Tag Archives: Godfather Don

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2020 (Part One) – Busta Rhymes / Juga-Naut / Lyric Jones etc.

What’s left to say about 2020 that hasn’t already been said? Not much. It’s been an unforgettable twelve months that will have affected everyone in different ways. But during a year of change, worry, loss and uncertainty, music has remained an important and consistent sanctuary for many of us  – word to Gary Bartz!

The pace of releases throughout 2020 has been relentless and the level of quality extremely high, which meant that when I sat down before Christmas to start compiling this annual Old To The New ‘best-of’, I was initially looking at a list of approximately three-hundred-and-fifty notable projects which had caught my attention throughout the year.

As always, the criteria used to reduce the size of that list was simple – which albums and EPs had I enjoyed the most?

So, with all that being said, huge thanks to everyone who dropped good music during 2020 and played a part in helping to ease the day-to-day pressures of so many – as Digital Underground once said, you get those heartbeat props.

Now, in no particular order, it’s about that time…

Busta Rhymes – “Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath Of God” (ELE2.BustaRhymesUniverse.Com) – As suggested by its title, this long-awaited project from the mighty Busta Rhymes truly was one of the year’s ‘event’ albums, largely receiving a collective nod of approval from Hip-Hop heads across social media in the days following its release. Effectively providing what you’d expect to hear from a veteran emcee on a greatest hits collection, but via new material instead, “ELE 2” showcased all facets of the former Leaders Of The New School member’s artistry, personality and character. Rowdy, Dungeon Dragon Busta. Playful, party-starting Busta. Timberland-wearing, East-Coast stompin’ Busta. Radio-friendly Busta. Socially-aware, Five Percent / Nation Of Islam-influenced Busta. All of the above and more could be found here, on an album which not only further cemented Busta’s legacy as a genuine Hip-Hop great, but also delivered music that captured and reflected the energy of 2020.

Juga-Naut – “Bem” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com) – Released to coincide with his 30th birthday, this largely self-produced triumph from Nottingham’s Juga-Naut added further weight to the opinion that this multi-talented artist is one of the best of his generation. Steeped in true-school tradition whilst avoiding banal nostalgia, “Bem” effortlessly achieved the balancing act of sounding (and feeling) both familiar and fresh. This was upper-echelon emceeing, as stated by the man himself.

Uptown XO – “Culture Over Corporate” (OneForceUnited.BandCamp.Com) – The Washington DC-based lyricist (of Diamond District fame) started 2020 off the right way with this incredibly dope solo album, which featured XO delivering thought-provoking rhymes over soulful, speaker-rattling production from Drew Dave, touching on issues that would become major talking points as the year unfolded.

Lyric Jones – “Closer Than They Appear” (LyricJones.BandCamp.Com) – Boston-raised, LA-based Lyric Jones showcased both her influences and musical range on this exceptional album, weaving together a rich tapestry of sound that was simultaneously diverse and cohesive. Drawing on both struggles and triumphs as inspiration, the gifted artist packed a lot of herself into this project, resulting in an album that was as personal as it was entertaining. This was music that stuck to your soul.

Brainorchestra -“Marmalade” (Brainorchestra.BandCamp.Com) – A quality collection of rugged-but-smooth mood music, this album found New Jersey’s Brainorchestra utilising his sharp delivery to slice through mellow, loop-based production from the likes of Ohbliv, Foisey and Big Daddy Chop with slick, bravado-fuelled verses that were rich in rewind-worthy lines.

Kamanchi Sly – “Electrosis” (KamanchiSly.Com) – Tugging on the heartstrings of ageing b-boys everywhere, UK legend Kamanchi Sly pulled out his fat laces, name-plate belt buckle and Nike windbreaker to take a moonwalk down memory lane with this brilliantly executed tribute to the electro sounds of the early-80s. Capturing the urgent creativity and futuristic flavour of that particular time period, the Hijack emcee’s lively, spontaneous rhymes sat perfectly atop the pulsating, self-produced soundscapes found here. Don’t stop the rock!

