Jay Holly & Primaa Bank$ ft. DJ JS-1 – “Stand Tall” (@SkygodStudios / 2018)
Queens, NY emcees Holly and Bank$ join forces over pounding, piano-laced production from the mighty Domingo for this dope cut on the Skygod Studios label.
Jay Holly & Primaa Bank$ ft. DJ JS-1 – “Stand Tall” (@SkygodStudios / 2018)
Queens, NY emcees Holly and Bank$ join forces over pounding, piano-laced production from the mighty Domingo for this dope cut on the Skygod Studios label.
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.
“It Is What It Isn’t”
As a deejay, graffiti artist and member of the legendary Rock Steady Crew, it’s safe to say that NYC’s JS-1 is no stranger to the foundation elements of Hip-Hop culture.
Having made a name for himself during the 90s through battles and mixtapes, the Queens-based turntable technician has spent the last ten-plus years putting his production talents to good use, working with mic icons such as Kool G. Rap, Masta Ace and Pharoahe Monch on his own series of album and single releases.
Suffice to say, when anything drops bearing the name DJ JS-1, it should immediately be on the radar of anyone who considers themselves to be a supporter of quality underground Hip-Hop.
With his latest release, “It Is What It Isn’t”, the Rotten Apple resident’s musical formula remains unchanged – uncompromising, sample-based production coupled with impressive lyricism from both veteran artists and more recently renowned rhyme-sayers, which, in this instance, includes KRS-One, Ras Kass, Torae and Fashawn.
Given his deejay-ing background, it’s no surprise that the album opens with the brilliant “Turn The Tables”, a dedication to deck-wreckers everywhere featuring Diggin’ In The Crates legend O.C. shouting out everyone from Kool Herc and Roc Raida to Jazzy Jay and Boogie Blind, paying homage to all those “chirping with (their) fingers like birds very early in the morning” as he flexes his potent lyrical muscle to break down the science of turntablism from a variety of angles.
Ominous pianos accompany the raw five-borough wordplay of Spit Gemz, Wes and Nutso on the rugged “Forgotten”, whilst Brown Bag Allstars member Soul Khan lashes the heavy drums of “Pay Attention” with an acidic tongue until the beats are close to bleeding (“If you’ve never heard of me? F**k it! You’ve got moves like Jagger, But the blood of Freddie Mercury”).
X-Clan’s Brother J can be heard continuing to take it to the East, Blackwards with the help of trademark ad-libs from the late Professor X on the relentless “Higher Level”, which is followed by Bronx wordsmith C-Rayz Walz utilising a “flow like solid gold” on “Groom Lake” as he manages to gain lyrical access to Area 51, peppering his gruff rhymes with references to digital clones, time travel and alien abduction, all the while keeping one foot planted firmly on the streets of New York and the other on the rings of Saturn.
Clocking in at a lengthy 21-tracks, jaded consumers might be forgiven for expecting “It Is What It Isn’t” to suffer from a quantity over quality approach, but JS-1 pulls off a masterful sequencing stroke here, with some of the album’s most impressive tracks closing the project, ensuring the listener’s attention is retained until the moment the final cut fades out.
Golden-era greats Kurious, Craig G and Smooth B breathe new life into Common’s well-worn “I Used To Love H.E.R.” metaphor over the jazzy swing of the entertaining “Love Me Not”, whilst Brooklyn’s PackFM paints vivid images of his NY childhood on the feel-good “My Neighborhood”, with his memories including old-school block parties, listening to Red Alert’s radio show on the weekend and chasing ice-cream trucks.
“Soo Real” features Rasheed Chappell and EMC’s Wordsworth dropping thoughtful, heartfelt verses over melodic boom-bap, with the pair displaying a chemistry that suggests they should perhaps consider doing more work together if the opportunity ever presents itself.
The project’s penultimate cut, the dusty-fingered “Sample Abuser”, is arguably the best track on an album which is impressive throughout. A.G., Sadat X and Neek The Exotic each take a turn to reminisce on the producers who’ve had an impact on their respective careers, with the likes of Diamond D, Buckwild, Pete Rock and Large Professor all receiving well-deserved props for their ability to turn an obscure loop into sonic gold.
With “It Is What It Isn’t”, JS-1 has produced yet another solid collection of subterranean sure-shots, simultaneously showcasing and celebrating the undiluted essence of true-school Hip-Hop.
The Diggin’ In The Crates legend gives those behind the wheels some credit on this track from Rock Steady Crew member DJ JS-1’s new album “It Is What It Isn’t”.
Neek The Exotic ft. DJ JS-1 – “Real Deal Hip-Hop” (IllAdrenalineRecords.Com / 2012)
Audible Doctor-produced track from the NY emcee’s forthcoming EP “Comin’ In Piles”.
This is absolutely incredible – a new three-hour mixtape from the Rock Steady Crew’s mighty DJ JS-1 featuring nearly a hundred demos and unreleased tracks from the likes of Kool G. Rap, King Sun, Organized Konfusion, Rakim, Lord Finesse and many, many more golden-era greats – download here.
