Tag Archives: Midwest Hip-Hop

KOTODAMA Album Stream – 1773 & E Brown

This latest album from Chicago duo Wisdm Uno and Jay Nagoma is a vibrant, engaging affair full of contemplative, inspiring rhymes and fresh, clean, melodic beats from Ohio’s E Brown.

100 Favourite Albums & EPs Of 2021 (Part Four) – John Robinson / Backwood Sweetie / Vandal Savage etc.

Check Part One, Part Two & Part Three.

Jyroscope & Montana Macks – “Happy Medium” (Jyroscope.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago’s I.B. Fokuz and Collasoul Structure worked their way through the stresses of daily life on this therapeutic release. Job. Family. Relationships. Social injustice. Health. Finances. Anxiety. Frustration. Doubt. The rhyming duo completely opened up over the five tracks on offer here, giving listeners full access to their personal (and extremely relatable) thoughts. The jazzy, easy-going production supplied by Montana Macks gave the EP a soothing, relaxed vibe, ensuring Jyroscope’s verses had plenty of room to breathe. Easy does it, do it easy.

J Littles & Claude Money – “Godbody Tapestry” (KJamm-BFR.BandCamp.Com) – This blend of cool-but-deadly rhymes and soulful rare groove loops from Nottingham duo J Littles and Claude Money was a supreme display of smoothed-out musical arrogance laced with lyrical gems from two individuals who were clearly meant to build together. Best listened to whilst sat comfortably on a butter-soft leather sofa, blowing smoke, wearing a velour robe and a pair of box-fresh Air Max. Exquisite.

John Robinson – “King JR” (JohnRobinson.BandCamp.Com) – Sounding as fresh and enthusiastic in 2021 as he did when debuting as a member of Scienz Of Life back in the mid-90s, NY-raised emcee John Robinson called on the production talents of West Coast favourite Blu for this stimulating collection of thoughtful wordplay and dynamic beats. Music with substance.

Shortie No Mass – “here goes nothing.” (ShortieNoMass.BandCamp.Com) – Having first made a name for herself in the 90s working with the likes of De La Soul and The Roots, Boston-born, Philly-based artist Shortie No Mass made a welcome return to the mic after a long hiatus and sounded like she’d never been away. Her lively, infectious flow and straight-to-the-point rhymes sat comfortably here over production from Da Beatminerz, J-Zone and Shortie’s son Jay Law.

DJ Cosm – “Natural Within” (MakeBelieveHipHop.BandCamp.Com) – DJ Cosm of Canada’s Dragon Fli Empire pulled together a varied selection of underground talent for this follow-up to his 2011 release “Time And Space”, with Brand Nubian’s Sadat X, Brown Bag Money’s Daniel Son and Bankai Fam’s Skanks The Rap Martyr all making stellar appearances.

Al-J & Kane Major – “Blak To The Old School” (KaneMajor.BandCamp.Com) – Boston emcee Al-J (of Blak Madeen) painted vivid lyrical pictures of his experiences growing up in the 80s on this Kane Major-produced album. Covering everything from watching Saturday morning cartoons and first hearing Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five to navigating his way through the crack era, Al-J’s personal memories were further brought to life by the authentic electro-influenced sounds of Major’s production. A sonic blast of back to the future flavour.

Dagha – “D-A To The G” (Dagha.BandCamp.Com) – With this being his first release since 2014, it was apparent even before the end of the first track that Boston’s Dagha was intending on making-up for lost time with this album. No distractions. No gimmicks. “D-A To The G” was all about skills. Dagha tore through the beats of collaborator DJ Real with his confident delivery and clever wordplay, keeping it funky throughout with flows for days.

The Good People – “The Greater Good” (TheGoodPeople.BandCamp.Com) – Longstanding NY duo Emskee and Saint came correct with yet another collection of quality true-school beats and rhymes, offering lyrical food for thought and warm, melodic production throughout. Joined by the likes of Lords Of The Underground, Craig G and Shabaam Sahdeeq, “The Greater Good” was the sound of artists really doing it for the culture.