Strizzy Strauss – “Trust The Process” (IAmStrizzyStrauss.BandCamp.Com) – Grounded in the realities of life’s everyday drama but buoyed by a genuine sense of hope and optimism, this full-length debut from Leicester’s Strizzy Strauss built on the promise of the down-to-earth emcee’s previous material, showcasing his natural ability to deliver relatable rhymes that resonate with honesty and integrity.

Casual – “Big Head Science” (Casual1.BandCamp.Com) – Hieroglyphics legend Casual (aka Smash Rockwell) made a welcome return with his latest long-player which featured the West Coast wordsmith delivering an onslaught of lyrical destruction alongside the likes of Planet Asia, Killah Priest and Ras Kass, demonstrating the same swaggering skills that ensured his 1994 debut “Fear Itself” left an indelible mark on the rap game.

Heist Life – “Get Money Teach Babies” (SauceHeist.BandCamp.Com) – In 2020, the Bronx kept creating it! Rotten Apple rhymers $auce Heist and Ty Da Dale matched street-smart, Five Percent-influenced verses with drum-heavy production from Spanish Ran throughout this eight-track dose of uncut New York Hip-Hop, which also featured Flee Lord, Rome Streetz and Tree Mason.

Spittzwell x Boog Brown – “Summer Daze Vol. 1” (Spittzwell1.BandCamp.Com) – Refreshing like a cool breeze, Detroit-raised, Atlanta-based emcee Boog Brown glided over the sublime, jazz-influenced production of fellow ATL resident Spittzwell on this quality addition to her already impressive catalogue – sincere and inspiring.

Rocdwell – “SIMPLICITY (The Life That Makes The Songs)” (Rocdwell.BandCamp.Com) – Dropping very early in the year, this full-length release from Detroit’s Rocdwell offered plenty of lyrical food for thought, encouraging listeners to step back from the Matrix of our daily existence, focus on what’s really important in a world full of distractions, and grab life with a renewed sense of purpose. A message which carried further weight as 2020 progressed.

Dell-P – “MEGA (Make Emceeing Great Again)” (Dell-P.BandCamp.Com) – Philadelphia’s Dell-P made good on his promise to make emceeing great again throughout this 16-track opus, delivering well-crafted verses full of substance and character over a varied selection of beats. No throwaway tracks or filler to be found here, “MEGA” was the sound of an artist determined to uplift and inform his audience whilst further building on his reputation as a highly-skilled lyricist.

Skyzoo & Dumbo Station – “The Bluest Note” (TuffKongRecords.BandCamp.Com) – Backed by the organic jazz grooves of Italy’s Dumbo Station band, Brooklyn’s Skyzoo added yet another release to his already impeccable discography in the form of this six-track EP. A genuine master of his craft, the New York emcee has been at the top of his game for so long now it would be easy to take his brand of top-tier lyricism for granted. We shouldn’t. Skyzoo is one of the best in the rap game with a catalogue of work that should be celebrated at every given opportunity.

Fly Anakin – “at the end of the day.” (MutantAcademyRVA.BandCamp.Com) – Richmond, Virginia’s Mutant Academy crew continued to prove themselves to be one of the most talented collectives currently dropping music with a string of releases throughout 2020, starting in January with this quality project from core member Fly Anakin. Flexing his energetic, engaging flow over perfectly chosen production from Graymatter, All Ceven, Ohbliv and more, Anakin took listeners deep into his VA state of mind.

Apollo Brown & Che’ Noir – “As God Intended” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com) – The creative chemistry between Detroit’s Apollo Brown and Buffalo’s Che’ Noir resulted in an album that sounded like the pair had been working together closely for years. Che’s descriptive and at times painfully personal rhymes gave this project a real emotional depth, whilst the subtle tweaks Brown made to his signature style to compliment  and enhance the talented emcee’s flow further demonstrated his skill as a producer.

Superbad Solace – “Sol Controller 2” (SuperbadSolace.BandCamp.Com) – Timeless Truth member Superbad Solace returned with a worthy sequel to his 2018 solo release, once again teaming up with producer Mono En Stereo (formerly known as El RTNC) to capture the essence of Rotten Apple rap, blending New York straight talk and a natural flyness with an exquisite selection of beats and loops.

