Category Archives: Album Reviews

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2016 (Part Five) – Westside Gunn / De La Soul / Booda French etc.

Fifth and final part of Old To The New’s overview of 2016  – check Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.

Westside Gunn – “FLYGOD” (Griselda Records) – Having spent recent years steadily building a reputation as one of the underground Hip-Hop scene’s most promising talents, 2016 saw Buffalo, NY emcee Westside Gunn solidify his position as a go-to-artist for that gritty-yet-understated street ish, packing the heavily-anticipated “FLYGOD” with densely-woven verses of verbal violence delivered in his signature vocal tone.

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Jigmastas – “Resurgence” (BBE Records) – Revisiting the creative chemistry that made their string of 90s singles immediate underground classics, Brooklyn duo DJ Spinna and Kriminul effectively showcased their trademartrue-school sound on this solid collection of beats and rhymes.

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Enlish – “Slumdog Hundredaire” (Enlish.BandCamp.Com) – Packed with cocky bravado, politically-incorrect punchlines and moments of personal honesty, this thoroughly-entertaining album found UK emcee Enlish stomping all over the competition in his own inimitable fashion.

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De La Soul – “and the Anonymous Nobody…” (A.O.I. Records) – Following a massively successful Kickstarter campaign, Strong Island legends Plugs One, Two and Three returned with this highly-anticipated album, a project which masterfully balanced the group’s ambitious creativity with their golden-era roots.

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DJ Rude One – “ONEderful” (Closed Sessions) – Chicago-raised, NY-based producer Rude One tapped the likes of Conway, Your Old Droog and Roc Marciano to lace his moody, atmospheric lo-fi beats with their respective brands of street-savvy wordplay, resulting in an album that was undeniably raw to the core.

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Da Flyy Hooligan – “Ray Winstone” (Gourmet Deluxxx) – Formerly known as Iron Braydz, London’s Da Flyy Hooligan served up a hefty helping of “gourmet rap” in the form of this nine-track release, displaying razor-sharp microphone techniques and a strong sense of individuality over production from Micall Parknsun, Beat Butcha, Ded Tebiase and more.

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Jakk Frost – “The Beard Awakens” (BeardGangClikk.Com) – Whilst technically a ‘mixtape’, this project from Philly’s Jakk Frost was so dope it had to be included here. Featuring the Illadelph emcee getting busy over self-produced loops of classic material from the likes of Donald Byrd, Keni Burke and Ronnie Laws, “The Beard Awakens” was a captivating blend of street smarts, raw humour and genuine lyrical skill. The beard is still in the building!

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Benny Diction & Blue Buttonz – “Button Up” (BoomBapPro.Com) – Backed by the soulful boom-bap of South African producer Blue Buttonz, Benny Diction one again proved himself to be one of UK Hip-Hop’s most consistent emcees throughout this album, delivering relatable rhymes in his usual down-to-earth style with memorable results.

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Agallah – “Bo: The Legend Of The Water Dragon” (Propain Campaign) – The Rotten Apple-raised producer-on-the-mic was joined by the likes of Hus Kingpin, Planet Asia and the late Sean Price on this expertly-executed collection of hardcore jewels.

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Classic Material – “Classic Material” (ClassicMat.BandCamp.Com) – Meticulously-crafted, sample-driven true-school flavour from UK producer Ill Treats alongside Soundsci members Oxygen and Audessey (with the project also featuring liner notes from yours truly).

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Booda French – “Awesome Is Everyday” (BoodaFrench.BandCamp.Com) – Produced by Brown Bag Allstars member J57, Jimmy Green and Apatight, this EP from UK emcee Booda French was arguably the artist’s best work-to-date, with his unique delivery and likeable, somewhat world-weary personality meshing effortlessly with the quality beats on offer here.

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Apathy – “Handshakes With Snakes” (Dirty Version Records) – A strong addition to an already rock-solid discography, the latest long-player from Connecticut’s Apathy found the Demigodz member delivering his usual high-standard of rhymes over polished self-produced beats, with the likes of Ras Kass, O.C. and Spit Gemz offering worthwhile lyrical assistance along the way.

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Babylon Warchild – “War Journals” (BabylonWarchild.Com) – Known for their politically-charged, uncompromising Hip-Hop, Canada’s Babylon Warchild crew offered more of the same on their latest effort, crafting a fitting soundtrack for the everyday struggle faced by many in an increasingly volatile world.

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MindsOne & DJ Iron – “Phaseology” (IllAdrenaline.Com) – New Jersey’s Ill Adrenaline Records added to the label’s ever-growing catalogue of quality releases with the brilliant “Phaseology”, a sublime, understated blend of intelligent, personal lyricism from Tronic and KON Sci with top-notch production courtesy of Belgium’s DJ Iron.

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AG Da Coroner – “Sip The Nectar” (Man Bites Dog Records) – Personifying the term ‘New York straight talk’, Rotten Apple emcee AG Da Coroner’s long-awaited debut album didn’t disappoint, with its gruff rhymes and drama-fuelled beats carrying on tradition and proudly flying the flag for East Coast Hip-Hop.

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Kyza Sayso – “Miverione: Vol. 1” (KyzaSayso.BandCamp.Com) – London lyricist and former Terra Firma member Kyza made a welcome return to the mic with a potent mix of vivid street-related rhymes and competition-crushing barbs, proving once again why he’s long been considered one of the nicest emcees to have emerged from the UK Hip-Hop scene.

