Category Archives: Album Reviews

100 Favourite Albums & EPs Of 2021 (Part Five) – Verb T & Illinformed / Little Simz / Nas etc.

Final part of my 2021 wrap-up – check Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.

UFO Fev & Vanderslice – “Enigma Of Dali” (UFOFev.BandCamp.Com) – One thing that’s become abundantly clear over the last couple of years is that Harlem’s UFO Fev has a great ear for choosing producers to work with that really compliment his style. With Statik Selektah, Termanology and Big Ghost Ltd all having laced the NY emcee with superb beats on full-length efforts during 2020, 2021 found Fev teaming-up with the consistently dope Vanderslice for “Enigma Of Dali”, painting colourful lyrical portraits which captured the essence of life in the Rotten Apple.

Damu The Fudgemunk – “Conversation Peace” (DamuTheFudgemunk.BandCamp.Com) – Having been given full access to the musical vaults of London’s KPM Library for this release, you could almost feel Damu’s glee and excitement bursting out of the grooves here from beats crafted after being blessed with the opportunity to dig through thousands of records. Joined by Raw Poetic, Insight, Blu and Nitty Scott, the Washington DC producer soared above the clouds, nodding to the 90s on the way up without getting stuck in the past or overdosing on nostalgia. “Conversation Peace” was a genuinely invigorating listening experience.

Cesar Comanche & Poe Mack – “A Promise Not To Sting” (CesarComanche.BandCamp.Com) – This collaborative album from North Carolina’s Cesar Comanche (of Justus League fame) and Virginia’s Poe Mack really struck a chord with me. It was the sound of two individuals who’ve lived life and learnt lessons ruminating on the past, present and future in a world undergoing huge change. Production from the likes of 9th Wonder, Khrysis and DJ Flash gave the album a vintage (and at times fittingly melancholy) feel, with Comanche and Mack bouncing purposeful verses back and forth with ease.

Verb T & Illinformed – “Stranded In Foggy Times” (VerbT.BandCamp.Com) – The third and final part of Verb T and Illinformed’s “Foggy” trilogy, this album once again showcased the brilliant writing ability of the UK emcee with the verses here consisting of well-crafted meaningful lyrics, some of which were straight-to-the-point whilst others were open to interpretation. Backed by the quality production of Illinformed, which perfectly complimented Verb’s conversational, laidback rhyme style, T approached this release with all the skill, poise and confidence you’d expect from an artist who has shown nothing but constant elevation throughout his twenty year career.

Kamanchi Sly – “Electrosis 2” (HipHop73.Com) – Pulling on his shelltoes and Nike windbreaker once again, UK legend K-Sly dropped three “Electrosis” albums during 2021, with each one celebrating the sounds and excitement of Hip-Hop in the early-to-mid 1980s with genuine love and authenticity. The Hijack legend sounded as sharp and enthusiastic as ever, clearly reveling in the opportunity to revisit old-school memories of being a young London b-boy four decades ago, whilst still proudly displaying the same competition-crushing attitude that fuelled UK classics such as “Style Wars” and “Hold No Hostage”.

Swank & King Draft – “Long Story Short” (JamlaRecords.Com) – North Carolina’s Swank and King Draft once again proved themselves to be a potent combination on this sophomore album. Slick, witty wordplay glided effortlessly over the smooth, R&B-influenced production from 9th Wonder and Jamla’s Soul Council. At a time when playlists and random shuffle options have contributed to some artists thinking less about an album as a cohesive body of work sequenced to take listeners on a journey, Swank and Draft succeeded in capturing and maintaining a mood throughout “Long Story Short” which gave the album a strong sense of momentum. For that, they get props over here.

Little Simz – “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” (LittleSimz.Com) – The latest long-player from London’s Little Simz was an album of epic proportions. The subject matter. The delivery. The production. The interludes. The cover. The execution. The openness. The honesty. Every element of this album contributed to it being something truly special. Simz confronted a number of issues with a mix of both strength and vulnerability, accompanied by the masterfully diverse musicality of producer Inflo, as listeners were swept along on a wave of emotion that by the end of the album made it feel as if we to had been on our own voyage of self-discovery.

Mach-Hommy – “Pray For Haiti” (Mach-Hommy.Com) – Reunited with Griselda Records’ Westside Gunn and backed by ambitious production from the likes of Camoflauge Monk, Conductor Williams and Nicholas Craven, with “Pray For Haiti” New Jersey’s enigmatic Mach-Hommy delivered a rich tapestry of sound that was packed with elegant arrogance, unabashed individuality and joyful spontaneity. This album felt like the musical equivalent of looking through a kaleidoscope and sounded all the better for it.

Cons – “B.A.D.A.” (Ottoman Elf) – A veteran of the UK Hip-Hop scene, London’s Cons (aka Conspicuous) returned after an eight year hiatus with the hunger and vigour of a new artist, balanced with the benefit of hindsight and a wisdom that can only come from life experience. Reuniting with longstanding collaborators such as Apollo, LG and Evil Ed, Cons dropped street knowledge and elder statesman advice throughout “B.A.D.A.”, proving that if you’re nice on the mic device it really doesn’t matter how much time passes between projects.

Tanya Morgan – “Don and Von” (TanyaMorgan.BandCamp.Com) – Fifteen years since Tanya Morgan’s cult classic debut “Moonlighting” dropped, Von Pea and Donwill added a new release to their already impressive catalogue. Combining everyday life events and social commentary with wit and humour, the duo endeared themselves to listeners as always, coming across as two down-to-earth individuals who it might be cool to spend time kicking it with about music, politics and current events. Production from the likes of Brick Beats, Clint Taylor and Aeon also helped this album standout from the pack.

Fashawn & Sir Veterano – “All Hail The King” (FreshYardRecords.Com) – Fresno’s Fashawn returned to claim his crown with this album skillfully produced by fellow Cali Hip-Hop head Sir Veterano, with features from Elzhi, Aloe Blacc and Planet Asia. Coming in at a concise nine tracks, the West Coast wordsmith didn’t waste a single moment here, tightly packing his verses with fast-paced lyricism which covered hometown pride, building a life with his queen, raising the next generation and, of course, reigning supreme over his kingdom as rap royalty.

Benny Diction – “Facepalm / Brainwave?” (BoomBapPro.Com) – One of the UK’s most consistent artists, any new release from Benny Diction is always a welcome, enjoyable listening experience and this album was no different. Musing on the mundane to the magnificent and everything in-between, the BBP-affiliated emcee’s ability to inject insight and thoughtful observation into his rhymes shone brightly here, with Benny reflecting on the world around him accompanied by top-notch production from the likes of jas0nbeats, Krang and Deltatone.

Joell Ortiz – “Autograph” (JoellOrtiz.BandCamp.Com) – Honesty has been a theme that’s always run throughout the music of Brooklyn’s Joell Ortiz. Good times. Bad times. Successes. Failures. The NY emcee has consistently spoken on both sides of the game, whether discussing street life, personal life or industry life. “Autograph” was another does of up-close-and-uncut reality, with Ortiz recalling his struggle to get put on in the rap game, his life before that time and his life now as he embraces OG status. The detailed, sincere rhymes heard here were complimented by the production of Apollo Brown, The Heatmakerz, Salaam Remi and more.

Ransom & Big Ghost Ltd – “Heavy Is The Head” (Ransom.Com) – Jersey City’s Ransom clearly had one thing on his mind when recording this album and one thing only – lyrical domination. Joined by the likes of Mickey Factz, RJ Payne and Rome Streetz, Ransom fired off barrages of relentlessly aggressive rhymes over Big Ghost’s fittingly raw production. No holds barred. No prisoners taken. This was the sound of an emcee getting medieval on the competition.

Minnesota – “Once Upon A Handshake” (JBS Management) – Producer-slash-emcee Minnesota of the Bronx’s legendary Money Boss crew served up a raw slice of Rotten Apple rap with this solo album. A collection of hardcore beats and rhymes straight from the birthplace of Hip-Hop, this project was full of vivid inner-city imagery, BX swagger and vintage beat science. As KRS-One once said, the Bronx keeps creating it.

Passport Rav – “Sand In My Carry On” (PassportRav.BandCamp.Com) – Brooklyn’s Passport Rav crafted a laidback, reflective masterpiece for his seventh release to have dropped over the last two years. Mixing dense lyricism with breezy hooks and mellow production from Sebb Bash and Wavy Da Ghawd, Rav’s latest opus was mood music of the highest quality that both soothed and stimulated the mind.

Your Old Droog – “Space Bar” (YourOldDroog.BandCamp.Com) – To be honest, NYC’s Droog has been on a winning streak since his debut in 2014, but with his musical output having noticeably increased since 2019 it would be hard for anyone to question both the work ethic and the talent. An artist who has always seemed simultaneously unimpressed and untouched by whatever else is happening in the Hip-Hop world, Droog continued to create in his own zone with this short-but-effective album. The unshakeable confidence and sly humour heard in YOD’s verses was matched here with production from the likes of 88 Keys, Sadhugold and Elaquent.

Uptown XO – “Culture Over Corporate Vol. III” (OneForceUnited.BandCamp.Com) – The third instalment of the Washington D.C. artist’s COC series, this album saw Uptown XO once again teaming-up with fellow Diamond District member Oddisee to deliver another stellar collection of intelligent, topical rhymes and soulful, neck-snapping beats.

Sean Boog – “It’s Midnight Somewhere: Sector 2” (SeanBoog.BandCamp.Com) – The female voice that guided us through A Tribe Called Quest’s classic third album told us that seven times out of ten, we listen to our music at night. With that in mind, this six-track EP from North Carolina’s Sean Boog appeared tailor-made for nocturnal head-nodding. Dallas-based producer Keelon Donnel’s laidback beats were the perfect match for Boog’s “smooth grown-up s**t” and life-affirming rhymes. This was the ideal soundtrack to throw on when the sun had set to help ease the stresses of the daily grind.

Nas – “Magic” (MassAppeal.Com) – A surprise release on Christmas Eve, as expected the third full-length collaboration from Nas and producer Hit-Boy caused chaos in the social media world over the festive season as heads responded to the album with a variety of opinions. Personally, I really liked it. Nothing on “Magic” sounded forced or overthought. The album had a great natural flow to it from beginning to end. Nas sounded inspired and motivated throughout, with Hit-Boy providing arguably the best production he’s supplied the Queensbridge legend with yet. A memorable way to close what was a great year for new Hip-Hop.

100 Favourite Albums & EPs Of 2021 (Part Four) – John Robinson / Backwood Sweetie / Vandal Savage etc.

Check Part One, Part Two & Part Three.

Jyroscope & Montana Macks – “Happy Medium” (Jyroscope.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago’s I.B. Fokuz and Collasoul Structure worked their way through the stresses of daily life on this therapeutic release. Job. Family. Relationships. Social injustice. Health. Finances. Anxiety. Frustration. Doubt. The rhyming duo completely opened up over the five tracks on offer here, giving listeners full access to their personal (and extremely relatable) thoughts. The jazzy, easy-going production supplied by Montana Macks gave the EP a soothing, relaxed vibe, ensuring Jyroscope’s verses had plenty of room to breathe. Easy does it, do it easy.

J Littles & Claude Money – “Godbody Tapestry” (KJamm-BFR.BandCamp.Com) – This blend of cool-but-deadly rhymes and soulful rare groove loops from Nottingham duo J Littles and Claude Money was a supreme display of smoothed-out musical arrogance laced with lyrical gems from two individuals who were clearly meant to build together. Best listened to whilst sat comfortably on a butter-soft leather sofa, blowing smoke, wearing a velour robe and a pair of box-fresh Air Max. Exquisite.

John Robinson – “King JR” (JohnRobinson.BandCamp.Com) – Sounding as fresh and enthusiastic in 2021 as he did when debuting as a member of Scienz Of Life back in the mid-90s, NY-raised emcee John Robinson called on the production talents of West Coast favourite Blu for this stimulating collection of thoughtful wordplay and dynamic beats. Music with substance.

Shortie No Mass – “here goes nothing.” (ShortieNoMass.BandCamp.Com) – Having first made a name for herself in the 90s working with the likes of De La Soul and The Roots, Boston-born, Philly-based artist Shortie No Mass made a welcome return to the mic after a long hiatus and sounded like she’d never been away. Her lively, infectious flow and straight-to-the-point rhymes sat comfortably here over production from Da Beatminerz, J-Zone and Shortie’s son Jay Law.

DJ Cosm – “Natural Within” (MakeBelieveHipHop.BandCamp.Com) – DJ Cosm of Canada’s Dragon Fli Empire pulled together a varied selection of underground talent for this follow-up to his 2011 release “Time And Space”, with Brand Nubian’s Sadat X, Brown Bag Money’s Daniel Son and Bankai Fam’s Skanks The Rap Martyr all making stellar appearances.

Al-J & Kane Major – “Blak To The Old School” (KaneMajor.BandCamp.Com) – Boston emcee Al-J (of Blak Madeen) painted vivid lyrical pictures of his experiences growing up in the 80s on this Kane Major-produced album. Covering everything from watching Saturday morning cartoons and first hearing Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five to navigating his way through the crack era, Al-J’s personal memories were further brought to life by the authentic electro-influenced sounds of Major’s production. A sonic blast of back to the future flavour.

Dagha – “D-A To The G” (Dagha.BandCamp.Com) – With this being his first release since 2014, it was apparent even before the end of the first track that Boston’s Dagha was intending on making-up for lost time with this album. No distractions. No gimmicks. “D-A To The G” was all about skills. Dagha tore through the beats of collaborator DJ Real with his confident delivery and clever wordplay, keeping it funky throughout with flows for days.

The Good People – “The Greater Good” (TheGoodPeople.BandCamp.Com) – Longstanding NY duo Emskee and Saint came correct with yet another collection of quality true-school beats and rhymes, offering lyrical food for thought and warm, melodic production throughout. Joined by the likes of Lords Of The Underground, Craig G and Shabaam Sahdeeq, “The Greater Good” was the sound of artists really doing it for the culture.

Apollo Brown & Stalley – “Blacklight” (ApolloBrown360.BandCamp.Com) – Detroit producer Apollo Brown has built a career on bringing the best out of the emcees he chooses to collaborate with. From Boog Brown and OC to Skyzoo and Che Noir, Apollo’s brand of soulful boom-bap has inspired some brilliant performances from a variety of lyricists. “Blacklight” continued that trend. Formerly signed to Rick Ross’s Maybach Music label, Ohio’s Stalley sounded totally at home over Brown’s mellow thump, spitting down-to-earth, street-smart verses that stayed with you long after the music stopped.

Wish Master x Illinformed – “Cold Harbour Tales” (WishMaster.BandCamp.Com) – Bristol’s Wish Master has consistently sharpened his skills with each release he’s dropped over the last few years. This full-length collaboration with producer Illinformed saw Wish Master finding an ideal musical partner, with crisp beats and atmospherics samples providing the perfect backdrop for the UK lyricist’s raw wit and life lessons.

Breeze Brewin – “Hindsight” (Juggaknots.BandCamp.Com) – Some people are just born to rhyme. It’s as simple as that. NYC’s Breeze Brewin is one such individual. Twenty-five years after debuting as a member of The Juggaknots with a cult classic release on Bobbito’s Fondle ‘Em label, Breeze proved that his underground legend status is still firmly intact with the release of this brilliant album. Backed by production from the likes of Sebb Bash, Marco Polo and DJ Spinna, the BX emcee covered a lot of lyrical ground here, delivering every verse with charisma, skill and originality.

Planet Asia x Evidence – “Rule Of Thirds” (BiggerPictureRecordings.Com) – West Coast giants Planet Asia and Evidence had worked together before this release earlier in their respective careers. But to hear the pair come together in 2021 having long established themselves as two of the most consistent artists the game has seen was a beautiful thing. Asia’s effortlessly dope flow swaggered over the stripped-down production supplied by Evidence, lyrically blending the fly and the righteous as always, with Domo Genesis, Milano Constantine and Rome Streetz offering verbal support.

Ea$y Money x Nozs – “2090” (STDaSquad.BandCamp.Com) – 2021 was a productive year for Massachusetts-based microphone fiend Ea$y Money, with his name gracing the cover of a handful of projects during the twelve month period. Whilst quality control was high on all of those releases, this six-track EP with New England producer Nozs was the standout for me. Street-smart rhymes were paired here with boom-bap beats that were full of character, resulting in a memorable, concise release. Also, props to Ea$y Money for the respectful nod to the great Grand Puba with the EP’s cover art.

Backwood Sweetie – “Christina Shauntay” (BackwoodSweetie.BandCamp.Com) – As a fan of Hip-Hop there’s nothing better than the moment you hear an artist for the first time whose talent immediately captures your attention and has you sitting with your ear pressed against the speaker hanging off every word being said. In 2021, Maryland’s Backwood Sweetie was one of those artists. Rhyming with passion and purpose over a well-chosen selection of beats from a variety of producers, Sweetie had a lot to say as she touched on a number of topics, including Black pride, white supremacy, police brutality and social injustice. Urgent, thought-provoking Hip-Hop.

Beneficence & Confidence – “Stellar Mind” (IllAdrenalineRecords.Com) – A no-nonsense collection of heavyweight head-nodding Hip-Hop, New Jersey’s Beneficence and Boston’s Confidence made a great team here, celebrating the essence of golden-era beats and rhymes whilst injecting their own personalities into the music. A long line of guest artists also complimented the album’s true-school vibe, including El Da Sensei, Craig G and Chubb Rock.

Ka – “A Martyr’s Reward” (BrownsvilleKa.Com) – At this point, highlighting Ka’s incredible lyrical ability just feels like stating the obvious. The Brooklyn emcee is a truly unique artist and for some time his only real competition has been himself, with each of his releases setting the bar even higher for what we can expect to come from his pen. The largely self-produced “A Martyr’s Reward” was another deep dive into Ka’s life experiences, his thoughts, his hopes and his regrets. This was the work of a genuine poet containing pain and peace in equal measures.

Kaimbr & Sean Born – “Nino Green” (NinoGreen7.BandCamp.Com) – A potent mixture of vividly raw rhymes laced with street-smart swagger and intoxicating production full of uncut vintage soul flavour, this “New Jack City”-influenced collaboration from longstanding Maryland artists Kaimbr and Sean Born was as fly as a 1988 Dapper Dan sweatsuit with a matching Kangol. Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes. I. Am.

Heist Life – “Heist New York” (HeistLife.BandCamp.Com) – Ty Da Dale, Sauce Heist and Baby Maine repped for the Rotten Apple with pride on this short-but-effective EP, evoking images of rattling subway trains, street-corner ciphers and scuffed Timberlands over production from Spanish Ran, Nes and Wavy Da Ghawd.

Vandal Savage & Sonnyjim – “Sauvage” (IAmVandalSavage.BandCamp.Com) – Nottingham’s very own Bic Master Vandal Savage leaned heavily into the luxury loops supplied by Sonnyjim throughout this release, with his conversational delivery overflowing with lyrical jewels, life observations and witty punchlines. With appearances from Da Flyy Hooligan, Juga-Naut and Sonnyjim himself adding further verbal weight to the project. “Sauvage” was a laidback lesson in how to craft understated hardcore Hip-Hop.

N.R.F.S. – “N.R.F.S.” (NRFS.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago’s Neak, Rashid Hadee, F.A.B.L.E. and Since9ine6ix joined forces on this impressive collabo album as “uncrowned kings on the underground sharing thrones”, with all four artists bringing their best to the table, complimenting each other’s styles and putting together a potent showcase of undeniable Windy City talent.

Check Part Five here.

100 Favourite Albums & EPs Of 2021 (Part Three) – Evidence / Children Of Zeus / Arrested Development etc.

Check Part One and Part Two.

Ca$ablanca x The Mali Empire – “Xtreme Xcellence” (Casablanca92fs.BandCamp.Com) – Dallas, Texas-based emcee Ca$ablanca has been dropping gems for a number of years now, but this Mali Empire-produced album may just have been his finest moment yet. Featuring the likes of Ray Vendetta, YNX716 and Nowaah The Flood, “Xtreme Xcellence” was packed with hard-hitting, precise lyricism delivered over a sublime selection of sample-driven tracks.

