Sha, Endure and Faces. Peace to the Godz!
Creestal – “Difference” (Munchie Records) – French producer Creestal’s instrumental project “Difference” (a dedication to the “dark and rugged” aspects of America) offered listeners a captivating sonic journey which conjured up images of New York City project buildings, late-night street-corner drama and lost record collections rediscovered in dusty basements. Meticulously pieced together from a variety of random sample material, “Difference” was as unpredictable as it was enjoyable.
Timeless Truth – “Dominican Diner” (TimelessTruthNYC.Com) – Building on the strong foundations of their previous releases and continuing to carry on tradition, blood-related “Queens giants” Oprime39 and Superbad Solace repped proudly for their NY borough throughout “Dominican Diner”, accompanied by atmospheric production from the talented Fafu. Staying true to the golden-era codes and ethics of Rotten Apple Hip-Hop, Oprime and Solace respectfully paid homage to the NYC sound that raised them whilst making their own worthwhile contribution to the city’s rap legacy.
Supastition – “Honest Living” (Reform School Music) – Written during a period in when North Carolina-raised, ATL-based lyricist Supastition found himself unemployed and looking for a j-o-b in an unsteady US economy, “Honest Living” was working-class Hip-Hop capable of resonating with anyone struggling to make-ends-meet and provide for their family. Backed by the melodic boom-bap of German producer Croup, Supa provided the perfect soundtrack for everyone out there counting down to payday every month.
Jazz Spastiks – “The Product” (JazzPlastik) – UK production duo Coconut Delight and Mr. Manayana delivered a flawless album with “The Product”, a thoroughly-satisfying, head-nodding extravaganza which found the pair supplying the likes of Yesh, Apani B. Fly and Count Bass D with their classic brand of jazz-infused beats. Smooth horn samples, huge basslines and dreamy keys were the order of the day here, resulting in a warm, timeless listening experience.
Part Four coming soon.