Tag Archives: Left Of Center

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2016 (Part Four) – Cappo / A Tribe Called Quest / Ka etc.

Check Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

Cappo – “Dramatic Change Of Fortune” (YNR Productions) – Nottingham’s Cappo really put himself in a zone for his latest self-produced long-player, a relatively short yet intense collection of intricate lyricism and atmospheric, boundary-blurring beats which proved the UK emcee isn’t afraid to think outside of the box when it’s time to make music.

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Nolan The Ninja – “He(art)” (Left Of Center) – Whilst accurate, using the word ‘passionate’ to describe Nolan The Ninja’s microphone techniques really doesn’t do justice to the Detroit emcee’s approach to his craft. Attacking every track on “He(art)” with both ferocity and skill, the Motor City representative ensured this album bristled with a tangible sense of energy, showcasing his undeniable love for the culture of Hip-Hop in the process.

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Levitical – “Do The Right Thing” (Levitical.BandCamp.Com) – With a respectful nod to Spike Lee’s classic late-80s film of the same name, this EP from Detroit duo Dr. Doowap and Marc Arrow was a short, sharp blast of sonic motivation, mixing humour, wit and social commentary with jazzy, soulful soundscapes.

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Apollo Brown & Skyzoo – “The Easy Truth” (Mello Music Group) – Backed by the melodic thump of Detroit producer Apollo Brown, Brooklyn’s Skyzoo offered further proof throughout “The Easy Truth” of why he deserves to be described as one of the nicest wordsmiths to have emerged from his beloved BK borough, painting captivating lyrical pictures of Rotten Apple life with genuine skill, empathy and insight. Respect the aura.

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Spida Lee – “Rise Of A King” (SpidaLee.BandCamp.Com) – Mixing conscious vibes and street smarts with the unashamedly 90s-influenced production of Natural Doc, UK emcee Spida Lee’s sophomore album was a real joy to listen to, full of unbridled enthusiasm and a desire to give listeners some food for thought.

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A Tribe Called Quest – “We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service” (Epic) – Following the sad passing of group member Phife Dawg, the unexpected return of A Tribe Called Quest was bittersweet to say the least. Yet the legendary crew from Queens largely succeeded in turning tragedy into artistic triumph with their sixth album. Capturing the spirit of the classic Tribe sound without simply retreading old creative ground, “We Got It From Here…” was mature, refined Hip-Hop. RIP Phife.

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Blakface & Sean Wyze – “The Time Ahead” (Blakface.BandCamp.Com) – West Coast / Midwest trio FunkLogik, $incere and Sean Wyze delivered thought-provoking, down-to-earth lyricism and melodic, sample-driven beats on this well-crafted album, with Guilty Simpson, Illa J and Trek Life on-hand to offer microphone assistance.

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Siddeeq Matthew – “King Language” (SiddeeqMatthew.BandCamp.Com) – Mixing true-school values with contemporary styles, this EP from Leicester, England’s Siddeeq Matthew offered street-savvy verses laced with personal reflection, resulting in a unique and thoroughly engaging listening experience.

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Ka – “Honor Killed The Samurai” (Iron Works) – Crafted with the precision of a master builder, this impressive self-produced body of work from Brooklyn’s Ka found the NY artist once again showcasing his near-obsessive attention to detail, both lyrically and sonically. Marrying vivid-yet-understated verses full of gritty life observations with his trademark stripped-down soundscapes, “Honor…” had all the makings of a modern-day cult classic.

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MarQ Spekt & Blockhead – “Keep Playin'” (HiPNOTT Records) – If you like raw rhyme skills that sound like they were sharpened in golden-era street-corner ciphers coupled with uncompromising, hardcore beats, then this album from Philly wordsmith MarQ Spekt and NY producer Blockhead should have found its way onto your playlist.

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Psycho Les – “Dank God, Vol. 1” (PitFight Entertainment) – Still as intoxicated and stone crazy as ever, Beatnuts member Psycho Les called on a long list of microphone heavyweights to feature on this compilation-style project, including R.A. The Rugged Man, Inspectah Deck and Tragedy Khadafi. Strictly underground funk, keep the crossover.

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Gensu Dean & Denmark Vessey – “Whole Food” (Mello Music Group) – The sonic equivalent of a good home-cooked meal, this collaborative effort from Texas-raised producer Dean and Detroit emcee Vessey offered listeners plenty of musical sustenance, with the pair displaying undeniable creative chemistry throughout the project.