Apollo Brown & Stalley – “Blacklight” (ApolloBrown360.BandCamp.Com) – Detroit producer Apollo Brown has built a career on bringing the best out of the emcees he chooses to collaborate with. From Boog Brown and OC to Skyzoo and Che Noir, Apollo’s brand of soulful boom-bap has inspired some brilliant performances from a variety of lyricists. “Blacklight” continued that trend. Formerly signed to Rick Ross’s Maybach Music label, Ohio’s Stalley sounded totally at home over Brown’s mellow thump, spitting down-to-earth, street-smart verses that stayed with you long after the music stopped.

Wish Master x Illinformed – “Cold Harbour Tales” (WishMaster.BandCamp.Com) – Bristol’s Wish Master has consistently sharpened his skills with each release he’s dropped over the last few years. This full-length collaboration with producer Illinformed saw Wish Master finding an ideal musical partner, with crisp beats and atmospherics samples providing the perfect backdrop for the UK lyricist’s raw wit and life lessons.

Breeze Brewin – “Hindsight” (Juggaknots.BandCamp.Com) – Some people are just born to rhyme. It’s as simple as that. NYC’s Breeze Brewin is one such individual. Twenty-five years after debuting as a member of The Juggaknots with a cult classic release on Bobbito’s Fondle ‘Em label, Breeze proved that his underground legend status is still firmly intact with the release of this brilliant album. Backed by production from the likes of Sebb Bash, Marco Polo and DJ Spinna, the BX emcee covered a lot of lyrical ground here, delivering every verse with charisma, skill and originality.

Planet Asia x Evidence – “Rule Of Thirds” (BiggerPictureRecordings.Com) – West Coast giants Planet Asia and Evidence had worked together before this release earlier in their respective careers. But to hear the pair come together in 2021 having long established themselves as two of the most consistent artists the game has seen was a beautiful thing. Asia’s effortlessly dope flow swaggered over the stripped-down production supplied by Evidence, lyrically blending the fly and the righteous as always, with Domo Genesis, Milano Constantine and Rome Streetz offering verbal support.

Ea$y Money x Nozs – “2090” (STDaSquad.BandCamp.Com) – 2021 was a productive year for Massachusetts-based microphone fiend Ea$y Money, with his name gracing the cover of a handful of projects during the twelve month period. Whilst quality control was high on all of those releases, this six-track EP with New England producer Nozs was the standout for me. Street-smart rhymes were paired here with boom-bap beats that were full of character, resulting in a memorable, concise release. Also, props to Ea$y Money for the respectful nod to the great Grand Puba with the EP’s cover art.

Backwood Sweetie – “Christina Shauntay” (BackwoodSweetie.BandCamp.Com) – As a fan of Hip-Hop there’s nothing better than the moment you hear an artist for the first time whose talent immediately captures your attention and has you sitting with your ear pressed against the speaker hanging off every word being said. In 2021, Maryland’s Backwood Sweetie was one of those artists. Rhyming with passion and purpose over a well-chosen selection of beats from a variety of producers, Sweetie had a lot to say as she touched on a number of topics, including Black pride, white supremacy, police brutality and social injustice. Urgent, thought-provoking Hip-Hop.

Beneficence & Confidence – “Stellar Mind” (IllAdrenalineRecords.Com) – A no-nonsense collection of heavyweight head-nodding Hip-Hop, New Jersey’s Beneficence and Boston’s Confidence made a great team here, celebrating the essence of golden-era beats and rhymes whilst injecting their own personalities into the music. A long line of guest artists also complimented the album’s true-school vibe, including El Da Sensei, Craig G and Chubb Rock.

Ka – “A Martyr’s Reward” (BrownsvilleKa.Com) – At this point, highlighting Ka’s incredible lyrical ability just feels like stating the obvious. The Brooklyn emcee is a truly unique artist and for some time his only real competition has been himself, with each of his releases setting the bar even higher for what we can expect to come from his pen. The largely self-produced “A Martyr’s Reward” was another deep dive into Ka’s life experiences, his thoughts, his hopes and his regrets. This was the work of a genuine poet containing pain and peace in equal measures.