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Airklipz – “Single Speed” (Airklipz.BandCamp.Com) – The UK emcee delivered vivid, captivating verses over a varied selection of soundscapes from producers such as Session 600, Jimmy Screech and Illternal Beats on this project, mixing both traditional and contemporary Hip-Hop flavours throughout.

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SmooVth – “SS96J” (Fat Beats) – The Strong Island representative definitely lived up to his name on this impressive release, which found the talented emcee weaving intricate narratives around mellow, melodic production, accompanied by the likes of Hus Kingpin, Milano Constantine and Sage Infinite.

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Big Toast & Sofa King – “Save Yourself Kill Them All” (RevorgRecords.BandCamp.Com) – UK flavour from the always-reliable Revorg Records camp, which featured producer Sofa King and emcee Big Toast delivering seven tracks of rough, rugged and raw homegrown Hip-Hop with a socially-aware edge.

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Estee Nack & al.divino – “Triple Black Diamonds” (TragicAllies.Com) – Dropping just before the end of the year, Tragic Allies member Estee Nack and fellow Massachusetts microphone fiend al.divino joined forces for this ice-cold collection of winter mood music, with the pair proving to be a formidable partnership as they spat rewind-worthy darts over laidback, and at times melancholy, production.

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100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2016 (Part Four) – Cappo / A Tribe Called Quest / Ka etc.

Check Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

Cappo – “Dramatic Change Of Fortune” (YNR Productions) – Nottingham’s Cappo really put himself in a zone for his latest self-produced long-player, a relatively short yet intense collection of intricate lyricism and atmospheric, boundary-blurring beats which proved the UK emcee isn’t afraid to think outside of the box when it’s time to make music.

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Nolan The Ninja – “He(art)” (Left Of Center) – Whilst accurate, using the word ‘passionate’ to describe Nolan The Ninja’s microphone techniques really doesn’t do justice to the Detroit emcee’s approach to his craft. Attacking every track on “He(art)” with both ferocity and skill, the Motor City representative ensured this album bristled with a tangible sense of energy, showcasing his undeniable love for the culture of Hip-Hop in the process.

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Levitical – “Do The Right Thing” (Levitical.BandCamp.Com) – With a respectful nod to Spike Lee’s classic late-80s film of the same name, this EP from Detroit duo Dr. Doowap and Marc Arrow was a short, sharp blast of sonic motivation, mixing humour, wit and social commentary with jazzy, soulful soundscapes.

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Apollo Brown & Skyzoo – “The Easy Truth” (Mello Music Group) – Backed by the melodic thump of Detroit producer Apollo Brown, Brooklyn’s Skyzoo offered further proof throughout “The Easy Truth” of why he deserves to be described as one of the nicest wordsmiths to have emerged from his beloved BK borough, painting captivating lyrical pictures of Rotten Apple life with genuine skill, empathy and insight. Respect the aura.

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Spida Lee – “Rise Of A King” (SpidaLee.BandCamp.Com) – Mixing conscious vibes and street smarts with the unashamedly 90s-influenced production of Natural Doc, UK emcee Spida Lee’s sophomore album was a real joy to listen to, full of unbridled enthusiasm and a desire to give listeners some food for thought.

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A Tribe Called Quest – “We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service” (Epic) – Following the sad passing of group member Phife Dawg, the unexpected return of A Tribe Called Quest was bittersweet to say the least. Yet the legendary crew from Queens largely succeeded in turning tragedy into artistic triumph with their sixth album. Capturing the spirit of the classic Tribe sound without simply retreading old creative ground, “We Got It From Here…” was mature, refined Hip-Hop. RIP Phife.

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Blakface & Sean Wyze – “The Time Ahead” (Blakface.BandCamp.Com) – West Coast / Midwest trio FunkLogik, $incere and Sean Wyze delivered thought-provoking, down-to-earth lyricism and melodic, sample-driven beats on this well-crafted album, with Guilty Simpson, Illa J and Trek Life on-hand to offer microphone assistance.

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Siddeeq Matthew – “King Language” (SiddeeqMatthew.BandCamp.Com) – Mixing true-school values with contemporary styles, this EP from Leicester, England’s Siddeeq Matthew offered street-savvy verses laced with personal reflection, resulting in a unique and thoroughly engaging listening experience.

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Ka – “Honor Killed The Samurai” (Iron Works) – Crafted with the precision of a master builder, this impressive self-produced body of work from Brooklyn’s Ka found the NY artist once again showcasing his near-obsessive attention to detail, both lyrically and sonically. Marrying vivid-yet-understated verses full of gritty life observations with his trademark stripped-down soundscapes, “Honor…” had all the makings of a modern-day cult classic.

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MarQ Spekt & Blockhead – “Keep Playin'” (HiPNOTT Records) – If you like raw rhyme skills that sound like they were sharpened in golden-era street-corner ciphers coupled with uncompromising, hardcore beats, then this album from Philly wordsmith MarQ Spekt and NY producer Blockhead should have found its way onto your playlist.

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Psycho Les – “Dank God, Vol. 1” (PitFight Entertainment) – Still as intoxicated and stone crazy as ever, Beatnuts member Psycho Les called on a long list of microphone heavyweights to feature on this compilation-style project, including R.A. The Rugged Man, Inspectah Deck and Tragedy Khadafi. Strictly underground funk, keep the crossover.