AZ – “Doe Or Die II” (QuietMoneyDirect.Com) – The idea of the ‘sequel album’ has become something of a cliché amongst golden-era rap artists. Some have seen the light of day. Some have remained unexecuted concepts destined only to be repeatedly mentioned during interviews. Some have succeeded. Some have failed. Thankfully, Brooklyn’s ever-consistent AZ managed to live up to the hype surrounding this follow-up to his 1995 debut, matching his slick, street-savvy verses with an experienced perspective and smoothed-out production from the likes of Bink!, Baby Paul and Pete Rock.

Milano x Showbiz – “Eating But Still Hungry” (MilanoxShowbiz.BandCamp.Com) – Any release coming from the Diggin’ In The Crates camp brings with it a high level of expectation from fans. Understandably, there’s a certain level of quality expected from members of the crew who really did it for the culture and became one of the most dominant forces in East Coast Hip-Hop. Milano and Showbiz rose to that challenge in no uncertain terms on this album packed with swaggering Rotten Apple attitude, skills sharpened in unforgiving street-corner ciphers and dope, dusty-fingered beats.

Kev Brown & J Scienide – “Stray From The Pack” (KevBrown.BandCamp.Com) – Following up their impressive 2019 collaboration “Drum Machine Tape Cassette”, DMV duo Kev Brown and J Scienide offered up another collection of loose, spontaneous sounding beats and rhymes inspired by both a love of the art and the satisfaction of making the competition feel inadequate. B-boy basement flavour.

The Primeridian & Rashid Hadee – “Prime Diesel” (RashidHadee.BandCamp.Com) – A product of Chicago’s rich underground scene, this collaboration between veteran duo The Primeridian and fellow Windy City representative Rashid Hadee was a shining example of top-tier beat science and carefully crafted lyricism. With additional production from Tall Black Guy and featured artists such as Thaione Davis, Pugs Atomz and Philmore Greene, this album captured a lot of talent at their very best.

Flashius Clayton x Jster – “The Dust Diary” (25NoteDope.BandCamp.Com) – A naturally gifted emcee, Cali’s Flashius Clayton was firing on all cylinders here, with his usual high-standard of lyrical expertise accompanied by the dark, hypnotic beats of West Coast producer Jster. An atmospheric dose of rough, rugged and raw Hip-Hop. As Doug E. Fresh once said, play this only at night.

Khrysis – “The Hour Of Khrysis” (JamlaRecords.Com) – Featuring a diverse selection of artists, from golden-era greats De La Soul and Hiero legend Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, to Compton’s Problem and Jamla Records own Reuben Vincent, this long-awaited album from Away Team / Soul Council producer Khrysis was firmly held together by the North Carolina music man’s sonic creativity. Drawing the most out of his list of collaborators thanks to the masterful, carefully constructed soundscapes on offer, Khrysis succeeded in stamping his own personality all over this release, complimenting the variety of emcees and vocalists included here rather than being overshadowed by them.

Vic Spencer – “Legend Laws Of Power” (SupaSounds.BandCamp.Com) – The last few years has been a relentless period of productivity for Chicago’s Vic Spencer, with the talented emcee dropping four albums in 2021 alone. “Legend Laws Of Power” found Spencer teaming-up with Chi-town producer Original Super Legend, delivering his barbed punchlines over strong beats, making it abundantly clear how unimpressed he’s been with the so-called opposition.

Nas – “King’s Disease II” (MassAppeal.Com) – Aside from a few tracks, I wasn’t a big fan of the first “King’s Disease” album. I just didn’t connect with it. This follow-up, however, prompted a totally different reaction. Aside from a couple of misplaced tracks I felt this was an inspired piece of work, with Nas and Hit-Boy really hitting their stride as a creative partnership. The Queensbridge legend sounded relaxed and focused here, embracing his elder statesman status and reminiscing on the experiences that shaped him, whilst still clearly looking towards the future.

L-Biz & Castle Money Beats – “The Cool Table LP” (IStayBizzy.Com) – Backed by the solid, melodic production of California’s Castle Money Beats, Buffalo, NY’s L-Biz encouraged artists and listeners alike not to conform and follow trends in order to have a place at “the cool table”, but instead walk your own path and carve out your own niche as an individual. Head-nodding Hip-Hop that was guaranteed to have a positive impact on your confidence levels and self-esteem.

Arrested Development – “For The FKN Love” (OfficialArrestedDevelopment.BandCamp.Com) – Powerful. Uplifting. Needed. Just a few of the words that could be used to describe this epic album from the longstanding Arrested Development crew. Largely produced by the UK’s Configa, who matched Speech’s motivational verses with some rousing work behind the boards, this was ultimately a positive album with a realistic outlook that was further enhanced by appearances from the likes of Masta Ace, Freddie Foxxx and Big Daddy Kane. Music to feed your Hip-Hop soul in today’s unsettled times.

DJ Nappa – “Redress” (DJNappa.BandCamp.Com) – A veteran of the UK Hip-Hop scene, Phi-Life Cypher’s Nappa dropped a stellar instrumental release for the We Stay True label which found the Luton-based producer upping the creative ante and moving in potentially unexpected directions, whilst remaining clear about his artistic vision at all-times. Steering away from typical boom-bap territory, “Redress” encapsulated a variety of styles, whilst capturing Nappa’s genuine passion for the art of making music.

Evidence – “Unlearning Vol. 1” (MisterEvidence.BandCamp.Com) – As a fan, the growth and evolution shown by West Coast emcee-slash-producer Evidence over the years has been a joy to behold (and hear). From his keep-it-underground approach in the 90s as a member of Dilated Peoples, to the more personal content of his solo albums, through to his instrumental work, Evidence has consistently moved forward whilst remaining rooted in his Hip-Hop foundations. “Unlearning Vol. 1” represented yet another important step in the right direction, with Evidence dropping timely lyrical gems over carefully selected production from the likes of The Alchemist, Nottz and Daringer.

Children Of Zeus – “Balance” (ChildrenOfZeus.BandCamp.Com) – To describe this sophomore album from Manchester’s Children Of Zeus as being a masterpiece would definitely be no overstatement. Having already appeared to have perfected their blend of soul and Hip-Hop on previous releases, Konny Kon and Tyler Daley refined their sonic aesthetic even further on “Balance”, reaching higher heights of creative perfection that transcended typical categorization. This was spiritual music that existed in its own unique time and place.

Awon & Phoniks – “Nothing Less” (AwonAndPhoniks.Com) – A partnership whose chemistry clearly points to them being destined to make music together, Virginia / Maine duo Awon & Phoniks came correct once again on their fourth long-player, effortlessly bringing together personal, socially-aware rhymes and strong production packed with sublime soul and jazz samples.

Guilty Simpson & Gensu Dean – “EGO” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com) – Detroit’s Guilty Simpson has built a career on straight-no-chaser verses full of been-there-done-that life observations and cautionary street knowledge. Simpson offered more of the same on this collaboration with esteemed producer Gensu Dean, who provided the Motor City emcee with a raw, stripped-down collection of beats over which to reassert his position in the rap game.

Confucius MC – “Somewhere” (YNRProductions.BandCamp.Com) – London’s Confucius MC really took listeners on a lyrical journey throughout this album. Where was the destination? Well, that was largely down to your interpretation of the cerebral rhymes on offer here, which contained splashes of nostalgia, present day commentary and depictions of an uncertain future. The jazz-influenced production of France’s Keor Meteor fully complimented the UK emcee’s musings, with appearances from the likes of Jehst, Sonnyjim and Verbz adding to the overall feel of the album.

El Da Sensei & Jake Palumbo – “Solving Cases” (SpaceLABRecordings.BandCamp.Com) – Buoyed by a real sense of momentum and energy, this collaboration between Artifacts legend El Da Sensei and NY’s Jake Palumbo was full of upbeat joints powered by punchy, drum-heavy production and true-school lyricism. With appearances from Sadat X, John Robinson and Shabaam Sahdeeq, this album had the feel of a lively cipher session at times, with everyone involved clearly on a mission to celebrate Hip-Hop.

Ambassador Rick – “The Tape Nobody Made” (TheOpioidEra.BandCamp.Com) – One-third of Virginia’s Opioid Era crew, Ambassador Rick continued the group’s tradition of crafting uncompromising, emotionally-charged street music on this solo release. Bridging the gap between raw and righteous, Rick combined verbal grit with moments of genuine reflection, all delivered over vintage soul samples and smooth loops.

Snaggapuss & Ramzee – “Bronx Dundee” (RapRecordsAU.BandCamp.Com) – Veteran NY emcee Snaggapuss joined forces with Australian producer Ramzee for this hardcore-yet-entertaining album, with the former member of Doo Wop’s Bounce Squad utilising his inimitable flow to deliver punchline-heavy rhymes laced with humour over satisfyingly sparse, stripped-down beats.

Part Four coming soon.

100 Favourite Albums & EPs Of 2021 (Part Two) – Eternia & Rel McCoy / Lloyd Luther / Edo.G & Insight Innovates etc.

Check Part One here.

Eternia & Rel McCoy – “FREE” (Eternia.BandCamp.Com) – Over ten years since the release of her last full-length album, Canada’s Eternia returned with this emotionally-charged project produced by the talented Rel McCoy. Having never been afraid to share her thoughts and feelings through her music, this release found Eternia as potent on the mic as ever but drawing on a new set of life experiences for inspiration this time around, including marriage and motherhood. A lot might have changed both globally and personally since her last musical endeavour, but “FREE” demonstrated that Eternia is still more than capable of making music that connects with listeners in a meaningful way.

T.R.A.C. & Maverick Soul – “Sonically Speaking” (AmpleAptitude.BandCamp.Com) – A fruitful collaboration between veteran NY emcee T.R.A.C. and Connecticut producer Maverick Soul, this album found the pair effortlessly blending together the sounds of Hip-Hop and Drum & Bass, with satisfyingly vibrant results. Whether backed by the warm bounce of jazz-influenced beats or the futuristic flavour of fast-paced electronic grooves, the sincere, uplifting rhymes of T.R.A.C. hit their target every time.

Opal-Kenobi – “Synapse Therapy” (GrandChoiceRecords.BandCamp.Com) – Described by Kenobi himself as “an exercise in healing”, this thoroughly engrossing EP from the Massachusetts-based lyricist was packed with expertly crafted verses that required you to pull up a chair, sit down and pay full attention. A maze-like journey through Opal’s mindstate set to a soundtrack of mellow, melodic production from the likes of Jaisu, DJ Manipulator and Brainorchestra, this was music made to accompany contemplation.

Five Steez & SonoTWS – “Quietude” (FiveSteez.BandCamp.Com) – Produced by Brazil’s SonoTWS, this album from Jamaica’s Five Steez was impressive on all levels, with the talented wordsmith delivering engaging rhymes full of personal experience, social commentary and emcee bravado over superb beats. The Kingston emcee has spent the last decade dropping music laced with positive vibes and that approach continued on this release, but the message felt more direct and tangible this time around. Perhaps that was Steez’s intention? Or maybe the music just hit me differently considering the circumstances we’ve all been living under during the past two years? Either way, “Quietude” possessed an overall tone that touched the mind, body and soul.

Vakill – “God’s G.U.N.S.” (PanikOnTheBeat.Com) – Chicago’s Vakill has been carrying out lyrical surgery since the 90s with laser-like precision. His first release for a decade, this seven-track EP was proof that time hasn’t diminished his formidable skills, with the rhymes contained here remaining as sharp as ever. Able to deftly move from vivid descriptions of emcee dominance to stark social observations, Vakill verbally pummeled beats supplied by Memo, Nottz, Panik and SC, reasserting his positon as one of the Windy City’s greats in the process.

Bash Brothers – “Bloodsport Champions” (Mallz.BandCamp.Com) – Partly inspired by the rowdy, larger-than-life antics of 80s / 90s wrestling, the North Carolina trio of Mallz, Precyce Politix and DJ Sharp Cuts launched themselves off the top rope and crash-landed onto their musical opponents throughout this album, pinning them to the mat with a combination of pounding beats and tag-team verses packed with aggressive wordplay and verbal beat-downs. Rap royal rumble vibes in full effect.

Pitch 92 – “Intervals” (HighFocus.Com) – A talented producer with a deft touch behind the boards, a good ear for quality samples and a clear understanding that sometimes less is more, Manchester’s Pitch 92 once again showcased his impressive sonic skills on his second full-length release for the High Focus imprint. Supported by a collective of top-tier emcees, including Jehst, Verb T and Lord Apex, it was Pitch’s individual brand of beat science that remained the focal point here, with the album possessing a spontaneous, organic feel that pushed it far beyond simply being a collection of stand alone tracks.

Dell-P – “We Owe The World” (Dell-P.BandCamp.Com) – Philadelphia’s irrepressible Dell-P has been consistently dropping quality material for years now, with this latest album finding the 215 representative delivering his usual brand of intelligent, thought-provoking lyricism over the soul-drenched, true-school production of Donnie Boy.

1773 – “As Above” (1773Live.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago duo Wisdm Uno and Jay Nagoma delivered relatable, down-to-earth rhymes on this standout Joe Tyse-produced album. Whether speaking on life, family or Hip-Hop, Wisdm and Jay maintained a laidback, familiar tone throughout this release, reducing the gap between listener and artist in the process, making it feel like you were being welcomed into a warm but honest conversation between friends.

Bloo & Spanish Ran – “Nowhere Bloo” (SpanishRan1.BandCamp.Com) – Further solidifying their reputation as one of the tightest emcee / producer pairings to have emerged in recent times, this latest collaborative release from Bronx duo Bloo and Spanish Ran was another strong example of their undeniable chemistry. Swaggering, punchline-packed rhymes from Bloo flowed effortlessly over the inspired sample choices of Ran, resulting in memorable music which demanded (and deserved) to be revisited.

Fatt Father – “Soccer Dad” (FattFather.BandCamp.Com) – Detroit’s Fatt Father proved with this album that he’ll crush the ego of your favourite rapper, hit the studio to record some thunderous bangers, handle any pressing street politics, and still get his son to sports practice on time. Produced by fellow Motor City Hip-Hop head Foul Mouth, “Soccer Dad” was a potent combination of speaker-crunching beats and supremely confident rhymes.

Blak Madeen – “Let The Good Get Even” (BlakMadeen.BandCamp.Com) – The raw-but-righteous rhymes of Boston duo Al-J and Yusuf were bolstered here by the adrenaline-rush production of Public Enemy affiliate C-Doc, resulting in an album that made your head nod as much as it sparked your third-eye. With guest features from the likes of Freeway, Tragedy and Chuck D, this was an energetic and captivating explosion of Hip-Hop excellence.

Planet Asia – “Block Shaman” (TuffKongRecords.Com) – One of a handful of projects Planet Asia dropped during 2021, the West Coast master craftsman teamed-up with talented production duo DirtyDiggs for this relentless barrage of verbal science, trading rhymes with the likes of Rome Streetz, Flashius Clayton and Defari, further cementing his reputation as one of the rap game’s most consistent emcees in the process.

Isatta Sheriff – “A Kind Of Biography” (IsattaSheriff.BandCamp.Com) – An ambitious self-produced project merging Hip-Hop and grime influences with live instrumentation, this four-track release from East London’s Isatta Sheriff covered a lot of creative ground. A sonic nod to the area of the UK’s capital that Isatta calls home, the emcee’s lively verses switched quickly and effortlessly here from insightful social commentary to introspective nostalgia, all brilliantly matched with standout musicianship and uplifting vibes.

Blaq Herman – “The Return Of Blaq Herman” (BlaqHerman.BandCamp.Com) – South Carolina’s Kimani Robinson took on the character of a resurrected 1940s magician named Blaq Herman (inspired by the real life Black Herman) for this short-but-entertaining concept-based EP, swapping his wand for the microphone in an attempt to carve out a new modern-day career for himself. Purposely random and playfully intriguing, this release made no sense and absolute sense all at the same time.

Lloyd Luther – “Re Pro Gram” (LloydLuther.BandCamp.Com) – An emcee on a mission to offer some balance in the world of rap, Leicester’s Lloyd Luther rhymed with the drive and focus of an artist with a point to prove throughout this release. Offering his thoughts on what it means to be Black in Britain, Luther touched on a variety of topics here, including structural racism, politics and a short-sighted music industry. Powerful material that was talking loud and saying something.

Tarik Robinson – “Rotations” (MakeBelieveHipHop.BandCamp.Com) – Canada’s Tarik Robinson (aka Teekay of Dragon Fli Empire) delivered a life-affirming selection of soulful, self-produced cuts on this superb solo album. Honest and compelling, Robinson succeeded in providing an almost spiritual experience which couldn’t help but motivate those of us listening as we all continued with our attempts to find a way through the labyrinth of everyday living.

Ty Farris x Machacha – “Dark Nights & D Fitteds” (CPHCrates.Com) – Hard-knock rhymes delivered with insight and compassion, Detroit’s Ty Farris spoke with a voice of experience and offered street narratives from a well-rounded perspective throughout this album, showing all sides of the game over beats provided by Denmark’s Machacha.

Edo.G & Insight Innovates – “Edo.G & Insight Innovates” (BrickRecords.Com) – Boston greats Edo.G and Insight joined forces on this memorable album, offering a nod of respect to the 80s / 90s golden-era they came up in, whilst very much remaining in the present day in terms of their lyrical content and subject matter. Forward-thinking, head-nodding Hip-Hop from two true masters of the culture.

Wize King – “Affirmations” (WizeKing.BandCamp.Com) – Seattle’s Wize King sought to navigate the everyday struggle by keeping his third-eye wide open and hoped to move listeners to do the same with this quality EP, offering meditative rhymes, stimulating energy and smooth, laidback production throughout.

Check Part Three here.

100 Favourite Albums & EPs Of 2021 (Part One) – Juga-Naut & Giallo Point / Genesis Elijah / Eddie Kaine etc.

It’s that time again. Hard to believe that 2021 has ended already. The last twelve months seemed to pass by at a lightning pace and as I approach my late-forties I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

That said, it was another difficult year for most, regardless of how fast the days and weeks may or may not have felt like they were moving. But music remained an essential escape for many of us. Listening to it. Talking about it. Making it. Writing about it. Remembering it. Arguing about it. Loving it.

Rhythm is life, as the great philosopher Warren G once said, and life is rhythm.

As I post the five installments of my 2021 list over the coming week, there will, of course, be releases missing that people may have expected or hoped to see. If an album or EP hasn’t been included, that doesn’t automatically mean I didn’t like it. It could just mean I didn’t like it as much as everything else I have included. In today’s social media-driven world, it can often feel like it’s all or nothing when discussing music (or anything for that matter). If you don’t love an album or think it’s an instant classic, that must mean you hate it or think it’s worthless. The middle-ground in-between where constructive debate occurs appears to be shrinking by the day. But I digress.

As always, this round-up celebrates the Hip-Hop I connected with most over the past twelve months. It contains the Hip-Hop I revisited most throughout the year. It shines a light on the Hip-Hop I enjoyed most in 2021.

So, let’s set if off…

Juga-Naut & Giallo Point – “Smoke Filled Room” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com) – Having already worked together on 2019’s sterling effort “Back To The Grill Again”, expectations were understandably high for the second full-length collaborative project to come from the UK’s Juga-Naut and Giallo Point, with the finished product finding the pair further cementing their reputations as masters of their respective crafts. An exquisite combination of top-tier lyricism and perfectly selected sample-based production, this album brilliantly showcased Juga-Naut’s natural talent for penning intricate verses packed with multiple layers that were a joy to follow, unravel, rewind and listen to again and again.