Kinetik & Micall Parknsun – “Spin Cycle” (IAmKinetik.BandCamp.Com) – Calling on production supremo Micall Parknsun to provide beats for this impressive EP, London-based emcee (and Breaking Atoms podcast host) Kinetik covered a lot of lyrical ground here, using his conversational flow to deftly switch from humorous recollections and witty punchlines to social commentary and poignant observations.

Milano Constantine – “Winston Wolf” (MilanoConstantine.BandCamp.Com) – Diggin’ In The Crates affiliate Milano has spent the last two decades dropping consistently strong material, with his skills appearing to reach new levels of Ginsu-like sharpness on each release. This short five-track offering was another potent showcase of the NY emcee’s infinite talent, with Constantine still clearly influenced by the Rotten Apple of his youth yet managing to avoid sounding tied to any particular time period thanks to his effortless flow.

Helsinki Booze Merchants – “Film Poster Whips” (BrokeRecords.BandCamp.Com) – With alter-egos in full effect, UK wordsmiths Luca Brazi (Lasagna Baghdad), Benny Diction (Paolo Pumpernickel) and MNSR Frites (Bald Daniels) offered up a dope concept-based project which aimed to deliver “an introspective take on getting older in rap and an appreciation for the finer things” in the trio’s own unique style. They succeeded. Packed with punchline-heavy verses, laced with humour, sarcasm and, at times, self-deprecation, this was a thoroughly entertaining release on all levels.

Godfather Don & Parental – “Osmosis” (DJParental.BandCamp.Com) – NYC’s Godfather Don became a cult figure within underground Hip-Hop circles back in the 90s and rightly so. The Brooklyn rhymer’s brain-busting wordplay ensured tracks like “Properties Of Steel” and “Piece Of The Action” were widely-received as classics during the decade’s independent era. For this new project, Don joined forces with French producer Parental, whose well-established brand of polished beats provided a solid backdrop for the Godfather’s forthright, competition-crushing verses.

Check Part Two here.

Osmosis Album Stream – Godfather Don & Parental

godfather cover

NYC’s Godfather Don became a cult figure within underground Hip-Hop circles back in the 90s and rightly so. The Rotten Apple rhymer’s brain-busting wordplay and sharp delivery ensured tracks like “Properties Of The Steel” and “Piece Of The Action” were widely-received as classics during the decade’s independent era.

For this new project, Don has joined forces with French producer Parental, whose well-established brand of sample-based beats provides a solid backdrop for the Godfather’s forthright, competition-crushing verses.

New Joint – Godfather Don & Jazz Spastiks

Godfather Don & Jazz Spastiks – “Straight From The Gutter” (JazzSpastiks.BandCamp.Com / 2018)

The legendary Rotten Apple rhymer teams-up with talented UK production duo the Jazz Spastiks for this dope, horn-laced head-nodder.

The Final Unreleased EP Vol. 2 Sampler – Godfather Don

UK imprint Chopped Herring unearth more late-80s / early-90s gems from NY underground icon Godfather Don.


The Final Unreleased Project (1989 – 1998) EP Sampler – Godfather Don

Chopped Herring Records have unearthed a handful of below-the-surface gems from cult underground hero Godfather Don for the label’s latest limited vinyl-only release.

New Joint – Godfather Don

godfather don cover

Soulicit Presents Godfather Don – “Bottom Line” (@KicDrumProducts / 2015)

Snippet of the forthcoming seven-inch release from Philly’s KicDrum Products imprint featuring the unmistakable microphone techniques of the mighty Godfather Don.

DVD Review – Beat Diggin’

“Beat Diggin’ – The Original Diggin’ Documentary”

(Busybody Films / CrateEscapeRecords.Com / 2012)

Filmed in 1997 during a visit to the Hip-Hop mecca of New York City, this documentary from Danish film-maker Jesper Jensen is a visual time-capsule that captures a handful of the East Coast’s most revered producers demonstrating, explaining and celebrating the craft of beat science at the tail-end of Hip-Hop’s golden-era period.

