Fel Sweetenberg – “The Invisible Garden” (Effiscienz) – Dedicated to, and inspired by, his Camden, NJ stomping grounds, former Nuthouse member Fel Sweetenberg’s latest EP featured the accomplished lyricist highlighting the negative aspects of his East Coast locale, whilst also celebrating the positive elements. Accompanied by solid production from France’s DJ Brans, Sweetenberg drove his thoughts, hopes and opinions home with a forthright delivery and nimble wordplay.
Vanderslice – “Everything’s Awesome” (Dirty Version Records) – A punchy combination of instrumentals, interludes and vocal tracks, “Everything’s Awesome” found Phoenixville, PA producer Vanderslice chopping 80s-style electric guitar samples over dense, rock-solid beats, whilst the likes of Apathy, Celph Titled and Maffew Ragazino matched the album’s swaggering soundscapes with unabashed lyrical arrogance.
Luca Brazi – “Dying Proof” (Broke Records) – The Granville Sessions-affiliated wordsmith demonstrated his artistic range on this self-produced masterpiece by capturing a variety of moods and emotions throughout, moving from pensive verses and weighty self-reflection to sharp, ego-driven rhymes, all accompanied by Brazi’s skillfully-crafted beats.
Koss & A.G. – “Natural High” (Reaaal Talk Records) – Built on true-school values, this EP from Belgian producer Koss and Diggin’ In The Crates legend A.G. found the pair utilising their shared love of Hip-Hop to bridge any potential cultural gaps. Koss’s mellow, melodic beats provided Andre The Giant with plenty of breathing space for his trademark Bronx flow, as the lyricist dropped his usual mix of thoughtful life lessons and direct braggadocio. Feel the high!
Mr. Brady – “Timing Is Everything” (URBNET Records) – Underground West Coast vet Mr. Brady put his two decades of musical experience to good use on this self-produced project. Joined by the likes of Moka Only, LMNO and Blu, the San Diego resident crafted an album packed with intricate lyricism and soulful, bass-heavy beats, with the organic feel of “Timing Is Everything” giving listeners the impression they’d stumbled across an extended cypher jam session.
Ayatollah – “Be Real Black For Me” (Elementality Productions) – With a storied production career that includes working with the likes of Mos Def, Masta Ace and Cormega, Queens, NY music man Ayatollah has been supplying us with quality music since the late-90s. This latest (largely instrumental) sonic endeavor blended emotive jazz / soul samples with head-nodding drums, resulting in a satisfying collection of stirring mood music.
Raw Product – “Supplying The Demand” (De Facto Entertainment) – The aptly-named UK emcee / producer duo of Flix and Stealf definitely brought the raw to your door with this tight EP which also featured lyrical heavyweights Jehst, Cappo and Micall Parknsun. Stealf’s rugged beats and dusty loops provided the perfect backdrop for Flix’s rowdy flow and sharp verbal barbs, with the pair effectively showcasing an uncompromising but creative approach to their music.
The Ol’ Days – “1979” (JimBro Records) – Chicago duo Rookie Chi and DJ Ki provided listeners with an entertaining mix of soul-drenched production, humour and throwback flavour on their debut album. Covering everyday subject matter from parking tickets and petrol prices to relationships and record-shopping, “1979” was a personality-filled project that made you crack a smile at the same time as it was making your neck snap.
The Doppelgangaz – “Peace Kehd” (Groggy Pack Entertainment) – Displaying a slightly more polished and, in places, contemporary sound than had been heard on their previous outings, NY’s Ghastly Duo still proved they weren’t ready to take their cloaks off and fully step out of the shadows just yet, with Matter Ov Fact and EP filling “Peace Kehd” with their trademark brand of left-field lyricism, random observations and dark imagery.
Shinobi Stalin – “Invisible Man” (Vets Of Kin) – Some emcees simply sound like they were born to rhyme. Bronx-born, Orlando-raised Stalin is one such artist. With a striking-yet-fluid lyrical style and a gift for penning meaningful, attention-grabbing verses, the talented wordsmith’s “Invisible Man” project provided an open window into the mind of this engaging artist as he attempted to navigate life with Hip-Hop as his soundtrack.
Calvert & K Zorro – “Captured Soul” (KGuavara.BandCamp.Com) – An expertly-executed blend of honesty, confidence and vulnerability, London emcee K Zorro drew on both childhood memories and present day situations as his inspiration for this emotionally-charged release. A joint effort in the truest sense of the term, Calvert’s sample-based production perfectly matched the tone and feel of Zorro’s streetwise verses, ensuring “Captured Soul” was well-equipped to capture the minds of all who heard it.
