J-Live – “Money And Power” (@RealJLive / 2019)
Words of wisdom from the ever-consistent NY-raised emcee’s latest release “At The Date Of This Writing Vol. 2”.
J-Live – “Money And Power” (@RealJLive / 2019)
Words of wisdom from the ever-consistent NY-raised emcee’s latest release “At The Date Of This Writing Vol. 2”.
J-Live – “Eleven Nine” (@RealJLive / 2016)
In the wake of Trump’s election win, the NY-raised wordsmith delivers some timely rhymes on this self-produced cut off his forthcoming “At The Date Of This Writing (Vol. 1)” project.
Oddisee – “The Good Fight” (Mello Music Group) – As much an insight into the struggles and emotional conflicts of an independent musician as it was a study of the human experience, this brilliant album from producer-on-the-mic Oddisee found the Maryland music man crafting a project that was grand in its intentions without being pretentious or self-absorbed. Full of real heart and soul, “The Good Fight” was both honest and life-affirming. A true artistic triumph.
Ockz – “The Stuyvesant Chronicles” (Ockz.BandCamp.Com) – It could be argued that this project from Brooklyn’s Ockz was more a mixtape than a finished album considering it featured the emcee rhyming straight over untouched classics from the likes of Bob James, 24 Carat Black and David Axelrod. But “The Stuyvesant Chronicles” was so well executed, that to simply label it as a mixtape may give the impression that it was a disposable, here-today-gone-tomorrow release. When in fact, this was essential listening for fans of raw New York straight talk.
MNSR Frites – “The River Wandle” (MNSRFrites.BandCamp.Com) – Granville Sessions member Frites went for dolo on this impressive release, with the London lyricist dropping verses filled with dry humour and wit over chunky, largely jazz-infused production from Sam Zircon, Krang, Mr. Slipz and more.
Vursatyl – “Crooked Straights” (BBE Music) – A concept album of sorts aiming to balance the two sides of Vursatyl’s personality, the Polo-wearing, ego-driven rapper and the more thoughtful husband and father, “Crooked Straights” proved that, whichever aspect of his character the Portland, Oregon wordsmith chose to display, his prowess on the microphone remained consistently impressive. Backed by a quality selection of full- bodied beats ranging from melodic Dilla-influenced soundscapes to raw, dusty-fingered boom-bap, the Blackalicious affiliate managed to carry on golden-era
tradition whilst remaining free enough to still push creative boundaries.
Your Old Droog – “Kinison” (Droog Recordings) – A loosely rock-themed effort from the Brooklyn representative, “Kinison” found Droog following-up his 2014 success with another dose of pure, unadulterated wordplay, lacing production from DJ Skizz, El RTNC and Marco Polo with seemingly effortless displays of creative lyricism, packed with vivid imagery and deadpan wit.
Flame Griller – “II” (Flamegriller.BandCamp.Com) – Talented, down-to-earth and ultimately likeable, this West Yorkshire trio crafted a sample-driven rough diamond of an album for their sophomore effort. Covering both amusing and poignant subject matter in a way that made the listener feel as if they were involved in a conversation between close friends, this British crew occupied their own creative space within the UK scene by remaining honest and true to themselves at all times.
LostPoet & Kincee – “Golden Calf – Special Edition” (IronBlade Music Group) – Originally dropping on New Year’s Eve 2014, this impressive collaborative effort from Cali wordsmith LostPoet and Louisiana-raised rhymer Kincee was given the re-release treatment late-2015 with bonus cuts. Featuring heavy-mental lyricism delivered over atmospheric boom-bap from the likes of Giallo Point, PhybaOptikz and Vic Grimes, “Golden Calf” stood as a strong example of intelligent, creative street music.
BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – “Sour Soul” (Lex Records) – Wu-Tang icon Ghostface’s collabo with Canadian band BADBADNOTGOOD was a musically rich, lyrically vivid collection of suspenseful tracks that felt like the Wally Champ had stumbled across the soundtrack to an unreleased James Bond-influenced 70s blaxploitation flick. Further proof (if it was needed) that Ghost remains one of the game’s most consistent emcees, “Sour Soul” added another chamber to the Shaolin representative’s already bulletproof discography.