In today’s digital age, the collecting of vinyl, obsession with beat-digging and idea of spending hours inside cramped record stores may seem like alien concepts to some, with more and more music now being consumed and created online. But regardless of how much technology may have influenced the way some of today’s Hip-Hop is made, the importance of preserving the culture’s history and studying the original methods of the greats is as critical as ever, with “Beat Diggin'” providing an insight into the love shared by some of your favourite producers for the simple pleasure of sifting through stacks of vinyl to find that one perfect sample just waiting to be turned into Hip-Hop gold.

Included here in both its original, rawer 1998 version and an expanded 2003 re-edit, the film finds Jensen following the likes of Da Beatminerz, Showbiz, Diamond D, Buckwild and Godfather Don in the Rotten Apple, both record shopping and in the studio, as they continue on their endless search for the perfect beat.

Mr. Walt talks through his process of finding potential sample material, which includes smelling the vinyl, whilst Godfather Don discusses his dislike of what he calls “pick-up truck production”, which the talented individual defines as a technique used by producers who try to take drums and sounds from too many different sources, leading to a cluttered, disjointed product rather than a cohesive collage of music that is able to stir particular emotions in the listener.

John DeSalvo of NYC’s legendary Bleecker Bob’s Records describes the sometimes complex relationship between vinyl vendor and Hip-Hop production clientele, explaining how the purchases of dusty-fingered diggers influenced the type of music the store would look to stock, as well as admitting his surprise at how some of the best beats sampled by customers were found on some of the least impressive records.

With the documentary being filmed at a time when the unique, secretive sampling practices utilised by those seen here to create classics from the likes of Black Moon and O.C. were starting to be overshadowed by the radio-friendly loops of the Puffy-led shiny-suit era, questions regarding the integrity of some of the music coming from the East Coast at that moment are met with respectful yet forceful answers. Evil Dee explains how much of his enjoyment in making music is to be found in the challenge of finding new, inventive ways to sample in order to disguise and change the original material, whilst Showbiz states that he always follows the advice given to him by DJ Premier when it comes to making beats, which is simply to keep it Hip-Hop.

Another highlight is studio footage of Mr. Walt  working with independent favourites Shadez Of Brooklyn on their album which, unfortunately, would never get to see the light of day. Yet the passion and ferocity heard in the voices of the crew as they spit their rugged rhymes over bass-heavy Beatminerz production stands as a reminder of the hunger that can always be found in the Hip-Hop underground.

Both interesting and entertaining, “Beat Diggin'” stands as an important snapshot of the drive, creativity and dedication shared by many at a point in Hip-Hop’s history when true heads were striving to keep the essence of the culture alive as the music started to feel the tight grip of mainstream commercialism.

Ryan Proctor

“Beat Diggin'” DVD Trailer

Beat Diggin’ Documentary Trailer – Showbiz / Da Beatminerz / Buckwild etc.

Trailer for the upcoming limited CrateEscapeRecords.Com DVD release of the 1997 documentary “Beat Diggin'” filmed in NYC and featuring Showbiz, Godfather Don, Da Beatminerz and more.

Tribute To Godfather Don Mixtape Download – The Worst

Dope round-up of some of the NY producer-on-the-mic’s finest work including underground classics such as “Burn”, “Piece Of The Action” and “Do My Thing” – peep it here.

Thursday Throwback – Ultramagnetic MC’s

Ultramagnetic MC’s – “Raise It Up” (Wild Pitch / 1993)

Taken from the album “The Four Horsemen”.

James DL / No Sleep Recordings Interview (Originally Printed In Shook 03 / Red Cover / Summer 2008)

Hip-hop fans love to reminisce about the good old days. Ask any longstanding rap fanatic his or her thoughts on the music’s much-celebrated late-80s-to-mid-90s golden-era and you’ll probably have to threaten to snap their rare test-pressing of Big Daddy Kane’s ‘Raw’ in-half in order to shut them up. They’ll tell you what a profound impact Public Enemy’s classic 1988 album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back had on their socio-political worldview. They’ll be able to recall exactly where they were the first time they heard Biggie’s seminal 1994 debut Ready To Die. They might even laugh about the day they almost ended-up in a record store fistfight over the last copy of Street Smartz’ 1996 subterranean smash ‘Problems’. Yep, hip-hop fans love to reminisce about the good old days.

