Ray Vendetta & Giallo Point – “Sins Of The Son” (PrestigiousRecordings1.BandCamp.Com) – Triple Darkness member Vendetta called on the talents of prolific producer Giallo Point for this epic display of hardcore brilliance, with the London-based lyricist dropping vivid, street-smart rhymes over expertly-crafted loops and beats perfectly suited to the UK emcee’s forthright delivery.
Showbiz & A.G. – “Take It Back” (DITCEnt.Com) – One of Hip-Hop’s greatest musical partnerships, Bronx duo Show & A.G. dropped this stellar effort some twenty-five years after their first releases appeared on record store shelves. Having lost none of his dusty-fingered touch, Showbiz delivered plenty of that trademark DITC sound here, with Andre The Giant flowing effortlessly throughout.
Jazz Spastiks & Mellosoulblack – “Midnight Method” (JazzSpastiks.BandCamp.Com) – UK production duo the Jazz Spastiks provided Stateside crew Mellosoulblack with a heavy dose of their full-bodied production sound on this quality collaborative album. Thumping beats, random samples and crafty cuts were blended with witty, freestyle-flavoured rhymes here, resulting in an upbeat, feel-good true-school listening experience.
Rapsody – “Laila’s Wisdom” (Jamla Records / Roc Nation) – 2017 was a big year for North Carolina’s Rapsody, culminating in a Grammy nomination for this deserving body of work. Truth be told, the talented artist didn’t do anything different here than she’s already been doing since debuting her solo material in 2011, incorporating personal experiences, fierce lyricism and a good ear for strong production into one undeniable package. The increased amount of attention Rapsody received this time around, however, was proof that talent and hard-work can get you to where you want to be.
Kamanchi Sly – “Slycriminality” / “Ultimate BBoy 92” (KamanchiSly.Com) – Hijack legend K Sly dropped two albums in 2017 and, as much as I tried, I really couldn’t decide which was the better of the two, so I’m giving props to both projects here. A pioneer of the 80s UK Hip-Hop scene, the South London lyricist proved throughout both these self-produced releases that his dedication to microphone dominance hasn’t faded over the years at all. Mixing a true love of Hip-Hop culture with a passion for crushing the competition and some wordly wisdom, Kamanchi Sly injected his 2017 output with the energy of a new artist and the experience of a battle-hardened veteran. Stockwell serves again!
Estee Nack & Friends – “#MiniMansionDust Vol.2” (EsteeNack.BandCamp.Com) – Tragic Allies member Estee Nack dropped science alongside Daniel Son, al.divino and Mr. Rose on this solid collection of fly underground jewels, with the Massachusetts mic fiend’s gritty delivery and righteous street knowledge hitting the target as always.
Flashius Clayton & Lisaan’dro – “Money Makin Music” (FlashiusClayton.BandCamp.Com) – The end result of a weekly series of free tracks dropped between September and November, this project effectively showcased the sharp rhyme skills of Cali’s Flashius Clayton and NY’s Lisaan’dro, two distinctly different emcees with a shared passion for the craft of lyricism. Featuring production from Farma Beats, The Historian and Spectacular Diagnostics, “Money Makin Music” marked both these talented individuals as ones to watch in 2018 and beyond.
Blacastan & Stu Bangas – “The Uncanny Adventures Of Watson & Holmes” (BrickRecords.Com) – The sequel to their 2014 Watson & Holmes project, this album was another collection of raw beats and rhymes from the Connecticut emcee and Boston producer that definitely wasn’t for the faint-hearted. Slashing through your speakers with razor-sharp precision, the chemistry shared between the pair was apparent once again here, with all the elements of a true musical partnership on display.
Jay-Z – “4:44” (RocNation.Com) – Jay-Z has always been a divisive figure in Hip-Hop, sparking passionate debates between those who see him as a calculating commercial rapper and others who consider him one of the greatest artists of all-time. To be fair, both camps have valid points, as Hov’s career has contained moments of sonic brilliance and disappointment. This album, however, was his best release in a decade, with the nearly fifty-year-old artist talking about topics a nearly fifty-year-old artist in Jay’s position should be addressing in their music – family, society, personal failures, successes – displaying a different side to the Brooklyn icon than we’d heard and seen before.
