Oddisee – “The Good Fight” (Mello Music Group) – As much an insight into the struggles and emotional conflicts of an independent musician as it was a study of the human experience, this brilliant album from producer-on-the-mic Oddisee found the Maryland music man crafting a project that was grand in its intentions without being pretentious or self-absorbed. Full of real heart and soul, “The Good Fight” was both honest and life-affirming. A true artistic triumph.
Ockz – “The Stuyvesant Chronicles” (Ockz.BandCamp.Com) – It could be argued that this project from Brooklyn’s Ockz was more a mixtape than a finished album considering it featured the emcee rhyming straight over untouched classics from the likes of Bob James, 24 Carat Black and David Axelrod. But “The Stuyvesant Chronicles” was so well executed, that to simply label it as a mixtape may give the impression that it was a disposable, here-today-gone-tomorrow release. When in fact, this was essential listening for fans of raw New York straight talk.
MNSR Frites – “The River Wandle” (MNSRFrites.BandCamp.Com) – Granville Sessions member Frites went for dolo on this impressive release, with the London lyricist dropping verses filled with dry humour and wit over chunky, largely jazz-infused production from Sam Zircon, Krang, Mr. Slipz and more.
Vursatyl – “Crooked Straights” (BBE Music) – A concept album of sorts aiming to balance the two sides of Vursatyl’s personality, the Polo-wearing, ego-driven rapper and the more thoughtful husband and father, “Crooked Straights” proved that, whichever aspect of his character the Portland, Oregon wordsmith chose to display, his prowess on the microphone remained consistently impressive. Backed by a quality selection of full- bodied beats ranging from melodic Dilla-influenced soundscapes to raw, dusty-fingered boom-bap, the Blackalicious affiliate managed to carry on golden-era
tradition whilst remaining free enough to still push creative boundaries.
Your Old Droog – “Kinison” (Droog Recordings) – A loosely rock-themed effort from the Brooklyn representative, “Kinison” found Droog following-up his 2014 success with another dose of pure, unadulterated wordplay, lacing production from DJ Skizz, El RTNC and Marco Polo with seemingly effortless displays of creative lyricism, packed with vivid imagery and deadpan wit.
Flame Griller – “II” (Flamegriller.BandCamp.Com) – Talented, down-to-earth and ultimately likeable, this West Yorkshire trio crafted a sample-driven rough diamond of an album for their sophomore effort. Covering both amusing and poignant subject matter in a way that made the listener feel as if they were involved in a conversation between close friends, this British crew occupied their own creative space within the UK scene by remaining honest and true to themselves at all times.
LostPoet & Kincee – “Golden Calf – Special Edition” (IronBlade Music Group) – Originally dropping on New Year’s Eve 2014, this impressive collaborative effort from Cali wordsmith LostPoet and Louisiana-raised rhymer Kincee was given the re-release treatment late-2015 with bonus cuts. Featuring heavy-mental lyricism delivered over atmospheric boom-bap from the likes of Giallo Point, PhybaOptikz and Vic Grimes, “Golden Calf” stood as a strong example of intelligent, creative street music.
BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – “Sour Soul” (Lex Records) – Wu-Tang icon Ghostface’s collabo with Canadian band BADBADNOTGOOD was a musically rich, lyrically vivid collection of suspenseful tracks that felt like the Wally Champ had stumbled across the soundtrack to an unreleased James Bond-influenced 70s blaxploitation flick. Further proof (if it was needed) that Ghost remains one of the game’s most consistent emcees, “Sour Soul” added another chamber to the Shaolin representative’s already bulletproof discography.
Scor-zay-zee – “Aeon: Peace To The Puzzle” (Scorzilla.Com) – To describe this project from veteran Nottingham emcee Scor-zay-zee as being ‘long-awaited’ or ‘heavily-anticipated’ was, in this instance, no overstatement. Since his 90s debut as a member of OutDaVille, Scorz has stood as one of the UK’s most talented lyricists. Clocking in at a mammoth 28-tracks, this double-album more than lived up to expectations, with the Notts artist delivering intricately-crafted, multi-layered verses over impeccable production from the likes of The P Brothers, Juga-Naut and DJ Fever.