James DL is one of those hip-hop fans. Spend anytime talking with the 33-year-old from Long Island, New York and it soon becomes clear that rap music has been much more than just the soundtrack to his life; it’s been both a passion and an obsession. Introduced to hip-hop culture at a young age, James became a key-player in the NYC underground scene of the 90s via his successful college radio show, helping introduce the likes of J-Live and Talib Kweli to listeners via numerous late-night studio freestyle sessions. He also worked for the now defunct independent label Hydra (temporary home to Godfather Don, Screwball etc).

Last year, DL threw himself back into the indie game by establishing his No Sleep imprint. Disillusioned with the greed-obsessed industry circus that hip-hop has become in recent times, James sought to help similarly unimpressed fans rediscover the creativity of rap’s glory days by releasing vintage (and often previously unheard) material from back-in-the-day favourites such as Lord Finesse, Kwest Tha Madd Lad and the aforementioned Godfather Don, plus new mix-CD projects like DJ Boogie Blind’s Definitive D.I.T.C..

With many more releases in the pipeline, James DL sat down with Shook to explain exactly why he wants to take us all back to the future.

What initially made you decide to set-up No Sleep?

It’s funny because there wasn’t really any impetus to make me start the label, it was more something that I gradually just got into. For the last few years I’ve been working with Lord Finesse and one of the things him and me got into was doing simple CDs to sell as merchandise at his shows, one of which was the Rare & Unreleased project. I thought that was too much of a good CD just to sell at shows as there was a lot of material on there that his fans would want who perhaps couldn’t make it to a Lord Finesse performance. So we added a few things to it, put it out with proper distribution and it did pretty well, particularly overseas in places like Japan. At that point, Buckwild had reached out to me and we did a similar project containing a lot of his remix and production work from the 90s for artists like Organized Konfusion, Artifacts and Brand Nubian. I was also involved in putting out the unreleased Ill Biskits album Chronicles Of Two Losers. I’d say that was probably when I decided to start No Sleep because I was putting out these CDs on separate labels, but at the same time, all of the CDs were really coming from the same source, which was me. I was using the same guy for all of the cover art, the same mastering guy, the same distribution, so I decided to set-up my own label to enable me to keep putting out similar projects but also be able to cross-promote them better. I wanted to establish a brand name so that when fans and collectors see something from No Sleep they know it represents a certain sound and level of quality from hip-hop’s golden era.

How much of a market is there for the type of releases you’re putting out?

It’s a small, small niche market. Obviously there’s been a small market for vinyl for awhile now, but it’s not really that much better for CDs. For example, I know there were thousands of people who got into Godfather Don’s Nineties Sessions CD, but that didn’t translate into sales. Of course, downloading is hurting everyone nowadays, and if you’re only putting out music to appeal to a relatively small audience anyway then it becomes even harder to get everyone in that audience to support what you’re doing. I think there are still a lot of people who would go out and buy CDs, but I think they’re disenfranchised with the music. Hip-hop has become so bad that older fans have stopped going to the record store to look for it. I think that if they knew there was a new album out from an artist they liked back in the day they might be inclined to purchase it. It’s just about getting the word out there. Those fans are out of the loop but they’re still listening to their old Brand Nubian or A Tribe Called Quest albums. That’s one of the reasons why I felt it was so important to establish a brand name with No Sleep, because the chances are if you like one of our releases you’ll like the others, so it gives people something to look for.

What is it about hip-hop’s golden-era that makes it such a special period to you?

People might accuse me of being stuck in the past, and I guess I am to a certain degree, but when albums like Showbiz & AG’s Runaway Slave and Diamond’s Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop were coming out, you just couldn’t get enough of the music. There was a feeling you used to get when you heard a record like Tribe’s Midnight Marauders for the first time. I think we need to preserve that feeling as much as possible because that’s not coming back. I don’t think young kids today fully understand just how exciting hip-hop used to be. It’s kinda easy to be a hip-hop head now because it’s all about just going on the internet message boards every couple of days to check in on things. But back in the day you had to really dig and you wanted to know and have everything. That’s what No Sleep is about, finding the stuff that maybe you heard on the radio but never picked up, or those tracks that weren’t on a particular album, and putting them out there in a physical form for the people who actually still want to own a copy of everything they like.