Skyzoo – “All The Brilliant Things” (MMG-Skyzoo.BandCamp.Com) – Another year passed by and NYC’s Skyzoo added yet another masterpiece to his already stellar catalogue. At this point in his career, Skyzoo’s ability to make his lyrical brilliance appear effortless should never stop us from remembering just how much work no doubt goes into every bar, every line and every verse that he commits to the pages of his rhyme pad. Like many of Skyzoo’s previous releases, this was a concept-driven project which found the talented emcee commenting on the gentrification of his beloved Brooklyn over an impeccable selection of jazz-infused beats from the likes of Kenny Keys, MarcNfinit and Tuamie. Writing with incredible attention to detail as always, Skyzoo pulled listeners into his world, placing us all amongst the sights, sounds and experiences of past, present and future New York.

IAMGAWD & Doc Da Mindbenda – “Hell’s Angels & Heaven’s Demons” (GawdsGift.BandCamp.Com) – Being able to create meaningful art out of the uglier aspects of life is a unique skill and one clearly shared by Chicago partnership IAMGAWD and Doc Da Mindbenda, as demonstrated on this captivating album. A quality example of the greatness that can be achieved when an emcee and producer share undeniable creative chemistry, GAWD’s commanding flow was matched perfectly here with Doc’s robust beats. Touching on a variety of topics, including the vicious cycle of gang life, structural racism and street politics, this album offered a powerful and sobering dose of reality.

Funky DL – “Beautiful Soul” (FunkyDL.BandCamp.Com) – Paying tribute to the soul music of the 60s and 70s in clever and subtle ways, this 21st (!!!) album from the UK’s Funky DL was an ambitious and expertly executed project. Accompanied by the organic sound of live musicians, DL delivered personal, heartfelt rhymes with sincerity and feeling, resulting in an album that was both inspiring and uplifting. A much needed ray of musical light.

Sons Phonetic – “Nakatomi” (SonsPhonetic.BandCamp.Com) – Having spent the last decade consistently delivering their own unique brand of quality Hip-Hop, Ireland’s mighty Sons Phonetic crew dropped their new long-awaited album “Nakatomi”, a skilful combination of sublime, sample-based production and expertly penned verses full of meaningful depth and striking imagery. A remarkable release.

Genesis Elijah – “A Prophet In His Hometown…” (GenesisElijah.BandCamp.Com) – A lot of artists will talk about keeping it real, but how real are they really keeping it? Are they talking about their struggles, emotions and mistakes? Are they letting you hear their true feelings through music? Are they being genuine? Watford-based emcee Genesis Elijah did all of the above throughout this striking collection of beats and rhymes. We cheered when Genesis spoke on his successes and cared when he touched on his personal battles. Backed by unique production from Pastor Dutchie and Shapes that blurred lines between genres, Elijah stood loud and proud throughout “A Prophet…”, rightfully staking his claim as one of the UK’s finest lyricists.

Codenine – “LVNDR” (TragicAlliesCodenine.BandCamp.Com) – Mood music of the highest quality, this latest album from Tragic Allies member Codenine was a towering creative triumph, blending sharp lyrical darts with smooth, emotive production from the likes of Chronic Tone and Karnate, lending the release a cinematic, soundtrack-like feel. This wasn’t an album you could (or should) just dip in and out of. It was a body of work that deserved to be listened to in its entirety in order to be fully appreciated.

TrueMendous – “Misdiagnosis Of Chyvonne Johnson” (TrueMendous.BandCamp.Com) – Personality. Flow. Ingenuity. Three things you’re guaranteed to hear on any release from Birmingham emcee TrueMendous. Having signed with the High Focus label in 2020 and subsequently dropping the well-received “HUH?” EP, this album release for the imprint found the UK talent in full artistic flight, clearly seeing every moment here as an opportunity to revel in her own individuality as she touched on relationships, self-image and personal history, accompanied by diverse and inventive production.

Tall Black Guy & Ozay Moore – “Of Process And Progression” (TallBlackGuy.BandCamp.Com) – A celebratory album with a message, Tall Black Guy and Ozay Moore combined their individual expertise and crafted something truly special here. Whilst the hype sticker on the front of this album boasted of the duo being here to “revive the pulse of Hip-Hop’s golden-era”, that statement only told half the story. Far from simply being a collection of predictable throwback tracks full of 90s nostalgia, this was a vibrant, inspirational release that respectfully nodded toward its back-in-the-day influences, yet very much remained a soundtrack made for the present day.

Fresh Daily – “The Quiet Life 2” (HighWaterMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Raised in Brooklyn, now residing in Oakland, Fresh Daily came correct on his long-awaited sequel album “The Quiet Life 2”, an absolutely brilliant release which found the talented artist matching his observational rhymes and conversational flow with warm, melodic production from the likes of Chris Keys, Lakim, Suff Daddy and more.

Jazz Spastiks – “Camera Of Sound” (JazzSpastiks.BandCamp.Com) – Scotland’s Jazz Spastiks never fail to operate at the top of their game whenever it’s time for the gifted production duo to bless us with a new release. This latest album from Coconut Delight and Mr Manyana featured a who’s who of underground heavyweights taking full advantage of the pair’s full-bodied beats. Wee Bee Foolish, Artifacts, Soundsci and more stepped up with their best microphone techniques, ensuring this album had maximum replay value.


Prox Centauri – “Mending What’s Broken: Odes For Stalwart Days & Fearless Nights” (ProxCentauri.BandCamp.Com) – Flint, Michigan’s Prox Centauri showcased his talent for penning sincere, life-affirming rhymes on this thoroughly engaging album release. Containing some of the best lyricism you were likely to have heard in 2021, Centauri floated above the clouds as he explored the meaning of the human experience via thoughts on spirituality, consciousness and community.

Wavy Da Ghawd – “Ghawd’s Eden” (WavyDaGhawd.BandCamp.Com) – Having worked with the likes of Rome Streetz, Bub Rock and Sauce Heist in recent years, Brooklyn-based producer Wavy Da Ghawd entered 2021 already known for delivering quality soundscapes. This album further cemented the NY music man’s reputation for stellar work behind the boards, with underground favourites such as Planet Asia, Eddie Kaine and Ty Farris all eager to spit over one of Wavy’s carefully selected loops. Producer-based albums can sometimes sound disjointed, but the dusty-fingered basement vibe running throughout “Ghawd’s Eden” ensured it stood out as a cohesive collection with plenty of musical character.


Lewis Parker – “Frequency Of Perception” (LewisParker.BandCamp.Com) – A product of an era in Hip-Hop when skills were really all that mattered, it’s easy to imagine UK producer-on-the-mic Lewis Parker stood in a b-boy stance next to his trusty SP1200 whenever you listen to the self-proclaimed Man With The Golden Sound. A true master (you can check his credentials), Parker’s ability to craft timeless, sample-based music has only become more refined over the years, with “Frequency Of Perception” proudly standing as an example of what can be achieved when a veteran artist is still passionate and enthusiastic about their craft.

Rita J – “The High Priestess” (RitaJ.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago’s Rita J made a welcome return to the rap game with this superb album which found the skilled emcee being joined by fellow Windy City representatives Neak (producer) and Rashid Hadee (executive producer), who both also added their lyrical talents to the mix. Full of potent, thoughtful rhymes laced with a strong b-girl attitude and delivered over quality beats, “The High Priestess” stood out as a refreshing listening experience which fully tapped into the potential Hip-Hop has to touch the soul.


Let The Dirt Say Amen – “God Hates Gucci” (LetTheDirtSayAmen.BandCamp.Com) – Washington DC’s Let The Dirt Say Amen (aka Tim Hicks of The Cornel West Theory) delivered one of the most powerful albums of 2021, offering a thought-provoking critique of present-day Hip-Hop that came from a place of genuine love. Inspired by a time when Hip-Hop wasn’t just entertainment, but an artform that also attempted to motivate, inspire and inform its listeners, Let The Dirt Say Amen encouraged us all to do better, to be better and to treat this incredible culture with the respect it deserves.

Charlie K – “Sunshine Philadelphia: The God Hour” (CharlieK1.BandCamp.Com) – Accomplished Philly emcee Charlie K filled his well-crafted verses with spirituality, social commentary and poignant observations on this concise EP, backed by soulful production from the likes of Lim0, Kulture, DviousMindz and more.

Twizzy – “Crabs In A Bucket” (Twizzy.BandCamp.Com) – With a wink and a knowing smile, Bristol’s Twizzy offered his thoughts on the world around us and his place in it throughout this thoroughly enjoyable Chillman-produced album. Highlighting the growth that can come from personal struggle, as well as the importance of not allowing the matrix of daily life to distract you from what really matters, Twizzy focused on silver linings here rather than the dark clouds we all find ourselves under sometimes.

Eddie Kaine – “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” (BigGhostLimited.BandCamp.Com / 2021) – For me, what elevates a good emcee to a standout emcee isn’t just their ability to put words together, but whether an artist can deliver those words in such a way that makes you genuinely feel them as a listener? A rapper can be technically gifted, but if the verses in an artist’s book of rhymes don’t come alive with character and emotion once they’re in front of a microphone, is it really worth it? Whether speaking on personal hardships, painting images of Crooklyn life, or simply stating his lyrical prowess, NYC’s Eddie Kaine made you feel his bars, accompanied by the wailing soul samples of the always impressive Big Ghost Ltd.

Philmore Greene – “Knowledge And Power” (PhilmoreGreene.BandCamp.Com) – On this album, Chicago’s Philmore Greene delivered a soul-stirring collection of honest, contemplative rhymes rooted in the reality of his Windy City life experiences whilst reaching towards a better future. Produced by fellow Chi-town representative Rashid Hadee with features from Natasha Robinson, Skyzoo and Vic Spencer, “Knowledge And Power” lived up to its title with Greene possessing both in abundance.

Check Part Two here.

Album Review – DJ Nappa

DJ Nappa

“Redress”

(WeStayTrue.BandCamp.Com)

DJ Nappa is a name that really should need no introduction. A veteran of the UK Hip-Hop scene, the Luton-based producer first caught the attention of many heads back in the late 90s as the sonic backbone of the mighty Phi-Life Cypher crew, with the group’s debut “Baddest Man EP” release quickly becoming a cult classic, due in part to Nappa’s accomplished, sample-based beats. Just from hearing that initial PLC white label back in 1998 stood at the counter of London’s Deal Real Records (and promptly buying a copy), it was clear to my ears (and to those jostling for room at the same counter) that the tracks thundering from the shop’s speakers had been made by someone who obviously took their craft seriously.

Fast-forward over twenty years later and Nappa’s impressive discography shows exactly how serious he’s remained about his music, with a number of critically-acclaimed Phi-Life Cypher projects under his belt, plus work with the likes of MCM, Inja, Cappo and many more.

The talented crate-digger previously dabbled in the realm of instrumental Hip-Hop back in 2014, releasing two volumes of his “Late Night Beat Tape” cassettes, but his first release for the We Stay True label finds Nappa really upping the creative ante, moving in potentially unexpected directions yet remaining on-point and clear about his artistic vision at all times.

Nappa could quite easily have taken the predictable approach to this project and put together a collection of typical boom-bap beats, all of which, I’m sure, would have been made to a very high standard. But that would have been the easy option. Listening to “Redress” you definitely get the feeling that Nappa wanted to take full advantage of this opportunity, to both challenge himself and also to offer a nod of respect to many of his influences.

The album’s opening track “The Fear” is an immediate attention-grabber, with the ominous combination of rattling drums and threatening synths hinting at what 80s TV show “The Equalizer” may have sounded like had Nappa been asked to provide a musical score for it in a different lifetime.

Any tension that may have been created by that first cut is gently blown away by the soothing pianos, echoing horns and deft scratches of “Speak”, a track that succeeds in its mission to showcase music as not only a means of communication, but also as something that can have a positive impact on our personal well-being. Good vibrations, indeed.

The aptly-titled “Make It Funky” is a loose and lively tribute to the iconic James Brown, whilst the KRS-One-sampling “Get What I’m Saying” is also drenched in old-school vibes, with the blend of slick, repetitive guitar licks and soulful vocal snippets possessing a hypnotic quality which is both relaxing and simultaneously slightly unsettling (in the best possible way).

Arguably my favourite track on the album, the retro drum-machine thump and syncopated handclaps of “Friday Late Night” immediately took me back to being a youngster in the mid-80s tuning in over the weekend to the late, great Mike Allen on London’s Capital Radio and hearing the latest fresh sounds from the likes of Just-Ice, MC Chill and DJ Cheese. So I couldn’t help but smile when right at the very end of this blast of b-boy-influenced nostalgia the warm, inimitable voice of Mr. Allen himself can be heard for a few brief seconds lifted straight from one of his many classic shows. Brilliant.

The melodic head-nodder “Relax Your Mind” ends the album on a mellow note, demonstrating Nappa’s knack for knowing how to let a track breathe, whilst also ensuring there’s enough happening to keep the listener locked on and in the zone.

An album that encapsulates a variety of sounds and styles yet remains cohesive and concise throughout, “Redress” is a body of work Nappa should be proud of, which not only highlights his undeniable technical abilities, but also captures his genuine passion for the art of making music.

Give the man behind the beats some credit.

Ryan Proctor

“Redress” is available here via We Stay True.

Album Review – Rocdwell

rocdwell cover

Rocdwell

“SIMPLICITY (The Life That Makes The Songs)”

(Rocdwell.BandCamp.Com)

I first became aware of Detroit’s Rocdwell in 2014 following the release of his “Daily Chronicles” project, an album which showcased the talents of an emcee who was clearly determined to standout from the crowd, injecting his music with honesty, personal experience and a grounded, real-world perspective. Regardless of whether you’d shared similar life situations to those described in Rocdwell’s music or not, it wasn’t hard to connect with the Motor City artist due to the sincerity and feeling conveyed in his verses.

Six years later and Rocdwell’s new full-length release offers more lyrical food for thought, encouraging listeners to step back for a moment from the Matrix of our day-to-day existence, focus on what’s really important in a world full of distractions, and grab life with a renewed sense of purpose.

The opening one-two combination of “SIMPLICITY (Intro)” and “Fresher” makes Rocdwell’s approach to this album abundantly clear, with the mellow Jesse James-produced opening track encouraging people to “Cherish your moments while you got ’em..“, whilst the latter cut is a strong statement of intent, with Rocdwell revealing his feelings of artistic rejuvenation over loose, horn-laced beats from S3oulCIty.

“No Debate” looks at the importance of maintaining self-belief and ignoring negative thoughts as we travel along our individual paths, with Rocdwell reminding both himself and us that he’s “destined to shine, destined to climb” over the understated, soulful bounce of producer Juno.

The crisp, piano-laced thump of the Track PROS-helmed “Memory Lane” provides the ideal musical backdrop for the emcee’s youthful recollections of playing with action figures, Sega Genesis and feeling inspired by Ras Kass, KRS-One and Eminem, whilst the shuffling “Tres Uno Tres” is a heartfelt dedication to Detroit which encompasses both the history of the city as well as current issues such as gentrification (“Pops put me on heavy ’bout the heydays, Stories about The Temptations and The Supremes, Before the riots when all the neighbourhoods was clean…The new Detroit on the up and up though, A hot bed of development but up close, I don’t see much poppin’ where I’m from though, I guess them dollars haven’t made it to our front door…”).

The closing JPMoore Music-produced “Happy” finds Rocdwell providing a poignant reminder that every day is a new opportunity to chase dreams, reach goals and make a change for the better, relying on yourself first and foremost instead of looking for others to take responsibility for your personal fulfilment (“Life goes on, Right or wrong, I recite it in a song, The world keeps turning every three-sixty, five, I’m just glad that I’m alive, With everything that I own, My happiness is mine…”).

What really makes this album work is its overall feel and tone. Given some of the subject matter included here, Rocdwell could easily have ended-up sounding self-righteous or condescending, but instead his conversational flow enables him to comes across like a familiar friend who simply wants to see others succeed and grow.

As De La Soul’s Posdnuos once said on the group’s 1996 classic “Stakes Is High”, life can get all up in your ass, baby, you better work it out. With “SIMPLICITY”, Rocdwell is hoping to give his fan base the motivation to do just that.

Ryan Proctor

 

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2019 (Part Five) – Little Brother / 38 Spesh & Big Ghost Ltd / Foreign Beggars etc.

Check Part One, Part Two, Part Three & Part Four.

Little Brother – “May The Lord Watch” (LittleBrotherNC.Com) – An absolute masterpiece of an album, this reunion project from Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh found the two North Carolina emcees offering mature, honest views and opinions on life, career and society, backed by the soulful thump of producers such as Khrysis, Nottz and Focus.

little brother cover

Ded Tebiase & Ash The Author – “Apex” (VillageLiveRecords.Com) – Succeeding in their shared mission for 2019 which was to “step the levels up”, this joint effort from UK producer / emcee combo Ded Tebiase and Ash The Author was full of sublime, drum-heavy beats and sharp, charismatic wordplay. Tebiase proved himself to be a true master of his craft here, blending the influence of golden-era greats with his own sonic personality, whilst Ash remained lively and engaging throughout. Brilliant musical team-work.

apex cover

Sleep Sinatra – “Sources Of Nature” (GourmetDeluxxx.BandCamp.Com) – Delivering more of that “intricately manufactured quality product” that he’s become known for, Sleep Sinatra continued his run of consistency with this Custodian Of Records-produced project. Showcasing his impressive brand of thoughtful, introspective wordplay over melodic, full-bodied beats, the Nebraska-based emcee once again proved himself to be a lyricist who is clearly invested in elevating the art of rhyme.

sleep sinatra cover

Kev Brown & J Scienide – “Drum Machine Tape Cassette” (KevBrown.BandCamp.Com) – The DMV duo shared their undeniable creative chemistry throughout this full-length collabo project, packed with impressive beat science and accomplished verses. Grounded in a satisfyingly raw and spontaneous dusty basement sound, this album proved itself to be a joy for crate-diggers and lyric-lovers alike.

brown scienide cover

Knowledge The Pirate – “Black Cesar” (FXCKRAP.BandCamp.Com) – Following up 2018’s “Flintlock” album, East Coast emcee Knowledge The Pirate dropped more street-related rhymes from an OG’s perspective on this Elemnt-produced project. Detailed, cinematic verses sat perfectly atop a meticulously crafted selection of loops and samples.

cesar cover

Big Tone + House Shoes – “Big Shoes” (StreetCornerMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Years of combined personal Hip-Hop history were poured into this collaborative effort from Big Tone and House Shoes, two individuals who each played a key role in the Detroit Hip-Hop scene during a pivotal period for the city in terms of it receiving attention on a global scale. Aside from dope bars and quality production in abundance, this album resonated with experience, passion and determination.

Ronnie Bosh – “All People Expect” (HighFocus.BandCamp.Com) – Full of character and understated swagger, this long-awaited debut album from London’s Bosh definitely delivered the goods. Mixing punchline-heavy verses and concept-driven tracks with infectious hooks and the well-executed production of Dirty Dike, this was a slow-burner that offered something new each time you played it.

Murs – “The Iliad Is Dead And The Odyssey Is Over” (MursRaps.Com) – Time has proven again and again that when former Living Legends member Murs gets together with producer 9th Wonder, good music is guaranteed. This concise project from the LA lyricist (featuring additional musical input from 9th’s Soul Council) continued that tradition. Murs’ talent for blending humour, social observations and emcee arrogance was in full effect here, backed by brilliantly tailored production which gave his personality-filled rhymes just the right amount of sonic kick.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – “Bandana” (Madlib.BandCamp.Com) – Following up 2014’s brilliant “Piñata”album,  sonic odd couple Gibbs and Madlib once again demonstrated that opposites really do attract, with Freddie’s Indiana-influenced gangsta rhymes sounding right at home over the eclectic, unpredictable sample-heavy soundscapes of the West Coast producer.

DJ Muggs & Crimeapple – “Medallo” (SoulAssassins.Com) – Another fine example of Cypress Hill’s Muggs keeping his ear to the underground, this release found the LA-based producer linking with New Jersey’s Crimeapple, an artist who has steadily built a buzz for himself over the last few years with his sharp lyrical wit. The sparse, stripped-back sonics heard here gave the East Coast artist’s verses plenty of room to breathe, allowing Crime’s skills to be fully appreciated.