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Buddy Leezle – “The Colorful World Of Buddy Benetton” (BuddyLeezle.BandCamp.Com) – Philly’s Buddle Leezle joined forces with producer Mook of Ireland’s Sons Phonetic for this transatlantic collection of fresh, fly and bold flavours inspired by the Illadelph lyricist’s passion for collecting vintage Ralph Lauren and Benetton clothing.

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Tab_One & Sinopsis – “Sincerely, Tab” (Tab-One.BandCamp.Com) – Members of North Carolina’s Kooley High crew, emcee Tab_One and producer Sinopsis confidently stepped outside of the group dynamic on this collaborative release, with “Sincerely, Tab” standing as a shining example of organic underground Hip-Hop.

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Allstar Stacks – “Rocky Road” (AllstarStacks.BandCamp.Com) – London emcee Allstar Stacks delivered a potent mix of streetwise swagger and sincere introspection on this impressive Session 600-produced project, featuring Ray Vendetta, FlowTecs and K Zorro.

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Vandal Savage – “1000th Prestige” (IAmVandalSavage.BandCamp.Com) – Nottingham’s Vandal Savage further cemented his growing reputation as one of the nicest lyricists in the UK Hip-Hop scene with this self-produced EP featuring Juga-Naut, Micall Parknsun and Cappo.

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Ray Vendetta & K Zorro – “The Regulator’s Handbook” (RingzOvSaturn.BandCamp.Com) – Triple Darkness member Ray Vendetta and fellow London representative K Zorro brough their alter-egos Daddy Longluv and Jack O’Hartz to the forefront on this quality concept-based project, which featured the UK duo proving there’s no slackin’ in their mackin’ as they put it down for the ladies in a roughneck style and fashion.

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Idasa Tariq – “FRAMES” (IdasaTariq.BandCamp.Com) – Sincere, intelligent rhymes from Pittsburgh’s Idasa Tariq which were as thought-provoking as they were personal, with “FRAMES” being a project that was tailor-made for today’s troubled times.

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Badly Promoted Geniuses – “Sorry Not Sorry” (BadlyPromotedGeniuses.BandCamp.Com) – Described as being “the result of the overactive imaginations of six miscreants with a penchant for Rap”, the debut album from UK crew Badly Promoted Geniuses was an unpredictable-yet-cohesive collection of beats and rhymes, showcasing the undeniable creativity of Triple Dot Beast, Baron Samedi, Skrabl, Oozhe, Sofa King and DJ Severe.

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Ivan Ave – “Helping Hands” (JakartaRecords-Label.BandCamp.Com) – Norway’s Ivan Ave delivered honest, introspective rhymes over producer MNDSGN’s mellow beats on this fine collection of hypnotic mood music.

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Fifth and final part coming soon.

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2015 (Part One) – Triple Darkness / Sadat X / J-Live etc.

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It’s hard to believe, but even with the amount of quality releases that dropped throughout 2015, there are still people claiming that there isn’t any worthwhile or memorable Hip-Hop being made today.

I’ve always found that way of thinking frustrating, as there has never been a time when there wasn’t good music to be found, but in recent years that argument has become increasingly redundant due to the ever-growing number of talented emcees, deejays and producers out there who’re consistently delivering the goods.

Of course, in today’s digital age, there will always be a huge amount of sub-par material being regularly pumped out via popular platforms such as BandCamp and YouTube, and the mainstream, for the most part, continues to promote the same shallow, one-dimensional rap that it always has done.

But that being said, if you genuinely feel there isn’t anything out there for you as a fan of Hip-Hop, the problem isn’t necessarily with the music, the issue is with those same fans not listening and looking hard enough when it comes to new material.

As I always say when I put these year-end pieces together, the albums and EPs included here aren’t the only releases that were worthy of attention, but this list does reflect what stayed in heavy rotation for me personally.

So, in no particular order, here are the artists and projects that made my speakers thump throughout 2015…

Triple Darkness – “Darker Than Black” (KingUnderground / Suspect Packages) – Cementing their reputation as one of the most talented crews in Hip-Hop, this album from London’s Triple Darkness was a brilliantly-crafted hardcore masterpiece. With group members such as Melanin 9, Cyrus Malachi and Ray Vendetta spitting sharp lyrical darts over gloriously uncompromising production from the likes of Ringz Ov Saturn and 7th Dan, “Darker Than Black” was a shining example of intelligent, underground Hip-Hop at its very best.