Kaimbr & Sean Born – “Nino Green” (NinoGreen7.BandCamp.Com) – A potent mixture of vividly raw rhymes laced with street-smart swagger and intoxicating production full of uncut vintage soul flavour, this “New Jack City”-influenced collaboration from longstanding Maryland artists Kaimbr and Sean Born was as fly as a 1988 Dapper Dan sweatsuit with a matching Kangol. Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes. I. Am.

Heist Life – “Heist New York” (HeistLife.BandCamp.Com) – Ty Da Dale, Sauce Heist and Baby Maine repped for the Rotten Apple with pride on this short-but-effective EP, evoking images of rattling subway trains, street-corner ciphers and scuffed Timberlands over production from Spanish Ran, Nes and Wavy Da Ghawd.

Vandal Savage & Sonnyjim – “Sauvage” (IAmVandalSavage.BandCamp.Com) – Nottingham’s very own Bic Master Vandal Savage leaned heavily into the luxury loops supplied by Sonnyjim throughout this release, with his conversational delivery overflowing with lyrical jewels, life observations and witty punchlines. With appearances from Da Flyy Hooligan, Juga-Naut and Sonnyjim himself adding further verbal weight to the project. “Sauvage” was a laidback lesson in how to craft understated hardcore Hip-Hop.

N.R.F.S. – “N.R.F.S.” (NRFS.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago’s Neak, Rashid Hadee, F.A.B.L.E. and Since9ine6ix joined forces on this impressive collabo album as “uncrowned kings on the underground sharing thrones”, with all four artists bringing their best to the table, complimenting each other’s styles and putting together a potent showcase of undeniable Windy City talent.

Check Part Five here.

100 Favourite Albums & EPs Of 2021 (Part Three) – Evidence / Children Of Zeus / Arrested Development etc.

Check Part One and Part Two.

Ca$ablanca x The Mali Empire – “Xtreme Xcellence” (Casablanca92fs.BandCamp.Com) – Dallas, Texas-based emcee Ca$ablanca has been dropping gems for a number of years now, but this Mali Empire-produced album may just have been his finest moment yet. Featuring the likes of Ray Vendetta, YNX716 and Nowaah The Flood, “Xtreme Xcellence” was packed with hard-hitting, precise lyricism delivered over a sublime selection of sample-driven tracks.

AZ – “Doe Or Die II” (QuietMoneyDirect.Com) – The idea of the ‘sequel album’ has become something of a cliché amongst golden-era rap artists. Some have seen the light of day. Some have remained unexecuted concepts destined only to be repeatedly mentioned during interviews. Some have succeeded. Some have failed. Thankfully, Brooklyn’s ever-consistent AZ managed to live up to the hype surrounding this follow-up to his 1995 debut, matching his slick, street-savvy verses with an experienced perspective and smoothed-out production from the likes of Bink!, Baby Paul and Pete Rock.

Milano x Showbiz – “Eating But Still Hungry” (MilanoxShowbiz.BandCamp.Com) – Any release coming from the Diggin’ In The Crates camp brings with it a high level of expectation from fans. Understandably, there’s a certain level of quality expected from members of the crew who really did it for the culture and became one of the most dominant forces in East Coast Hip-Hop. Milano and Showbiz rose to that challenge in no uncertain terms on this album packed with swaggering Rotten Apple attitude, skills sharpened in unforgiving street-corner ciphers and dope, dusty-fingered beats.

Kev Brown & J Scienide – “Stray From The Pack” (KevBrown.BandCamp.Com) – Following up their impressive 2019 collaboration “Drum Machine Tape Cassette”, DMV duo Kev Brown and J Scienide offered up another collection of loose, spontaneous sounding beats and rhymes inspired by both a love of the art and the satisfaction of making the competition feel inadequate. B-boy basement flavour.

