Black Thought – “Noir” (@BlackThought / 2019)
The Philly legend unleashes a poignant lyrical tour de force in honour of Black History Month, accompanied by the multi-layered jazz stylings of Adrian Younge.
Black Thought – “Noir” (@BlackThought / 2019)
The Philly legend unleashes a poignant lyrical tour de force in honour of Black History Month, accompanied by the multi-layered jazz stylings of Adrian Younge.
Siddeeq Matthew – “Goodnight” (@SiddeeqMatthew / 2016)
The Leicester, England lyricist gets busy over an organ-driven Adrian Younge track.
Adrian Younge ft. Loren Oden – “Psalms” (@AdrianYounge / 2016)
Pounding, drum-heavy flavour from the immensely talented music man’s recent “Something About April II” project.
LEX – “Break The Pattern” (LEXOfSinistahCircle.BandCamp.Com) – Frantic and fast-paced, this fourteen-track EP (yes, fourteen tracks!) found the Queens, NY emcee delivering short, sharp displays of lyrical dexterity over bursts of dusty breakbeats. Raw, rugged and fuelled by the essence of old-school Rotten Apple park jams, “Break The Pattern” showcased LEX as an artist who is as passionate about respecting the culture of Hip-Hop as he is about knocking out his competition.
Equipto & Otayo Dubb – “Baby Steps” (Solidarity Records) – The West Coast has always had a rich, creative underground scene and this collaborative effort from Bored Stiff’s Equipto and fellow Cali representative Otayo Dubb is a worthy addition to a musical timeline that includes the likes of Freestyle Fellowship, Likwit Crew and Hieroglyphics. Poignant life observations and verbal showmanship were combined here with expert precision, resulting in an album that was as sincere and earnest as it was entertaining.
Thaione Davis – “Donald Mayhem – Skywritters” (ThaioneDavis.Com) – Taking on the character of Donald Mayhem for this captivating self-produced concept album, veteran Chicago lyricist Thaione Davis blended street-savvy bravado with an insightful social conscience as he took listeners on a guided tour through the Windy City.
Life MC & Badhabitz – “Deep In The Trenches” (SplitProphets.BandCamp.Com) – Longstanding UK lyricist Life proved once again why he’s considered one of the most consistent emcees to have emerged from British shores with this uncompromising release produced by Split Prophets’ Badhabitz. Accompanied by a sample-driven selection of radio-unfriendly beats, Life flexed his trademark punchline-heavy flow with the type of confidence that only worldly experience can bring, covering topics such as Hip-Hop stereotypes, misguided celebrity worship and institutional racism.
Daniel Son – “Moonshine Chemist” (CrateDivizion.BandCamp) – Toronto’s Daniel Son teamed-up with the Crate Divizion production squad to spit vivid, action-packed rhymes over quality, sample-laced beats from Giallo Point, Vic Grimes and Kurse.
Figub Brazlevic & Teknical Development – “The Everyday Headnod” (Vinyl Digital) – This joint effort from Berlin producer Figub and London lyricist Tek was easily one of the most well-crafted releases of 2015. Combining jazzy, full-bodied boom-bap with intricate, intelligent verses, the two Man Of Booom members delivered an album with real creative depth that was both life-affirming and speaker-rocking.
DJ Pressure Presents The Old Boys Club – “Revival Of The Real” (DJPressure.BandCamp.Com) – Manchester, England’s DJ Pressure pulled together a huge global collective of true-school representatives for this epic compilation project. Featuring appearances from Chuck D, Ruste Juxx, Da Buze Bruvaz’ CleverOne and more, this project truly lived up to its title by delivering a hard-hitting collection of beats and rhymes from individuals totally disinterested in pandering to mainstream trends.
R.A.W. (Problemz & DJ Skizz) – “Right Amount Of Wrong” (Soulspazm) – Having been a fan of Brooklyn’s Problemz since his 90s work with the likes of DJ Honda, Al’ Tariq and Black Attack, it was a real pleasure to hear the NY emcee sounding like he hadn’t missed a beat on this dope EP, lacing the moody production of DJ Skizz with a barrage of gritty BK wordplay that was both hardcore and refined.
