DJ Lord Ron & Wildelux – “The Sinister Theory” (String Note Recordings) – West Coast producer Lord Ron joined forces with Bronx-born emcee Wildelux for this raw, concise lesson in quality boom-bap-driven Hip-Hop. The quality, sample-heavy beats supplied by Ron provided the perfect musical backdrop for ‘Lux’s take-no-prisoners lyrical approach, with the skilled wordsmith displaying a relentless verbal vigour as he offered his thoughts on a variety of topics. Salute!
MKV & Concept – “Dreams & Reality” (Essenchill Records) – Chicago-born, Pittsburgh-based emcee MKV took full advantage of New Zealand producer Concept’s soulful, drum-heavy musical style on this mellow-yet-captivating EP. Sharing his hopes, regrets and personal memories throughout this release, MKV exorcised some personal demons whilst encouraging listeners to make the most out of life. Motivational true-school beats and rhymes.
John Robinson & PVD – “Modern Vintage” (Brick Records) – A potent combination of present-day technology and old-school musical equipment, this joint effort from veteran NY emcee John Robinson and composer / producer Pat Van Dyke lived up to its title with plenty of style and creativity. Celebrating the potential music has to be timeless, organic and powerful, the pair drew inspiration from old-school Hip-Hop, jazz and soul to deliver an uplifting collection of positive vibes.
Men Of Many Crowns – “Men Of Many Crowns” (MenOfManyCrowns.Com) – San Diego duo MoodSwingKing and W. Steele mixed razor-sharp lyricism and soul-drenched production with West Coast sensibilities on this confidently-delivered project, further proving that the artists currently ruling the mainstream don’t always deserve to wear the crown.
The Kingdom – “No Rest In The Kingdom” (TheKingdomMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Based in North Carolina but originally from New Jersey and Pennsylvania respectively, emcee King Draft and producer Jerm Scorcese dropped one of the most accomplished debuts of the year with “No Rest In The Kingdom”. Lyrical food-for-thought and melodic soundscapes meshed together perfectly, taking the listener on a unique and intoxicating sonic journey. Plus, anyone who samples Art Of Noise’s 80s classic “Moments In Love” always gets props over here.
PRhyme – “PRhyme” (PRhyme Records) – Based around samples from the catalogue of LA music man Adrian Younge, this collabo album from the mighty DJ Premier and Detroit mic vet Royce Da 5’9 could only have resulted in quality music. Packing each track with endless punchlines and clever references, Royce provided numerous rewind-worthy verses throughout the project, whilst Primo worked magic behind the boards and gave his traditional boom-bap sound an interesting twist.
Verb T – “Medicated Dreams” (High Focus Records) – Since his debut on wax back in the early 2000s, UK emcee Verb T has consistently stood out from the crowd with his distinctive delivery, dry wit and unique worldview. On this sonic prescription, the Four Owls member administered multi-layered verses packed with self-reflection over down-tempo, self-produced beats. A musical remedy to the stresses of everyday life.
Your Old Droog – “Your Old Droog” (Droog Recordings) – Once the dust had settled and (almost) everyone had gotten over the Nas / mistaken identity episode, one thing remained crystal clear – this upcoming NY emcee could really rap. This compilation-style project pulled together previously-heard material and unreleased gems, with Droog effortlessly rhyming circles around the competition. Proving himself to be a genuine talent in his own right, Your Old Droog definitely wasn’t about to spend a second longer standing in someone else’s shadow. Even if that someone was the dude who recorded “Illmatic”.
Planet Asia & TzariZM – “Via Satellite” (Doxside Music Group / Gold Chain Music) – Broadcasting live and direct from Planet Rock, Florida-based producer TzariZM blessed underground West Coast icon Planet Asia with a heavy-duty selection of speaker-rattling beats for this collaborative effort. A weighty combination of skillful lyricism and uncompromising production, “Via Satellite” was received loud and clear by Hip-Hop heads wherever they resided. Do not attempt to adjust your dial.
Rozewood – “The Beautiful Type” (Working Class Music) – Like a Hip-Hop soundtrack to the best blaxploitation flick never made, “The Beautiful Type” found NY-raised lyricist Rozewood delivering a barrage of cool-but-deadly street knowledge wrapped up in intricate wordplay, all cushioned by the plush soundscapes of Atlanta producer Illastrate. With regular collaborators Hus Kingpin and SmooVth on-hand to offer support, Rozewood lived up to the promise displayed on prior releases such as “The Ghost Of Radio Raheem” and singled himself out as a talent to watch in 2015.
