Masta Ace & Marco Polo – “Masta Polo” (@FatBeats / 2019)
Shy The BeatYoda-produced bonus cut off the “Deluxe Edition” re-release Of Ace and Marco’s brilliant 2018 album “A Breukelen Story”.
Masta Ace & Marco Polo – “Masta Polo” (@FatBeats / 2019)
Shy The BeatYoda-produced bonus cut off the “Deluxe Edition” re-release Of Ace and Marco’s brilliant 2018 album “A Breukelen Story”.
Masta Ace & Marco Polo ft. Pav Bundy – “Sunken Place – Remix” (@FatBeats / 2019)
This compelling, socially-aware cut is given a smooth, piano-laced reworking for the Deluxe Edition re-release of Ace and Polo’s brilliant 2018 album “A Breukelen Story”.
Masta Ace & Marco Polo – “Get Shot” (@MastaAce / @MarcoPoloBeats / 2019)
Juice Crew legend Masta Ace and Canadian producer Marco Polo have proven their shared creative chemistry time and time again over the years, with this latest drum-heavy example being lifted from their brilliant 2018 album “‘A Breukelen Story”.
Masta Ace & Marco Polo ft. Pharoahe Monch – “The Fight Song” (@FatBeats / 2019)
The Juice Crew legend confronts his battle with multiple sclerosis via powerful, personal rhymes (assisted by an equally engaging Monch performance) on this cut from the Marco Polo-produced album “A Breukelen Story”.
Politically, socially and economically, 2018 will no doubt go down in the history books as a particularly disastrous year. Wherever you looked across the globe, there was chaos, unrest and mistrust. In contrast, however, and on a more positive note, 2018 was an incredible year for new Hip-Hop.
It’s been near impossible to keep up with the vast amount of product flooding the market, with both veteran artists and a new generation of talented emcees, producers and deejays all contributing to the rich selection of beats and rhymes that have been made available over the past twelve months.
As I’ve said before when writing previous ‘best-of’ intros, some ‘heads” still seem surprised that I’m able to find a hundred releases during the course of a year that I’ve genuinely enjoyed. In reality, there have been more than that, and this 2018 selection, as with other years, has been scaled down from an original list which far exceeded that number.
So if you’re still of the opinion that quality Hip-Hop isn’t being released in high quantities, then you’re really not listening or looking hard enough – and in today’s digital era, when most of that music is available at the click of a button without you even having to leave your house, it really couldn’t be easier to find something that suits your sonic preferences.
On a mainstream level (as has largely always been the case) the best that Hip-Hop has to offer isn’t being represented. But in the underground, talent, skill and creativity are still there to be found by those prepared to dig and support.
So with all that being said, this list represents what I had in heavy rotation throughout 2018.
Props as always to all the artists out there making memorable music from a genuine place of love for this incredible culture.
Masta Ace & Marco Polo – “A Breukelen Story” (Fat Beats) – One of the best to ever do it, since his 1990 debut long-player “Take A Look Around” Juice Crew legend Masta Ace has consistently proven himself to be a true virtuoso of the album format, delivering a long line of well-rounded, concept-based projects. This collaborative effort with the ever-impressive Marco Polo successfully bound together the pair’s individual BK-related narratives, demonstrating what quality, timeless music sounds like in the process. They live in Brooklyn, baby.
Royce Da 5’9 – “Book Of Ryan” (Heaven Studios / eOneMusic) – Intensely personal and brilliantly executed, Detroit wordsmith Royce’s seventh album ran the full gamut of emotions, presenting the listener with a sonic photo album which captured poignant moments in the emcee’s family history, both past and present. Displaying a no-holds-barred honesty in his writing, Royce’s ability to tackle difficult subjects here such as addiction, domestic abuse and suicide, without coming across as overly judgemental or preachy, was a testament to his level of dedication to his craft. “Book Of Ryan” was an album that was shocking, humourous, tragic and inspiring in equal measures.
Children Of Zeus – “Travel Light” (First Word Records) – Arguably the best blend of Hip-Hop and soul since Mary J. Blige enquired about the 411 back in 1992, Manchester duo Konny Kon and Tyler Daley proved that hard work does pay off when, after years of building a cult fanbase for their unique brand of UK street music, the pair finally gained the wider recognition they’ve deserved for so long with the release of this brilliant debut album. An organic mix of sonic influences both past and present, “Travel Light” proudly took its place next to defining works by the likes of Loose Ends, Soul II Soul and London Posse as a truly individual example of quality British music.