Adrian Younge & Ghostface Killah – “12 Reasons To Die II” (Linear Labs) – Although sequels are often known for not living up to the impact of their predecessors, this follow-up to West Coast music man Younge’s 2014 collaboration with the mighty Toney Starks actually improved on the formula of the original “12 Reasons…”. Set in 1970s New York and based around a crime-riddled cinematic plot, “…To Die II” found the Wu warrior once again attacking an impeccable selection of live, analog soundscapes with his detailed story-telling skills.
Denmark Vessey – “Martin Lucid Dream” (Rappers I Know) – Displaying a brilliant artistic mind, Detroit-raised Vessey mixed a gritty, realistic worldview with an eloquent delivery and the thump of soulfully distorted production on this eight-track masterpiece. Featuring appearances from Guilty Simpson, Tanya Morgan and Black Milk, there was a genuinely timeless appeal to this EP which was both inspiring and thought-provoking.
Aim & QNC – “The Habit Of A Lifetime (And How To Kick It)” (Atic Records) – Veteran UK producer Aim and NY duo Q-Ball & Curt Cazal built on a longstanding sonic chemistry that dates back to the 90s with this long-awaited project. With both Aim and JVC Force member Cazal sharing production duties, Q-Ball had plenty of sample-based flavour to take advantage of, with both a Grand Puba collaboration and a dope Guru tribute ensuring this album’s true-school value was through the roof.
People Under The Stairs – “The Gettin’ Off Stage, Step 1” (Piecelock70) – At this stage in their career, West Coast natives People Under The Stairs surely deserve to be classed as one of Hip-Hop’s greatest ever duos. Having remained consistent in terms of both quality and quantity since their late-90s debut, Thes One and Double K’s already-extensive discography was further expanded with the release of this quality EP. Packed with more of the feel-good funk the pair have become known for, this project proved that, almost twenty years since they first dropped on wax, the pair still sound as fresh and enthusiastic as ever.
Public Enemy – “Man Plans God Laughs” (SpitDigital) – After Melle Mel in his 1980s prime, Chuck D ranks as arguably the most authoritative voice in Hip-Hop of all-time. Showing no signs of letting-up their attack on the establishment almost thirty years after Public Enemy’s Def Jam debut, the legendary group returned in 2015 with yet another dose of potent edutainment, proving that Strong Island’s self-proclaimed rhyme animal still isn’t ready to be caged.
Conway – “Reject 2…” (Griselda Records) – Hailing from the home of late, great funk-rock legend Rick James, Buffalo, NY’s Conway delivered his own collection of street songs on this captivating Daringer-produced project. Joined by WestsideGunn, Roc Marciano and Skyzoo, the East Coast wordsmith wove nimble-yet-grimy verses around moody, hypnotic soundscapes, resulting in a gripping listening experience.
Illinformed – “The Mould Tape” (Real Life Drama Records) – Whilst this album contained a lengthy list of talented UK emcees, including Leaf Dog, Sonnyjim and Verb T, it was music man Illinformed’s impeccable work behind the boards that really elevated the project above being simply just another producer-based release. Heavy drums, obscure samples and dense b-lines were the order of the day here, ensuring that, regardless of its title, “The Mould Tape” was anything but past its sell by date.
Hus Kingpin & SmooVth – “Splash Bros” (Splash Bros) – The Hempstead, NY homeboys showcased their undeniable rhyming chemistry on this effortlessly dope EP. Backed by a selection of mellow, melodic soundscapes from the likes of Audible Doctor, J57 and Twiz The Beat Pro, the duo shot straight three-pointers throughout this release, with SmooVth’s sharp barbs and Kingpin’s more ominous flow creating a captivating combination which demonstrated why they’re considered two of the best emcees to have emerged from the East Coast in recent years.