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Lord Hakim – “Born With A Determined Idea” (LordHakim.BandCamp.Com) – Following in the footsteps of Rakim, Lakim Shabazz and Brand Nubian, Columbus, Ohio wordsmith Lord Hakim proudly repped for the Five Percent Nation throughout this self-produced album, dropping science on the everyday struggle with both passion and insight. Peace to the Gods!

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The Cornel West Theory – “Coming From The Bottom” (TheCornelWestTheory.BandCamp.Com) – Hailing from Washington DC, The Cornel West Theory delivered an instense, no-holds-barred listening experience with this lengthy album. Showcasing the group’s thoughts on politics, race and Hip-Hop in 2015 America, “Coming From The Bottom” channeled the spirit of late-80s Public Enemy and BDP, whilst clearly standing strong as a product of the present day.

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Big Toast – “The Wedding Fund LP” (Revorg Records) – So you’ve proposed to your significant other, your pockets are flat not fat, and now you have a wedding to plan for. What do you do?  In the case of UK emcee Big Toast, you hit the studio and release a dope album to raise cash for your big event. Combining the London lyricist’s blunt, working-class worldview and dry humour with quality production from Sam Zircon, Strange Neighbour and Ill Move Sporadic, “The Wedding Fund LP” was guaranteed to hit the spot both in sickness and in health.

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Sadat X – “Never Left” (Loyalty Digital Corp) – The Brand Nubian member proved yet again why he’s considered one of the game’s most timeless artists on his eighth full-length solo project. Steeped in NY pride and featuring appearances from Cormega, Craig G and Black Sheep’s Dres, “Never Left” found the Wild Cowboy drawing on both industry and personal experiences to craft an album that resonated with traditional Rotten Apple flavour.

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Paul Nice & Phill Most Chill – “The Fabreeze Brothers” (AE Productions) – If you came-up listening to Hip-Hop in the 80s, still insist on matching your sneakers with your outfit, and regularly use slang like ‘fresh’ and ‘fly’, then this collabo album from NY’s Paul Nice and Illadelphia’s Phill Most Chill was made with you in mind. Capturing the excitement and purity of old-school Hip-Hop with an infectious passion, the pair succeeded in their mission to pay tribute to the foundations of the culture whilst still bringing something unique to the table. Warning – this album should only be listened to whilst standing in a b-boy stance.

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Oliver Sudden – “Phenomenaler Steaz” (BoomBapPro.Com) – Straight outta Croydon, South London (aka The Cronx), the talented Sudden utilised his understated, deadpan delivery to great effect on this aptly-titled project, spitting true-school sentiments over top-drawer production from the likes of Giallo Point, Sam Zircon and Downstroke.

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Flip – “Reflections” (Ill Adrenaline Records) – With a sound rooted in golden-era boom-bap and mixed with soulful sensibilities, veteran Austrian producer Flip called on heavyweight emcees such as DITC’s AG, Detroit’s Phat Kat and Wu-Tang affiliate Killah Priest to bless his well-crafted soundscapes on this cohesive package of underground flavour.

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The Four Owls – “Natural Order” (High Focus Records) – Showing off their impressive lyrical wingspans once again, Verb T, Fliptrix, Leaf Dog and BVA collectively swooped down on the UK Hip-Hop scene for a second time with their sophomore crew album, gaining production support from none other than Gang Starr legend DJ Premier and reducing the so-called competition to mere bird seed in the process.

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Large Professor – “Re:Living” (Fat Beats) – Whilst the term ‘legend’ perhaps gets thrown around a little too easily nowadays, self-proclaimed live-guy-with-glasses Extra P is an individual truly deserving of the title. Having had an impact on 90s Hip-Hop that is still being felt today, the Queens, NY resident came correct in 2015, proving ain’t a damn thing changed but the year. With an approach to his craft that remains untainted and uninfluenced by rap’s mainstream circus, Large Pro’s “Re:Living” showcased the sound of an artist who really keeps it real…to himself.

