Homeboy Sandman – “Still Champion” (HomeboySandman-MMG-BandCamp.Com) – There was a genuine sense of hope and optimism running throughout this album that gave it a rejuvenating quality, both for listeners and Sandman himself it would seem. Sounding relaxed and at ease, the NY emcee bounced all over the lively, melodic production supplied by Colorado’s Deca, resulting in an entertainingly upbeat collection of tracks that contained its fair share of life-affirming lyrical gems.
Rapper Big Pooh – “To Dream In Color” (Soulspazm.BandCamp.Com) – Little Brother’s Big Pooh has always been known for personal, honest lyrics, but on “To Dream…” it felt like the North Carolina emcee was peeling back even more layers of his story as he masterfully looked back over his life and career whilst also looking towards the future. From his beginnings as a young rapper with a dream, then signing and leaving a major label deal, to his present situation as an independent artist, Pooh offered insight and transparency very step of the way, with his candour being given just the right amount of thump by producers such as DK The Punisher, D.R.U.G.S. Beats and Nottz.
Eddie Kaine x K-Sluggah – “Chosen” (EddieKaine.BandCamp.Com) – Exuding the street-smarts, swagger, bravado and lyrical wit we’ve come to expect from top-tier Brooklyn emcees, Eddie Kaine delivered the goods once again on this collaborative album with Sweden’s K-Sluggah. Telling vivid stories of the BK outside his window that were laced with struggle, tragedy and determination, Kaine’s verses were complimented by Sluggah’s atmospheric, almost gothic style of production. Crooklyn keeps on taking it.
Dres & Stu Bangas – “Sheep Stu” (BrutalMusic.Org) – Black Sheep member Dres’s place in the Hip-Hop history books is secured. As part of the Native Tongues family the Bronx-bred emcee helped to define an era in rap with one of the most recognisable voices (and flows) in the game. Some thirty years later and this team-up with hardcore composer Stu Bangas found D-R-E-S delivering his trademark blend of slick punchlines and life observations over a well-chosen selection of quality beats (this EP also included “Hate”, possiby my favourite song of 2022).
All Hail Y.T. & Anthony Danza – “All Hail Danza” (AllHailtYT.BandCamp.Com) – Any album featuring a track entitled “Keith Sweat” was almost guaranteed to be on some smooth, cool-out ish and this collaboration from Delaware’s All Hail Y.T. and Seattle’s Anthony Danza didn’t disappoint. Calmly and confidently delivering lessons from the hustler’s handbook over 80s / 90s R&B loops, Y.T. and Danza shared stories of the paper chase with genuine chemistry and aplomb.
Roc Marciano & The Alchemist – “The Elephant Man’s Bones” (RocMarci.Com) – Underground kings Roc Marc and Uncle Al joined forces here and it could be argued brought the best out of each other in the process. Strong Island’s Marcberg dropped his understated crime rhyme drama with his usual cool, calm demeanour, appearing to be living the luxury life of a high roller, whilst at times the subtle tension in Alchemist’s expert production hinted that at any moment the walls could come closing in with the unknown being just around the corner.
Ka – “Languish Arts” (BrownsvilleKa.Com) – One of two albums released in 2022 by Brooklyn’s Ka and further proof (if it were needed) that the Brownsville emcee is one of the most gifted writers of his generation. “Languish Arts” found Ka once again finding meaning in the delicate balance of life, capturing feelings of love, pain, peace, turmoil, hope, regret and a myriad of other emotions in his mesmerising verses. An elite talent whose music is chiseled out of the memories and experiences of a period in New York history never to be forgotten, Ka once again allowed us the privilege of looking into his soul.
TrueMendous – “Great. On Purpose” (TrueMendous.BandCamp.Com) – Birmingham’s TrueMendous showcased her creative brilliance once again on this sophomore album for the UK’s High Focus label, wrapping her shape-shifting flow around a diverse array of production from the likes of Illinformed, Pitch 92 and Forest DLG. True’s magnetic personality shone brightly here, as she waxed lyrical about life, relationships and the world at large in her own inimitable style.
junclassic – “Long Days And Short Lives” (junclassic.BandCamp.Com) – This release from NY’s junclassic played out like an audio diary, with the Queens emcee vividly recounting numerous memories, scenarios and situations that captured a variety of feelings and moods, all linking back to the overall concept of the album and reminding us all that however difficult some of our days may seem, ultimately life can be short so should never be taken for granted. Production from the likes of Semi, J Slikk and The SOULution offered a smooth backdrop for junclassic’s verses.
Vic Spencer & August Fanon – “Psychological Cheat Sheet 3” (VicSpencer.BandCamp.Com) – The third installment of Vic Spencer’s “Psychological…” series featured the Chicago artist teaming-up with producer August Fanon for another striking display of clever, conversational rhymes with a personal edge, complimented by brilliant, jazz-influenced beats.