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Gensu Dean & Denmark Vessey – “Whole Food” (Mello Music Group) – The sonic equivalent of a good home-cooked meal, this collaborative effort from Texas-raised producer Dean and Detroit emcee Vessey offered listeners plenty of musical sustenance, with the pair displaying undeniable creative chemistry throughout the project.

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Buddy Leezle – “The Colorful World Of Buddy Benetton” (BuddyLeezle.BandCamp.Com) – Philly’s Buddle Leezle joined forces with producer Mook of Ireland’s Sons Phonetic for this transatlantic collection of fresh, fly and bold flavours inspired by the Illadelph lyricist’s passion for collecting vintage Ralph Lauren and Benetton clothing.

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Tab_One & Sinopsis – “Sincerely, Tab” (Tab-One.BandCamp.Com) – Members of North Carolina’s Kooley High crew, emcee Tab_One and producer Sinopsis confidently stepped outside of the group dynamic on this collaborative release, with “Sincerely, Tab” standing as a shining example of organic underground Hip-Hop.

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Allstar Stacks – “Rocky Road” (AllstarStacks.BandCamp.Com) – London emcee Allstar Stacks delivered a potent mix of streetwise swagger and sincere introspection on this impressive Session 600-produced project, featuring Ray Vendetta, FlowTecs and K Zorro.

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Vandal Savage – “1000th Prestige” (IAmVandalSavage.BandCamp.Com) – Nottingham’s Vandal Savage further cemented his growing reputation as one of the nicest lyricists in the UK Hip-Hop scene with this self-produced EP featuring Juga-Naut, Micall Parknsun and Cappo.

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Ray Vendetta & K Zorro – “The Regulator’s Handbook” (RingzOvSaturn.BandCamp.Com) – Triple Darkness member Ray Vendetta and fellow London representative K Zorro brough their alter-egos Daddy Longluv and Jack O’Hartz to the forefront on this quality concept-based project, which featured the UK duo proving there’s no slackin’ in their mackin’ as they put it down for the ladies in a roughneck style and fashion.

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Idasa Tariq – “FRAMES” (IdasaTariq.BandCamp.Com) – Sincere, intelligent rhymes from Pittsburgh’s Idasa Tariq which were as thought-provoking as they were personal, with “FRAMES” being a project that was tailor-made for today’s troubled times.

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Badly Promoted Geniuses – “Sorry Not Sorry” (BadlyPromotedGeniuses.BandCamp.Com) – Described as being “the result of the overactive imaginations of six miscreants with a penchant for Rap”, the debut album from UK crew Badly Promoted Geniuses was an unpredictable-yet-cohesive collection of beats and rhymes, showcasing the undeniable creativity of Triple Dot Beast, Baron Samedi, Skrabl, Oozhe, Sofa King and DJ Severe.

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Ivan Ave – “Helping Hands” (JakartaRecords-Label.BandCamp.Com) – Norway’s Ivan Ave delivered honest, introspective rhymes over producer MNDSGN’s mellow beats on this fine collection of hypnotic mood music.

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Fifth and final part coming soon.

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2016 (Part Three) – Meyhem Lauren / J-Zone / Ghost etc.

Check Part One and Part Two.

Meyhem Lauren – “Piatto D’Oro” (Fools Gold Records) – Backed by production from beat kings such as Large Professor, DJ Muggs and The Alchemist, Queens, NY resident Meyhem Lauren continued to play his part in 2016 to ensure traditional rough, rugged and raw Rotten Apple rap stayed alive, with “Piatoo D’Oro” providing the perfect theme music for Timberland-and-Polo fiends across the globe.

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Si Phili – “The 11th Hour” (Phoenix Recordings) – Having already made an indelible mark on the UK Hip-Hop scene as a member of Phi Life Cypher, Luton lyricist Si Phili approached his debut solo album with both the experience of a seasoned mic vet and the hunger of a new artist with a point to prove. Featuring talented producers such as Pete Cannon, Leaf Dog and Richy Spitz, “The 11th Hour” found Phili unleashing a relentless barrage of intense wordplay, covering a variety of topics in the process.

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The Game – “1992” (Blood Money Entertainment) – Strip away the rap beefs, personal dramas and industry politics that have surrounded The Game’s career over the years and one thing remains undeniable – Jayceon Terrell Taylor can definitely rhyme. This concept-based project found the former Aftermath emcee revisiting early-90s Los Angeles via personal, descriptive verses with respectful nods to West Coast icons such as Ice-T, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Compton is still in the house!

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J-Zone – “Fish-N-Grits” (J-Zone.BandCamp.Com) – Never afraid to tell-it-how-it-is, NYC’s multi-talented J-Zone once again offered listeners the opportunity to see the world through his own unique perspective on his latest full-length release, combining sharp observational humour with funky beats and Rotten Apple attitude. Dealing with topics such as rap’s generational debate, hipsters and gentrification, “Fish-N-Grits” was the perfect sonic antidote for the non-stop b.s. pushed daily from both the underground and mainstream Hip-Hop scenes. As Zone himself says, there’s only two types of music, good and bad.

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Royce 5’9 – “Layers” (Bad Half Entertainment) – Lead by the autobiographical brilliance of the S1-produced “Tabernacle”, Detroit veteran Royce’s sixth solo album was arguably his best body of work to date. Filled with unflinching honesty, sly wit and well-honed rhyme skills, “Layers” was a fitting title for a project which gave the listener further insight into the life of the man behind the mic.