Scor-zay-zee – “Aeon: Peace To The Puzzle” (Scorzilla.Com) – To describe this project from veteran Nottingham emcee Scor-zay-zee as being ‘long-awaited’ or ‘heavily-anticipated’ was, in this instance, no overstatement. Since his 90s debut as a member of OutDaVille, Scorz has stood as one of the UK’s most talented lyricists. Clocking in at a mammoth 28-tracks, this double-album more than lived up to expectations, with the Notts artist delivering intricately-crafted, multi-layered verses over impeccable production from the likes of The P Brothers, Juga-Naut and DJ Fever.
Joey Bada$$ – “B4.Da.$$ (Cinematic Music Group) – Backed by production from the likes of DJ Premier, Freddie Joachim and J Dilla, Brooklyn young gun Joey Bada$$ went some way to bridging Hip-Hop’s generation gap with his official debut album, drawing on sonic 90s influences for inspiration whilst ensuring his lyrical content reflected the present day by incorporating sincere sentiments and personal observations into the music. BK all day.
Starvin B – “7 Train Lungs” (Top Shelf Muzik) – Capturing the raw, authentic essence of Rotten Apple Hip-Hop without having to continuously talk about ‘bringing New York back’, for the third of his four 2015 releases Starvin B teamed-up with talented producer Seasra23, with the fellow Queens resident pairing the lyrical NY attitude on offer here with a quality selection of unique, memorable beats.
Dirt Platoon – “Bare Face Robbery” (Effiscienz) – Baltimore’s Raf Almighty and Snook Da Crook delivered the sonic equivalent of a heavy-handed right-hook to the domepiece with this rugged blast of gritty East Coast black-hoodie rap. Combining thunderous beats with their gruff lyrical styles, the duo personified the term ‘hardcore’ throughout this project. Music to scuff your Timberlands to.
Jeepz & Kay Flow – “Future Nostalgia” (KayFlow.BandCamp.Com) – West Coast emcee Kay Flow joined forces with Canadian producer Jeepz to deliver a solid combination of intelligent lyricism and quality beats , with “Future Nostalgia” living up to its title by effectively drawing inspiration from Hip-Hop’s golden-era whilst capturing what the music and culture still have to offer.
Stig Of The Dump – “Kubrick” (Lewis Recordings) – Self-proclaimed “international man of leisure” Stig Of The Dump veered between larger-than-life arrogance and access-all-areas self-deprecation on his latest effort, with “Kubrick” possessing an emotional edge that made the listener feel as if the UK emcee had really taken you on a sonic journey by the time the album’s final track faded away.
William Cooper – “God’s Will” (Gemstarr Regime) – New Jersey-based Black Market Militia member Cooper called on lyrical allies such as Pace Won, Planet Asia and the late Sean Price to help wake-up those still sleep-walking through the Matrix on this BP-produced album. Razor-sharp rhymes met rugged soundscapes throughout this project, ensuring “God’s Will” stood-out as one of 2015’s most intense listening experiences.
J-Live – “How Much Is Water?” (Mortier Music) – The second full-length project from the NY-raised, Atlanta-based emcee to drop in 2015, “How Much Is Water?” found J-Live once again dropping clever, thought-provoking verses over an eclectic selection of self-produced tracks.
Apollo Brown – “Grandeur” (Mello Music Group) – Featuring a varied line-up of guest emcees, including M.O.P., Ras Kass and Eternia, “Grandeur” effectively showcased the musical prowess of Detroit’s Apollo Brown, with the Motor City native pulling together the many voices heard here with his trademark brand of drum-heavy, soul-laced production, resulting in a cohesive, head-nodding package.
Verb T & Illinformed – “The Man With The Foggy Eyes” (High Focus Records) – Long considered one of the UK’s most talented emcees, this Illinformed-produced project from Verb T further reinforced that status amongst his fans. Perceptive, self-aware, honest, humourous and more, the Four Owls member covered plenty of creative ground on this sterling effort.