The Primeridian & Rashid Hadee – “Prime Diesel” (RashidHadee.BandCamp.Com) – A product of Chicago’s rich underground scene, this collaboration between veteran duo The Primeridian and fellow Windy City representative Rashid Hadee was a shining example of top-tier beat science and carefully crafted lyricism. With additional production from Tall Black Guy and featured artists such as Thaione Davis, Pugs Atomz and Philmore Greene, this album captured a lot of talent at their very best.

Flashius Clayton x Jster – “The Dust Diary” (25NoteDope.BandCamp.Com) – A naturally gifted emcee, Cali’s Flashius Clayton was firing on all cylinders here, with his usual high-standard of lyrical expertise accompanied by the dark, hypnotic beats of West Coast producer Jster. An atmospheric dose of rough, rugged and raw Hip-Hop. As Doug E. Fresh once said, play this only at night.

Khrysis – “The Hour Of Khrysis” (JamlaRecords.Com) – Featuring a diverse selection of artists, from golden-era greats De La Soul and Hiero legend Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, to Compton’s Problem and Jamla Records own Reuben Vincent, this long-awaited album from Away Team / Soul Council producer Khrysis was firmly held together by the North Carolina music man’s sonic creativity. Drawing the most out of his list of collaborators thanks to the masterful, carefully constructed soundscapes on offer, Khrysis succeeded in stamping his own personality all over this release, complimenting the variety of emcees and vocalists included here rather than being overshadowed by them.

Vic Spencer – “Legend Laws Of Power” (SupaSounds.BandCamp.Com) – The last few years has been a relentless period of productivity for Chicago’s Vic Spencer, with the talented emcee dropping four albums in 2021 alone. “Legend Laws Of Power” found Spencer teaming-up with Chi-town producer Original Super Legend, delivering his barbed punchlines over strong beats, making it abundantly clear how unimpressed he’s been with the so-called opposition.

Nas – “King’s Disease II” (MassAppeal.Com) – Aside from a few tracks, I wasn’t a big fan of the first “King’s Disease” album. I just didn’t connect with it. This follow-up, however, prompted a totally different reaction. Aside from a couple of misplaced tracks I felt this was an inspired piece of work, with Nas and Hit-Boy really hitting their stride as a creative partnership. The Queensbridge legend sounded relaxed and focused here, embracing his elder statesman status and reminiscing on the experiences that shaped him, whilst still clearly looking towards the future.

L-Biz & Castle Money Beats – “The Cool Table LP” (IStayBizzy.Com) – Backed by the solid, melodic production of California’s Castle Money Beats, Buffalo, NY’s L-Biz encouraged artists and listeners alike not to conform and follow trends in order to have a place at “the cool table”, but instead walk your own path and carve out your own niche as an individual. Head-nodding Hip-Hop that was guaranteed to have a positive impact on your confidence levels and self-esteem.

Arrested Development – “For The FKN Love” (OfficialArrestedDevelopment.BandCamp.Com) – Powerful. Uplifting. Needed. Just a few of the words that could be used to describe this epic album from the longstanding Arrested Development crew. Largely produced by the UK’s Configa, who matched Speech’s motivational verses with some rousing work behind the boards, this was ultimately a positive album with a realistic outlook that was further enhanced by appearances from the likes of Masta Ace, Freddie Foxxx and Big Daddy Kane. Music to feed your Hip-Hop soul in today’s unsettled times.

DJ Nappa – “Redress” (DJNappa.BandCamp.Com) – A veteran of the UK Hip-Hop scene, Phi-Life Cypher’s Nappa dropped a stellar instrumental release for the We Stay True label which found the Luton-based producer upping the creative ante and moving in potentially unexpected directions, whilst remaining clear about his artistic vision at all-times. Steering away from typical boom-bap territory, “Redress” encapsulated a variety of styles, whilst capturing Nappa’s genuine passion for the art of making music.

