Snippets of the forthcoming Effiscienz release “Soul Museum” from Queens, NY emcee Starvin B produced entirely by New Jersey’s Fel Sweetenberg.
Snippets of the forthcoming Effiscienz release “Soul Museum” from Queens, NY emcee Starvin B produced entirely by New Jersey’s Fel Sweetenberg.
Dirt Platoon – “Old Album” (@Efficienz / 2015)
Baltimore duo Raf Almighty and Snook Da Crook fire off the first salvo from their forthcoming album “Bare Face Robbery”.
Check Part One here.
Cormega – “Mega Philosophy” (The Slimstyle Recording Corporation) – A true veteran of the pitfalls of both the inner-city streets and the music industry, Queensbridge icon ‘Mega joined forces with the legendary Large Professor for this pure and honest dose of East Coast Hip-Hop. Backed by both Extra P’s impeccable beats and appearances from the likes of Raekwon, Nature and Black Rob, the NY lyricist ensured this album lived up to its title as he dropped jewels and life lessons throughout.
Pawz One – “Face The Facts” (Below System Records) – Grounded in the streets of LA but looking much further than the end of his block for inspiration, West Coast emcee Pawz One packed his debut album with insightful, heartfelt commentary on everything from self-empowerment and police brutality to back-in-the day memories and his love for Hip-Hop. Standing out from the crowd with a strong sense of individuality and a good ear for quality production, the Cali microphone fiend ensured he separated the fact from the fiction on his first official full-length project.
Supa Dave West – “Beat Boxing” (Redefinition Records) – Having supplied the likes of De La Soul, Common and Ghostface with some sonic flavour over the years, Queens, NY-raised Dave West demonstrated his versatility behind-the-boards with this speaker-busting instrumental effort, sculpting tracks that ranged in style from futuristic boom-bap and synth-heavy vibes to feel-good funk and old-school block-party beats.
Jack Jetson – “Adventures Of Johnny Strange” (RLD Records) – Promising to “hijack your plane of existence”, UK emcee Jack Jetson dropped one of the most lyrically entertaining releases of the year with “Adventures Of…”, a non-stop barrage of verbal mischief and mayhem. Think Dennis The Menace meets Canibus and you’re halfway there. With colourful, psychedelic wordplay exploding over brilliant beats from the multi-talented Leaf Dog, Jetson proved himself to be a genuinely gifted emcee with a lively imagination.
MindsOne & Kev Brown – “Pillars” (Ill Adrenaline Records) – This expertly-executed EP delivered the goods on each of its eight tracks, resulting in a relatively short but intense listening experience. Combining Maryland producer-on-the-mic Kev Brown’s trademark basslines, basement-style beats and direct lyricism with the sharp rhymes of MindsOne, the elegantly rugged “Pillars” quickly became yet another worthy addition to the steadily expanding Ill Adrenaline catalogue.
Rocdwell – “Daily Chronicles” (Rocdwell.BandCamp.Com) – With a passionate, captivating rhyme style falling somewhere between Freeway and Sugar Ray of 90s favourites Double XX Posse, Detroit artist Rocdwell’s album of “adult contemporary Hip-Hop” found the lyricist dropping down-t0-earth rhymes over hard-hitting, soul-tinged production, with “Daily Chronicles” designed to act as a motivational soundtrack to assist us all as we battled with the trials, tribulations and everyday struggles of life.
People Under The Stairs – “12 Step Program” (Piecelock 70 Records) – Combining their shared passion for fun-fuelled b-boy antics, funky breaks and beer, West Coast duo Thes One and Double K filled their eleventh (!!!) album with their usual upbeat, feel-good flavour, proving yet again why PUTS have remained one of Hip-Hop’s most consistent and reliable acts since debuting back in the late-90s.
Edo.G – “After All These Years” (5th & Union) – Proving the old saying that there’s strength in numbers, Boston’s Edo.G successfully enlisted the help of fans in 2014 for this Kickstarter-funded album. Featuring production from Pete Rock and 9th Wonder, plus appearances by King Magnetic, Camp Lo and Chuck D, “After All These Years” achieved a healthy balance between golden-era throwback vibes and present-day relevance, with Edo embracing his elder statesman status as he attempted to school the masses.
Meyhem Lauren & Buckwild – “Silk Pyramids” (Thrice Great Records) – Combining gritty Rotten Apple attitude, a passion for fly apparel, and an unwavering pride in his home borough of Queens, Outdoorsmen member Meyhem Lauren’s heavily-anticipated collaboration with D.I.T.C.’s Buckwild lived up to expecations, delivering a hefty, slang-laden slice of traditional New York straight talk.
Habitat & DJ Severe – “Empire Building” (Boom Bap Professionals) – Having already left a dent on the UK Hip-Hop scene as part of Lincolnshire’s Heavy Links crew, emcee Habitat struck out on a solo mission to claim new musical territory, armed with sharp lyrical darts, the battle-hardened boom-bap of producer DJ Severe, and the support of lyrical allies such as Oliver Sudden, Chrome and Luca Brazi. No tricks in 2014, it was time to build.