MED & Guilty Simpson – “Child Of The Jungle” (BangYaHead.BandCamp.Com) – An entertaining meeting of two sonically like-minded individuals, this joint effort from Cali’s MED and Detroit’s Guilty Simpson was organic, impressive and thoroughly enjoyable. The pair delivered blue-collar bars throughout, backed by some of the finest production of the year from the likes of Madlib, Nottz, Apollo Brown and more.

Griselda – “WWCD” (ShadyRecords.Com) – Having flooded the market in recent times with a string of quality solo projects, Buffalo’s Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine and Benny The Butcher finally delivered the crew album that Griselda fans had been waiting for. Produced by Daringer and the UK’s Beat Butcha, this project was another dose of uncut street music, with the trio showing no signs of running out of hard-knock stories to tell.

Nolan The Ninja – “SPORTEE” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com) – Detroit’s Nolan The Ninja rhymes like his life depends on it, and that sense of urgency was felt throughout this 5YNot-produced album; a well-crafted collection of vibrant, energetic verses, broken beats and crackling samples. The Motor City artist’s passion for Hip-Hop could clearly be heard on every track included here.

Micall Parknsun & Giallo Point – “The Magnum Opus” (GialloPoint.BandCamp.Com) – Arguably the hardest working producer of 2019, Giallo Point closed the year out alongside fellow UK representative Micall Parknsun, delivering this epic sixteen-track project packed with robust rhymes, understated, drama-fuelled loops and strong appearances from the likes of Da Flyy Hooligan, Juga-Naut, Jehst and more.

38 Spesh & Big Ghost Ltd – “A Bullet For Every Heathen” (38SpeshAirVinyls.BandCamp.Com) – Continuing his relentless work ethic of recent times, Rochester, NY’s 38 Spesh teamed-up with the mighty Big Ghost Ltd for this impressive display of gritty, street-related beats and rhymes. Vivid verses matched with atmospheric production ensured this project stood-out from those in a similar lane.

Sean Price & Lil Fame – “Price Of Fame” (SeanPriceLilFame.BandCamp.Com) – Tag-teaming like a heavyweight Hip-Hop wrestling duo, the late, great Sean Price and M.O.P.’s Lil Fame delivered some good old-fashioned Brooklyn hard-rock flavour on this rowdy collection of stripped-down beats and New York straight talk. BK all day!

junclassic – “SIZE: Husky” (junclassic.BandCamp.Com) – Veteran Queens, NY emcee junclassic dropped a new addition to his already extensive catalogue of unique Rotten Apple rap in the form of this quality Husky-produced project, which mixed true-school sensibilities with moments of musical experimentation.

Klashnekoff – “Iona” (Klashnekoff.BandCamp.Com) – UK rap legend Klashnekoff has always had a talent for injecting heartfelt emotion and personal experience into his verses, but on this particular project (his first for seven years), the London emcee proved that his pen game had elevated to even higher heights since we last heard from him. A concept-driven album, based around the loss of his mother, K-Lash poured raw honesty and feeling into every track here, resulting in a genuinely soul-stirring listening experience.

Pounds x Buckwild – “Trafficante” (Pounds.BandCamp.Com) – Rochester, NY’s Pounds paired his gruff, street-savvy delivery with the dusty-fingered production of Diggin’ In The Crates legend Buckwild for this brooding collection of East Coast head-nodders. Appearances from Roc Marciano, Benny The Butcher and Crimeapple added further lyrical weight to the project.

Foreign Beggars – “Matriarchy” (ForeignBeggars.BandCamp.Com) – Since the 2003 release of their classic debut album “Asylum Speakers”, London’s Foreign Beggars crew have built a strong reputation for delivering genre-blurring beats and rhymes of the highest standard. This final long-player from the group was a brilliant blend of styles, offering a grateful nod to the late-90s / early-2000s UK Hip-Hop scene the Beggars came out of, whilst embracing the more contemporary sounds of the present day. Sonically refreshing and lyrically inspiring, this was a fitting way for the FBs to say farewell. Thanks for the musical memories!

 

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2019 (Part Four) – Juga-Naut & Giallo Point / Diamond D / Da Flyy Hooligan etc.

Check Part One, Part Two & Part Three.

Juga-Naut & Giallo Point – “Back To The Grill Again” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com) – Nottingham emcee Juga-Naut is a force of nature when it comes to this rhyming ish. A genuine talent, the UK wordsmith has been delivering high-end wordplay for years now. The resulting album from his partnership with producer Giallo Point was a match made in Hip-Hop heaven. Creative verses and smooth, sublime beats were on the menu here, with the pair succeeding in satisfying the musical cravings of fans across the globe.

Smoke DZA & Benny The Butcher – “Statue Of Limitations” (CinematicMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com) – Packed with captivating, street-related rhymes and quality Pete Rock production, this collabo EP from DZA and Griselda’s Benny effectively showcased the pair’s genuine chemistry as they each sought to capture their hard-knock life experiences via the art of rap. B-b-b-b-boom!

DJ Enyoutee Presents Planet Asia & Milano Constantine – “The Planet Asia & Milano Constantine EP” – These two phenomenal emcees joining forces was the sonic equivalent of me getting amped as a kid seeing my favourite super-heroes appearing together in an issue of “Marvel Team-Up”. Asia and Milano exchanged razor-sharp rhymes throughout this release, backed by dope production from BodyBag Ben, Cool FD, DirtyDigs and more.

Nujericans – “PBS – Puertoriqueno Barrio Sound” (Nujericans.BandCamp.Com) – New Jersey’s Joey Dynomite and Sol Zalez returned to burn with a rowdy selection of uncut East Coast flavour, featuring beats from A-$harp, The Custodian Of Records and Stu Bangas.

Von Poe VII – “Diary Of The Se7en III” (VonPoeVII.BandCamp.Com) – Cali’s multi-talented Von Poe VII dropped the final part in his “Diary Of The Se7en” EP series, with this third instalment consisting of the West Coast wordsmith’s usual blend of sharp, intelligent, multi-layered rhymes and equally impressive production.

Kwote – “List Worthy?” (TunnelMovement.BandCamp.Com) – Tunnel Movement member and Chicago representative Kwote has built a strong reputation over the years for being a talented emcee, with this collection of true-school beats and rhymes offering further proof that the Windy City wordsmith possesses a voice that deserves to be heard.

DEMOTAPEZ – “Real Life Situations” (DEMOTAPEZ.BandCamp.Com) – Lithuania-born, London-based producer DEMOTAPEZ worked some musical magic on his trusty Akai samplers here, crafting a quality collection of mellow, full-bodied beats laced with echoing horns, melodic keys and warm basslines.

Him Lo – “Prince Akeem Jewelz” (MarQSpekt.BandCamp.Com) – Following up his solo EP released earlier in the year, Buze Bruvaz member Him Lo dropped this self-produced long-player, packed with boisterous verses and unpolished beats, adding further weight to the perception that the Philly emcee will happily steal your beer, snatch your girl and then blow weed smoke in your face on the way out.

Kamanchi Sly – “The Domination Mentality” (HipHop73.Com) – UK legend and Hijack member K-Sly has been on a creative roll since 2017, with this being his seventh album project to see the light of day during that time (with more having dropped since). Attacking the mic with the same vigour heard on his late-80s / early-90s releases, the London emcee’s passion for Hip-Hop obviously remains strong, with his enthusiasm for his craft clear for all to hear throughout this self-produced effort.

Your Old Droog – “Transportation” (YourOldDroog.BandCamp.Com) – Having already released one of 2019’s best albums with “It Wasn’t Even Close”, NYC’s Your Old Droog made a swift return with the equally impressive “Transportation”, featuring production from The Purist, Mono En Stereo and Oh No, plus an unexpected but welcome remake of former Bad Boy artist G Dep’s mid-90s favourite “Head Over Wheels”.

Diamond D – “The Diam Piece 2” (DymondMineRecords.Com) – Legendary producer-on-the-mic Diamond D delivered a sterling sequel to his 2014 “Diam Piece” release, putting a contemporary twist on his traditional Diggin’ In The Crates sound, with an eclectic lists of artists on-hand to offer their creative input, including Pharoahe Monch, David Banner and Xzibit.

Ras Kass – “Soul On Ice 2” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com) – One of the game’s finest lyricists, West Coast wordsmith Ras Kass’s follow-up to his 1996 debut demanded repeated listens in order to be fully appreciated. Dense verses packed with verbal expertise were the order of the day here, further cementing Ras Kass’s place in the Hip-Hop hall of fame.

Jack Jones – “The Fix” (MrJackJones.BandCamp.Com) – This long-awaited solo album from Mass Influence / Soundsci member Audessey featured the Atlanta wordsmith delivering accomplished rhymes over stellar production from the UK’s Jonny Cuba and Ollie Teeba, with microphone assistance from Prince Po, Supastition, Oxygen and more.

Anyway Tha God & Ocelot – “Allow Me To Interject…” (AnywayThaGod.BandCamp.Com) – UK emcee AnyWay Tha God sought to spark some positive change amidst today’s troubled times with this Ocelot-produced collection of inspirational beats and rhymes. Relax your mind and let your conscience be free.

XL Middleton – “2 Minutes Till Midnight” (MoFunkRecords.Com) – A long-time purveyor of “the new sound of LA funk”, California’s XL Middleton served up a new batch of smoothed-out grooves which evoked images of warm West Coast nights, packed house-parties and bouncing low-riders, with sonic influences such as The Bar-Kays, Zapp and DJ Quik all being mixed in to the Pasadena-based artist’s skin-tight brand of backyard boogie.

Da Flyy Hooligan – “FYLPM II” (GourmetDeluxx.BandCamp.Com) – Backed by quality production from the likes of Micall Parknsun, Ded Tebiase and DJ Flash, London’s Flyy Hooligan swaggered with stylish arrogance throughout this brilliant album. Packed with character and personality, this project was yet another worthy addition to the UK emcee’s catalogue.

DJ Muggs & Mach Hommy – “Tuez-Les Tous” (SoulAssassins.Com) – Production legend Muggs continued his run of working with today’s new generation of talented underground emcees throughout 2019, uniting with the rhyming enigma Mach Hommy for this particular project which found the pair complimenting each other stylistically and crafting a sparse, atmospheric collection of beats and verses.

Rapsody – “Eve” (JamlaRecords.Com) An honest, insightful and ultimately powerful celebration of Black womanhood, this well-received project from North Carolina’s Rapsody found the Jamla-affiliated emcee continuing her own decade-long tradition of taking large artistic steps forward with each release. A mixture of social observation, cultural analysis and B-girl confidence, Rapsody demanded the listener’s attention throughout this album, commanding a refined and varied production selection supplied largely by 9th Wonder and Eric G.

Ghostface Killah – “Ghostface Killahs” (GhostfaceMusic.Com) – Larger-than-life and as lyrically entertaining as always, the Wally Champ dipped into crime-rhyme mode for the majority of this project, accompanied by his Wu brothers Cappadonna, Method Man, Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa.

Datkid & Leaf Dog – “Confessions Of A Crud Lord” (High-Focus.Com) – A rambunctiously raw offering, this album from Split Prophets member Datkid found the Bristolian emcee dropping attitude-fuelled verses laced with politically-incorrect punchlines over the gleefully radio-unfriendly production of The Four Owls’ Leaf Dog. Heavyweight guest appearances from Roc Marciano, Conway and Westside Gunn only added to the project’s hardcore appeal.

Fifth and final part of this 2019 best-of list coming soon.

 

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2019 (Part Three) – KingDem / Apollo Brown / Ray Vendetta etc.

Check Part One and Part Two.

Fly Anakin & Big Kahuna OG – “Holly Water” (MutantAcademyRVA.BandCamp.Com) – Raekwon and Ghostface. Erick and Parrish. Run and DMC. There are some emcees who were simply meant to rhyme together. Mutant Academy’s Fly Anakin and Big Kahuna OG can also be added to that list. Following up their four-part “Big Fly” EP series, the Richmond, Virginia duo delivered arguably their finest work to date in the form of this album, blending their undeniable skills with smooth, intoxicating production.

holly cover

Phyba & Giallo Point – “René Mesrine” (CDVZ.BandCamp.Com) – 2019 was an extremely busy year for producer Giallo Point, with this project alongside fellow UK resident Phyba just one of a handful of collabo releases helmed by the talented music man. Revisiting the cinematic undercover spy-themed flavour of their previous work together, the combination of Phyba’s laidback, nonchalant delivery and Giallo’s atmospheric sonic drama once again made for a uniquely captivating listening experience.

phyba cover

People Under The Stairs – “Sincerely, The P” (PL70.Net) – Bringing their twenty year musical journey to a suitably impressive end, Thes One and Double K’s final album was another finely-tuned selection of funky beats, spontaneous energy and proud West Coast attitude, held together by the duo’s seasoned wisdom and genuine gratitude to fans for sticking with the PUTS brand over the last two decades.

puts cover

Rick Hyde – “Plates” (RickHyde.BandCamp.Com) – Buffalo, NY emcee-slash-producer Rick Hyde delivered personal, emotionally-charged street-level rhymes on his debut album, executive produced by Griselda’s Benny The Butcher and featuring beats from DJ Shay, IceRocks, Chup and more.

rick cover

Motman & Micall Parknsun – “Everyday Craft” (Motman1.BandCamp.Com) – Bristol emcee Motman dropped honest, down-to-earth rhymes over quality production from the ever-impressive Micall Parknsun on this long-player, with lyrical assistance from Flowtecs, Gee Bag and Ray Vendetta.

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Westside Gunn – “Flygod Is An Awesome God” (GrisdeldaXFR.Com) – The Griselda juggernaut continued to steam-roll its way through the rap scene with this summer release from WSG, a worthy addition to the crew’s collective catalogue, featuring the Buffalo emcee showcasing sharp, street-related verses over elegantly raw production from the likes of The Alchemist, Evidence and DJ Muggs.

Rashad ThaPoet x The BeatHead – “Jefferson Street Blues” (RashadThaPoet.BandCamp.Com) – Nashville, Tennessee emcee / spoken word artist Rashad ThaPoet balanced the promise of the American Dream with the reality of the Amerikkkan Nightmare throughout this impressive BeatHead-produced EP, offering poignant, thoughtful observations on politics, race and the shortcomings of society.

Hubbs – “Tony Peña” (Hubbs.BandCamp.Com) – The Pittsburgh-based lyricist flexed his conversational-yet-authoritative flow to good effect on this quality, baseball-influenced project, backed by smooth, laidback production from the likes of Nysceworkk, Billy Hoyle, JR Swiftz and more.

Louis Cypher – “Cypher Sore Eyes” (BoomBap.BandCamp.Com) – Having been a consistently reliable outlet for quality Hip-Hop over the last fifteen years. UK label Boom Bap Professionals presented this free EP from Punning Clan member Louis Cypher, featuring the Nottingham-based emcee putting a nice selection of beats from DJ Severe, Kastanza and Pete 1st Blood to good use.

Chris Skillz & Storm Watkins – “Creer” (ChrisSkillz.BandCamp.Com) – A  naturally gifted emcee, Delaware’s Chris Skillz lived up to his name on this five track EP, blessing the dope, sample-heavy production of Baltimore’s Storm Watkins with a stream of captivating, well-crafted verses, accompanied by Left Lane Didon, All Hail Y.T. and Ronnie Alpha.

Leaf Erikson – “A Canvas Of Hope” (LeafErikson1.BandCamp.Com) – The first of three planned projects dedicated to his Detroit stomping grounds, emcee Leaf Erikson used this project to weave together Motor City stories grounded in “tragedy, triumph and the journey people experience along the way” accompanied by the subtle production expertise of Meftah.

Supreme Cerebral & Eloh Kush – “Clark Connoisseurs” (BugzyNino17.BandCamp.Com) – Showcasing a shared passion for Clarks footwear that even Ghostface would be proud of, LA’s Supreme Cerebral and New Jersey’s Eloh Kush combined forces on this Wallabee-influenced collection of punchy wordplay and suede-smooth production from Clypto and Juelz White. As Tony Starks said himself on the Purple Tape, this how you freak ’em!

KingDem – “The KingDem EP” (Tru-Thoughts.BandCamp.Com) – Coming to the table with timeless skills, unmistakable character and a whole heap of personal Hip-Hop history under their respective belts, legends Ty, Rodney P and Blak Twang spoke with experience and authority on this four-track release, offering some tough love to the UK scene they helped shape whilst looking forever forward. Vibes, substance and longevity in abundance.

Jay NiCE & Farma Beats – “POMPEii” (FarmaBeats.BandCamp.Com) – Delaware’s Jay NiCE spat hot lava over an impeccable production selection from the UK’s Farma Beats throughout his fourth release of 2019, a project which succeeded in elevating itself above most of the competition thanks to a satisfying combination of lyrical urgency and genuine creative chemistry.

Apollo Brown – “Sincerely, Detroit” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp,Com) – Motor City producer Apollo Brown celebrated the Hip-Hop legacy of the city that shaped his sound on this ambitious project, featuring a huge list of over fifty Detroit artists (including Black Milk, Slum Village and Phat Kat) all rising to the challenge of justifying their inclusion on this epic release, blessing a satisfying batch of stripped-down-but-soulful beats with accomplished lyricism.

Ray Vendetta – “The Billion Bar Mind EP” (PrestigiousRecordings1.BandCamp.Com) – Produced by Buffalo, NY’s TheRealSkitso, London lyricist Ray Vendetta let his mind spray in all directions on the third instalment of his 5 Star Saga series, showcasing the formidable street-savvy verbal science that’s kept the Triple Darkness / New Guardz member on the radar of underground heads both in the UK and overseas.

Clever 1 & Giallo Point – “Kiss Da Converse” (MarQSpekt.BandCamp.Com) – The second 2019 release to drop from the Buze Bruvaz camp, Philly emcee Clever 1 followed the example set by this rhyming partner Him Lo by also calling on the production talent of the UK’s Giallo Point for this solo release, pounding the understated loops and samples heard here with his always entertaining brand of brass-knuckle rap.

1520 – “Mosquito Fly & Starships” (1520.BandCamp.Com) – Veteran London emcee Nomadic Poet (of The Planets fame) teamed-up with gifted producer Drematic XL to celebrate the pair’s shared passion for the culture of Hip-Hop on this well-executed collection of true-school anthems, packed with lively rhymes and blistering beats.

Oxygen – “Age Appropriate” (Ox-The-Architect.BandCamp.Com) – Strong Island legend and Soundsci member Oxygen celebrated his 50th birthday with the release of this heavily-anticipated album, a project pairing the NY emcee’s unquestionable skills with top-shelf production from the UK’s Tom Caruana.

Supastition – “Sacrifice EP” (Supastition.BandCamp.Com) – Since his debut album dropped in 2002, North Carolina’s Supastition has deservedly earned himself a reputation as one of the rap game’s most consistent emcees. This release signalled the return of the always impressive lyricist, with four years having passed since his last project. A self-produced effort, this EP offered further proof as to why Supastition is held in such high regard by fans, with the rapper offering listeners a strong combination of personal opinions, life experiences and microphone techniques.

Part Four coming soon.

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2019 (Part Two) – Gang Starr / Benny The Butcher / Train Robbers etc.

Check Part One here.

Gang Starr – “One Of The Best Yet” (Gang Starr Enterprises) – The trials and tribulations DJ Premier experienced in order to complete this album were well documented in 2019, but the hardcore composer’s determination definitely paid off, with this celebration of the late, great Guru largely succeeding where so many posthumous rap albums have failed. Nothing about this project appeared forced or rushed, with Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal sounding as timeless as ever and Preemo delivering quality boom-bap throughout. Input from crew affiliates such as Group Home, Jeru The Damaja, Big Shug, Freddie Foxxx and M.O.P. made “One Of The Best Yet” a true family affair. RIP Guru! Gang Starr forever!

gang starr cover

Your Old Droog – “It Wasn’t Even Close” (YourOldDroog.BandCamp.Com) – The first of three full-length projects released by the prolific NY emcee during 2019, Droog’s natural rhyming ability shone through here, with the Rotten Apple lyricist making the writing and delivery of intricate verses appear easy, backed by production from the likes of Sadhugold, Daringer and Tha God Fahim (also props to the UK’s Emily Catherine for the album’s ill cover art).

your old droog cover

A.J. Munson – “Cigarettes & Coffee” (AJMunson.BandCamp.Com) – Boasting an impressive list of guest artists. including Tha God Fahim, Mach-Hommy, Recognize Ali and more, West Coast producer A.J. Munson dropped this quality collection of true-school flavour geared towards the ears of those listeners who’re passionate about sample-based Hip-Hop.