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Akil The MC – “Sound Check” (AkilTheMC.BandCamp.Com) – Jurassic 5 member Akil filled this solo album with hard-hitting motivational music delivered in his traditional true-school style, effectively balancing his back-in-the-day roots with a present-day passion for the microphone.

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Mikey D’Struction – “Day Of D’Struction” (Elements Of Hip-Hop) – Largely produced by Russia’s Ligalize, this album from Queens legend Mikey D found the veteran emcee avoiding the temptation of trying to fit in with current rap trends in order to appeal to a wider audience, choosing instead to stick to his sonic guns, delivering sharp, battle-ready rhymes over hardcore, speaker-rattling beats.

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Black Josh – “Ape Tape” (BlahRecords,BandCamp.Com) – After first listening to Josh’s “Ape Tape” EP, one word came to mind – vibes! Boasting an organic, impromptu feel, this thoroughly entertaining release featured the UK artist lacing varied production with his sharp Manchester wit, politically-incorrect sense of humour and honest inner-city observations.

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Torae – “Entitled” (Internal Affairs Entertainment) – Backed by a successful Kickstarter campaign, this album from Brooklyn emcee Torae satisfied loyal fans by delivering the consistently high-standard of lyricism we’ve come to expect from the NY representative with quality production from heavy-hitters such as Pete Rock, DJ Premier and Nottz.

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Elzhi – “Lead Poison” (Glow 365) – After a five year hiatus and release date delays, Detroit’s Elzhi finally returned with an album that played like a sonic therapy session for the former Slum Village member, who had been battling with depression during the recording of the project. Clever, introspective and creative, “Lead Poison” showcased the results of a naturally gifted artist dealing with life’s problems through his pad and pen.

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Ruste Juxx & Kyo Itachi – “Meteorite” (Shinigamie Records) – Bolstered by the impeccable production of France’s Kyo Itachi, former Sean Price protégé Ruste Juxx went intergalactic like a Timberland-wearing Silver Surfer on this rugged gem of an album, transmitting direct from the planet of Brooklyn accompanied by Illa Noyz, Bankai Fam’s Skanks and Rock of Heltah Skeltah.

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Ghost – “Shards Of Memories” (Ghost.BandCamp.Com) – Ambitiously bridging the gap between the UK-raised, Australia-based producer’s underground Hip-Hop roots and his desire to craft something that reached beyond the traditional sound of dusty drums and head-nodding loops, “Shards Of Memories” was an impressive effort which was both polished and well-executed whilst also managing to retain a spontaneous, unpredictable edge.

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Trace Motivate – “Bored, Lonely And Possibly Intoxicated” (TraceMotivate.BandCamp.Com) – Stepping beyond the aggressive,  competition-crushing rhymes heard on releases from his group Grindhouse Project, Canada’a Trace Motivate offered personal reflection and honest life observations on this six-track concept-based release.

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Tribe Of Judah – “Organically Grown” (Gravity Academy Records) – Maryland’s Tribe Of Judah mixed political commentary and social observation with street-savvy Hip-Hop bravado on their impressive Tokyo Cigar-produced debut album.

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Rapsody – “Crown” (Jamla / Roc Nation) – Inspiring and passionate, North Carolina’s first lady of the mic Rapsody was on a mission to motivate her listeners with “Crown”, encouraging the younger generation in particular to reach for their goals via forthright rhymes delivered over soulful production from 9th Wonder, Nottz and Khrysis.

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PhybaOptikz – “Shades Of Alejandro” (PhybaOptikz.BandCamp.Com) – London’s PhybaOptikz delivered a smooth, atmospheric concept album under the guise of his alter-ego Alejandro, showcasing the UK producer-on-the-mic getting busy over an ill selection of hypnotic loops with assistance from Crate Divizion comrades Giallo Point and Vic Grimes.

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Arkatek & KelpiNINE – “Master Builder” (ArkatekMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Atlanta-based wordsmith Arkatek encouraged listeners to bring their third-eye vision into focus via well-crafted verses over drum-heavy production from KelpiNINE on this US / Ukraine collabo project.

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K Zorro & Bad Company – “Deferred Gratification” (NewGuardzOnline.BandCamp.Com) – Talented London emcee K Zorro dropped intelligent, captivating verses over atmospheric production from musical ally Bad Company on this collaborative project which was both streetwise and socially-aware.

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Sebastian Hochstein – “Name Dropping” (Illect.BandCamp.Com) – German producer Sebastian Hochstein called on the likes of Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na, Sadat X and Scribbling Idiots to provide lyrical support on this impressive EP, a release which was rooted in a dusty, sample-based sound.

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Tha God Fahim & Giallo Point – “Eyes Of War” (Crate Divizion) – Atlanta’s Fahim spat righteous rawness over the brilliant, gripping production of UK music man Giallo Point on this quality Crate Divizion release.

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Part Four coming soon.

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2016 (Part Two) – Vinnie Paz / REKS / Ras Beats etc.

Check Part One here.

LEX – “Necessary” (LEXNYRE.BandCamp.Com) – This project from Queens, NY wordsmith LEX was an album rooted in the proud heritage of true-school Rotten Apple rap which effectively showcased the talented emcee’s dedication to both his craft and the culture of Hip-Hop.