Joey Bada$$ – “B4.Da.$$ (Cinematic Music Group) – Backed by production from the likes of DJ Premier, Freddie Joachim and J Dilla, Brooklyn young gun Joey Bada$$ went some way to bridging Hip-Hop’s generation gap with his official debut album, drawing on sonic 90s influences for inspiration whilst ensuring his lyrical content reflected the present day by incorporating sincere sentiments and personal observations into the music. BK all day.
Starvin B – “7 Train Lungs” (Top Shelf Muzik) – Capturing the raw, authentic essence of Rotten Apple Hip-Hop without having to continuously talk about ‘bringing New York back’, for the third of his four 2015 releases Starvin B teamed-up with talented producer Seasra23, with the fellow Queens resident pairing the lyrical NY attitude on offer here with a quality selection of unique, memorable beats.
Dirt Platoon – “Bare Face Robbery” (Effiscienz) – Baltimore’s Raf Almighty and Snook Da Crook delivered the sonic equivalent of a heavy-handed right-hook to the domepiece with this rugged blast of gritty East Coast black-hoodie rap. Combining thunderous beats with their gruff lyrical styles, the duo personified the term ‘hardcore’ throughout this project. Music to scuff your Timberlands to.
Jeepz & Kay Flow – “Future Nostalgia” (KayFlow.BandCamp.Com) – West Coast emcee Kay Flow joined forces with Canadian producer Jeepz to deliver a solid combination of intelligent lyricism and quality beats , with “Future Nostalgia” living up to its title by effectively drawing inspiration from Hip-Hop’s golden-era whilst capturing what the music and culture still have to offer.
Stig Of The Dump – “Kubrick” (Lewis Recordings) – Self-proclaimed “international man of leisure” Stig Of The Dump veered between larger-than-life arrogance and access-all-areas self-deprecation on his latest effort, with “Kubrick” possessing an emotional edge that made the listener feel as if the UK emcee had really taken you on a sonic journey by the time the album’s final track faded away.
William Cooper – “God’s Will” (Gemstarr Regime) – New Jersey-based Black Market Militia member Cooper called on lyrical allies such as Pace Won, Planet Asia and the late Sean Price to help wake-up those still sleep-walking through the Matrix on this BP-produced album. Razor-sharp rhymes met rugged soundscapes throughout this project, ensuring “God’s Will” stood-out as one of 2015’s most intense listening experiences.
J-Live – “How Much Is Water?” (Mortier Music) – The second full-length project from the NY-raised, Atlanta-based emcee to drop in 2015, “How Much Is Water?” found J-Live once again dropping clever, thought-provoking verses over an eclectic selection of self-produced tracks.
Apollo Brown – “Grandeur” (Mello Music Group) – Featuring a varied line-up of guest emcees, including M.O.P., Ras Kass and Eternia, “Grandeur” effectively showcased the musical prowess of Detroit’s Apollo Brown, with the Motor City native pulling together the many voices heard here with his trademark brand of drum-heavy, soul-laced production, resulting in a cohesive, head-nodding package.
Verb T & Illinformed – “The Man With The Foggy Eyes” (High Focus Records) – Long considered one of the UK’s most talented emcees, this Illinformed-produced project from Verb T further reinforced that status amongst his fans. Perceptive, self-aware, honest, humourous and more, the Four Owls member covered plenty of creative ground on this sterling effort.
Jack Diggs – “Blue Rain” (Revorg Records) – Having already become something of a cult figure within UK Hip-Hop circles thanks to both his solo work (2013’s impressive “Dirty Finger Nails” album) and contributions to the output of South London’s TPS Fam, Diggs’ latest long-player was a sublime slice of homegrown excellence. More than just a collection of quality tracks, “Blue Rain” was a cohesive, well-crafted body of work that offered listeners a striking, down-to-earth musical snapshot of life for many in today’s modern Britain.
Venomous2000 – “Will To Power” (Venomous2000.BandCamp.Com) – Positive energy activates constant elevation. That appeared to be the overall message behind New Jersey emcee Venomous2000’s ninth full-length solo album. Thoughtful, intelligent and sincere, “Will To Power” succeeded in its aim to enrich the lives of those who heard it, with Venomous2000 presenting himself as an artist who firmly believes in the power Hip-Hop has to have a lasting, beneficial impact on its audience.
Part Five coming soon.