Jehst – “State Of The Union (Freestyle)” (@YNRProductions / 2020)
The mighty Billy Brimstone delivers a relentless stream-of-consciousness flow over tense Pitch 92 production.
Jehst – “State Of The Union (Freestyle)” (@YNRProductions / 2020)
The mighty Billy Brimstone delivers a relentless stream-of-consciousness flow over tense Pitch 92 production.
TrueMendous – “That Don’t Mean” (@ItsTrueMendous / 2020)
Birmingham’s queen of flow TrueMendous celebrates signing to heavyweight UK label High Focus with the release of this lively Pitch 92-produced single.
Check Part One here.
Gang Starr – “One Of The Best Yet” (Gang Starr Enterprises) – The trials and tribulations DJ Premier experienced in order to complete this album were well documented in 2019, but the hardcore composer’s determination definitely paid off, with this celebration of the late, great Guru largely succeeding where so many posthumous rap albums have failed. Nothing about this project appeared forced or rushed, with Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal sounding as timeless as ever and Preemo delivering quality boom-bap throughout. Input from crew affiliates such as Group Home, Jeru The Damaja, Big Shug, Freddie Foxxx and M.O.P. made “One Of The Best Yet” a true family affair. RIP Guru! Gang Starr forever!
Your Old Droog – “It Wasn’t Even Close” (YourOldDroog.BandCamp.Com) – The first of three full-length projects released by the prolific NY emcee during 2019, Droog’s natural rhyming ability shone through here, with the Rotten Apple lyricist making the writing and delivery of intricate verses appear easy, backed by production from the likes of Sadhugold, Daringer and Tha God Fahim (also props to the UK’s Emily Catherine for the album’s ill cover art).
A.J. Munson – “Cigarettes & Coffee” (AJMunson.BandCamp.Com) – Boasting an impressive list of guest artists. including Tha God Fahim, Mach-Hommy, Recognize Ali and more, West Coast producer A.J. Munson dropped this quality collection of true-school flavour geared towards the ears of those listeners who’re passionate about sample-based Hip-Hop.
JayARE – “Youth Culture Power” (JayARE.BandCamp.Com) – True-school veterans J Rawls and John Robinson delivered some edutainment in the truest sense of the term, with this concept-based album being released in conjunction with the pair’s book, highlighting the potential benefits of utilising Hip-Hop in the classroom to engage students and improve teacher / pupil relationships. Each one, teach one.
NDEFRU & Ohbliv – “Foreign Local” (NDEFRU.BandCamp.Com) – Further proof that Virginia is a strong breeding ground for dope Hip-Hop, this EP from emcee NDEFRU and producer Ohbliv was the sound of two individuals clearly on the same page musically, resulting in a thoroughly cohesive project packed with laidback-yet-confident wordplay and mellow, sample-heavy soundscapes.
Sean Peng & Illinformed – “Trips To The Medicine Cabinet” (LostScrollRecords.BandCamp.Com) – Part entertainment, part therapy session, this project from Creatures Of Habit members Sean Peng and Illinformed was a lesson in creative chemistry, demonstrating the level of quality that can be achieved from the good old-fashioned one emcee / one producer combo. The Bristol emcee’s sometimes cryptic, always engaging rhymes were perfectly complimented by Illinformed’s solid, multi-layered style of production. Get your prescription renewed here.
Him Lo & Giallo Point – “OJ Glovez” (MarQSpekt.BandCamp.Com) – Having released two group projects in 2018, Him Lo and Clever 1 of Phillys Buze Bruvaz both decided to step out solo in 2019, with this EP being the first of four releases in total to come from the Illadelph duo throughout the year. Produced entirely by the UK’s Giallo Point, this was more of the punch-you-in-the-face-rap that Buze fans have come to expect, mixing hardcore threats and politically incorrect punchlines with inappropriate humour and old-school bravado.
DIE-REK – “The Dying Ones” (Illect.BandCamp.Com) – Canada’s DIE-REK channelled his spirituality throughout this self-produced collection of inspiring, life-affirming anthems, crafted to motivate and encourage anyone out there struggling to swim against the tide of today’s turbulent times. The Toronto emcee’s sincere, commanding flow added further weight to the sentiments and thoughts expressed here, with the end product leaving the listener feeling as if their Hip-Hop soul had been given a thorough musical massage.
