Ka & Preservation – “Days With Dr. Yen Lo” (Mon Dieu Music) – Partly inspired by the classic 1962 film “The Manchurian Candidate”, Brooklyn’s Ka once again teamed-up with producer Preservation to craft this understated masterpiece. Combining minimalist, atmospheric soundscapes with Ka’s vivid-yet-subtle lyrical craftmanship, this project was the sonic equivalent of driving through inner-city New York in slow-motion, looking out the window and watching some of the Rotten Apple’s eight million stories unfolding right in front of your eyes.
Union Blak – “Street English” (Effiscienz) – UK / US duo Sir Williams and Kimba followed-up their 2014 debut for France’s Effiscienz imprint with another quality selection of melodic, uplifting boom-bap and inspirational rhymes, with the pair’s shared love of Hip-Hop and passion for their respective crafts shining through on every track.
Jise – “The Passion Of Jise” (Creative Juices Music) – Part conceptual, part semi-autobiographical, this intense solo project from Arsonists member Jise One was a dramatic, well-executed sonic roller-coaster which found the Brooklyn emcee pushing the creative envelope as he told emotionally-charged stories from various character perspectives over well-chosen production from the likes of Q-Unique, DJ Insite and Dras79.
Spit Gemz – “Godly Features” (Broken Home) – As one of the illest emcees to have emerged from NYC in recent years, it came as no surprise to hear Queens resident Spit Gemz holding his own against veteran wordsmiths such as Tragedy Khadafi, Kool G Rap and Shabaam Sahdeeq on this potent release. A tour-de-force of verbal skill, “Godly Features” showcased Gemz delivering a standard of lyricism that many artists today could only hope to aspire to.
BOOM – “From PG, With Love” (DTMD.BandCamp.Com) – Maryland microphone master BOOM delivered slick, self-assured rhymes over soulful beats on this debut project produced entirely by Dunc of DTMD fame. Representing for his Prince George’s County stomping grounds, the talented artist exuded a quiet confidence throughout this nine-track release which couldn’t fail to endear him to listeners.
The Kingdom – “Kingdom Come” (TheKingdomMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Following up last year’s impressive “No Rest In The Kingdom” project, North Carolina-based duo King Draft and Jerm Scorcese returned with the boundary-pushing “Kingdom Come”, an album that successfully blended future-shock soul vibes, dusty samples and accomplished, intelligent wordplay into one cohesive, rewarding listening experience.
Pete Rock – “Petestrumentals 2” (Mello Music Group) – Mount Vernon’s legendary Chocolate Boy Wonder emerged from his basement once again with a new collection of instrumental flavours for 2015, expanding on his trademark production style which influenced a generation of beat-makers. Capturing a variety of sonic tones and textures, Pete did his legacy justice here, effortlessly retaining his title of Hip-Hop’s Soul Brother #1.
Cold Fusion – “The Elixir” (RingzOVSaturn.BandCamp.Com) – Prior to the 2015 release of the Triple Darkness album “Darker Than Black” (previously mentioned in Part One of this list), group members Ray Vendetta and Cyrus Malachi set the year off with this hardcore jewel, meshing their heavy mental wordplay with the gritty, atmospheric boom-bap of HellzEcho production partnership Ringz Ov Saturn and 7th Dan. “The Elixir” stood as proof that there will always be those whose motivation for picking up a microphone runs deeper than simply chasing overnight success, fame and fortune.
Starvin B & Fel Sweetenberg – “Soul Museum” (Effiscienz) – Backed by the knocking production of New Jersey’s Fel Sweetenberg, the always-impressive Starvin B added another worthy project to his ever-expanding catalogue with this succinct, straight-to-the-point release for France’s Effiscienz label.
Chrome & Illinspired – “The All C N I” (B-Line Recordings) – A throwback to the late-80s when the BPMs of hardcore Hip-Hop inspired immediate dancefloor activity, this release from UK duo Chrome & Illinspired was packed with frantic drums, lively loops, fast-paced cuts and high-velocity verbals. If you could listen to this album without breaking into The Running Man at least once, you really needed to get your pulse checked.