Jack Diggs – “Blue Rain” (Revorg Records) – Having already become something of a cult figure within UK Hip-Hop circles thanks to both his solo work (2013’s impressive “Dirty Finger Nails” album) and contributions to the output of South London’s TPS Fam, Diggs’ latest long-player was a sublime slice of homegrown excellence. More than just a collection of quality tracks, “Blue Rain” was a cohesive, well-crafted body of work that offered listeners a striking, down-to-earth musical snapshot of life for many in today’s modern Britain.
Venomous2000 – “Will To Power” (Venomous2000.BandCamp.Com) – Positive energy activates constant elevation. That appeared to be the overall message behind New Jersey emcee Venomous2000’s ninth full-length solo album. Thoughtful, intelligent and sincere, “Will To Power” succeeded in its aim to enrich the lives of those who heard it, with Venomous2000 presenting himself as an artist who firmly believes in the power Hip-Hop has to have a lasting, beneficial impact on its audience.
Part Five coming soon.
NY-raised, Atlanta-based microphone vet J-Live drops science on both his career so-far and his relationship with Hip-Hop.
J-Live ft. Ekundayo – “Microphone Stamina” (@RealJLive / 2015)
Second release from the talented emcee’s forthcoming self-produced album “How Much Is Water?”.
J-Live – “Pay It Forward” (MortierMusic.BandCamp.Com / 2015)
The NY-raised emcee delivers a funky dose of positive self-determination from his forthcoming self-produced album “His Own Self”.
J-Live – “Red & The Kid” (@RealJLive / 2015)
The NY-raised artist pays homage to the radio and mixtape deejays who provided the soundtrack to his youth on this latest leak from his forthcoming self-produced album “His Own Self”.
J-Live – “I Just Don’t” (RealJLive / 2015)
Two decades after his debut as part of the mid-90s indie rap explosion, the multi-talented J-Live drops a playfully defiant track off his forthcoming self-produced album “His Own Self”.
It can’t be denied that 2014 was a great year for quality Hip-Hop. When I initially sat down to start putting together Old To The New’s annual 52 Best Albums & EPs list, it soon became clear that staying with that format would mean having to leave out a large amount of releases that I’ve had in heavy rotation over the last twelve months.
Another reason for wanting to highlight just how many worthwhile albums and EPs dropped in 2014 was to prove a point to those who still insist there just isn’t a notable amount of good music being released today. There are still plenty of talented emcees, deejays and producers across the globe who’re busy in their respective labs, meticulously crafting beats and rhymes in the hope that those of us who say we’re looking for high-standard Hip-Hop will take the time to listen.
As always, by no means am I presenting this as the definitive list of 2014 releases. In today’s internet-era, it’s impossible for anyone to say they’ve heard everything that’s worth listening to. No matter how much time you spend online listening to music, there will always be a dope project out there from someone, somewhere on Planet Rock that you won’t yet have heard of. The search is never-ending.
So, with all that being said, here are the albums and EPs that kept my head nodding throughout 2014…
TPS Fam – “Hot Water Music” (Revorg Records) – Finding creative inspiration in the mundane aspects of the daily grind, Jack Diggs, Big Toast and Strange Neighbour crafted a brilliant, sample-driven soundtrack for the working-class Hip-Hop fan. Balancing dreams and aspirations with day-jobs and overdue bills, the UK trio delivered down-to-earth rhymes with passion and sincerity, encouraging us all to make every day count whilst promoting their motto of “living like kings on a tight budget.”
Starvin B – “Blood From A Stone” (Goblin Music) – The first of two projects released by the talented Queens, NY resident in 2014, the One-Take-produced “Blood From A Stone” showcased the Rotten Apple rhymer as being a true student of the lyrical arts. Packing his vivid verses with gritty imagery, raw humour and witty wordplay, Starvin B let his personality shine throughout this project, with the likes of Spit Gemz, Tragedy Khadafi and Foul Monday on-hand to fill some well-placed guest spots.
Ray West & OC – “Ray’s Cafe” (RedApples45) – Proving that true talent really is timeless, two decades after the release of his classic debut album “Word…Life”, Diggin’ In The Crates legend OC teamed-up with Bronx producer Ray West to serve hungry Hip-Hop customers with this appetising platter of flawless lyricism and warm, soulful production. What’s next on the menu?