C.A.M – “Just Breathe” (CAMOfficial.BandCamp.Com) – Following up his previous EP releases (2017’s “The First Move” and 2018’s “Persian Rugs”), talented London-based emcee C.A.M joined forces with Bristol music man BigLikeBaz for this five-track release, a well-crafted blend of head-nodding beats, echoing horns, smooth keys and a positive lyrical outlook.
Cor Stidak – “Dry Tears” (CorStidak.BandCamp) – Virginia-based emcee Cor Stidak showcased his undeniable microphone mastery throughout this largely self-produced EP, delivering competition-crushing verses, robust flows and poignant lyrical gems over a quality selection of beats.
The Jerzadelphians – “Era Of The Get Back” (JDelph.BandCamp.Com) – New Jersey emcee P-Rawb and Philly producer Shane Great demonstrated what a true musical partnership should sound like on this impressive release, channelling the spirit of the golden-era through their beats and rhymes whilst remaining fresh and in the moment.
Benny The Butcher – “The Plugs I Met” (GriseldaxFR.Com) – 2019 was definitely the year of the Griselda family, with Benny, Conway and Westside Gunn all releasing potent solo projects, along with their long-awaited group effort for Shady Records. This EP picked up where The Butcher left off on 2018’s classic “Tana Talk 3”, spitting vividly descriptive street life rhymes over raw, drama-laced production from Daringer, Beat Butcha, DJ Shay and The Alchemist.
Train Robbers – “Expect Delays” (RobbingTrains.BandCamp.Com) – UK duo Bucket Hat Jack and Casa Blanca ensured no listeners were left waiting on the platform as they were right on time with this lively EP, a release full of mischievous, well-crafted verses and solid, chunky production. The project bubbled with the energy of two individuals whose main motivation for making music appeared to be the sheer joy and satisfaction of simply creating dope material. Mind the gap!
Skyzoo & Pete Rock – “Retropolitan” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com) – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Skyzoo is one of the greatest emcees of his generation. The Brooklyn artist’s attention to detail and ability to draw listeners into his world through the art of rhyme elevates him above many of his peers. No matter what walk of life you come from, there is something in a Skyzoo verse that you will be able to relate to. Backed here by the soul brother beats of the legendary Pete Rock, Skyzoo delivered a full-length dedication to NYC, adding to his already impeccable catalogue of album projects.
Smif-N-Wessun – “The All” (DuckDownMusic.Com) – Bucktown’s Tek and Steele succeeded in releasing an album that was rooted in their mid-90s Timberlands-and-hoodies flavour whilst still reflecting the personal growth and present day perspectives of the Duck Down duo. Production from Jamla’s 9th Wonder-led Soul Council squad provided the project’s melodic thump, effectively complimenting the BK pair’s tag-team rude-bwoy rhymes, with the end result respectfully adding on to Smif-N-Wessun’s twenty-five year legacy.
Ketch P – “Gift Certificate” (KetchP.BandCamp.Com) – Veteran Detroit emcee and Street Justice member Ketch P returned from a six-year hiatus to deliver this free project, which was an extremely generous gesture considering the high quality of the material included here. Showcasing a strong pen game and an authoritative flow, the Middle Finger Music affiliate got busy over a strong selection of soulful boom-bap from the likes of Simple Cuts, Foul Mouth and Chanes.
Verb T & Pitch 92 – “A Question Of Time” (HighFocus.BandCamp.Com) – Following up their quality 2017 collabo album “Good Evening”, London lyricist Verb T and Manchester music man Pitch 92 joined forces once again for this equally dope project. An accomplished writer and one of UK Hip-Hop’s most consistent artists, Verb T once again successfully allowed the listener to see the world through his eyes, with the rapper’s introspective rhymes being complimented by the talented Pitch’s dynamic production.