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JayARE – “Youth Culture Power” (JayARE.BandCamp.Com) – True-school veterans J Rawls and John Robinson delivered some edutainment in the truest sense of the term, with this concept-based album being released in conjunction with the pair’s book, highlighting the potential benefits of utilising Hip-Hop in the classroom to engage students and improve teacher / pupil relationships. Each one, teach one.

ycp cover

NDEFRU & Ohbliv – “Foreign Local” (NDEFRU.BandCamp.Com) – Further proof that Virginia is a strong breeding ground for dope Hip-Hop, this EP from emcee NDEFRU and producer Ohbliv was the sound of two individuals clearly on the same page musically, resulting in a thoroughly cohesive project packed with laidback-yet-confident wordplay and mellow, sample-heavy soundscapes.

foreign local cover

Sean Peng & Illinformed – “Trips To The Medicine Cabinet” (LostScrollRecords.BandCamp.Com) – Part entertainment, part therapy session, this project from Creatures Of Habit members Sean Peng and Illinformed was a lesson in creative chemistry, demonstrating the level of quality that can be achieved from the good old-fashioned one emcee / one producer combo. The Bristol emcee’s sometimes cryptic, always engaging rhymes were perfectly complimented by Illinformed’s solid, multi-layered style of production. Get your prescription renewed here.

Him Lo & Giallo Point – “OJ Glovez” (MarQSpekt.BandCamp.Com) – Having released two group projects in 2018, Him Lo and Clever 1 of Phillys Buze Bruvaz both decided to step out solo in 2019, with this EP being the first of four releases in total to come from the Illadelph duo throughout the year. Produced entirely by the UK’s Giallo Point, this was more of the punch-you-in-the-face-rap that Buze fans have come to expect, mixing hardcore threats and politically incorrect punchlines with inappropriate humour and old-school bravado.

DIE-REK – “The Dying Ones” (Illect.BandCamp.Com) – Canada’s DIE-REK channelled his spirituality throughout this self-produced collection of inspiring, life-affirming anthems, crafted to motivate and encourage anyone out there struggling to swim against the tide of today’s turbulent times. The Toronto emcee’s sincere, commanding flow added further weight to the sentiments and thoughts expressed here, with the end product leaving the listener feeling as if their Hip-Hop soul had been given a thorough musical massage.

C.A.M – “Just Breathe” (CAMOfficial.BandCamp.Com) – Following up his previous EP releases (2017’s “The First Move” and 2018’s “Persian Rugs”), talented London-based emcee C.A.M joined forces with Bristol music man BigLikeBaz for this five-track release, a well-crafted blend of head-nodding beats, echoing horns, smooth keys and a positive lyrical outlook.

Cor Stidak – “Dry Tears” (CorStidak.BandCamp) – Virginia-based emcee Cor Stidak showcased his undeniable microphone mastery throughout this largely self-produced EP, delivering competition-crushing verses, robust flows and poignant lyrical gems over a quality selection of beats.

The Jerzadelphians – “Era Of The Get Back” (JDelph.BandCamp.Com) – New Jersey emcee P-Rawb and Philly producer Shane Great demonstrated what a true musical partnership should sound like on this impressive release, channelling the spirit of the golden-era through their beats and rhymes whilst remaining fresh and in the moment.

Benny The Butcher – “The Plugs I Met” (GriseldaxFR.Com) – 2019 was definitely the year of the Griselda family, with Benny, Conway and Westside Gunn all releasing potent solo projects, along with their long-awaited group effort for Shady Records. This EP picked up where The Butcher left off on 2018’s classic “Tana Talk 3”, spitting vividly descriptive street life rhymes over raw, drama-laced production from Daringer, Beat Butcha, DJ Shay and The Alchemist.

Train Robbers – “Expect Delays” (RobbingTrains.BandCamp.Com) – UK duo Bucket Hat Jack and Casa Blanca ensured no listeners were left waiting on the platform as they were right on time with this lively EP, a release full of  mischievous, well-crafted verses and solid, chunky production. The project bubbled with the energy of two individuals whose main motivation for making music appeared to be the sheer joy and satisfaction of simply creating dope material. Mind the gap!

Skyzoo & Pete Rock – “Retropolitan” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com) – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Skyzoo is one of the greatest emcees of his generation. The Brooklyn artist’s attention to detail and ability to draw listeners into his world through the art of rhyme elevates him above many of his peers. No matter what walk of life you come from, there is something in a Skyzoo verse that you will be able to relate to.  Backed here by the soul brother beats of the legendary Pete Rock, Skyzoo delivered a full-length dedication to NYC, adding to his already impeccable catalogue of album projects.

Smif-N-Wessun – “The All” (DuckDownMusic.Com) – Bucktown’s Tek and Steele succeeded in releasing an album that was rooted in their mid-90s Timberlands-and-hoodies flavour whilst still reflecting the personal growth and present day perspectives of the Duck Down duo. Production from Jamla’s 9th Wonder-led Soul Council squad provided the project’s melodic thump, effectively complimenting the BK pair’s tag-team rude-bwoy rhymes, with the end result respectfully adding on to Smif-N-Wessun’s twenty-five year legacy.

Ketch P – “Gift Certificate” (KetchP.BandCamp.Com) – Veteran Detroit emcee and Street Justice member Ketch P returned from a six-year hiatus to deliver this free project, which was an extremely generous gesture considering the high quality of the material included here. Showcasing a strong pen game and an authoritative flow, the Middle Finger Music affiliate got busy over a strong selection of soulful boom-bap from the likes of Simple Cuts, Foul Mouth and Chanes.

Verb T & Pitch 92 – “A Question Of Time” (HighFocus.BandCamp.Com) – Following up their  quality 2017 collabo album “Good Evening”, London lyricist Verb T and Manchester music man Pitch 92 joined forces once again for this equally dope project. An accomplished writer and one of UK Hip-Hop’s most consistent artists, Verb T once again successfully allowed the listener to see the world through his eyes, with the rapper’s introspective rhymes being complimented by the talented Pitch’s dynamic production.

Flashius Clayton & DirtyDiggs – “Fronto Fever Dreams” (FlashiusClayton.BandCamp.Com) – This heavily-anticipated project from Knuckle Sandwich Deli representative Flashius Clayton definitely didn’t disappoint, with the Cali emcee dropping razor-sharp rhymes over the dusty-fingered, sample-based soundscapes of DirtyDiggs, joined by the likes of Planet Asia, Lisaan’dro and AA Rashid – guard ya grill!

Brother Ali – “Secrets & Escapes” (BrotherAli.BandCamp.Com) – The mighty Brother Ali made a welcome return with this Evidence-produced collection of masterful, worldly lyricism and stripped-down beats, recorded over a few spontaneous sessions in a California garage studio during visits the Minneapolis emcee made to see the Dilated Peoples member.

Sparkplug – “The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth” (ColdCaseRecords.BandCamp.Com) – This full-length effort from Leeds-based emcee Sparkplug offered listeners an honest look into the life of an individual navigating his way through the everyday struggles of the human experience, embracing the small wins, owning personal shortcomings, dealing with disappointment and facing reality head-on with a self-deprecating sense of humour and a talent for sharp punchlines.

Part Three coming soon.

 

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2019 (Part One) – Roc Marciano / Nems / Jeff Smith etc.

Every year this ‘best-of’ list becomes increasingly harder to put together, with 2019 possibly having been the most challenging round-up to compile yet. Not because there haven’t been enough worthy projects released over the past twelve months, but because there has potentially been too many!

I initially sat down with a list of approximately three hundred albums and EPs that had dropped this year which I felt deserved to be considered. Three hundred??!! After plenty of deliberation and arguments with myself, I finally managed to get that list down to the one hundred releases you’ll find featured in this five-part 2019 overview.

Of course, there are going to be artists not included who some heads will feel should have been. That’s the beauty of music – everyone has their own opinion. But if a particular album or EP hasn’t been mentioned, that shouldn’t lead anyone to automatically assume I didn’t rate that project at all. As previously stated, I started with three hundred releases. When scaling that list down I had to really just consider which albums and EPs I’d enjoyed the most. It was as simple as that. No politics. No favours. Just the thoughts of a lifelong fan of beats and rhymes.

As always, huge props to all the talented artists out there (whether included in this list or not) who put their time, effort and creative energy into making music that adds something of value to this incredible culture called Hip-Hop.

Now, like we always do about this time….

Roc Marciano – “Marcielago” (RocMarci.Com) – As one of the most influential artists of the last decade it’s fitting that ten years after the release of “Marcberg”, an album that made an indelible impact on the sound of underground Hip-Hop, Strong Island’s Roc Marci would book-end his incredible run of releases with a project that further solidified his position in the game. Once again proving himself to be a master of his craft (both lyrically and musically),  the NY favourite fused vivid, larger-than-life rhymes with smooth, atmospheric (largely self-produced) beats and loops. Cinematic mood music best heard late at night in a haze of weed smoke.

 

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Nems – “Gorilla Monsoon” (Lyfer Gang) – Brooklyn emcee Nems is no newcomer, having released a string of projects over the past fifteen years. But on this album, the Mayor Of Coney Island appeared to capture Hip-Hop lightning in a bottle, elevating his skills to new heights in the process. Backed by the masterful production of fellow BK resident Jazzsoon, whose beats thumped harder than a heavyweight boxer working a punch-bag, Nems paid homage to the traditional Rotten Apple sound without getting caught up in nostalgia, delivering rhymes that ranged from aggressive, competition-crushing bars to brutally personal and honest life stories. Powerful music.

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Joker Starr – “G.A.W.D.” (FlukeBeatMusic.BandCamp.Com) – The irrepressible UK artist made a welcome return at the beginning of the year with another quality collection of unrestrained lyricism to add to his catalogue, at times sounding about ready to burst out of the speakers like a Hip-Hop Hulk. Largely produced by Micall Parknsun (with input from Anyway Tha God and OphQi), the UK wordsmith mixed social commentary and Black pride with larger-than-life emcee bravado throughout this entertaining showcase of raw hardcore talent.

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Vic Spencer & Sonnyjim – “Spencer For Higher 2” (Daupe Media) – Chicago’s Vic Spencer delivered slick wit and smooth arrogance over sublime production from the UK’s Sonnyjim on this sequel to the pair’s original 2018 “Spencer For Higher” project. A naturally gifted emcee, Spencer dominated the beats and loops on offer here with seemingly effortless skill, sharing a creative chemistry with Sonnyjim that lent the project a satisfyingly seamless and organic feel.

Funky DL – “Life After Dennison” (FunkyDL.BandCamp.Com) – Following on from 2018’s “Dennison Point” project, which captured Funky DL’s memories and experiences between 1992 and 2005 as a resident of Stratford, East London, “Life After Dennison” found the multi-talented UK artist bringing listeners up-to-date with his personal journey in his inimitable warm and witty style, accompanied by his jazzy and soulful trademark production sound.

Pitch 92 – “3rd Culture” (HighFocus.Com) – An album of epic proportions, this project from Pitch 92 fully showcased the Manchester music man’s range as a producer, incorporating Hip-Hop, jazz and soul influences into one smooth and cohesive listening experience, featuring a long list of top-tier UK talent including Jehst, MysDiggi and DRS. An ambitious and thoroughly enjoyable release.

Jeff Smith – “Fear Of A Black Messiah” (GiftedJeffSmithStore.BandCamp.Com) – In today’s divided and troubled times, music from artists such as Virginia’s Jeff Smith is needed more than ever. Following in the footsteps of acts such as Public Enemy, Paris and Kam, the outspoken emcee delivered an uncompromising look at what it means to be Black in Amerikkka today from his own perspective. Dealing with racial, social and political issues head-on, Smith proved that edutainment is still alive and well in Hip-Hop.

The Legion – “Three The Bronx Way” (FBDistribution.BandCamp.Com) – Grounded in memories of 80s Bronx block parties, street-corner ciphers and nights at the Latin Quarter, NY trio Molecules, Chucky Smash and Dice Man (aka Cee-Low) jingle jangled their way through this uncompromising dose of traditional Rotten Apple rap. The BX keeps creating it.

Damani Nkosi and ill Camille – “HARRIETT” (DamCam.BandCamp.Com) – West Coast duo Damani Nkosi and ill Camille combined their talents on this full-length project, determined to satisfy your soul and stimulate your third-eye via an organic blend of smooth, melodic production and uplifting lyrical content which was influenced by the past, grounded in the present and looking towards the future.

Infinite Thoughts – “Instrumentals” (1990SomethingLLC.BandCamp.Com) – Washington’s DJ NOZs and E Boogie delivered a stunning selection of uplifting, soulful beats on this brilliantly crafted project, showcasing not only their passion for boom-bap but also their shared ear for quality musicianship, blending dusty, basement-style drums with melodic keys and horns.

Showbiz x Milano – “Boulevard Author” (DITCEnt.Com) – A shining example of quality now-school Rotten Apple rap, this concise collection of dusty-fingered beats and well-executed, laser-precise rhymes found the Diggin’ In The Crates duo each residing at the top of their game. Milano has been a lyrical force to be reckoned with since his debut in the late-90s and Show’s ear for an ill loop definitely hasn’t faded over time, with this album carrying on DITC tradition and proudly supporting the classic sound of NYC.

Lisaan’dro – “M.A.D.E. (My Allies Died Early)” (Lisaandro.BandCamp.Com) – Gang Starr’s Guru once said it’s mostly the voice of an emcee that sets him or her apart from the competition. If Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal were still here today he would no doubt hold NY’s Lisaan’dro up to prove his point. The Long Island lyricist’s immediately recognizable raspy flow does indeed give his music a unique quality, but aside from that, as showcased on this album, Lisaan’dro also has a real talent for penning verses filled with pimpish slick talk and street-wise observations, which were backed up here by production from the likes of The Custodian Of Records, Leaf Dog, Flashius Clayton and more.

Es – “Social Meteor Vol. 1:Inspired By My Timeline” (EsMusik.BandCamp.Com) – If you were already familiar with Canadian emcee Es before 2019 via previous albums such as “Aspire To Inspire” (2014) and “We Are Only Getting Older” (2017), then you would have already been well aware that this talented wordsmith offers plenty of food for thought in his music. This latest project continued that tradition, with Es tackling the pros and cons of social media and our obsession with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram etc, accompanied by production from Pro-Logic, DJ QVP and Rel McCoy.

O The Great – “This Art Is Real” (OTheGreat,BandCamp.Com) – NY’s O The Great swung a heavy lyrical sword throughout this project, which bristled with a true passion for the art and culture of Hip-Hop. Mixing contemplative rhymes and observational jewels with raw bravado, the skilled emcee (who also produced the majority of this release) held the listener’s attention with ease via his sharp delivery and down-to-earth attitude. The album also featured worthwhile appearances from the likes of  Supreme Cerebral, BanishHabitual and Supreme Magnetic.

Benny Diction & Able8 – “Oak Dreams” (MillenniumJazz.BandCamp.Com) – Recapturing the creative chemistry heard on their brilliant 2013 collabo album “Life Moves”, UK emcee Benny Diction and Australian producer Able8 joined forces once again for this EP on the Millennium Jazz label. A concise collection of honest, thoughtful lyricism and forward-thinking soundscapes, “Oak Dreams” was yet another worthy addition to Benny’s already impressive catalogue.

WateRR & The Standouts – “The Honorable” (WateRR.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago emcee WateRR appeared to have found the perfect sonic backdrop for his swaggering, forthright rhymes in the form of Texas production duo The Standouts, who supplied the Windy City wordsmith with a strong selection of attention-grabbing loops and samples on this impressive long-player.

Finale – “62” (FinaleDet313.BandCamp.Com) – Longstanding supporters of Detroit’s Finale will already know he is an emcee determined to fill his verses with substance, honesty and integrity. This latest album from the Motor City wordsmith continued in that tradition, with Finale offering personal rhymes about family, relationships and fatherhood over a well-chosen selection of soulful production.

Otis Mensah – “Rap Poetics” (OtisMensah.BandCamp.Com) – Unique, refreshing and possessing an undeniable mastery of words, flow and language, UK rapper-slash-poet Otis Mensah packed this six-track EP with a seemingly effortless stream of vivid imagery, stimulating lyricism and magnetic energy, all delivered over a nice selection of crisp, jazzy beats.

Super Duty Tough Work – “Studies In Grey” (SuperDutyToughWork.BandCamp.Com) – The idea of a live band making Hip-Hop is nothing new, but it is a concept that takes real skill to execute effectively. At the top end of the scale, groups like The Roots and the UK’s Mouse Outfit have consistently released incredible music based around the live band format. But when done badly, the end product can sound limp and bland, lacking the thump and grit many Hip-Hop fans demand. Based on this EP, it would appear that Canadian band Super Duty Tough Work are definitely masters of their craft, balancing head-nodding beats and nimble rhymes with smooth instrumentation, incorporating vibrant keys, lively bass and punctuating horns.

Asun Eastwood & Onaje Jordan – “Danger My Ally” (AsunEastwood.BandCamp.Com) – Canadian artist Asun Eastwood has steadily built himself a reputation over the last couple of years as one of the nicest emcees making noise in the underground. This latest release (produced by Chicago’s Onaje Jordan) offered more of the raw, uncut wordplay that supporters have grown accustomed to, reflecting the darker side of Toronto’s streets.

Part Two coming soon.

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2018 (Part Five) – Evidence / Juga-Naut / Chuck D etc.

Final part of Old To The New’s  2018 round-up – Check Part One, Part Two, Part Three & Part Four.

DJ Muggs & Roc Marciano – “KAOS” (SoulAssassins.Com) – Following the 2018 release of both “RR2” and “Behold A Dark Horse”, Roc Marci teamed-up with Cypress Hill’s Muggs to put together what resulted in being arguably the best of the three projects. Whilst Muggs’ dark trademark production style may not have seemed the first choice to fit with the Strong Island emcee’s laidback, conversational flow, the pair brought the best out of each other here, with the West Coast music man largely supplying Roc with a string of 70s soundtrack-style samples to lay his lyrical pimp-hand down on.

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Evidence – “Weather Or Not” (Rhymesayers.Com) – The third solo album from Dilated Peoples member Evidence, this project found the West Coast emcee capturing an almost melancholy vibe, an observation which isn’t meant to sound negative at all. As down-to-earth as always, Evidence delivered his usual high-standard of blue-collar beats and rhymes, expertly mixing personal reflection with claims of lyrical dominance over production from the likes of The Alchemist, Nottz and DJ Premier. Let it rain!

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Shay D – “Human Writes” (ShayDMusic.Com) – London-based emcee Shay D’s growth as an artist over recent years has been inspiring to witness, culminating in this project which is arguably her finest body-of-work to date, effectively blending spoken-word and rap, at times blurring the lines between Hip-Hop and grime with bold confidence. Painfully personal, proudly feminist and undeniably street-savvy, “Human Writes” stood as an artistic triumph which refused to be squeezed into the usual boxes female artists often find themselves confined to. Ladies first!

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Knowledge The Pirate – “Flintlock” (Treasure Chest Entertainment / FXCKRXP.BandCamp.Com) – The Roc Marciano-affiliated Pirate has been moving behind-the-scenes within the music industry for years now, with the brilliant “Flintlock” finally giving the East Coast emcee the opportunity to captain his own sonic ship. Detailed hustler tales were delivered here with an understated suggestion of menace, matched perfectly by the soulful, drama-laced production of Elemnt, Roc Marc, Mushroom Jesus and Knowledge himself. Vivid, cinematic crime rhymes. Ahoy!

