Blueprint – “Watch It Burn” (Weightless.Net / 2021)
Hard-hitting, thought-provoking lyricism from the multi-talented Ohio artist on this new self-produced single.
Blueprint – “Watch It Burn” (Weightless.Net / 2021)
Hard-hitting, thought-provoking lyricism from the multi-talented Ohio artist on this new self-produced single.
Vangarde (Mr. Lif & Stu Bangas) ft. Puma Ptah, Reef The Lost Cauze, Blueprint & Murs – “8:46” (@TheRealMrLif / @Stu_Bangas / 2020)
Potent social commentary addressing police brutality, political corruption, white privilege and racism off the forthcoming full-length Vangarde project.
Blueprint – “A Hero Dies Once” (@Printmatic / 2020)
Lyrical food for thought from the Columbus, Ohio representative’s brilliant 2018 album “Two-Headed Monster”.
Taiyamo Denku ft. Blueprint – “Believe In Change” (@TaiyamoDenku / 2019)
Milwaukee’s Taiyamo Denku teams-up with the always-impressive Blueprint to deliver some lyrical food for thought off his forthcoming album “The Book Of Cyphaden” produced by Australia’s Dcypha.
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.
Blueprint – “Don’t Look Back” (@Printmatic / 2018)
Ohio’s talented producer-on-the-mic Blueprint offers some advice to anyone spending too much time dwelling on the past with this cut from his new album “Two-Headed Monster”.
Blueprint ft. Has-Lo – “Hoop Dreamin” (@Printmatic / 2018)
Lyrical food for thought from the talented Ohio artist’s forthcoming album “Two-Headed Monster”.
Blueprint – “Two-Headed Monster” (@Printmatic / 2018)
The longstanding Columbus, Ohio artist celebrates being a talented producer-on-the-mic with this dope title track off his forthcoming album.
DJ Criminal ft. Blueprint – “Leave Me Alone” (DJCriminal.Com / 2016)
Taken from the album “Samples & Marbles”.
Blueprint – “Persevere” (@Printmatic / 2015)
The Ohio producer-on-the-mic drops thoughtful, motivational rhymes over piano-laced production from his recent album “King No Crown”.
Blueprint – “King No Crown” (@Printmatic / 2015)
The Ohio-based producer-on-the-mic delivers mind-bending visuals to accompany the title track of his latest album.
Ohio-based producer-on-the-mic Blueprint adds another chamber to his already impressive discography with “King No Crown”, an ambitious project mixing vintage sounds and future flavours with the veteran artist’s typically intelligent, thought-provoking lyricism.
San Francisco-based, Cleveland-raised emcee Paulie Rhymes blesses a dope selection of Blueprint-produced tracks with intelligent, intricate lyricism on this concise four-track EP.
Blueprint – “Just Move” (@Printmatic / 2015)
Music to move to from the Ohio producer-on-the-mic’s forthcoming album “King No Crown”.
Blueprint – “The Talented Tenth” (@WeightlessRec / 2015)
Taken from the Columbus, Ohio producer-on-the-mic’s upcoming album “King No Crown”.
Blueprint – “Respect The Architect” (Weightless Recordings) – Responsible for releasing a steady stream of quality music over the last decade-plus, Ohio producer-on-the-mic Blueprint channeled his life experiences, both good and bad, into this emotionally-charged body of work. Capturing a variety of moods and thoughts, Blueprint moved seamlessly throughout this album, from moments of powerful reflection to striking artistic defiance. Genuine soul music.
Skanks – “The Shinigami Flowfessional” (Shinigamie Records) – Spreading love may well be the Brooklyn way as Biggie once said, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be delivered with a heavy dose of rawness, as evidenced by NY emcee Skanks’ impressive solo project. Backed by the rugged, thunder-clap production of France’s Kyo Itachi, the Bankai Fam member repped for both the streets of his Crooklyn stomping grounds and the culture of Hip-Hop with equal parts passion, aggression and determination. How about some hardcore?
Wu-Tang Clan – “A Better Tomorrow” (Warner Brothers) – At one point it looked like “A Better Tomorrow” wasn’t likely to see the light of day, with there being discord within the Clan regarding RZA’s creative direction for the project. Yet, the brothers from the slums of Shaolin managed to find some musical middle ground. For the most part, this 20th anniversary album effectively balanced the Abbot’s grand ideas with traditional Wu-Tang slang, showcasing the still-impressive verbal skills of each member and also including some poignant rhymes for our troubled times.