Flashius Clayton & DirtyDiggs – “Fronto Fever Dreams” (FlashiusClayton.BandCamp.Com) – This heavily-anticipated project from Knuckle Sandwich Deli representative Flashius Clayton definitely didn’t disappoint, with the Cali emcee dropping razor-sharp rhymes over the dusty-fingered, sample-based soundscapes of DirtyDiggs, joined by the likes of Planet Asia, Lisaan’dro and AA Rashid – guard ya grill!
Brother Ali – “Secrets & Escapes” (BrotherAli.BandCamp.Com) – The mighty Brother Ali made a welcome return with this Evidence-produced collection of masterful, worldly lyricism and stripped-down beats, recorded over a few spontaneous sessions in a California garage studio during visits the Minneapolis emcee made to see the Dilated Peoples member.
Sparkplug – “The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth” (ColdCaseRecords.BandCamp.Com) – This full-length effort from Leeds-based emcee Sparkplug offered listeners an honest look into the life of an individual navigating his way through the everyday struggles of the human experience, embracing the small wins, owning personal shortcomings, dealing with disappointment and facing reality head-on with a self-deprecating sense of humour and a talent for sharp punchlines.
Part Three coming soon.
Every year this ‘best-of’ list becomes increasingly harder to put together, with 2019 possibly having been the most challenging round-up to compile yet. Not because there haven’t been enough worthy projects released over the past twelve months, but because there has potentially been too many!
I initially sat down with a list of approximately three hundred albums and EPs that had dropped this year which I felt deserved to be considered. Three hundred??!! After plenty of deliberation and arguments with myself, I finally managed to get that list down to the one hundred releases you’ll find featured in this five-part 2019 overview.
Of course, there are going to be artists not included who some heads will feel should have been. That’s the beauty of music – everyone has their own opinion. But if a particular album or EP hasn’t been mentioned, that shouldn’t lead anyone to automatically assume I didn’t rate that project at all. As previously stated, I started with three hundred releases. When scaling that list down I had to really just consider which albums and EPs I’d enjoyed the most. It was as simple as that. No politics. No favours. Just the thoughts of a lifelong fan of beats and rhymes.
As always, huge props to all the talented artists out there (whether included in this list or not) who put their time, effort and creative energy into making music that adds something of value to this incredible culture called Hip-Hop.
Now, like we always do about this time….
Roc Marciano – “Marcielago” (RocMarci.Com) – As one of the most influential artists of the last decade it’s fitting that ten years after the release of “Marcberg”, an album that made an indelible impact on the sound of underground Hip-Hop, Strong Island’s Roc Marci would book-end his incredible run of releases with a project that further solidified his position in the game. Once again proving himself to be a master of his craft (both lyrically and musically), the NY favourite fused vivid, larger-than-life rhymes with smooth, atmospheric (largely self-produced) beats and loops. Cinematic mood music best heard late at night in a haze of weed smoke.
Nems – “Gorilla Monsoon” (Lyfer Gang) – Brooklyn emcee Nems is no newcomer, having released a string of projects over the past fifteen years. But on this album, the Mayor Of Coney Island appeared to capture Hip-Hop lightning in a bottle, elevating his skills to new heights in the process. Backed by the masterful production of fellow BK resident Jazzsoon, whose beats thumped harder than a heavyweight boxer working a punch-bag, Nems paid homage to the traditional Rotten Apple sound without getting caught up in nostalgia, delivering rhymes that ranged from aggressive, competition-crushing bars to brutally personal and honest life stories. Powerful music.
Joker Starr – “G.A.W.D.” (FlukeBeatMusic.BandCamp.Com) – The irrepressible UK artist made a welcome return at the beginning of the year with another quality collection of unrestrained lyricism to add to his catalogue, at times sounding about ready to burst out of the speakers like a Hip-Hop Hulk. Largely produced by Micall Parknsun (with input from Anyway Tha God and OphQi), the UK wordsmith mixed social commentary and Black pride with larger-than-life emcee bravado throughout this entertaining showcase of raw hardcore talent.