Dell-P – “A New Beginning” (WhoMag Distribution) – Clearly an emcee with something of substance to say, Philly’s Dell-P packed this lengthy album with plenty of food for thought, touching on a variety of social issues with both maturity and insight. Yet to simply label this Illadelph lyricist as a ‘conscious’ artist would be too easy, with this project proving Peezie to be a truly well-rounded artist, grounded in the traditions of Hip-Hop culture and bringing something genuine to the game.
OC From NC – “Higher Learning” (OCFromNC.BandCamp.Com) – Bringing his own brand of street knowledge to the forefront on this soulful-yet-rugged album, North Carolina’s OC rhymed like a man with real purpose here, grabbing the listener’s attention with a mix of authority, intelligence and wit. Personal and passionate, “Higher Learning” was quality down-to-earth Hip-Hop that hit you in both the head and the heart.
Severed Tongue – “Gentle Katharsis” (Inner Peace Records) – A collaborative effort from UK emcees Elliot Fresh and Tang The Pilgrim, “Gentle Katharsis” was a melancholy, meditative listening experience, with the two lyricists delivering poignant self-reflection and absorbing wordplay over solid, and at times moody production from the likes of EarthOne, Said Zu and King Boyden.
Sean Price – “Songs In The Key Of Price” (Ruck Down Records) – Although this release was neither an official album or EP, as a nod of respect to the late, great Brooklyn emcee, it’s only right that the final mention in Old To The New’s best-of-2015 list goes to Sean P’s “Songs In The Key Of Price”. Thirty-tracks deep and drenched in grimy New York attitude, this mixtape showcased everything that was brilliant about the Heltah Skeltah member’s unapologetically hardcore approach to his craft. RIP Sean Price!
It can’t be denied that 2014 was a great year for quality Hip-Hop. When I initially sat down to start putting together Old To The New’s annual 52 Best Albums & EPs list, it soon became clear that staying with that format would mean having to leave out a large amount of releases that I’ve had in heavy rotation over the last twelve months.
Another reason for wanting to highlight just how many worthwhile albums and EPs dropped in 2014 was to prove a point to those who still insist there just isn’t a notable amount of good music being released today. There are still plenty of talented emcees, deejays and producers across the globe who’re busy in their respective labs, meticulously crafting beats and rhymes in the hope that those of us who say we’re looking for high-standard Hip-Hop will take the time to listen.
As always, by no means am I presenting this as the definitive list of 2014 releases. In today’s internet-era, it’s impossible for anyone to say they’ve heard everything that’s worth listening to. No matter how much time you spend online listening to music, there will always be a dope project out there from someone, somewhere on Planet Rock that you won’t yet have heard of. The search is never-ending.
So, with all that being said, here are the albums and EPs that kept my head nodding throughout 2014…
TPS Fam – “Hot Water Music” (Revorg Records) – Finding creative inspiration in the mundane aspects of the daily grind, Jack Diggs, Big Toast and Strange Neighbour crafted a brilliant, sample-driven soundtrack for the working-class Hip-Hop fan. Balancing dreams and aspirations with day-jobs and overdue bills, the UK trio delivered down-to-earth rhymes with passion and sincerity, encouraging us all to make every day count whilst promoting their motto of “living like kings on a tight budget.”
Starvin B – “Blood From A Stone” (Goblin Music) – The first of two projects released by the talented Queens, NY resident in 2014, the One-Take-produced “Blood From A Stone” showcased the Rotten Apple rhymer as being a true student of the lyrical arts. Packing his vivid verses with gritty imagery, raw humour and witty wordplay, Starvin B let his personality shine throughout this project, with the likes of Spit Gemz, Tragedy Khadafi and Foul Monday on-hand to fill some well-placed guest spots.
Ray West & OC – “Ray’s Cafe” (RedApples45) – Proving that true talent really is timeless, two decades after the release of his classic debut album “Word…Life”, Diggin’ In The Crates legend OC teamed-up with Bronx producer Ray West to serve hungry Hip-Hop customers with this appetising platter of flawless lyricism and warm, soulful production. What’s next on the menu?