J. Sands – “Women” (LoneCatalysts.BandCamp.Com) – A feel-good collection of fly love songs, this album from Pittsburgh’s J. Sands bumped and bounced with all the upbeat energy of a new relationship. Playful, humorous and butter-smooth, Sands showed himself to be a stone cold gentleman as he celebrated the ladies in sincere fashion over a selection of soulful cool-breeze beats that would definitely make Bonita Applebum bob her head.
Archibald Slim – “Worldly Ways” (POWRecordings.BandCamp.Com) – Offering listeners a constant flow of street-smart thoughts and observations delivered over lush, laidback soundscapes, Atlanta’s Archibald Slim packed a lot into the ten cuts that made up this album. Possessing a talent for being able to quickly pull you into his world on each track, the Southern emcee’s down-to-earth demeanor and openness meant you found yourself willing Slim to win as he detailed his everyday struggles.
Truck North – “Feast Of Violence” (TruckNorth.BandCamp.Com) – An absolute master of his craft, Philly’s Truck North (who first came to the attention of many via his work with The Roots) stands as part of a long line of talented Illadelph emcees, capable of turning his experiences in the shadows of the City Of Brotherly Love into vivid, hard-hitting verses of gritty poetic excellence. This album was further proof of North’s potent rhyming abilities and was the sound of an individual making music with a genuine sense of purpose.
Jermiside & The Expert – “The Overview Effect” (TheExpert.BandCamp.Com) – An album crafted for today’s unsettling times, New Jersey’s Jermiside and Dublin’s The Expert shared a creative partnership here which resulted in some truly powerful and striking music that pushed buttons, demanded thought and prompted reaction. With lyrics tackling subjects such as war, racism and social unrest being paired with an eclectic, unpredictable selection of sample-heavy, 60s-influenced beats, “The Overview Effect” succeeded in its mission to draw lessons from the past, comment on the present and offer hope for the future.
Artifacts x Buckwild – “No Expiration Date” (SmokeOnRecords.Com) – At the time of its release announcement, this long-awaited album was a cause for celebration as Brick City favourites El Da Sensei and Tame One reunited over the production of D.I.T.C. legend Buckwild, with the duo of course offering a nod of respect to the late DJ Kaos who passed away in 2019. By the end of 2022, however, this project stood as an unexpected tribute to Tame One who sadly passed himself in November. That said, “No Expiration Date” captured everything that has always been great about Artifacts – lyrical skills, brotherhood, true-school attitude and speaker-shaking beats. RIP Tame One and DJ Kaos!
Renelle 893 & King Kashmere – “Cocoa Butter” (Renelle893.BandCamp.Com) – As a recent signing to the UK’s mighty High Focus label, London-based emcee Renelle 893 made sure everyone knew he’d arrived on this five-track EP. Possessing a laidback delivery and a penchant for sharp punchlines, Renelle calmly swaggered through this release, with his entertaining rhymes being complimented by the off-kilter funk and hazy retro soul vibes of cult hero King Kashmere. Vibes and stuff in abundance.
Danger Mouse & Black Thought – “Cheat Codes” (DangerMouseBlackThought.Com) – Philly’s Black Thought has been so good for so long that it could be easy for some to take his consistently incredible feats of lyrical excellence for granted. This album with boundary-pushing producer Danger Mouse was a reminder that, yes, Thought is still that good (one of the best to do it, in fact) and that his rhyming capabilities are anything but normal. As always, the Roots front-man’s verses spilled out here like a roller-coaster of verbal virtuosity, twisting, turning, requiring the listener to hold on to every word uttered in an attempt to keep up with his unrelenting rap momentum.
Little Simz – “NO THANK YOU” (LittleSimz.Com) – To say this album from London’s Little Simz was brilliant would be an understatement. Having received critical acclaim, media attention and awards for 2021’s “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” after years of hard work and numerous releases, “NO THANK YOU” was the sound of an artist who had finally been let through the music industry door, looked around, didn’t like what she saw and walked back out wanting to talk about it. The level of honesty heard here was both courageous and refreshing as Simz tackled the greed, racism and overall fickleness found within the corporate music game in measured tones, with justified anger and frustration just below the surface. Longtime collaborator Inflo’s production ranged from subtle to symphonic, perfectly complimenting Simz and adding further levels of emotion to the album which helped the rhymes hit that bit harder. True greatness.
Tommy Evans – “Tragedy And Hope” (TommyEvansOfficial.Com) – A longstanding fixture of the UK Hip-Hop scene, Tommy Evans delivered an album that felt uplifting and optimistic whilst still touching on some of life’s daily challenges. Produced entirely by Bobby Hex who provided a unique sonic dimension to the release with the attention to detail displayed in his work, this was an album that massaged your spirit with a warm, inspiring energy.
Grunge Gallardo – “Before The Winner Comes The Fall” (TheOpioidEra.BandCamp.Com) – Dropping right at the end of the year, Grunge Gallardo (of Virginia’s Opioid Era crew) showcased his formidable rhyme skills on this impressive UKAT-produced album, spitting passionate verses packed with life reflections, street knowledge and social / cultural commentary over raw beats.