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Juga-Naut – “Bon Vivant” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com) – Nottingham’s Juga-Naut is a craftsman with words. Next level talent. This impressive album showcased the UK emcee in all his larger-than-life lyrical glory, masterfully weaving confidently delivered verses with style and finesse around high-grade production from the likes of Cappo, Joe Buhdha and Jugz himself. There are some individuals who were just born to rhyme and “Bon Vivant” proved that Juga-Naut definitely falls into that category.

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Ty Farris – “No Cosign Just Cocaine 2” (TyFarris.BandCamp.Com) – Street-wise swagger and lyrical dexterity collided on this project with memorable results, as Detroit’s Ty Farris navigated his way through beats from Trox, Stu Bangas and Foulmouth (to name just a few) with focus, purpose and a razor-sharp tongue.

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Coops – “Life In The Flesh” (HighFocus.BandCamp.Com) – A thoroughly captivating and engrossing listening experience, this concept-based project from UK emcee Coops was a weighty mix of both style and substance. Produced entirely by the talented Talos, the album documented the London resident’s unique perspective on the struggles and challenges of modern-day life in Britain, showcasing the voice of an artist who is as spiritually-aware as he is socially-aware.

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Benny The Butcher – “Tana Talk 3” (GriseldaxFR.Com) – Griselda’s Benny upped the ante on this epic project, following in the footsteps of artists such as Jay-Z and Scarface as he gave listeners the full spectrum of the street life experience, including the losses, betrayals and regrets. Backed by fittingly sombre production from Daringer and The Alchemist, Benny delivered a true masterpiece here.

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Recognize Ali – “The Outlawed” (Greenfield Music / GourmetDeluxxx.BandCamp.Com) – Possessing a tireless work ethic, Ali has blazed his own trail through the underground in recent times with a string of consistently strong releases. This album found the Greenfield emcee once again demonstrating his formidable rhymes skills over production from the likes of Farma Beats, Big Ghost Ltd and Frank Grimes.

Daniel Son & Futurewave – “Pressure Cooker” (BrownBagMoney.BandCamp.Com) – Two of Canada’s finest Hip-Hop talents joined forces to craft this raw-yet-creative example of hardcore Hip-Hop, with the pair sharing an undeniable chemistry which ensured this album remained engaging throughout, as Daniel Son used the drum-heavy production of Futurewave for lyrical dart target-practice.

The Diceman – “The Power Of Now” (KingOfTheBeats.Com) – As a member of veteran Bronx crew The Legion, Dice’s Hip-Hop credentials are unquestionable. On this dope solo album, the Rotten Apple rhymer delivered rugged, witty rhymes over speaker-shaking boom-bap beats, resulting in an album that was grounded in golden-era traditions without sounding stuck in the past. The Bronx keeps creating it.

DJ Jazzy Jeff – “M3” (DJJazzyJeff215.BandCamp.Com) – Presenting the third and final instalment of his “Magnificent” album trilogy, Philly legend Jazzy Jeff gave listeners his usual high-quality trademark blend of Hip-Hop, soul and jazz on a project which was life-affirming, thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining. With The Trinity (Rhymefest, Dayne Jordan and Uhmeer) bridging the generation gap on mic duties, “M3” offered sonic sustenance in today’s troubled times.

Black Thought – “Streams Of Thought Vol. 2” (Passyunk Productions / Human Re Sources) – Illadelph icon Black Thought is one of the greatest of all-time. That shouldn’t even be up for debate at this stage in his career. Showcasing his always on-point blend of street knowledge, social observations, life lessons and emcee bravado over loose, funky Salaam Remi-orchestrated soundscapes, Thought continued to set the standard for anyone claiming to be a lyricist.

Apollo Brown & Joell Ortiz – “Mona Lisa” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp) – Detroit producer Apollo Brown has made a career out of working with already impressive artists and being able to bring just that little bit more out of them (Skyzoo, Ras Kass, O.C. etc).  Capturing Brooklyn’s Joell Ortiz at a potential crossroads following the Slaughterhouse split, “Mona Lisa” was the sound of an emcee taking stock of both his career and his life, world-weary but not bitter, experienced but not jaded, realistic but looking for a better tomorrow.

Nowaah The Flood & The Architect – “Trill Life Mathematiks” (NowaahTheFlood7.BandCamp.Com) – Texas-based wordsmith Nowaah was one of a crop of upcoming emcees who put their stamp on 2018 via a strong work ethic, quality music and genuine rhyme skills. Produced by the Bay Area’s Architect (of Homeliss Derilex fame), “Trill Life…” found Flood dropping street-based science and righteous rawness over a strong selection of impeccable beats.

Chuck D As Mistachuck – “Celebration Of Ignorance” (ChuckDAsMistachuck.BandCamp.Com) – Public Enemy’s Rhyme Animal returned to burn on this C-Doc-produced project with assistance from P.E. 2.0’s Jahi. Speaking his mind as always, Chuck D took the opportunity to address numerous political and social issues impacting Trump’s Amerikkka and beyond, proving that after thirty-plus years since his debut on wax, the Strong Island legend still doesn’t rhyme for the sake of riddling.

Hermit & The Recluse (Animoss & Ka) – “Orpheus vs. The Sirens” (BrownsvilleKa.Com) – Brooklyn’s master craftsman Ka took listeners on another lyrical odyssey with this  concept-based project. Packed with rich imagery, Ka’s verses here were delivered with incredible skill, woven together by life experience and creative genius, complimented by the dramatic, emotionally-charged work of Cali producer Animoss.

Habitat – “617 Black Label” (HeavyLinks.BandCamp.Com) – Heavy Links member Habitat came correct on his second solo album, pulling together a number of talented producers (including Giallo Point, DJ Severe and CrabbMan) to deliver the boom-bap backbone he was looking for. Full of forthright rhymes and true-school attitude, this was another strong outing for the UK emcee.

Codenine & Grubby Pawz – “Auerbach’s Garden” (CityYardMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Backed by some of the smoothest production to be heard in 2018 courtesy of Grubby Pawz, Massachusetts-based microphone fiend Codenine cut through the mellow mood music on offer here with consistently impressive displays of sharp, intricately-woven wordplay.

Stanza Divan – “Poetry In Motion” (StanzaDivan.BandCamp.Com) – Although it was billed as a mixtape rather than an official album or EP release, this impressive offering from Leicester-based artist Stanza Divan needed to be included here, as the lyrical skill, content and conviction contained within “Poetry In Motion” doesn’t come along every day. Definitely an artist to watch in 2019.

 

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2018 (Part Three) – Concept Of Thought / Roc Marciano / Kev Brown etc.

Check Part One and Part Two.

Concept Of Thought – “Misty Blue” (Yogocop.BandCamp.Com) – A truly life-affirming listening experience, emcees Awfew and Illiterate shone some light into the darkness on this beautifully crafted EP. Blessing the jazzy elegance of producer Joe Corfield with a steady flow of positive vibes, the pair delivered verses inspired by both their Brighton stomping grounds and the memory of a friend lost during their youth. Soothing, dream-like mood music.

Ankhlejohn & Big Ghost Ltd – “Van Ghost” (ShaapRecords.BandCamp.Com) – An undeniably good combination, the raspy rhymes of Washington’s Ankhlejohn sat perfectly atop the uncompromisingly raw production of Big Ghost throughout this satisfyingly sinister release. Eerie pianos, unsettling samples and solid drums provided a fittingly atmospheric backdrop for Ankhlejohn’s unique brand of verbal violence.

Fliptrix – “INEXHALE” (HighFocus.BandCamp.Com) –  There was something therapeutic about listening to Fliptrix’ seventh solo album.. The project resonated with a feeling, an energy, a vibration that did more than simply make your head-nod or inspire you to pick-out a few favourite quotables. Possessing a tone, flow and delivery which was as effective puncturing holes in the egos of his competition as it was delivering commentary on aspects of the human experience, all facets of Fliptrix’s artistry were brought together brilliantly on “INEXHALE”, with the project giving a sincere nod of respect to UK Hip-Hop’s past whilst boldly striding forward into its future.

Roc Marciano – “RR 2 – The Bitter Dose” (RocMarci.Com) – Largely self-produced, this sequel to last year’s “Rosebudd’s Revenge” album set off what was an extremely productive year for the Strong Island emcee. Roc’s trademark brand of slick New York pimp talk glided over smooth, old-school soul loops, resulting in an album that sounded like it could be the soundtrack to a yet-to-be-completed “Willie Dynamite” film remake.

Klaus Layer & Figub Brazlevic – “Slice Of Paradise” (FigubBrazlevic.Bandcamp.Com)Featuring an international line-up of collaborators from countries such as the UK, Russia and France, talented German producers Klaus Layer and Figub Brazlevic showcased their shared passion for dusty drums and soulful samples on this impressive long-player.

Skyzoo – “In Celebration Of Us” (First Generation Rich Inc) – Skyzoo’s catalogue is impeccable. Since 2005 the Brooklyn emcee has released project after project which have each seen his writing abilities reach new heights. It could be argued that “In Celebration…” stands as Skyzoo’s greatest piece of work to date. Boasting multi-layered rhymes which reveal new meaning with each listen, plus top-notch production from the likes of Apollo Brown, !llmind and Tuamie, this album found the gifted emcee capturing his life experiences growing-up in inner-city NY with an engrossing blend of subtle inflection and vivid descriptions.

Vinnie Paz – “The Pain Collector” (Enemy Soil / JMTHipHop.Com) – The Jedi Mind Tricks frontman delivered another heavy dose of his trademark righteous rawness on his fourth solo album, balancing punch-you-in-the-face aggression with moments of poignant reflection. This project definitely wasn’t made for the faint-hearted, but if you were expecting the Philly legend to drop anything other than uncompromising, hardcore Hip-Hop then you obviously haven’t been paying attention over the last twenty-plus years since JMT’s debut.

Bumpy Knuckles & Nottz – “Pop Duke Volume One” (BumpyKnuckles.BandCamp.Com) – Bumpy Knuckles (aka Freddie Foxxx) has made a career out of lyrically slapping wack emcees with absolutely no regrets. The man’s place in Hip-Hop’s history books is unshakeable. This collaborative project with producer Nottz found Bumpy fully embracing his OG status, showing the game some tough love in his usual gruff manner, dropping jewels in the process.

WateRR & DirtyDiggs – “Wizard Of The Crystal” (WateRR.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago emcee WateRR delivered slick, swaggering wordplay over the dusty loops of West Coast production outfit DirtyDiggs on this concise EP. Featuring the likes of Supreme Cerebral, Recognize Ali and Nowaah The Flood, this release was all about lyricism and genuine rhyme skills. Show and prove.

Kev Brown – “Homework” (KevBrown.BandCamp.Com) – Clocking in at an ambitious twenty-nine tracks, this welcome return from Maryland-based producer-on-the-mic Kev Brown captured the sound of a master at work. Blending  gritty sample chops with understated wordplay, the talented music man delivered an effective sonic lecture demonstrating how a student can become the teacher.

Parallax – “Auditory Vision” (ParallaxOfficialStore.BandCamp.Com) – Delivering on the potential displayed throughout his impressive 2014 EP “Depth Perception”, London lyricist Parallax dropped his official debut album “Auditory Vision”, an accomplished, well-executed project featuring personal, thought-provoking rhymes and quality production from the likes of Ded Tebiase, DJ Nappa and Wickstarr.

OC From NC – “It’s Not You, It’s Me” (OCFromNC.BandCamp.Com) – Having spent recent years proving himself to be an exceptionally consistent artist thanks to a string of quality projects, North Carolina’s OC added another release to his already impressive catalogue, with “It’s Not You, It’s Me” featuring the talented lyricist’s usual mix of boisterous bravado and thoughtful life observations.

Chairman Maf – “Ginger” (ChairmanMaf.BandCamp.Com) – This sixth instrumental album from UK producer Chairman Maf showcased the Sheffield music man’s ever-sharp ear for a soulful sample. Ranging from upbeat quirkiness and sophisticated smoothness to raw boom-bap, Maf proved himself to be a genuine chairman of the board with this masterful collection of dusty-fingered dopeness.

Funky DL – “Dennison Point” (FunkyDL.BandCamp.Com) – Having already dropped the impressive “Blackcurrent Jazz 3” earlier in the year (included in Part One of this list), multi-talented UK artist Funky DL looked back to his youth for the inspiration behind this brilliantly crafted concept album, with the longstanding Hip-Hop vet reminiscing on his time growing-up in East London over his trademark jazzy, true-school production.

Tragedy Khadafi & BP – “Immortal Titans” (FBDistribution.BandCamp) – Having influenced various Queensbridge legends such as Nas, Mobb Deep and Killa Sha, the Intelligent Hoodlum joined forces with producer BP to deliver his timeless brand of project poetry and pyramid wisdom over concrete-cracking beats. Aura check!

Summers Sons – “Undertones” (SummersSons2.BandCamp.Com) – London-raised, Bristol-based blood brothers Turt and Slim showcased their organic, jazz-influenced stylings on this quality collection of mellow head-nodders. The perfect soundtrack to warm, hazy July evenings, “Undertones” was a satisfyingly soothing listening experience. You gots to chill.

Nujericans – “A La Mala” (Nujericans.BandCamp.Com) – New Jersey representatives Sol Zalez and Joey Dynomite dropped their debut collection of raw-yet-funky beats and rhymes, with the pair offering a nod of respect to the 90s East Coast underground whilst maintaining their own flavour and sonic personality.

Shuko – “1996” (Shuko.BandCamp.Com) – German producer Shuko paid homage to the mid-90s with this brilliantly crafted collection of drum-heavy, sample-based instrumentals, respectfully offering a sonic nod to the likes of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest in the process.

Joe Corfield – “Patterns” (RadioJuicy.BandCamp.Com) – Having already blessed two of 2018’s finest releases with his trademark production sound (Fliptrix’s “Inexhale” and Concept Of Thought’s “Misty Blue”), UK music man Joe Corfield kept the momentum going with this sublime selection of hypnotic, jazz-influenced instrumentals via Germany’s Radio Juicy imprint.

Juga-Naut & Sonnyjim – “The Purple Door” (EatGoodRecords.BandCamp.Com) – Two of the UK’s finest joined forces for this brilliant collection of well-crafted verses and ill beats, with Nottingham’s Juga-Naut proving yet again why he deserves to be mentioned in any conversation regarding the dopest emcees currently gripping microphones, whilst Sonnyjim flexed his production muscle like a true master, flipping some quality samples throughout..

Part Four coming soon.

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2018 (Part Two) – Kamanchi Sly / Ocean Wisdom / Westside Gunn etc.

Check Part One here.

K-Sly – “Me And My SP” (KamanchiSly.Com) – Kamanchi Sly is a legend and pioneer of the UK Hip-Hop scene, but the Hijack emcee hasn’t been prepared to simply rest on his laurels, with “Me And My SP” being the London mic vet’s third album in six months at the time of its release in May 2018. A rambunctious mix of true-school attitude, classic breaks and raw rhymes, this release was powered by the undeniable and infectious energy generated by Sly’s unwavering love for the culture of Hip-Hop.

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Crimeapple & Big Ghost Ltd – “Aguardiente” (GourmetDeluxxx.BandCamp.Com) – Backed by the dramatic and ominous production of the mighty Big Ghost (Ankhlejohn, Ghostface Killah etc), New Jersey’s Crimeapple demonstrated throughout this project why he has grown to become one of the most revered rhymers of rap’s new generation, with a sneering confidence in his rugged verses that evoke images of the bearded lyricist holding the mic in one hand and a wack emcee by the scruff of his neck in the other.

Poisonous Diggs – “Volume 84” (IAmKillaKali.BandCamp.Com) – A short-but-effective barrage of fly beats and razor-sharp rhymes from the Gold Chain Music / Poison Ring Regime camp, this collaborative EP from Dirty Diggs and Killa Kali was the type of Hip-Hop that made you screw your face up, adopt an old-school arms-folded b-boy pose  and pledge allegiance to the culture in no uncertain terms.

Big Toast & Jack Diggs – “Call It On” (RevorgRecords.BandCamp.Com) – Opening with the line “I don’t want to listen to your whinging…”, it was clear from the outset that this project from South London blood brothers Toast and Diggs wasn’t about pandering to the masses, with the pair instead offering blunt insight into modern-day life, taking verbal shots at the self-righteous of the world with a heavy dose of  acidic wit and quality self-produced boom-bap beats.

Raashid Aariz – “Knowledge, Wisdom & Understanding” (RaashidAariz19.BandCamp.Com) – Virginia-based producer Raashid Aariz delivered music to meditate to on this refined instrumental project, mixing his love of soul and jazz with the influence of 90s Hip-Hop, ranging from mellow, late-night electric relaxation vibes to sax-heavy, Wu-Tang-sampling workouts.

Ocean Wisdom – “Wizville” (HighFocus.BandCamp.Com) – An artistic triumph in every sense of the term, this sophomore project from Brighton’s Ocean Wisdom confidently blended genres, bridged generation gaps and cracked the Official UK Album Charts in the process (a massive achievement for an independent homegrown Hip-Hop artist). Easily holding his own on tracks with long-established artists such as Rodney P, Method Man and Dizzee Rascal, Wisdom’s clever, rapid-fire rhymes shone throughout. Welcome to Wizville, indeed.

AG – “The Taste Of AMbrosia” (AGofDITC.BandCamp.Com) – Diggin’ In The Crates member Andre The Giant has remained consistent on wax for almost thirty years now, with the NY emcee managing to balance his old-school Bronx rap roots here with a desire to step forward artistically and not simply retread old ground. “The Taste…” was the sound of a legacy artist who is as passionate about his craft today as he was when he first picked a mic up all those years ago.

Philmore Greene – “Chicago: A Third World City” (PhilmoreGreene.BandCamp.Com) – Talented emcee Philmore Greene took listeners on a sonic tour around his Windy City stomping grounds on this captivating, hard-hitting project, tackling the impact of street violence, social conditions and politics on the people of Chicago, with the soulful soundscapes of Rashid Hadee adding further poignancy to the lyricist’s earnest, heartfelt verses.

Royalz – “Live 95” (GrhymeProductions.BandCamp.Com) – As its title suggests, this well-crafted project from Australian producer Royalz wore its 90s influences on its sonic sleeve, with the likes of SmooVth, Conway and Dialect blessing a strong selection of raw-yet-refined beats.

Rome Streetz & Farma Beats – “Street Farmacy” (RomeStreetz.BandCamp.Com) –  This transatlantic collaboration from NY emcee Rome Streetz and London producer Farma Beats supplied Hip-Hop fiends with plenty of that uncut dope, as grimy, project-building poetry was laid over an eclectic collection of samples and loops.

Dabbla – “Death Moves” (PotentFunkRecords.BandCamp.Com) – Another blazing display of rhyming agility from Dabbla, this follow-up to 2016’s “Year Of The Monkey” album further cemented the UK emcee’s reputation as a naturally gifted talent, with the Problem Child member putting a lyrical leash on a wide-ranging selection of beats, from futuristic, bass-heavy wave twisters to straight-up, sample-based head-nodders.

Westside Gunn – “Supreme Blientele” (Grisleda / Daupe.BandCamp.Com) – The Griselda Records family continued to stamp their dominance on the rap game throughout 2018, with this immediate cult classic from Gunn just one of a handful of quality releases from the camp over the past twelve months. Backed by heavy-hitting producers such as Pete Rock, 9th Wonder, Alchemist and (of course) frequent collaborator Daringer, WG masterfully utilised his distinctive delivery to offer more of his captivating insight and perspective on both the street life and the rap game.

Napoleon Da Legend & Giallo Point – “Coup D’Etat” (FXCKRXP.BandCamp.Com) – It’s always good to hear a full project from an emcee and producer who are truly on the same page creatively. This release from NYC’s NDL and the UK’s Giallo Point definitely hit that mark. Clever, intricate, street-savvy rhymes were coupled here with smooth, atmospheric production, resulting in an album that sounded both familiar and individual at the same time.