Army Of The Pharoahs – “Heavy Lies The Crown” (Enemy Soil Records) – The second of two albums released by the East Coast collective in 2014, “Heavy Lies The Crown” found the AOTP emcees at their creative best, with the likes of Vinnie Paz, Celph Titled and Esoteric dropping vivid, larger-than-life imagery and bone-crushing punchlines over dramatic production from C-Lance, Stu Bangas, DJ 7L and more. Rough, rugged and raw.
Apollo Brown & Ras Kass – “Blasphemy” (Mello Music Group) – Taking on a variety of subjects, including religion, racism, financial recession and the rules of the rap game, West Coast verbal heavyweight Ras Kass and Detroit producer Apollo Brown crafted an album perfectly suited to today’s confusing times. Further proving the Cali lyricist’s well-deserved reputation as one of Hip-Hop’s most formidable wordsmiths, and adding yet another chamber to Brown’s already impressive discography, “Blasphemy” provided a robust mix of thought-provoking rhymes, microphone bravado and pounding, sample-heavy beats.
Es-K – “Serenity” (Cold Busted) – A concept album dedicated to the memory of a close friend, the aptly-titled “Serenity” found Holland-born producer Es-K inviting the likes of D.I.T.C.’s Andre The Giant, C-Rayz Walz and Boston’s M-Dot to wax lyrical about the pain of loss, the beauty of cherished memories and the fragility of life, with poignant results. Providing a warm, hypnotic soundbed for the sincere and heartfelt verses of the album’s featured artists, Es-K excelled himself musically, delivering soulfully soothing beats which gave the project a moving, ethereal feel.
Diamond D – “The Diam Piece” (Dymond Mine Records) – Succeeding in blending old-school production values with a contemporary feel, the Diggin In The Crates’ producer-on-the-mic pulled together a generation-spanning group of emcees to bless “The Diam Piece”. The likes of Skyzoo, Rapsody, Freddie Foxxx and Grand Daddy I.U. all stepped-up to the mic-stand with solid performances whilst Diamond worked his dusty-fingered magic on the beats.
Shabaam Sahdeeq – “Keepers Of The Lost Art” (Below System Records) – Approaching his first proper album in almost ten years with both the wisdom of experience and an ever-youthful passion for his craft, NYC’s Sahdeeq sounded like he hadn’t missed a beat since his debut during the mid-90s independent boom, lacing quality production from the likes of the UK’s Lewis Parker, Harry Fraud and DJ Skizz with his thoughts on life and Hip-Hop.
Pharoahe Monch – “PTSD” (W.A.R. Media) – In less-skilled hands, a part-autobiographical, part-conceptual album covering topics such as substance abuse, mental health and emotional stress could very easily have been a creative disaster. Yet, with “PTSD”, Organized Konfusion’s Monch succeeded in effectively dealing with such potentially sensitive subject matter whilst still taking the opportunity to indulge in some good ol’-fashioned verbal showmanship, recording an album which balanced soul-stirring moments with competition-crushing verses of sheer lyrical excellence.
Tunnel Movement – “Overlooked” – Following in the musical footsteps of other Windy City talents such as All Natural and Common, Chicago duo KwoteOne and N.O.A.H. crafted an impressive sophomore album full of life-affirming rhymes and solid, soul-laced beats, which, in this instance, hopefully didn’t live up to its title.
Raf Almighty – “G.T.F.O.M.Y.” (Effiscienz Records) – A product of his 90s-era Baltimore environment, Dirt Platoon member Raf Almighty brought a fiery combination of life experience and lyrical grit to the table on this uncompromising solo project, finding his ideal musical backdrop in the concrete-cracking production of France’s DJ Brans.
Sunblaze – “Dirty Rican LP” (SunblazeHipHop.BandCamp.Com) – Representing BK to the fullest, Rotten Apple resident Sunblaze evoked images of shadowy project hallways, street corner ciphers and scuffed Timberland boots with this rugged project firmly rooted in the tradition of East Coast boom-bap. With Timbo King, Pumpkinhead and Tragedy Khadafi providing lyrical assistance, Sunblaze utilised his street-related, razor-sharp rhymes to add on to the legacy of the City Of Gods. Boriquas on da set!
Apathy – “Connecticut Casual” (Dirty Version Records) – Drawing on his New England stomping grounds for inspiration, Demigodz member Apathy took listeners on a twisting journey through the underbelly of Connecticut for his fourth solo album, combining personal memories, local folklore and political intrigue with masterful penmanship on this largely self-produced and thoroughly captivating release.
Part Three coming soon.
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.
Raf Almighty – “Biggest Loser” (@Effiscienz / 2014)
DJ Brans-produced track taken from the Dirt Platoon member’s solo album “G.T.F.O.M.Y.”
Fel Sweetenberg – “The Name Itself” (Effiscienz.Com / 2014)
Taken from the New Jersey lyricist’s DJ Brans-produced project “The Invisible Garden”.