Stu Bangas & Blacastan – “Watson & Holmes” (Brutal Music) – Joining forces with producer Stu Bangas, Connecticut emcee Blacastan retained his reputation as one of the rap game’s most consistent artists with the release of this abrasive, hard-hitting album. Backed by Stu’s cinematic, drama-laced beats, the AOTP member delivered his usual high standard of raw rhyming, with brothers-in-arms Esoteric, Vinnie Paz and Apathy each taking a turn to help crush the competition.
String Theory – “String Theory” (Mic Theory Records) – Breaking the periodic table of poetry down to its very last compound, Florida’s Hex One (of the duo Epidemic) and Swiss producer B.B.Z. Darney came together to “swallow planets and freeze suns”, combining inter-dimensional mic techniques with rocket-fuelled boom-bap beats as they pondered both the laws of the universe and the art of rap.
DJ JS-1 – “It Is What It Isn’t” (Ground Original) – Veteran NY turntablist and long-standing Rock Steady Crew member JS-1 enlisted the help of a lengthy list of talented lyricists for his fourth collection of underground science. From golden-era icons such as Sadat X, KRS-One and X-Clan’s Brother J, to more recently established wordsmiths like Spit Gemz, Fashawn and Rasheed Chappell, “It Is What It Isn’t” effectively bridged the gap between the old and the new with impressive results.
Union Blak – “Union Blak Friday” (Effiscienz) – US-born emcee Kimba and UK beatsmith Sir Williams joined forces with France’s Effiscienz label to deliver a solid, succinct debut album. Demonstrating their shared passion for Hip-Hop with positive, upbeat rhymes and melodic production, the duo made it clear throughout “Union Blak Friday” that their aim is to add on to the culture rather than simply take from it.
J-Live – “Around The Sun” (Mortier Music) – There may not be anything new under the sun, but there’s still plenty of quality music to be found. Case in point, veteran NY-raised, ATL-based emcee J-Live’s seventh album release, which found the accomplished wordsmith delivering the clever, intelligent lyricism fans have come to rely on him for over production from Oddisee, Audible Doctor and DJ Spinna.
Souls Of Mischief / Adrian Younge – “There Is Only Now” (Linear Labs) – A concept album set in 1994 involving jealous emcees, kidnapping and revenge, “There Is Only Now” found the Souls Of Mischief members weaving intricate, story-telling rhymes around the live, drum-heavy musicianship of the talented Adrian Younge, resulting in an epic Hip-Hop tale which contained more drama than an episode of “The Wire”.
Es – “Aspire To Inspire” (Essenchill Records) – Inviting everyone along on his quest for self-improvement, Canadian emcee Es’s second full-length project lived up to its lofty title in no uncertain terms. Packed with full-bodied production and uplifting rhymes about everything from fatherhood and relationships to self-worth and striving to maintain a positive mental attitude, it was near impossible to play this album and not feel better about life whilst listening.
Skyzoo & Torae – “Barrel Brothers” (First Generation Rich / Internal Affairs) – Self-confessed “products of Albee Square Mall” and Brooklyn-based brothers-from-other-mothers, Skyzoo and Torae came together to create one of the best examples of pure emceeing you were likely to hear in 2014. With bold deliveries and painstakingly well-crafted verses, the two BK lyricists sparred with each other over heavyweight production from the likes of Illmind and DJ Premier, each proving why their place among NY’s long line of noteworthy mic controllers is well-deserved. No frills, just skills.
Figub Brazlevic – “Train Yards” (FigubBrazlevic.BandCamp.Com) – Having already demonstrated his undeniable production skills via his work with the Man Of Booom crew, this instrumental EP release from Berlin’s Brazlevic blended head-nodding beats with jazzy samples and well-placed vocal snippets, creating a spell-binding project with plenty of musical depth and soul.
Confidence Presents… – “Confidence Presents GDot & Born Featuring Edo.G” (Audible Con Records) – Building on his already strong reputation as one of today’s most consistent producers, the talented Confidence orchestrated this true-school gem of an album which bridged the gap between the Boston Hip-Hop scene’s past and present. Relative newcomers GDot & Born shared mic time with Beantown vet Edo.G throughout this project, with all three emcees delivering positive messages mixed with b-boy bravado over Confidence’s quality brand of crisp, boom-bap beats.