Micall Parknsun & Mr Thing – “Finish What We Started” (Village Live Records) – Genuine creative chemistry is something that’s hard to come by in any artistic partnership. Thankfully, that wasn’t a problem UK duo Micall Parknsun and Mr Thing had to worry about, with their brilliant album “Finish What We Started” pulsating from beginning to end with an energy that could only be achieved when people share the same drive, focus and passion for what they do. An album with real replay value, “Finish What We Started” was the sound of both Parknsun and Thing at the top of their game, mixing old-school values with now-school skills.
Superbad Solace – “Sol Controller” (SuperbadSolace.BandCamp.Com) – Teaming up with frequent collaborator Mono En Stereo (pka El RTNC), Timeless Truth member Superbad Solace went for dolo on this quality EP, reppin’ for the borough of Queens in no uncertain terms, weaving fly NY wordplay around melodic, sample-based soundscapes with impressive results.
Planet Asia – “The Golden Buddha” (Brick Records) – A key figure in the West Coast indie scene of the mid-to-late 90s, an increase in output over recent years has further proven Planet Asia to be one of the most consistent artists in the game. Produced entirely by San Francisco’s izznyce, “The Golden Buddha” was packed with quality beats and pyramid-precise verses, with PA flowing like the Nile with authority and apparent effortlessness.
The Mouse Outfit – “Jagged Tooth Crook” (TheMouseOutfit.BandCamp.Com) – Having further refined their live, organic sound on each of the group’s full-length releases, this third album from Manchester-based collective The Mouse Outfit was arguably the crew’s most musically sophisticated effort to date. Largely based around mellow, jazzy production laced with tinges of reggae and soul, “Jagged Tooth Crook” found the likes of Dubbul O, Black Josh and Ellis Meade dropping life-affirming lines and spontaneous styles throughout this mammoth seventeen-track project.
Showbiz – “A-Room Therapy” (DITCEnt.Com) – With sonic input from producers Motif Alumni and Dark Keys, legendary crate-digger Showbiz pulled together members of the core DITC crew and extended family affiliates for this showcase of quality Rotten Apple rap, with the likes of O.C., A.G, David Bars and the late Tashane bridging the generation gap with their undiluted rhyme skills.
Flashius Clayton – “Wolf Moon” (FlashiusClayton.BandCamp.Com) – Cali-based Knuckle Sandwich Deli representative Flashius Clayton set 2018 off the right way with this tight EP which dropped on Jan 1st. Combining competition-crushing attitude with natural rhyming ability and an ear for strong production, the West Coast wordsmith singled himself out as one to watch with this release.
Blueprint – “Two-Headed Monster” (WeightlessRecordings.Net) – Grounded in golden-era traditions yet refusing to wallow in nostalgia, veteran Ohio-based producer-on-the-mic Blueprint’s latest long-player was a shining example of thoughtful, mature Hip-Hop which succeeded in sparking your brain cells whilst making your head nod.
Farma Beats – “The Sentimental Alien” (FarmaBeats.BandCamp.Com) – Having made his name in the UK Hip-Hop scene of the 90s primarily as an emcee with London’s Bury Crew, M.U.D. Family and then Task Force, 2018 saw Farma go global with his production skills, with “The Sentimental Alien” featuring an impressive list of collaborators including Chester P, Recognize Ali and Estee Nack showcasing their skills over obscure loops and quality beats.
Scran Cartel – “Blue Plaque Candidates” (ScranCartel.BandCamp.Com) – Possibly the best combination of Hip-Hop and food since the Fat Boys cracked open a pizza box on the cover of their 1984 debut album, this collaborative project from UK duo MNSR Frites and Benny Diction contained high-protein beats and rhymes that were guaranteed to satisfy the appetite of any music connoisseur. Featuring production from Chemo, Downstroke, Blue Buttonz and more, “Blue Plaque Candidates” was three-course home-cooked goodness – no fast-food rap to be found here.
Da Buze Bruvaz – “Ni$&@tivity” (Grilchy Party) – Philly’s Clever One and Him Lo continued to steam-roller over the competition on their latest collection of put-you-in-a-headlock Hip-Hop, with the larger-than-life pair dropping aggressive-yet-entertaining punchlines and thinly-veiled threats over fittingly hardcore production from affiliates such as Shaheed Mudfoot, Claymore and Gosilla. Guard ya grill!
Kool G Rap & 38 Spesh – “Son Of G Rap” (38Spesh.BandCamp.Com) – A collection of unapologetically raw street knowledge which attempted to join the dots between various eras in New York Hip-Hop, “Son Of…” found lyrical architect Kool G Rap passing the baton to Rochester’s 38 Spesh, with the likes of Cormega, AZ and Meyhem Lauren on-hand to rep for the Rotten Apple over production from sonic craftsman such as DJ Premier, Pete Rock and The Alchemist.