Would you ever consider releasing a new artist through No Sleep or do you want to keep your releases strictly old-school?

I probably want to keep the label as just being more of a vintage sound. But I actually am working on a project right now with Buckwild that will be all vintage beats but with vocals from a newer artist who people know. I can’t really say too much about it at the moment, but when it comes out I think it’ll have a pretty big impact.

What’s next for the label?

Well, the next thing is me and Godfather Don are putting out the Kool Keith / Cenobites album again with some additional songs that were recorded during the same mid-90s period but never released. Also, I’m putting out a double-CD with Nick Wiz, who I feel is one of the more slept-on producers from the 90s. It’s all stuff that he did between 1992 and 1997 with artists like Channel Live, Cella Dwellas and Rakim. I’m also doing an unreleased album with Shorty Long who people will remember from his work with Lord Finesse.

You’ve already worked with some of hip-hop’s greats like Lord Finesse, Buckwild etc, but is there a dream project you’d like to put together?

I would love to do a CD with DJ Mark The 45 King and be able to go through his archives because he must have so much stuff that I’d want. I’ve actually spoken to him before and he told me ‘Yeah, I did about thirty songs with Marky Fresh’ which, just as a fan of hip-hop, I’d love to hear. I’m not sure how much of that stuff he’d still have though, but that would be a project I’d love to be able to put together.

Bonus Q&A With No Sleep Affiliates Lord Finesse, Nick Wiz, DJ Boogie Blind & Kwest Tha Madd Lad.

What do you think the biggest difference is between today’s rap game and the golden era?

Lord Finesse: The difference I see between today’s rap game and the golden era is that there were so many classic artists and albums created back then compared to now. There was an extreme focus on the quality of the production and the lyrical content. Today’s rap game is more image driven.

Kwest: I think it’s become more focused on financial gain than really trying to up the ante skills-wise. Dudes step in the booth and say anything just to get a cheque. It’s all about who has the best car and the most money etc. Most MCs today don’t really show skill, if they even have any to begin with.

DJ Boogie Blind: In the golden era, everybody was being creative. Nowadays people concentrate on your hustle more than your actual talent.

How important do you think it is for a label like No Sleep to be out there giving exposure to music from the past?

Lord Finesse: A label like No Sleep educates new fans and it gives archive collectors a chance to purchase history.

Nick Wiz: It’s definitely a great look because there’s people out there that still want to hear that classic sound and No Sleep provides that.

Kwest: The younger generation forgets where hip-hop came from and only know the current artists. No Sleep resurrects the past music and lets them see how we did it. It also lets the mature hip-hop fan reminisce on what it was like when they were still growing and loving the music.

So far No Sleep has concentrated on the 90s hip-hop era – can you name a favourite album from that period?

Lord Finesse: I can’t really cut the list down to just one favourite album and would be lucky if I could even cut the list to a top twenty.

Nick Wiz: The Cella Dwellas’ Realms ’N Reality. When we were recording that album, we weren’t thinking about anything other than making great music.

DJ Boogie Blind: Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted just because I wanted to see Cube do it up without N.W.A. and he definitely made a classic.

Do you have a particular favourite recording and / or performance memory from that same period?

Lord Finesse: My greatest memories are associated with the recording sessions I did with Big L and The Notorious B.I.G. I will forever remember working with two of the immortals of hip-hop.

Kwest: I remember being in Firehouse Studios in NYC recording and the engineer came in and said someone wanted to see me outside. When I went out, The RZA was there with a few other Wu-Tang members. He said he liked my song ‘Lubrication’ and gave me props. They had just dropped Enter The Wu-Tang and for him to say that about me was an honour.

DJ Boogie Blind: Seeing the X-ecutioners battle the Skratch Piklz in 1996. Classic turntablism.

Ryan Proctor