Stu Bangas & Blacastan – “Watson & Holmes” (Brutal Music) – Joining forces with producer Stu Bangas, Connecticut emcee Blacastan retained his reputation as one of the rap game’s most consistent artists with the release of this abrasive, hard-hitting album. Backed by Stu’s cinematic, drama-laced beats, the AOTP member delivered his usual high standard of raw rhyming, with brothers-in-arms Esoteric, Vinnie Paz and Apathy each taking a turn to help crush the competition.
String Theory – “String Theory” (Mic Theory Records) – Breaking the periodic table of poetry down to its very last compound, Florida’s Hex One (of the duo Epidemic) and Swiss producer B.B.Z. Darney came together to “swallow planets and freeze suns”, combining inter-dimensional mic techniques with rocket-fuelled boom-bap beats as they pondered both the laws of the universe and the art of rap.
DJ JS-1 – “It Is What It Isn’t” (Ground Original) – Veteran NY turntablist and long-standing Rock Steady Crew member JS-1 enlisted the help of a lengthy list of talented lyricists for his fourth collection of underground science. From golden-era icons such as Sadat X, KRS-One and X-Clan’s Brother J, to more recently established wordsmiths like Spit Gemz, Fashawn and Rasheed Chappell, “It Is What It Isn’t” effectively bridged the gap between the old and the new with impressive results.
Union Blak – “Union Blak Friday” (Effiscienz) – US-born emcee Kimba and UK beatsmith Sir Williams joined forces with France’s Effiscienz label to deliver a solid, succinct debut album. Demonstrating their shared passion for Hip-Hop with positive, upbeat rhymes and melodic production, the duo made it clear throughout “Union Blak Friday” that their aim is to add on to the culture rather than simply take from it.
J-Live – “Around The Sun” (Mortier Music) – There may not be anything new under the sun, but there’s still plenty of quality music to be found. Case in point, veteran NY-raised, ATL-based emcee J-Live’s seventh album release, which found the accomplished wordsmith delivering the clever, intelligent lyricism fans have come to rely on him for over production from Oddisee, Audible Doctor and DJ Spinna.
Souls Of Mischief / Adrian Younge – “There Is Only Now” (Linear Labs) – A concept album set in 1994 involving jealous emcees, kidnapping and revenge, “There Is Only Now” found the Souls Of Mischief members weaving intricate, story-telling rhymes around the live, drum-heavy musicianship of the talented Adrian Younge, resulting in an epic Hip-Hop tale which contained more drama than an episode of “The Wire”.
Es – “Aspire To Inspire” (Essenchill Records) – Inviting everyone along on his quest for self-improvement, Canadian emcee Es’s second full-length project lived up to its lofty title in no uncertain terms. Packed with full-bodied production and uplifting rhymes about everything from fatherhood and relationships to self-worth and striving to maintain a positive mental attitude, it was near impossible to play this album and not feel better about life whilst listening.
Skyzoo & Torae – “Barrel Brothers” (First Generation Rich / Internal Affairs) – Self-confessed “products of Albee Square Mall” and Brooklyn-based brothers-from-other-mothers, Skyzoo and Torae came together to create one of the best examples of pure emceeing you were likely to hear in 2014. With bold deliveries and painstakingly well-crafted verses, the two BK lyricists sparred with each other over heavyweight production from the likes of Illmind and DJ Premier, each proving why their place among NY’s long line of noteworthy mic controllers is well-deserved. No frills, just skills.
Figub Brazlevic – “Train Yards” (FigubBrazlevic.BandCamp.Com) – Having already demonstrated his undeniable production skills via his work with the Man Of Booom crew, this instrumental EP release from Berlin’s Brazlevic blended head-nodding beats with jazzy samples and well-placed vocal snippets, creating a spell-binding project with plenty of musical depth and soul.