Funky DL – “Blackcurrent Jazz 3” (FunkyDL.Bandcamp.Com) – As suggested by its title, this release from London-based producer-on-the-mic Funky DL was grounded in the UK veteran’s love of all things soulful and jazzy, with his witty couplets and entertaining story-telling rhymes meshing perfectly with a seamless sample-based blend of mellow pianos, smooth horns and 90s-influenced beats. He got the jazz, he got the jazz.
Kyo Itachi – “Night Life” (ShinigamieRecords.BandCamp.Com) – France’s king of boom-bap Kyo Itachi pulled together an impressive guest list for this well-executed collection of underground gems, with the likes of Artifacts, Keith Murray and Milano Constantine displaying their well-tested skills over head-nodding, full-bodied production.
Spnda & Grubby Pawz – “Holographic” (CityYardMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Following up their brilliant 2017 project “Steel Sharpens Steel”, Boston’s Spnda and Grubby Pawz once again showcased their creative chemistry on this equally impressive project, a collection of masterfully vivid rhymes and superbly selected samples stitched together with a sci-fi undertone.
Rasheed Chappell – “First Brick” (RasheedChappell.BandCamp.Com) – Seven years since the release of his critically-acclaimed debut album “Future Before Nostalgia”, NY-based emcee Rasheed Chappell joined forces once again with production legend Kenny Dope for this undiluted dose of East Coast Hip-Hop, demonstrating growth in his already impressive writing abilities, drawing inspiration from yesterday whilst looking towards tomorrow.
Ray Vendetta & Karnate – “The Master Chambers LP” (PrestigiousRecordings1.BandCamp.Com) – Having already proven himself to be one of the game’s most consistent and hard-working emcees, London-based lyricist Ray Vendetta didn’t take any time off in 2018, with this Karnate-produced album ranking as arguably the Triple Darkness member’s most complete body of work, highlighting all facets of Vendetta’s rhyming abilities, from street-savvy barbs to moments of subtle personal reflection.
Milano Constantine – “Attache Case” (FXCKRXP.BandCamp.Com) – Co-signed by both Big Pun and Big L, Diggin’ In The Crates affiliate Milano is an emcee who has always stayed dedicated to the art of lyricism and this project with Netherlands-based producer Oh Jay didn’t find the Rotten Apple representative deviating from his path. Action-packed wordplay and drama-fuelled soundscapes were the order of the day here, with Milano yet again standing head-and-shoulders above most of his competition on the microphone.
Part Two coming soon.
REKS, Masta Ace, Rakaa Iriscience & Mr Wiggles – “To The Fullest” (BecauseWeLiveIt.Com / 2018)
Germany-based clothing brand Because We Live It have pulled together some familiar Hip-Hop figures who represent that true-school ethos for this upbeat 12 Finger Dan-produced cut.
Masta Ace & Marco Polo – “Kings” (@MastaAce / @MarcoPoloBeats / 2018)
Quality video from the duo’s brilliant new album “A Breukelen Story”.
Masta Ace & Marco Polo ft. Smif-N-Wessun – Breukelen “Brooklyn” (@MastaAce / 2018)
One of the most consistent emcees of all-time, living legend Masta Ace drops a dedication to BK as the first single from his forthcoming Marco Polo-produced album “A Breukelen Story”.
Extensive MysDiggi / Sarah Love interview with Big Daddy Kane, Craig G, Kool G Rap, MC Shan, Masta Ace and Roxanne Shante prior to last week’s Juice Crew show in London.
Son Of Sam ft. Masta Ace & Large Professor – “Come A Long Way – Extra P Remix” (@SonOfSam_UK / 2017)
The legendary live guy with glasses Large Pro gets behind the boards for this extremely dope reworking of a cut from UK group Son Of Sam’s recent “Cinder Hill” album.
LS Camp ft. Masta Ace – “Too Black” (@HiPNOTT / 2017)
Uplifting, socially-aware beats and rhymes from the Massachusetts crew’s forthcoming album “Back To The Basics (The Boom Bap)”.
Koss ft. Masta Ace – “Longevity” (@BelowSystem / 2017)
Throwback memories from the Juice Crew legend off Belgian producer Koss’s new project “Born To Live”.