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Ray Vendetta  & Calvert – “Calculated Vendettaz” (RayOfLight.BandCamp.Com) – Triple Darkness member Ray Vendetta joined forces with talented London-based producer Calvert for this brilliantly-executed example of intelligent, hardcore Hip-Hop. Packed with potent lyricism that ranged from the gritty to the humorous to the inspirational, “Calculated Vendettaz” captured the natural chemistry between Ray’s accomplished wordplay and Calvert’s sample-based beats, with features from UK heavyweights such as Iron Braydz, Tesla’s Ghost and Skriblah DanGogh.

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ChrisJay – “The Day She Ran Away” (ChrisJayOnline.BandCamp.Com) – Canada’s ChrisJay delivered personal, heartfelt rhymes with a captivating blend of strength and vulnerability on this thoroughly engaging  EP produced by Die-Rek and Cream Of Beats.

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Vinnie Paz – “The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store” (Enemy Soil) – The third solo album from Jedi Mind Tricks front-man Vinnie Paz offered more gritty half-righteous, half-foul anthems from the Philly emcee,  with production supplied by the likes of Buckwild, C-Lance and Psycho Les providing the project with an uncompromisingly hardcore sonic backbone.

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Cryptic One – “The World According To…” (CrypticOne.BandCamp.Com) – The former Atoms Family member showcased his razor-sharp wordplay and worldly wit over a dope selection of self-produced beats on this succinct effort.

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Killer Ben & Twiz The Beat Pro – “Invincible Ben” (DrumsetMusicWorks.BandCamp.Com) – This project from Durag Dynasty’s Killer Ben was one of the finest examples of quality lyricism you were likely to hear this year, as the West Coast-based wordsmith pounded Twiz’s impressive production with a non-stop barrage of high-velocity verbals.

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Shay D – “A Figure Of Speech” (ShayD.BandCamp.Com) – Inbetween co-hosting a radio show on London’s Itch FM, running youth workshops and organizing live events, UK emcee Shay D found time to release this well-crafted project, powerfully combining social commentary, personal experience and artistic passion with striking results.

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Common – “Black America Again” (Def Jam / ARTium) – Sounding determined, defiant and, perhaps most importantly, more focussed creatively than he has done in recent years, Chicago vet Common dropped this timely album inspired by the racial, political and social turmoil which dominated the US throughout 2016. Striking a balance between realism and optimism, this was music with a message which proved in no uncertain terms that the Windy City emcee still loves H.E.R.

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REKS – “The Greatest X” (Brick Records) – With nothing on this epic 35-track project that could honestly be described as “throwaway”, Massachusetts microphone fiend REKS largely succeeded in conquering the double-album format which even icons such as 2Pac and Biggie struggled with. An endless stream of passionately-delivered verses paired with well-chosen production (Large Professor, Statik Selektah, Nottz etc) ensured the listener’s attention was maintained at all times. Rhythmatic Eternal King Supreme, indeed.

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OC From NC – “The Second Renaissance” (OCFromNC.BandCamp.Com) – Following-up 2015’s impressive “Higher Learning” project, North Carolina’s OC once again called on the services of production partner B Squared for “The Second Renaissance”, a quality combination of intelligent lyricism and soul-drenched boom-bap.

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Ras Beats – “Control Your Own” (Worldwyde Recordings) – Featuring appearances from the likes of A.G., Roc Marciano and Sadat X, this project from NYC’s Ras Beats  was a strong outing from a gifted producer who clearly wanted to add on to the legacy of traditional New York boom-bap rather than simply try to recreate what had come before him.

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Soundsci – “Walk The Earth” (Global Expo) – The mighty Soundsci crew went global on their third full-length release, with the transatlantic troop once again delivering a fine selection of funky, intelligent Hip-Hop grounded in a genuine shared desire to help push the culture forward to a better place.

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Beneficence – “Basement Chemistry” (Ill Adrenaline Records) – New Jersey representative and Ill Adrenaline co-founder Beneficence took it back to the golden-era with this solid boom-bap-driven album featuring appearances and production from the likes of Masta Ace, Chubb Rock, Da Beatminerz and more.

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Ron Jon Bovi – “Neaux Mursi” (Elevation Nation) – Satisfying the appetite of lyric lovers everywhere across Planet Rock, this Unjust-produced collabo album from Hieroglyphics member Casual and Detroit’s Phat Kat found the pair sharing a chemistry that suggested the two lyricists had been rhyming together for years instead of merely the time it took to put this release together.

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Loopwhole Beats – “Newyorkism II” (LoopwholeBeats.BandCamp.Com) – Atmospheric, 90s-influenced boom-bap from the NY producer featuring appearances from Brainsick Mob, Roc Marciano and Eastkoast.

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The Cornel West Theory – “The T.A.B.L.E.” (TheCornelWestTheory.BandCamp.Com) – The Washington D.C. crew quickly followed-up their impressive 2015 opus “Coming From The Bottom” with an equally rewarding and intense listening experience in the form of “The T.A.B.L.E.”. Powered by a revolutionary spirit and anti-establishment attitude, this album went against the grain both sonically and lyrically, with the end product sounding all the better for it.

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Libretto – “Gangsta Jazz Volume Two” (Liquid Beat) – As its title suggested, this long-player from Liquid Beat Records found the Watts, Los Angeles-raised Libretto mixing street-related rhymes with melodic loops, resulting in a project which boasted a throwback feel without getting lost in nostalgia.