Evidence – “Unlearning Vol. 1” (MisterEvidence.BandCamp.Com) – As a fan, the growth and evolution shown by West Coast emcee-slash-producer Evidence over the years has been a joy to behold (and hear). From his keep-it-underground approach in the 90s as a member of Dilated Peoples, to the more personal content of his solo albums, through to his instrumental work, Evidence has consistently moved forward whilst remaining rooted in his Hip-Hop foundations. “Unlearning Vol. 1” represented yet another important step in the right direction, with Evidence dropping timely lyrical gems over carefully selected production from the likes of The Alchemist, Nottz and Daringer.

Children Of Zeus – “Balance” (ChildrenOfZeus.BandCamp.Com) – To describe this sophomore album from Manchester’s Children Of Zeus as being a masterpiece would definitely be no overstatement. Having already appeared to have perfected their blend of soul and Hip-Hop on previous releases, Konny Kon and Tyler Daley refined their sonic aesthetic even further on “Balance”, reaching higher heights of creative perfection that transcended typical categorization. This was spiritual music that existed in its own unique time and place.

Awon & Phoniks – “Nothing Less” (AwonAndPhoniks.Com) – A partnership whose chemistry clearly points to them being destined to make music together, Virginia / Maine duo Awon & Phoniks came correct once again on their fourth long-player, effortlessly bringing together personal, socially-aware rhymes and strong production packed with sublime soul and jazz samples.

Guilty Simpson & Gensu Dean – “EGO” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com) – Detroit’s Guilty Simpson has built a career on straight-no-chaser verses full of been-there-done-that life observations and cautionary street knowledge. Simpson offered more of the same on this collaboration with esteemed producer Gensu Dean, who provided the Motor City emcee with a raw, stripped-down collection of beats over which to reassert his position in the rap game.

Confucius MC – “Somewhere” (YNRProductions.BandCamp.Com) – London’s Confucius MC really took listeners on a lyrical journey throughout this album. Where was the destination? Well, that was largely down to your interpretation of the cerebral rhymes on offer here, which contained splashes of nostalgia, present day commentary and depictions of an uncertain future. The jazz-influenced production of France’s Keor Meteor fully complimented the UK emcee’s musings, with appearances from the likes of Jehst, Sonnyjim and Verbz adding to the overall feel of the album.

El Da Sensei & Jake Palumbo – “Solving Cases” (SpaceLABRecordings.BandCamp.Com) – Buoyed by a real sense of momentum and energy, this collaboration between Artifacts legend El Da Sensei and NY’s Jake Palumbo was full of upbeat joints powered by punchy, drum-heavy production and true-school lyricism. With appearances from Sadat X, John Robinson and Shabaam Sahdeeq, this album had the feel of a lively cipher session at times, with everyone involved clearly on a mission to celebrate Hip-Hop.

Ambassador Rick – “The Tape Nobody Made” (TheOpioidEra.BandCamp.Com) – One-third of Virginia’s Opioid Era crew, Ambassador Rick continued the group’s tradition of crafting uncompromising, emotionally-charged street music on this solo release. Bridging the gap between raw and righteous, Rick combined verbal grit with moments of genuine reflection, all delivered over vintage soul samples and smooth loops.

Snaggapuss & Ramzee – “Bronx Dundee” (RapRecordsAU.BandCamp.Com) – Veteran NY emcee Snaggapuss joined forces with Australian producer Ramzee for this hardcore-yet-entertaining album, with the former member of Doo Wop’s Bounce Squad utilising his inimitable flow to deliver punchline-heavy rhymes laced with humour over satisfyingly sparse, stripped-down beats.

Part Four coming soon.

Dynamite Grooves Beat Tape Stream – Dynamite Willie


Smooth, laidback beats from the Chicago-based producer.

New Joint – Vic Spencer & Sonnyjim / Rim

Vic Spencer & Sonnyjim ft. Rim – “Opp Anthem” (@VicSpencer / @Sonnyjim01 / 2021)

Smooth-and-deadly flavour from the fourth instalment of the US / UK duo’s “Spencer For Higher” album series dropping later this week.