Dilated Peoples – “Directors Of Photography” (Rhymesayers Entertainment) – Viewing the world through a camera lens on their first group project since 2006, West Coast trio Evidence, Rakaa Iriscience and DJ Babu added more worthy sonic snapshots to their extensive musical photo album, which now spans almost two decades. With “Directors Of Photography”, the crew showcased their creative growth whilst remaining faithful to their underground Hip-Hop roots set in the 90s indie scene.
Giallo Point & SmooVth – “Portrait Of A Pimp” (Crate Divizion) – SmooVth by name, smooth by nature, the Strong Island lyricist plundered UK producer Giallo Point’s beat stash for this sublime, low-key lesson in minimalist magic. Weaving subtle-yet-vivid rhymes around exquisite beats that ranged from cool-breeze loops to 70s soundtrack-style drama, SmooVth used his calm-but-deadly delivery to draw the listener into a cinematic world of fine women, fast living and slick street tales.
Eff Yoo & Godilla – “They Came On Horseback” (Eff Yoo & Godilla) – Riding into town from the high plains of NYC and Pennsylvania respectively, mic-slingers Eff Yoo and Godilla stood as outlaws against Hip-Hop’s diluted mainstream, crafting an album for those who still appreciate genuine lyricism. Joined on their musical travels by the likes of Spit Gemz, Shabaam Sahdeeq and UG of the Cella Dwellas, this rough-and-ready posse made their way through the badlands of rap, inviting like-minded heads to ride alongside them. Saddle up!
Lord Finesse – “The SP1200 Project” (Slice-Of-Spice) – The Diggin’ In The Crates legend unleashed a mammoth selection of masterful, sample-based beats on this brilliant instrumental project. Capturing the timeless essence of classic golden-era Hip-Hop, Finesse demonstrated why his reputation as one of the game’s illest producers remains firmly intact to this day.
Essa – “The Misadventures Of A Middle Man” (First Word Records) – London’s Essa (formerly known as Yungun) is the perfect example of an emcee who has really kept it real over the years in the truest sense of the term. Having displayed consistent artistic growth, integrity and honesty since debuting in the early-2000s, this long-awaited album found Essa delivering expertly-written verses over a varied selection of musical flavours, from futuristic soul and afro-beat to traditional, drum-heavy Hip-Hop. Capturing Essa’s thoughts on topics such as his mixed-race heritage, religion and family, “The Misadventures…” offered insight into the world of an artist with a sharp mind and an equally sharp lyrical ability.
Diamond District – “March On Washington” (Mello Music Group) – Successfully achieving the delicate balancing act of pushing creative boundaries whilst still satisfying original fans, DMV trio Oddisee, yU and Uptown XO’s follow-up to their 2009 album “In The Ruff” demonstrated both musical growth and a deeper lyrical approach. Spring-boarding off of Oddisee’s ever-expanding production palette, the group crafted a now-school album with influences that could be traced back to 70s soul and 90s Hip-Hop.
K-9 – “The Re-Education Of King 9” (Rotton Products) – This self-produced album from London emcee K-9 is what KRS-One would no doubt describe as ‘edutainment’. Proudly displaying a strong reggae influence rooted in old-school sound-system culture, K-9 also drew heavily on his West Indian ancestry as he linked the social plight faced by many inner-city British Black Black youth to the experiences of older generations arriving in England in the late-40s and after. Tackling racism, injustice and colonialism, “The Re-Education Of…” is as much a history lesson as it is a snapshot of present-day Britain. Intelligent, entertaining and engaging. Overstand!
Golden Brown Sound – “The Great Man Theory” (GBS) – Claiming to be bringing ’88 back, “not the place and time, but the state of mind”, Boston duo NoDoz and DJ On & On succeeded in crafting an album that, like so many golden-era favourites of yesteryear, was recorded with the intention of being valued and embraced by the Hip-Hop Nation first and foremost. NoDoz’s passionate social commentary and life observations sat tightly over On & On’s pounding production, resulting in “The Great Man Theory” being a combustible mix of mental stimulation, energy and true skills.
Various Artists – “Jamla Is The Squad” (Jamla Records) – With Statik Selektah on the ones-and-twos, this mixtape-style compilation of Jamla artists and allies showcased just how much talent is affiliated with the 9th Wonder-helmed label. Featuring the likes of Big Remo, Rapsody and GQ delivering expert wordplay over the soul-drenched boom-bap of Khrysis, Eric G and 9th himself, this album proved, as Busta Rhymes mighty say, that Jamla really is the squid-aud!