Confidence Presents… – “Confidence Presents GDot & Born Featuring Edo.G” (Audible Con Records) – Building on his already strong reputation as one of today’s most consistent producers, the talented Confidence orchestrated this true-school gem of an album which bridged the gap between the Boston Hip-Hop scene’s past and present. Relative newcomers GDot & Born shared mic time with Beantown vet Edo.G throughout this project, with all three emcees delivering positive messages mixed with b-boy bravado over Confidence’s quality brand of crisp, boom-bap beats.
Parallax – “Depth Perception” (ParallaxOfficialStore.BandCamp.Com) – The upcoming UK artist proved he’s as nice behind the boards as he is behind the microphone with the release of this succinct, largely self-produced EP. Utilising solid drums and dusty samples, Parallax waxed lyrical about a number of topics, dropping punchline-heavy food-for-thought on the state of Hip-Hop, media manipulation and the British justice system. Mental stamina, indeed.
Prince Po & Oh No – “Animal Serum” (Wandering Worx / Green Streets Entertainment) – Staying true to his claim of “having a lotta jewels, but don’t gotta wear a chain”, Organized Konfusion’s Prince Po administered a new brand of musical medicine to the Hip-Hop faithful with the welcome assistance of West Coast producer Oh No. Tackling a number of modern-day issues with typically dense, multi-layered lyricism, Po succeeded in soothing the suffering of all free-thinkers who find themselves trapped inside the Matrix.
Early Reed & J Scienide – “The Dose (The MFN Files)” (J-Scienide.BandCamp.Com) – Whilst putting the finishing touches to his own impressive 2014 releases, Low Budget’s Kev Brown found time to get behind this EP from his two fellow Washington D.C.-based crew members. With Reed demonstrating his mastery of the SP and Scienide proving himself to be a formidable talent on the mic, “The Dose (The MFN Files)” gave listeners a potent shot of pure Hip-Hop.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – “Pinata” (Madlib Invazion) – Arguably the greatest mix of raw gangsta rhymes and dope breaks since Brad Jordan joined forces with the Rap-A-Lot production squad for his 1991 debut solo album, Gary, Indiana native Gibbs’ drawling delivery sounded right at home over Madlib’s range of random sample material, resulting in an album that covered a variety of moods, from the soothing and laidback to the dramatic and urgent. Witness the strength of street knowledge.
Akrobatik – “Built To Last” (Playaktion Recordings) – Returning to the rap game after surviving emergency heart surgery in 2011, the title of Boston veteran Akrobatik’s third full-length solo album was as much a statement about enduring personal struggle as it was a comment on his forthright approach to his craft. Balancing content which covered his near-death experience, social commentary and Hip-Hop politics, Ak firmly stood up for his personal principles at a time when so many other artists are busy chasing trends and trying desperately to please the masses.
Divine – “Ghetto Rhymin'” (Supreme Records) – Mixing Five Percent terminology with the influence of Rakim and a proud New York state of mind, Brooklyn’s Divine proved himself to be a true product of his environment on his latest project, taking it back to a time when Rotten Apple wordsmiths were more concerned with capturing the essence of the five boroughs in their music rather than allowing their sound to be shaped by outside forces.
Ghostface Killah – “36 Seasons” (Tommy Boy Entertainment) – Fresh from 2013’s “Twelve Reasons To Die” collabo with Adrian Younge, the Wally Champ dove straight into another concept-based project with “36 Seasons”. Based around a story-line that was part 70s blaxploitation flick, part Marvel comic book territory, Ghost was joined by Brooklyn’s AZ and the legendary K00l G. Rap, weaving action-packed tales of love, drama and betrayal over the classic vintage soul thump of NY band The Revelations.
Part Two coming soon.
Souls Of Mischief & Adrian Younge – “Finally Back” (Linear Labs / 2014)
Taken from the longstanding West Coast crew’s Younge-produced concept album “There Is Only Now”.
Hypetrak.Com interview with West Coast veterans Souls Of Mischief discussing their forthcoming Adrian Younge-produced concept album “There Is Only Now”.