K Zorro – “Winnie’s Passion / Bernard’s Legacy” (NewGuardzOnline.BandCamp.Com) – With so much of today’s popular culture dominated by image, hype and empty posturing, it’s always refreshing to hear music from an artist who appears determined to genuinely let the listener into their world, capturing life’s struggles, hopes and regrets along the way. Enter London-based emcee K Zorro with this well-crafted album, which found the New Guardz member getting up-close-and-personal as he spilt his soul over the fourteen tracks on offer here.

Da Flyy Hooligan – “Roman Abramovich” (GourmetDeluxxx.BandCamp.Com) – Possessing a moniker that truly captures his lyrical approach, London’s Da Flyy Hooligan effortlessly elbowed his way through the stripped-down-yet-sublime production of D’Lux Beats on this short-but-satisfying EP. Offering both style and substance, DFH once again proved himself to be a formidable force in the microphone booth.

IceRocks – “Live From The Bunker” (IceRocksDXA.BandCamp.Com) – Following up his 2016 instrumental project “Bunker Beats”, DXA producer IceRocks once again showcased his dope brand of NY boom-bap throughout this album, adding some talented lyricists into the mix this time around, with the likes of AG Da Coroner, Meyhem Lauren and Spit Gemz lending lyrical support. A project best listened to whilst wearing Timberlands and a hoodie.

C.A.M – “Persian Rugs” (CAMOfficial.BandCamp.Com) – The London-based emcee followed-up his impressive 2017 EP “The First Move” with this second collection of sharp, intelligent lyricism superbly produced by Hashfinger. Combining a quick-fire delivery with an attention-grabbing vocal tone able to penetrate a beat like a razor-blade through rice paper , C.A.M’s latest project was immediately captivating, demanding to be revisited again and again.

King Draft – “Two Eyes” (KingDraftMusic.BandCamp.Com) – As both a member of The Kingdom and a solo artist in his own right, King Draft has been on my radar since 2014. The talented North Carolina-based artist added to his already impressive catalogue with this ambitious release, an eclectic blend of organic live instrumentation and concept-driven lyricism.

Vic Spencer & Sonnyjim – “Spencer For Hire” (Eat Good Records / GourmetDeluxxx.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago’s Vic Spencer joined forces with the UK’s Sonnyjim to drop this smoothed-out selection of lo-fi liveness, featuring Quelle Chris, Hus Kingpin and Chris Crack. Spencer’s swaggering, self-assured steez meshed perfectly with Sonnyjim’s supreme stash of soundtrack-style loops.

EvillDewer – “Apocrypha” (EvillDewer.BandCamp.Com) – Boston-based producer and self-proclaimed Crown Chakra Rocka EvillDewer showcased his musical imagination on this instrumental project, steering clear of typical boom-bap beats and pushing his creative boundaries, drawing the listener deep into an intricately-crafted collection of inspired, sample-driven soundscapes.

Part Three coming soon,

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2018 (Part One) – Masta Ace & Marco Polo / Children Of Zeus / Funky DL etc.

Politically, socially and economically, 2018 will no doubt go down in the history books as a particularly disastrous year. Wherever you looked across the globe, there was chaos, unrest and mistrust. In contrast, however, and on a more positive note, 2018 was an incredible year for new Hip-Hop.

It’s been near impossible to keep up with the vast amount of product flooding the market, with both veteran artists and a new generation of talented emcees, producers and deejays all contributing to the rich selection of beats and rhymes that have been made available over the past twelve months.

As I’ve said before when writing previous ‘best-of’ intros, some ‘heads” still seem surprised that I’m able to find a hundred releases during the course of a year that I’ve genuinely enjoyed. In reality, there have been more than that, and this 2018 selection, as with other years, has been scaled down from an original list which far exceeded that number.

So if you’re still of the opinion that quality Hip-Hop isn’t being released in high quantities, then you’re really not listening or looking hard enough – and in today’s digital era, when most of that music is available at the click of a button without you even having to leave your house, it really couldn’t be easier to find something that suits your sonic preferences.

On a mainstream level (as has largely always been the case) the best that Hip-Hop has to offer isn’t being represented. But in the underground, talent, skill and creativity are still there to be found by those prepared to dig and support.

So with all that being said, this list represents what I had in heavy rotation throughout 2018.

Props as always to all the artists out there making memorable music from a genuine place of love for this incredible culture.

Peace!

Masta Ace & Marco Polo – “A Breukelen Story” (Fat Beats) – One of the best to ever do it, since his 1990 debut long-player “Take A Look Around” Juice Crew legend Masta Ace has consistently proven himself to be a true virtuoso of the album format, delivering a long line of well-rounded, concept-based projects. This collaborative effort with the ever-impressive Marco Polo successfully bound together the pair’s individual BK-related narratives, demonstrating what quality, timeless music sounds like in the process. They live in Brooklyn, baby.

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Royce Da 5’9 – “Book Of Ryan” (Heaven Studios / eOneMusic) – Intensely personal and brilliantly executed, Detroit wordsmith Royce’s seventh album ran the full gamut of emotions, presenting the listener with a sonic photo album which captured poignant moments in the emcee’s family history, both past and present. Displaying a no-holds-barred honesty in his writing, Royce’s ability to tackle difficult subjects here such as addiction, domestic abuse and suicide, without coming across as overly judgemental or preachy, was a testament to his level of dedication to his craft. “Book Of Ryan” was an album that was shocking, humourous, tragic and inspiring in equal measures.

Children Of Zeus – “Travel Light” (First Word Records) – Arguably the best blend of Hip-Hop and soul since Mary J. Blige enquired about the 411 back in 1992, Manchester duo Konny Kon and Tyler Daley proved that hard work does pay off when, after years of building a cult fanbase for their unique brand of UK street music, the pair finally gained the wider recognition they’ve deserved for so long with the release of this brilliant debut album. An organic mix of sonic influences both past and present, “Travel Light” proudly took its place next to defining works by the likes of Loose Ends, Soul II Soul and London Posse as a truly individual example of quality British music.

Micall Parknsun & Mr Thing – “Finish What We Started” (Village Live Records) – Genuine creative chemistry is something that’s hard to come by in any artistic partnership. Thankfully, that wasn’t a problem UK duo Micall Parknsun and Mr Thing had to worry about, with their brilliant album “Finish What We Started” pulsating from beginning to end with an energy that could only be achieved when people share the same drive, focus and passion for what they do. An album with real replay value, “Finish What We Started” was the sound of both Parknsun and Thing at the top of their game, mixing old-school values with now-school skills.

Superbad Solace – “Sol Controller” (SuperbadSolace.BandCamp.Com) – Teaming up with frequent collaborator Mono En Stereo (pka El RTNC), Timeless Truth member Superbad Solace went for dolo on this quality EP, reppin’ for the borough of Queens in no uncertain terms, weaving fly NY wordplay around melodic, sample-based soundscapes with impressive results.

Planet Asia – “The Golden Buddha” (Brick Records) – A key figure in the West Coast indie scene of the mid-to-late 90s, an increase in output over recent years has further proven Planet Asia to be one of the most consistent artists in the game.  Produced entirely by San Francisco’s izznyce, “The Golden Buddha” was packed with quality beats and pyramid-precise verses, with PA flowing like the Nile with authority and apparent effortlessness.

The Mouse Outfit – “Jagged Tooth Crook” (TheMouseOutfit.BandCamp.Com) – Having further refined their live, organic sound on each  of the group’s full-length releases, this third album from Manchester-based collective The Mouse Outfit was arguably the crew’s most musically sophisticated effort to date. Largely based around mellow, jazzy production laced with tinges of reggae and soul, “Jagged Tooth Crook” found the likes of Dubbul O, Black Josh and Ellis Meade dropping life-affirming lines and spontaneous styles throughout this mammoth seventeen-track project.

Showbiz – “A-Room Therapy” (DITCEnt.Com) – With sonic input from producers Motif Alumni and Dark Keys, legendary crate-digger Showbiz pulled together members of the core DITC crew and extended family affiliates for this showcase of quality Rotten Apple rap, with the likes of O.C., A.G, David Bars and the late Tashane bridging the generation gap with their undiluted rhyme skills.

Flashius Clayton – “Wolf Moon” (FlashiusClayton.BandCamp.Com) – Cali-based Knuckle Sandwich Deli representative Flashius Clayton set 2018 off the right way with this tight EP which dropped on Jan 1st. Combining competition-crushing attitude with natural rhyming ability and an ear for strong production, the West Coast wordsmith singled himself out as one to watch with this release.

Blueprint – “Two-Headed Monster” (WeightlessRecordings.Net) – Grounded in golden-era traditions yet refusing to wallow in nostalgia, veteran Ohio-based producer-on-the-mic Blueprint’s latest long-player was a shining example of thoughtful, mature Hip-Hop which succeeded in sparking your brain cells whilst making your head nod.

Farma Beats – “The Sentimental Alien” (FarmaBeats.BandCamp.Com) – Having made his name in the UK Hip-Hop scene of the 90s primarily as an emcee with London’s Bury Crew, M.U.D. Family and then Task Force, 2018 saw Farma go global with his production skills, with “The Sentimental Alien” featuring an impressive list of collaborators including Chester P, Recognize Ali and Estee Nack showcasing their skills over obscure loops and quality beats.

Scran Cartel – “Blue Plaque Candidates” (ScranCartel.BandCamp.Com) – Possibly the best combination of Hip-Hop and food since the Fat Boys cracked open a pizza box on the cover of their 1984 debut album, this collaborative project from UK duo MNSR Frites and Benny Diction contained high-protein beats and rhymes that were guaranteed to satisfy the appetite of any music connoisseur. Featuring production from Chemo, Downstroke, Blue Buttonz and more, “Blue Plaque Candidates” was three-course home-cooked goodness – no fast-food rap to be found here.

Da Buze Bruvaz – “Ni$&@tivity” (Grilchy Party) – Philly’s Clever One and Him Lo continued to steam-roller over the competition on their latest collection of put-you-in-a-headlock Hip-Hop, with the larger-than-life pair dropping aggressive-yet-entertaining punchlines and thinly-veiled threats over fittingly hardcore production from affiliates such as Shaheed Mudfoot, Claymore and Gosilla. Guard ya grill!

Kool G Rap & 38 Spesh – “Son Of G Rap” (38Spesh.BandCamp.Com) – A collection of unapologetically raw street knowledge  which attempted to join the dots between various eras in New York Hip-Hop, “Son Of…” found lyrical architect Kool G Rap passing the baton to Rochester’s 38 Spesh, with the likes of Cormega, AZ and Meyhem Lauren on-hand to rep for the Rotten Apple over production from sonic craftsman such as DJ Premier, Pete Rock and The Alchemist.

Funky DL – “Blackcurrent Jazz 3” (FunkyDL.Bandcamp.Com) – As suggested by its title, this release from London-based producer-on-the-mic Funky DL was grounded in the UK veteran’s love of all things soulful and jazzy, with his witty couplets and entertaining story-telling rhymes meshing perfectly with a seamless sample-based blend of mellow pianos, smooth horns and 90s-influenced beats. He got the jazz, he got the jazz.

Kyo Itachi – “Night Life” (ShinigamieRecords.BandCamp.Com) – France’s king of boom-bap Kyo Itachi pulled together an impressive guest list for this well-executed collection of underground gems, with the likes of Artifacts, Keith Murray and Milano Constantine displaying their well-tested skills over head-nodding, full-bodied production.

Spnda & Grubby Pawz – “Holographic” (CityYardMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Following up their brilliant 2017 project “Steel Sharpens Steel”, Boston’s Spnda and Grubby Pawz once again showcased their creative chemistry on this equally impressive project, a collection of masterfully vivid rhymes and superbly selected samples stitched together with a sci-fi undertone.

Rasheed Chappell – “First Brick” (RasheedChappell.BandCamp.Com) – Seven years since the release of his critically-acclaimed debut album “Future Before Nostalgia”, NY-based emcee Rasheed Chappell joined forces once again with production legend Kenny Dope  for this undiluted dose of East Coast Hip-Hop, demonstrating growth in his already impressive writing abilities, drawing inspiration from yesterday whilst looking towards tomorrow.

Ray Vendetta & Karnate – “The Master Chambers LP” (PrestigiousRecordings1.BandCamp.Com) – Having already proven himself to be one of the game’s most consistent and hard-working emcees, London-based lyricist Ray Vendetta didn’t take any time off in 2018, with this Karnate-produced album ranking as arguably the Triple Darkness member’s most complete body of work, highlighting all facets of Vendetta’s rhyming abilities, from street-savvy barbs to moments of subtle personal reflection.

Milano Constantine – “Attache Case” (FXCKRXP.BandCamp.Com) – Co-signed by both Big Pun and Big L, Diggin’ In The Crates affiliate Milano is an emcee who has always stayed dedicated to the art of lyricism and this project with Netherlands-based producer Oh Jay didn’t find the Rotten Apple representative deviating from his path. Action-packed wordplay and drama-fuelled soundscapes were the order of the day here, with Milano yet again standing head-and-shoulders above most of his competition on the microphone.

Part Two coming soon.

Album Review – Fliptrix

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Fliptrix

“INEXHALE”

(High Focus Records)

One of the greatest pleasures as a fan of music is to see and hear an artist you’ve followed since the beginning of their career truly grow with each release. That doesn’t mean changing a signature style or offering a completely different sound each time said artist drops a new project, instead I’m referring to the growth that occurs when an artist is able to expand their creative boundaries with confidence, having honed their craft to a point of true mastery and expertise.

London-born, Brighton-based emcee Fliptrix is an individual whom all of the above applies to.

Having dropped his debut album “Force Fed Imagery” in 2007, the past decade has seen the talented wordsmith deliver a massive seven solo albums (including this latest full-length effort), whilst also recording two projects as a member of the mighty Four Owls collective alongside Leaf Dog, Verb T and BVA.

All of which would be impressive enough, yet when you also take into consideration the fact that, artistic endeavours aside, Fliptrix has worked tirelessly to build the High Focus label he established back in 2010 into a true independent powerhouse with a dedicated fanbase (helping to provide an outlet for artists such as Dabbla, Ocean Wisdom and Strange U), it becomes clear that his passion for music runs extremely deep.

It may not seem that long ago since Fliptrix was considered a new voice within the UK Hip-Hop scene, but on “INEXHALE” the emcee who was once a student has now become a master.

Fliptrix is a lyricist’s lyricist. A writer’s writer. It’s been evident throughout his career that this microphone fiend has a real love for the process of piecing words together, meticulously crafting line after line, resulting in verses that are full of vivid imagery, life observations and, at times, esoteric thinking.

Fliptrix doesn’t make background music. His rhymes are written with the intention of the listener having to fully engage with them, demanding your complete attention so you can follow, understand and interpret what is being said as the emcee’s train of thought takes you on a lyrical journey from one point of reference to the next.

Possessing a tone, flow and delivery which is as effective puncturing holes in the egos of his competition as it is delivering commentary on aspects of the human experience, all facets of Fliptrix’s artistry are brought together brilliantly on “INEXHALE”, with the project giving a sincere nod of respect to UK Hip-Hop’s past whilst boldly striding forward into its future.

Backed by ambitious and skilfully delivered production from Chemo, Joe Corfield and Molotov, Fliptrix has selected an ideal array of soundscapes for “INEXHALE” over which to let his mind float.

The opening “Inhale” is an immediately captivating combination of swirling keys, wispy vocal samples and knocking drums courtesy of the always impressive Chemo, with Fliptrix commenting on today’s social media generation whilst recent High Focus signee Coops is on-hand to drop an intense, attention-grabbing guest verse.

The hypnotic “Flying” is a beautifully crafted slice of mind-expanding rap, with the weightless vibe of Chemo’s spacey synths and Carmody’s delicate vocals inspiring Fliptrix to have an out-of-body lyrical experience (“I’m levitating through wisdom to planes of escapism, From Great Britain to intergalactical states tripping…”).

“Bagging Up Music” is a boisterous blend of traditional punchline-laced rap and contemporary sonic flavours, whilst Molotov’s haunting, piano-laced production on “The Window” fits perfectly with Fliptrix’s plea for a unified world in which people see common ground rather than division (“Take visions to a limitless place, Go within find grace, You’re living by the colour of your skin? That’s waste, Or the place that you’re born, Or religion you’re in, You’re divided, Ain’t realised you’re united, See through the fabric of time like psychics, You are really God, It’s just that people trick you, Your spirit lives through…”).

Ocean Wisdom and Onoe Caponoe feature on the infectious “Inside The Ride”, a dope combination of double-time flows and off-kilter beats. The Joe Corfield-produced “Thriller” is another of the album’s impressive collaborations, with Fliptrix joined by inimitable UK Hip-Hop legend Skinnyman for a relentless display of rhyme power.

The closing “Exhale” finds Fliptrix acknowledging where he’s been on his journey and where he’s yet to go over a deep, mellow groove, making it clear that he is an artist who intends to continue living up to his potential (“It’s all manifestation, dedication, Every minute, every day, I’m always elevating…”).

Truth be told, there’s something therapeutic about listening to “INEXHALE”. The project resonates with a feeling, an energy, a vibration that does more than simply make your head-nod or inspire you to pick-out a few favourite quotables.

As dead prez once said, one thing ’bout music, when it hit you feel no pain, and Fliptrix is most definitely on target with his latest sonic opus.

Long may the man’s artistic travels continue.

Ryan Proctor

“INEXHALE” is available here.

 

 

You Gotta Flow Joe – 25th Anniversary Of Fat Joe’s Debut Album “Represent”

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Fat Joe’s debut album “Represent” is a personal favourite of mine. Not just a favourite album from 1993. Not just a favourite album from the 90s overall. But a personal favourite of all-time.

“Represent” may not have been considered the most polished or ground-breaking album when it dropped, but there was something about the raw Bronx attitude of a 22-year-old Joey Crack combined with the thunderous beats of some of the East Coast’s finest producers that ensured the project remained stuck in my Walkman headphones for months after its July 27th release date twenty-five years ago.

Introduced to the Hip-Hop world at large via D.I.T.C.’s Diamond D, who produced a Fat Joe promo for DJ Red Alert’s Kiss FM radio show in 1991 before offering the Rotten Apple rhymer some mic time on his classic 1992 album “Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop”, the graffiti-writing rapper was clearly starting to build a buzz for himself during the early-90s, with his street reputation appearing to precede him.

Yet it wouldn’t be until the spring of 1993 that Joe would make his official solo splash into the rap game with the release of the brilliant “Flow Joe” single on Relativity Records, a heavy-duty slice of horn-laced BX boom-bap flavour crafted by the aforementioned Diamond, featuring NY turntable legend Rob Swift on the cut, a catchy-yet-hardcore hook and the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer rhymes of a hungry Fat Joe who clearly felt he had something to prove as he sought to hold it down for  Latino lyricists (“Everybody knows Fat Joe’s in town, ‘Nuff respect for the Boogie-Down, I’m livin’ in the Bronx on an ave called Trinity, My name rings bells within the vicinity…”).

This single immediately grabbed my attention when I first heard it on Tim Westwood’s Capital Rap Show over here in the UK. Already a big Diggin’ In The Crates fan thanks to prior releases from Lord Finesse, Showbiz & AG and, of course, Diamond D, I was wide open at the thought of a full-length Fat Joe project, not least because after hearing that initial single, any subsequent album felt like it promised to be an uncompromising dose of gritty New York rap music.

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Hip-Hop in 1993 was in a state of flux. Times were changing. Fat Joe’s “Represent” landed right in the middle of a year that was seeing new sounds and voices from the West Coast beginning to dominate, whilst the East Coast was starting to lose its vice-like grip on the culture.