Parallax – “Depth Perception” (ParallaxOfficialStore.BandCamp.Com) – The upcoming UK artist proved he’s as nice behind the boards as he is behind the microphone with the release of this succinct, largely self-produced EP. Utilising solid drums and dusty samples, Parallax waxed lyrical about a number of topics, dropping punchline-heavy food-for-thought on the state of Hip-Hop, media manipulation and the British justice system. Mental stamina, indeed.
Prince Po & Oh No – “Animal Serum” (Wandering Worx / Green Streets Entertainment) – Staying true to his claim of “having a lotta jewels, but don’t gotta wear a chain”, Organized Konfusion’s Prince Po administered a new brand of musical medicine to the Hip-Hop faithful with the welcome assistance of West Coast producer Oh No. Tackling a number of modern-day issues with typically dense, multi-layered lyricism, Po succeeded in soothing the suffering of all free-thinkers who find themselves trapped inside the Matrix.
Early Reed & J Scienide – “The Dose (The MFN Files)” (J-Scienide.BandCamp.Com) – Whilst putting the finishing touches to his own impressive 2014 releases, Low Budget’s Kev Brown found time to get behind this EP from his two fellow Washington D.C.-based crew members. With Reed demonstrating his mastery of the SP and Scienide proving himself to be a formidable talent on the mic, “The Dose (The MFN Files)” gave listeners a potent shot of pure Hip-Hop.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – “Pinata” (Madlib Invazion) – Arguably the greatest mix of raw gangsta rhymes and dope breaks since Brad Jordan joined forces with the Rap-A-Lot production squad for his 1991 debut solo album, Gary, Indiana native Gibbs’ drawling delivery sounded right at home over Madlib’s range of random sample material, resulting in an album that covered a variety of moods, from the soothing and laidback to the dramatic and urgent. Witness the strength of street knowledge.
Akrobatik – “Built To Last” (Playaktion Recordings) – Returning to the rap game after surviving emergency heart surgery in 2011, the title of Boston veteran Akrobatik’s third full-length solo album was as much a statement about enduring personal struggle as it was a comment on his forthright approach to his craft. Balancing content which covered his near-death experience, social commentary and Hip-Hop politics, Ak firmly stood up for his personal principles at a time when so many other artists are busy chasing trends and trying desperately to please the masses.
Divine – “Ghetto Rhymin'” (Supreme Records) – Mixing Five Percent terminology with the influence of Rakim and a proud New York state of mind, Brooklyn’s Divine proved himself to be a true product of his environment on his latest project, taking it back to a time when Rotten Apple wordsmiths were more concerned with capturing the essence of the five boroughs in their music rather than allowing their sound to be shaped by outside forces.
Ghostface Killah – “36 Seasons” (Tommy Boy Entertainment) – Fresh from 2013’s “Twelve Reasons To Die” collabo with Adrian Younge, the Wally Champ dove straight into another concept-based project with “36 Seasons”. Based around a story-line that was part 70s blaxploitation flick, part Marvel comic book territory, Ghost was joined by Brooklyn’s AZ and the legendary K00l G. Rap, weaving action-packed tales of love, drama and betrayal over the classic vintage soul thump of NY band The Revelations.
Part Two coming soon.
J-Live – “Around The Sun (Solstice)” / “Eight Minutes” (@RealJLive / 2014)
Taken from the NY-raised, Georgia-based wordsmith’s recent album “Around The Sun”.
Official piano-laced leak from the veteran producer-on-the-mic’s forthcoming instrumental project.
The always-consistent NY-raised emcee offers his thoughts on police corruption with this compelling self-produced track.
J-Live – “Not Listening” (@ReaJLive / 2014)
The veteran emcee calls for the so-called competition to step their rap game up on this Korede-produced track from his recent album “Around The Sun”.
Producer PJ Katz provides the soulful soundscapes on this track from the veteran NY-raised lyricist’s forthcoming album “Around The Sun”.
The talented wordsmith encourages his fellow emcees to put a little more thought into their rhymes on this Korede-produced track from his forthcoming album “Around The Sun”.
J-Live – “Money Matters” (Mortier Music / 2014)
Oddisee-produced track from the talented wordsmith’s forthcoming album “Around The Sun”.