Vic Spencer & Sonnyjim – “Spencer For Higher 2” (Daupe Media) – Chicago’s Vic Spencer delivered slick wit and smooth arrogance over sublime production from the UK’s Sonnyjim on this sequel to the pair’s original 2018 “Spencer For Higher” project. A naturally gifted emcee, Spencer dominated the beats and loops on offer here with seemingly effortless skill, sharing a creative chemistry with Sonnyjim that lent the project a satisfyingly seamless and organic feel.
Funky DL – “Life After Dennison” (FunkyDL.BandCamp.Com) – Following on from 2018’s “Dennison Point” project, which captured Funky DL’s memories and experiences between 1992 and 2005 as a resident of Stratford, East London, “Life After Dennison” found the multi-talented UK artist bringing listeners up-to-date with his personal journey in his inimitable warm and witty style, accompanied by his jazzy and soulful trademark production sound.
Pitch 92 – “3rd Culture” (HighFocus.Com) – An album of epic proportions, this project from Pitch 92 fully showcased the Manchester music man’s range as a producer, incorporating Hip-Hop, jazz and soul influences into one smooth and cohesive listening experience, featuring a long list of top-tier UK talent including Jehst, MysDiggi and DRS. An ambitious and thoroughly enjoyable release.
Jeff Smith – “Fear Of A Black Messiah” (GiftedJeffSmithStore.BandCamp.Com) – In today’s divided and troubled times, music from artists such as Virginia’s Jeff Smith is needed more than ever. Following in the footsteps of acts such as Public Enemy, Paris and Kam, the outspoken emcee delivered an uncompromising look at what it means to be Black in Amerikkka today from his own perspective. Dealing with racial, social and political issues head-on, Smith proved that edutainment is still alive and well in Hip-Hop.
The Legion – “Three The Bronx Way” (FBDistribution.BandCamp.Com) – Grounded in memories of 80s Bronx block parties, street-corner ciphers and nights at the Latin Quarter, NY trio Molecules, Chucky Smash and Dice Man (aka Cee-Low) jingle jangled their way through this uncompromising dose of traditional Rotten Apple rap. The BX keeps creating it.
Damani Nkosi and ill Camille – “HARRIETT” (DamCam.BandCamp.Com) – West Coast duo Damani Nkosi and ill Camille combined their talents on this full-length project, determined to satisfy your soul and stimulate your third-eye via an organic blend of smooth, melodic production and uplifting lyrical content which was influenced by the past, grounded in the present and looking towards the future.
Infinite Thoughts – “Instrumentals” (1990SomethingLLC.BandCamp.Com) – Washington’s DJ NOZs and E Boogie delivered a stunning selection of uplifting, soulful beats on this brilliantly crafted project, showcasing not only their passion for boom-bap but also their shared ear for quality musicianship, blending dusty, basement-style drums with melodic keys and horns.
Showbiz x Milano – “Boulevard Author” (DITCEnt.Com) – A shining example of quality now-school Rotten Apple rap, this concise collection of dusty-fingered beats and well-executed, laser-precise rhymes found the Diggin’ In The Crates duo each residing at the top of their game. Milano has been a lyrical force to be reckoned with since his debut in the late-90s and Show’s ear for an ill loop definitely hasn’t faded over time, with this album carrying on DITC tradition and proudly supporting the classic sound of NYC.
Lisaan’dro – “M.A.D.E. (My Allies Died Early)” (Lisaandro.BandCamp.Com) – Gang Starr’s Guru once said it’s mostly the voice of an emcee that sets him or her apart from the competition. If Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal were still here today he would no doubt hold NY’s Lisaan’dro up to prove his point. The Long Island lyricist’s immediately recognizable raspy flow does indeed give his music a unique quality, but aside from that, as showcased on this album, Lisaan’dro also has a real talent for penning verses filled with pimpish slick talk and street-wise observations, which were backed up here by production from the likes of The Custodian Of Records, Leaf Dog, Flashius Clayton and more.
Es – “Social Meteor Vol. 1:Inspired By My Timeline” (EsMusik.BandCamp.Com) – If you were already familiar with Canadian emcee Es before 2019 via previous albums such as “Aspire To Inspire” (2014) and “We Are Only Getting Older” (2017), then you would have already been well aware that this talented wordsmith offers plenty of food for thought in his music. This latest project continued that tradition, with Es tackling the pros and cons of social media and our obsession with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram etc, accompanied by production from Pro-Logic, DJ QVP and Rel McCoy.
