Another year goes by. Another almost endless stream of best-of lists get written and posted on websites, blogs and social media platforms. We agree with some lists. We disagree with most lists. We argue over all the lists. We love lists. We hate lists. Some people believe these lists have value. Some people question the point of even attempting to put such lists together. But remember, a best-of list can’t please everyone and should never try to.
For me, compiling a year-end round-up has never been about claiming to have made a definitive list that covers every release that’s been worthy of attention over a particular twelve month period. That would be impossible.
Instead, a year-end list is just a way of me being able to give a nod of gratitude to as many artists as possible whose music I’ve especially enjoyed. It’s really as simple as that.
So, with that being said, who gets props over here?
Phife Dawg – “Forever” (SmokinNeedles.BigCartel.Com) – Handled with obvious love, patience and care, this album from A Tribe Called Quest legend Phife avoided the shortcomings often associated with posthumous releases, sounding fresh, vibrant and organic. Backed by production from the likes of Nottz, DJ Rasta Root and 9th Wonder, the rhymes from the Five-Foot Assassin ranged from witty, humorous punchlines to moments of genuine reflection and vulnerability, the poignancy of which wasn’t lost on listeners fully aware we were hearing the thoughts and feelings of an individual no longer with us. Ultimately a celebration of the life, career and talent of an artist gone far too soon, “Forever” stood as a fitting (if bittersweet) tribute to a Hip-Hop great whose voice many of us grew-up with in our headphones. Rest in peace Phife Dawg.
Juga-Naut – “Time & Place” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com) – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Nottingham’s Juga-Naut is one of the most constistent and talented artists of the last decade. Since his debut to the present day, Jugz has walked his own path, inspired by a genuine love of the art and an inner drive to be creative. Ten years in the making, this concept-based album was an epic self-produced journey through the UK artist’s many musical and personal influences, resulting in some of the finest beats and rhymes you were likely to hear in 2022 and beyond. A naturally gifted individual, Juga-Naut has repeatedly reached new levels of excellence with each of his releases, and “Time & Place” pushed the bar even higher. The man appears to have no competition but himself.
A.G. – “Giant In The Mental” (FatBeatsRecords.BandCamp.Com) – A true golden-era great, Diggin’ In The Crates favourite Andre The Giant delivered his well-known brand of hardcore lyrical Bronx science throughout this succinct release, accompanied by choice production from DJ Manipulator, Dark Keys and Showbiz. With no guest appearances to be found, A.G. went for dolo on the mic here, giving listeners ample opportunity to fully appreciate both his timeless flow and dedication to his craft over thirty years since he first dropped on wax.
Apollo Brown & Philmore Greene – “Cost Of Living” (MellowMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com) – An authoritative voice of experience speaking from inner-city Chicago, Philmore Greene had already dropped a number of notable projects prior to teaming-up with Detroit boom-bap maestro Apollo Brown, but it quickly became apparent that “Cost Of Living” was some of the Windy City representative’s best work. Bolstered by Apollo’s knocking drums, sweeping strings and soulful vocal snippets, Greene painted detailed verbal pictures of Chicago’s West Side, weaving personal memories, life observations and social commentary into his often sobering verses. This album was the sound of two masters at work.
3 The God Way – “Mount Olympus” (HumbleMonarch.BandCamp.Com) – DMV trio Kaimbr, Sean Born and Let The Dirt Say Amen combined their talents on this quality group album which was full of soul-drenched production, sharp rhymes and appearances from notable names like Kenn Starr, yU and Uptown XO. Evoking images of the threesome passing mics in a basement, chopping it up about world events and local news inbetween unearthing dope loops and spitting competition-crushing rhymes with a casual swagger, “Mount Olympus” was a totally immersive listening experience that pulled you deep into the God zone.
SPNDA x Grubby Pawz – “Oil Can” (CityYardMusic.BandCamp) – Reigniting the creative chemistry heard on 2017’s “Steel Sharpens Steel” and 2018’s “Holographic”, Boston duo SPNDA and Grubby Pawz came together once again to deliver a full-length collection of streetwise rhymes from a balanced perspective coupled with smooth, mellow production. A shining example of the musical magic that can be created when one emcee and one producer lock in together on the same target.
Funky DL – “Still Classic” (FunkyDL.BandCamp.Com) – Twenty five years ago in 1997 prolific UK artist Funky DL dropped his debut album “Classic Was The Day”. In 2022, instead of celebrating the album’s anniversary by simply re-releasing it, the London-raised producer-on-the-mic put together this entertaining concept-based EP full of new music capturing DL’s memories and experiences from those early days in his career.
Farma – “Farma’s £10 Bag Volume 1” (FarmaBeats.BandCamp.Com) – UK Hip-Hop legend Farma of MUD Fam / Task Force fame has kept busy in recent years supplying beats to underground heavyweights such as Mach-Hommy, Rome Streetz, Conway and many more. With this particular compilation release, however, Farma chose to focus on the undeniable amount of talent within the British scene. Homegrown favourites such as Essa, MysDiggi and SonnyJim were on the roll call here, showcasing their skills over stellar sample-driven production.