New Joint – Prox Centauri

Prox Centauri – “Leitmotifs” (ProxCentauri.BandCamp.Com / 2021)

Powerful, thought-provoking rhymes from talented Flint, Michigan emcee Prox Centauri’s new album “Mending What’s Broken: Odes For Stalwart Days & Fearless Nights”.

Mending What’s Broken: Odes For Stalwart Days & Fearless Nights Album Stream – Prox Centauri

Flint, Michigan’s Prox Centauri showcases his talent for penning sincere, thoughtful, life-affirming rhymes on this thoroughly engaging and expertly-executed album release.

New Joint – Rita J / DJ RTST

Rita J ft. DJ RTST – “Bussin'” (RitaJ.BandCamp.Com / 2021)

Timeless true-school flavour from Chicago artist Rita J’s impressive Neak-produced album “The High Priestess”.

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2020 (Part Five) – REKS / Verb T & Illinformed / Tracey Lee etc.

Check Part One, Part Two, Part Three & Part Four.

REKS – “T.H.I.N.G.S.” (GetOnDown.Com) – Massachusetts-based microphone fiend REKS has been one of the game’s most consistent emcees for the past twenty years.  This impressive release contained more powerful poetry from the skilled lyricist, delving deep into both personal experience and commentary on the world around us, with production from the likes of Nottz, Statik Selektah and Apollo Brown adding further weight to the thought-provoking bars.

Him Lo – “SLAPYAGODDAMNFACEOFF” (GrilchyParty.BandCamp.Com) – One-half of Philadelphia’s mighty Buze Bruvaz, lyrical brawler Him Lo dropped yet another fine selection of rugged, politically-incorrect Hip-Hop, packed with rambunctious, head-cracking rhymes and tough beats. A blend of fresh material and older cuts, this project proved that Lo’s style is timeless like a new pair of wheat-coloured Timberlands.

Verb T & Illinformed – “The Land Of The Foggy Skies” (High-Focus.Com) – A worthy follow-up to their 2015 collaboration “The Man With The Foggy Eyes”, UK duo Verb T and Illinformed delivered the goods once again, pairing creative, contemplative rhymes with mesmerizingly melancholy, jazz-influenced beats. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Verb’s multi-layered verses deserve to be studied in schools as they’re pure poetry.

Boom Bap Babies – “We’ll Fly” (BoomBapBabies.BandCamp.Com) – Birmingham, Alabama-based producer / emcee duo RyNea Soul and Shaun Judah mixed uplifting beats with life-affirming rhymes to clear your third-eye vision and vibrate your soul. This was feel-good Hip-Hop with a mission and a message.

Tracey Lee – “Glory” (TraceyLeeMusic.Com) – Veteran Philly emcee Tracey Lee proved that he hadn’t missed a beat since the release of his excellent 1997 debut album, sounding motivated and full of vitality on this Ojizz-produced project, drawing lyrical inspiration from both past experiences and present-day situations. Reflecting on lockdown life during the pandemic, social divisions and daily struggles, Lee injected his rhymes with an energy and spirituality which ultimately gave this album a real sense of hope and optimism.

Roc Marciano – “Mt. Marci” (Fat Beats) – A decade after the release of his game-changing solo album “Marcberg”, Strong Island’s Roc Marciano demonstrated that this underground king’s crown was showing no signs of slipping, with this latest collection of cool-but-deadly cuts boasting plenty of the influential artist’s vivid, larger-than-life wordplay and unique production.

DRS x Redeyes – “Coloured” (MCDRS.BandCamp.Com) – Inspired by the senseless murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, Manchester’s DRS joined forces with French producer Redeyes to record seven tracks over seven days, dropping this powerful EP in July. Poignant and moving, this release was a world-weary work of art that questioned how racism and prejudice can still exist in a so-called ‘civilised’ society. Truly memorable music.