Ankhlejohn – “The Red Room” (Shaap Records / FxckRxp.Com) – The raspy-voiced Washington D.C. wordsmith dropped this cohesive collection of late-night street-hop mixing East Coast boom-bap sensibilities with a no-holds-barred lyrical approach, resulting in a project that was something of an acquired taste but that offered a unique listening experience for those who embraced “The Red Room” in all of its unhinged glory.
Spnda & Grubby Pawz – “Steel Sharpens Steel” (CityYardMusic.BandCamp.Com) – On point like a knife blade, this Boston duo’s album was an effective lesson in how to craft a project that has the ability to really draw the listener in, with Spnda’s liquid swordplay meshing perfectly with producer Pawz’ loop-based mellow madness, resulting in an album that was both atmospheric and captivating with maximum replay value.
RSXGLD – “RSXGLD” (RSXGLD.BandCamp.Com) – This album found veteran Michigan representatives RoSpit and 14KT successfully pushing their respective creative boundaries on each track, giving “RSXGLD” a sound that was soulful, hardcore and experimental in equal measures. Ambitious, personal, speaker-rattling Hip-Hop.
Jehst – “Billy Green Is Dead” (YNRProductions.BandCamp.Com) – Named after a socially-aware 1972 Gil-Scott Heron track, UK producer-on-the-mic Jehst’s first album in six years was a deep musical experience to fully immerse yourself in, offering commentary on today’s modern world which, at times, made for unsettling and haunting listening. A truly brilliant work of art.
Recognize Ali & Giallo Point – “Back 2 Mecca” (RecognizeAli.BandCamp.Com) – The last of three albums to be released in 2017 by Greenfield Music’s talented Recognize Ali, this project paid tribute to the culture of Hip-Hop and was powered by the typically impressive production of the UK’s Giallo Point, with the likes of Estee Nack, Daniel Son and PhybaOptikz also contributing their skills to this raw collection of subterranean gems.
Life MC & DJ Nappa – “Audio Bliss” (LifeMC.BandCamp.Com) – One of UK Hip-Hop’s most distinctive voices, Life MC touched on a variety of topics throughout this succinct seven-track EP, with fellow Phi-Life Cypher member Nappa pulling out some top-drawer production to match the Luton lyricist’s passionate verses.
Ash The Author & Krang – “Two Man Band” (BoomBapPro.Com) – Lively, spontaneous vibes from the UK duo, with Ash’s cleverly cocky rhymes sitting nicely over the jazz-influenced production of Krang, a combination which added another worthy release to the Boom Bap Professionals label catalogue.
Defari – “Rare Poise” (Fat Beats) – Part of the mid-90s West Coast independent scene and a Likwit Crew affiliate, Defari is no stranger to releasing quality music. Calling on the production skills of Evidence to assist in crafting his first album in eleven years, the Cali emcee proved that he hadn’t missed a beat with this self-assured set which also featured appearances from longstanding Left Coast wordsmiths Rakaa Iriscience, Krondon and Phil Tha Agony.
Verb T & Pitch 92 – “Good Evening” (HighFocus.BandCamp.Com) – Supported by the brilliant production of Mouse Outfit music man Pitch 92, the mighty Verb T dropped an engaging, down-to-earth mix of life observations, dry wit and personal reflection, proving once again why his stature as UK Hip-Hop royalty is so well-deserved.
Codenine – “IX” (Codenine.BandCamp.Com) – Backed by the sublime, minimalist soundscapes of producers Kas and Motif Alumni, Tragic Allies member Codenine made sure that not a moment of his time on the mic was wasted here, packing his verses with vivid imagery and a near-cinematic attention to detail that put him head-and-shoulders above much of his competition.
Conway – “G.O.A.T.” (WhoIsConway.Com) – Buffalo’s master of murderous mood music returned at the end of the year with a fresh batch of cold-hearted crime rhymes and dark Daringer production, closing off what had been an eventful twelve months for the Griselda emcee and setting high expectations for what 2018 may bring via Conway’s signing to Eminem’s Shady Records.