Son Of Sam ft. Masta Ace & Large Pro – “Come A Long Way” (SonOfSamMusic.BandCamp.Com / 2017)
Tom Caruana-produced track from the UK band’s forthcoming album “Cinder Hill” featuring Sadat X, Soundsci, The Black Opera and more.
Heavy Links member Donnie Propa follows-up last year’s original “Ace Tape” with another collection of career-spanning gems from Juice Crew legend Masta Ace released on limited edition cassette via Village Live.
DJ Low Cut ft. Masta Ace & Torae – “All Alone” (@LowCut / 2017)
Taken from the French producer’s forthcoming album “Dead End”.
Gdot & Born – “Ghetto Survivors” (@GdotBorn / 2017)
Ben Hedibi-produced track from the Boston-based duo.
2016. What a year. Political upheaval in the form of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president. The tragic loss of musical icons such as Prince and A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg. Continued economic and social unrest across the globe. Suffice to say, 2016 will no doubt be looked back on in years to come as a definite time of change, with not much of that change necessarily being for the better.
The world of music, however, continued to offer sanctuary from the madness of everyday life, with a string of artists ensuring 2016 will also be remembered for quality beats and rhymes.
As I always say each year when I post my best-of choices, this list of 100 releases doesn’t represent the only albums and EPs worthy of your attention over the last twelve months, but it does feature the artists and titles that remained in regular rotation for me personally.
So, in the words of Slick Rick, heeeerrre we go….
Timeless Truth – “Cold Wave” (Different Worlds Music Group / Chopped Herring) – Queens, NY blood brothers Oprime39 and Superbad Solace added on to their already impeccable catalogue with this full-length collection of Rotten Apple rawness firmly rooted in the Hip-Hop heritage of their city, evoking images of late-night subway rides, street-corner ciphers and overcrowded studio sessions.
Split Prophets – “Delta Bravo Kilo” (SplitProphets.BandCamp.Com) – Following a number of crew member solo efforts, Bristol’s Split Prophets combined creative forces once again for this quality long-player, with the UK collective keeping everything in-house (no outside producers or guest appearances here) to showcase their lively brand of beats and rhymes.
Them That Do – “Them That Do…” (HiPNOTT) – Jazzy, soulful true-school flavour from Phat Hentoff, Chuck Daily and Jasper Brown, which featured the lyrical trio delivering thoughtful, life-affirming wordplay over the well-crafted soundscapes of Philly-based producer Small Professor.
DITC – “DITC Studios” (Slice-Of-Spice) – The influence of the legendary Diggin’ In The Crates crew on a generation of 90s heads can never be underestimated. Classic releases from Lord Finesse, Showbiz & AG, O.C. etc played a huge part in defining the decade viewed by many as being the pinnacle of the rap game’s golden-era. Proving that true skills are timeless, this album found the core DITC members reuniting for an uncompromising lesson in hardcore Hip-Hop.
AUTOMatic – “Marathon” (AUTOMatic.BandCamp.Com) – The fourth full-length album from Milwaukee’s APRIME 3099 and Trellmatic combined smoothed-out soundscapes inspired by old-school R&B with witty, intelligent lyricism, resulting in a project that was as refreshing as it was entertaining. True-school feel-good flavour.
Ded Tebiase – “Seventy Five” (VillageLive.BandCamp.Com) – A masterful blend of both instrumental and vocal tracks featuring UK talent such as Iron Braydz and Mnsr Frites, “Seventy Five” found Bristol beat king Tebiase offering up some of the best production to be heard in 2016, resulting in an album packed with well-crafted 90s-influenced head-nodders.
DJ Quik & Problem – “Rosecrans” (Diamond Lane Music) – Compton OG Quik joined forces with up-and-comer Problem for this succinct shot of warm, smoothed-out West Coast fonk with a gangsta-edge, offering further proof that David Blake is one of the game’s greatest ever producers. Music to drive-by.
Masta Ace – “The Falling Season” (M3 Entertainment) – Taking it back to the old-school literally, NY rhyme legend Masta Ace revisited his Brooklyn childhood on his seventh solo full-length, with this concept-based project focusing on the former Juice Crew member’s time as a pupil at Sheepshead Bay High in the 1980s. Drawing on a variety of emotions and experiences that helped shape Ace into the talented lyricist we’ve grown to know and cherish, this Kic Beats-produced album was yet another worthy addition to the Masta’s impressive discography.
DJ Skizz – “Cruise Control” (Different Worlds / Fat Beats) – Trading the punchy, boom-bap driven sound of his 2013 album “BQE” for a more lo-fi, loop-based flavour, NY producer Skizz called on microphone heavyweights such as O.C., Milano Constantine and Roc Marciano to bless his minimalist mood music with undeniably captivating results.