Rasheed Chappell & Buckwild – “Sinners and Saints” (GetOnDown.Com) – A brilliantly-matched partnership, this collabo album from New Jersey’s Rasheed Chappell and Diggin’ In The Crates legend Buckwild sounded like the work of an established duo. Observational, street-savvy rhymes met well-crafted, sample-based beats here, with the pair complimenting each other’s strengths and making some great music in the process.

Neak – “INNENSTADT” (Neak.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago’s Neak offered an engaging, emotionally-charged look at the realities of inner-city living on this largely self-produced release. With assistance from the likes of Philmore Greene, Rashid Hadee and Slot-A, the talented artist painted poignant portraits of the Windy City with a lyrical style that was both subtle and striking.

Arrested Development – “Don’t Fight Your Demons” (OfficialArrestedDevelopment.BandCamp.Com) – Atlanta’s Grammy award-winning collective returned with a timely dose of edutainment, featuring Speech offering soul-stirring opinions on a number of topics, including racism, mental health and mainstream Hip-Hop. With input from UK producer Configa, this album was rooted in the original essence of the Arrested Development sound but with some well-placed contemporary twists.

UFO Fev & Big Ghost Ltd – “The Ghost Of Albizu”  (GourmetDeluxxx.BandCamp.Com) – For his third release of the year, NY’s UFO Fev called on the formidable production skills of the mighty Big Ghost Ltd, with the pair crafting a vibrant example of underground brilliance. 2020 should definitely go down as the year Fev truly stamped his mark on the game, with the previous years of hard-work paying off and translating into a trio of projects that really hit the target.

Ka – “Descendants Of Cain” (BrownsvilleKa.Com) – Brooklyn’s Ka is like a Hip-Hop monk who every now and then comes down from his mountaintop monastery to bestow wisdom and greatness upon his followers, before once again retreating to an existence of meditation and solitude. This latest effort was a haunting collection of intricately-crafted verses packed with streetwise rhymes laced with tragedy, struggle and triumph. The time and hardwork Ka puts into his music is obvious, yet the end results appear effortless.

Benny The Butcher – “Burden Of Proof” (BennyTheButcherStore.Com) – When Griselda’s Butcher said on this album that 2019 was about branding but 2020 was about expanding, he wasn’t joking. The Buffalo trio of Westside Gunn, Conway and Benny had an incredible year, with the Hit Boy-produced “Burden Of Proof” arguably standing as the crew’s strongest release during that period. Benny’s swaggering, voice-of-experience rhymes highlighted both sides of the street game with sincerity, whilst Hit Boy’s production exceeded all expectations. The Butcher coming!

Breis – “Arise & Shine” (MrBreis.Com) – This EP from veteran London-based lyricist Breis was all about positive, uplifting vibes whilst still acknowledging real-life issues and personal struggles. Utilising a diverse selection of production styles from the likes of Keith Lawrence and Artcha, the lively emcee delivered the messages in his music with flair and originality.

Bub Styles x Ace Fayce – “Very Sucio, Muy Picante” (BubStylesBK.BandCamp.Com) – This album from NYC’s Bub Styles sounded like a late-night walk through the streets of Brooklyn to buy blunts from that store that’s always open and always has a crew of Polo-wearing hard-rocks posted up outside. Rough, rugged and raw, the gravel-voiced Styles pummelled Fayce’s moody production here, with the likes of Estee Nack, UFO Fev and Rome Streetz offering lyrical assistance.

Supreme Cerebral x D.Mar – “Soul Trained” (BugzyNino17.BandCamp.Com) – West Coast wordsmith Supreme Cerebral took aim at fellow Cali representative D.Mar’s vintage soul loops and unleashed a barrage of lyrical darts on this well-crafted album. Lush strings, emotionally-charged vocal samples and mellow vibes provided the perfect accompaniment to Cerebral’s razor-sharp delivery.