Fel Sweetenberg ft. Dirt Platoon – “The End Of The Book – Cool FD Remix” (@FelSweetenberg / 2014)
French producer Cool FD won the recent Effiscienz Records remix contest with this impressive reworking of a track from Sweetenberg’s new project “The Invisible Garden”.
Fel Sweetenberg ft. Dirt Platoon & DJ Djaz – “The End Of The Book” (@Effiscienz / 2014)
The New Jersey emcee joins forces with Baltimore’s Dirt Platoon on this track from his recent album “The Invisible Garden” produced by France’s DJ Brans.
Check my review of “The Invisible Garden” here.
Sampler of the Dirt Platoon member’s forthcoming solo album “Get The F**k Out My Yard” produced almost entirely by France’s DJ Brans and featuring Wyld Bunch, Fel Sweetenberg and Bankai Fam’s Skanks.
Union Blak ft. DJ 279 – “Glory Days – “NightTime Remix” (@UnionBlak / 2014)
The US / UK duo of emcee Kimba and producer Sir Williams deliver some remix pressure off their recent album “Union Blak Friday”.
Fel Sweetenberg – “Power Stricken” (Effiscienz.Com / 2014)
Taken from the New Jersey emcee’s DJ Brans-produced project “The Invisible Garden”.
Peep my review of the album here.
“The Invisible Garden”
New Jersey’s Fel Sweetenberg first came to the attention of many underground heads back in the late-90s as part of the trio Da Nuthouse, with the crew leaving an indelible mark on the subterranean rap scene thanks to 1998’s sublime John Coltrane-sampling “A Luv Supream” on Bobbito’s infamous Fondle ‘Em imprint.
Fast-forward approximately a decade-and-a-half and the love of Hip-Hop culture expressed by Sweetenberg on that cult classic debut single can still clearly be felt throughout his latest project, the ten-track album “The Invisible Garden”.
A dedication of sorts to his Camden, NJ stomping grounds, and also a comment on the apparent lack of attention paid to those living, struggling and dying on the Garden State streets that Fel calls home, “The Invisible Garden” is a succinct collection of gritty, true-school cuts, blending raw beats and soulful samples with aggressive displays of emcee bravado and moments of poignant contemplation.
Produced entirely by France’s DJ Brans, the Effiscienz-affiliated beat-maker uses “The Invisible Garden” as an opportunity to continue building on his already impressive reputation for crafting quality beats that are grounded in the head-nodding aesthetic of golden-era boom-bap.
The album opens with a news reporter describing Camden, New Jersey as being “the poorest city in the nation and the most dangerous city all in the same place”, setting the tone for the haunting “In A Dream, I Saw”, which finds Sweetenberg painting lyrical pictures of a community in crisis, populated by directionless youth and residents searching for a better future, both of whom are ignored by wider society (“Trying to say the situation down here isn’t critical, They benched the whole police force, Ain’t enforcing the principles, Honour and dignity, Or public safety, Blacks and Ricans get killed, That’ll make the news, maybe…”).
On the sombre “Drinkin’ Again”, the forthright lyricist describes his personal struggle with the temptation of finding his thoughts and problems floating at the bottom of a bottle, promising himself that the blurred recollections of the previous night will be the last time the rapper ends an evening staring at his reflection in a toilet bowl.
Elsewhere, the soundtrack-style sample stab heard on “Power Stricken” adds a dramatic edge to Fel’s rugged wordplay and larger-than-life boasts, whilst “Hyena’s Den” features the NJ emcee facing-off against fellow lyricist Almighty, with the pair letting of attitude-fuelled verses over Brans’ punchy drums.
“Good=Love” shows a warmer side to Sweetenberg’s New Jeru, with the wordsmith reflecting on the importance of family and friends, encouraging listeners to celebrate personal victories and cherish important memories over stirring strings and smooth keys.
Successfully injecting his brand of hardcore Hip-Hop with genuine emotion and sincerity, Fel Sweetenberg’s “The Invisible Garden” is definitely worthy of your attention, and, whilst the plight of Camden, NJ’s locals may be largely unseen, hopefully the music of this hometown homeboy won’t go unheard.
Follow Fel Sweetenberg On Twitter – @FelSweetenberg
Fel Sweetenberg – “The Invisible Garden” Album Sampler
Union Blak ft. DJ 279 – “Glory Days” (Effiscienz.BandCamp.Com / 2014)
Melodic boom-bap from the UK / US duo’s recent album “Union Blak Friday”.
Taken from the UK / US duo’s album “Union Blak Friday”.
Taken from the NY emcee’s forthcoming DJ Brans-produced EP “Unbreakable”.
Dirt Platoon – “Better” (Effiscienz.Com / 2013)
Gritty banger from the Baltimore duo’s recent DJ Brans-produced EP “Start Ya Bid’s”.
DJ Brans ft. King RA – “Verbal Assault” (Effiscienz Records / 2013)
Taken from the French producer’s album “The Branstorm” which features Blaq Poet, Meyhem Lauren, Gab Gotcha and more.