Dabbla – “Year Of The Monkey” (High Focus) – Showcasing his sharp delivery and raw couldn’t-give-a-f**k wit, this solo project from London Zoo / Problem Child member Dabbla offered a high-octane lyrical rollercoaster ride over eclectic production from the likes of Chemo, Ghosttown, Sumgii and more. Brilliantly boisterous beats and rhymes.
Discourse – “Megalomaniac” (Crate Cartel) – Australian producer Discourse supplied the likes of Tragedy Khadafi, A.G. and Starvin B with a serious selection of moody and atmospheric soundscapes on this expertly-crafted project, with “Megalomaniac” featuring an impressive array of lyrical talent from Australia, the US and the UK who all did justice to the high-quality beats heard here.
Kelpi NINE – “Forecast.” (KelpiNINE.BandCamp.Com) – Producer-based action coming straight outta the Ukraine, Kelpi NINE demonstrated his talent for blending together subtle. melodic samples and hard, unrelenting drums on this succinct nine-track release.
Broken Poetz – “Soul Searching” (BrokenPoetz2.BandCamp.Com) – An entertaining mix of personal reflection, worldly observations and quality, sample-driven production, this full-length effort from rhyming duo D.Know and Mystero was UK Hip-Hop made with undeniable passion.
Dell-P – “To The Moon And Beyond” (WHOMAG Distribution) – Backed by the soulful production of Samad Dawson, talented Philly wordsmith Dell-P addressed a number of society’s ills and the struggles of Black America throughout this potent project, injecting his music with sincere, heartfelt messages that only became even more relevant in the months following the January release of this album.
Planet Asia & DJ Concept – “Seventy Nine” (Coalmine Records) – Since his 90s debut, West Coast wordsmith Planet Asia has firmly established himself as one of the game’s most consistent emcees. This collaboration with Strong Island-based DJ Concept further solidified that reputation, with PA spitting intricate verses over production with a soulful thump.
Blaq Poet – “The Most Dangerous” (Shinigamie Records) – Queensbridge legend Blaq Poet lyrically stomped all over the rugged production of France’s Kyo Itachi and Venom on this uncompromisingly hardcore album, with appearances from Ruste Juxx, Tragedy Khadafi and Bankai Fam only adding to the overall rawness of the project.
Grindhouse Project – “To Kill A Critic” (GrindhouseProject.BandCamp.Com) – The long-awaited follow-up to 2012’s “GHP Is Like…” EP, “To Kill A Critic” found emcees Trace Motivate and 360 once again joining forces with producers Astro Mega and Futurewave to drop a potent dose of hard, uncut Canadian Hip-Hop.
Sonnyjim – “Mud In My Malbec” (Eat Good / Daupe!) – The UK’s Sonnyjim delivered his exquisite long-awaited album “Mud In My Malbec” in June of 2016, with the project’s mix of understated lyrical arrogance and 70s-flavoured loops conjuring up images of a mink-wearing Willie Dynamite driving through the streets of Birmingham, England, blasting this long-player from the comfort of a customised Cadillac.
Daniel Son & Giallo Point – “The Gunners Tape” (GialloPoint.BandCamp.Com) – Canada’s Daniel Son enlisted the talents of UK producer Giallo Point for this thoroughly impressive twelve-track project, featuring the Toronto emcee pummelling GP’s quality 90s-influenced beats with consistently sharp, vivid and engaging verses.
Daddy Grace aka Born Allah – “No Hip Hop For Grown Men” (Church Of Hip Hop) – As generational debates continued to rage within Hip-Hop, West Coast wordsmith Daddy Grace (aka Born Allah) proudly proclaimed his unshakeable OG status and personified the term ‘grown-man rap’ throughout this impressive debut solo project. Laced with Five Percent Nation influences and LA street swagger, “No Hip Hop For Grown Men” was both righteous and ruthless.
Part Two coming soon.
Masta Ace – “Good Ol’ Love” (@MastaAce / 2016)
The Brooklyn legend drops a new video for this 9th Wonder-produced gem from his 2004 album “A Long Hot Summer”, which was re-issued in 2015 by Below System Records.
Masta Ace – “Mathematics” (@MastaAce / 2016)
Kic Beats-produced track from the timeless emcee’s recent album “The Falling Season”.
Masta Ace ft. Pearl Gates & Denez Prigent – “Story Of Me” (@MastaAce / 2016)
Heartfelt autobiographical rhymes from the legendary Brooklyn emcee’s recent album “The Falling Season”.