Footage of DJ JS-1 spinning old-school classics and breaks alongside host Grandmaster Caz at the recent Tools Of War Park Jam in Harlem, NYC.
DJ JS-1 ft. Tonedeff – “Last To Know” (Fat Beats / 2011)
Amusing clip from the Queens, NY deejay / producer’s forthcoming album “No One Cares”.
Download the tribute mix here.
Words from JS-1 and tracklisting:
I have never done a tribute mix before and personally never felt the need to do one. Many times when someone passes away, everyone does a tribute mix and it’s basically an attempt to bring attention to their own name, sell a few mixtapes, etc… Especially the djays who don’t normally support or play music from the artist who passed away. A few corny radio stations that NEVER play any guru records were playing his songs all day when he died, and then right back to Wocka Flocka the next day… When i found out Guru had died i was miserable for a few reasons. First, im always miserable, lol, second because Guru is easily one of the few Mcees i have listened to the most in my lifetime. The countless songs and style of music he helped pioneer along with dj premier, is pretty much the reason why any of us who still play “real” hiphop are still around. Can you imagine a world without Gangstarr albums? I might have killed myself in 89 instead of 2011. Guru’s voice and what he was saying just reached out to all of us and grabbed us in for life. The way he complimented premier’s beats, just an mc and an actual dj, not a drug dealer acting like a dj. It was incredible. A simple, monotone style… And that’s what makes him even better. It’s a lot easier to hold someone’s ear and look better than you are with over-the-top flows and exaggerated vocals, but he made hundreds of classics and kept it straight forward, simple and with his unique monotone style. The way Gangstarr and then later Jazzmatazz incorporated jazz samples and then jazz players was also the start of a way of life for many kids. How many of you have dug through jazz records that you would have NEVER thought of listening too, stoned outta your face, loving some Gangstarr soundin’ loops… We used to blast the first jazzmatazz album. Take A Look, Respect The Architect, Watch The Closing doors, etc… Guru kicked knowledge, street shit, personal stuff, and made records for women that men also liked. It would be really hard for someone to match his catalog and life long achievements on record while maintaining such a high level of musical integrity. Always the dopest hip hop beats on Gangstarr albums, and always the highest level of jazz-hiphop fusion on his Jazzmatazz series. So obviously I’m a huge GURU fan and have purchased countless tapes, cd’s, and vinyl over and over and over again…
DJ JS-1 “One of the Best Yet: Guru Tribute Mix”
Following in the large footsteps of a talented Hip-Hop sibling can be a daunting task for any upcoming artist. Just ask Warren G, Lil’ Daddy Shane and Jungle. So with that in mind, all eyes are on 21-year-old Detroit native Illa J, whose late, great older brother J Dilla is cemented in the consciousness of the global Hip-Hop community as one of the best producers of all-time. Having stamped his trademark sound on releases from the likes of The Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest, Common and Busta Rhymes, Dilla’s next-level studio techniques influenced a long line of impersonators and his passing in 2006 left a gaping hole in the music world, along with the sense that a true creative visionary had been lost. So, no pressure on the young Illa J then as he releases his debut album “Yancey Boys”, a project that finds the Motor City MC / producer rhyming over beats provided posthumously by Dilla himself.
The story behind the recording of “Yancey Boys” could easily sound like a clever marketing ploy to ease Illa J into the headphones of hypercritical Dilla fans were it not so filled with pure coincidence. Released on Delicious Vinyl, the label for which Jay Dee produced cuts on Pharcyde’s 1995 album “Labcabincalifornia”, the project came to life following Illa’s relocation to Los Angeles and a chance meeting with DV’s head-honcho Michael Ross, who courteously offered Yancey Jr access to the many unused beats Dilla had recorded for the label during the mid-to-late 90s. Upon immersing himself in his brother’s unheard material, Illa J knew exactly what he needed to do, and got to work on what would become “Yancey Boys”. But whilst the tale behind the tape (or in this case, the CD) is the stuff that Hip-Hop folklore is made of, the burning question is, has Illa J done justice to his older brother’s music and, ultimately, his legacy?
The first thing that strikes you about the album’s opening tandem of “Timeless” and “We Here” is the sense of energy and celebration, a feeling that comes not just from Dilla’s mastery behind the boards, but also from the way in which Illa J has approached the music, singing and rhyming his way through lyrics laced with positive vibes and genuine optimism. As Illa croons, “I spent so much time just thinking about nothing, Now it’s time to turn that nothing into something”, it’s clear that “Yancey Boys” is musical therapy for the upcoming talent, an opportunity to work through the emotional baggage of his brother’s untimely death and turn tragedy into personal triumph.
The instant neck-snapper “R U Listenin’?” features a typically swaggering verse from fellow Detroit resident Guilty Simpson, whilst the carefree b-boy breeze of “Showtime” blends airy jazz pianos with Illa’s likeably cocky rhymes and playful boasts.