Jay iLLestrate – “Doctor Jay” (JayiLLestrate.BandCamp.Com) – Cincinnati’s Jay iLLestrate took it to the hoop creatively on this entertaining basketball-influenced album that was packed with accomplished, sometimes quirky lyricism and engaging production from Toonorth, Gatekeeper, Grillo and Prof Logik. A lively mix of personality and talent.
Milano Constantine & Big Ghost Ltd – “Pay The Ghost” (BigGhostLimited.BandCamp.Com) – Over twenty years since his debut, Diggin’ In The Crates affiliate Milano is still carrying on tradition and repping for the 80s / 90s New York he grew-up in with all the pride of a Yankees fan on game day. Teaming-up here with ever-impressive producer Big Ghost Ltd, this album featured Constantine’s cinematic verses being matched with tense, atmospheric beats. The end product sounded like a late-night subway ride across the Rotten Apple.
Nejma Nefertiti – “Tongue Fu” (NejmaNefertiti.BandCamp.Com) – A short, potent dose of firebrand lyricism, this four-track EP from Brooklyn’s Nejma Nefertiti found the NY-based artist dropping punchy rhymes full of b-girl attitude over Kool M Da Loop Digga production, with strong guest appearances from Napoleon Da Legend and Zach Lost.
El Jazzy Chavo – “S950 Funk” (Funkypselicave.BandCamp.Com) – Imitated but never duplicated, the crunch and thump of the Akai S950 was fully celebrated by Greece’s El Jazzy Chavo on this instrumental album. The head-nod factor was high throughout, with the dusty-fingered beats stirring-up memories of an era that has long since passed but that remains a time period cherished by all who lived through it.
Dell-P – “The People’s Emcee” (Dell-P.BandCamp.Com) – Produced entirely by New Jersey duo Trac-Qaeda, this latest album from Philly’s Dell-P was another worthy addition to his already impeccable catalogue. Grounded in the realities of daily life but laced with optimism and hope as always, the Illadeph artist’s rhymes offered motivation and inspiration in equal measures, backed by well-crafted beats.
Jazz Spastiks – “Intomental” (JazzSpastiks.BandCamp.Com) – Longstanding purveyors of sublime sample-based music, the UK’s Jazz Spastiks returned once more with a rich collection of laidback flavour for our listening pleasure. Expertly put together and with a genuine feeling of warmth running throughout, this album was the perfect way to ease your mind in today’s stressful times.
Jones Brothers – “Apollo” (FlukeBeatMusic.BandCamp.Com) – The UK’s Joker Starr and Anyway Tha God reunited for a new Jones Brothers project, with the pair delivering incisive, swaggering rhymes laced with social commentary over brilliant production from veteran London-based music man Apollo.
Brainorchestra – “Big Brain” (Brainorchestra.BandCamp.Com) – The rise of producer-on-the-mic Brainorchestra during recent years has been a genuine pleasure to witness. “Big Brain” appeared to draw a metaphorical line in the sand, simultaneously signalling the end of one career phase and the beginning of the next stage of growth and progression for the New Jersey artist. With a keen ear for a great sample and a natural rhyming ability, Brainorchestra could only continue to move in the right direction after the release of this album.
Da Flyy Hooligan – “Ben Kingsley” (GourmetDeluxx.BandCamp.Com) – Smooth, sharp and stylish like butter-soft leather jackets and box-fresh footwear, London’s Da Flyy Hooligan lived up to his name once again on this album, delivering larger-than-life rhymes over top-shelf production from the mighty Micall Parknsun.
360 Physicals – “Style Crown” (NoelPolandRecords.BandCamp.Com) – Skills. That’s what this album was about. Having honed their respective crafts within the UK’s 90s Hip-Hop scene, the 360 Physicals crew reunited in 2022, with Killa Kela, Koaste, Jonny Virgo and Cristo Cannes celebrating the past whilst demonstrating their ability to still reign supreme in the present and beyond. Brilliantly produced by Kong The Artisan, “Style Crown” bristled with energy and passion.
Fatnice – “The Baddest” (IllVibeMedia.BandCamp.Com) – A stalwart of the Philly rap scene, Fatnice blended emcee bravado, social commentary and storytelling skills on this short-but-effective album, proving that sometimes less really is more. With the likes of The Blue Ninja, Mr. Sonny James and Kush Oxford supplying melodic, upbeat production, “The Baddest” blew out of the speakers like a refreshing blast of cool air.
Count Bass D – “All Due Respect” (CountBassD.BandCamp.Com) – The ever-busy Count Bass D returned with another lesson in high-level beat science, crafting an instrumental album that pulsated with the sounds of slick funk and sweet soul. Music to groove to.
Check Part Two here.