Beneficence – “Concrete Soul” (Ill Adrenaline Records) – This veteran New Jersey emcee’s latest album boasted enough featured golden-era talent to make true-school enthusiasts think they’d woken up back in the 90s, with the likes of Lord Tariq, El Da Sensei and Da Beatminerz all making solid contributions to this impressive release. But Beneficence didn’t allow himself to become a guest on his own project, ensuring his forthright lyricism kept him centre-stage throughout.
Brother Ali – “Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color” (Rhymesayers Entertainment) – The Minneapolis-based Ali has long been one of Hip-Hop’s most interesting and inspiring emcee’s, with this fifth full-length project finding the lyricist teaming-up with Seattle producer Jake One to delve into politics, economics and spirituality, resulting in a rousing soundtrack for society’s everyman to struggle to.
Juga-Naut – “Battle Of The Bulge” (Juganaut.BandCamp.Com) – The talented UK emcee delivered some serious verbal darts on this self-produced EP which also featured fellow Nottingham wordsmith Vandal Savage, with the pair expertly wielding vivid imagery and metaphors to paint potent pictures of lyrical excellence.
Craig G – “Ramblings Of An Angry Old Man” (Soulspazm Records) – Irrespective of the actual music contained on this project, the former Juice Crew member would have still gotten props for one of the year’s best album covers. The ever-reliable Queensbridge emcee did, however, also have the beats and rhymes to add extra weight to the sentiment expressed in said artwork, with Craig executing non-stop lessons in timeless lyricism over production from the likes of Marco Polo, Jake One and Da Beatminerz.
George Fields – “From The Sticks” (GeorgeFields.BandCamp.Com) – With influences ranging from Pete Rock to D.I.T.C., this young producer from Dorset, England concocted a soulful mix of heavy drums, filtered basslines and floating horns on this instrumental release which only appeared to hint at the quality to come from Fields in the future.
Soundsci – “Formula 99” (Crate Escape Records) – Combining the transatlantic talents of UK producers Jonny Cuba (Dynamic Syncopation) and Ollie Teeba (The Herbaliser) with Stateside emcees Audessey (Mass Influence), U-George (Hemisphere) and Oxygen (Sputnik Brown), this polished underground gem was packed with quality beats, entertaining rhymes and all-round good vibes, with the group’s far-flung members clearly proving themselves to be on the same sonic page throughout.
The Doppelgangaz – “Beats For Brothels Vol. 2” (Groggy Pack Entertainment) – Fresh off the cult success of their 2011 “Lone Sharks” project, NY duo Matter Ov Fact and EP returned with this largely instrumental project, compiling a head-nodding selection of atmospheric, dusty-fingered tracks perfect for late-night strolls shrouded in one of the Ghastly Duo’s trademark black cloaks.
Murs & 9th Wonder – “The Final Adventure” (Jamla Records) – The Living Legends emcee and Little Brother producer ended their successful musical partnership on a high-note with this final release in their series of collaborative albums. Choosing the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it route, the project contained typically soulful production from 9th matched with Murs’ own unique brand of personal reflection and entertaining story-telling.
Meyhem Lauren – “Respect The Fly S**t” (L-R-G.Com) – Having spent recent years building a reputation via various mixtapes and collaborations with homie Action Bronson, 2012 will go down as the year Queens, NY’s Meyhem Lauren truly stepped into the spotlight in his own right. Recorded in a Texas hotel suite over two days during the SXSW music conference, this spontaneous Tommy Mas / Harry Fraud-produced project contained plenty of Lauren’s obligatory clothes and food references over a choice selection of samples, with the likes of Roc Marciano, Thirstin Howl and AG Da Coroner bringing new meaning to the term ‘room service’.
K.I.N.E.T.I.K. – “The Kinesis Thesis Vol. III” (Kinetik.BandCamp.Com) – A shining example of an artist who has consistently striven to perfect his craft, this latest intalment in his “Kinesis Thesis” series found London emcee K.I.N.E.T.I.K. delivering his finest creative moment to date, wrapping up his positive, thoughtful rhymes in melodic soundscapes which perfectly matched the emotional tone of his subject matter, which ranged from the plight of inner-city youth to pondering the responsibilities of fatherhood.
Timeless Truth – “Rock-It Science” (RTTNC) – Having kick-started 2012 with the brilliant “Brugal & Presidentes” EP, NY duo Solace and OPrime39 ended the year by making good on their promise to release their official debut long-player. A punchy collection of boom-bap bangers, the pair evoked images of graffiti-covered subway trains, Timberland boots and Polo gear as they travelled back-to-the-future, bridging the gap between the Rotten Apple’s Hip-Hop golden-era and the present day. Queens get the money.