Azaia – “Re-Animations” (Marvel Records) – French producer Azaia enlisted the talents of a varied bunch of mic-controllers for his debut album, with the likes of John Robinson, Reks and Dirt Platoon all blessing the quality instrumental creations being offered to them. Heavy drums, echoing horns and seismic basslines were on the list of musical ingredients here, with Azaia proving himself to be a true scientist when it came to bringing dope beats to life.
Willie The Kid & Bronze Nazareth – “The Living Daylights” (Embassy Entertainment) – Described by the Michigan duo as “progressive boom-bap”, this project featured Wu-Tang-affiliate Nazareth supplying the slick-tongued Kid with a steady stream of quality beats laced with classic soul samples, providing the project’s vivid rhymes with added depth and encouraging featured artists such as Roc Marciano, Boldy James and Sean Price to drop MVP-level performances.
Jam Baxter – “…So We Ate Them Whole” (High Focus Records) – If UK emcee Jam Baxter had been born in the 19th century the likelihood is that his poetic verses would be studied in schools today. Packing this solo album with an endless barrage of multi-layered rhymes, Baxter displayed a talent for making every line count, with fresh meaning to be found in his wordplay during each listen. Talented production vet Chemo bolstered Jam’s complex lyricism with an intoxicating score of boundary-pushing sounds, making “…So We Ate Them Whole” a challenging but ultimately rewarding musical experience.
Git & Hubbs – “Piece Of Mind” (UsedWax Records) – Displaying an undeniable creative chemistry, Staten Island producer Git Beats and Pittsburgh emcee Hubbs filled this collaborative album with jazzy, head-nodding vibes and authoritative rhymes ranging from the introspective to the boastful. Timeless music.
Iron Braydz – “Verbal sWARdz” (Unorthostract Recordings) – Everything you needed to know about this EP from Triple Darkness member Braydz could be found in its title. Swinging his formidable lyrical talent in the direction of lesser emcees, culture vultures and uncivilised individuals, the London wordsmith attacked this largely self-produced release with the precision of a Shaolin warrior looking to take some heads. Joined by equally skillful tongue-fu practitioners such as Kyza, Prince Po and Sean Price, Braydz ensured “Verbal sWARdz” maintained a sharp edge throughout.
Us Natives & Skrewtape – “No Filter” (Skrewtape.BandCamp.Com) – Teaming-up with production duo Ill Clinton and John E Cab, New Jersey’s Skrewtape delivered an album that was both uncompromising and unpredictable, capturing the raw energy of an emcee clearly passionate about his craft. At times sounding like an impromptu basement freestyle session, “No Filter” gave the mainstream the metaphorical finger whilst reveling in its unapologetic ruggedness.
Ill Tal – “Still Trapped In The 90s” (IllTal.BandCamp.Com) – A brilliantly crafted tribute to one of the greatest periods in Hip-Hop history, this instrumental project from New Jersey producer Ill Tal gave sonic nods of respect to the likes of Pete Rock, DJ Muggs and Q-Tip with its combination of jazzy samples, huge basslines and dusty drums. Far more than just a simple beat-tape, Ill Tal’s attention to detail throughout “Still Trapped…” further demonstrated the crate-digger’s admiration for the decade that gave us so many undisputed classics.
Step Brothers – “Lord Steppington” (Rhymesayers Entertainment) – Displaying no signs of sibling rivalry, Evidence and The Alchemist unleashed all types of sonic illness on this long-awaited collaboration project. Hardcore Hip-Hop with a dry sense of humour, the West Coast twosome filled this album with a non-stop flow of punchline-heavy verses, screwface-inducing samples and random soundbites. Steppington to the AM!
The Roots – “…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin” (Def Jam) – It’s damn near impossible at this stage for anyone to dispute that Illadelphia’s mighty Roots crew are one the greatest Hip-Hop groups of all-time. With their eleventh album further expanding the collective’s creative territory, Black Thought and Questlove led listeners on a dark journey with this concept-based project commenting on violence in Hip-Hop and American society. Not always the easiest album to listen to, “…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin” proved that, even after all their years in the game, The Roots just aren’t content to simply retread old ground.
The fifth and final part of this list is coming soon.