Keith Science – “Hypothalamus” (Central Wax Records) – Following up 2012’s impressive “Vessels Of Thought Volume II”, New Jersey producer Keith Science unlocked his lab to present this collection of atmospheric instrumentals. Ranging from mesmerising, late-night-flavoured beats, to sparse, neck-snapping rhyme-ready tracks, with “Hypothalamus” Science proved himself to be a true master of the sampling arts.
Ray Vendetta & Greater Good – “Effortless” (GreaterGoodBeats.BandCamp.Com) – A member of talented UK collective Triple Darkness, London emcee Ray Vendetta stepped outside of crew ranks to drop this dope solo project. Combining life memories, positive sentiments and raw imagery with the hazy, head-nodding production of Greater Good, “Effortless” was a hypnotic, and at times haunting listening experience, which stayed with you long after the last track faded away.
Sonnyjim & Leaf Dog – “How To Tame Lions” (EatGood Records) – Collaborations between particular emcees and producers may look good on paper, but don’t always translate well once both parties are in the studio. When done right, however, the final results can be a match made in Hip-Hop heaven, like this EP from Birmingham emcee Sonnyjim and High Focus Records production wizard Leaf Dog. Meshing colourful wordplay and rewind-worthy punchlines with sublime beats, the pair displayed a natural chemistry throughout “How To Tame Lions” which, hopefully, will be heard again on future releases.
Von Poe VII – “Only Godz Relate” (Organized Threat) – An ambitious project of epic proportions, this thirty-track double-album from West Coast emcee Von Poe found the skilled artist unleashing intricate verses laced with socially conscious sentiments, street knowledge and a strong sense of cultural pride. Linking with equally talented wordsmiths such as Planet Asia and the UK’s Melanin 9, Poe also demonstrated a sharp ear for quality production, with “Only Godz Relate” possessing a strong sonic identity thanks to the ominous, piano-laced soundscapes of Saheed Sha, Endure and Faces. Peace to the Godz!
Creestal – “Difference” (Munchie Records) – French producer Creestal’s instrumental project “Difference” (a dedication to the “dark and rugged” aspects of America) offered listeners a captivating sonic journey which conjured up images of New York City project buildings, late-night street-corner drama and lost record collections rediscovered in dusty basements. Meticulously pieced together from a variety of random sample material, “Difference” was as unpredictable as it was enjoyable.
Timeless Truth – “Dominican Diner” (TimelessTruthNYC.Com) – Building on the strong foundations of their previous releases and continuing to carry on tradition, blood-related “Queens giants” Oprime39 and Superbad Solace repped proudly for their NY borough throughout “Dominican Diner”, accompanied by atmospheric production from the talented Fafu. Staying true to the golden-era codes and ethics of Rotten Apple Hip-Hop, Oprime and Solace respectfully paid homage to the NYC sound that raised them whilst making their own worthwhile contribution to the city’s rap legacy.
Supastition – “Honest Living” (Reform School Music) – Written during a period in when North Carolina-raised, ATL-based lyricist Supastition found himself unemployed and looking for a j-o-b in an unsteady US economy, “Honest Living” was working-class Hip-Hop capable of resonating with anyone struggling to make-ends-meet and provide for their family. Backed by the melodic boom-bap of German producer Croup, Supa provided the perfect soundtrack for everyone out there counting down to payday every month.
Jazz Spastiks – “The Product” (JazzPlastik) – UK production duo Coconut Delight and Mr. Manayana delivered a flawless album with “The Product”, a thoroughly-satisfying, head-nodding extravaganza which found the pair supplying the likes of Yesh, Apani B. Fly and Count Bass D with their classic brand of jazz-infused beats. Smooth horn samples, huge basslines and dreamy keys were the order of the day here, resulting in a warm, timeless listening experience.
Part Four coming soon.
Motivational, uplifting beats and rhymes from the Connecticut artist’s new album “Behind The Mask” which is produced entirely by France’s ICBM with appearances from Apathy, Craig G, Homeboy Sandman and more.
Blueprint – “Perspective” (Weightless.Net / 2014)
Poignant social commentary from the Ohio producer-on-the-mic’s brilliant “Respect The Architect” album.
Taken from the forthcoming album “The Legacy”.
Blueprint ft. Count Bass D & Midaz The Beast – “Once Again” (@Printmatic / 2014)
Taken from the Ohio producer-on-the-mic’s impressive new album “Respect The Architect”.