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King Draft – “Live Forever” (TheKingdomMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Effortlessly blending classic influences with contemporary flavours, North Carolina-based emcee King Draft delivered clever wordplay and verses of substance over the accomplished production of fellow Kingdom member Jerm Scorsese throughout this solo project.

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Mr. Kinetik – “The Colors” (MrKinetik.BandCamp.Com) – Indianapolis-based artist Mr. Kinetik dropped dusty jazz vibes and intricate rhymes on this short-yet-impressive self-produced EP.

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DSOTM – “The Echo Chamber” (DSOTM.BandCamp.Com) – Menace Mendoza, FlowTecs, Joey Menza and the rest of seven-man crew Dark Side Of The Moon spat raw rhymes over atmospheric production from the likes of Beat Butcha and Ringz Ov Saturn on this uncompromisingly hardcore UK opus.

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Part Three coming soon.

 

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2016 (Part One) – Timeless Truth / Masta Ace / Dabbla etc.

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2016. What a year. Political upheaval in the form of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president. The tragic loss of musical icons such as Prince and A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg. Continued economic and social unrest across the globe. Suffice to say, 2016 will no doubt be looked back on in years to come as a definite time of change, with not much of that change necessarily being for the better.

The world of music, however, continued to offer sanctuary from the madness of everyday life, with a string of artists ensuring 2016 will also be remembered for quality beats and rhymes.

As I always say each year when I post my best-of choices, this list of 100 releases doesn’t represent the only albums and EPs worthy of your attention over the last twelve months, but it does feature the artists and titles that remained in regular rotation for me personally.

So, in the words of Slick Rick, heeeerrre we go….

Timeless Truth – “Cold Wave” (Different Worlds Music Group / Chopped Herring) – Queens, NY blood brothers Oprime39 and Superbad Solace added on to their already impeccable catalogue with this full-length collection of Rotten Apple rawness firmly rooted in the Hip-Hop heritage of their city, evoking images of late-night subway rides, street-corner ciphers and overcrowded studio sessions.

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Split Prophets – “Delta Bravo Kilo” (SplitProphets.BandCamp.Com) – Following a number of crew member solo efforts, Bristol’s Split Prophets combined creative forces once again for this quality long-player, with the UK collective keeping everything in-house (no outside producers or guest appearances here) to showcase their lively brand of beats and rhymes.

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Them That Do – “Them That Do…” (HiPNOTT) – Jazzy, soulful true-school flavour from Phat Hentoff, Chuck Daily and Jasper Brown, which featured the lyrical trio delivering thoughtful, life-affirming wordplay over the well-crafted soundscapes of Philly-based producer Small Professor.

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DITC – “DITC Studios” (Slice-Of-Spice) – The influence of the legendary Diggin’ In The Crates crew on a generation of 90s heads can never be underestimated. Classic releases from Lord Finesse, Showbiz & AG, O.C. etc played a huge part in defining the decade viewed by many as being the pinnacle of the rap game’s golden-era. Proving that true skills are timeless, this album found the core DITC members reuniting for an uncompromising lesson in hardcore Hip-Hop.

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AUTOMatic – “Marathon” (AUTOMatic.BandCamp.Com) – The fourth full-length album from Milwaukee’s APRIME 3099 and Trellmatic combined smoothed-out soundscapes inspired by old-school R&B with witty, intelligent lyricism, resulting in a project that was as refreshing as it was entertaining. True-school feel-good flavour.

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Ded Tebiase – “Seventy Five” (VillageLive.BandCamp.Com) – A masterful blend of both instrumental and vocal tracks featuring UK talent such as Iron Braydz and Mnsr Frites, “Seventy Five” found Bristol beat king Tebiase offering up some of the best production to be heard in 2016, resulting in an album packed with well-crafted 90s-influenced head-nodders.

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DJ Quik & Problem – “Rosecrans” (Diamond Lane Music) – Compton OG Quik joined forces with up-and-comer Problem for this succinct shot of warm, smoothed-out West Coast fonk with a gangsta-edge, offering further proof that David Blake is one of the game’s greatest ever producers. Music to drive-by.

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Masta Ace – “The Falling Season” (M3 Entertainment) – Taking it back to the old-school literally, NY rhyme legend Masta Ace revisited his Brooklyn childhood on his seventh solo full-length, with this concept-based project focusing on the former Juice Crew member’s time as a pupil at Sheepshead Bay High in the 1980s. Drawing on a variety of emotions and experiences that helped shape Ace into the talented lyricist we’ve grown to know and cherish, this Kic Beats-produced album was yet another worthy addition to the Masta’s impressive discography.

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DJ Skizz – “Cruise Control” (Different Worlds / Fat Beats) – Trading the punchy, boom-bap driven sound of his 2013 album “BQE” for a more lo-fi, loop-based flavour, NY producer Skizz called on microphone heavyweights such as O.C., Milano Constantine and Roc Marciano to bless his minimalist mood music with undeniably captivating results.

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Dabbla – “Year Of The Monkey” (High Focus) – Showcasing his sharp delivery and raw couldn’t-give-a-f**k wit, this solo project from London Zoo / Problem Child member Dabbla offered a high-octane lyrical rollercoaster ride over eclectic production from the likes of Chemo, Ghosttown, Sumgii and more. Brilliantly boisterous beats and rhymes.