Apathy – “Weekend At The Cape” (Dirty Version Records) – Released as a companion EP to 2014’s “Connecticut Casual” album, “Weekend…” found the acid-tongued Demigodz member once again drawing inspiration from his New England surroundings, delivering typically thorny barbs over largely self-produced beats which ranged from the funky to the melancholy.
Maffew Ragazino – “VII Million Stories” (WPG) – A potent dose of traditional Rotten Apple rap, Brooklyn’s Ragazino undoubtedly made his borough proud with this street-savvy combination of hard-knock sentiments, motivational jewels and life lessons.
Mellow Man Ace – “The Lost Decade” (Ultra Slump! Records) – Perhaps one of the most unexpected releases of 2015 came in the form of this album from California veteran Mellow Man Ace. Dropping his own brand of Latin lingo over funky, soulful soundscapes, with the likes of Dinco D (Leaders Of The New School), Jarobi (ATCQ) and Ultra Slump! label-mate Cazal Organism on-hand to offer lyrical assistance, the West Coast emcee delivered a project that was as refreshing as it was nostalgic.
BRTSound – “Boombap Therapy” (DirtyBeauty) – After checking the title of this release from Russian producer BRTSound, it would have been easy to be misled into thinking you were going to be hearing the work of an unaccomplished beat-head simply attempting to emulate their favourite DJ Premier tracks. However, “Boombap Therapy” was an impressive eight-track effort which found the Moscow music man drawing on both his love of heavy drums and mellow jazz grooves, resulting in what was one of the best instrumental projects heard in 2015.
AUTOmatic – “ARISING” (AUTOmatic.BandCamp.Com) – Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s A.P.R.I.M.E., Trellmatic and JDL Rockwell combined organic, infectious feel-good vibes with down-to-earth rhymes and soulful, organic beats on this polished five-track EP.
Nolan The Ninja – “f_ck the hype” (NolanTheNinja.BandCamp.Com) – This highly-anticipated project from Detroit’s Nolan The Ninja showcased the 23-year-old artist’s ferocious flow and gritty delivery to great effect, with the passionate producer-on-the-mic being joined by Phat Kat, Finale and Hassaan Mackey as he verbally attacked a selection of raw, basement-style beats.
UGeorge – “The Many Faces Of UGeorge” (WorldExpo Records) – The Atlanta-based Soundsci member unleashed his brilliant solo project “The Many Faces Of…” towards the end of the year, featuring UGeorge defining the term ‘grown-man rap’ as he invited listeners into the world of the proud “40-year-old rapper”, tackling a number of topics with a true-school attitude over impeccable production from Ollie Teeba, Jonny Cuba, SilentSomeone and more.
Lewis Parker & Eastkoast – “MK Ultra” (KingUnderground Records) – Talented UK producer Lewis Parker (aka The Man With The Golden Sound) laced NY-raised emcee Eastkoast with a typically high-standard of beats on this captivating collaborative effort featuring Shabaam Sahdeeq, $amhill and El Da Sensei.
Grand Daddy I.U. – “P.I.M.P.” (Steady Flow Records) – The tone of this album from veteran Strong Island emcee Grand Daddy I.U. was summed up succinctly by just one lyric – “I don’t make trap music, I ain’t from down South, I make New York Hip-Hop, ‘Cos that’s what I’m about.” Combining the same blend of slick street talk and cocky bravado heard on his 1990 debut “Smooth Assassin”, the Rotten Apple wordsmith embraced his OG status in no uncertain terms on this release, proving that with age comes wisdom, experience and the right to slap a young buck in the domepiece.
Constant Deviants – “Avant Garde” (Six2Six Records) – Two decades after their debut, the Baltimore / NY duo of DJ Cutt and M.I. proved they were still capable of delivering quality beats and rhymes, with their music remaining rooted in the group’s golden-era origins without sounding stuck in the past. Displaying a creative chemistry that deserved to be compared to that once shared by the likes of Gang Starr or Pete Rock & CL Smooth in their prime, this fourth full-length Constant Deviants project found Cutt and M.I confirming a definite mastery of their distinctive brand of authentic East Coast flavour.
Part Four coming soon.