Untouchable$ – “Untouchable$” (NowaahTheFlood7.BandCamp.Com) – A potent collaboration between underground heavyweights Nowaah The Flood, Ca$ablanca, Kincee and Jay Holly, this Untouchable$ project was the sound of four skilled emcees building off the energy of one another and elevating their skills to even greater heights in the process. Featuring production from the likes of B-Sun, Kurse and Karnate, this project was a sonic monument to the art of lyricism.

LEX & Buck – “Let Go!” (LEXNYRE.BandCamp.Com) – A true student of the game, Queens, NY’s LEX returned with yet another quality project, this time produced by Cali-raised, New York-based music man Buck. LEX’s combination of relatable rhymes and streetwise bravado always makes you feel like you’re listening to one of your boys who’s passed through to kick it for a few, and the tone of this release was no different.

Revenge Of The Truence & Jack Diggs – “Midnight Run” (JackDiggs.BandCamp.Com) – Known for his crate-digging expertise, the UK’s Jack Diggs blessed NYC’s Revenge Of The Truence with an impeccable selection of atmospheric, late-night loops and head-nodding drums on this brilliant release. 2020 was a busy year for MuGGz and Tay Dayne, with the Harlem duo dropping a number of projects. But this gem definitely stood-out as one of their best.

eMCee Killa & Think – “Foreign Ties” (eMCeeKillaHipHop.BandCamp.Com) – No stranger to topical, hard-hitting lyricism, both in his work as a member of UK crew Caxton Press and his solo material, this album from London’s eMCee Killa provided more of the same, with Canadian producer Think supplying some uncompromisingly hardcore beats to bolster the fiery rhymes found here.

 

Where I’m At EP Stream – Kenautis Smith x lyfestile

Engaging, topical rhymes and stirring, soul-drenched production from St. Louis-based label Something Wonderful Records.

New Joint – Aurora Borealis / James Earl Bonez

Aurora Borealis ft. James Earl Bonez – “Raw Image” (SupaSounds.BandCamp.Com / 2020)

Taken off the recent “Elephant Boat” album from Chicago-raised emcee / producer duo Race Bannon and Original Super Legend.

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.

cappo-cover

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.

nolan-cover

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.

levitical-cover

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.

New Joint – Jazz Spastiks & Mello Soul Black

Jazz Spastiks & Mello Soul Black – “Midnight Mode” (@JazzSpastiks / 2017)

Mellow, head-nodding vibes on this UK / US collabo cut.

New Joint – DJ Tekwun / Precise

DJ Tekwun ft. Precise – “That Ol’ Boom Bap” (@DJTekwun / 2016)

NY / Chicago collabo off Tekwun’s compilation release “The Boom Bap Project”.

New Joint – Apollo Brown & Skyzoo / Joell Ortiz

Apollo Brown & Skyzoo ft. Joell Ortiz – “A Couple Dollars” (@MelloMusicGroup / 2016)

Taken from the Detroit / NY duo’s highly-anticipated album “The Easy Truth”.

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 – Kwote One

Kwote One – “Testin The Line” (@KwoteOne / 2015)

Instrospective, soulful boom-bap from the Chicago emcee’s new album “Kwality Over Kwantity”.

New Joint – Shay D / DISL Automatic / DJ Shorty

Shay D & DISL Automatic ft. DJ Shorty – “Justice For _____” (@ShayDRap / @DISL_Automatic / 2015)

London-meets-Chicago with the two emcees trading verses for this blistering attack on police corruption and brutality.

New Joint – Kwote One

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Kwote One ft. Kwote1 – “2 vs 1” (@KwoteOne / 2015)

Kwote One of Chicago’s Tunnel Movement drops a solo gem with this Cystic-produced concept track, which finds the Windy City wordsmith rhyming back-to-back using both his present day style and his ‘old’ microphone techniques.

New Joint – Jelani Lateef

Jelani Lateef – “Manhood Talk” (@JayLateef / 2015)

The Chicago wordsmith drops forceful, poignant rhymes from his self-produced project “Cold Days & Dark Nights”.