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Discourse – “Megalomaniac” (Crate Cartel) – Australian producer Discourse supplied the likes of Tragedy Khadafi, A.G. and Starvin B with a serious selection of moody and atmospheric soundscapes on this expertly-crafted project, with “Megalomaniac” featuring an impressive array of lyrical talent from Australia, the US and the UK who all did justice to the high-quality beats heard here.

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Kelpi NINE – “Forecast.” (KelpiNINE.BandCamp.Com) – Producer-based action coming straight outta the Ukraine, Kelpi NINE demonstrated his talent for blending together subtle. melodic samples and hard, unrelenting drums on this succinct nine-track release.

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Broken Poetz – “Soul Searching” (BrokenPoetz2.BandCamp.Com) – An entertaining mix of personal reflection, worldly observations and quality, sample-driven production, this full-length effort from rhyming duo D.Know and Mystero was UK Hip-Hop made with undeniable passion.

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Dell-P – “To The Moon And Beyond” (WHOMAG Distribution) – Backed by the soulful production of Samad Dawson, talented Philly wordsmith Dell-P addressed a number of society’s ills and the struggles of Black America throughout this potent project, injecting his music with sincere, heartfelt messages that only became even more relevant in the months following the January release of this album.

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Planet Asia & DJ Concept – “Seventy Nine” (Coalmine Records) – Since his 90s debut, West Coast wordsmith Planet Asia has firmly established himself as one of the game’s most consistent emcees. This collaboration with Strong Island-based DJ Concept further solidified that reputation, with PA spitting intricate verses over production with a soulful thump.

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Blaq Poet – “The Most Dangerous” (Shinigamie Records) – Queensbridge legend Blaq Poet lyrically stomped all over the rugged production of France’s Kyo Itachi and Venom on this uncompromisingly hardcore album, with appearances from Ruste Juxx, Tragedy Khadafi and Bankai Fam only adding to the overall rawness of the project.

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Grindhouse Project – “To Kill A Critic” (GrindhouseProject.BandCamp.Com) – The long-awaited follow-up to 2012’s “GHP Is Like…” EP, “To Kill A Critic” found emcees Trace Motivate and 360 once again joining forces with producers Astro Mega and Futurewave to drop a potent dose of hard, uncut Canadian Hip-Hop.

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Sonnyjim – “Mud In My Malbec” (Eat Good / Daupe!) – The UK’s Sonnyjim delivered his exquisite long-awaited album “Mud In My Malbec” in June of 2016, with the project’s mix of understated lyrical arrogance and 70s-flavoured loops conjuring up images of a mink-wearing Willie Dynamite driving through the streets of Birmingham, England, blasting this long-player from the comfort of a customised Cadillac.

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Daniel Son & Giallo Point – “The Gunners Tape” (GialloPoint.BandCamp.Com) – Canada’s Daniel Son enlisted the talents of UK producer Giallo Point for this thoroughly impressive twelve-track project, featuring the Toronto emcee pummelling GP’s quality 90s-influenced beats with consistently sharp, vivid and engaging verses.

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Daddy Grace aka Born Allah – “No Hip Hop For Grown Men” (Church Of Hip Hop) – As generational debates continued to rage within Hip-Hop, West Coast wordsmith Daddy Grace (aka Born Allah) proudly proclaimed his unshakeable OG status and personified the term ‘grown-man rap’ throughout this impressive debut solo project. Laced with Five Percent Nation influences and LA street swagger, “No Hip Hop For Grown Men” was both righteous and ruthless.

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Part Two coming soon.

Album Review – Mikey D

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Mikey D

“Day Of D’Struction”

(Elements Of Hip Hop / Red Line Music)

Mikey D is a legend. This is something that really cannot be debated. Whilst the term is used frivolously in today’s rap world, often thrown around to describe artists who’ve done little to justify such a label, this NYC native is a legend in the truest sense of the word, with his name, history and discography all having become a part of Hip-Hop folklore over the years.

From his days in the early-80s rocking Queens park jams with the Clientele Brothers, to rhyming side-by-side with a pre-Def Jam LL Cool J, then working with girl-group Symbolic Three on their 1985 Doug E. Fresh answer record “No Show”, Mikey’s old-school roots run deep (read more in my three-part 2013 interview with the man himself here).

Subsequent years would see the Laurelton lyricist recording classic singles with the late, great producer Paul C, battling the mighty Grandmaster Melle Mel during an infamous confrontation at 1988’s New Music Seminar, and replacing Large Professor in Main Source for the recording of the group’s second album, 1994’s “F**k What You Think” (a project that was unfortunately shelved at the time).

Behind all of these achievements, however, Mikey’s career up to that point was plagued with drama both personal and industry-related, including the tragic death of Paul C and failed deals with Sleeping Bag Records and Wild Pitch. All of which led to the Rotten Apple representative making the decision to step away from the music scene to focus on both his family and well-being.

Fast-forward to present times and having spent recent years reintroducing himself to fans both old and new, Mikey D’s long-awaited “Day Of D’Struction” album is finally ready for release, showcasing the timeless talent of an individual who has carried Hip-Hop in his heart since his youth and who appears to have lost none of his passion for the microphone.

Largely produced by Russia’s Ligalize, “Day Of D’Struction” finds Mikey avoiding the temptation of trying to fit in with current rap trends to appeal to a wider audience, choosing instead to stick to his sonic guns, delivering sharp, battle-ready rhymes over hardcore, speaker-rattling beats.