The impact of Dr. Dre’s classic “The Chronic”, released at the very end of 1992, was casting a synth-heavy G-Funk shadow across Planet Rock. Anticipation for Snoop’s debut album “Doggystyle” (released late in ’93) was steadily building. Ice Cube remained one of the culture’s most controversial voices. MC Eiht’s “Streiht Up Menace” from the “Menace II Society” soundtrack was one of the most popular singles of the year Stateside. Cypress Hill were selling huge amounts of records. 2Pac was beginning to gain notoriety.

Meanwhile, some veteran New York giants were either splitting-up, faltering or rebuilding. EPMD had proven that business was personal by announcing the group’s break-up. Public Enemy had lost some momentum following the release of their 1992 album “Greatest Misses”. LL Cool J had received mixed reviews for his”14 Shots To The Dome” project, released in March 1993. Whilst Big Daddy Kane’s “Looks Like A Job For…” (released in May) found the Brooklyn legend having to regain the trust of many fans who’d balked at the overt R&B influences of 1991’s “Prince Of Darkness”.

The full impact of Nas and Biggie was still yet to be felt in 1993, with the future icons still each only having a single and some guest appearances under their respective belts. Neither “Illmatic” or “Ready To Die” would be released until the following year, with both artists then being credited with bringing the Hip-Hop crown back home to New York in 1994.

Many people, however, quite rightly point to late 1993 album releases from A Tribe Called Quest, Black Moon and Wu-Tang Clan as all having played a major part in drawing attention back to the traditional New York sound.

I, however, would go one step further and say that, in the summer of that same year, knowingly or not, Fat Joe was already doing his best to ensure New York remained on top of the game.

To say I was amped for the release of “Represent” would be an understatement. Whilst the first half of 1993 had definitely seen some strong album releases from a selection of East Coast artists (Onyx, Lords Of The Underground, Akinyele, Masta Ace Incorporated, Trends Of Culture etc), I had a different level of excitement in relation to Fat Joe’s debut. Partly because of his Diggin’ In The Crates affiliation and partly because the overall power of that “Flow Joe” single really had me hooked.

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In the pre-Internet Hip-Hop world, you didn’t always know the definitive release date of an album, you just knew it was coming based on ads you would see in magazines like The Source. That was the case with Fat Joe’s “Represent”.

I can distinctly remember going on a family holiday at the time the release of “Represent” was looming. At almost eighteen-years-old, I hadn’t been on holiday with my parents for a few years. My sister had been diagnosed with cancer mid-1992, and twelve months into her treatment the future was looking a little uncertain, so my mother had decided it would be a good idea to go on a holiday that year in-case it was the last opportunity we had (thankfully it wasn’t and my sister is still alive and well today).

Before we left I gave my cousin fifteen pounds (the average price of an import CD in the UK at that time) and strict instructions to look out for “Represent” dropping whilst I was away. He worked in Luton, then home to the brilliant Soul Sense Records, so I was confident that if the album came out he’d be able to get it.

My girlfriend at the time also came on that family holiday with us and I can recall laying on a beach listening to a Westwood radio tape with “Flow Joe” on it and repeatedly telling her how high my hopes were for “Represent” and how disappointed I was going to be if my cousin hadn’t succeeded in his mission by the time we got home.

He had.

Any music lover who has ever bought physical product will tell you about the eagerness involved in tearing the wrapping off of a new purchase. But when it’s an album you’ve been anticipating for a period of time, that eagerness is heightened. When I returned from holiday and got my hands on my CD copy of “Represent”, I needed to hear it immediately.

I remember looking at that cover shot of Fat Joe standing on a darkened Bronx street-corner and thinking how rugged it looked (I hadn’t yet seen the “Flow Joe” video), then flipping the case over and seeing the picture of the In Memory Of…mural dedicated to Joe’s late friend Anthony Crespo aka Tony Montana. Then I ran down the tracklist which was followed by these words – Produced By Diamond D. Additional Production By Lord Finesse, The Beatnuts, Showbiz and Chilly Dee.

I had no idea who Chilly Dee was, but I remember thinking that if his production work was sitting next to beats provided by dudes who were already considered living legends then he must be up-to-par.

I plugged in my headphones and hit ‘Play’ on the CD.

The segue from the short “Scarface”-sampling intro “A Word To Da Wise” into the beginning of the moody and atmospheric Lord Finesse-crafted “Livin’ Fat” remains one of the greatest album openings ever, with the Funkyman’s work behind the boards on that particular cut standing as unquestionable proof as to why he should forever be considered one of Hip-Hop’s greatest producers.

With the echoing horns, heavy bass and pounding drums of “Livin’ Fat” capturing the ominous energy of a late-night encounter in a Bronx project building hallway, the track offered the perfect opportunity for Fat Joe to make his intentions clear, shouting out his affiliation with the late Chris Lighty (“I can’t get played ‘cos I roll with Baby Chris…”), detailing his expectations of “Represent” reaching Gold status (at least), and offering some very direct info on his day-to-day routine (“I be rippin’ the mic, Clockin’ dough, Stickin’ the hoes, After every single show, y’know?!”)

Joe’s claims on “Livin’ Fat” of being “One of the best to grab the mic…” may have seemed unfounded to many in 1993, but in reality who was going to argue with someone who by their own admission used to bully their way onto the mic at block parties and was able to remain in control of said microphone because people were scared to tell him his lyrical skills just weren’t as impressive as those of others.

“Bad Bad Man” was another immediate standout from the album, with Joe giving props to Gang Starr, threatening to hand-out physical beatdowns and “checking out stunts in the Polo Grounds” over an ill Diamond D-dissected loop from Yvonne Fair’s 1975 track “Let Your Hair Down”.

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In more recent times,  Fat Joe has mentioned that he is unable to listen to “Represent”. In 2010 he told HipHopDX.Com, “I can’t listen to my first album. It’s like brutal to me…Lyrically, I’ve grown so much over the years.”

Yet, if the rapper had any doubts about his rhyming abilities in 1993, he definitely didn’t let it show, placing himself on tracks alongside emcees with deservedly formidable reputations and defiantly holding his own, resulting in “Represent” containing three of my favourite 90s posse cuts.

The Tenor Saw-sampling “Watch The Sound” found Diamond D and Grand Puba delivering politically-incorrect punchlines over speaker-rattling jeep beats, whilst amidst dialogue snippets from the Matty Rich-directed film “Straight Out Of Brooklyn” and the sound of loud gunfire, Fat Joe called on the tough-guy terminology of lyrical architect Kool G Rap and the Flavor Unit’s Apache for the Hip-Hop adrenaline rush that was “You Must Be Out Of Your F**kin’ Mind” (with Joe verbally date-stamping the track with his infamous line “I’m sick and tired of muthaf**kers trying to sound like Das EFX!”).

The greatest posse cut on “Represent”, however, has to be the Chilly Dee-produced “Another Wild N****r From The Bronx”. Based around the same Bobbi Humphrey “Blacks And Blues” sample made popular by K.M.D.’s 1991 track “Plumskinzz”, Fat Joe was joined by homeboys Gismo, Kieth Kieth and NY legend King Sun for an absolute juggernaut of a track, with all involved (Kieth Kieth in particular – or should that be Keith Keith?) delivering some potent New York straight talk.

The Beatnuts supplied Joe with a swaggering head-nodder in the form of the autobiographical “The S**t Is Real” (a track which would gain further traction when released as a single in ’94 complete with a DJ Premier remix), whilst the huge drums of the Showbiz-produced “I Got This In A Smash” inspired the Bronx representative to show some uncharacteristic vulnerability as he described the moment he found out about the murder of his friend Tony Montana (“Ahhh s**t, Another brother hit, This time it’s Tone, Life is a f**kin’ bitch, It really hurts when the s**t hits home, Early in the morning, They’re callin’ me on the phone, Tellin’ me my man caught eight to the chest, Nah this couldn’t be, Tone always wore a vest…Man, I’m gonna miss him, I love him to death, Charlie’s in jail and I’m the only brother left…”).

The juvenile humour of “Shorty Gotta Fat Ass” and the lively “Get On Up” offered moments of light-hearted respite from Joe’s relentless, hardcore attack. Yet the closing “I’m A Hit That” left me scratching my head at the time. Obviously aimed at the ladies, this Showbiz-produced track featured Fat Joe adopting a playful, Heavy D-style flow which seemed out of place within the overall context of the album. To end the project with a track that almost seemed like an afterthought seemed like a strange decision.

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In the September 1993 issue of The Source, “Represent” was given a three-and-a-half-mic review. I believed then (as I do now) that the album deserved four-mics (which would have elevated it to ‘Slammin’ – Definite Satisfaction’ status). The overall response to the project from Da Ghetto Communicator was positive. But obviously the magazine’s mighty Mind Squad weren’t all as enthusiastic about Fat Joe when it came time for the group vote to take place which determined the mic-rating the album would receive.

“Represent” would reach a peak position of 46 on Billboard’s Top R&B / Hip-Hop Albums chart.

Fast-forward to the winter of 1993, almost six months after “Represent” dropped, and I can clearly remember still rocking the album in my headphones on freezing cold mornings as I walked to my local bus station en route to university lectures.

When I say I kept “Represent” on heavy rotation long after its initial release, I really do mean heavy rotation.

Whilst “Represent” may not have had a particularly influential impact on the culture, to me, it was, and still is, a rough diamond of an album that had undeniable character, with Fat Joe’s sense of purpose and determination to succeed remaining tangible throughout.

This was raw, uncut New York Hip-Hop at its best – no frills, no apologies, no sell-out.

As the saying goes, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but looking at the intimidating figure on the cover of “Represent” back in 1993, it’s safe to say few people would have singled Fat Joe Da Gangsta out as being an artist destined for a lengthy career involving mainstream success.

Yet in the years following the release of “Represent”, Fat Joe’s career would indeed go from strength-to-strength, albeit with mixed musical results, as the Bronx rapper navigated his way from his boom-bap beginnings, through the Puffy-dominated late-90s jiggy-era, and on to the radio-friendly R&B trends of the early-2000s and beyond (in-between all of this Joe would of course introduce the incredible Big Pun to the world via his Terror Squad crew).

A quarter-of-a-century after his debut album dropped, Fat Joe remains a larger-than-life figure both inside and outside of Hip-Hop. And if his Coca Vision interviews are anything to go by, Joe’s passion for the culture definitely doesn’t appear to have been worn-down by the politics and drama of the music industry.

So, Fat Joe, if you ever find yourself stumbling across this write-up whilst online, let me take this opportunity to personally thank you for dropping a classic debut album which has given me hours of listening pleasure over the years.

As the man himself said on “Another Wild N****r From The Bronx” – “My rhymes are homicidal, I take your title, I’m Joe Da Fat Gangsta, Far from Billy Idol!”

True, indeed!

Ryan Proctor

Album Review – Micall Parknsun & Mr Thing

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Micall Parknsun & Mr Thing

“Finish What We Started”

(Village Live Records)

Genuine creative chemistry is something that’s hard to come by in any artistic partnership. It’s something magical that can’t really be fully explained by those involved, but it can definitely be felt, heard and seen by those on the outside of the process.

Chemistry doesn’t even just come down to having talent – two of the most gifted individuals in their respective fields may choose to work together, but if they’re not on the same page creatively then the end result is likely to be hollow and underwhelming.

Thankfully, that isn’t a problem UK duo Micall Parknsun and Mr Thing need to worry about, with their brilliant new album “Finish What We Started” pulsating from beginning to end with an energy that can only be achieved when people share the same drive, focus and passion for what they do.

As two of the most consistent figures within the UK Hip-Hop scene, both Parksnun and Thing have spent years building concrete-solid reputations as reliable purveyors of true-school flavour, with the pair deciding to join forces last year for the well-received single “The Raw” (which is included here in all its rugged glory).

The overwhelmingly positive response to “The Raw” inspired the duo to complete “Finish What We Started”, with DMC DJ champ Mr Thing handling all of the production, leaving Micall Parknsun, a talented producer in his own right, to concentrate on delivering lyrically throughout the project.

The anthemic album-opener “Started” sets the tone in no uncertain terms, as London-raised rhymer Park-E drops confident, self-assured bars over full-bodied, sample-driven beats.

The head-nodding “Certain For The Win” showcases some of Thing’s best work behind the boards, with the former Scratch Perverts member blending slow, deliberate drums and a hypnotic piano sample, topping it all off with some deft cuts.

“Don’t You Care” is a relentless, bass-heavy, soul-laced banger, featuring Parknsun showing the rap game some tough love via no-nonsense rhymes which come from a genuine place of love and concern for the culture (“What happened to the emcees? What happened to stage presence over dope beats? How come we keep on forgetting ’bout its history? It seems we never learn our lesson ‘cos we don’t teach…”).

“Klingon Face” is an up-tempo floor-rocker, with MP being joined by fellow UK wordsmith Joker Starr to trade quick-fire lyrics over explosive break-beats, paying tribute to Hip-Hop’s golden-era in the process. All that’s missing here is a multi-syllable late-80s verse from either Big Daddy Kane or Rakim.

The head-nodding “I’m So Glad” signals a shift in the album’s mood, with Essa (pka Yungun) and Parknsun displaying sincere gratitude for their blessings, which include marriage, fatherhood and family bonds, whilst the stirring “Still Struggling” balances the uncertainty of life as an artist with the responsibilities and financial pressures of the wider world.

An album with real replay value, “Finish What We Started” is the sound of both Micall Parknsun and Mr Thing at the top of their game, mixing old-school values with now-school skills.

Let’s hope neither of them have finished just yet.

Ryan Proctor

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2017 (Part Four) – Benaddict / Sean Price / Da Flyy Hooligan etc.

Check Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

Benaddict – “The Garden Of England” (Yogocop.BandCamp.Com) – This debut album from UK emcee Benaddict was a brilliantly crafted collection of down-to-earth, observational rhymes delivered over impeccable, boom-bap-influenced production from Mr Slipz, Ded Tebiase, Gonza and more.

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Molecules & Showbiz – “A Bronx Tale” (Legion Records) – The Legion’s Molecules dropped an uncompromisingly hardcore example of traditional Rotten Apple rap in the form of this Showbiz-produced EP. With a respectful nod to NYC’s Hip-Hop heritage, this release contained everything you’d expect from a D.I.T.C.-associated project – dusty, thunderous beats, true-school rhyme skills and an unwavering hometown pride. The Bronx keeps creating it.

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Logic Marselis & Illien Rosewell – “Wally Renaissance” (MagnetikMoments.BandCamp.Com) – Virginia producer / emcee combo Logic Marselis & Illien Rosewell showcased their undeniable creative chemistry over five tracks of neck-snapping, sample-driven beats and confident wordplay on this short-but-impressive EP.

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VVV – “Bozo Boyz” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com) – Nottingham microphone masters Juga-Naut, Cappo and Vandal Savage flexed heavyweight rhyme skills over an eclectic selection of beats on this entertainingly unpredictable project.

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Kesper – “Beautifully Ugly” – Queens, NY representative Kesper delivered a strong, full-length dose of Rotten Apple attitude with this project, which was rooted in the traditionally rugged, sample-driven sound of East Coast Hip-Hop.

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Spider Jaroo & Pro P – “Photons” (ProPProducer.BandCamp.Com) – Bluntskins producer Pro P teamed-up with fellow Northern England-based Hip-Hop head Spider Jaroo for this fine collection of jazz-flavoured samples, knockin’ drums and everyman lyricism.

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Von Poe VII – “The Hype” (VonPoeVII.BandCamp.Com) – Talented West Coast wordsmith Von Poe VII continued to elevate his artistry with this well-crafted collection of personal, introspective rhymes delivered with natural skill and ability.

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Daniel Son & Giallo Point – “Remo Gaggi” (GialloPoint.BandCamp.Com) – Once again displaying the  chemistry showcased on their 2016 release “The Gunners”, Canadian wordsmith Daniel Son and UK producer Giallo Point dropped another high-calibre batch of razor-sharp rhymes and sample-driven beats.

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Bub Styles – “Long Nights, Cold Winters” (BubStyles.Com) – The gruff Brooklyn wordsmith teamed-up with producer Ace Fayce for this standout collection of Rotten Apple rawness, evoking images of street-corner crews, scuffed Timberlands and late-night bodega visits.

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Tha 4orce – “Setting Standards” (Tha4orce.BandCamp.Com) – UK Hip-Hop vet Tha 4orce delivered his long-awaited production album “Setting Standards”, featuring lyrical heavyweights such as Ray Vendetta, Dubbledge and Arise King David all living up to the project’s title as they dropped accomplished wordplay over a stellar selection of beats.

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Therman Munsin – “Sabbath” (Hard Times Records) – The highly-anticipated album from New Jersey’s Therman Munsin arrived in 2017 following an effective blog-assisted build up, produced entirely by Strong Island’s Roc Marciano and featuring appearances from AG Da Coroner, Big Twins and Guily Simpson.

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PhybaOptikz & Giallo Point – “Voynich Manuscript” (CrateDivizion.BandCamp.Com) – A quality batch of atmospheric, suspenseful beats and rhymes from the ever-reliable Crate Divizion camp, featuring Daniel Son, SmooVth and Task Force’s Farma G assisting London’s PhybaOptikz as he embarked on a new Hip-Hop mission.

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Allstar Stacks – “BodybagKing – The Reaper’s Alliance” (AllStarStacks.BandCamp.Com) – Moody, atmospheric late-night vibes from the North London-based New Guardz member, with appearances from Ray Vendetta, Flowtecs and Honours Tea adding further lyrical weight to this well-crafted project.

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Crimeapple – “Metralleta” (FxckRxp.BandCamp.Com) – New Jersey’s Crimeapple spent 2017 consistently leaking impressive free music across the internet. But this official EP release was undoubtedly the grimy rhymer’s crowning achievement of the year. Produced entirely by Buck Dudley, this release found Crimeapple weaving his sharp, street-influenced verses around minimalist, stripped down beats.

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Muja Messiah – “Saran Rap” (ManBitesDogRecs.BandCamp.Com) – The veteran Minneapolis microphone master was blessed with production from NY’s mighty Roc Marciano throughout this short-but-satisfying EP. Engaging rhymes and suble, mellow loops were combined here with memorable results.

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Phat Kat & DJ Dister – “The S.O.S. Project” (BelowSystem.BandCamp) – Veteran Detroit emcee Phat Kat (aka Ronnie Euro) teamed-up with Berlin-based producer DJ Dister for this solid selection of true-school cuts, full of confident, self-assured rhymes and speaker-rattling beats.

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Doc Brown – “Stemma” (DocBrown.Co.UK) – Before he became known as a comedian and actor, London’s Doc Brown spent some years establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with in the UK Hip-Hop scene.  Returning to his rap roots, “Stemma” found the talented emcee demonstrating that his passion for music still burns strong, dropping both personal verses and boisterous braggadocio over an eclectic mix of genre-blurring production.

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Sean Price – “Imperius Rex” (DuckDown.Com) – This posthumous project from the late, great Sean P was as impressive as it was bittersweet. A quality showcase of the Brooklyn emcee’s unique skills and irrepressible personality, the album was also a poignant reminder of the talent the rap world lost following Price’s untimely death in 2015. That being said, Dru Ha and the Duck Down camp did a sterling job here of ensuring “Imperius Rex” was a worthy addition to both the man’s discography and legacy. Ruck Down lives on. P!!!

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Da Flyy Hooligan – “S.C.U.M.” (22Entertainment.BandCamp.Com) – The artist formerly known as Iron Braydz came correct in no uncertain terms on this dope full-length effort, cutting through the mellow, hypnotic production of Agor with his razor-sharp wordplay and bold delivery. Fresh like a pair of brand new sneakers.

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Apollo Brown & Planet Asia – “Anchovies” (ApolloBrown360.BandCamp.Com) – It was clear from the outset that only good things could come from a collaboration between Detroit producer Apollo Brown and West Coast vet Planet Asia. Both masters of their respective crafts, Brown’s minimalist production style on this project gave PA’s heavy-mental verses plenty of room to breathe, which allowed the listener to really digest the content of the rhymes on offer here. Once again, another Mello Music Group sureshot!

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Fifth and final part coming soon.