O The Great – “This Art Is Real” (OTheGreat,BandCamp.Com) – NY’s O The Great swung a heavy lyrical sword throughout this project, which bristled with a true passion for the art and culture of Hip-Hop. Mixing contemplative rhymes and observational jewels with raw bravado, the skilled emcee (who also produced the majority of this release) held the listener’s attention with ease via his sharp delivery and down-to-earth attitude. The album also featured worthwhile appearances from the likes of Supreme Cerebral, BanishHabitual and Supreme Magnetic.
Benny Diction & Able8 – “Oak Dreams” (MillenniumJazz.BandCamp.Com) – Recapturing the creative chemistry heard on their brilliant 2013 collabo album “Life Moves”, UK emcee Benny Diction and Australian producer Able8 joined forces once again for this EP on the Millennium Jazz label. A concise collection of honest, thoughtful lyricism and forward-thinking soundscapes, “Oak Dreams” was yet another worthy addition to Benny’s already impressive catalogue.
WateRR & The Standouts – “The Honorable” (WateRR.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago emcee WateRR appeared to have found the perfect sonic backdrop for his swaggering, forthright rhymes in the form of Texas production duo The Standouts, who supplied the Windy City wordsmith with a strong selection of attention-grabbing loops and samples on this impressive long-player.
Finale – “62” (FinaleDet313.BandCamp.Com) – Longstanding supporters of Detroit’s Finale will already know he is an emcee determined to fill his verses with substance, honesty and integrity. This latest album from the Motor City wordsmith continued in that tradition, with Finale offering personal rhymes about family, relationships and fatherhood over a well-chosen selection of soulful production.
Otis Mensah – “Rap Poetics” (OtisMensah.BandCamp.Com) – Unique, refreshing and possessing an undeniable mastery of words, flow and language, UK rapper-slash-poet Otis Mensah packed this six-track EP with a seemingly effortless stream of vivid imagery, stimulating lyricism and magnetic energy, all delivered over a nice selection of crisp, jazzy beats.
Super Duty Tough Work – “Studies In Grey” (SuperDutyToughWork.BandCamp.Com) – The idea of a live band making Hip-Hop is nothing new, but it is a concept that takes real skill to execute effectively. At the top end of the scale, groups like The Roots and the UK’s Mouse Outfit have consistently released incredible music based around the live band format. But when done badly, the end product can sound limp and bland, lacking the thump and grit many Hip-Hop fans demand. Based on this EP, it would appear that Canadian band Super Duty Tough Work are definitely masters of their craft, balancing head-nodding beats and nimble rhymes with smooth instrumentation, incorporating vibrant keys, lively bass and punctuating horns.
Asun Eastwood & Onaje Jordan – “Danger My Ally” (AsunEastwood.BandCamp.Com) – Canadian artist Asun Eastwood has steadily built himself a reputation over the last couple of years as one of the nicest emcees making noise in the underground. This latest release (produced by Chicago’s Onaje Jordan) offered more of the raw, uncut wordplay that supporters have grown accustomed to, reflecting the darker side of Toronto’s streets.
Part Two coming soon.
Verb T & Pitch 92 – “Frostbitten” (@HighFocusUK / 2019)
Intricate wordplay and lively, horn-laced beats from the UK duo’s brilliant album “A Question Of Time”.
Verb T & Pitch 92 – “Checked In” (@HighFocusUK / 2019)
Off-kilter visuals for this melodic head-nodder off the UK duo’s brilliant album “A Question Of Time”.
Verb T & Pitch 92 ft. Rye Shabby – “A Question Of Time” (@HighFocusUK / 2019)
The ever-impressive Verb T once again connects with talented producer Pitch 92 to recapture the creative chemistry heard on their 2017 project “Good Evening”, with this smooth, vibe-filled title track from their latest collaborative long-player standing as a perfect example of how well the pair work together.