On the album’s opening cut “D.O.D.”, Mikey presents himself as a seasoned vet unafraid of speaking his mind over chopped strings and punchy drums (“A grown man with opinions and I own ’em, Fake clowns running around and I don’t condone ’em…”), whilst the rousing “Street Champion” finds the NY wordsmith embracing his man-of-the-people status, reminding listeners that overnight success comes and goes, whereas genuine respect lasts a lifetime.

Mikey’s love of lyricism is clearly reflected throughout the album, not only in his own verses, but also in the line-up of guest emcees he has chosen to invite onto the project. Big Pun’s son Chris Rivers delivers quick-fire barbs on the aptly-titled “Horns Of Fury”, with R.A. The Rugged Man, Craig G and Canibus each bringing their A-game to the mic booth on the relentless posse cut “The Rhyme Heaterz”.

Another standout collabo comes in the form of the These Handz-produced “Wake Up Pt. 2”, with Brooklyn’s Mic Handz and Baltimore’s Don Streat joining Mikey to question both the credibility and artistry of studio gangstas diluting the artform of Hip-Hop.

The mellow “Without Breakin It Down” offers a brief overview of a typical Friday night for the Q-borough wordsmith, involving studio sessions, crew adventures and fat beats, whilst the dope “Living Proof” finds the artist formerly known as Playboy Mikey D stating his verbal superiority over Ligalize’s rolling, sample-driven production.

As if further evidence of Mikey D’s status in the game were needed, the voices of Grandmaster Caz, Large Professor, Chuck D, Grand Daddy I.U. and a certain James Todd Smith can be heard throughout the album, all acknowledging the talented emcee’s contributions to the culture and dedication to his craft.

A solid collection of uncompromising true-school beats and rhymes, “Day Of D’Struction” is a fitting testament to Mikey D’s tenacity, proving that, almost four decades after he first picked up a pad and a pen, this rap icon is as motivated and competitive as he’s even been.

Ryan Proctor

“Day Of D’Struction” can be ordered here.

Mikey D – “Inspiration” (@MikeyDStruction / 2016)

Album Review – Ras Beats

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Ras Beats

“Control Your Own”

(Worldwyde Recordings)

I’ve said it before in reviews and I’ll say it again here; producer-based albums can often be hit-and-miss affairs. Talented beat wizards can sometimes be let down by their choice of guest artists, whilst on the flipside, competent producers can find themselves overshadowed by their chosen collaborators, with their soundscapes not necessarily strong enough in musical personality to give an album the solid sonic backbone and direction it needs to stand above the competition. Either way, the end result can be a disjointed collection of tracks which feels like an uneven compilation, rather than a cohesive body of work.

In the case of “Control Your Own” from Ras Beats, the NY-based producer has avoided both of the above mentioned pitfalls. The list of featured artists on the project is impressive, ranging from golden-era legends to more recent rhyme animals, whilst Ras ensures his brand of sample-heavy production holds the album together with a sense of both confidence and individuality.

Having already gained attention as a lead single, the Roc Marciano-assisted “Wit No Pressure” sets things off as the opening track here, with the Strong Island representative dropping typically vivid verses over punchy drums and atmospheric samples, lacing his smooth-but-deadly rhymes with references to everyone from Hugh Hefner and Malcolm X to 50 Cent.

The short-but-effective “Shoebox” finds JBiz reminiscing on when he used to  “want to be the next Chi-Ali” as he sifts through back-in-the-day memories of boom-boxes, listening to Tribe and watching Video Music Box, whilst the crashing drums and emotive vocal sample of the previously-released “Let It Be” provide the perfect backdrop for Brooklyn veteran Masta Ace to demonstrate that true skills really are timeless (“And this a different year, This ain’t ’88, I’m not defined by a time, That’s what made me great…”).

The hypnotic O.C. / Elzhi collabo “Knowledge Of Self” is definitely a standout, with the pair wrapping poignant life observations around soothing strings and a well-placed Rakim vocal snippet, displaying a natural chemistry that ensures the cut has an organic feel to it, rather than simply sounding like two seemingly unconnected emcees being pushed together for the sake of trying to make a tracklist more interesting.

Ras also pays homage to the galaxy of Queens on an instrumental effort named after his home borough, mixing the drama of a 70s blaxploitation soundtrack with a nod to the East Coast flavour of the 90s, whilst one of the game’s most recognisable voices Sadat X embraces his OG status on “Survive” (also previously-released), schooling today’s new generation of rappers from a place of genuine experience  over dusty beats and melodic samples.

Closing the album is the melancholy “God Bless”, which features JBiz and DITC’s A.G. digging deep to deliver heartfelt rhymes about personal loss, with the musical partner of Showbiz really rising to the challenge via an emotionally-charged verse about his late father (“Your face can’t be replaced by time, You’ll forever be branded on my mind, I shed a tear with the ink pen, So I’ma make him proud while I’m here, That’s what I’m thinkin’…).

Further appearances from the likes of Blacastan, Rasheed Chappell and Sureshot La Rock add even more verbal weight to the album.

Overall, “Control Your Own” is a strong outing from Ras Beats, a gifted producer who clearly wants to add on to the legacy of traditional New York boom-bap rather than simply trying to recreate what has come before him.

“Control Your Own” drops here on July 19th.

Ryan Proctor