Chairman Maf – “Paint” (ChairmanMaf.BandCamp.Com) – Following up 2013’s brilliant “1976” project, UK producer Chairman Maf crafted another stimulating collection of instrumental flavours for this latest sonic endeavor. Combining his ear for both melody and quality samples with a clear passion for dusty drums, the Sheffield sound man splashed a variety of sonic moods over his canvas throughout “Paint”, allowing the listener to conjure up a number of pictures in their minds-eye as the album unfolded.
Omniscence – “The God Hour” (Gentleman’s Relief Records) – With his shelved 1996 debut “The Raw Factor” finally being given a welcome release in 2014, North Carolina punchline-king Omniscence proved he still deserved the title of the Funky One-Liner by coming back like he forgot something with this EP of new material. Produced entirely by Australia’s Debonair P, “The God Hour” featured the talented lyricist shooting the gift over quality, head-nodding beats. True indeed!
Kev Brown & Hassaan Mackey – “That Grit” (Ill Adrenaline Records) – 2014 was definitely a busy year for Kev Brown, with the DMV producer-on-the-mic dropping a second project on the Ill Adrenaline imprint, this time offering Rochester, NY lyricist Hassaan Mackey his trademark brand of boom-bap. With the likes of yU, Kenn Starr and Grap Luva all delivering noteworthy appearances on the mic device, “That Grit” had the organic feel of a back-in-the-day freestyle tape, with both Mackey’s witty wordplay and Brown’s sublime beats remaining on-point at all times.
A.Y.E. – “90 Now” (Makebelieve Records) – The idea of a young twenty-something artist paying homage to a decade that had ended before he’d hit his teens may not sit particularly well with some 90s purists. But when that idea is executed as well as it was on this release from Canadian emcee A.Y.E., it’s hard to deny the flavour. Effectively capturing the traditional mid-90s East Coast sound, complete with heavy drums, echoing horns and hypnotic keys, this self-produced project also found A.Y.E. coming correct with the rhymes, whether referencing golden-era artists or commenting on the world around him. Old-school, new-school, no school rules.
Bronze Nazareth – “Thought For Food Vol. 3” (Black Day In July Productions) – Detroit-based Wu-Tang affiliate Nazareth offered listeners his usual mix of the raw and the righteous with this latest hardcore onslaught. Blending grimy beats and classic soul samples, the Motor City producer-on-the-mic created music that sounded like sun-rays shining through inner-city alleyways.
SilentSomeone – “I Have Company” (Peasant Podium Music) – Bronx producer SilentSomeone demonstrated his talent behind the boards to great effect on this quality collection of underground jewels. Featuring the likes of Sadat X, John Robinson and Tame One, “I Have Company” ranged from boisterous big-beat brilliance to the hypnotically haunting, with SilentSomeone putting his own sonic stamp on each track, lifting the album head-and-shoulders above similar producer-based projects.
Swamp Thing – “Outer Limits” (URBNET) – Canadian rap astronauts Timbuktu, Chokeules and Savilion attempted to travel at magnificent speeds around the universe on “Outer Limits”, joined by Ghettosocks, D-Sisive and Wordburglar. A rocket-fuelled blast of sci-fi-inspired beats and rhymes, this long-player fully engaged the imagination thanks to the crew’s intriguing, out-of-this-world rhymes. Space is the place!
The 1978ers – “People Of Today” (Mello Music Group) – In a modern-day world of social detachment, rampant consumerism and media manipulation, the eclectic music found on this album from DMV duo yU and Slimkat encouraged listeners to retain a positive sense of self, overcome obstacles and reach for their goals. Laced with positive sentiments grounded in personal experience and intelligent thinking rather than simple self-righteousness, “People Of Today” uplifted your spirit at the same time as it made your head nod.
Gee Bag – “Show And Tell” (Starch Records) – Combining a strong personality with his tell-it-like-it-is lyrical approach and undeniable passion for Hip-Hop, UK artist Gee Bag demonstrated real character on the microphone throughout “Show And Tell”, blessing producer Downstroke’s selection of beats with humorous punchlines, infectious hooks and everyday observations. Show and tell? With this release the South London lyricist showed and proved.
The Almighty $amhill – “The $amhill Story” (Aaron Michael Entertainment) – Bursting through the back door just as 2014 was coming to an end, NY emcee $amhill dropped this up-close-and-personal autobiographical masterpiece full of raw, honest rhymes and quality production from the likes of Minnesota, RTNC and Molecules. Proving that the Bronx still keeps creating it, “The $amhill Story” was a timeless body of work rooted in the tradition of golden-era Rotten Apple rap.