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Supastition – “Gold Standard” (Reform School Music) – One of the most consistent emcees of the new millennium, the career of North Carolina-raised lyricist Supastition has undoubtedly contained its fair share of ups-and-downs. Yet throughout, Supa has maintained his honesty and integrity, making music that resonates with fans who are looking for Hip-Hop they can relate to. “Gold Standard” most definitely continued that tradition. Featuring beats from Praise, MoSS and Jonny Cuba, this album found the newest Soundsci member once again dealing with everyday issues, whilst also taking the opportunity to indulge in some good ol’-fashioned braggin’ and boastin’.

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DJ Soko – “Domino Effect” (Left Of Center) – Pulling together an impressive array of talent which included Guilty Simpson, Apollo Brown and Rasheed Chappell, Michigan native Soko’s debut project was a robust, speaker-rattling collection of thunderground excellence which avoided the hit-and-miss pitfalls of similar compilation-style releases.

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Definite Mass – “Soul Caliber” (Manifest Recordings) – Living up to its title both musically and lyrically, this gem of an album found West Coast wordsmith Definite Mass delivering personal and sincere verses over melodic boom-bap beats, with the likes of Blu and Supreme Cerebral passing by to offer microphone assistance.

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Kaimbr – “Bronze Horse” (Kaimbr.BandCamp.Com) – Maryland resident Kaimbr paid homage to Staten Island’s mighty Wu-Tang on this brilliantly-executed concept album, with the Low Budget crew member transforming into his alter-ego Wu Kaim to practice his well-honed microphone martial arts over dusty, Shaolin soul samples.

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White Mic – “Do It How You Wanna Do It” (Solidarity Records) – A distinctly personal collection of beats and rhymes, Bored Stiff member White Mic’s “Do It…” found the Cali-based emcee celebrating Hip-Hop’s potential to inspire and motivate, pouring his own life experiences into his music with memorable and emotionally-charged results.

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AKD & Deepstar – “Universal Language” (Monad Records) – Seeking to demonstrate the power Hip-Hop has to speak to people from all walks of life, UK emcee Arise King David and Australian producer Deepstar called on the likes of Rapsody, DJ Rob Swift and Phoenix Da Icefire to help make their point, resulting in an overall uplifting listening experience grounded in golden-era sonic values.

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J-Live – “His Own Self” (Mortier Music) – Since his mid-90s debut as part of the NY indie scene, the now Atlanta-based J-Live has consistently released intelligent, creative Hip-Hop, with the veteran wordsmith never afraid to show both artistic and personal growth in his music. “His Own Self”, the first of Live’s two full-length 2015 releases, continued to follow that pattern. Entirely self-produced and with no guest appearances, this album found the talented artist covering a variety of topics, ranging from personal finances (“Old S**t”) and teenage memories (“Red & The Kid”) to America’s racial climate (“I Am A Man”).

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DJ Wally Pish Posh & T.R.A.C. – “Operation: Revibe” (DJWallyPishPosh.BandCamp.Com) – With a grand plan to “set Hip-Hop back on its path to greatness”, NY duo Pish Posh and T.R.A.C. definitely went some way to achieving their goal with this pure, organic demonstration of the pair’s shared love and appreciation of Hip-Hop culture. Determined to provide listeners with a healthy musical alternative to the shallow waters of the mainstream, this producer / emcee combo definitely brought the best out of each other throughout this release.

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Blak Twang & Blackmale Beats – “The Pantheon EP” – Embracing his elder statesman status within the UK Hip-Hop scene, homegrown legend Tony Rotten teamed-up with London production outfit Blackmale Beats for this stirring six-track release. Whether dealing with social issues (“Elevation”),  recounting personal dramas (“Highs & Lows”) or reliving Hip-Hop memories (“Classiq Moments”), Twang’s authoritative verses were given even greater impact thanks to Blackmale’s ability to match the lyrical content on offer here with just the right musical tone and mood. Rottonous, indeed.

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80’s Babies – “Searching For Happy” (DeeJackson80sBabies.BandCamp.Com) – Detroit-raised producer Tall Black Guy joined forces with Chicago emcee Dee Jackson to deliver music for your mind, body and soul throughout “Searching For Happy”, an album that found the duo respectfully drawing on the passion and creative integrity of golden-era Hip-Hop, whilst proudly carving out their own unique sonic niche in today’s rap game.

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Part Two coming soon.

New Joint – DJ Soko / Hassaan Mackey / Marvwon / Finale

DJ Soko ft. Hassaan Mackey, Marvwon & Finale – “Take Notes” (@DJSoko / 2015)

Def Dee-produced neck-snapper from the Soko-helmed album “Domino Effect”.