Nolan The Ninja ft. Jaye Prime – “Oranges” (@NolanTheNinja / 2019)
Entertaining, imaginative visuals and raw mic skills from the Detroit emcee’s new Mello Music Group album “SPORTEE”.
Nolan The Ninja ft. Jaye Prime – “Oranges” (@NolanTheNinja / 2019)
Entertaining, imaginative visuals and raw mic skills from the Detroit emcee’s new Mello Music Group album “SPORTEE”.
The first of three projects dedicated to his Detroit stomping grounds, emcee Leaf Erikson weaves Motor City stories grounded in “tragedy, triumph and the journey people experience along the way” accompanied by the subtle production expertise of Meftah.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Royce Da 5’9 – “Cocaine” (@RoyceDa59 / 2019)
Personal rhymes from the Detroit emcee’s brilliant “Book Of Ryan” album.
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.
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.
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.
Children Of Zeus & Black Milk – “Won’t End Well” (@ChildrenOfZeus / @Black_Milk / 2018)
New visuals for the dope Black Milk-produced head-nodder from UK duo Tyler Daley and Konny Kon released via Australia’s Low Key Source label.
Clear Soul Forces – “They Shootin” (@ClearSoulForces / 2018)
The Detroit crew make a welcome return with the melodic thump of this new single from their forthcoming album “Still”.