The fact that the majority of beats contained on “Yancey Boys” still sound fresh and organic regardless of being approximately a decade old is a testament to just how ahead of his time Dilla was as a producer. Whilst the chime-laden groove of the girl-chasing “DFTF” sounds like the best cut A Tribe Called Quest never recorded for their 1998 swan-song “The Love Movement”, it still knocks hard in 2008. Similarly, the space-dust soul of “Sounds Like Love” finds Dilla combining Hip-Hop’s raw, basement ethics with subtle, spine-tingling melodies, resulting in a sound that is simultaneously retro and futuristic.
If “Yancey Boys” represents Illa J being publicly passed the musical torch from his elder brother, it’ll be interesting to see in which direction the youngster runs with it on his next proper solo outing.
Illa J ft. Debi Nova – “Sounds Like Love” ( Delicious Vinyl / 2008 )
All of you producer types out there might want to check out the recently released “King Of The Beats 2” DVD. Directed by UK-based Hip-Hop junkie Pritt Kalsi, the film features a variety of beat-heads taking up the KOTB challenge, which involves each producer being given a limited budget to go digging for records, which they then have to take back to their respective labs to sample, chop and mutate into a finished Hip-Hop track. All of which seems straightforward, until you realize that the entire process has to be completed within a 24-hour period. Nevertheless, as the old saying goes, pressure makes diamonds, and here you can witness crate-diggers such as DJ Pogo (UK), P Body (Australia) and DJ Priority (USA) each displaying how they approach the craft of producing.
“King Of The Beats 2” Trailer
“Changes Of Atmosphere” from Dela is an album that truly spans Planet Rock, with the project from the French producer featuring an impressive line-up of Stateside artists yet seeing a release on Japan’s Drink Water label. Obviously inspired by such studio greats as Pete Rock, Dilla and Large Professor, Dela’s sound revolves around a strong foundation of crisp drums, jazzy, soulful samples and intoxicating instrumentation.
Dela puts a haunting horn sample to good use on the Talib Kweli-assisted “Long Life”, and North Carolina’s Supastition recounts the constant struggle faced by underground artists on the ethereal title cut.
With further appearances from respected lyricists such as J-Live, Surreal, Blu and Dynas, “Changes Of Atmosphere” is a thoroughly satisfying listening experience that contains substance in both its beats and rhymes.
Dela ft. Naledge of Kidz In The Hall – “It Is What It Is” ( Drink Water / 2008 )
Once considered the backbone of Hip-Hop, it’s no secret that in recent years the DJ has had to fight to remain relevant in an industry increasingly dominated by ego-crazy rappers and producers. Eager to do his part to support the turntablist movement is UK scratch assassin K-Delight, an individual whose many years behind the decks ensure his latest album “Audio Revolution” is a superbly crafted slice of sonic mayhem.
Aiming to encompass all four of the key elements of Hip-Hop culture, this long-player has something for true-school representatives everywhere. Graffiti heads are covered on the educational “Shake, Rattle N Throw”, which features LA-based female MC Shin-B offering a brief history of the artform’s origins, whilst b-boys are given some up rock theme music in the form of the old-school flavored “Wildstyle Dream”.
Elsewhere, the self-explanatory “Forever Hip-Hop” finds Stateside lyricists Skitz The Gemini and Shinobi Stalin paying homage to arguably the most influential cultural movement the modern world has ever seen, whilst “Scratch Club” is a posse cut with a twist, as the likes of NYC’s DJ JS-1, the UK’s DJ Woody and Scotland’s Krash Slaughta team-up with K Delight in a formidable display of deck-wrecking skills.
“Audio Revolution” Live Album Sampler
Chicago-based crew The Primeridian makes a welcome return to the underground rap scene with their sophomore album “Da Mornin’ Afta”, featuring the former duo of Simeon and Tree now being joined by talented wordsmith Race.
Coming out of the All Natural camp, the trio has a strong line in head-nodding, thought-provoking Hip-Hop, and “Da Mornin’ Afta” finds Primeridian matching their lyrical substance with beats provided solely by producers from Europe and the UK (including Netherlands maestro Nicolay of Foreign Exchange fame).
The opening “Change The Meridian (Hard Rock)” announces the group’s comeback in no uncertain terms, offering three-minutes of raw, breakbeat-driven braggadocio, whilst the blaxploitation boogie of “Bucktown (City Of Wind)” features Naledge of Kidz In The Hall addressing Chi-town’s social underbelly.
The pulsating bass and swirling synths heard on “Takuthere” (produced by France’s DJ Steady) provide a soothing musical backdrop for the social commentary of featured artists Iomos Marad and The Pharcyde’s Uncle Imani. My personal favorite here though has to be the beautifully understated “Melodic Healing”, a lush mix of live bluesy guitar, spine-tingling flutes and life-affirming lyricism. Music for the soul, indeed.